Every year a group of folks travel from the Clair Nelson Center in Finland, MN to the Loon Lake Community Center to take part in the longest continuously-held annual Finnish-American festival in the United States: Laskiainen! Sadly, due to Covid-19 there will be no Laskiainen this year. So instead we made this video of our trip last year.
If you’re honest about life in Finland, every season is a part of the cycle of Firewood. You are always either looking for a source of firewood, processing firewood, or using firewood to keep your home warm. From the outside, this may seem to be a very mundane and burdensome exercise, a toilsome task, an antiquated practice. But in reality, heating one’s home with wood is a beautiful cultural practice steeped in tradition, surrounded by stories, and filled with meaning and technique unique to each individual.
In reference to Firewood, lots of people like to recite the cute little saying – “He who cuts his own wood warms himself twice.” Anyone who has actually cut their own wood knows that the saying is wrong. It would be more accurate to say that cutting your own wood warms you at least five or six times, because you are going to break a sweat cutting it, splitting it, and moving it from place to place a few different times. It’s work. Good honest, meditative work that produces results. The wood splits, the pile grows, the stack becomes a cord, the wood flames up, the coals burn down, repeat.
It is these things, the everyday tasks, that make life in Finland, Minnesota so special. Living this way as our ancestors did brings happiness and fulfillment. And this is apparent in the people of Finland. Just come visit, and you will see. Happiness lives in Finland, around a crackling fire.
As the cool weather of spring turns to warm summer evenings, the landscape transforms. The trees that cover the hills turn a deep green color, the migratory songbirds fill the forests with their songs, and the breeze dances merrily along. The fields and forests fill in with an almost jungle-like thickness of foliage. The transformation is so quick and so intense, it’s amazing to watch.
The water that drains down from the muskegs and lakes in the north, mix with the cool, clean, water flowing down in streams from the tops of the Sawtooth Mountains. These waters come together, in one wonderful place: the confluence of the east and west branches of the Baptism River, right in the heart of Finland, MN.
As we follow the water, it flows down the Baptism River Valley, creating swimming holes, fishing holes, waterfalls and rapids, and finally flowing into Gitchi Gami (Lake Superior). This great inland sea has always been important to the peoples who have called this part of the earth home. It provides food, a gentler climate, easier travel, and a quiet reminder that the beautiful force of nature is far more powerful than any of us could ever dream of being.
With the summer temps climbing, the waters in the rivers and lakes become warm, ushering in the swimming season. Finland is filled with places to go swimming; from remote forest lakes, beautiful Lake Superior beaches and everything in between. If you like swimming, you should visit Finland.
But swimming is not the end of the summer fun in Finland! We have great trails for hiking, biking, ATVs and more. Being located in some of the highest ridges towering over Lake Superior provides for some outstanding views, and along the way, you will find ancient old-growth forests, and magical spots forgotten by time.
Summer also brings an opportunity to gather wonderful wild foods: fishing, berry picking, gathering wild mushrooms and more. If you want to learn more about gathering wild food in the Finland area, check out this resource: The Gathering Cycle of the Year in NE MN.
Summer in the Finland area is magical. But it’s short. So make sure you don’t miss your chance to get out and experience this magical place in its summer glory. Before we know it the evenings will become cool, the leaves will turn brilliant colors, and a whole new season of wonderful adventures will begin.
When the snow is a foot deep on the highway, you can drive in any lane you want.
There’s a certain bizarre logic to how it all works.
Drive slow. You can’t really drive fast when there’s that much snow. But not too slow. You’ve got to keep up a certain momentum.
Stay toward the middle of the road, not the edges. You don’t want to fall off the edge. Then you’re stuck. You won’t really be hurt, because the snow is soft, but being stuck is no fun. Technically Triple-A is a thing here, if you have cell service, but it might take all day for them to arrive.
If there are no tracks, you are on your own. This is fun. Make some new tracks. In the middle. Yup, stay in the middle.
If your vehicle gets a little squirrely, you know that the next person to come along will see your squirrelly tracks and be forced to follow them somewhat. If you keep your head on straight and don’t overcorrect, you can keep a little squirreliness from becoming an out-and-out fishtail, and then you can be proud of how well you handled yourself as you keep on your merry way.
If you are on a good straight stretch with no obvious obstacles, you can increase your speed, shooting snow up around and behind your vehicle like crystalline white wings. It’s a feeling designed to make you feel like a shooting star. A shooting star going maybe 40 mph. Wheee!
If there are tracks already, it helps to follow them. Except in the places where they got a little squirrelly. Following existing tracks gives a certain degree of stability to the situation, and you can go a bit faster.
If the existing tracks are in the middle of the road, as they ought to be, sometimes you must wonder if they were going the same direction as you, or the opposite direction. It can be hard to tell, since you are both driving in the middle of the road. Sometimes you can tell for a moment, because they had to veer back into their own lane for some reason.
Often we use the “inside tires on the invisible centerline” technique, so we’re not entirely in the real middle of the road, just kind of. In the case where you are following tracks that were coming in the opposite direction, the acceptable protocol is to ride your “inside tires on the invisible centerline” and thus follow their inside track, while making your own outside track. This creates a snowy road with two outside tracks, and one, shared, inside track. If by chance you meet another vehicle, you have to veer out of that inside track and further onto your own side of the road. If it’s packed down enough, or the snow is really deep, this can be a little difficult. The upshot of screwing this up too badly is that hopefully the oncoming vehicle will stop and help you out.
If you have to stop, and the snow is deep enough that you aren’t sure you can get going again, fer chrissakes, don’t stop on an uphill slope. Remember your momentum. And also remember not to fall off the edge of the road if you are really bothering with pulling over. With a little strategy and care, you can stop, clean off your wipers or headlights, take a pee, and let gravity pull you down the hill and regain your momentum and your beautiful wings of white.
For beginners, it is reasonable to practice your vehicle handling techniques on a broad open space, like a parking lot, or a lake with at least a foot of ice and six inches or more of snow. Practice spinning, practice fishtailing. When there’s nothing to crash into, you have taken the fear away, and you can learn to pirouette your car through the snow. There’s a reason local boys whip shitties every chance they get; it’s fun as hell.
Driving in a foot of snow successfully is a powerful feeling. It is an art form. One that more people should appreciate.
One more thing. If you are on a one-lane road and meet an oncoming logging truck, just drive off the road. If you force the logger off the road, he will be angry. And you don’t need an angry logger in your life. If you drive off the road, the logger will pull you out after he gets by you. Loggers are pretty handy. They always have chains and tow ropes and lots more horsepower than you do.
Check out this cool video about Finland, MN! It was filmed by a Finnish film crew from the Finnish TV channel YLE as part of the celebration of Finland (the country)’s centennial celebration. You can see the original version here: https://areena.yle.fi/1-4301503
As you can see when you watch the film, we all had so much fun with this film crew! They visited so many places in our town and talked to so many people. That’s one of the really fun things about the film, that so many of our citizens appear in it, not only in the interviews, but in the background activities.
Many local businesses and organizations appear as well. Obviously they couldn’t fit them all, but there is a good variety. The Finland Co-op is featured pretty prominently. Also included are the Maple Grove Motel, the Our Place, the Clair Nelson Community Center, St. Urho, Baptism River Community Church, Kallinen Logging, the West Branch Bar and Grill, the Finland MN Historical Society, the Finland Post Office, Trestle Inn, and an interview with Bonnie Tikkanen, owner of the Four Seasons Supper Club.
Someone I know, upon watching the film remarked, “That was the first international film I’ve ever seen where I knew all the characters.” And what a cast of characters! If you know Finland, Minnesota, hopefully this film fills you with pride and makes you laugh. If you’ve never been to Finland, Minnesota, I betcha you are going to want to visit.
This is Finland. Welcome to Finland!
I’ve been feeling for awhile that there is a need to create a website that shows off Finland’s unique identity. A website that is high in search ratings and is dynamic and responsive. I have pondered this one for awhile. There is nothing like this in our area, certainly nothing Finland-specific, and what does exist falls short or misrepresents us.
I have had this idea in my head that a website for my town is tantamount to us selling ourselves, and I have always considered tourism to be exploitative, and thus I have been hesitant to go down this road, as have most other people in my area. But here’s why I changed my mind. Researching places to go for my recent trip to Missouri was very informative. If I couldn’t find contact info for a town, we didn’t go there. If we were driving by and couldn’t find info on the smartphone (places to stay or eat, etc.), we didn’t stop. At some point it occurred to me to google Finland, MN and what comes up is completely scattered and not mobile friendly.
So clearly we need a better web presence that is also mobile-friendly. But that conjures glitzy images that are too upscale for me – misrepresentative, and bringing in the wrong kind of people.
So I thought about how to get around that. How do you get the right kind of people? People who don’t want to stay at the Holiday Inn or a fancy lake resort, but who would rather stay in a campground or a mom-and-pop cabin place? People who like the woods and Finnish heritage stuff or who just want to say that they bought something in the 100-year-old Finland Co-op? If you’re honest about what you are selling, then you’re more likely to get honest buyers. If you build up an online identity that shows what fun freaks you really have in your small town, then you will attract similar fun freaks, and those folks will be more tolerable and tolerant. You’re going to get fewer tourists whining about how they want to stay somewhere with a pool, or wondering what time the moose cross the road, and more people who are happy to swim in a real lake, drive on dirt roads through the woods, and bait their own fish hooks.
Anyway, I could go on and on about this, but it all boils down to…get a website.