Thursday, 31 January 2013

Korpilahti: Path of Sin

Korpilahti is a community about 30 kilometres south from Jyväskylä. Since 2009 it has been officially part of the city of Jyväskylä, but I somehow feel that there haven't been too many changes taking place here - at least not to a visitor's eye. Quite a few smaller communities in Finland have joined forces with their bigger neighbours in the past few years to save money in administration etc. Korpilahti's history as an independent community goes back to 1867 and this mill by Korpijoki river is almost as old, dating to 1874. I reach the frozen shore of the narrow river but at this time of the year I can't see or hear water flowing beneath the ice and snow.
The interesting looking wooden structure that is hanging on the outer wall surely isn't just a decoration. After making my way through the snow to the wall and a piece of paper I get an idea of what it is, based on the black and white photo: originally this piece was part of a horizontal wooden structure to which a horse was tied. The horse walked round a pole, rotating this large wooden wheel, which in turn must have kept another piece of machinery in motion. Unfortunately there are no further details available.
The other buildings at the Old Mill (Vanha mylly) are not painted red but have become grey over the years. This is truly the old style.
There is a narrow path, made by previous walkers, up from the mill, following the river. No, I can't make myself call it a river... Rather, it is a narrow brook. I reach the pedestrian bridge and turn back just before the highway. This must be a gorgeous place in the spring!
I pass the Old Mill area and follow the footpath towards the centre of Korpilahti, reaching Martinpolku (Martti's Path) which is clearly the main street here. The street is named after Martti Korpilahti who was not only born with the name of the community itself but gained fame in Central Finland as a poet and a music man, besides being a teacher in Jyväskylä. Martti Korpilahti was proud to be born in the area and his lyrics depict his love of Central Finland. Besides Martinpolku, Mr Korpilahti has had another path named after him in the city of Jyväskylä by lake Tuomiojärvi.
There are both old and new buildings along Martinpolku. As usual, I feel more at home with the wooden ones and am glad that there are quite a few of them left, and some seem to have been or are being renovated as well.
Synninpolku literally means a Path of Sin. What on earth is this? The sign points down but actually the Path of Sin starts a bit lower and leads to the very top of the hill, to the church. Very probably the path gained its name because of the fairly steep hill - perhaps the walkers felt the sweat on their foreheads and had time to think about all their wrongdoings when climbing to the top, to ask for forgiveness in the church. Right next to the path, the red building, dating to 1777,  houses the local museum which is only open in summertime. The building first first served as a belfry but it became a granary later.
I feel compelled to follow the Path of Sin. It isn't Sunday today so I am sure the church doors will be closed but at least I'll get the feel of the path. On the piece of paper that is taped on the litter bin it modestly says "a walking route to the church hill" instead. Come on, be proud! Not every village has a Path of Sin!
The partly snow-covered granite statue by the Path of Sin pays homage to Martti Korpilahti, who else! I make my own trail in the snow to walk to it and round it and wonder what the story behind it is. I have no idea what Mr Korpilahti looked like so can't say if the statue has his profile or not. The poet's own words are engraved in the stone: En kotiseudulleni tiedä vertaa (There is no place like my home region).
Step by step I get closer to the top of the hill. I can imagine that on a hot summer's day it would be easy to feel the burden of your sins walking up there, especially the sin of laziness, if you're not too fit. The wooden belfry meets me first; its architectural style is somewhat different, a bit more decorative, than that of the church behind it. Also, the paint is not the same colour. 
Korpilahti's lutheran church is the third church here; the first was built in 1693 and this last one, designed by architect Charles Bassi, dates to 1827. I try the door but since there is no service today, the door remains closed. One of the architects who have been involved in the restoration work of this church over the years was Alvar Aalto, back in 1928.
The footpath on the top of the church hill doesn't go a full circle so I need to retrace my steps back towards the Path of Sin. What a great view this hill offers! If only it were a sunny day, it would be even greater - and I can't even imagine how wonderful it must look like when the lake Päijänne glitters down below in the summer. However, I get a sinful thought when walking down the Path of Sin. I wish I had a sled! It would be great to sled down the hill, no matter how much I enjoy walking.
I pass the old museum building and continue along the Path of Sin down towards the harbour. The rock fence is covered in snow and ice, with little works of Nature's art on the rocks.
There are also traces of human hand. A date from 1849 has been carved in stone, if I read it right.
Across the road, there is a quiet area with lots of boats having a rest under tarpaulins until the spring arrives again. The red brick building next to me these days houses Korpilahti's theatre; originally, there was a steam generator for the saw mill.
And before the theatre moved to its current location, it was located in another red brick building at the harbour area, close to Satamakapteeni café-restaurant which is open all year round. Part of the text painted on the red brick building has been erased - the word 'theatre'-  so it now spells Korpilahden kesä (Korpilahti's summer) instead. Today the building is home to an art gallery and an arts & crafts shop: Höyrygalleria and Emalipuu
The art gallery upstairs now displays paintings by Marja Hirvinen in her exhibition on enchanting landscapes, Maisemien lumous. I can imagine that quite a few of them have been inspired right here, enjoying the atmosphere of Korpilahti and lake Päijänne. It is easy to forget about the snow when you look at her work.
The gallery itself is charming as well. My eyes are drawn to the bright red chairs that keep an eye on the gallery visitors like two old and alert ladies.
I return back outside and breath in the vast landscape that opens before my eyes, with black dots moving rhythmically on the ice, pairs of skis sliding forward. Korpilahti and lake Päijänne - what a great combination.

Thursday, 17 January 2013

Jyväskylä: Snow and Castle

The footpath by the lake at Kortesuo, Jyväskylä is easy to walk on - surprisingly, there's been a snow plough - but I turn my eyes towards the frozen lake Tuomiojärvi. There are some people skiing on the ice. For me, this means that it must be safe enough to be walking on the ice as well so I step down on the lake. The shadows that fall on the snow are long around noon; the days are still very short.
My boots don't sink too deep in the light powder. Often there is less snow on the frozen lakes than in the forests and fields. There is a light mist hanging over Löylyjoki-Kivelänranta area on the opposite shore. I wonder whether I should look for a trail made by people walking here before me or make my own track?
Actually, there's no choice. Of course I'll make my own track. It is so liberating to be sauntering on ice and go anywhere I want to go and not even get exhausted, thanks to there being so little snow. I turn towards Laajavuori where the mist is rising towards the sky like a cloud of smoke. Do I hear an announcement through a loudspeaker? There could be a skiing race going on. Perhaps the mist is artificial snow in the making, for the ski slopes.
I spot a couple of other walkers on the ice as well. It means that there will be more and more trails on the snow that was almost untrodden for days. Finally, I end up at Viitaniemi where the mid-day sun is glistening on the snowy trees.
The closer to the shore, the more there is snow. Above me the alders are dressed in their most beautiful, lacy winter outfits.
I start looking for a place where it would be easiest to climb to the footpath on the shore. When I see the frozen reeds I freeze myself, if only for a moment - to admire the fragile union of the reeds and the snow, so transparent in the sun.
I feel so elated when strolling through Viitaniemi park that I almost forget to look around me. Luckily, I slow down and turn my eyes towards Kasinonmäki hill which has a new, temporary building: a snow castle! The footsteps heading towards me are not only made by human feet; a hare has also paid a visit to it.
The builders of the snow castle seem to have checked exactly the right time to make their move: the snow has to have the right consistency and the weather has to be not too warm and not too cold, if you want to use blocks of snow like these people seem to have done. Snow engineering.
I enter the snow castle through the entrance at the back. There are small peeping holes to different directions that give a new outlook to Viitaniemi - framed with snow. I really hope this snow castle will stay intact as long as possible.
Farewell, restful Viitaniemi; I will head towards Jyväskylä city centre. To my pleasant surprise, it is also calm and almost sleepy there on this afternoon. The winter mist and the sun paint a somewhat eerie scene on the sky at the end of Harjukatu street. It is as if the solitary bus parked by the side of the street is waiting for passengers to a journey that would take you somewhere beyond the sun.

Wednesday, 2 January 2013

Saarijärvi: Winter at Kulhanvuori

What a glorious winter day! I can't resist the call of the bright sunlight and the snow but drive about 90 kilometers northwest from Jyväskylä to a beautiful, quiet corner of Central Finland: my destination is Kulhanvuori area at Saarijärvi. The wooden signpost at Konttimäentie road is covered with frost and snow but it is legible enough: Kulhanvuori it is. I park the car by the side of the road and walk along the narrow trail made by the previous visitors; the last bit of road that leads to the car park hasn't seen a snow plough this season. The nature reserve welcomes me after about 1.5 km walk.
Of course, I could have worn or even taken my snow shoes with me... But I half forgot them in the car when I saw the trail leading to the nature reserve. Plus there isn't that much snow, really. Only about 20-30 cm in most places. Nevertheless, I trust my instinct and follow the trail made by the previous visitors - surely they've followed the nature trail as well? At least they've made a fire by the Iso-Musta lake although there isnt' that much firewood left for hikers right now.
Looking at the frozen lake, I see only the happily circling footprints of the people who've been here before me. Perhaps today, perhaps yesterday, or the day before. Suddenly the sky changes colour, and the sun almost disappears behind mist that looks like it is trying to choke the source of light. The tricks that cold weather plays - it is so hard to believe that it isn't late afternoon but this it is hardly after mid-day.
The path by Iso-Musta lake is surrounded by the magical, dimmed light of this strangely beautiful winter day. Come to think of it, I could stop here and make a fire and just enjoy the magic, but the call of the trail is far too loud. Let's see where the path will take me.
The marked nature trail turns right at the partly frozen brook that leads from Iso-Musta lake to its smaller sister, Pieni-Musta lake. However, this is also where the footprints end and I have to decide whether to keep going - without snow shoes - or turn back. After a moment's thought I turn my eyes to the trail marks. If the trail seems to be marked well enough, I'll trample in the snow and do the nature trail. If at some point it doesn't seem like a good idea anymore, I can always turn back. Anyway, I am wearing gaiters so snow won't get into my hiking boots.
I breath in the crisp air, the scenery powdered in white. It doesn't feel cold at all; what is -16°C on a day like this? I admire the shapes and the details around me, find a foothold on the duckboards that are almost totally hidden under the snow. The trail steers to the right, through the narrow opening between the trees. I follow the trail marks and leave my footprints on the untrodden snow.
I walk under spruces and meet tall pine trees. An old, grey wooden sign reminds that I am still walking along the nature path (luontopolku). Snow embraces every single tree and the forest oozes inner peace. The only sounds I hear are my own footsteps on the snow and my clothes rustling.
The old tree by the path is pretty much the only spot of colour in these woods in which everything seems to be painted with different shades of black, grey and white. Suddenly I hear something behind the trees. And then the swish of something white, a dash of black. The willow grouses have left their resting places in the snow and gone off for somewhere more quiet. Sorry!
I feel elated and my step is light after seeing the willow grouses. It is not easy to spot them in Central Finland! Very soon I arrive at a place where I need to be careful of a steep fall (luckily there is a railing!); there is even a yellow warning sign. Syväoja Gorge is about 1 kilometre long and the nature trail follows it for part of the way, mostly on the top of the cliff. Somewhere at the bottom of the gorge there is a brook called Syväoja.
The path leads me down the steep slope for a brief visit at the bottom of the gorge and immediately up again. It pays to watch your step because there is quite a bit of ice both on the ground and on the granite walls around me. And not just huge icicles. As the winter progresses, there will be even more ice that sometimes doesn't melt before July!
Once I'm again up above the gorge, the trail steers towards Lamminkangas where some hermits used to live in total peace with the nature. They were both women: the first one was Maija-Liisa Kovanen and when she vacated the area, Lipan-Riikka with her herd of goats took over in the early 19th century.
Finally, the trail signs point me to the bottom of Kulhanvuori hill and I cross the Kulhankoski rapid which flows slowly under the wooden bridge. The nature trail turns to to the left and starts its ascent towards the top of the hill.
The landscape is taking on a shade of blue at this time of the day as I walk slowly up the Kulhanvuori hill. I wonder if the view will get even better once I've reached the top (at 260 meters above sea level, about 60 meters higher than the surrounding area)? Will there be an opening between the trees for a great view?
I continue treading uphill, but with somewhat weary feet. Therefore it comes as no pleasant surprise that the trail marks (orange paint / red ribbons) stop. After a bit of searching I find the next one but then - no more. Where are you, my friends? I only need you for about half a kilometre or so...  The options are to try to continue to the top in the fading light and then hit the trail to go downhill to meet the path I started from, or trace my steps back down and take a slightly longer but definitely sure route to reach the trail again. After an attempt to search for the trail marks nearby I give in and abandon the climb up to the top of Kulhanvuori hill. Better be safe than sorry; the temperature will soon begin to fall and the sun is already very low.
Naturally I feel slightly disappointed at not visiting the top of the hill. After all, the nature reserve is named after Kulhanvuori hill! However, it would not be a clever idea to remain walking here after dark. Therefore, it feels good to follow the Kulhankoski rapid up to Pieni-Musta lake the shoreline of which I followed already earlier and return to the brook and my own footprints. Once I'm again back on the trail, I walk briskly back to the car and arrive there just before the light fades. Despite the last episode, what a fantastic day! And now I've got a good reason for returning here - reaching the very top of Kulhanvuori hill some day.