or Chapter I of A Guide to Finland, titled “Ice”
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The first thing you should know about the piece of land known as Finland is that it rests on ancient stone.
Well, since stone is hard and uncomfy, maybe ‘rest’ is a bad word.
Finland squats on ancient stone.
Finland squats on ancient stone, with only a thin layer of sand and mud hiding the slow undulations of bedrock. In many places the bedrock juts up from under the rocky soil, and waves at the sky in scarred and tired hills, with frequent slopes of bare and polished stone showing striations and grooves like the marks of some giant parallel claws. This is all because of ice.
Ice? Oh, ice is the first part of Finland’s history, the history before man. In that history, the latest Ice Age started around 20 000 years ago, and ended around 10 000 years ago. Between those dates there was no Finland, only ice.
When an ice age comes, the masses of ice at the mountains of Fennoscandia — Norway-Sweden if you so will — grow, each winter accumulating a few inches more of snow, and each inch pressing those below it into pounds of ice, and each pound pressing the mass outwards. When an ice age comes and each winter brings more snow than the summer melts away, the snow-fields and glaciers grow, and then creep outwards, south and east, and towards and over Finland.
Slowly the glaciers move, each cold winter making the next one colder as white snow and ice reflect sun-rays away forever, away with all the life and warmth they imply.
Slowly the ice advances, crushing trees, freezing lakes, covering flowers, and grinding all living things away. The ground groans under it, pressed down by the weight of ice, finally a mile thick or more. These are not the glaciers you see on a mountain or mountain-range somewhere today — the only place where glaciers to rival these monsters currently exist are Greenland and Antarctica.
Those mountains of ice, as they grow and slither towards warmer lands, scrape away all soil, carry shards of stone and pieces of rock with them, and thus gouge wounds and valleys into bedrock, endless cold fingers scarring stone. Rivers of frost and hands of ice grasp pebbles and house-sized boulders and carry them with and under the front of white death, depositing some where the glacier stops, at the northern parts of present-day Germany.
All of Finland is covered by ice for centuries, for millennia, pressed down under unimaginably heavy miles of frost.
Then the ice age ends, slowly, and just as slowly as they advanced, the fields of ice retreat. Cold streams gush from the depths of the glaciers, rearranging the barren lands at the cold’s edge. An under-glacier river might drag and drive silt and rocks with it, and leave a meandering ridge in its own shape, or then gush the pieces of soil out on the glacier’s edge, creating a ridge paralleling the ice’s edge when the melting stopped for a century or some other equally short time.
A rock several meters in diameter might get caught by a thaw-stream, and spend centuries turning in place, scraping and grinding a hole for generations of men to wonder over: what force could have polished a pit like this, ten meters wide and equally deep, into solid stone? Men would call it a hiidenkirnu, a devil’s churn. So small their imaginations, always conjuring up some impotent spiritual phantasm, when all that is, is the unspeakable wonder and terror of nature.
Meltwater fills lakes, and as the glacier thaws, immense rocks and pebbles without number fall from its weakening grasp, hundreds of miles from their original locations. Meltwater rivers disappear, leaving only the patterns of topsoil they shaped. Hilltops receive one last brush of stone-scarring ice, and then shiver naked under a weak sun.
Life returns to Finland, and ever so slowly the land, pressed down by the weight of ice, rises upwards, and the icy Baltic Sea recedes. Over centuries the coast recedes as the land rises, and this is happening still, a few millimetres each year. Ice and its effects are slow, patient, and much stronger than man.
The pits and gouges left in the bedrock by the ice are filled with tepid water. There is some semblance of mild weather, a few trees, and some frail bipedal things.
The hills and valleys of Finland are coated with warmth and life, but you don’t have to dig deep anywhere to find rock, solid rock down to the burning foundations of the earth, still disfigured by the touch of old heavy ice. You only have to look around to see the hills and ridges and drumlins created by rivers that flowed from the glaciers, on the glaciers, under the glaciers. The geography of Finland consists of one word, repeated again and again: Ice.
Finland squats on ancient stone, with only a thin layer of sand and mud hiding the endless undulations of glacier-scarred rock. And one day the glaciers will come again, as they have come many times before, a force that cannot be stopped, only fled.
This explains why Finnish property values are so low.
Seriously, it’s difficult to accept any talk of promised lands of forefathers or ancestral abodes back to the beginning of time when you know that your most remote ancestors crept here under the constant white threat of a receding glacier, cursing it as a fleeing or dying god-beast, and when you know that your descendants might one day rather leave than engage in a futile fight against a grinding, moving eternal winter, the resurrected beast of nature.
That’s Finland: here for a moment, just a thin coating of living slime on the scarred bedrock.
Sooner or later the ice will return, and then there will be Finland no more. Just ice and rock. All mistakes, erased. All achievements, erased.
Oh, and the other parts of this Guide will be a bit cheerier.
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