Frozen in time

Typically each winter, my husband and I escape to some far away, warm, loud southern destination. Truth be told, the darkness of December does something to our psyche and we embark on a quest to find the light (and to preserve what remains of our sanity).

Covid thwarted those plans this winter. And, we’ve been waging a battle with our minds to simply survive. We’re doing what we can to keep our spirits up and focus on the goodness in our lives.

Whilst we’ve made it to February and the days are lengthening day by day, we have not found much warmth this year. That’s alright. Because with the plummeting mercury, we’ve also had mountains of snow. And, Helsinki is supremely special when covered in white, fluffy, freshly fallen snow. We welcome that new snow, each time it swirls and each time it falls. We say bring it on. It just makes the light all the brighter when shining against the purest white, sparkling snow.

But, it is freezing out. If the temp exceeded -10C / 14F (without the wind chill, mind, which was closer to -20C / -4F when I headed out), I’d be surprised. But, with that colder air, we do get sunshine. And, oh my, friends. That sunshine is gloriously welcome. Give me freezing Arctic air over chilly and endless days of cloud cover any day, and twice on a Wednesday in February.

Because I am a runner girl, on my non-running days I tend to head out for at least a brisk walk. Today, was one of those days. But, more so, I had a plan today beyond just moving and getting some fresh air.

A few of our neighbours have created several community art projects, and I desperately wanted to try to capture some decent photos of at least one of them whilst it’s still around. So, I headed out today in three layers of winter gear to keep me warm and to enjoy that Arctic sun hanging low in the sky. I also kept my trusty Sony RX100 V zipped warmly inside my down jacket until I reached my destination, whilst also protecting my beloved and waning Nokia 8 close to my chest. And, I finally got some decent shots. [NB: On two previous recent outings with a similar objective, both my camera battery and phone died — it was so cold that neither could really take it for long at all. Lesson learnt.]

This ice ornament tree popped up more than a week ago, I think. Whilst out on a run, I spied a woman hanging ice ornaments in various shapes and sizes and colours on a completely bare tree. Those shapes and colours and ice-encased objects have increased seemingly exponentially since then to cover every branch within reach on one specific tree. Some are simply ice, whilst others have been coloured various shades and hues. Flowers such as tulips and carnations and roses along with twigs of pine and eucalyptus are also encased in ice. As a knitter, I was thrilled yesterday to discover that some bits of yarn have also now appeared. Each day, other passers-by stop and admire the ice ornaments and snap pictures of the tree, individual items and themselves with the tree. And, they smile. They stand and admire and smile. Those smiles are welcome. If I’m completely honest, I’ve redrawn my running map so that I can pass this specific tree every day now. It’s really just that lovely, regardless of weather and regardless of the presence or absence of sunshine.

Today, I also stumbled upon a little ice fort neighbourhood children seem to be constructing, one of whom was adding to the structure as I passed by and snapped a few pictures. It’s not very tall yet. But, I suspect it will be soon enough given that the temps are unlikely to rise too much for at least the next week to ten days. The ‘bricks’ are made using milk or yogurt cartons evidently, with tints and hues reminiscent of a rainbow. I didn’t realise until I returned home that a tulip was stuck into and frozen within one of the bricks. It’s thoroughly lovely, made even more special because it’s enticed children to take an active role in deciding its final composition.

These little community art projects are such a treat at a time when bits of joy and delight are most welcome if not utterly necessary. These little bits of random public art really do bring a bit of joy to my world. I suspect I am not alone judging by the faces of those I pass near each of these objects and based on a random conversation I had yesterday whilst stopping to take a few pictures.

An older gentleman I passed near the ice ornament tree commented that he’s seen so many things like this this winter, objects made from frozen precipitation by members of communities. Not just here in Helsinki, but in other places as well. He described stumbling upon snow graffiti for the first time when he was in Estonia recently. He seemed to think Covid is inspiring us all to find ways to entertain ourselves and bring a bit of goodness and loveliness to us and to share with others.

I think he might be right.

In Espoo, not far from us here in Helsinki, a few residents created some rather impressive snow art in a local golf course. And, earlier just after our first serious snow fall, the entire neighbourhood around our flat was dotted with snowmen and women and various large and small sculptures and creatures made entirely of snow.

Snow delights me. But, seeing evidence of others’ delight and their own interpretations of the loveliness of snow and other frozen objects reminds me that I am not alone. We, as members of a community, are not alone, even if we cannot gather or meet up at the moment. As we all isolate and socially distance from one another, we need and search for reminders that we are not in fact alone in our loneliness. And, these little reminders are so, so welcome. We might be collectively frozen in time, repeating endless days of remaining safe and hopefully healthy, working and schooling from home and via Zoom. But, we are not alone.

So, here’s to those who are creating these bits of brilliant frozen community art projects. And, here’s to all things frozen. Even if it’s time.

The first snow

As soon as I learned that snow was set to arrive in southern Finland this week, that little-kid excitement took over. Anticipation. Wonder. More anticipation. Awaiting snow’s arrival takes me back to those moments as a kid, waiting to see if we’d have snow, how much would eventually fall and if school would be cancelled. It wasn’t so much that I didn’t want to go to school; but, rather, I wanted to run around in the freshly fallen fluff until my outdoor gear was soaking wet and I was exhausted.

Today’s snow isn’t all that fluffy. It’s weighty and wet and quickly melting rather than piling high. School won’t be cancelled for me today (because I didn’t have any classes scheduled) nor is snow ever likely to cancel classes in Finland. But, I’m still excited.

Unlike most days when I’m not in class, I needed to be somewhere this morning. After bundling up and donning the boots which I’ll likely wear through April, I found myself bracing against the icy grains of snow and smiling. I really do love snow, particularly as it falls and particularly as it changes everything it piles upon into something other worldly. No two snowfalls are alike, just as no two snowflakes are identical.

Today, the sound that accompanies snowfall struck me once again. Everything is muffled, and somehow more gentle. More muted. More peaceful. A few birds tweeted either their delight or disdain, breaking my own snow-induced trance. Perhaps those tweets were more distinct because all other sounds were muffled by the snow.

As I walked to and fro, I continued smiling as I walked in the first snow.

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Day 11: Proekt 365 (The return of snow!)

Day 11: Proekt 365 The return of snow to Southern Finland

Day 11: Proekt 365
The return of snow to Southern Finland

What. A. Day.

Welcoming my step-son for a visit yesterday evening followed by an afternoon in the company of some of my favourite people today was followed by the long overdue and very much welcome delivery of the first real snowfall this winter to Helsinki. My cup runneth over.

I didn’t get a chance to snap a photo whilst walking in a real-life giant snow globe, but I did enjoy the moment immensely. Aside from the obvious inconveniences (I really do feel for all those who have to push strollers, walk gingerly, shovel / plow it to be able to get out of their homes, etc.), snow makes winter this far North so much more bearable. Even at night, there is a bit more brightness to the world.

Today’s snow was even more of a treat given that we have been promised some sort of substantial accumulation for the past several days (weeks?), all resulting in a whole lot of nothing. After being indoors for several hours this afternoon, walking out into the heavy snowfall and gigantic swirling flakes was a most fantastic surprise.

As an adult, there is no hope of a ‘snow day’, whereby any obligations for the next day are cancelled or postponed. Living in Finland, that’s an utterly laughable idea. But, that same excitement and thrill is relived with each snowfall. You’d think I’d be thoroughly sick of snow by now after 15 winters spent in the far North. Nope. Still love it. Still wait for it each winter with anticipation and anxiety. And, still giggle like an idiot when walking in it, especially during the first snowfall of the year.

Thank you, Mother Nature! You’ve given meaning to the winter darkness once again.

The Emergence of Snow

I love it when it snows, particularly that first substantial snowfall of the season.

There is something about that childhood excitement that comes with watching the snow fall and accumulate that harkens back to the days when the anticipation of a ‘snow day’ made me long for massive amounts of snow. I still get that sense of joy even though there is no such thing as a ‘snow day’ here in the land of reindeer and Santa. Blizzard and white out conditions? Bring it on!

The sound of snow falling (yes, there is a ‘sound’), the smell of snow as the air changes with an approaching winter storm, the variation in the consistency and size of individual snowflakes, and those little bits of snow that accumulate on the outside of our quadruple-glazed windows. All of this is incredibly enchanting.

Here in Helsinki, as we survive the darkest part of the year, snow brings with it a particular brightness that is otherwise lacking in November / December. A freshly fallen layer of whiteness reflects what passes for ‘daylight’ here and brings with it hope. The temperatures may plummet with the coming snow, but we’ll take it over rain and endless days of grey.

Thank you, snow. Please, come often this year and stick around as long as like. You make winter livable!

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Where does all the snow go?

This picnic table was completely buried by Februrary. This photo was taken in mid-January 2010.

For those who have followed my Facebook updates, you know that this past winter in Helsinki brought maddening and never-ending amounts of snow. We haven’t yet heard how much snow ultimately fell over the course of the entire winter for 2009-10. Suffice it to say, it was buttloads.

Upon our return from our holiday in mid-January, we were greeted with about 20-30 cm of snow. The snow kept coming. For much of the winter, we had more than 70 cm of snow covering the ground, with mountains of snow lining the roads and sidewalks and well…everything. It made the snowpocalypse that hit the Eastern US look like a few flurries. Through the end of March and into April, the snow continued to fall.

It’s taken the snow several weeks if not a full month for the snow to melt. It’s now the second full week of May and remnants can still be found here and there. The piles that grew to mountains as roadways and sidewalks were cleared are now almost gone. We have one remaining pile behind our building that at one point was nearly level with our windows on the third floor.

This got a friend of mine and I thinking: where did all that snow go?

As saturated as the ground is, there isn’t too much standing water around. The Cuban and I have seen some swamp-like areas in the forest around our flat. Yet, it’s amazing how the snow just seems to disappear.

Winter this past year was enchanting if not a little intimidating. However, spring is most welcome and just as beautiful.