We woke up to overcast skies – pretty gray and in the 40s instead of yesterday’s sunny record breaking 70s. The plan today was to head to Hameensaari, a small island in the huge lake of Saimaa. It is not huge in a sea-like Lake Huron way, but a narrow, multi armed Puget Sound sort of way (though not on the ocean). By boat it is about an hour and 15 minutes from Mikkeli.
Erkki’s family has spent all their summers on the island since he was a child in the 1950’s (he is a year or so younger than me). He and each of his sisters have a rustic summer cabin on the island, plus a small assortment of saunas, storage sheds, root cellars. They are the only inhabitants.
Erkki left the apartment a couple of hours before us to get the boat ready, some neighbors stopped by in their car to carry all of our luggage, water and other supplies to the boat, and Veera, Sebastian and I headed out on foot. Past a graveyard, where a crowd dressed in black was gathered for a funeral, through a little forest, past one of the many dog parks I have seen and into town. Small area but a boulevard, bustling downtown. The large block filling-buildings were filled with supermarkets, department stores and a warren of smaller shops. We bought food for the island and continued down the boulevard to the dock where the smallish boat was gassed up and ready to go. Vaguely reminiscent of the African Queen it feels highly functional, sort of a floating RV, the perfect sort of boat to be slowly put-putting its way to an island with minimalist accommodations.
The skies were still leaden and heavy as we made our way south, but every now and again a ray of light would break through and illuminate a stand of golden birches amidst the somber pine forests. Sun or not it was beautiful and in spite of the weather forecast, not particularly cold.
The island when we arrived was practically perfect. Like many of the islands we had passed it was birch and pine, and I think fir. Veera said there are 6 types of birches on the island, including 2 that are fairly rare. Erkki started a fire in the sauna. On the other side of the wall is a small bedroom where they put me and Veera because the sauna would keep this room warmer than the other buildings. Finally I get to use my little camino fleece sleeping sac and silk sheet bag that I have carried all over Europe. While it was still light we had dinner in the largest cabin, cabbage rolls that Eija had made in advance. Afterwards Erkki showed us his favorite haunts from childhood. There are lots of little paths threading from one cabin to another through the forest. There were many types of mushrooms including chanterelles. There are several small beaches and rock overlooks. At scenically situated spots are benches and tables and hammocks and tree houses and fire pits. The whole island, which is maybe 400-500 meters long and 200 meters wide, has been incorporated into a comfortable living space. Just before the sunset we arrived at the south end of the island where we scramble up a huge rock and just sat and watched the pink tinged clouds.
Then it was into the sauna. Feeling very warm and relaxed I came out wrapped in a large white terrycloth robe and lay down on a bench, looking upwards I realized the clouds were clearing and the stars were coming out. By the time it was completely dark the stars were brilliant, the Milky Way splashed across the sky. Veera, Eija and I left the forest and went and lay on the dock where the view was uninterrupted and talked softly. It was exceedingly satisfying. Eija and Erkki speak perfectly good English, but often in a middle of a story they get swept along by the tale and revert to Finnish letting Veera translate so as to be sure I understand. I don’t mind at all because I am growing more and more to love the way the language sounds. All those aas and iis and ees add up to a very melodic sound. While we were contemplating the vastness of creation Erkki built a bon-fire and when the deck got too cold we wrapped ourselves in blankets and continued just being together watching the fire burn.
This has been an incredible trip. I feel a sense of overwhelming gratitude to the people along my route who have gone out of their way to make my time at each place be special and unique. At each stop I have felt strongly a sense of place and of the story and personalities of the people I have been with and the connection between the two. I would not have traded a single moment of it for anything. Sitting around so quiet and so comfortable and so welcomed by Veera and her family was the perfect setting for the coming transition home. I am amazed at how I have been blessed.