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Wintery Weekend at the Countryside

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This weekend I was facing a tough choice: seize the first and possibly only chance to go enjoy the winter in our cabin in the countryside, or to stay at home to finish up some work, to play some Fallen Earth or Assassins Creed II, and to be social. The cabin has been my fortress of solitude for around twelve years now. It used to be very important for me during the more stressful years of my life, a place where I went to bathe the devils out of me in the sauna and then zero out the brain with outdoorsy stuff, construction, gardening and such. Lately I haven’t been spending that much time there, owing to diving taking away the weekends and generally a less stressful pace of life.

Right now I’m facing a rather busy work week, which will culminate in the Iron Sky team leaving for the Berlinale Film Festival with thousands of people to see and tons of journalists to catch. I figured a bit of quiet and solitude would be just the thing for the weekend.

Another important factor in me wanting to go to the countryside is that the winter in southern Finland has finally been just the kind of proper winter I’ve been hoping for. There’s over half a meter of snow in Helsinki, which is a nice change of pace compared to the last two or three years when the “winter” has been two weeks of vaguely slushy weather. In January 2008 I got bitten by a mosquito when I was waiting for a bus, for fuck’s sake. The temperature this winter has been around -24C at the coldest.

So, of course for the first time ever I’ve spent most of the season either abroad or otherwise indisposed. In the week before the last I did manage to go skiing in the Helsinki area, which was great fun after a longish pause. Last weekend I was at home still recuperating from a wisdom’s tooth removal. Even bowing down low made the battered gum start to pulse out pain and bleed, so exercising was right out the window and I didn’t even want to risk it getting really bad in middle of nowhere.

DIGGING OUT THE CAR

Anyway, on Friday I ended up digging my car out from under all the snow and headed off for the countryside. Digging out the car wasn’t as horrible as I had feared. I hadn’t touched it in three weeks, not since we got back from the first Älymystö gigs of the tour. The weather has been a nightmare for people who aren’t used to driving in the wintertime and there have been cars, trams and busses stuck on the snow and blocking the streets all around the city.

The weekend starts here!

When I went looking for the car, what I encountered was a dirty mound of snow with some car peeking out here and there. Most of the snow was surprisingly powdery and easily brushed off, and the stuff that was hard came off in large sheets and chunks.  I had also parked the car on top of a smallish iceberg, which now stood some 20 cm above the well ploughed street. It took just a small nudge and the car basically fell down on the road. Then it was just the matter of reattaching the rear view mirror that had somehow fallen off by itself, and it was off to the countryside.

For some reason, this time when I stopped to buy food for the trip, I also bought a foldable shovel.

SAUNA, FIREPLACE AND ADVENTURE GAMING

The Friday evening started off by warming up the cabin and the sauna, getting some bathing and drinking water from the frozen lake and fixing something to eat.

Carelian pies with chanterelle spread and smoke cheese warming up next to the fire.

When the sauna was warm, it was already midnight and of course it was already pitch dark outside. The only things I could see when looking at a window were some rime and ice on the glass and the mounds of snow in the yard behind it. It was again very relaxing to sit back in the dim smoky light, sweat out all the non-essential crap and just unwind.

The rest of the evening was spent in front of a roaring fireplace playing The Dig on a laptop. I remember having played it long time ago and liking it, but it turns out I didn’t really remember anything about the specifics of the plot. Nevertheless there didn’t seem to be nostalgia at play, since it turned out to be as captivating and interesting as I remembered. I got a slight twinge of distaste when I noticed the name Orson Scott Card in the credits, though. It’s irritating how his distasteful moral activism has pretty much poisoned all his fiction for me. Nevertheless, this time it was easy to forget about that and delve into the mystery of an alien planet.

Adventure gaming in the fire light, just like they used to do in the days of yore!

OFF TO A SKI TRIP

Saturday was a stereotypically pleasant and slow cabin morning. Outside it was cloudy and gray, but the weather was mild and the snow covered lake looked really timeless and serene. I took my time getting up and about, enjoying the coffee and the morning comics before digging out my skis and heading out.

Rime in the windows in the morning. Keeps the toilet stops short.

When I go skiing around the cabin, I usually head for the lake, although in the winter before that last I happened to find some municipally maintained ski tracks in the forest. This time skiing over the lake was a mistake. Snow does a surprisingly good job as an insulating agent and there was about 30 cm of it on the lake ice. As a result what you had was a thick cover of sticky and powdery snow you sank in, followed by handspan or two of ice cold water and slush before your skis hit the ice. My skis were absolutely the worst choice for this, since they are really narrow racing skis used for the skating style. What you’d need in a situation like this is wide hiking skis that are halfway to being snow shoes – or at least normal non-skating skis, which I’ve been meaning to buy for ages now.

30 cm of sticky powdery snow and a handspan or two of semi-frozen slush on lake ice is not the most comfortable surface for skiing.

An ice fisher had abandoned part of his catch. These would make a nice soup for one. I was tempted to take them, but I didn't have a plastic bag with me.

Not surprisingly there were no officially maintained ski-tracks on the lake, in the shape it was, so I turned back towards the land and went looking for the tracks I had found earlier. They did exist and they were in a very good shape, which was a pleasant surprise. I chatted with a couple of other skiers who gave me some hints of how the tracks are laid out, and finally I even found a full fledged track map on a large crossroads. I debated for a moment about taking a 20km round trip, but common sense won and I turned back. It was the right decision, since when I trudged to the cabin yard after a 7,2 km trip, I was pretty beat – not the least because of having fought myself through the slush on the lake.

Agrarian Finnish architecture. The utility pole makes it look very churchlike.

A shortcut someone has made through the forest led me straight to the main ski tracks.

The trees are heavily laden with snow and in many cases arcing over the ski tracks so low you have to duck. I almost got a face-full of pine needles on one hill.

SMOKED CHAR & SAUNA

After I had shrugged the skis off, against my better knowledge I decided to rest a bit before starting to fix up sauna and dinner. This is usually a mistake, since quite often getting inside and into the warm after a trip like that has resulted in me waking up three hours later. This time I managed to stay awake and functional. I spent some time just sitting down on the bed, looking over the snowy expanse of the lake which was turning blue with the oncoming dusk, and listening to Fever Ray. From since the first time I heard the album I had suspected that wintery countryside would be the perfect locale for it, and it felt good to be right.

The dinner was smoked arctic char, a very tasty though expensive fish. The first problem was locating the smoking box and the fire site under all the snow. It was the second time ever I was smoking char, but it turned out excellent. I ended up finishing the whole 800g fish in one sitting, which left me happy and lethargic like a boa that has just swallowed an antelope.

The first step in smoking an arctic char for supper: locate the smoking equipment under the snow and dig them out.

I’m currently lazing on the cabin bed, waiting for the sauna to get ready, trying out Sigur Rós and chatting with the good people in #whitechapel. The fireplace is waiting to be lit and I’m looking forward to the sauna melting the aches and tiredness of the day’s activities away, and then an evening of adventure gaming done with the kind of abandon you reach when there really is nothing else you should or could be doing.

Except, maybe, reading a bit more of Hyperion and grabbing a sweet 12 hours of sleep.

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