A Nordic winter’s tale
IT is mid-afternoon and the pale winter daylight is fading fast. I hear nothing but my breathing and the regular crunch of my boots on the road. The crunch is almost a squeak — that specific sound made by walking on hard, icy snow, and indicative of extreme temperatures. I am in the tiny town of Loppi in southern Finland and it is about minus 14C, cold enough for moisture from my breath to cling to my scarf in a frozen sheath.
The landscape is a wash of whites, greys and blues. Tall silver birch trees line the road and dotted here and there are traditional Nordic weatherboard houses, painted bright red with crisp white window borders — a lovely sight against the wintry backdrop.
I speed up my steps and blow on my gloved hands for warmth as I spot the lake — a vast plain of white and grey stretching to the horizon. Finland is dotted with more than 187,000 lakes, which contribute to a remarkable sense of serenity.
It has been several weeks since I was last in Loppi, when the lake was just beginning to freeze over. Since then, temperatures have plummeted and I hope the water will be completely frozen.
The lake is indeed solid, and there are multiple footprints and car tyre tracks imprinted on its snowy surface. I stare at fir trees lining the horizon and a row of upturned snowcovered rowboats at the water’s edge. My Finnish heritage has taught me to be wary of frozen lakes, and yet my curious Australian side can’t help but take a few steps out on to the ice. I walk a little more, making sure to follow the tyre tracks where I know the ice to be thick.
I keep going, fascinated by the various colours and patterns swimming below my feet. After a few minutes I stop and look back at the shore. I am a good 50m out and feel as if I am floating.
It’s quite some time before I’m roused by the sound of crunching footsteps. An old man is walking towards me.
‘‘You shouldn’t be walking here,’’ he says in Finnish. ‘‘You could fall through.’’ I stammer my reply with a broken tongue — it’s been years since I spoke the language. The man looks at me questioningly, but seems to pass off my nervousness as timidity.
‘‘You should be wearing woollen pants,’’ he says, looking doubtfully at my jeans. And that’s it. In true Finnish form, and to my relief, the man dismisses the need for useless small talk and continues on his way.
I smile as I watch his shrinking outline silhouetted against the fading sunlight and make my way carefully back towards solid ground.