Friday, 21 January 2011

Pastorale in winter

Ho ro laithill ó
Ho ri ho ro ho ill ir inn is hó gù
Ill ir inn is hó gù

The cattle today are being shifted

Waulking song from the Western Isles

The cattle were shifted at Saari last October, from wetland pastures eaten to the nub. The cattle were all beef steers, unlike in Benbecula (the waulking song was recorded in 1954 by Penny Aonghais 'ic Raghnaill from there) where it's sure they were house cows, kept for milk. The Saari cattle were Aberdeen Angus, brought in to replace the Highland cattle that Penny Aonghais might have been familiar with, and they were in a trailer, a few at a time. The song continues: "Going to eat the grass of the churchyard" but the Saari beasts were going to spend the long dark Finnish winter in a barn, hay and silage fed.

I watched from my window (the song: "the big house of the glen / A big fire and a swept floor / With chairs all around there . . .") in a dreamy semi-bovine state that's induced in me by the close proximity of cattle: my own Kerry cows - long gone now; the Saari Angus steers moving on wheels past the window; the small black house cows that were once common in the islands - islands everywhere, from the Turku archipelago to the Western Isles of Scotland.

I see in these cattle movements maybe the last faint vestiges of transhumance that was common across Europe at one time. Common grazing having been eaten away by landowners (not cattle) private and corporate, the movement of cattle from one meadow to another, or from winter dearth on one farm to summer fattening pasture on another is all that remains.

I'm in winter now, pondering between my pastures of Ardnamurchan & Saari.
It may be that my links of oakwoods of Sunart & Ruotsalainen are secured, but that there are others - of tradition, of culture, of the remains of husbandry - is certain. The unsentimental, pragmatic occupation of farming's a strong tradition in both places; the old common culture of seasonal slowness that is all but beyond the ken of any who've not lived it - a dying breed in Europe.

Today, the speckling of cattle on the Bowling hillside - let out for exercise as much as the bite that's been snowed & frosted over for a couple of months and thus still a little green - return me to Saari and the sight of the Angus yearlings grazing idly in the sun by the bay on the Baltic, and much else beside.

Penny Aonghais sings to me "You've taken my possession from me" and I make a personal transhumance from one field of memory to another, from one decade to another. Penny would have known, even though she's singing a song fragment of loss and ineffable sadness from before her time, one that uses cattle as a metaphor, that love cannot be taken.

Love is the token between people that also represents culture and landscape; that softens the tongue of the singer and binds us to ourselves: a hefting, a waulking, a joy.

Tuesday, 9 November 2010


Augustin Ehrensvärd was probably more abreast of current affairs than he was of scientific nomenclature. He will have had the news, in the middle of the eighteenth century, that there were experiments underway by settlers in New England. This I've already written about: the experiments were to grow rice in north America.

Ehrensvärd wrote to Linnaeus with his own plan for rice-growing on his Saari estate in Finland. Linnaeus replied with enthusiasm.

What Ehrensvärd perhaps did not know was that the New England settlers must have known of the Ojibwa people of the Great Lake district. One of the Ojibwas' food staples was wild rice, which they harvested from canoes with sticks, since it grew and still grows in the water there. They had surpluses which they traded. Their food, like most earlier peoples, was about more than satisfying hunger: it had and still has to do with community and tradition. Traded rice must have reached the settlers - though colonists or imperialists (or sometimes refugees) might describe them more accurately.

The rice the Ojibwa people harvest now as then grows naturally in both northern America and in China. Its botanic name is Zizania aquatica.
Cultivated rice is Oryza sativa. The two plants are distant relatives, but of distinct genus. Oryza sativa in the indica variety is grown submerged for part of its cycle.

Perhaps Ehrensvärd was unaware of the distinctions; the Swedish (Ehrensvärd's language) for rice is ris and would have conveyed none of the important differences between the two plants. The Ojibwa word is manoomin and would mean less to Ehrensvärd. It's possible the New Englanders tried to grow Zizania aquatica and that Ehrensvärd heard tell of "rice"-growing experiments there.

The seed most likely to have been available to Ehrensvärd was probably Oryza sativa.

The excitement that Linnaeus felt would have been based on scientific knowledge, rather than hearsay. It was Linnaeus, Carl von Linné, who in 1753, at least ten years before Ehrensvärd's letter, classified and named both plants according to his own binomial nomenclature.

Linnaeus would have corrected Ehrensvärd's misconceptions about "rice" if there were any. It might also account for the fact that there are no records of the rice-growing experiments at Saari, beyond that first letter.

Monday, 8 November 2010


Tammimäki is more than an oakwood on a wee hill as its name implies. More than a once-upon-a-time island in Mynämäki in south west Finland: part then of a still existing archipelago. It creeps up on me in the dark, sleeping in bed. It gets into the bed and lies down beside me. It's a state of mind - inserted somewhere between wakefulness of the small hours and night dreams. But then again, it's also daylight reverie.

But for the moment it's night. I navigate my way into the wood, careful not to step on the slender illuminated yearlings and saplings that somehow here seem to have escaped Oak Change and the fungus which helped the crisis along the way. I feel rather than see the elder and ancient trees around me. It's a small wood, with 35 or 36 such trees, five hundred and four hundred years in age, the oldest generation. They're all broken-limbed, wind-torn, leafless now, moon lighting the fabric of old wooden bone systems.

If I were to feel that there is a measure of acceptance now, cutting both ways, it would not be any form of anthropomorphism: rather a simple acknowledgement of fact. Sentient creatures are precisely that.

It's taken a long time to reach this point. I've slipped in and out of the wood for weeks. I've gratefully accepted, according to season, the mushrooms, the berries, the seeds and acorns the woodland produces; not for me or the deer, but for its own systemic purposes, its own continuing sustenance and existence. In the same way my body produces blood, but it's not for the benefit of mosquitoes.

I walk steadily and slowly round an inner meandering path of my own devising, assuring myself that each tree is in its rightful place, that each erratic boulder is in the place it found itself at the tongue of the last gacier. I step carefully over the fallen trees and round the raspberry tangles; more than once. And more than once realising that this is more than a vagary.

It's a dream; not because I'm asleep, which I'm not (though I'm not awake) but because the oaks are there at all. I'm visited now by these trees, just as I have visited for these months. It's a reverie not of my making, but one determined by my constant walking, by continued absorption - a word I use deliberately - of the woods and its internal structures and relationships, of which I am now a temporary part.

Sooner, perhaps rather than later, I'll pass along elsewhere in a way the oaks cannot, but part of me, the woodland flaneur, will always linger now in that small wood at the edge of the mainland on the Baltic; just as the oaks' wood, presence, timespan, timescale, has become a state of mind for me. Habituation. True dwelling. And it's here now in this very world and all its suffering.

Thursday, 4 November 2010


Quite simply then, sitting on the porch in dark frost-crackling night. Venus is there and a hooked edge of the moon.

I have the very last of the Campbeltown malt in my glass; I’m still barefoot after the sauna.

My eyes are cleansed of the day’s grit – inner eye cleared of the grit of the day too. I’d set out to look for an oak forest towards Kustavi and found only a tunnel in the vuori – what Finns call a mountain – a high expanse of bedrock. I’d walked in through burst steel gates in perpendicular rockface onto an earth floor along a tunnel carved through rock. There was a cracked-open fusebox. I followed the tunnel until the dark became absolute. The weapons- and oil-bunkers at Faslane came to mind and I became nervous and retraced my steps.

Barefoot with good malt here in the night and I’m surprised by the voices of geese – I know the geese have gone south – before I realise it’s the bugling of cranes, who have a more restricted vocabulary than goose tribes. Bugling does it no justice: it’s musical: there’s a blare and a peal in it; a two note piping that echoes the day’s tunnel.

One crane is warbling, momentarily rousing the others to call before they all shut off for the night. And I’m back to the medieval of Taivassalo kirk; the back of my neck prickles and then beyond Taivassalo’s frescoes into the wild ancient mind where crane shrieks are omens.

Sibelius saw a crane flock two days before his death: “There they come, the birds of my youth."

Above and below Ainola, where Sibelius lived and died and above Saari and at the bay of Mietoisten the cranes fly and call still.

The archaic in our world is palpable in wetlands and woods; and is almost tangible in our wild minds.

Old men are boys again.

Friday, 29 October 2010


Down the ages
they conduct their long monologue:
can't you hear?

Mirkka Rekola

I'm struggling towards a notion of experiment here.

Saari is no backwater, though it's rural. In 1761 Augustin Ehrensvärd moved into Saari Manor. A soldier, a count and an architect, he had a deep interest in the arts and natural sciences, perhaps like me seeing not much difference between the two. He was a good friend of the great Swedish naturalist Carl von Linné - Linnaeus, and some time in that decade wrote to Linnaeus asking his advice on agricultural experiment at Saari:

"I have ... a plot of 24 tunnlands that is under salt water each spring, and would thus seem suited to the purpose. The earth is sandy. ... I have thought [of] experimenting with growing rice."

In New England at that time, settlers had also been trying this, though with what success can be imagined. Linnaeus was enthusiastic, but there are no rice-paddies ever recorded at Saari (nor New England as far as I can tell). Short summers and dark frozen winters may not help, however sandy your soil.

In 1959 Agrifood Research Finland took over Saari Manor and conducted cropping experiments and research here on clay land, including seed testing. They only left five years ago. Many of the apple trees the scientists planted still bear fruit and are delicious; though some others mysteriously wither on the bough or are dry when bitten.

A thousand years ago Saari was an actual island, surrounded by a small flotilla of others - the archipelago reaching right in here. One such small island was Tammimäki. It's now impossible to determine whether there were oaks at that place back then, but when the water receded, if not there already, the seeds came.

It's possible, though, to see the great waves of land-history, with glaciers retreating, sea levels falling and flora and fauna moving in to take the place of water and ice as linked to the later experiments of Agrifood scientists and Ehrensvärd. Sand deposits, boulder-clay soils a gift to agriculturists of every period.

Oakwoods are rare elsewhere in Finland; round here are plenty, placenames tell that story - always on higher ground - islands once. The first experiments are always those of the land: best land use determined by climate, seed availability, soil type, geology and altitude; achieving perfect management without human intervention. Balance, and at the same time, constant flux; and working with that to achieve a harmony of mineral and soil, flora and fauna, that I can only incline my head to.

The oakwood of Tammimäki is a manifestation of successful earth experiment. We may walk under the oaks, but we are not needed.
Terrain established and thriving.


Is there room on the island, land on the main part of the island
for me to sing my songs, intone my long lays?
Words melt in my mouth, sprout on my gums.
. . .
Then reckless Lemminkäinen now began to sing.
He sang up rowans in farmyards, oaks in the middle of farmyards,
sturdy boughs on the oaks, an acorn on a branch.
The Kalevala

Ruotsalainen is an island of oaks.

Not a big island, like nearby Ruissalo, which has a larger oakwood, but with ancient oaks, mostly overlooked by timber hunters.
They were owned by the King of Sweden. The people of the island once came to hate the oaks as symbols of an unloved monarchy. The oaks are still there; the king long gone and his fleets with him.

Sadly, few islanders are left in the twenty-first century. The Turku archipelago and its sometimes difficult winter climate has shared a rural decline with much of the rest of Finland.

My hosts at Saari have arranged a special trip for me to see the oaks. There's a regular ferry for the islanders, but there's no facilities on the island for anyone else. Twenty-one folk live here.

The ferry-crossing is bitterly cold this October day; all my layers are cut right through by the wind. Sisko Ilmalahti, our guide for the day (our wee group is Anna from Saari, Morven, Niran and myself), greets us at the ferry landing and accompanies us directly to her house for coffee and an early lunch. Islanders eat early and heartily. Her house is off by a small bay, surrounded by piles of anchors.

The heavy horse left the island two days before we arrived, but evidence of its work is everywhere. They've felled some trees in the woods: not oaks - pines mostly, and big ones at that. Any fool can fell a tree. What happens then is a large tractor entering the woodland, compacting earth, destroying flora, including saplings, breaking overhead branches, to drag or worse, load out the stems on a heavy trailer.
The best woodland management is the oldest. Here, they've felled the trees not for the timber, though of course, nothing will be unused from trunks to lesser branches, but for the light their absence brings to the woodland. The horse has trodden carefully round all saplings, its heavy weight nothing compared to the tons of a forestry tractor. Its chains and harness, its strength and intelligence alongside its handler’s mean each tree is hauled out, slowly and with care, bringing trunk after trunk with no more damage than the walk through the woods we’re taking now.

Oak trees seem now to need a great deal of light if they are to grow from acorns which fall from trees onto the woodland floor. Regeneration needs a little help. Sometime around 1900 there was the accidental introduction into Europe of American oak mildew, which spread to every deciduous oak in Europe. While not deadly in itself, its effect is to add to the burden of oak saplings attempting to grow under a heavy canopy; the combination of mildew and absence of light does mean death to the saplings, however. Acorns carried by jays or squirrels outside the woodland, buried and forgotten grow perfectly well. Oaklings now grow happily anywhere except in oakwoods.

Here on Ruotsalainen, they want to rejuvenate this precious woodland - there's nowhere for acorns to germinate on an island except inward to the oakwood - hence the felling for light and the great care taken by that horse avoiding oak roots and already struggling oak saplings.

There's snow flurries, with fat flakes landing on the floor as I stand at the foot of an ancient, broken-limbed oak with Sisko's husband. Morven's stravaigin somewhere, doing her thing with the old slide camera and Anna has wandered off with Sisko looking for mushrooms. There can be no better companions to a forest than the quiet hunters of mushrooms and photographs and this island-forester weighing each word with myself and Niran an environmental artist, who's thoughtfully translating.

We estimate the tree to be older than five hundred, but there's no way of knowing for sure without a core sample, which would be foolish with such a precious tree. We talk of ancient island grazing regimes; of how islands are washed over not just by heavy seas, but by history. Forgotten woodlands the man's saying, which allowed them to survive. We talk a long time, round the tree, looking up, with snow falling on our faces, knowing that all is being done to help the woods live on into a time we'll never see. We stroll across a small clearing to another ancient and continue the discussion at its foot. I do my nose to outstretched arm's fingertip circling - an infallible yard-length each time - and the old tree gives me five and a half yards of circumference. The conversation is perfect and slow as growth; but Anna calls across the woods asking if we're waiting for winter. And we realise we're cold and hungry. Anna has found fat perfect ceps and shows us her haul as we straggle back the long way to the anchored yard.

On the way, we pass the manor house and its outbuildings - wood of course, with a windvane carrying the date 1677. The timber ends of old log-built barns have been used to help date woodlands elsewhere in Finland, but these are too weathered. The date though and the size of the great foundation timbers, old when felled, points to an ancient woodland of oak on the island in the middle ages - the time of Taivassalo kirk with its peopled and demoned landscape frescoes.

The islanders have ever lived in the present though and have tried everything to put food on the table. We pass a low deserted part brick buiding with a date of 1928: there was a brief attempt then to establish a brick manufactory with local clays, but it never amounted to anything in Depression times; islanders staying with the fishing and farming.

Along the way too, we clamber up the weathered outcrop at the centre of the island. It's no longer snowing, the skies are blue and we're treated to a 360 degree view of small islands, skerries and trees wherever they can crimp their roots. To each horizon: islands and trees.

Back at her house, Sisko busies herself with cooking another meal on her old steel log-range; Anna cooks up the mushrooms and we talk with Sisko and her husband about island life. The TV is on in the corner, sound down: an incongruous documentary about logging truck drivers in Alaska. In gaps in the slow moving conversation, we all stare out the windows - each one with a different view of up-close pines and birches, with flittering tits; between the trunks the glimmer of cold Baltic water.
A helicopter can be heard away to the south, then seen: it's the mainland hospital helicopter. Sisko tells us they don't turn out if the patient is very old. I don't know if this is twenty-first century health economics or that the helicopter ride would prove too much for a frail old person.

Sisko was born on Rekisaari, King's island, which she says should be pronounced Reksaari. It's called that because the king (him of the oaks) visited once. Her great-great-grandfather was a Pilot in these waters which are deep, mostly narrow and very difficult unless one knows the reefs and rips. Her great-grandfather and his son were Pilots too. Children are baptised here in sea water - that way they'll not drown at sea.

Sisko and her husband came to Ruotsalainen to build this house as a summer house sixteen years ago. No-one now lives on Rekisaari. Sisko shows us a photograph of herself and her father and brothers all smiling back in the seventies, leaning on the farmgate outside the Rekisaari house; without nostalgia.

The rain all falls on the mainland she says and it was hard to find water for the garden - by which she means what I say too: a vegetable garden for feeding a family. It proved impossible in the end to stay summers in Ruotsalainen and visit the Rekisaari garden to water, daily across the sea to the northwest and still have time for fishing and the other things that make up island life. The Ilmalahtis live in this house all year now.

Until two years ago there was a fishing co-operative on this island; we see the smoke house for catches of Baltic herring just outside. The co-op is no more. When we can't understand his name for the herring traps, Sisko's husband draws us a picture with his biro of the box nets that are used to catch the herring - the anchors sit outside. The herring have their own traditions and have always run the same places when they arrive. The Ruotsalainen folk know their routes and it allows them to funnel the fish into an anchored box-frame lined with net, which is lifted when the shoal is inside.

Fish were smoked or salted and taken to the annual fish fairs lasting a week in Helsinki and Turku for sale.

With a decline in fish numbers, aggravated by State protection of seals here - a tourist attraction - Sisko estimates there are ten thousand seals in the archipelago, all of whom eat fish and raid and damage the box-traps, fishing is no longer a way to earn a living.

There's also the question of cormorants - we discover their name after a long description and a mime of a bird with wings outspread on a rock, drying for lack of sebaceous glands - the dinosaur looking bird. No-one knows the Englishing until after the mime: merimetsu in Finnish. They migrate in their thousands and eat the pike-perch. Wherever I go in the archipelago I'm given this name, but I'm none the wiser as to what species a pike-perch is.

It was seasonal work; the Baltic, being barely salty because of the influx of so much mainland river water and its lack of noticeable tides to flush it, freezes hard each winter.

As if a final nail were needed in island fishing economy, the small scale salmon farming proved susceptible to nitrates in the water from mainland crop growing practices. All the salmon now comes from Norway.

It's with a little regret, but a lot of pragmatism our conversation moves through all this. Ruotsalainen islanders are resourceful folk and maybe can see the days ahead through their oakwoods.

A faint sound of oak-song today, here in the island of trees and people growing together and growing old together, a backwash of events allowing enough time for the changes of that growth.

Thursday, 28 October 2010


There are still things in the world that cannot be bought or bartered. Some things cannot be worshipped or derided, not even touched or held; yet here, now, worldly; tenacious, solid flesh and muscle and brain.

This morning passing through the air in and above my soil born world, the impossible grace in passing of seven impossibly slender and muscular El Greco elongated common cranes.

They are silent. I'm jubilant; almost making their bugling noises in my own throat as I salute their fleeting presence; our joint existence in this very world.

Carpenters' work

Bear, apple of the forest, honey-paws with arched back . . .
Golden cuckoo of the forest, lovely shaggy-haired one . . .
Väinämöinen addresses the Bear.
The Kalevala

What are the consequences and materiality of a culture and tradition of wood use? The filigree and decoration as well as the practical construction and materials and tools?

I don't really expect to see the bear in the forest, but it seems worth a trip to Karelia in the east, the entire width of the country away. Where city road signs read St. Petersburg; not quite in Russia, but in Finnish Karelia: the rest of Karelia was ceded to the then USSR after the 1939-40 Winter War that raged here, with Finland a small republic torn between large militaristic neighbouring dictatorshps.

Väinämöinen was not known as a particularly peaceful man, starting fights with everyone he met, including epic battles with the Mistress of North Farm.
My first sights on walking by Lake Saimaa into town are of tanks: one German-, one Russian-made, both bought in the last century's war for the Finnish Army. The reality of crude machine brutalism designed to kill and maim is always a surprise.
The Swedish name of Lappeenranta, Vilmanstrand, translates as Wild Man's Shore, though might not refer to Väinämöinen or the Apple of the Forest.

The Kalevala stories were collected largely in Karelia by Elias Lönnrot. That music, poetry and song, playing itself to me is reason enough to visit Lappeenranta in Finnish Karelia.

Linnoitus, the fortress on the hill overlooking the harbour is another surprise. Through three hundred years, passing through the hands of Swedes, Russians and Finns in wars with names like The Great Wrath and used as a prison during the 20th century, today the elegant barracks have been converted to warm comfortable modern museums: South Karelia Art Museum, South Karelia Museum. Here is the oldest Orthodox church in Finland, smack opposite the Cavalry Museum.

It's cold here and I've been walking all morning. The fortress has also a cafe; though that is to underestimate the effect it has on a cold man entering. In a room full of antique sofas and tables is the largest selection on a side buffet table of berry pies, chocolate cakes and Karelian pies possible; in the largest possible helpings. A bear would sit and quietly eat through it with me; these cakes are probably the closest I'll get to honey-paws.

But it's at Linnoitus, a strange place for delicacy, that finely preserved wooden buildings display that materiality of culture I'm in search of.
The construction and decoration of the buildings demonstrates a deep knowledge of and love for wood. The diagonal quartered door panels - when they could be plainly horizontal or perpendicular - show not only an eye for the way wood grows, but make use of shorter planks than other styles of door panelling. The filigreed planking at wall tops also protects beam ends. The low, wind-resistant solid length of the architecture itself reflects huge fallen trees.

It's not fanciful to find faint traces of the songs of Kalevala in carpenters' work. Songs, people and buildings grew alongside and within Finnish forests - here Karelian - where old honey-paws walks to this day. Through yesterday's wars and the consumerism that sits below in the town, here is a continuity, a culture still cherished, but above all lived through and in.

Väinämöinen sang to a birch tree before cutting it for a new harp:

Do not weep green tree!
Do not keep crying, leafy sapling! Do not lament, white girdled one!
You will get abundant good fortune, get a pleasanter new life.

and then after cutting:

There is the body of the harp, the frame of the eternal source of joy.

Väinämöinen is referring to the music the harp brings; but also to the joy of the labour of carpentry, of the skill of working and love of wood, of the knowledge of trees and the forest and its dwellers.

I know carpenters who select wood with equal care and who are aware that they work part of a once living organism taken from a living woodland. It's the old way. Found here in Lappeenranta.

With only one daylight short visit here the big lake beckons. Lake Saimaa is difficult to walk round, even though I start by walking down Lönnrotinkatu - Lönnrot Street. I catch a bus for Saimaa Canal, the waterway between Saimaa and Vyborg, now part of Russia, always Karelia.

Woodland shores of the lake are encroached by urban life; a long motorway bridge arcing high leads to Taipalsaari, one of the largest islands. But here, walking along by water is old Karelia still: an old wooden barn, with wooden scaffolding up the southern side. It's being re-thatched. The farmhouse stands neaby as does the sauna. For all I know it's called North Farm.

I shamble to my night's rest the other side of Lappeenranta, by the shore of Saimaa, in the dusk, cold, hungry and content. I knew I wouldn't find the bear, but I found his dwelling place; and somehow, "the splendid fellow himself" found me.

Wednesday, 27 October 2010


Ten feet from my window – I’ve paced it – there’s a deep steep-sided ditch. It’s a channel for water, of course, but also a highway for small rodents. Seconds ago a buzzard stooped, fast, into the ditch. I could see her brown mottled feathers, her spread wings among the dead, still-standing grasses that line the ditch. Jays screeching like the demented souls of some former bedlam. I’m thinking the buzzard has stooped on one of them, when she jumps, takes off with a gallus wingbeat. In her claws a long tailed field mouse.
Yesterday a large raven, high overhead the cottage was boldly flyting a sea eagle, making that deep musical chiming call. Above, then below: the raven was doing his best aerobatics, but never coming too close to the claws of the sea eagle.
The raven has a wingspan of about four feet. The sea eagle’s eight foot span dwarfed the bold raven.

The sea eagle coasted on, higher, then higher still, ignoring the raven.

As the buzzard had been apparently oblivious to the squawking jays.

Raptors have diamond pointed minds.


Everyone's hungry this morning.

I'm out early looking for late chanterelles - the tubiform kind with black tops and yellow stems. They have no English common name; I call them yellow-legs, the Finns call them suppilovahvero. Cantharellus tubaeformis. It's been wet lately and not too cold - good conditions and the right time and place: the woods.

Overnight, though, everything has turned to silver. Frost reaches right up into the trees. Frosted spider webs cross the paths. There are frozen deer slots at the wood edge, hard set and clear.

A red squirrel, actually a ruddy brown, stirs herself from a reverie of cold as I walk by; acorns are frozen to the ground where they fell. We regard each other solemnly, as folk who realise that autumn is over. The last aspen leaves are tumbling too, early sun touching the tops of the trees and releasing the stems from the grip of frost.

My old friend, the fox, kettu, hears me coming crackling leaves underfoot and makes his near invisible, silent russet way off along the path through falling buttery aspen leaves and frosted brown oak leaves.

Jays are beginning to flash about, pinkish and part blue-winged, singing a little. They sound like squirrels should sound like. But more are noticing me and scolding from one side, then echoed on the other.

The cold makes us all cranky. I've little hope of finding yellow-legs among all these falling yellow leaves, so being pragmatic will head back and have a breakfast egg without mushrooms. I have the choice; fox, jay and the others must forage all the harder.

And it'll get harder too. As I get back to Saari, Simo is using an old drill to make holes for snow poles in the frozen ground next the driveways . They look a little gay, a little odd - they are made from the tops of spruce trees with topmost branches still intact, needled thickly. Snow is on its way.