[The Listserve] Swimming in The Milky Way
Five years ago I fell in love with a mountain and a lake.
When I was a child the patch of forest between the suburban apartment buildings was full of wonders. Small gnomes lived under the big mossy boulder, the rusted knife we found under the roots of a tree was surely used in a gruesome murder and Tarzan was buried in an unmarked grave under a sandy bank of the small river. The stories we invented and believed in made the places unique and alive.
Some places still have that special atmosphere. They make you more alert, wake you up from your normal every day slumber. You can’t ignore them. Some places call for a special meaning. If you can’t find it, you’re prone to invent it. That kind of places have hundreds of stories connected to them.
Some places have nothing special. They’re just a mundane place like any other, but something extraordinary happened there. A story can elevate a place. The corpse was found under that tree, here I fell down and met your mother, there I saw the bear or this field was the battleground. With a great story even the most boring environment can become magical and full of meaning.
I am fascinated by this connection of stories and places. Five years ago I found a place that ignited that childlike wonder, the feeling of magic, hidden stories and perhaps even something transcendental. I started studying and researching the area and found out that I am not the only one who feels this way. The Koli mountain and the lake Pielinen in East-Finland have a tendency to create profound experiences and stories connected to them. Three hundred years ago the area was thought to belong to spirits and sorcerers. Common folk could only visit Koli if they made a sacrifice to protect them.
The moment when I fell in love it was pitch black. I walked towards the lake Pielinen from the hot sauna, naked and steaming in the chilly October air. The water was dark, unforgiving and freezing. I knew how huge, deep and unpredictable the waters were though I couldn’t see anything. I waded in, the coldness hurting my skin and dove under the surface. The shock made me feel electrified. I surfaced and swam further. By now my eyes had accustomed to the darkness and suddenly I could see the Milky Way above me and it’s light reflecting from the waves. I was swimming in it. In the old Finnish animistic religion the Milky Way is called the bird’s way. It is the road that birds take to the afterlife and back carrying messages. I knew that the Koli mountain was on the opposite shore though I could not see it. I swam towards the home of spirits along the bird’s way and everything else was gone, lost in the darkness. It felt like fate. I was tempted to just keep on swimming, reach the other side, but knew I would freeze. I turned back towards the shore, I wasn’t ready for the afterlife yet.
I have now collected, created and hunted down the stories of Koli for five years. Those stories are becoming a long graphic novel, a collection of folklore from Koli and Pielinen from the last three hundred years. If you want to know more about the project, or share a story of your own from a place special to you, contact me.