On Location: Kiutaköngäs

Kiutaköngäs is the name (and isn’t that a beautiful name) for the main rapids of the river Oulanka in the Oulanka National Park in Finland. The rapids, easily accessible even for the not-so-hiking-inclined, are one of the major natural attractions in Finland: 135m (443 feet) of pure rock and fury. In the whole rapid area the water drops 14m over a stretch of 325m. It is quite a spectacle. But still, somehow such famous sights make me hesitant. Why add another photograph of something that has already been photographed a million times? But I also challenged myself on whether I was seeing Kiutaköngäs the right way.

Truly spectacular places are often composed of many beautiful sights. Still, our brain often focuses and simplifies the scene to one characterizing impression. From a first vist we therefore often come back only with a memory of what grabs the eye and senses.

Two years back I had been at Kiutaköngäs and made the following two shots, which kind of show what “grabs the eye”. As mentioned, pure rock and fury.

dtphelsinki-0002dtphelsinki-0003This time, I had read that it is possible to approach the rapids from their lower end, the side where the water widens again into a meandering stream as if exhausted by all this hassling through the rocks.

And there, indeed, I found views quite enchanting. The first is from the last step of the rapids, where the landscape already again looks like a normal landscape in Northern Finland. While the force of the stream is still visible, tranquility again has entered the scene. And here is a thought for you: could it be that tranquility is force stretched over time?

dtpHelsinki-0052.jpg

If there is something to this thought, then my next question would be, whether that what impresses us in the rock and fury is again an anthropocentric illusion. Ok, ok I’ll put it into plain English. I wonder, whether we are so impressed by the fury because, if it crushes rocks, it certainly would crush us. We experience nature as something bigger than us; at the same time we judge only from our point of view as humans. But the fact that water shapes the earth is true for a trickle and the fierce rapid. The essence of Kiutaköngäs therefore might not have anything to do with its fierceness.

With these thoughts in mind, I climbed the rocks opposite the main path on the other side of rapids. As I somewhat suffer from acrophobia, this was also an exercise in discipline for me as the path went close to the drop down to the river. On that side, I was rewarded with a view to the lower side-pools of the rapids, where water collects in stone basins before it re-joins the river. There, I made the following shot.

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The Gentle Law, Kiutaköngäs, 2016
For me this was Kiutaköngäs en miniature. Like in a fractal, the rapid contained a smaller version of itself. Just in the same way as a fern leave branches into smaller copies of itself. But this minituarizing allows us to distance ourselves from our awe and gives place to deeper wonder about the mystery that soft water defeats the strongest rock.

One of my favorite authors, the 19th century Austrian Adalbert Stifter always told that we are so obsessed with the spectacular that we are missing out on the profound truth. This profound truth, he called the “Gentle Law” underlying nature. Gentleness as a force and force as something gentle, when seen at the right scale and and beyond the limitations of our psychology; what an idea.

One last word: I am not telling anyone not to see and enjoy Kiutaköngäs in its splendid fury. Instead, I’d like my photography to be an invitation to have a second look; and in this case to notice the tranquility in forcefullness and to have a glimpse at the Gentle Law.

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