Someone extremely special is celebrating a birthday today!
And I am feeling so very fortunate to be able to actually share it (and ice cream, cake, and QT) with him.
King amongst men, champion of sustainable housing, pocket neighborhoods, and public transport. It doesn't get any better than this.
Attention men in my life, past, present, and potential: Know this! You aren't ever going to top my dear ol' d-a-d!
Happiest happy birthday to you Dad!
Love you tons and tons and tons...
My last morning in Scandinavia.
As I sit here in this quiet flat in Helsinki, I find myself thinking, yet again how grateful I am. Grateful to myself, for this journey over these last months, for the people I have met along the way, the things I have done, the things I have seen and learned, all the experiences (good and bad) that I have had. This feels like an accomplishment. Almost like a graduation. Four countries, four farms, nearly four months. I could have never imagined this would go as well as it did, that I would consider myself so changed for the better as a result.
I quit a job that was making me unhappy, left my friends, my apartment, my life and set out alone to travel and to farm. Who was I to wield a hoe or milk a cow or comfort a lamb? But I did. I learned, I worked hard, I met incredible teachers and friends. I will never be the same again.
This Scandinavian chapter, for now, is coming to a close but this journey isn't over. Next stop: Canada. New York coming soon.
Updates forthcoming from the other side.
So maybe this happened.
What can I say? My final nights in Helsinki. In the company of friends. There may have been some beers. And then maybe some surprisingly refreshing beverage called lonkero created in conjunction with the 1952 Olympics involving gin and some sweet lemony mixture... on tap.
Memories are foggy at best.
I haven't really acknowledged the countdown I am in the midst of. This is my final night with my sheep. My final night on the farm. The rain has cleared and a mist has settled over the pastures. The skies are pink and growing dark. Delicious dinner and plans for drinks in the forest with the Austrians. In denial because I can't even imagine that this won't go on forever.
I am currently in the midst of my fourth day of life having known the juicy glory of the gooseberry. Of course I had heard rumor of such wonders but had never actually tasted one until word came through over breakfast that the front bushes were ripe and ready to be picked. Holy sweet moly. These taste buds of mine are forever changed.
I feel such a strong connection to these sheep but know that one has to be practical when dealing with farm animals. There was a strong chance the vet could have deemed her state of affairs as hopeless and put Big Momma down this morning. Instead we will wait it out, hope for her continued improvement, and keep an eye out for signs of labor. Chances are, if she beats this infection and delivers without complication, she will be able to stand again, feed her babies, and resume life on the field.
Fingers crossed for this beautiful lady in the meantime.
My girl is doing so well. But she is currently behind bars in the barn for further monitoring as she is still underweight compared to her siblings. As I carried her to her temporary pen, I worried that she might be traumatized to be away from her family. When last I checked, she was lounging to the maximum, seeming absolutely self satisfied to be out of the current rain shower with an endless supply of grain.
Otherwise, she has been officially been transformed from a poop festooned mess to a soft, wooly, Downy commercial worthy pile of kill me with cuteness. Most importantly, as a gesture of good will and overall morale booster, we have taken to calling her Princess Stinky, or just Princess for short.
We just had a nice nuzzle before she literally curled up at my feet, ready for bed. Oh Stinky... oops, I mean Princess... Long may you reign over our collective hearts (awwww....).
Most of the lambs around here never get names. Their time on this earth is limited and in many cases it's difficult to even tell them apart. But once in awhile a special soul will rise above, be it for physical attribute or personality trait, and be chosen for such an honor. In this case, he chose me.
And I named him... Paul.
That's right, Paul. Paul the lamb!
It started with a small crush. He was always underfoot while I was snuggling with Speedy, occasionally rubbing his budding horns on my shoudler. Soon he became more forward: unbuttoning my sweater (I kid you not), nuzzling into my hair, placing a hoof on either shoulder and licking my ear. I was powerless to resist his charms and he quickly became my obvious favorite. Ulla (farmer) told me I should definitely name him. She told me I would go out into the field that evening and the name would just come to me.
And err...it did. And it was Paul. Don't ask me why. I could have chosen Kevin or Bruce, or Tiddlysticks, but I chose Paul. And this shall be his name for ever more.
I don't know about you, but I didn't grow up with nettles. Poison ivy, yes, but not this stinging, sprawling, sneaky bastard of a plant. The thing about nettles is that try as you might to avoid them, they trick you. You're innocently entangled in the raspberries, surprise, your entire arm has just bumped up against one or twelve of these plants that seem almost indecipherable from the surrounding vegetation. Collecting clover for the rabbits and you accidentally grab onto a nettle plant and your hands and wrists are aflame with their telltale welts. Or maybe you're cuddling with a gentle beast of a ewe and lo, she's been sleeping in them so now you have the nettle burn on your neck. It never ends.
And you know what? It really f$&?!% hurts.
The silver lining is that unlike poison ivy, it doesn't spread and it fades relatively quickly. I also continue to be enlightened on its many other uses and supposed health benefits. We're talking nettle soup, nettle tea, nettle dye, nettle bread.... it goes on. I have dabbled in all of the above but cannot count myself amongst the converted.
For all that I will miss when I must make my (all too soon) return to the states, these gnarly nettles will most certainly not make the list.
Goodbye and good riddance. May your burn not long linger.
Little Stinky has been having a particularly hard time lately. We only added her to the bottle rotation recently and while she has taken to being fed, she's still going to need a little TLC and monitoring.
Issues of the bowel variety have sadly resulted in her entire back-end being caked and crusted to the point that she was walking funny. We mentioned it to the farmers here and were instructed on how to best go about cleaning her. A tub of lukewarm water, gentle shampoo, rubber gloves, the blunt end of a butter knife, scissors to be used with extreme caution. When we finally caught her and first set her into the tub she rested her little head on my arm while I held her in. I could feel her tiny heart beating against my hand as she breathed heavily into my shirt sleeve. I talked to her softly and scratched behind her ears. She eventually even sat down in the tub so we could let her soak. The task of cleaning this unwieldy little creature seemed daunting, if not impossible. At one point, I gave up all sense of reservation and dove in, ungloved, to finagle and detangle every morsel and clump of caked on lamb shit from her soft brown wool. It took forever, she was terrified, it even started to rain midway through. It was probably one of the most disgusting things I have ever done (or been covered with) in my life. But seeing her wander back to her family a new little lamb made me almost want to cry. A few days later and I'm still not over it. But she is doing great.
...Yet another day on the farm that brought me more than I could have ever anticipated.
A beautiful day off in Finland.
Quiet farmhouse, just me and the dogs. Morning tea, bollar with butter, salad from the garden. Revisiting a torn and tattered Watership Down found on my bedroom shelf. Listening to the geese fly overhead and the sheep hollering at eachother in the distance.
Wishing these hours could go on forever.
Well it seems as though wild raspberries will trump all in terms of plentiful bounty and general deliciousness this season. I have recently made an afternoon habit out of going to a specific nearby forest clearing and reaping the bounty of these delicate, perfectly ripened berries. The supply never seems to dwindle. Those found in the forest are the teeniest imaginable but their flavor is out of control. This summer in Scandinavia has enlightened me to the fact that all those manufactured fruit flavors I grew up with as a kid are really and truly based on their wild varieties. Furthermore, the ones in the forest bear little to no insects or worms commonly known to one's front yard bush, so while tiny, all are perfectly usable and edible without even needing to avert one's eyes. We're packing and freezing, making jams, and baked custards nightly. Raspberry bliss, I am your slave!
Today was one of those days where I felt so thankful to be out here, thankful for this time I have taken, and generally happy to be alive.
August in Finland is feeling like fall already. The air is crisp and cool. Recent mornings spent walking the dogs through these beautiful forests and fields while the sun shines and the clouds continue to look painted on as if for stage backdrops. Baking bollar, hunting for wild raspberries and chanterelles, warm coffee both morning and afternoon. Yet again I find myself in amazing company, both human and canine. I have finally turned a perceivable corner in terms of my overall wellness; my mind is finally clear and able to take it all in.
While almost everything in my life is to be determined, everything currently feels meant to be.
It's so nice to already know that I am going to look back on these days as some of the best of my entire life.
Something important has happened.
As of last night, I am officially, properly, and transcendentally initiated into the world of traditional Finnish smoke sauna. And I might never be the same again.
Serendipity continues to be at play these days. Upon arrival at this farm, I was almost immediately interviewed on camera by a documentary filmmaker making a movie about this area, Cittaslow, organic farmers, etc. As it happens, he and his girlfriend are living nearby this summer with access to a traditional smoke sauna by the sea. Whoa.
What is a smoke sauna you ask? I had no idea. But Monday rolls around, a call is received that the sauna has been heating up good and proper for four plus hours (as required) and we are welcome any time. So along with the lovely couple from Vienna volunteering, I hop into the sheep van, buy some Finnish beer, and make a merry way towards what will end up being one of the best nights of my life.
Hottest sauna with blackened walls and steaming coals whispering the fabled sauna spirit's message (!); steaming birch branches filling the air with their sweet aroma, ready to be implemented to smack yourself with as the Finns do. A cold sea plunge immediately after. Were it winter, a hole would have been cut in the ice just below the steps off the dock. Slow, adrenaline inducing, serotonin releasing swimming for more minutes than expected. Puffy cumulus clouds on the horizon as the sun set, gentle waves lapping against me. I never wanted to leave that moment in time. Ever.
A warm fireplace followed, lasting into the wee hours. Finnish Polka on vinyl, Highland cattle sausages with sautéed mushrooms and zucchini cooked over the flames, fried bullar with butter for dessert, countless beers that would feel as though they never happened come time for our early wake up call the next morning.
(For the curious amongst us: The savusauna (smoke sauna) is a special type of sauna without a chimney. Wood is burned in a particularly large stove and the smoke fills the room. When the sauna is hot enough, the fire is allowed to die and the smoke is ventilated out. The residual heat of the stove is enough for the duration of the sauna. This represents the ancestral type of sauna, since chimneys are a later addition. Smoke saunas have experienced great revival in recent years since they are considered superior by the connoisseurs. They are not, however, likely to replace all or even most of the regular saunas because more skill, effort and time (usually most of the day) are needed for the heating process. Source Wikipedia (where else?). )
Still at half mast, but feeling relatively serene.
It seems as though this tranquil sheep farm might be just what I needed. Hours of knitting, talking, tea, and evening candlelight. What little voice I have left is that of a man but it's hard to feel sorry for myself in this beautiful setting. Proper work will commence Monday and I'm admittedly experiencing some unavoidable anxiety about The Future (!), but I am still doing my very best to try to relish this wave of calm doing it's best to wash over me.
A journey and an arrival have been accomplished. So relieved and grateful to be back in the sticks.
While it seems several of my farm related prayers have been answered, I'm gonna need a minute...
Somewhere along the way, be it Norway, Spain or Helsinki, I have uncharacteristically contracted some form of sickness resulting in loss of voice, energy, and brain power. Further reports following some much needed R&R. Lucky for me, it's the weekend.
I have a good feeling about this one, people.
To be continued...