Friday, August 22, 2008
Saaran Paapan Sauna on Sacred Lake
Another small red building. Saaran Paapan sauna. It sits on the shore of Pyhäjärvi in Finland. Saara Jääntti's grandfather's sauna sits on the shore of a lake in Finland whose name translates to "Sacred Lake." I spent a wonderful Juhannus there one summer with a gaggle of girls. And it was truly sacred. I met Saara at IFU, the feminist university I attended for 3 months in Hanover, Germany in 2000. The next summer, some of the women there (who were from around the world) planned to meet up again. When my sister Katja and I were accepted to present a paper at Jyväskylä University in Finland the following year (we presented our research on Finnish women and girls of Thunder Bay), we arranged to met up with the women at Saara's grandfather's summer camp. Besides Saara and my sister Katja there was Emily from Wales (she is half Finnish), Barbara from Argentina, Barbara from US and Germany, Nicky from New Zealand, Elisabeth from Austria, Valerie from Guyana, Jana from Germany, and Abha from India. Dear Abha.
Because Saara's grandfather's sauna is small and we were many, we had to go in in 2 shifts. Here was our turn: me, Saara, Barbara from Argentina, Nicky, Katja and Elisabeth. I think Emily is taking the photo as I remember when we got into the sauna, I sat next to her on the top bench. We were really excited to finally get into the sauna as the preparation of the Juhannus sauna was a day long event. Saara kept saying it takes time. It can't be rushed. It's part of the enjoyment, the preparation. The sauna had to be cleaned, swept and freshened up. Some women had the job of collecting wildflowers to decorate the entrance and the dressing room. Other women had the job of scavenging logs from the forest floor for the kiuas [sauna heater] and for the kokko [immense bonfire] that we would hold after the sauna by the lakeshore. As most of the women had no prior knowledge of Juhannus, we decided to invent our own rituals for celebrating this nightless night of wonder.
Inside the sauna, we squeezed together on the small top and bottom bench. This window shows the impression that the sauna was light, but it was not. It was dark as a cave. This window faces the forest trees, which were on a steep slope. When you looked out you saw dark earth and dark forest. The walls of the sauna seeped sap that stuck to your back, a black pitch grabbed at my hair. The scent of pine swamped us. Saara, a woman of many skills and great efficiency, knew how to make her grandfather's sauna very hot. She knew how to get our cackling stilled. Breathing the hot steamy air caused our chattering to slowly fade away. Suddenly all that you could hear was the sound of women breathing as one. The darkness and the heat seemed to climb inside you. We became one big breath with the sauna. The rise and fall of breath, of women sitting skin to skin in the dark. The sauna henki [breath/spirit] had entered us. The magic had begun.
Later, I had the women write in my journal. Abha, our dear beloved IFU sister who later died in a tragic fire in India, wrote this poem for me and sketched an image of me.