Midsummer, or Juhannus as it is called in Finland, has come and gone once again. If you know me, you know my Finnish heritage is important to me. My fascination with the Finnish lifestyle just continues to grow. I believe it is because of the way the Finnish people make nature and the outdoors a priority in their life. It is part of who they are.
Midsummer is a main national holiday in Finland. It is second to Christmas. It is typically spent with family and friends at a summer cottage away from the city. Lighting bonfires, feasting, and taking saunas are a tradition. Once a pagan holiday, it is now a celebration of warmer weather and longer days after the cold, dark winters. We can relate to this. It is this day that I miss Finland the most.
This weekend we celebrated the holiday here by kicking it off with a feast overlooking the lake in traditional Finnish style. The table had to, of course, hold a linen table cloth, candles, and a vase of flowers. I picked lupine and daisies. Both are favorites of mine. (It is worth getting outside right now and going for a drive. The views are spectacular.) It is one of my favorite times of the year. The world is colorful and full of beauty.
For dinner we had summer soup (fresh vegetables in a milk broth and lots of dill), smoked salmon with Finn Crisp and crackers, squeaky cheese with cloudberry jam, pickled beets, and lingonberry soda. Midsummer is truly my favorite day of the year. The day ended with laying in the hammock watching the dazzling sunset.
This edition of Hometown Focus is focusing on the outdoors. I have been wracking my brain on what outdoors activity I should write about. Nothing seems appropriate. As I sit here and wonder why, I suddenly begin to understand that with the current world events, one specific activity seems insignificant during times like this. Instead, it only seems right to write about celebrating the outdoors as a whole.
This past weekend my daughter set out to go camping. “Do you have reservations?” I asked. “No,” she replied. I warned her that I had heard that all campgrounds were busy and had been full. Sure enough, that is exactly what she discovered. Everyone seems to be flocking to the great outdoors. I know in Ely it seems to be busier this summer than the average summer. I often see out-of-state plates, but not as many as I am seeing this summer.
I have been sticking close to home so far this summer and have been enjoying it. Since the beginning of COVID-19, life in general has slowed down. Weekdays are spent working, taking care of my plants and flowers, and working on various projects. The owl that has been living in the hollowed-out tree in the yard has become a mother to three little owlets. We were lucky enough to see them leave the nest for the very first time. We sat in the screen porch eating dinner while watching them teeter on the branches near the nest, flapping their wings and hopping around carefully.
Now, a couple of weeks later, I watch as the three of them fly across the yard and sit on a branch up high taking in the world around them. We have also watched as a sparrow built a ground nest. One day while mowing the lawn we discovered a few tiny babies there. Their eyes were not even open. Over the next few days we watched as they opened their eyes, and their feathers fluffed out. Soon the nest was empty and they were hopping about hiding in the tall grass.
Weekends I spend at the lake. I don’t currently have a garden there, but I do have pots of tomatoes that I am tending, and I am building a small garden where I will have just a few things like rhubarb. The days at the lake are spent swimming, fishing, kayaking, reading in the hammock, and doing yard work. There was a time when I only swam in late July or early August when the water was warm, but in recent years I have come to truly appreciate a chilly, refreshing swim. I never regret it. Last fall I bought an old pontoon boat that I am now fixing up. I have never owned a pontoon boat and it has been fun to anchor and put down the ladder to go for a swim.
Today I decided to get creative and I cooked breakfast over the fire. I cooked Finnish open fire pancakes (lettu) that we had with berries. They were a lot of work, but delicious with their smoky taste.
Evenings are for sunset cruises in the pontoon boat, paddling, barbecues and fish fries, and bonfires and s’mores. On a recent evening while paddling in my kayak at sunset, I was lucky enough to find myself surrounded by a couple of loons. They came only a few feet from me. I sat and watched as one would duck under the water and come up with a minnow in his beak. They sang to each other and because they were so close, it was almost deafening. It was a spectacular moment.
Tonight as I am writing this, the first fireflies were spotted outside by the others who were sitting out by the fire. I had to stop, wrap a blanket around myself to protect me from the bugs, and go outside to find out for myself. There were not many, but as I made my way through the dark down to the lake I could see a few scattered here and there. Fireflies are one of my favorite parts of summer.
Summer holds so many of my favorite activities. Cooking and baking with things harvested in summertime is one of them. Soon I hope we will be blueberry picking. Every week I go out and check the status. As of today, I see tiny green berries. Meanwhile, as I wait, I have been cooking up a lot of treats with my mom’s rhubarb—jam, pies, and crisp. They were served with homemade spruce ice cream which I make each June by letting fresh picked spruce tips infuse in the fridge with the cream. It has a unique citrus taste. Yesterday I noticed the Juneberries (otherwise known as the saskatoon berry) are almost ready to harvest. Their season is short. The berries are very good for you, and can be used to make muffins, pies and jam.
We have spent a lot of time fishing. Bass fishing is one of my favorite things to do in early summer. We spent the last few weeks fishing mostly for bass. Early summer is great for catching trophy bass and I was lucky enough to land a few. This weekend we fished one day in the BWCA and came home with enough walleyes to have a fish fry. We caught a few bigger fish in the 20-plus-inch range, and those were released as they were in the slot. There were a lot of little ones too that were left to go and grow. There is nothing like frying fish outside and feasting on it along with corn on the cob, potatoes, and baked beans.
Yes, summer is here and I am trying to make the most of it. I am feeling a bit stir crazy and knowing it will be awhile before I fly somewhere, my mind keeps drifting to thoughts of a road trip. Nothing major, but some type of nature getaway. Who knows? Perhaps it will happen. Either way I am thankful for where we live and the nature that surrounds us.
It is apparent that I am not the only one who is retreating to the lakes and to the woods. There life seems simpler and makes more sense when the world seems out of control. Nature is healing and life giving. For this reason, this Midsummer I celebrated it with a little bit of a different perspective than I normally would. I took the time to really, truly see it.
Jody Rae is a social worker who lives in both Britt and Ely, MN. She spends most of her time on the water or in the woods, where she is always planning her next adventures, both near and far.