Walking in a Winter Wonderland
But it wasn’t.
I could hear everything; the crunch as snow compacted under my boot, the distant burble of the icy river, even the soft whisper of snow landing on frozen pine needles. The forest was far from silent – it was singing. The black quavers of Finland’s Oulanka National Park quivered in the air, mingling with snowflakes.
“Look,” Eki said. Our guide's calm voice lured me from my reverie and my eyes followed his finger to the frosted bark of a randomly selected tree trunk. Our quizzical eyes asked the question for us. “There is lichen. This means the air is pure. Lichen cannot grow where there is pollution.” A miniature icicle had formed on a curl of bark. It was totally transparent, but glinted pink in the wintery sun.
We headed closer to the roar of the river. Its depths were ink-coloured and opaque, surging through the white-blue snowscape towards Russia. As the water tumbled over a waterfall it achieved a moment of clarity, becoming a cascading chandelier of liquid crystal. White flecks flared into the cold air and were dragged back by gravity. I almost disbelieved Eki when he said he spends long summer days rafting here, but he was so in tune with this wilderness that his voice had already become part of the music of the forest.
Heading deeper into the forest, our footsteps fell into a much heavier rhythm as we too began to walk in time to the music of the woods. Fallen branches, masquerading as sugar-sprinkled Yule logs, lounged across the thin pathways, and we slithered down slopes bristling with frozen shrubs. At one point we clambered up a rocky ledge, hand-over-hand up thick ropes, exhilarating at the sudden rush of endorphins through the arms and up the shoulders. Cresting the hill was rewarded with a vantage point of a long meander of river, slipping darkly away like the sweeping trail of a quill. Opposite, trees bristled on the bank, like warped piano keys, distorted black upon white.
We returned to the bright lights and warmth of Basecamp Oulanka’s cabins. The roar was no longer of the river, but of a crackling and curling log fire from trees felled in the forest. The sounds of nature were impossible to keep out.
As we sat tucking in to a feast of thick stew, Eki appeared. Again, the word surprise hovered on his lips. Another guide, Teemu, walked to the fire, the warm light picking up the shadows on his face as he sung one old Finnish song after another, slow sad songs that captured the cold of the outside air and the warmth inside our room. Even here, his music picked up the notes of the forest and sounded like the mentality of a people so closely linked with their landscape.
It was a music which sounded like home.
By Georgina Lawrence, Marketing Executive, who travelled on our Finnish Wilderness Week