Suomen Luonto
English summaries 12/2000

Summaries 12/00

Skies on fire
By Marko Pekkola and Jorma Luhta

Pages 4-13

Wildlife photographer Jorma Luhta has succeeded in capturing the colourful spectacle of the northern nights on film. The northern lights, or aurora borealis, constitute a phenomenon that repeats itself in northern Finland every year and almost every night. This year, however, the displays have been exceptionally noteworthy. At 11-year intervals the sun shows repeated peaks of activity, causing it to radiate increasing numbers of particles. The solar wind formed by these grows in strength.

The Earth’s magnetic field protects us against solar winds, but some particles succeed in penetrating the magnetic field. These are conducted towards the planet’s poles by magnetic forces, where they curve down into the atmosphere. In the upper atmosphere the particles collide with air molecules, charge these, and when a subsequent discharge takes place, energy is released in the form of light. This light is visible to us as the northern lights.

Exceptionally good northern lights have been seen this year not only in northern Finland, but also in the south, However, Luhta’s photographs have been taken in Litokaira, in the southern part of northern Finland, and on Hailuoto, a large island in the Gulf of Bothnia close to the city of Oulu. The colours and coronas visible in the pictures are outstandingly beautiful and clear.

The vagabond’s family
By Antti Leinonen

Pages 18-25

For the past five years, wildlife photographer Antti Leinonen has been monitoring the life of a family of wolverines. He has constructed a photographic hide near carrion set out in the forest and here he photographs wolverines and bears, among other animals. Last summer, Leinonen’s photography and monitoring of the wolverine family was far more successful than usual, as the animals did not leave their home forests as a result of the hunting season.

The female gave birth to two cubs in the 2000 spring, one of them a male, the other a female. Upon their appearance at the carrion in June, these were almost as large as their parent. From July to the end of September the wolverines visited the food supply almost nightly. Then the mother vanished, although the cubs kept returning to the site.

The mother always encouraged her cubs to emerge from their lair in a cave and follow her with the same sound. She suckled her young at irregular intervals as late as mid July and Leinonen observed her doing so for the last time on 24th July. The mother treated her offspring with a distinct lack of equality, playing with the male, pampering it and giving it choice morsels of food. By contrast, she was very cold towards the female cub and often attacked it without reason.

In July, a male appeared at the breeding cave which was warmly greeted by the cubs. The same male had fathered cubs the previous year, so this was presumably the case this summer as well. It played with the cubs a few times, before disappearing from the scene.

Wooden town gives people space to breathe
By Alice Karlsson

Pages 30-35

With the exception of Helsinki and Tampere, all Finnish towns as recently ago as the 1950s were to a large extent made of wood. Then began a vigorous period of home construction for the 400,000 people displaced from the areas in Karelia ceded to the (then) Soviet Union and others migrating into towns from the Finnish countryside. The loosely clustered wooden districts of the towns and cities were replanned, the old houses torn down, and horrible apartment blocks put up. It has now been realised that the destruction of the old wooden houses was a grave mistake. Nobody has ever regretted preserving old wooden buildings, but many have certainly regretted tearing them down.

Among Finland’s oldest towns and cities, the best preserved are Rauma and “Old Porvoo”. The conservation of Porvoo goes back as far as the early 1900s, but it was not set aside on the city plan as a preservation area until 1974. Old Rauma was almost destroyed during the 1960s, but the obstinacy of its residents saved some blocks of the wooden houses. These people refused either to rebuild on their own plots or to sell their land to property “developers”.

Unique wooden house areas still exist in many small towns in Finland. Unfortunately, there are also problems with preserving these old buildings. There is still pressure from banks and offices to tear them down and put up new monstrosities in their place.

Doves helped reforest lava
By Juho Rahkonen

Pages 40-43

La Palma is one of the seven islands in the Canary Isles group. As a result of a submarine volcanic eruption millions of years ago lava, rising to a height of almost 2,500 metres, formed the island. Nowadays, these slopes support forests of laurel trees (locally known as laurel, or loro) on which a large contingent of endemic animal and plant species.

The laurel pigeon (Columba junoniae) and Bolli’s laurel pigeon (C.bollii) eat the fruit of the Canary Island laurel, Laurus azoricus (a relative of the more familiar Mediterranean sweet bay, or poet’s laurel, L. nobilis). In this way they disperse L. azoricus and in fact the tree actually arrived in the Canaries as a result of seeds brought by pigeons. Blackbirds, on the other hand, are berry eaters which thus disperse smaller plants in their droppings.

The western part of La Palma is gradually sliding into the sea. The volcanic eruption of 1949 resulted in a long fault, the western part of which has dropped four metres below the eastern part. Although the movement has now stopped, a new volcanic eruption, or an earthquake, could well start the slope moving again. If this happens, hundreds of cubic metres of rock would slide into the Atlantic. This would produce an enormous tidal wave moving at a speed of 1000 km an hour. Striking a coast, this wave would possibly shoot up 50 m into the air. A catastrophe of this kind occurred on the neighbouring island of El Hierro 120,000 years ago.

Man attacks man as a wolf
By Pekka Kilpinen

Pages 54-55

In Finland, Karelia and Inkerimaa there have been two main stories about werewolves, or lycanthropes. In one story, a poor beggar or vagabond is driven from a house in which a marriage is to take place. The old man is a witch who revenges himself on the household by turning the wedding guests into wolves. According to the other legend, the victim of a boy thief has the boy turned into a wolf. In Lapland, on the other hand, evil people were believed to turn themselves into wolves or bears and eat their neighbours’ cattle and reindeer. Werewolves terrorising Swedish Lapland were Finnish or Sami witches.

Werewolves sprang up in Europe wherever there were real wolves (Canis lupus). The wolf was made extinct in the British Isles a long time ago and consequently the concept of the werewolf did not become a part of folk lore there. The phlegmatic Brits treated Continental werewolves with a good deal of scepticism. On the Continent, people’s attitudes towards these mythical creatures varied from country to country. Where there were large numbers of wolves, the werewolf was a being which was regarded as perfectly logical and was thus accepted by the people. In regions where there were few wolves, the werewolf was a fearful monster.

During the period of witch hunting and persecution, which lasted from the early 16th century up to the mid 18th century, in Europe a large number of werewolves were tried and executed, in addition to witches. The Baltic countries were at the top of the list in this respect, for it was here that werewolves were believed to be most common. At the close of the 17th century, suspected lycanthropes were merely flogged and driven from their villages, because the judges no longer believed the incredible stories told to them in court by the self-confessed practitioners of lycanthropy.

Teksti: Leigh Plester