Seasons: Finnish Summer

The summer is short and most of it is washed away by rain anyway.

Song by Tomas Ledin

dtpHelsinki-0009 1.jpgHeadlines in Finnish news outlets during June were about as cheerful as the lines from Tomas Ledin’s song: “Harvest catastrophe caused by rains”, “More mosquitos than usual”, “July will start wet”. But even when the rain stops, the headlines don’t lighten up. Instead, they turn towards issues of spreading ticks and how to detect skin cancer. Unless there has been a recent epidemic outbreak of clinical depression among Finnish journalists, one has to ask: “What is wrong with the Finnish summer?”.

Actually, most Finns would insist that summer is great. This has, I think, a lot to do with the notion of freedom. Freedom from layers of clothes and freedom to pursue outdoor life. But, of course, like so often, our notions of something are infringed on by  reality.

From a photographer’s perspective, I have to admit ambiguous feelings about summer. Yes, there are 24 hours of light (the best quality occurring while you’re trying to sleep) and yes, the colors are magical (and especially visible in black & white photography…). But only during June or July the light during a sunny day can be too harsh for a good photograph. So even the most determined photographer will have to doze away such days, dreamily floating away on one of our 180 000 lakes…

But there is one aspect of the Finnish summer that keeps me going (photographically speaking) and one that I suspect not even my fellow countrymen notice very often: the variation of tones. If the weather has been cool and rainy (like during last year’s summer) the leaves of deciduous trees will keep a light color, which contrasts with the many conifers. The picture at the top of this entry is an example for this effect.

But also the abundant conifers, like pine and fir, keep lighter tips and thus create a dizzying 3-D effect in their crowns.

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Pine Forest, Evo

Shadows from passing clouds help increase the effect.

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Summer Day, Komio

But if you allow me to go back to the initial topic: yes, there is also a pervasive feeling of melancholy mixed into the joy of summer. That is, because all this magic, the abundant light, the smell of sun-roasted pine needles on the ground, the lushness of the meadows, the glitter on the sea, the cries of the gulls; all this soon will give again way to darkness and cold. Summer in Finland is ephemeral and if one doesn’t live it in the moment, one doesn’t live it at all.

Ah,  but isn’t that true for all of life? Therefore, let’s sit down like the wiser poets of old, a glass of wine in our hands and drink in the sweet melancholy of the night. Live it now or be damned. Finnish summer.

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Summer Night, Lake Vanajavesi
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