“Sooooo out of everywhere you’ve been, all those amazing places…you want to go back to Finland? Really?”
At first I took a sort of confused offense. Uhhhh, yes? This is surprising because…? But if you take a step out of my mind (where everyone else operates) it’s actually a pretty fair question. Of all the countries I explored last year, Finland is by far the most similar to where I grew up, to where I live now. White snow, green trees, frozen lakes. Winter. The further north I drive, the more “Finland” Wisconsin becomes. There’s actually even a Finland, Minnesota, which I drove through last week on my way to Ely, a small town that made a winter business out of husky safari tourism. You can even catch the Northern Lights if you’re lucky. And that was kind of Lisa’s point: aren’t we sort of already in Finland?
When I decided to return to the Arctic Circle this winter as a birthday treat to myself, I tried to get everyone to come with me: friends, family, people I barely knew, two complete strangers, attempting to paint a Finnish picture with words, willing them to experience this magical far away land that shits rainbows (exactly how I described it to Stranger #1), but after a few blank stares and yeeeaaahhhhhh, that sounds greeeeeat’s, I started to see the reality of Lisa’s question. Why would someone take valued time or spend a chunk of money to vacation somewhere that resembles what they see when they look out their own window? People in Wisconsin want beach vacations in February.
But let’s step back into my mind, where I operate (most of the time). Almost a year ago, life in America had just finished toying with me, had chewed me up and spit me out, right at Finland’s unassuming feet. And instead of turning me away, she (yes, Finland is a girl) reached out for my hand and helped me up. We walked arm and arm through white nights as she carefully reminded me of all the things in life that really matter, that are actually important. She didn’t try to fix me; instead she showed me I wasn’t broken after all.
And now, sitting at the Helsinki airport, waiting to board my flight to Rovaniemi, where my friend Mel will meet me at the airport and drive me up to Korvala, it’s hard not to think back to that time, hard not to see how much I’ve changed, how much more alive, awake, present I am. The nervous anticipation I felt long ago in this same airport, has transformed into a peaceful happiness, knowing on the other end of this flight, part of my life is waiting to greet me.
Because my home in the states might have snow, huskies, trees, frozen lakes. But I’m not going to Finland to find winter or “hang out with dogs.” I am going back to a feeling, a state of mind, back to an experience, a better me. Back to familiar faces, friendly puppy dog kisses, and not just any dogs, these dogs.
Yes, I’m aware, Finland could have been anywhere. It could have been Iceland or Bosnia or Patagonia. But it wasn’t. It was Finland, the first stop on my journey through the Rest of My Life. So, yeah, out of all the amazing places in the world I’ve been and have yet to be, I’m going back to Finland.
And to anyone I begged to join me…no worries. I’m going alone, but I won’t be alone. And I get that Finland will probably never be to you, what it is to me. And I’m okay with that.