Summer Break in Finnish Archipelago

Each summer your correspondent likes to share good and interesting experiences with our readers while on his summer vacation. This year is very different from the last ten years when he and his wife have been hiking in the Dolomite mountains.

This year we decided to avoid mad airports to stay for most part of the summer on our island, some 5 kilometres from the mainland out on the Baltic Sea between Hanko and Tammisaari, some 130 kilometres west of Helsinki.

Our home here is made from heavy thick logs that sits on top of solid grey granite surrounded by forests of pine, spruce, birch, juniper, and alders. Our landscape windows facie south-west with a view over a small bay behind which the open sea stretches out where other islands are dotted around.

We have all the creature comforts of home here – electricity, WIFI, water from our own deep well and a sophisticated and sustainable sewage system.

It is always easy though on an island – the biggest challenges are:

  1. The weekly trips to the supermarket in our Buster aluminium boat – the load can be quite heavy since we must lug it along a 500-metre track to our island home in a hand cart like some peasant farmers. There are no air-conditioned cars here…
  2. Remembering to take all the keys, medicines, books, chargers, needed tools, etc. – forgetfulness means another two-hour trip backwards and forwards!

Deer and elk walk around in the forest, and around our home. The red deer are a pest because they eat young saplings, and unprotected planted flowers and vegetables. The latter two plants are heavily protected by Trumpian fences, artillery, and land mines. Leaving geraniums or tomato plants unprotected provides a generous meal for the little buggers and they do not even leave a tip!

Swans, ducks, geese, and grebes paddle in the bay – some have nests in the reeds with an evil eagle gliding high overhead ready to make a kamikaze attack on one of the cygnets of ducklings.

This island home is on a 10-hectare plot with 5 other families – we share the same long sandy beaches, the same forest areas, the procurement of heavy equipment, a jointly owned boat jetty, and an outside sauna next to the shore for quick refreshing dips.

Work is also done together on a cooperative basis like larger building repairs, cutting trees for firewood, and cutting reeds. Many Finns feel that summer homes are like concentration camps because repairs and gardening must be completed during the short summer months. But we know that sharing work with neighbours like we do makes it more like fun – there is better planning, less costs and less wasted effort. Each one of us has hidden and surprisingly diversified talents… read on…

There is another thing to consider when living on any island – asking island locals to do work is costly because they must come in their own boats with all their tools. Heavier costs are also involved for cargos of wood and other building materials compared to land-based summer homes.

That is understandable because there is less competition for transport on barges that are big enough to carry lorries with heavy loads and big diggers. Island residents must learn to be smarter and more frugal for what we need or wish to do – we must learn the basics of plumbing, carpentry, painting, metal working, while one of us is certified for basic electric repairs.

Boats and boating skills also need to be honoured because officialdom in these waters is strict – they have fast boats to catch us when they perform their tests and inspections.

After our cooperative efforts, we note with glee that one neighbour has a daughter who makes the most delicious cheesecakes decorated with fresh strawberries, while another has baked island bread – a dark moist slightly sweet malt and rye bread great with a lashing of butter and topped with smoked fish and sour cream – and your correspondent is a gifted chef who can turn out pizzas from whatever leftovers are found in the fridge…

But life is great – without cars, without shops, without human voices – just the singing swans, or the quacking of ducks, or cuckoos… one neighbour had chickens with a cock that made a terrible noise last year, but that too has now been cooked in a pot!

A hot sauna with a birch switch, (see picture below) followed by swimming in the slightly salty Baltic and a beer, is a fine way to end the day after a day’s work cutting up wood, painting or cleaning the boat, or repairing some door or windows.

The light in June and July is intense at midday, and still relatively bright at midnight – one of the strange blessings of living so far north. Soon, as summer fades, in August and September we will be in the forest to collect berries and mushrooms, or enjoying a quiet moment fishing, while happily avoiding the mosquitoes and midges that appear to dislike island life.

These pleasures are not for the mainland folk who remain sadly oblivious to the luxuries of island life…

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