A. must've pressed send since I heard them making their way through the room. Muffled on the carpet and with a more deliberate sound on the parquet we’d installed the summer before. Since the steps were even all the way to where I was, already lying in bed, they seemed to have managed to miss the slidy spot I always fly over near the small dining table. Lightly singing, dancing steps starting in matte, gathering volume in glossy xylophone preceded by a darted, syncopated space-bar. They asked me if there was a chance that the wind conditions would improve. They’d finished and sent the cover of the single two days early. We could go up to the lighthouse.
I said that I blamed the granola.
I had come back from my trip three weeks before. I had installed the table my parents had brought over from the last secret stash of the grandparent’s in the bedroom so that I would be able to work this coming summer through the heat that takes over the west-facing living room in the afternoon. The table was still covered in towels, fans, t-shirts from the Sapporo brewery waiting to be given out to friends I was going to meet as soon as some of them were back in town from trips of their own. They also conveniently prevented me from starting on the piece for Norway.
Meanwhile my life had made its way back to kindergarten.
Every night since I had come back, at around ten past nine in the evening, A. had found me scrolling through the website of ilmatieteenlaitos, ready to go to sleep when they still had a half-days work ahead of them.
I’m too tired to drive down to the shed to fix our kayaks on the roof and bring them out here tonight. Let’s do it tomorrow. There’s another window on Friday. You’re off work then.
Did you ever end up using that list of Beaufort scale winds for that guitar and soprano piece?
This was back in 2016. Our mutual friend had shown us a issue of Niin & Näin that had printed a list of wind conditions someone had found on a billboard in some coastal town. Word for word. The text was in neon pink.
Nimitys: Kohtalainen tuuli
Tuulen nopeus m/s: 5,5-7,9
Vaikutus maissa: nostaa maasta pölyä ja irrallisia papereita, liikuttaa pieniä oksia
Vaikutus merellä: pitkähköjä aaltoja, joiden harjalla valkoista vaahtoa
I had printed the whole thing out and made a visual formal plan of the whole piece. I’d even workshopped some set text fragments with Tuuli. There was something about the word 'Boforia' that didn’t suit the mood of the piece. bof means meh in french. I ended up using a Janosch text where little tiger and little bear go to look for Panama.
Ilmatieteenlaitos said it wouldn’t go over 5 on Friday, and gusts would be only up to 7.
Have you ever kayaked in April? I had kayaked in December, but that it was close to town. 5 is going to be fine. We had that as headwind when we went to Tallinn with dad. The green Pohjantähti has a good hull and with all of our gear its doing to dig nicely on the water. I would borrow a dry-suit from my sister for you.
Söderskär is located south-west of Pellinki, still another 20 kilometers past Tove Jansson’s and Tuulikki Pietilä’s island of Klovharu, where we had gone with A. last summer.
We could make the trip in a day, if we drove all the way to the end of Löparö, where there was a small harbour. From there it was only 13km to Söderskär and the same distance back. The winds would quieten down to 3 after 5pm, so we wouldn’t be in a hurry to stay in the window. We’d be back home by ten.
You forgot to close the blinds?
For more than a week I’d made it a point to remember to close the blinds in the evening, but I still woke up two or even three hours earlier than usual. For the first two nights since I came back I thought it was the sudden abundance of morning light in the east-facing bedroom. The difference between the three weeks before my trip and now had seemed like months. I saw the first growing orange, pizza-box shaped patch of sunlight hit the red shaman-painting on several mornings. This must’ve been just before five o’clock. I only barely notched my eyelids open, but by half-past six I was already awake enough to be amused by a feeling of eagerness to start the day.
I had even bought sweet crunchy granola instead of my usual oaty muesli. A. loved it too. It reminded them of breakfasts in Italy.
I had also gone to sleep much earlier than I was used to before my trip. At first I assumed it was an effect caused by the jet-lag, that would eventually wear away.
But then I found that for several days in a row, nothing kept me up after nine or ten in the evening. Since getting back, I was meeting friends more in the morning or for lunch. After finishing work around seven or eight, I found myself heading home more determined than usual. I still stopped at my local on one or two nights while A. was still working at the living room table. Still I was in bed by ten.
I had put an alarm for 5, but we only got out of bed at 6. I had loaded the coffee and porridge ready in the evening after we had packed, so we were out by 6.30. We'd have the kayak on the water by 9. Having cleared the cobblestones, in the lights coming out of Katajanokka I dashed out to tighten the straps around the kayak.
We had a second breakfast of hot water poured over instant porridge and coffee at the Gumbostrand cafe that had just opened for the season.
After unloading by the small harbour at the southernmost point of Löparö, it took considerable time to find a place to pee. It was early morning, but there was always someone walking along this narrow peninsula. Hardly any trees, and no toilets. There was a billboard for Söderskär with a picture of the chalk-coated tower and a few dark-red fisher-houses on a pancake-shaped rock. We waited for the what looked like the ship that was headed the same way as we would, connecting Söderskär with the mainland to be on its way, and we relieved ourselves in the reeds.
The windiest place of the entire crossing washed over us already while making the first turn away from the harbour towards Kaunissaari. The waves made a characteristic frowning angry man’s face, with menacingly thin wrinkles turning the dark-grey, almost black surface into a sweating forehead. We were in the clear after just a few minutes behind a row of islands protecting us from the south-western. A weathered wooden statue of a viking waved to us.
We didn’t have to pause for drinking as I had fashioned a water-bag with dispensers coming up between the legs and under the spray top so that it could be reached by wedging the tip towards the mouth with the paddle.
My sister had lend me her rowing mittens made in Nottingham, that she had punctured on both sides so that you could slide a paddle in, but only an adjustable paddle that can be cloven in half from the middle with the flick of a switch. They stayed surprisingly dry when I remembered to keep my hands relatively close to the middle on both sides. It only rose to 6 degrees that day, so the mittens were crucial for keeping the morale up.
I saw the lighthouse already half an hour into the trip. It would take us another two and a half to get there. I remember this view from last year. Then you couldn’t really tell it at first from the buoys closer by that had the same form, or the narrow juniper bushes that could grow as high as 3 meters even this far out. Today the tower looked like a fin of a Kraken frozen in mid air-twist.
There was a predictable amount of wind from a predictable direction, and even though the sky was mostly grey over where we were and towards where we were going, still there was serenity. I felt warm, it wasn’t an overkill to put woolen socks on.
We paddled through the first gateway past the protective row of islands and between two orange coloured dome-shaped islands. There were many eiders, and you could hear their mating calls all around.
A. made the point that everything we’d taken on this trip was only in case we capsized. The pump, the life-vests, the dry-suit. All we had on us we were in fact hoping we wouldn’t need to use. Oblivion was never far away. We were carrying symbols of oblivion with us.
It did feel very different being on the water knowing that it was under 10 degrees. That’s the limit you read about on the laminated landscape A4-pages that are fixed to the windows next to the staircase in the kayak-shed. Always use a dry-suit when going out on under 10 degrees water. Never go alone. Or maybe just don’t go at all. I don’t remember very well what it had said.
10 degrees was drilled in my mind as the limit between a day when you can talk about other things than kayaking while kayaking. Over 10 degrees is when even upon arrival on dry land you don’t have to constantly remind yourself of vigilance by feeding the words ’side-tailwind’, ’oblivion’, ’risky’, ’window of opportunity’ into casual conversation.
We capsized with dad two years ago. That was scary, but here we go again.
I don’t remember waves in the summer. But now I find myself making a mnemonic to help me remember the 5 different wave-ecosystems that we’ve been passing and are likely to face on our way back from the lighthouse. The frown. The lozenges. Tove’s lines. The grid. The Big Cradle.
In the summer you even look forward to battling the side-tailwind that tries to repeatedly push you off course. Every seventh wave pushes you into a surf, and you would suddenly double your paddling speed and race on the mane’s hair. You have your sunblock in the chest pocket and your earphones belting Art Feynman feeling good about feeling good, its the way to keep feeling good.
Now in April the same sunglasses don’t give the surfer-vibes. I feel like I’m taking notes. I’m in the first row in class, being called up to the board to write up the five distinct ecosystems of waves that we’d wedged through on the way to the lighthouse. I’d recreate the angry frown, the lozenge-like shapes, lines and dots in between the kayak-keel and the horizon.
Every picture I took had a picture of the front of the kayak as if glued onto it like a neon sticker, except in the one’s I had my finger half on the camera lens. The green of the kayak had a more organic olive tint in real life against the grayscale of the ocean surface, and the security strap coming out from underneath the hole-guard made a smiley on its surface.
After Pirttisaari, the last small islands towered against the open sea like backs and flanks of sea-monsters waiting to turn their slumber on their other sides when you weren’t looking. We started seeing birds that never venture closer to the mainland. There were a couple of guillemots. On the way back I saw two sea eagles.
We saw much more of the sky this far out. It seemed to stretch like a canvas in gravitational demonstrations, where you place a heavy ball on a meshed canvas grid and show how a smaller ball starts orbiting around it. The fluffy clouds I associate with a clear summer day were far away, and their bottoms seemed to be chopped of by the horizon. There were wider and narrower strips of clear blue sky wrapped around several walls of this diorama. Keri lighthouse in Estonia would be only 50 kilometers past Söderskär, I heard you shout into the wind. It’s the island that paddlers crossing over from the eastern side would often land to. The western route goes to the lighthouse at the northernmost point of Naissaar, which is the one we took with dad on our crossing.
A. made observations of the different constellations of small-object forms the black of the top of the breaking waves was making against the otherwise grey and white sea, depending on if it was mirroring the sun or the clouds. The black were small windows into the darkness that every ocean harbours. Even Itämeri, in it's own cuddly way. A. stared into the hypnotising, scintillating grid of lozenges formed on the surface by the refracting light, and I knew that the experience would appear later in a stunning re-composition in one of their tiny fonts and margin graphics. You are brilliant. I felt carried by just the thought of having you by my side.
It was eleven thirty, and the sun was directly ahead of us until it was shadowed by the towering figure of the lighthouse. It hadn’t seemed to come closer at all during the last hour and a half, even though our gaze was transfixed towards it. The changing cloud patterns caused the light to come off the image of the tower towards us at different angles and shades. The lighthouse seemed to play a game of vertigo, like that when going to sleep with a slight fever. To and fro. Waves rocking up and down. We had come past the last small islets and were now in the Big Cradle.
Still, every small rock either above or just below the surface caused a refraction in the regularity of the Itämeri-waves; so-called because their momentum had potentially started from Sweden or even Poland, depending on the wind direction. This refraction formed a grid of criss-crossing shallower waves on top of the Big Cradle. I reminded A. to wait for after the mane’s hairs to dip the end of the paddle, as to not tip too far to the left along with the wave.
All in all we had it easy and got to the mouth of the pancake lagoon on Söderskär in under three hours. We waited for a seventh wave to surf us in. A. took out a smoke after they’d freed their hands from the mittens and passed me one too.