On a small island in the north, where the winter days are short and the summer sun never sets, life must adapt to the changing seasons. A vision of two women with the same face sets a reclusive shaman on a journey from his dark forest cabin to the barren, windswept shores of a lighthouse.
In Kaiku our relationship with nature is explored through sounds and seasons. Set over the course of a year in the isolation of a small island Kaiku is the result of a long-running fascination with traditional narrative, folklore and the natural environment.
This is the final part of a four part series.
The first part is AUTUMN.
The Shaman woke up in the early hours of the morning. He stretched out on his narrow bed and got up. It was dark outside. From the kitchen window he could see the stars on the black night sky. Silently he put his grey jacket on and took his stick from its resting place against the wall. It was time to leave. An urge to move on had taken over the Shaman; his wandering spirit could never stay long in one place. He craved solitude. Outside the Shaman lit his pipe. The dry herbs burnt steadily, adding a pleasing scent to the early morning air. The Shaman turned away from the unlit lighthouse. Behind him he could hear the restless sea, September storms were on their way. The Shaman walked to the forest and it covered him with its dense foliage and calm humming. He walked further in and disappeared into the darkness, only the glow of his pipe was visible, everything else around him was dark. The morning was still sleeping.
It was a very early morning. The wind blew over the sea, exposing a white, slender neck. Kaiku's newly short hair escaped behind her ears as she gathered the net with a puikkari, a curved, pointed, wooden tool. The net was heavy and tangled and filled with seaweed. Kaiku dragged it into the boat; twenty perch lay waiting for her. Carefully she removed the fish from the net and threw them in a bucket filled with water. Removing the fish without getting cuts was a difficult. The perch had hidden spikes which made her hands bleed and the salt water stung in the wounds. Kaiku threaded the net from its upper most snare with the puikkari and rinsed it in the sea to get rid of the seaweed, then she lay it on the bottom of the boat and started to row. The wounds on her hands bled, colouring the fingers red. Slowly a new day was beginning and the mist that had earlier lingered on top of the sea had now moved to the lighthouse. The whole beacon was hidden. Kaiku rowed to the shore. The seagulls were awake, they had spotted Kaiku’s catch and were hovering high above her. Kaiku jumped to the pier and fastened the boat. Everything was as it should be after a successful fishing trip. The seagulls would get their portion in the guts of the fish.
Kaiku came to the lighthouse. She took off her fishing boots outside and went to the kitchen, it was empty. The Shaman had collected his few belongings and left. He had swept the marks of his stay so carefully that it was hard to believe he had ever visited the lighthouse. Kaiku climbed up to the beacon and opened the doors. She leaned against the railing and looked at the awakening island. Absent-mindedly she stroked her short hair and looked into the forest. The mornings had become slower. Summer was stepping aside for a new season and with the new season came a new mood. Fresh scents lingered in the air. Summer’s softness had turned into something more serious. Ruska was everywhere; the forest was covered in a blaze of colour. The green leaves had started to turn red and yellow and eventually they would turn brown, fall off, rot and disappear.
Kaiku waded through the field of hay, it was changing its colour with the rest of the forest. She walked quickly hoping to catch a last glimpse of the Shaman before he had gone too far. She walked to the forest, somewhere a woodpecker was drumming a hollow tree. A cuckoo vocalized in the distance. Kaiku stopped. Suddenly the forest was filled with sound. Warning signals. She felt an invisible hostility in the air. Kaiku stretched to see further, but the forest kept hold of its blank face. The Shaman had long gone. For a few moments Kaiku gazed into the forest. Its plentiful vegetation was in constant movement. Reluctantly she turned and made her way back to the lighthouse.
As she returned the lighthouse felt empty and big. Kaiku sat down in the dark, cold kitchen, everything was silent and still. Even the sound of the roaring waves, which dominated the coast was absent inside. In the sink lay a fallen, dried up cup of tea. Kaiku took it in her hands, placed it close to her mouth and sniffed the cup. It contained the faint smell of earthy herbs. On the table stood a glass jar. Something moved inside it. Kaiku reached for the lid and twisted it off, there was silence. Then steadily the air around her started to fill with sound; a song. In it was stored so much anxiety, helplessness, pain and loneliness that it knocked her down. The sound washed over her, it was like nothing she had ever heard. The song filled the space around her and made her hair rise up on her arms. Her short hair lifted up on its ends. Kaiku listened to the song and the long stringed bucket stirred the water deep inside her. From deep within, where no sound had ever escaped, a virginal sound was born. It was like a new-born’s first cry, uncertain and uncontrollable. It travelled through Kaiku’s heart and made it beat faster. It made the blood in her veins rush rapidly. It passed her chest, moved through her gullet and out of her mouth. She felt it in all her colourless cells. Kaiku replied to the song with her own voice, the first sound she ever made. With an insurmountable urge Kaiku bounced up. She ran to the room next door. One by one she opened the lids of the jars. She spread the sound evenly through the room and moved on to the next jar. Row by row she emptied the insides of them all. She threw the lids to the floor working as quickly as she could. She did not stop until all the sounds were free. The room of jars and the kitchen were now thick with sound. It pulsed and palpitated, distorting her vision. Beats were forming in the middle of the room. In the corners clusters of sharp, high pitch sounds gathered together searching for support from each other. Inside the lighthouse an orchestra of sound roamed freely. Kaiku's face was glowing with happiness. She was in the middle of it all, in the heart of the orchestra. All the different shaped and sized sounds worked together and for the first time Kaiku herself could participate in their merriment.
Outside the evening had started to dim. In some hours it would be dark. The season of the nightless nights had passed. A bright light was shining from the lighthouse - it did not come from the beacon, but from the small window at the base. Surf hit the lighthouse walls. From inside a voice of a girl singing escaped into the night. It was a small sound that almost drowned in the majestic thunder of the waves. If there had been someone outside to listen they would have heard other sounds joining hers, but there was no one to witness the occasion - so the sounds, which formed an orchestra-like unison were free to travel wherever they wanted. The first sounds to break out from the lighthouse sunk into the sea. They quickly changed their shape and adapted to the life underneath the water. Some travelled further with the wind and got trapped in the treetops like a thin but strong spider’s web and were joined by the mixture of the howling wind and the humming trees. Some of the majestic orchestra travelled far away, carrying its mixture of joyful and melancholy melody to other islands, performing to invisible audiences.
Some days later, on a windy, grey day a small boat left the lighthouse pier. No one was there to witness as Kaiku closed the lighthouse door. Inside she left everything she had known. She walked to the pier, pushed the boat out and hopped in. It blew hard. At first it felt like the sea did not want to let her go. The high waves hit the sides of the small boat and the wind wanted to push her back to the shore, but Kaiku kept her eyes on the horizon. She worked her way past the small sharp rocks, rowed past the islet where the seals took their rest in spring, and passed the white, dead island. And finally there was nothing but open water in front of her.
The old woman
In her endless search for the endpoint her feet had taken her back to the shore. The barrenness of the landscape unlocked the ascetics of her mind. There were no dark corners in her core. Her comfort was found in the silence of the landscape, her assurance in the frames made of granite rock. The old woman looked out to the sea. She saw the waves which rolled with a determined certainty towards the shore. They dictated the rhythm that crept deep inside her body. The sea was the isolator and the solder. With one whisk of her tail she could destroy the most audacious of spirits and test their faith in sanity. With salt she corroded the skin and whitened the hair. With time she softened the hardest of rocks. She could give and she would take according to her own plan, yet she had no hatred in her, it was simply the manifestations of her ample vigour.
The old woman bent down to touch the water. Her long grey hair blew in the air escaping from underneath her red scarf. From the corner of her eye she could see something white. Something was floating amongst the reeds. Hesitantly Aino bundled up her skirt and waded in. In the bed of reeds lay a swan, floating dead in the water, its head arched gracefully forwards. Even in death it had a magical look, its white colour contrasted beautifully with the dark water. Aino looked up to the sky, soon snow would hide the swan. The sea would freeze and trap it in its firm embrace. Aino looked at the flippers, they rested underwater in the darkness. Black and veined, they were like an imperfect feature that had to be hidden, only the slender beauty was paraded on the surface. Suddenly a row of lightning illuminated the sky. Far in the horizon Aino could see the rain coming. Heavy streaks of water fell on to the sea. A dark cloud approached the shore and took away the light, it started to rain. Inside the forest wind banged the trees and lighting illuminated the ground. The wind pushed the bushes apart as if it could not decide which way to blow. The rainfall increased.
Aino wiped water from her face, soaking wet she finally reached the cabin. She closed the door behind her and left the storm outside. Half an hour later she sat inside the hot sauna. Through the small window she saw the rain whip the forest and heard the drum against the ceiling, but in the heater birch burned steadily. Aino took a saunavihta, a batch whisk made out of dried birch branches and started to hit her back with it. It made her circulation accelerate and brought warmth to her old body. Fresh smells of birch rushed in to the sauna, bringing the forest inside. Drops of sweat fell from her nose and landed on her thighs. Her skin, like the wooden benches of the sauna, had aged. Like fine wine they had both matured accordingly. Aino’s will had grown stronger, her understanding of the surroundings she lived in had reached a level where she could easily adjust, prepare for and survive the challenges her environment presented her with. The old woman had grown fond of her solitude, she embraced the silence and appreciated the space it gave her. Aino opened a tap attached to a tank of water under the heater. She mixed hot and cold water in a tub and poured it over her head with a scoop.
Outside Aino stopped and looked around. A lonely snowflake hovered down from the sky and landed on the dark ground. In an instant it melted and disappeared. Soon after another landed on Aino’s forehead, it was the first snow. It would not have the strength to colour the ground white and would soon melt away, but it was a sign of change, a new season was ahead. Aino looked at the small flowers growing close to her cabin. They looked stiff and soon frost would claim their life. Their insides would be torn by ice, but their seeds would stay safe underneath the earth waiting for next year.
The passing years had made the cabin change its character too. Moss had started to grow over the outside walls giving the cabin an extra layer of protection. The roof had started to sag under the weight of the moss and the steps were slowly crumbling into dust. Nature was shaping it to her liking. Year after year the cabin, and Aino living inside it, had seen the change in seasons. Aino had come to rely on this predictable pattern that shaped her life and enabled her existence.
Inside Aino’s cabin lay another world with its own secrets that had nothing to do with the natural order outside. The air was different here. Here the old woman had created her own nest, filled with memories. The insides of the cabin were an extension of her mind. Like a caterpillar she had lined the walls of her nest with strong silk, made out of memories. The cocoon comforted her and gave her a place to dream. She sat down and lit the fire. The long darkening evenings had a way of caging her in. At summertime the daylight hours were long but with the approach of winter darkness crept in earlier. It made her world shrink to a smaller circuit. It rained often and her days were spent inside by the fire, but she did not feel trapped. Aino knew this was only the beginning of a long, cold season ahead. From behind her windows she had seen many winters pass and now she could feel the signs of change in the air. Sap cracked in the fire, Aino stared at the darkness before her. It had started to rain again. Aino covered her shoulders with a white woollen shawl and ran her fingers through it. She dreamt often and long, and the collection of her dreams was woven into the pattern of the shawl. Aino got up and went to the window. She watched the rain fall into the waiting ground and could almost hear it grow. Nature was getting its much needed shower. Aino sighed; the rain made her bones ache. She looked at her old legs which still had a lot of strength in them. She reached her hand to the windowsill and slowly stretched her right leg forward. It made a beautiful, long arch. The wooden floor creaked. Aino spread her arms slowly taking them upwards above her head until they reached each other. Scapulas rotating in her back, she could almost reach the ceiling. The old woman smiled and bent down to bow to the imaginary audience outside her window.
Aino got up before the sun. As she opened the front door the cold morning air made her tighten the scarf around her head, winter’s bitterness was in the air. Aino closed the door behind her. She swung a woven basket over her arm and walked to the forest. Colour was everywhere. It felt like nature was putting on a last, desperate show before it would be covered in a white blanket. Rays of sunlight meandered their way through the small branches and moved on to caress the slender young willows. They filtered through the birch leaves, which ruska, the fall colours had made red, orange and yellow. Aino walked along a trail she had made familiar with her feet. Her heavy boots made deep marks in the soft ground. She loved it all; the lean earth that made one fight for the prize. The gloomy forest that held tightly to its secrets and the deceptive, wretched swamps. From the other end of the trail Aino saw three men approaching, they were hunters from the village. They walked in a leisurely manner, swinging their kills over their shoulders. As they came closer Aino could see that one of them was barely a man - his face was smooth and he was shorter than the other two. Aino remembered seeing him in the village. She remembered a round faced, light haired boy clinging to his mother’s apron. Now past him walked a serious young man, time travelled fast. With them the hunters carried two rabbits and a dark wood grouse. Their wooden faces nodded slightly as they passed Aino, no words were spoken. Aino watched as they took a turn to the path that lead to the village. The forest and its bounty belonged to everyone.
In the middle of the forest lay a swamp. Mist lingered low over its rolling surface, it was very early. Everything appeared still, no movement had stirred the haze. Carefully stepping around the edge of the swamp a fox investigated the ground. Aino could see its bright red fur and big thick tail through the mist. Perhaps sensing it was watched, the fox raised his head and looked up at Aino. For a quick moment the two of them looked at each other with curiosity and a sense of a companionship; they had both come to the swamp in search of food. Aino and the fox shared the same small, attentive eyes, which suited them perfectly and protected them from the cold, invasive Nordic winds. Aino’s big boots sank in the tussocks. As she pushed the peat down an earthy, icy smell escaped from the ground. All around her dotted in the tussocks lay plump, red cranberries, they were red as blood. The coldness of the late fall morning had made the cranberries icy and frozen them from inside. Aino knew that they were at their best after the first frost.
When Aino returned to the cabin she noticed that the fox had followed her. In the forest it had kept its distance but now looked apprehensive, as they both reached their destination. Aino laid her basket down and went to the sauna. She filled the heater with birch logs and lit it with a small piece of bark. The dry bark lit easily. Outside the fox sat under a spruce looking at the cabin from a safe distance. Aino sat down on a bench admiring her catch. Autumn was the time of hoarding - it was a time to gather as much as possible to last throughout the lean months. These pre-winter rituals had become highly important to her.
The evening had darkened outside the cabin. A last streak of smoke lingered in the air from the sauna chimney. Aino stood naked in the kitchen; her body was steaming after the sauna and water dripped from her hair, making a small puddle beside her. Next to Aino was a candle. Its fluttering flame revealed a knife and a piece of dark, hard rye bread. Beside them was an open jar of pickles. Above her bats rustled in the ceiling beams. They also found the heat from the sauna too much. Aino toasted them with a glass of water. Next to her, on the wall hung the photograph. A small crack had appeared in the lower left corner of the glass. In the light of the fluttering flame the annual growth rings in the wood came to life. The walls of her cabin presented the history of the trees. The thinner rings represented the meagre years, there were several. The old woman climbed on a chair. Now she looked the three women straight in their faces. The photograph was unclear, time had made her mark on it. The over exposed image hid the expression on the women’s faces. The faces were wide with few details, Aino could barely make out the eyes, nose and the mouth. The old woman fixed her eyes on the young woman; a permanent smile garnished her face. Aino reached closer and squinted her eyes. Her nose almost touching the glass she searched for the tear. From the corner of the young woman’s eye she could see a faint pearl running down her face. It was almost unnoticeable, easily missed, but there it was. The photograph had stayed the same through the years, but what lay behind Aino's eyes had changed. She could see the women's invisible bruises which were imperceptible to her before. The wrinkles on their faces, which before had only been signs of age to her, now read like stories. In their postures she now searched for signs of defeat, power, courage, loss - even the madness that old age sometimes brought. She had passed the women in age. In the photograph they had been frozen in time, but time had not forgotten Aino.
Mist wrapped itself around the cabin, reluctantly the morning revealed her warmth. Signs of winter hung in the air and the early morning quietly waited. Aino lay in her bed listening to the silence in the cabin, in her older years she needed less sleep. Her days started earlier, but she needed more time to get up and prepare for the day. Some mornings her body felt as stiff as a juniper stem. With a murmuring body Aino got up and went to the window. Outside the fox was playing in the wet ground. Aino wrapped a shawl around her shoulders and opened the door. The coldness of the early morning found her immediately. A crow flew over the cabin and into the forest. A new colour scheme surrounded her. It was as if an artist with a duskier mind had painted this scene. Gone were the bright greens Aino had become used to during the summer. Broken, blended colours had seized every corner of the landscape. Soon they would all transform again and become one as the spell of snow would arrive. Nothing in nature stayed still, everything was in a constant stage of change. In the dark tones of the landscape Aino thought she could detect the closeness of another being. Bare foot she left the comfort of her cabin porch and walked towards the forest. She stopped by the forest’s edge. Wind blew in from the sea. Aino looked up and saw the branches swaying in the wind. She listened to the sigh of the trees. The forest was the same as she remembered it. She continued to the shore. Today the North wind was speaking with an ample note. The old woman pushed the wooden boat out, the sea felt icy as she waded in. The waves rocked the wooden boat. Aino wrapped the shawl tighter around her and squeezed the oars, she would have to work hard to get the boat off the shore. In front of her the constantly moving surf dominated. Piercing her eyes on the horizon she rowed out.
Some days later the Shaman passed Aino's cabin. The front door was open and the Shaman went in. The cabin was cold, the wind had moved inside. Aino's bed was unmade, her boots stood by the front door and a jacket hung from its place on a hook. The Shaman looked at the photograph on the wall, three serious women stared back at him. He went out and walked to the shore, the boat was gone. A vigorous wind blew over the island, but the shore was empty, no one moved outside. The Shaman gazed out to the sea. The sea was a friend and an enemy all at once. It threatened and tested them and allowed them to know the limits of their courage. He could see rows of endless whitecaps dancing on the surface of the sea. The Shaman waded in and climbed onto a rock that was pushing out of the sea. September storms had begun to rage over the island, it was a dangerous new season. Weather conditions changed unexpectedly and the power of the sea was not to be underestimated by the people who shared their lives with her. Their mark on the great sea was as insignificant as the ripples their oars made on the surface of it. The wind blew over the Shaman and he waded back to the shore. Glancing at the sea over his shoulder he hid deep inside his hood and lit his pipe. Without looking he passed Aino's cabin. As he walked to the forest it started to snow sleet. His old legs guided him on a familiar path. There was a new image to paint.