Friday, 2 December 2011

Saarijärvi: Julmat Lammit nature trail

Saarijärvi, a small town about 60 km north from Jyväskylä in Central Finland, boasts a nature reserve well worth a visit: Julmat Lammit ("Cruel Ponds"). To visit the area, you can take either the short trail (3 km) to just Julmat Lammit, or the longer 12 km long Runebergin eräpolku trail which includes the shorter one as well.

The Julmat Lammit trail starts about 9 km north from Saarijärvi, by the road towards Kokkola. It is not recommended to walk the trail in winter time - at parts very steep and no good when icy or covered with snow. A notice at the start of the trail warns walkers of ravines, and states that you go there at your own risk.
Although winter is just beginning, I'm not worried because the weather is dry and there is no snow on the ground on this November day. The trail is so well marked with paint that there is no need to carry a map with you. Very soon I arrive at a scenic spot to look over the first pond down below me, safely from behind the rails.
The path is covered with tree roots, watch your step! It winds up a steep slope and then back down again. I can imagine how slippery the path across the moss-covered ridge would be if there was a thin layer of snow which had first melted and then frozen overnight...
I descend the wooden steps for a view of the long, narrow pond which seems to be just about frozen. The air is still and crispy. On these early winter days, you need to use such lovely mornings as this well... And not stay indoors!
The sun rises at about 9 am and goes down after 3 pm at this time of the year. Being here just after 10 am, I don't feel like an early riser, but there aren't other people around just yet. I can take it slowly and bend down to see the slightly frozen, berryless cranberry bushes
or Cladonia, cup lichen, of which I've never seen this kind before. (I'm not an expert on these - find out at home that this is Cladonia cristatella, or British Soldier, thanks to its red coat!). The second pond, frozen like the first one, looks almost as if someone had been skating on it, but of course not, the ice isn't thick enough for that! The white marks are just whiffs of snow against the dark ice.
As the morning sun rises higher (and not even then very high!) the scenery comes to life in shades of gold and green. A small round pond is hidden among trees as if it were an ancient crater, now filled with water.
I walk to the other end of the third large pond to find a pleasant surprise: the sun shines right to the resting spot among the pine trees. What a great place to make a small fire to sit down at and have a sip of tea from my flask. There's all the time in the world...
Down at the pond, the floating pier and the glistening still water doesn't tempt me for a quick swim like it would, if only it were summertime. Is this truly a cruel pond, like the name of the trail suggests? I hope there are no gruesome tales of cruel fates in these wonderful waters.
As I examine the frozen shapes at the shore, I can distinguish voices from the other side of the pond. Oh well, the silence couldn't last forever, and welcome to you, fellow walkers! You're welcome to light the fire again, it starts up easily...
Loads of heather, still pine trees, bright green moss...Glorious nature around me. At the other end of the pond, the surface is mostly frozen. The warming sunlight hasn't yet reached that corner of the pond, and on this short day, the rays of light won't have a chance to touch the ice over there.
The trail is mostly marked with paint, but also with the blue and white Runebergin eräpolku trail marks. Johan Ludvig Runeberg (1804-1877) worked in Saarijärvi region as a teacher when he was a young man. This Swedish-speaking writer has been labelled Finland's national poet - well done in a country where Finnish language usually overrules the minority's mother tongue. His poem Maamme (Our land) became the lyrics of Finland's national anthem.
The hanging moss on the tree that grows at the edge of the cliff makes me think of the approaching Christmas and the beards of Santa and his helpers. I don't want to step too close to the edge of the cliff, the fall to the pond below would be fatal.
When I arrive at the rocky cliff, I realize that I've arrived almost to the start of the trail: on the opposite side is the scenic spot where I first stopped to admire the first Cruel Pond. So that's how high the rock is!
Alright, the end is near. The ground is more wet than elsewhere along the trail before the path climbs up the cliff and I take the wooden steps up. Hello there, sun, can't you really get any higher? It's past noon, not late afternoon yet!

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