Tervetuloa!  (welcome!)  People also just say ‘terve’, which according to my dictionary means ‘goodbye’, but apparently can also mean ‘hello’.  But ‘päivää’ means ‘day’, and it’s how one is almost always greeted.  You simply say ‘päivää’ back to them.

I’m at the Kevo field station right now, and it’s absolutely gorgeous.  I might have to use a thesaurus soon, because I feel like that’s the word that pops into my head every time I look out a window here in Finland.  I looked up the word in Finnish to try to give my mind a break from ‘gorgeous’: it’s ‘upea’.  This is the view from the back of the building I’m staying in at the Kevo station.  That’s lake Kevo (Kevonjärvi).

I’ve now had my chance to scope out the two sets of field sites, and it’s still up in the air about which is more appropriate.  I have to think on it a bit, but I must know by the time I get back from Helsinki next week, so there’s a small amount of pressure.  This is one of the potential field sites from here in Kevo.  Right after I took this picture I saw a moose on the other side of the pond!  I swear, this place is like a brochure.

I’ve also decided that what I really need to be studying is teleportation, because it would be so useful!  I’ve been thinking about useless things a lot lately – brought on in part by my sick and twisted love of ‘The 10th Kingdom’ (a miniseries that is awful, but amazing, and I accidentally started watching it again the other day), and by my endless hours alone on a bus this week.  I’ve decided that if I could have some magically-derived powers, they would be (in this order): 1) fluency in all languages, because I kinda hate not understanding/being understood; 2) teleportation, like in ‘Jumper’, but without the assassins out for me.  If I knew what everything meant in Finnish, this sign in Ivalo probably wouldn’t have been so funny to me… :)

There are also a few local artsy things I’ve noticed around Lapland (not sure if this is a Lapland thing, or a Finland thing, or a summer thing…).  They’re these beautiful sculptures of twigs.  I’m including the only picture I’ve actually gotten of one, because I’m usually speeding by them in a bus.  This one was near a river in Ivalo, which I snapped a shot of when I had an hour break in my bus trip up to Kevo.  Nowhere near the most impressive I’ve seen by far, but an example of what I’m talking about.  If I ever rent a car and drive up north on my own, I’ve got the best photo projects planned, because I could stop the car whenever I wanted!

I’ve also gotten to do a lake-side sauna (say this as sow-nah, because the Finns actually invented saunas, so they get dibs on pronunciation rights) at both field sites.  I have to tell you, anytime the sauna comes up with a Finnish person, the first thing they tell you is that it is NOT a sexual experience (also almost always accompanied by that head-tilted-down, super-serious-are-you-understanding-me? face)!  Perhaps too many foreigners have come to Finland expecting an orgy in the tiny, wooden room that’s heated to almost boiling temperatures?  I have to admit, when I’m in a steamy, 180-degree hot box, sex is the last thing on my mind.  I’m concentrating on breathing without my nose holes feeling like they’re on fire!  Perhaps to cut down on temptation, it is customary to have a separation of the sexes during sauna, either spatially or temporally, but swimsuits are always absolutely forbidden (there are signs!).

The saunas have been amazing.  Finnish saunas are generally a wood-fired stove with rocks piled on top, and you throw warm water onto the rocks, they steam, and then so do you.  :)  When you are sufficiently steamy and sweaty, you run out of the sauna and jump into the lake (järvi), which is a temperature change from +80C to +4C!  Then you repeat the process.  It’s quite the workout for your circulatory system, but it’s also super relaxing and your skin feels amazing and clean afterwards.  I’m a fan.  Strangely enough, in Kilpisjärvi, I did a co-ed sauna with about 25 Norwegian and French undergrads who were celebrating the last night of a field course they’d been taking at the station for the last few weeks.  There was quite a bit of drinking during the sauna, which seems a little too dehydrating to me, but there’s actually a word for a beer in the sauna: ‘saunakalya’, so it can’t be too strange.  I think a few of the undergrads didn’t get the ‘not-a-sexual-experience’ memo, but my 30-year old body kept me safe from any untoward advances from the celebrating 20-year olds.  ;)

And I saw an actual reindeer farm today – smelled like a cow farm, but it made me feel like I was in the Finnish movie ‘Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale’.  If you haven’t seen this movie, I recommend it – it’s hilarious, and upea (ah, you like that?!), and you get to hear spoken Finnish.  It’s currently available on Netflix instant watch, too.  Anyways, this is a big farm, and I was just taking a quick picture while driving by and not trying to disturb the herders who live there, but here it is (the sign says ‘public road ends’):

Anteeksi, en ymmärrä.

‘Sorry, I don’t understand’ (that’s what the post title means, and is pronounced: uhn-tayk-si en ewm-mar-ra).  Story of my life.  My “incomprehensible curse” continues in Finland – this is the phenomenon where I will be saying the right words, and yet I’m still incomprehensible to the person I’m attempting to communicate with.  It should be noted that this curse extends even to my mother tongue, so even when I’m speaking English to people, I cannot be understood.  Really?!?  I was hoping that this would be the ONE country I’ve visited/lived where I could escape my accursed lack of communication prowess, but alas, blank stares and scrunched/confused faces are my bread and butter.  Sigh.

In lighter news, I’m living in Finland!  I did very little sleeping on the planes over here, which meant (perversely), that I had very little jet-lag, as I passed out upon arrival at my hotel, and only woke up 13 hours later.  My internal clock was thusly reset.  Praise be.

Tonight I’m writing from Kilpisjärvi, where I’m visiting the University of Helsinki’s Biological Field Station to check on possible field sites for my study this year.  So today I climbed a fell (what they call a mountain), because I heard tell there were wetlands there.  Unfortunately, all the wetlands were super shallow (bedrock was only about 2 inches below the surface), but it did afford these gorgeous views from the summit!  Below is Saana fell, which just so happens to be the highest point in Finland!  You can also see the little town of Kilpisjärvi at the base of the fell along the lake.

The other direction – Norway and Sweden!  Those snow-capped mountains are Norway, and Sweden is to the left of there.  This is the point where all 3 countries meet!

And here’s the cottage I’m staying in at the field station.  Funny thing: all the buildings here have these ladders up to, and then extending onto the roofs.  I was going to ask someone why soon, because this seems to be a common feature.  Something to do with snow?  For watching the northern lights?  Where you send the children when they’re whining?

The field station’s mascots are Arctic lemmings, which are more characteristically colored than the Alaskan ones I’m used to.  I am planning on asking for an explanation of the kiss/hugging/fighting nature of the mascots’ pose, shown in the pattern on the curtains in the main room of my cabin…

Tomorrow I travel back down to Rovaniemi, and then on to the Kevo Field Station (near Utsjoki) for the next few days after that.  And then to Helsinki for 3 days for the Fulbright orientation.  I feel a little travel-tired just thinking about it, but other than the nagging fear of missing my bus connections and exit points, the bus rides through the Finnish countryside have been idyllic.

I’ll leave with a picture of a reindeer in the middle of the road – I had to stop my car at least 4 times in 20km because these guys were hanging out.  I got my own back, though, because I definitely ate a giant plate of reindeer stew on mashed potatoes for dinner!  Muwahahaha!