Back in the comfortable swing of my closest friends and oldest habits, everyday I feel like I lose another memory I promised I would never forget about my time abroad. It is so easy to go on with things and never give a lot of second look back. If I think about my most memorable moments stateside even, the ones that stick aren’t necessarily the most vivid or intense, just the ones that my friends and I have recounted again and again and set them into a collective story. That’s is one of the ways that this experience is different than life stages of the past. When I arrived in Finland, I didn’t have anyone to remind and be reminded by, all of my stories where just abstract tales, and that’s is exactly what I have now, a bunch of stories filled with textures and sensations I can’t really explain and can’t expect anyone around me know to just intuitively understand.
I tried to explain the time I spent at Varrio Subartic Research Center to a friend recently. I described the night Laura ran inside screaming about the northern lights see caught on her long hike up the snow covered stairs from the lake and the sauna nested on its shore. She didn’t even say ‘northern lights’ just ‘lights’ and ‘now’ and ‘outside’ all while skipping down the log sided hallway from the kitchen to the library. I ran out the front door, which up to that point I never even knew opened, in my loose wool socks and fell knee deep in the snow bank. I pointed up and said, “Wow, they are gorgeous!”, waited a moment and then said, “Ummm.. actually where are they exactly?” The lights were so faint near the cabin that I could hardly make them out. At midnight, we all looked at each other and decided that we had no choice but to bundle up and head to the research tower on the top of the nearest fell. We hiked to the top and climbed the tower stairs. The metal ladders were sticky with frost and we all paused to let each other pass underneath, so as to avoid sprinkling snow down each others necks. It was Laura, who was afraid of heights “a little”, on the 5th floor, and Aleksi on the 6th floor, who watched nervously as I climbed timidly past them to the second floor from the top. We all sat there watching the lights tower over the Russian border (3 km East) as the tower swayed and shook in the cold dry wind. I remember thinking then, I will never forget this. And I never will. I just hope I never lose the smaller details: the dusty smell of the red wool bunk beds and green canvas curtains, the stacks of evening newspapers the station staff cast aside after the 20 year tradition of 4:30 pm sharp dinner, the wordless bond between cook and guest over reindeer jerky aged on the roof for months with “only salt”, that graceful lull around 9pm in the library each night that overcomes a group of busy people set into a breadth of complete stillness, which can take your breath away even in the short amount of time it takes to make it back from the outhouse.