Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Laukaa: ice and snow at Järvilinna

Järvilinna Art Centre at Laukaa, Central Finland (15 km north from Jyväskylä) hosted an ice sculpting competition on Feb 10-14, finishing on Valentine's Day.  A good reason to visit the place which has art on display also indoors in the lovely main building (1891) and the surrounding buildings where some local artists have their own studios.

The ice sculptures have attracted many other visitors as well and that is no wonder; this is not a typical art form in Finland, although you might easily think so, as we have plenty of ice available for a considerable time each year.  The five teams invited to take part in the competition were from Finland, Mongolia and China (the Russian team canceled at the last minute). 
The winner was the humorous Kiss by the team from  Mongolia (Lkhagvadorj Dorjsuren and Bayarsaikhan Bazarsad). It suited well the competition's theme - love / friendship (in Finland, Feb 14 is celebrated as Friends' Day, not associated with romantic love).  I can't stop wondering at the fantastic, carefully made details - from the tail of the ox (with a knot in it) to the rose and necklace of his cute, slightly shy girlfriend.
After a cup of hot chocolate at the café of Järvilinna we pick up our snowshoes and follow the local road for about a kilometre until we locate a cross country skiing trail that will lead us to a log shelter not too far away. As always, you are not supposed to walk on the skiing tracks, so we leave our snowshow footprints on the side of the skiing track, careful not to disturb it. The trail is used all year round but in the winter, the skiing folk naturally take priority.
I must admit that the skiing track looks lovely and this would be a great route for cross-country skiing. However, no matter how slow snowshoeing is, it is such fun to be walking here, taking it easy in the midst of pure, white snow, guessing which animal has left this or that footprint. Those must have been left by a hare, and that must have been a squirrel?
Walking slowly uphill we finally arrive at the log shelter where it would be possible to make a fire. This time we simply sit down to have a cup of tea.
The guest book of the shelter reveals that the majority of previous visitors have been here on cross country skis. They have meticulously written down their kilometres after their names (14 km, 10 km, etc.). Oh no, I'd better just write my name and not record the somewhat embarrasing 3 km. Only ;-)
After the short break at the shelter we turn to walk back to Järvilinna (about 1 km from here through the woods) but this time we decide not to follow the skiing track. The distance is so short and we are sure not to miss the road close by if we just manage to stick to the right direction. It is liberating to once again choose our own way in the snow. Round that tree, and then over there...
The air here is pure; as a sign of that, there is hanging moss on the trees. The snow gets deeper in the openings between the trees but is nevertheless easy to walk on. We start to climb up a small hill, Vierumäki.
We pass by a large rock and a pole that is painted red. I wonder what it means. It is very hard to say if there is something special about it now that it is covered with snow and ice.
The fresh little hole in an old spruce is an easier puzzle to solve: it must have been made by a woodpecker only recently. Probably a black woodpecker, to be exact.
We descend the hill, going round the steep rocky slope, and arrive by the side of a field. On its other side we can already see the road that leads to Järvilinna Art Centre. One more chance to see the lovely ice sculptures!
It is already getting late in the afternoon and the lights have been switched at the Art Centre. The skiing Moomin figure welcomes us back to Järvilinna.
Limits of Love (Pasi Ahokas & Juha Käkelä) became third in the ice sculpture competition, together with the team from China. Angels and Demons can be friends or even lovers, at least on Valentine's Day.
I step back to my favourite sculpture, The Kiss. The Mongolian team have impressed me most with their delicate, yet fun sculptures. I can't get over the eyelashes made of ice! Simply fabulous.

Thanks to all the ice artists at Järvilinna!

Monday, 18 February 2013

Jyväskylä: Snowmen in Kirkkopuisto

My evening walk takes me down from Harju to Kirkkopuisto (Church Park) and I start thinking what would be the best place for building snowmen. I expect to find them next to Kauppakatu street - the busiest side of the park - but no way; the snowmen have appeared right in front the City Hall, on the square next to Vapaudenkatu street.
The snowmen are part of the campaign against global warming. The melancholy looking snowman's plea is "If you save the winter you can save me too and I can make you smile year and year after".
The Big Ask campaign has been taking place in different cities in Finland and its main aim is to get the decision makers to make a climate law that would be strong enough to make a difference. There are about two dozen snowmen, each carrying their message that is directed at top politicians who are responsible for climate and environmental politics.
Let's hope that there will be a major change in environmental politics all over the world. "Winter in the year 2020???" I believe and hope there will still be a proper winter with snowmen in Finland in 2020 and for many more decades to come!

Thursday, 14 February 2013

Jyväskylä: what if...Concert hall underwater?

My evening walk has taken me to Mattilanniemi campus by lake Jyväsjärvi where these strange lights pierce the frozen lake. What if... The long-planned concert hall had already been built in Jyväskylä. What if it was summer, not winter. What if the concert hall was underwater, not under ice - like it now seems to be? 
Kari Alonen is a local artist and sculptor who has created this work of art on the ice, using old skylights from the local health centre (that's why they have numbers on them). If I hadn't spotted a short newspaper article about this, I wouldn't have a clue of what it is about; it would be "just" a lighting installation.
Alonen has imagined what an underwater concert hall would look like in the winter, with the skylights popping out through the snow and ice.The concert hall has been planned in Jyväskylä for ages, but so far the project has always been postponed until later, due to lack of funding. Alonen jokingly proposed this as a cost-efficient alternative.
I recognize the metal wire ball as one of Alonen's previous works that has been on display here earlier as well. I start toying with the underwater concert hall idea but soon find that my feet are pretty firmly on the ground instead. How would you enter the underwater concert hall? How much water is there in this part of the lake? How big a concert hall would fit underwater right here?
The freshly fallen snow covers the skylights and they cast an eerie light on the ice. What if you could have a peek into the concert hall through the skylights through the windows when walking on the ice in February? Would it be possible to paddle over the concert hall with a kayak? Walk over it in knee-high water? Can't help thinking about Feet in the water (by Eva & Manu)! How clear is the lake water several meters deep in the lake - when looking through the windows of the concert hall, would you be able to watch the fish swim?
You can go on and on thinking what if... However, for now I'll look at this light installation as a work of art and not take it too deep.

Monday, 11 February 2013

Laukaa: Multamäki nature trail

Multamäki nature trail can be found in Laukaa, close to Peurunkajärvi lake in Central Finland. The easiest route to the start of the trail is via Spa Hotel Peurunka (few kilometres north from Laukaa): drive past the spa hotel buildings and follow the road towards  Finninkylä and further until Multamäki. In the winter you may find the private road to Multamäki closed - and the nature trail (luontopolku) sign can be seen right next to the gate. If you are lucky, you may even be able to park by the side of the road - if there isn't too much snow!
I am equipped with snowshoes which proves to be a clever choice because although there is a snowmobile track at the start of the trail, it is made for cross country skiing and not for walking, and very soon we need to part anyway; the nature trail takes a sharp turn to the left and I see virgin snow ahead. The yellow trail signs lead me to the official start of the Multamäki nature trail with a map depicting the route. It seems that no one has stopped here for a snack for quite some time!
This seems to be one of the best marked nature trails in Jyväskylä area - thanks to Laukaa municipality which seems to take excellent care of such routes! 
As is typical on nature trails, there are quite a few signs with more information about nature along the way. However, the snowy weather has covered practically all of them and even if you brush the snow off, the text (in Finnish) is hardly legible because you'd need to scrape the ice off as well. I'm not in the mood for doing that with my woollen mittens! Also, typically these guides describe things that would be easiest to discover when there is no snow on the ground.
So, my walk in the forest is simply a pleasure walk, enjoying the beautiful scenery, the shapes covered with pure white snow, examining footprints and guessing who or what has gone past. Those could be the footprints of elks...
If I wasn't wearing snowshoes, I might be tempted to try a different route but now there's no stopping me. Straight ahead! Anyway, only few meters away I find a fresh trail of another snowshoe walker who makes my going even lighter in the powder snow. I climb up the hill and soon the nature trail again joins a wide trail made by a snowmobile. Careful... But there are no cross country skiers in sight.
Step by step I reach the very top of Multamäki hill, the highest point of the trail. Multamäki hill is part of the original so-called Struve Geodetic Arc (#46) which was measured and marked in the mid 19th century in different countries. There was a survey triangulation station for quite a long time but the last wooden station from 1980 is long gone; in its place is now the kota under which the original plaque still exists.
The view from Multamäki hill is lovely; I am now at 211.4 meters above sea level and lake Peurunkajärvi is about 105 meters below me. Besides the kota (which is the only place where you are allowed to make a fire here on top of the hill) there is also an open shelter for enjoying a snack outdoors. There are quite a few footprints on the snow so this seems to be a pretty popular place.
From the top of Multamäki hill, the nature trail continues down towards the lake, along long and steep wooden steps that are totally covered with snow. Should I take off my snowshoes? No way! I step off the steps and partly slide down the steep hill in the snow, falling down only once...This is so much fun!
When I get down to lake Peurunkajärvi I could even take off my snowshoes because there have been so many other visitors to the shelter - the path in the snow would be so easy to walk on. I can't see anyone skiing on the lake but there are a couple of ice fishermen!
I arrive at exactly the same time to the open shelter as one of the fishermen comes there for his break. Once again, I get to sit in front of a ready made fire and enjoy the moment with hot tea from my thermos flask. Another fisherman joins us and says a shy hello. The fishermen seem surprisingly quiet but soon I find out why: we don't share the same language. Unfortunately, I don't speak Russian so I can't ask whether they've had any luck fishing.
After the relaxing, quiet break by the lake I walk up the hill to finish the trail that goes past some tepees - a surprising sight in a Finnish forest but I suppose they are there for children's camps that are sometimes held at the nearby Multamäki recreation centre, owned by Laukaa municipality. After I've passed the Multamäki centre's buildings, the nature trail sign guides me to join the snowmobile track for the remaining 100-200 meters but I step off it, not wanting to leave my snow shoe prints on a trail that has been made for cross country skiing.

As usual, many trails that are used by walkers for 3/4 of the year when we don't have snow, turn into cross country skiing tracks in the winter. I try to avoid such tracks when I go for a walk and the best way to do it is to wear snowshoes which allow you to walk anywhere - but it may be frustrating if you see that the lovely, hard and wide track is unused when you are stepping deep in the snow. If you ski in the traditional style, there would be room for both skiers and walkers side by side on the track made by a snowmobile, but those who ski fast use ski skating technique which requires the full width of the wide track...  So, unless you are skiing yourself, it is best to stay off the skiing tracks whenever possible, and walk somewhere else.

Tuesday, 5 February 2013

Nyrölä nature trail in winter

Nyrölä is a small village about 20 kilometres northwest from Jyväskylä. It is best known for its Kallioplanetaario (Planetarium, open daily) but offers also a chance for a nice walk on the well-kept nature trail. On a winter's day  just the ride to Nyrölä is a joy: after leaving the town, the woods surrounding the roads are wearing their best winter robes. My only question is whether the Nyrölä nature trail is "open" in the winter as well. That is, have there been other walkers before me?
The whole circular trail is about 3 kilometres long but nobody seems to have walked the whole route recently; I can only see footprints in the direction of the Iso-Musta lake where the closest laavu shelter is. No problem! I've got snowshoes with me...
Whereas the snow may already have fallen on the ground in the city centre where it is somewhat warmer, there is plenty of the white stuff over here - and not just on the ground. I could easily make my walk shorter (and easier) by following the narrow road on which a snowmobile has made a track recently but when I see the snow-covered sign Luontopolku (nature trail) it is much more inviting. Snow, snow and more snow!
I enter the woods and start following the trail signs that mostly consist of yellow-topped wooden poles (originally haypoles) but there are also a couple of paint marks on the trees, probably made with reflective paint. Using that kind of paint is not a bad idea at all if you happen to be on the trail after dark.
If I wasn't wearing snowshoes my progress would be much slower! And if the trail wasn't so well marked it would be very easy not to know which way to go because you can't always tell which way the path, now totally covered with snow, is turning. The only other footprints I discover between these trees belong to small animals.
I can still remember what it looked like in here on my last visit to Nyrölä nature path; so different, so green. Behind these trees there is a small man-made pond which was dug in a place where there was a natural spring. A recent local newspaper article revealed that the name Nyrölä originates from the word nyry (nira) which means a small trail of water, according to the writer Ilmari Kosonen.
The trail leaves the forest and I am again surrounded by open space. I turn to look to my right. The snow and frost covered trees are simply stunning - like a graphic illustration, almost surreal in its beauty.
Locating the haypoles and a dash of yellow paint isn't always too easy... The nature sometimes plays tricks on you. I find a couple of them but then... Nothing. However, I know the trail is supposed to meet the narrow road right ahead and it takes only a minute or two to be back on track.
Somebody's been busy felling trees! There is a huge pile of firewood waiting to be collected by the side of the road. I continue walking uphill along the snowmobile trail and remember the gorgeous green moss below the fir trees on a certain October day more than a year ago.
I know most people enjoy the Finnish winter on skis but snowshoes are my favourite. Although the snowmobile has made walking here even easier, we go different ways from the top of the hill and I get to walk downhill on virgin snow, making my very own path. I just love it!
The dense spruce forest has an almost eerie atmosphere and again I feel I'm watching a graphic illustration.
Time for a break? This beautiful lean-to offers a chance to make a fire and sit under the shelter, no matter the weather. The last time I was here it was almost ready for use but not quite. This would be a great place for star-gazing on a clear night, with the open sky above and no street lights disturbing the view.
However, I decide to walk just a bit further. Within a short distance, on the other side of the bog, there is the Iso-Musta lake and the small island where there is another shelter. No need to use the tiny ferry to cross the lake now that the lake is frozen... Do I smell smoke?
Oh yes! The group of people that I just saw leaving the island had a fire going and the embers are still there, burning hot. It only takes a couple of puffs to get the fire going again. Time to sit down by the fire and have a cup of hot tea from a kuksa, a traditional cup made of wood, and some pulla (a bun). What a great day!
From Iso-Musta the circular trail continues back towards the parking lot, following first a path and then a wider trail. The remaining 1.2 kilometres offer more of beautiful winter scenery now that the felled area is covered with snow.
The young birch creates an arch above the trail, thanks to the weight of the snow. The poor tree will straighten her back after the snow has melted. The path is now pretty firm under my feet; so firm that I take off my snowshoes and walk the rest of the way carrying them in my hands. You don't always need to have clear blue skies for the day to be beautiful; black and white can be equally gorgeous.