One of my favorite holidays at home is Thanksgiving. Friends, neighbors and family spill from the doors of my parents home in Kneeland, spending time together and sharing a meal. The weather is usually cooler but a fire is not necessary since my family’s home will have been heated by my Mom cooking the turkey all day. A tradition localized to my “home-village” as it would be called in Finland, is pulling crab-pots from the ocean water and bringing them home to serve with the meal. I am thankful that my Dad is not only a logger, but a good fisherman too.
Thanksgiving holiday is based on a harvest feast shared between the starving Plymouth colonists and their survivalist teachers from the Wampanoag Native American tribe. This autumn feast is about sharing, friendship, counting thanks and was originally a celebration of living off the land. The Native American’s taught the colonists how to catch fish from the river, grow corn and hunt.
This concept is very dear to my family and while I will not be in California this Thanksgiving, I had an experience that contained the very spirit of Thanksgiving with the Alapään Eränkävijät, the Jalasjärvi hunting group.
My Finnish farm family, the Vuorela’s, are members of the Alapään Eränkävijät, the Jalasjärvi hunting group. They asked the hunting group’s permission for me to attend a hunting weekend and for that I am so thankful! There is nothing like asking if a California girl can come hunting to bring out the English words in a group. I was treated with absolutely the most respect and kindness from these wonderful people. It may have been my favorite two days in Finland.
This hunting group was founded in 1954 to encompass outdoor enthusiasts and landowners in the Jalasjärvi area. In the 1920’s the low populations of moose required them to be protected. Soon after the population came back with brute strength and the formation of structured hunting groups met the need for population control. Today moose hunting is heavily regulated and is a consistent method to help the population remain stable. This is important for three main reasons:
First-Finland lives in the forest. To a moose, roadways, backyards and farm-fields seem the same as their forest habitat. The higher the moose population numbers, the higher the occurrence of moose and car collisions.
Second-Finland’s Game and Fisheries research, proven by the time of protection for moose, shows that wolves and other natural predators are so scarce in Finland that the moose easily overpopulate.
Third- Moose love to roam in open logged clearings and eat pine seedlings. If there are too many moose there will be too few pine trees.
The hunting group carefully plans the hunts to ensure that landowners are informed about the hunting taking place, and that the hunters know the zones where homes and other hunters are stationed to keep safety a priority. They carry radios so that they can stay in communication during the hunt. I spent my hunting time with my guide and friend from the Valio tour, Antti Tukeva, admiring the beauty of Finland’s forests, kind humor and nature of my new hunting friends and of course drinking coffee and cooking makkara (Finnish sausage) over the fire.
Part of the moose hunting season is about the safety of Finns and environmental protection. Part of moose hunting is also about being in nature. Antti described to me how he once waited in a hunting spot so long that small forest birds walked right up to his boots. He could see them eat and interact, and felt like a part of nature.
Moose hunting not only emphasizes the Finn’s important connection to nature, but also the “sisu” part of their culture. Sisu is an old Finnish word that cannot really be translated into English, but bottles the strength, determination and spirit of a Finn. The comradery and companionship of the old friends and good people of this hunting group is what really bring them the cold mornings when the weather provides rain and snow.
A few weekends later the Vuorela’s brought me to the hunting club’s celebration of friends, neighbors and families at the Luopajärvi town hall. Every year the hunters offer the landowners, who permit access for the hunting, a moose soup feast. While I was there I saw at least a hundred people pass through the town hall doors, each greeted with a smile and warm handshake from the sharply dressed hunters. The hall was filled with charming spirits and it was acclimating to see many of my new Finnish friends. I am thankful to be in Finland and for the dear friends I have made. However, in the Luopajärvi town hall, on what I like to call “moose-giving”, there didn’t seem to be any strangers.
A special thanks to the Vuorela’s, Antti Tukeva, Seppo Kannonlahti, and Vesa Lautamaki for letting me join the hunt. Kiitos Kalevi Lapiolahti for building the fires and Juha Raja for sharing his new knife and so many others, anteeksi, the Finnish names are so hard for me to spell.