English summaries 6/2001
The 60th Anniversary Issue of Suomen Luonto (Nature of Finland) Magazine
Aleksis Kivi’s landscape survives
By Marja Innanen
The celebrated Finnish author Aleksis Kivi (born Stenvall, 1834-1872) wrote vivid poems about the forest, while the same habitat played an important part in his classic novel, Seven Brothers. Himself an enthusiastic hunter, Kivi, however, was also inclined to read natural history books and learn from them.
Cultural and natural landscapes described or mentioned in many of Kivi’s books have recently been successfully located. Some of them have been found on the basis of the author’s contemporary stories, others from the detailed descriptions penned by Kivi.
Aleksis Kivi was born in the village of Palojoki, in Nurmijärvi, around 45 km northwest of Helsinki. The scenery at Palojoki constitutes one of Nurmijärvi’s oldest cultivated landscapes and Palojoki itself is one of the area’s most ancient villages. The village and its natural surroundings form the heart of Aleksis Kivi’s landscapes.
Much has changed since, of course. Forests have been felled, roads built and bedrock crushed to form gravel for the roads, but despite these developments much still remains. In fact, so much is left that one is able to recognise many scenes and locations without difficulty, despite the author having died almost 130 years ago. In particular, many of the places referred to in Seven Brothers have at least existed, and often still do today.
Once a year an Aleksis’ morning walk is held, a hundred or more participants walking through the terrain in the area Kivi came from and which formed a natural stage for his writings. Along the way, the mobile audience is treated to excerpts from Kivi’s plays and novels by Finnish actors and actresses, while a band plays music from the mid 1800s.
Keeping up traditional potato strains
By Alice Karlsson
Pages 20 - 25
Loppi is Finland’s most famous “potato parish”. In its sandy soil potatoes grow well, while both diseases and pests fare badly. On many farms in the area new strains of potatoes are continually being cultivated. However, grower Toivo Salmilampi takes pains to keep many of Finland’s traditional potato cultivars alive. Three strains have been nurtured by the Salmilampi family for as long as 130 years.
Every year, Toivo Salmilampi grows 11 or 12 different kinds of potato. Based on his own extensive experience, he considers the traditional varieties in many ways superior to those produced by modern applied botany. The greatest difference between the two is the size of the crop, the yield, obtained by planting specially bred modern strains. Salmilampi admits to growing both new and old strains side by side. This ensures he gets a good crop, whatever the Finnish weather. With experience spanning thousands of years, the Peruvian Indians (potato is “peruna” in Finnish) have adopted the same method.
Potatoes are cultivated on every Loppi farm. Almost all of them belong to newly bred varieties. In the past, though, each village tended to keep to its own specific strains. Now almost all of these strains have disappeared. Happily, one of Salmilammi’s three cultivars has been stored in a gene bank along with 50 other Finnish potato strains. So at least its good characteristics are being preserved for posterity.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream
By Jaakko Heinonen
For Ghost swift moths (Hepialis humuli) the darkest moments of the midsummer nights are the time they perform their marriage ceremonies. This accounts for the fact that few people have observed the entire ritual in all its splendour. The backdrop to the event are the mists that come creeping across the meadows at this time of year, the reddish glow of a sun barely sunk below the horizon, or bluish night clouds. Ghost swift moths occur only in southern Finland, the midsummer nights being too light further north.
The flight time of these moths starts just before Midsummer (approximately 25 June) and generally ends towards the end of July or beginning of August. The swift moths remain hidden among the grass and herbs during the daytime. At night the males “dance” over the field or meadow in which they lie hidden from view when the sun is high in the sky, while by contrast the females sometimes make long flights in search of a suitable mate.
“Dancing” usually begins at around midnight, when one can first observe a flash of white, then several more. Soon there are dozens, even hundreds, of the insects in the air at once. The white wings of the males are intended to reflect ultraviolet light, which can be seen by the females. Males choose places for their ritual on which the reflected sunlight, coming from the north at around midnight, shines.
Larger than the males, the golden brown females arrive at the “dance”, reacting to the vibrating pale wings and the possible emission of pheromones attractive to potential mates. A female will quickly choose a male from among the “dancers” and she will then hang from a convenient plant and mate with her chosen partner.
Occupied with their nuptials, the swarming swift moths are eagerly preyed upon by bats and black-headed gulls. Fortunately, the dusk works in the moths’ favour; were the ritual to take place in full daylight the “dance” would rapidly turn into a drama, with increasing numbers of birds gathering to feed off their helpless victims. In fact, the “dance” draws to a sudden close as soon as the illumination begins to increase at the northern summer daybreak. Where only a few swift moths have gathered, the ritual may well be over long before that, in just half an hour or so.
The Blue Elf of the Taiga
By Hannu Jännes
Pages 46 - 51
Finland’s popularity as an ideal place for bird watching continues unabated. Thousands of birders appear each year looking for species that are not found in western Europe, or which are rare in the south. Perhaps the most sought after of these species is the red-flanked bluetail (Tarsiger cyanurus). In this article, a professional Finnish ornithological guide describes a walk by a dozen British bird watchers to a place where red-flanked bluetails are to be found, Valtavaara fell in Kuusamo, and gives an account of many other species seen on the tour.
As the group arrived at the foot of Valtavaara, the sun rose and songbirds began singing. The visitors were delighted at the lovely plumage of the male brambling; in the U.K. this species occurs only in its drab winter plumage. Ears were cocked in wonder at the monotonous song of the redwing.
A view over the surrounding wilderness as they climbed higher up the slopes of Valtavaara fell caused cries of delight. The guide had carefully planned the route so that the unsightly clearcuts around the national park were hidden from view and the illusion of an untouched wilderness was not marred. After a tough climb to the summit, a bluetail was heard singing lustily at precisely the spot where the guide had said it would be! This individual is an old male with lovely plumage and a strong voice and a bold character putting him prominently “on stage” before his enraptured audience. For many of the watchers this was the high point of their lives as they were observing the species for the very first time.
Finland’s first bluetail was observed as late as in 1949. Since then, the species has occurred here more or less regularly. The number seen varies enormously from one year to another; in a good year as many as 500 may be heard singing, whereas in a bad year there may be only a few dozen. In an average year there may be 200-300 singing bluetail males in Finland. Most of the population consists of single males one or two years of age. The species has been observed at the nest only a dozen or so times, but it is most likely a regular nester here.
The tour went on under a lovely starlit sky. As the notes of the bluetail continued to echo across the slopes, the vibrant song of a Greenish warbler (Phylloscopus trochiloides) was heard. This was a very pleasant surprise, in contrast to the bluetail, the encounter with which had been carefully planned beforehand. As the group returned to their vehicle, a couple of Siberian jays ((Perisoreus infaustus) were feeding on the parking lot. A Siberian tit (Parus cinctus) flitted into a bush by the car park, and a Hazel hen (Tetrastes bonasia) landed on the road - all in all the tour provided some unforgettable encounters with the fascinating bird life of the great Taiga.
By Arto Jokinen
The Muotkatunturi wilderness lies in northern Lapland, south of the Inari-Karigasniemi road. In this area forests grow only along the river channels, most of the landscape being composed of fell heath or mires.
The Muotkatunturi wilderness is extensive and walking through it armed with some heavy equipment takes several days. It is unsuitable for beginners and as companions the rambler should have at least one experienced trekker. There is only one unlocked large sized cabin, together with a few minor cabins of smaller dimensions. Hikers need not only reliable gear, but also a cooker for preparing food, as it may be difficult to find enough wood to keep a campfire going.
Despite these reservations, the fells well reward those who dare to step into their midst. The terrain in the northern and middle parts of the location mainly comprises dry heathland which is nice to walk through, while the brooks and streams encountered can easily be waded. Few other ramblers are seen here and if often seems that there is not another living soul among these fells. The southern part of the area is more swampy, offering mires, lakes, and a labyrinth of streams and brooks.
Chitwan - the “Heart of the jungle”
By Ritva Kupari
Pages 62 - 68
Royal Chitwan National Park in Nepal is situated in the Terai region at only 200 metres above sea level. It is inhabited by the endangered Indian (Bengal) tiger, Indian rhinoceros, Asian elephant and gharial. Most of the reserve is covered by forest having a rich flora and fauna.
Tourists are able to get acquainted with the Chitwan wildlife on elephant back. The mahouts are experienced and familiar with the area’s animals. Encounters with tigers, Indian rhinoceros, the sloth bear, chittal and sambar deer, in addition to dozens of exotic bird species, mean time simply flies by for the interested tourist.
Nepal, however, is plagued by problems. It has a rapidly expanding human population, all the fertile land is being farmed, forest has been cleared, and erosion is getting worse all the time. Even the nature reserves have been under pressure as grazing grounds and producers of crops and timber. Almost one fifth of the country is officially protected, most of it in remote places in the Himalayas, however, where human occupation is impossible.
Teksti: Leigh Plester