Monks, Milk, and Lumber Mills
Finland Waters. At last we were ready to launch into the theme we had chosen for our film. As a warm-up we started out with a visit by water to an unusual colony of individuals, whose habitation can be reached only by a boat trip across Europe’s largest inland body of water. We journeyed out to an island in Lake Ladoga to become acquainted with the monks of Valamo. For several hours our little steamer churned the rough surface of a lake which was 150 miles across, with the Russo-Finnish international boundary line passing directly through it. (Scarcely more than one year after our visit, Valamo, as a result of the Russo-Finnish War, would become Soviet territory.)
The monks of Valamo adhere to the Christian teaching that all who come their way should be given food and shelter. In the last century so many travelers visited Valamo that a separate building had to be erected to house them and it was here, for a nominal charge, that we stayed.
Our room was long and narrow, with partitions nearly a foot thick. Our bed was hard, and the pillows like rocks. We had to do our own room service, but we enjoyed it all the more because of these facts.
The food served to us was good. I received special permission to eat with the monks themselves. At noontime we filed into a dark room and took our seats on wooden benches to eat a meal consisting of raw carrots, almost black bread, and beans. For dessert there was a second helping of beans, with an added sauce.
At strange hours, night and day, the monks held religious ceremonies in their beautiful chapel. We attended one such service at two o’clock in the morning and discovered that these aged men had voices comparable to those of the Don Cossack Russian Choir. Many of them had been chanting six and eight times daily for forty or fifty years. They have had much practice.
The monks do most of their own work. Those of the higher orders conduct the services and do the chanting, while those of the lower orders engage in the more menial tasks.
When it came time to depart, they helped us down to the dock with our luggage. They put our bags on board. A monk cast off, and there was one at the pilot wheel, steering the little vessel through the channels and out again over the wide waters of Lake Ladoga back to the Finnish mainland.
The clear, almost mystic chanting of the monks of Valamo, with the sounds echoing through the quiet solitude of the great church, and carrying even out across the waters of the lake, carried in our memories throughout the rest of our Finnish journey.
Next day that journey started in earnest as we boarded the small steamer Punkaharju II, to head northward by lake and river through the heartland of the Finnish countryside. The Finns were prosaic in the naming of their boats. Along this waterway we saw Punkaharju I, II, III, IV, V, and VI.
At occasional places along the way our little vessel would pull up at docks on the shores. A passenger would be taken on or let off, or some goods loaded or discharged. Catches of fish were staple cargo. Another stop. Out goes the gangplank, and some empty milk and cream cans are unloaded. These small steamers play an important part in bringing communication to the people who inhabit these isolated areas.
First important city along the way was Savonlinna, a beautiful place, where we chanced to arrive on market day. The square down by the water’s edge almost resembled a human anthill, people everywhere, and with dozens of small carts being pushed or pulled home, full of produce after the morning’s shopping.
Climbing a tower in the center of the city, we saw again the type of terrain which gives the nation its name, Suomi—land of rivers and swamps and lakes.
Heading northward again, this time on the Punkaharju I, we passed intimate scenes—boys fishing from the shore, women washing by the water’s edge, holiday makers out for an airing.
Especially did we see the saunas, small smokestacked huts where the Finns enjoyed their steam baths. The Finns attribute much of their buoyant good health to these saunas and to the great use of milk in the diet.
Dairying is the nation’s second industry, with signs of it all along the way. At one farm we disembarked (catching Punkaharju V later in the day), to study and obtain moving pictures, first hand, of the dairy processes. The person in charge was a twenty-two-year-old girl, whose parents were both dead. She directed the work of the whole self-contained estate, with its blacksmith shop, bakery, laundry, and dairy. Her attractive rosy cheeks were the result, not of make-up, but of the healthy hue brought on by hard work.
On Punkaharju V we continued northward, passing fine stands of timber and making occasional stops at isolated docks.
Lumbering is Finland’s first industry; seventy-five percent of the nation’s exports consist of lumber or lumber products. There are three main stands of timber—pine, spruce, and birch.
When I had come down from Lapland in winter I had seen lumbermen cutting the trees. Now we saw the logs being floated down to the mills. Some were going singly, others made into huge rafts, while still others were tied in great bunches and towed behind lake vessels. In every manner and means they were heading down the waterways toward the mills.
Lumber was piled everywhere—lumber for most of the countries of Europe. Finland, in proportion to its size, has more timber than any other European nation.
Shooting the Oulu Rapids
With our journeyings on the boats Punkaharju I, II, III, IV, V, and VI, plus a number of other lake and river vessels, we had concluded with one form of transportation by water through Finland. But there was still a new type open to us. For a third of a century, lumbermen in the center of the nation have been transporting tar down to the ports of the Bothnian Gulf along the rapids of the Oulu River. For this purpose a special type of boat has been constructed, and helmsmen have been trained in the art of shooting these rapids. It is now possible to make the journey in craft similar to the old tar boats. We decided on the trip, but first walked down the river some distance to see just what kind of rapids we would have to shoot. The frothing current, churning over rocks like a herd of wild horses, almost frightened us, but we obtained fine pictures of the area we would be navigating. When the trip started, we made two amazing discoveries. First, the tar boats—just three feet wide but forty feet long—are admirably constructed for the tasks which they have to perform. And we found that the helmsmen really knew their business.
Time and again our tiny vessel would head toward a rock. It would seem that a catastrophe could not be averted. But at the last instant the boatman would steer the craft clear and avoid disaster.
At one place the river was filled with logs. Many times our little vessel would get astride of one. Sometimes several would be under the boat at the same time. We would think that surely the craft would turn over, but always the skill of the helmsman was able to save us from any accident. Last portion of the journey was the roughest of all and we had a spine-tingling landing, with the tar boat catapulting angrily around a rough curve and missing an old wooden pier by inches as we shot under a suspension bridge and drew up alongside a little landing stage.
The entire adventure consumed nearly a day. In all that time there was no severe accident. At least not until the end. Just as we were docking, I saw a pretty girl whom I wanted to photograph. In my haste to jump out, I tipped the craft half over, until it dipped water. But I did get the movie footage.
A little Alice-in-Wonderland train, with a solitary car hitched to its poky old engine, was waiting to pick us up. It fairly galloped over the final stretch to Oulu, the birch-laden tender and the single car dancing gleefully to the rugged rhythm of the tracks. Here on this train were nearly as many thrills of rough riding as we had experienced on the riverboat.
The greatest joy of the trip lay in the companionship of those who accompanied us—seven persons comprising five nationalities—French, German, English, Finnish, and American.
At the Arina Hotel in Oulu, on the Bothnian Gulf, Helen and I entertained most of our international group for the evening, then went down to the midnight train to see them off, for we were all traveling in various directions. Our friendships had been short but sincere and there was real wistfulness as we stood on the platform saying “Auf Wiedersehen,” “Au Revoir,” “Cheerio,” “Hyvasti,” and “I’ll be seeing you!” Representatives of five splendid nations and we were all friends. To think that there is a possibility of our all being involved in a war amongst one another!
Oulu is a drab town with a pearl set in its center. The Arina Hotel, opened just two months, was one of the finest we had enjoyed in Finland and we lingered two days just to bask in the luxury. The great dining room was a splendid achievement in decorative restraint. Each evening an orchestra played and one night it rendered a medley of American folk songs just for our benefit. We have always liked “Dixie” and such tunes, but they are like rare old lace when heard eight or nine thousand miles from home.
Our close proximity to the Arctic Circle, and to the longest day in the year, is allowing the sun to play strange tricks, to which it has been impossible for us to adjust. The last week, midnight has beenless than one hour removed from the sun’s rising and setting. It never becomes even faintly dark. Hotels and restaurants draw huge curtains over the windows at 9:00 P.M. and turn on the electric lights, giving their patrons a rest from too much daylight.
The rosy glow in the sky in the middle of the night may be the last flush of today or the first blush of tomorrow. No one can tell. And the sun rises in nearly the identical spot in which it sets. Confusing place, this northland.
Confusing and exhausting. Traveling is supposed to be a relaxing sort of task, but we have never worked as hard at home as on this Arctic trip. One just does not think of going to bed before 12:00 or 1:00 A.M. And with so much to do, and with the sun flashing in your eyes each time you turn in bed, six o’clock seems late for rising.
Confusing and exhausting perhaps, but intensely interesting.