No bird soars too high if he soars with his own wings.
William Blake (1757-1827)
Of all the seasons that pass over Finland, possibly fall is the most magical. But what makes it stand out from the others?
Is it the pitch-darkness? Is it the vast universe above and its peppered celestial inhabitants that appear to gaze down on us longer than usual?
Yet again it could be the sound of rustling leaves and rapid breezes that holds on for a moment to trees before losing steam. Are they the moonlight beams that light timid forest paths that lead to places that test your courage?
Or is it the bittersweet combination of homesickness dancing momentarily with merry anticipation before you part for distant lands?
Searching for happiness
For some Finns, autumn is the most mysterious season. If a ghost house comes alive in the evening, all the spirits – imagined and real – appear to awaken from deepest slumber and to the woods during this time of the year.
For me, fall is that time when I fight pitch battles against melancholy with a sword called hope. The battle is waged by visits to the forest, which teems with lingonberries, mushrooms, and other delights.
The journeys into the woods can be very spiritual. They can be like brief walks on the avenues of the soul.
If weddings are commonplace in Finland at midsummer, it’s in fall when souls make secret vows and marry other souls in secret weddings under tall shady spruces by rushing, chilly streams playing splashing sounds with stones.
One of the forests I enjoy visiting in fall is near Vanhala, a hamlet made up of a few farmhouses and an elementary school. The village, which is located 15 minutes from Mikkeli, is so small that I once biked through it without noticing it.
From Vanhala there’s a gravel road to a farm owned by a widow called Hongisto, who moved away from there a long time ago. If you stand still at the edge of the forest that hugs her farm and listen closely, you can sometimes hear the woods calling out for you.
The sounds resemble that of swaying trees and rustling leaves. It’s like the sonance of a trickling brook splashing shyly on stones with the difference that the stream comprises of air and caresses trees.
There are also to lure you the autumn colors and heavy doses of melancholy that vanish and appear in the heart.
I was certain on that late Saturday afternoon that I’d finally succeed after many years at finding where happiness lived.
If mankind has always built roads because nobody believes in isolation, the forest too has many types of paths.
Deep in the woods, I notice a lone bird resting on a branch. Poor bird – I thought – it must have escaped from a farmhouse because toucans only live in the tropics.
“If you move fast and long enough you’ll be in different lands,” the bird said in half-toucan, half- human. “In a way, I envy stones because they always know where their home is. They don’t move.”
“Don’t look surprised,” it continues. “There are other creatures from distant lands that inhabit these forests. Aren’t you from faraway as well?
I followed the black bird with the brightly colored bill deeper in the woods.
The scenery looked so familiar but then it started to change. A pine tree I passed had the cones pointing towards the sky and there was a spring that had the following sign: “Drink here and quench your thirst for dreams.”
There was also a modest shack that looked like a country store but only sold by the pound hugs, kisses, and warm caresses.
A woman soon appeared before me just when I noticed the bird had vanished. The woman was blessed with so much beauty that it would take thousands of rainbows arched simultaneously in the sky to even come close to her loveliness.
I looked straight in her captivating eyes, which are like breathtaking views from space to Earth.
“So what brings you here?” she asks without malice.
“I’m searching for happiness. Can you help me find it?”
Silence and then an answer that twirls to the soft moist ground like a leaf that parted from a branch.
“It’s useless for you to soar high enough by yourself… But with the help of the autumn woods of Finland, we’ll help you discover that contentedness is right here and now.”