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Hailuoto · Finland

We drove through the midst of the nowhere: endless pine forests lined the dusty, winding road, the scorching sun drenched through the treetops and shed a vivid light both on the forest ground, that was densely overgrown with all sorts of bushes, and the road that lay ahead of us. Our course seemed the most arbitrary: we turned left there, went straight on, turned left, then right, kept straight on and turned left again. Perhaps, it was the other way around, but regardless of how we’d find a way through this enormous forest, at least we found this way – when suddenly, our juddering vehicle came to full stop. Iiris, my guide for that day cheerily proclaimed this would be the ideal spot. For my part, I couldn’t distinguish this piece of woodlands from the monotonous forest we just drove through, let alone claim this deserted swathe of land as the one we searched for such a long time. Iiris hopped out of the car and before I could ask her about her apparently knowledgeable decision she handed me a basket and pointed in the general direction where we’d go. ‘Don’t go too far away or we’ll loose each other. We’ll stay here for about an hour.’

We went to pick berries: blueberries, cranberries and – in case we’d find any – cloudberries, the secret landmark of Lapland. Burdened with heaps of ripe berries, the bushes hung heavily, as if they pined for relief. More than an hour later, my basket was fairly filled and my back hurt. The Land of Cockaigne is located somewhere in the dense Finish forests of Hailuoto, a couple of left turns, several right, no matter in which order you proceed. We started early to catch the ferry from Oulu to Hailuoto, an island of roughly two hundred square kilometers guarding the city’s bay to the Gulf of Bothnia. Upon arrival, many signs warn the visitor about crossing moose. Iiris told me that local hunters count them every year but since hunting quotas were too high, we would most likely not suffer from any game pass, let alone find even traces of the last few moose living on Hailuoto.
Our route led us to the westernmost point of the island, the sedate fisherman’s village of Marjaniemi, where a fog-shrouded lighthouse greeted us as the seagulls quarrelled over the last remains of today’s haul. We sat over a cup of coffee; fishermen lamented over shrinking yields. We decided to climb up the beacon, quickly enjoy the view and move on.
The berries were ripe, our backs hurt and our stomachs rumbled. Indeed, we didn’t see any moose today, however found big bones, of what seemed to be a sumptuous meal’s left-over. We set off again and Iiris sought our meandering way to the dining cabin where we would have our berries and freshly smoked fish, somewhere else in the dense woods of Hailuoto, turning left and right once in a while.

Text & pictures by Matthias Planitzer

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