Spring has officially arrived in Finland! The melting snow is uncovering winter’s indiscretions, from plow-damaged benches and bicycles to an staggering amount of winter clothing and 6 months of until-now frozen dog waste. Probably most surprising has been how green the ground plants are immediately upon freedom from the snow.
Interestingly, there have been scientific studies that measure the ability of plants to use sunlight that’s filtered through snow layers, and turns out that plants are quite proficient at using even the small amounts of radiation that penetrates the snow. I’ve also heard tell that plants stay green all winter long beneath the snow, and I suppose that makes sense, since it’s not like chlorophyll disappears when cold…. Reasonings aside, the lush greenery amidst the remaining snow piles is cheery, and almost as welcome as the fabulously not-freezing temperatures! I never thought it would be the case, but it appears that I have become one of those people who considers 40F t-shirt weather.
Spring has also heralded in a few other major changes for this honorary Finn, primarily that I have moved back up to Kevo, where I will be living until September for my field season. I finished up all my lab work in Kuopio by the skin of my teeth, and stuck around to celebrate one of Finland’s most popular national holidays: Vappu. Vappu is the dual celebration of springtime (May Day) and worker’s rights (Labor Day). This is a big party holiday – people get off work at noon on April 30th, and immediately begin celebrating. The partying continues throughout the night, and then right on through May 1st. I was told that you have to keep drinking on May 1st because otherwise you’d be nursing a hangover, and be unable to actually enjoy the holiday. Oh, Finnish logic. In the more southern areas, Vappu is also a giant picnic day. Kuopio is a little too far north for the mass picnicking (unfortunately), but there was a big festival market in the city center, and a fairgrounds down by the edge of the lake. I forgot to take a picture of the Kuopio festival, but here is a shot of a Vappu celebration:
As an outsider, the coolest thing about this holiday is the garb. Students here wear brightly colored coveralls to indicate their membership in student unions. Each student union has a characteristic color scheme, which means that you can tell what union a person belongs to based on their coverall color. And because coveralls aren’t already too-cool-for-school, they accessorize them with patches they obtain from all the various parties. Yeah, parties have fabric patches made up, like partying is worthy of a scout badge. :)
In addition, you drape paper streamers and balloons all over yourself. I saw a shocking number of people who had blown-up lab gloves tied to their belts in lieu of real balloons. But most importantly (and age-independent) is the ylioppilaslakki, or the graduation cap. These are what you wear when you graduate from high school here, and they’ve been the same for probably as long as we’ve been wearing those cardboard slab graduation caps we wear in the States. But these are awesome, unlike our version. First off, they’re velvet. Secondly, you look like a sailor! A smart, white-tiger-like sailor.
The white velvet yellows with age, and so the color of your cap indicates your age, essentially. And age is a good thing, so wearing your yellowing cap on Vappu indicates that you’ve been a smarty-pants for a long time. So pretty much everyone over the age of 18 is sporting this tremendous headgear on Vappu. I borrowed a friend’s cap, because she doesn’t ever wear hers (she’s clearly crazy), which she stores in plastic, so it was super white and clean and meant that everyone thought I was 18, which for a lady approaching her youth’s dotage, was kinda cool.
I went out on Vappu Eve determined to get a patch of my own. I abandoned my mission when I saw the line to get into the official student party, and heard that there was a cover charge, which is repellant. It was also raining and I wasn’t drunk, so I would have been able to feel the discomfort of hours in a line in the rain, unlike my younger soused compatriots.Vappu also has a few yummy traditions, namely sima and tippaleipä. Sima is a home-brewed mead beverage of sugar, yeast and lemon juice (and optional raisins) that you make about 2 weeks in advance to give it time to carbonate and ferment a bit. The alcohol content in sima is negligible, but it’s a nice, crispy, clean refreshment perfect for toting along on picnics. Tippaleipä is a small, super crunchy version of a funnel cake. It translates as ‘drops of bread’, which is about as etymologically accurate as ‘funnel cake’. True to form, the Finnish version is smaller and drier/crunchier than the American one, but wonderful as long as you weren’t expecting the soft, chewy goodness of a ‘normal’ funnel cake.
Maybe more personally momentous, I bought a car!! I now officially own more in Finland than in America. This car will serve as my field car for the summer, since I need to travel the 25km between Kevo (where I sleep) and my field site (where I work) nearly daily. Bonus: I feel a little like J.Lo, since I bought an adorable little Fiat.
Being a car-owner also meant I got to take a 2-day roadtrip when I moved from Kuopio to Kevo, which was fun. I stopped in Oulu for a night, where there are 2 other Fulbrighters and a good friend from Kevo, all of whom I visited with. I also met the rotund ‘Toripolliisi’ (Market Police), an Oulu landmark statue that guards the city’s main market square.
So now I’m settling in for the summer here in Kevo. I’m also starting to see the ground again at my field site, which is disorienting after so many months of seeing it as an unadulterated expanse of pure white. The sun is also not really setting anymore in Lapland, so we’re moving closer and closer to the perpetually-sunny summertime. Spring has come. Crazy.