This summer is cold and rainy here in Finland. Just today I saw suntan lotion on the shelf at the supermarket and realized that there hadn’t been any use for that this summer. My boys are confused and angry. Why is there a summer if it’s not warm enough to swim in the sea? Why couldn’t we just have snow instead for the whole year? That would be MUCH nicer than this. I see their point but I don’t agree. For me it doesn’t make much difference, because mostly I enjoy swimming in cold water. The best swim of the year is always the one right after the ice has melted, like we call it here to ‘throw away that winter fur’.
For years our summer tradition has been to drive up north to see my grandparents. One of my grandfathers is 97 years old and the rest of them over 80 and it is the highlight of their year to see their great-grandchildren every summer. It takes the whole day to drive up there and my sons go absolutely nuts when they see the sea for the first time and they run as fast as they can across the beach to reach the shore. That moment is so full of joy and energy and freedom that I suppose it constitutes as the highlight of my year as well. That particular beach is so high up in the north that during my childhood there was often only one or two days a year when it was warm enough to swim in the sea and even then you had to find a place between the dunes to hide from the wind. Now that I’ve taken my sons up there it has always been really warm and they’ve been able to swim until late in the evening. For me that is the most obvious sign of climate change there is. And it has amazed us every year over and over again and we’ve been waiting for our luck to change, and this year it did. Still, my sons obviously having inherited the Finnish ‘sisu’ (=willpower) didn’t let the biting cold north wind and subzero temperatures keep them away from the beach. They dressed up in skihats and scarves and ran down to build sandcastles. I sat there with my mittens on and admired the sunset finding shelter from the wind next to a familiar dune. For me the place is a paradise even in subzero temperatures, but I can see why most people don’t bother to spend a day driving up there when there are no guarantees for swimming weather.
Weather is not the only thing that keeps our summer paradise uncrowded and clean. It is also the scarcity of services and locals’ lack of effort in renovating basically anything around the place. There is the same wooden path going around the shore that was there 35 years ago. It is so uneven that it is almost impossible to walk on it without tripping and when you do, you most probably get the palms of your hands full of splinters. Then there are the same three restaurants that were there 30 years ago, having probably mostly the same menus they had 30 years ago. No MacDonalds, no Pizza Hut, and no Starbucks. When you order a hamburger, you will be asked to confirm, since the most usual thing to order at that part of the world is french fries with sausage bits and lots of mustard, ketscup and chopped pickles on top of it. And when you’re at the beach, there is nothing else there except sand, water, wind and some small plants that like to grow in the sand. The nearest toilet or restaurant is up away from the dunes, so to go down there you better take a snack with you and when you need to go, you better run fast up the dunes.
When we were sitting in one of the three restaurants one evening eating our sausage bits with chopped pickles I heard a conversation from the next table. And even though I don’t like eavesdropping this one was hard not to hear and it didn’t really require anything to add either, so I just listened. It was a family from the south, and for them it had most obviously been a huge disappointment to face both the local weather as well as the culture. After spending a good half an hour complaining about the lack of services and the cold wind, they started to brainstorm and visualize how to develop the area. The whole area really needs some efficient branding, like for example look at those changing booths how they are all different color and different shape. And why aren’t there toilets down at the beach? This would be a great place if someone made an effort to develop the services and launch a massive marketing campaign. There could be boat rides and jetskis and kite surfing and sunchairs and parasols.. and maybe even people selling things from the ice boxes like they had in Rhodes, do you remember…? Although a bit shaken by the things I happened to hear, it was not the time or place for an argument. It was their dream. And mine – that is something very different. I don’t know if the locals just don’t bother to develop the area or is it a premeditated choice, but for my taste it works perfectly. As long as my summer paradise stays the way it is now, with the splinters and the occasional cold summers, I will be coming back.