June-July is the time when Finland goes on its summer holiday. From Midsummer's Day, June 24, cities begin to acquire a deserted look. Most working people take their annual vacations and head for the countryside to enjoy the sunshine after the long winter. Attendance in offices is so low that some of them simply close for a few weeks. Those that remain open manage with the help of summer trainees.
In most cases the Finn's summer holiday is spent in a summer cabin or cottage. Finns own more country cottages and spend more time at these cottages than any other Europeans. Cabins can also be rented. Ideally the cottage should be located by a lake and surrounded by a forest.
Not a problem since Finland has almost 200,000 lakes, and more than 70 per cent of the country is covered by forests. Modern conveniences have been introduced in some of the summer cabins, but many Finns still prefer their cottages without electricity or running water, so as to make their retreat from modern life complete.
And of course the sun never sets in summer. In Lapland, the northern part of Finland, it blazes high up in the sky all 24 hours. In the farthest north, it stays up for 73 days at a stretch. In the southern parts, we have what we call 'white nights': the light dims for a couple of hours as the sun goes down, but then starts to rise sun almost immediately. To sleep at night one needs very thick curtains on the windows!
Nature comes calling
While Finns are trying to get closer to nature, the opposite also seems to be true. The town I come from, in central Finland, has a road called Wolf's Road, and this winter a wolf was actually spotted in the middle of this busy street! Recently two women jogging on the outskirts of Oulu, the largest town in Northern Finland, were chased by a bear. Sightings of bears and wolves have become so common throughout Finland that the government is now writing guidelines on how to drive these predators away when they enter housing areas.
The problem is that these are also protected species. Bears and wolves were practically decimated in Finland in the 19th century, but in recent decades the government has been making serious efforts to increase their numbers. Wildlife enthusiasts are at odds with the police, because the latter usually can think of only one way of dealing with these intruders - shoot them dead.
Great horned owl
A spectacular sighting of a rare animal took place during a recent football match here between Finland and Belgium. The game was interrupted because a great horned owl landed on the playing field! The wingspan of this generally solitary bird, named after its horn like tufts, is nearly two meters.
The audience applauded as the owl flew over the field and sat on top of each goalpost before flying off, so that the game could continue. Finland needed to win the game in order to remain in contention for the upcoming European championship games. After the owl's visit, the Finnish team, to everyone's surprise, scored two quick goals -- and earned a new nickname, the great horned owls.
(The author is a senior researcher in the Academy of Finland and teaches in the University of Helsinki)