Finland is a peculiar place.
That may be because of history. If you count the beginning of civilization from the point when wealthy people started wearing cloth skullcaps instead of the skulls and entrails of last week’s ceremonial reindeer sacrifices, then civilization came to Finland only something like one thousand years ago.
Uh, Americans? This means, here in Europe: very, very recently. Even you Americans have your history, thousands of years, back to Merrie Ole Englande, or Germany, or Ur in the Land of Two Rivers, or wherever you’re from; but Finland’s history goes back one thousand written years and then disappears into the forests with a snatch of song and a hint of old fears, to a land without writing and without memory.
Still, those one thousand years of history haven’t been entirely uneventful: Finland has been sitting on the edge of Europe, observing and feeling a bit envious, generally ignored by everyone else.
We have sat by our tens of thousands of lakes, under the branches of the birch and the fir that reach uninterrupted every which way; we’ve squatted on places where the thin soil has been scraped away by long-gone glaciers to reveal undulations that were mountains when the very planet Earth was young; we’ve been of all Earth’s children the only ones aware of the oppressive weight of the ages, of the long, slow aeons before man, before writing, before speech, before memory — and we’ve watched you southern people, not really understanding what all that fuss about empires and ideologies was about.
Why worry about a king? In a century he will be dust. A few more and his line will be broken and forgotten. Cities will burn, churches will crumble; nothing but the cold stone and the whispering forests will remain, and they are no man’s memorial, no god’s sign.
Indeed, why bother with gods, or a God? Storms do not care about the piping of men; the darkness between and under firs does not move by our or your command; the lights that dance in winter skies do not hear hymns or prayers. If there are gods, they are as cold and as distant as the midwinter stars.
Crowns and colorful clothes and merriment — again, why bother? The ugliest of swords will kill a king no matter how proud his crown; clothes, no matter how silken and soft, are just a cover against the cold, just a shroud between you and the uncaring world — why attract the world’s evil by embroidering that shroud with your hopes and dreams? Better keep them inside, a hidden ring of iron binding your spirit and sanity together.
And why be happy? With seasons the innocence of childhood will sour, the strength of youth wane, the wisdom of age fade into dotage and dementia. All one can do is scream impotent rage at the uncaring thief-fingers of time, at the random and merciless vicissitudes of fate — frost, famine, war, plague, beasts, men, madness and all the other evils that crawl out of the navel of the world to bite apart the brief joys of the living.
Better keep one’s lamp covered and burning low, since otherwise cold winds will blow it out, wolves will be attracted by its light, it will die because after one’s portion is used, there is nothing to burn. Better to fight the slow defeat against time and entropy without pride, without hope, without smile; just a wordless war cry to show that when all is ash and dust behind and ash and dust before, there is no fear and no hesitation, just the awful glory of the slow defeat called life.
And eventually Death will come, a red sword of death darting from his mouth, his withered hands reaching for yours, his cold eyes knowing where you hide, his voice promising only oblivion, a return into the time before speech and before memory.
Finland is a place where thoughts like this seem natural.
* * *
I don’t know where these pseudo-poetic fits come from, but I enjoy writing pieces like this. I hope the mood says something of Finland, of melancholy and futile tenacity, even if some details might be a bit askew.
And you have no idea just how aggrevating it is to get fits like this and know that I can’t bend my Finnish to say these things, and English, while it forms itself to my wishes, will inevitably have many elementary errors of preposition and article, things that kill whatever little grace the text has.
Ah well, you’re not here to hear me complain, and I’m not here to complain either. Have a good day.
Oh, and if you want to know more about Finland, read the Guide. I’d recommend it, but self-praise is something I can’t do.