I have always found it extremely funny to land at the Helsinki-Vantaa airport. I actually have to concentrate to refrain from not laughing out loud. The laughter I’m holding is laughter with a little bit of irony (as we Finns know the value of irony!), but most of all it is full of love. Let’s imagine together that we are now in a plane together going to Helsinki and the plane starts descending. We get closer and closer to our destination: the most densely populated area in Finland, the Helsinki metropolitan area. We reach out to the little window to see how our destination looks like. What’s out there? I can tell you what’s there: trees. Welcome! You have arrived to the forest!
I can also confess that I haven’t always felt like laughing when I’ve seen this view. I might have cried too. I never really thought of what forest means to me, but when we lived in the Netherlands, I really started missing the Finnish forest: those thick, dense, messy forests, with fir trees and the actual possibility of getting lost. Not that I would really want to get lost in a forest. I’m too urban for that and would most likely die after walking around in circles in a blueberry overdose. Anyway, the only time I have run away from my parents was when I was 7 years old and they refused to go picking blueberries with me… at 10 pm in the evening. I grabbed my berry bucket and bike and went for the adventure alone. They found me in the nearby forest and I got not only a small bucket full of berries, but pancakes to go with them as well. If you ever tasted a fresh blueberry straight from the bush, you will understand the motivation behind my escapade. I have spent countless hours in the forest playing and building huts out of leaves and sticks when my mom has been picking berries and mushrooms. The tradition was first to fill in the buckets with berries and on the way back to the car take off your shirt and fold it into some kind of a bag where you could pick the mushrooms that you simply could not leave in the forest (for your neighbour’s delight).
I often felt in my bones the contrast between my two beloved home cities Amsterdam and Helsinki, but was not able to put my finger on the fundamental difference in these two places until recently when I moved back to Helsinki. Here I have found myself constantly wondering where all the people are. Woohoo, anybody home? Is there an ice hockey match on TV that I don’t know about? And let me remind you: I live right in the centre of Helsinki.
With this feeling I went to see the population density statistics and it became clear that I have moved between one of the most densely and least populated areas within Europe. I, of course, knew this already, but never really put any thought into it. Wikipedia tells us that whereas the Netherlands has 393 people per square kilometre Finland only has 16. Goodbye people, hello nothingness!
And then to the good news: Wikipedia also tells us that 72% of Finland’s land area is covered by forests. Netherlands’ corresponding number is 8.79%. Finns often explain negative or difficult phenomena in our culture with the fact that it is such a short time since we came out from the forests. I do not like it when we mix up our complexes with the forest. Forest is our superpower. It brings out the best in us. In the forest we show respect and carry our responsibility. There is no reason to leave the forest, but rather we should invite others to join us too!
If you spend time in Helsinki, you can easily go explore the Finnish Forest in Nuuksio National park:
If you drive around in the Finnish countryside, you can find forest basically anywhere (and more national parks as well of course). Read here about the Finnish everyman’s rights so that you know your rights and responsibilities when roaming in the wild:
PS. If you just booked your trip to Helsinki and hate going to the forest, do not panic! Helsinki is a peculiar, lively and amazingly beautiful little city that has a lot to offer for forest-haters too. 😛