The Birds Were Here First

Last night I went for a walk with my son, who kept circling around me with his bike all the way over to the manor house grounds and back. It was the kind of weather when it should be raining, when everything feels and smells like it was raining but it really isn’t. Not the kind when thunderstorm is approaching and the air feels heavy but the kind when air is light and fresh. There was our sound in the gravel and the smell of fresh cut hay and summer rain around us, and the cool breeze.

Island in Blue

A friend told me that Tove Jansson‘s island Klovharu is not that far from us. I find the place fascinating. It is way out there on the open sea and when you are out there in a place like that you feel like an intruder in the well-knit balance of nature, as she wrote: the seabirds were here first. However, she loved the place and did most of her groundbreaking creative work on Klovharu. I’ve been told that when the winds are strong, the waves swoosh over her little cottage and there is no way to land on the island. I imagine staying in a place like that can be scary but also very inspiring. Just like her stories are. I can definitely understand why she fell in love with her hide away. Tove’s words are wise and even though she wrote for children, the stories are the kind which also speak to adults.


When I traveled to India a few years ago, I wanted to take a present with me to give to the wise man who invited us to join the Youth Summit. Peter’s idea was that we need to bring young people together from all over the world, because – as he said: global issues need to be addressed globally. And when I was looking for the perfect gift, I came across Tove’s Moomin stories and that is what I gave him: a double-cd of Moomin stories, an odd thing to buy for a grown up but I hope he enjoyed it. I never got a chance to ask him though since his health deteriorated soon after our visit and he passed away this summer. Peter was one of those people who everyone turns to for advice. During our visit I saw young people taking turns to talk to him about their joys and sorrows, and he was there for them. Both before and after our visit we corresponded via email with him, quite a lot actually, which was always a bit complicated because he was blind and needed someone to assist him with writing. After the second bombing in Mumbai I wrote to him and asked if he and his friends and family were okay and he replied: Oh Annika, you westerners claim the world as your own, but for us our whole existence is just borrowed time. We’re allowed to visit here for awhile and for that we will remain forever grateful. I never discussed religion with him, his thinking was always more on the practical side of things. However, that thought has stayed with me, and I see it as a great reminder of the place where we people belong in relation to everything else on this planet.


They say a heatwave is approaching us from the east, so I decided to write today before it gets too hot to think. After all this rain and coolness I can’t really imagine what that will be like, but I’m looking forward to the change. I’m sure it’ll be over as soon as it starts. Every now and then we get these summers around here that really aren’t summers at all. Some people say that this is what climate change has in store for us, first summer rain for 6 months and then winter rain for 6 months. That would also fool the people who only look at annual average temperatures because those figures wouldn’t budge in either way if winters become milder and summers cooler. I don’t mind cooler summers and a drizzle every now and then but I would really miss snow in the winter time. A rainy summer like this one provides us actually with more photo opportunities than a sunny summer. Versatile light, variety of hues of blue, deeper tones of green and brown. Time and coolness for thought.


13 thoughts on “The Birds Were Here First

  1. Nice photos, and writing, Annika. Love the idea of bringing kids from all over the world together – I think that would solve a lot of the problems with hate that people end up growing into.


    1. Hi James, thanks for stopping by to read my post. Yes, it was a fantastic idea. 🙂 My students and I are glad we had a chance to participate that one time. Thanks for the kind words.


  2. I grew up with Tove Jansson’s Moomin books, which have remained with me and have a very special place in my heart. I only discovered her Summer Book, written for adults, much later and it is way up at the top of my list of all time favourite books, one that I return to and read again and again. In fact your own writing has always reminded me of hers. You write with such a clear, close sense of observation and your words are so light they seem almost transparent. It’s rare to find this in prose, more common in poetry.
    Of course I have only read Tove Jansson in translation and I wonder how you feel about them in Finnish and as they have been translated? I remember you saying (I think!) that you find yourself able to write more freely and creatively in English than in Finnish……..


    1. Hi Deborah, so glad to read your thoughtful and ever so kind reply! That is by far the greatest compliment I’ve ever got and I am truly humbled by such a comparison. I can assure you I will never forget what you wrote. Thank you so much!
      I haven’t read Tove in English. I try to read books in the original language, so Tove works best in Swedish. If you know any German, Swedish is quite easy to learn, I suppose, those languages being quite closely related, (I vaguely remember from my studies…). I am glad to have found a person who shares my love for the author. There is a Moomin world in Naantali and a Tove Jansson museum in Tampere, which are both worth the visit if you ever come to Finland.


      1. I do agree with you about reading books in the original language (and watching films this way as well, actually) but I don’t speak Swedish, or German, so would find reading Tove’s books this way impossible which is a shame. I do think that the English translations I’ve read have been very good, but of course it can never be the same thing. You are lucky to have this extra dimension, to be able to think and read and write fluently in more than one language, which you do so well! Thanks again for a lovely post, and for reminding me of the Moomins and their very special world.


  3. Hi Annika,
    Its my first visit to your blog and I am already totally impressed – both by pictures & text, really very well written!

    I think I like Tove Jansson’s work even more as a grown-up than I did as a kid, or rather; I keep discovering new fields and depths in her books – which makes the reading process endless in a very positive way.

    The landscape, her landscape, must have influenced the world she created. Would love to visit her island!


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