So here I am on the brink of one of the Big Questions that I suppose every blogger has to face sooner or later: how much and how deep private experiences I am willing to share with the world? I know my posts are not that private, or maybe they are since I am trying to portray my inner feelings and thoughts to you, but they do not touch my life as it is; they don’t concern the people I live my life with and that is the barrier I needed to think through. After having a chat with my companion I was reassured that this is fine. I will not write names, I will use only approximate location names, I will not post facial pictures with recognisable details.
I was pondering this since there is something kind of personal I really wanted to share with you and it concerns the relationship with my son and our shared experiences. I don’t know if this is important, but I have a hunch that this story could tell you something about my world and shed some light to what drives me.
In a few of my earlier blogs I wrote a bit about my Soul Landscape: our cottage on an island in Saimaa Archipelago, eastern Finland. This past summer I spent a whole two weeks there with my eldest son (6y) and our dog. Our cottage is just a wilderness cabin: no running water, no electricity. Oil lamps, candles, fireplaces, sauna, the old fashion ascetic way. It’s a dream haven for a fisherman coming home after a full day on the maze-like waters of Saimaa in rough autumn weather. It’s a sanctuary, a perfect getaway from the busy and crazy world I choose to live in daily.
Those two weeks might have been the most influential time for me in my life so far. At least I think it was in our relationship between my son and I. It’s funny how sometimes the small details make a great difference in life and stick to your mind. There was a lot of small details during those two weeks. There was also big details. Huge. And I wanted to share the one that moved me the most.
Because that day was a Day of Adventure…
In a bay near our cottage is an old and deserted skid hut, forgotten there by lumberjacks some decades ago. Since it had been abandoned it has housed random hippies and “lifestyle-indians” who were enjoying the awesome summers of Finnish nature. Now during the last 5 to 10 years it has grown pretty much silent and dead.
Naturally a deserted hut woke up the interest and imagination of a six years old boys mind and so it became our first stop on our adventure. Near the hut is also some erratic glacial boulders of a size of a house and creeks and caverns that lay under them. That’s where we spent a lot of time with my friends when we were kids: played indian, huntsman and whatnot. We brought utensils, oil lamps, saws, and shovels with us and crawled through tight cracks to the bigger caves under the boulders. This was a place I definitely wanted my son to see and also experience it myself again after some thirty or more years.
We packed our backpack with care and rowed towards the forgotten hut. Dog was left to guard our own cottage and he didn’t appreciate it too much: the howling could be heard a kilometer or two on to the lake. He would calm down eventually, poor guy, and wait for our return. We stopped to place a fish-trap to a carefully chosen spot and spat some spells to Ahti wishing we’d have some bream to the smoker in a few days. (Ahti is a spirit or a god of water and fish in old Finnish folklore)
Deserted cabin was in a bad shape, at least from an adults point of view. There was nice objects here and there, but yeah… it’s ruined and full of trash, though to a child it was a very exciting place. We didn’t dare to touch anything inside: one doesn’t know what has been hidden or forgotten among the trash it was covered with, but we explored the exterior with care.
After we were done with the hut the journey continued guided by my distant childhood memories. We went inward to the lovely and thick forest filled with decaying wind fallen trunks, polypores and leaf scattered geenish sunlight.
We stopped near one decaying trunk of a birch to examine the polypores. Lost in thought I said: “This elder tree has already died a long time ago…” My son went and hugged the trunk, stripped a tear and said it’s sad when old trees die. We talked about circulation of nature and how that elder dead tree decaying to the ground is living in all the young trees that surround it’s grave. Because energy never disappears in this world: it just shifts and changes its form. We stood silent for a while and went deeper into the woods. Every few hundred meters we sang and shouted to the bears and other dwellers of the forest: here we come as visitors, in peace, but if they’d be kind and step aside a bit, so our trip wouldn’t end in a brawl. And they did. We didn’t see or hear any large habitants, only ravens, woodpeckers and willow tits.
My memory didn’t fail us. There they were standing in the middle of the forest. Two massive boulders and several smaller scattered around. I had a massive rush of memories washing over me and my son just stood there mouth wide open and whispered: “So. Big…” For awhile we pondered the sheer force needed to move those kind of giants and the time they have stayed put and looked at the world go around. They are the creations of the last great ice age so yeah, it’s pretty long from a human perspective.
After we took our time in awe, we started to circle around the colossus. I didn’t remember exactly where the entry to the open cave was, but we found it and it looked so familiar: a little wooden chair, a wooden box, a saw and a shovel stashed under the boulders in a cavern where the rocks rested against each other forming a roof kinda structure. The oil lamp must be deeper in a chamber under one of the boulders where we left it decades ago. We arranged a campsite near our old fireplace, a mossy circle of rocks. It was time for a snack break under the shade of the Ancients. We admired the lichen covered rock surface and talked about how our ancestors might have been using this exact same spot for an accommodation: the rocky roof keeps the rain out, smoke from the campfire will escape through the openings. We thought about the time when men didn’t feign to be the Masters of the World: when bears and other beasts were an actual threat to humans. We thought of how this cavern would be a decent place to defend the campsite from a beast trying to overrun the place: only one entrance between the rocks that a bear could fit through and two smaller ones for the tribe to escape through if things got too hairy. We talked about how the bears have learned to fear humans because of the superiority of a firearm, but what it could have been like to defend your tribe only with sharpened wooden spears and rocks.
While talking, I noticed how there was this yellowish lichen growing on the rocky wall near the big entrance. I don’t know what it’s called but I remember hearing a story about how it only grows where blood has been spilled because of a battle, a sacrifice or an accident. I told my son that I got a story to tell, but I’ll tell it a bit later, maybe when we get back to our cottage.
After the snack break we continued our expedition and looked for the opening leading to the cave under the boulders. After a while we found it: a hole where you can easily descent into, narrowing down to a crawl space, banking down and finally widening to a larger chamber like cave where a juvenile explorer could sit in comfortably. It looked awesome though I didn’t dare to go all the way in. I gazed at the entrance of the chamber with the help of my flashlight and recalled the feeling when sitting there in a moist and cool darkness with my buddy in a fiddling light of an oil lamp and fearfully thinking about the hundreds of tons of rock laying right above us. Are they gonna move? No, they didn’t move. Like they did not in over ten thousand years they’ve been standing there, solid and firm. They have and will stay there while the world of men crumbles and is built up again and again.
We agreed in advance that my son won’t crawl all the way to the chamber, though the rocks were solid. When at the scene, his urge to go deeper was strong, but he did believe me in the end. We agreed that he can go as far as I can see his legs at and pull him out if needed. And he went! Quite an explorer I got!
After the cave adventure we got back to the old campsite to sit and eat the last of the cookies, buns and grapes. Son reminded me that I had a story to tell. I hesitated a bit and said maybe when we got back to the cottage because it could be a little frightening. But he insisted: assured me that he is not afraid so I thought I’d share the tale of the yellow lichen with him. After the tale was told we pondered that it could have been the blood of the defender or of a rushing bear that had been spilled on the rocky wall near the entrance and we agreed: such is life, sometimes a struggle and sometimes a tranquil happiness.
After eating a bun I broke my last cookie in half, ate the other half, gathered one more bun and seven grapes. I told my son I wanted to leave a sacrifice to this place. We talked about the faith and spirituality of our ancestors: the faith in spirits of the forest and animals, gods, but most of all we talked about their gratefulness for nature and it’s bountiful gifts. I said that this sacrifice could be a symbolical thing we could give back to this place in gratitude for what it has provided to us today. We arranged the gift on a cup-like stone embroidered by the yellow lichen and stood silent. I said maybe a bird will come and eat the cookie and the bun, maybe even the grapes. Or even a bear will come, who knows? Son was a bit worried about how the animals would bare such an unnatural meal but after some thought we came to a conclusion that grains and berries were an ancient sacrifice and though there were some additives in our gifts, them animals would most certainly manage such a minimal amount just fine.
We stood there lost in our thoughts and after a while I asked would there be something more we still needed to say to this place? Son stood there awkward and said silently that he doesn’t know. With a sudden parental intuition I grabbed him to my lap and hugged. And he hugged me tight. Long and hard. He cried and said: “I can’t help it. Tears of joy will come now.” And I cried with him pressing him against my chest. My son said: “These are the best tears of them all. There’s no need to say anything more. This is enough.” And we gazed at the two stone colossus one more time. Turned around and walked away towards our row boat. I felt sure that we would come back here one day. At least one of us would.
And yet something was still undone. After we’d trekked away for a while my son was reluctant to leave. I asked him what was the matter, do you have something you’d want to do? He wanted to prepare his own secret place in some nook near the boulders. And back we went. I suggested a place near our old campsite, but no. And my next guess was right: it’d have to be an unused private nook. We found a son fitting cave-like opening and it needed some cushioning on the floor. I suggested if we could spare to cut a few spruce branches, but this would not do and my son reminded me: “You shouldn’t cut branches off of living trees for no good reason.” I told him he was absolutely right, so let’s take these ferns because they grow back again every year. That got his approval. On a bed of ferns there had to be put a memorial: his own secret mark in the world. I offered a curvy dead branch of juniper, but it wouldn’t do. The question was tender and dear: “Daddy, can I have one stone from your old fireplace?”… and he got the permission. He arranged it for a good while and I cried watching him. Finally my son said: “It’s all done and good now. We can go.”
On the way back we shouted and sang to the bears again and they steered clear. We picked some heathers to be put in a vase. I shoved elk flies off my beard and eyebrows and finally we roved back to this familiar reality.
Back at the cottage son took his time on a tablet watching some youtube person, Tixtuu or something. A virile, young man to be, doing funny stuff. Meanwhile I was thinking: what a strange world this is and what an unbelievable individual my son is.
As are we all.