On Location: Kuusinki River

The river Kuusinki is the smallest of the three larger rivers in Kuusamo, Finland.

Still, it is renown as an excellent fly-fishing river and once hosted the world fly-fishing championship.  Its attraction lies in a population of wild brown trout that migrates every year up from the White Sea for spawning.

So it was for fishing that I first visited the river many years ago. And usually in September water levels in the river are relatively low (even though there are deep pockets of water). This year, however, I had already been warned by locals that water levels were unusually high. That often indicates bad fishing, but also for a photographer it changes the scene in significant ways.

For the first, there were no fishermen and thus I was utterly alone. Now, the locals might (or probably would) disagree, but for someone grown up in Central Europe the place feels quite remote and isolated. That is an illusion, of course. Someone trampled the paths I walked along and erected the signs and fireplaces. Also, different from some National Parks in the South, cell phone reception was excellent – I could have watched internet videos on the riverbank. But still as there was no other person for a river stretch of 30km the place seemed rather isolated. And for a city dweller, this was a good training ground to test how much of nature we are still able to endure.

This statement might surprise you. Endure? Not enjoy? Do I not constantly sing the praises of nature, what would be there to endure? Well, this is a point I would like to convey over time. We have made a recreation ground of most places in nature, where we through a protective layer of human structure (hiking paths, signs, resting places) and high-tech gadgets separate ourselves from the elementary force of nature. White water rafting is a popular sport in Kuusamo. But there is a huge difference between rafting as a group in high-tech-material boats versus swimming alone through one of these rivers (I am not sure the latter would be at times possible at all).

We might have to leave the civilization-cocoon for  a while to emotionally understand our true relationship with nature. Not such a long time ago, in pre-industrialization times, awe and fear were still part of the experience of nature. That, I think, provides the background for our eagerness to “conquer” nature. Human religions are full of double-faced gods, like Janus or Shiva – creator and destroyer. I think they symbolize an important truth about our relationship with nature. As nature both nurtures and threatens our existence our reflexes tell us to control the threat. But in controlling the threat we might destroy also the nurturing aspect as they are inseparable.

Now, in the video above  the Kuusinki river looks harmless and serene enough, doesn’t it? Still there are massive amounts of water pushing downstream. And fly-fishermen used to wading in rivers can tell that much lesser streams can tire the legs and disorient the eyes quickly. The forces of nature are not only at work in spectacular events, but can be too forceful for humans even in their seemingly serene manifestations.

So I chose for my photos long exposure times (more on long exposures for water in the next post on Time and Photography) to make the force underlying the serene visible. And I think the stone would agree.

dtpHelsinki-0047.jpg

But: yes there is serenity in this force and a sense of timelessness in the grouping of rocks, trees and the water. However, whenever we focus on only the dangers and how to control them or in contrast only romanticize its beauty we miss half of the picture. In my view a complete emotional response should encompass both aspects of nature. We might then start to feel that neither the threatening nor the pleasing aspects of nature are especially targeting us, but that we don’t particularly matter in the greater scheme of things. From such a humbling experience we might make a fresh start in thinking about and dealing with nature.

dtpHelsinki-0048.jpg

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