The Tornio River unites Sweden and Finland – Övertorneå and the neighbouring Finnish town of Ylitornio lie on opposite sides of the river, which also makes the border. This mighty river provides countless opportunities for fishing and recreation. It presents the amazing spectacle of the spring ice break-up, that I mentioned in the Part 1.
Breathtaking scenery can be viewed from the peaks of mountains on either side of the border, from Luppioberget, on the Swedish side and from Aavasaksa, on the Finnish side. Aavasaksa is a very popular place for the tourists to come at the Midsummer time to view the spectacle of the Midnight Sun.
The landscape in the Tornio Valley features varied countryside of both mountainous and flat landscapes. Tornio and Haparanda are situated on the coastal plain by the Gulf of Bothnia. Further north, from Övertorneå and the northern part of Ylitornio Municipality, the mountains become more prominent. The Arctic Circle is at the latitude of 66.55° N. It goes right through the villages of Ylitornio, on the Finnish side of the river, and Övertorneå, on the Swedish side. This latitude also marks the southernmost parallel at which one can experience the Polar Day, another name is the Midnight Sun and Polar Night, which is also called – Kaamos in the Saami language.
The Polar Day culminates on June 21, when the sun remains above the horizon for 24 hours – and it is light all day. On Aavasaksa mountain – situated on the Finnish side of the river in Ylitornio – one can admire The Midnight Sun between the 15.6-7.7. The Polar Night begins on September 23, at the autumnal equinox, which culminates on December 21, when the sun does not rise above the horizon for 24 hours – and it is dark all day.
Talk about the TWILIGHT ZONE. During the Kaamos – the dark period – everything is in these fabulous shades of blues, pinks and lilacs. It is terribly picturesque altogether. I am quite certain, that you would have seen photographs of Lapland in these gorgeously soft pastel colours, even though it did not cross your mind at all, that they were taken during the Kaamos.
The inclination of the earth’s axis, at an angle of 23.4 degrees, due to the influence of the moon, the location of the Arctic Circle is also changing. Currently it is at the rate of 14.4 metres annually. The Arctic Circle is moving northwards. This process will continue for a further period, after which the process will be reversed and the Arctic Circle will start moving south.
In this border country, as anywhere in a situation alike, a special, local culture, both Swedish and Finnish has emerged. Yet it is somehow distinct from both. A majority of the residents speak Tornio Valley Finnish – Meänkieli – the native language and the bearer of the culture. Culture, that is distinctive in religion, in the local cuisine with its eastern influences. Here is the list of spices: saffron, sugar, lemon, ginger and orange-peel that were used. Also cumin was used in all the bread making in the 18th century as described by a Frenchman. Living in the border region has given the people of the valley a characteristic mentality and a genuine pride – a deep awareness of who they are, rather than the ‘nose-up- in the air’ -variety. The local population is meant to be even more fanatical about hot-hot sauna baths than the rest of the Finns.
Well, one must try, in any which way, to keep warm – somehow! The temperature difference between summer and winter is roughly 60ºC. In winter the temperature creeps down at times to -35ºC or even more. It’s cold, but the air is dry and with the right clothing you can still spend time outdoors. When summer comes, the nature awakens from the slumber, gets over its shock because of the long, long freeze and begins to work 24/7, as it will be light and bright daylight round the clock!! Temperatures of around +30ºC and sometimes even higher are not uncommon.
These temperatures are the norm nowadays. I don’t remember – EVER – in my childhood that the temperature in the summer would have reached much above the 15-20ºC mark! We swam no matter what the weather was like during those short, but, bright summer months. It really was a bit of ‘it’s now or never’ – because the summer was so very short, that, if one blinked, twas over!
The coldest temperature in Ylitornio that I have experienced in my entire life was all of -44ºC!! Do ponder that. Insane, I say.
In this valley, the life revolves around the Tornio River, as I stated already earlier on – this 520 kilometres long river of tranquil pools, foaming rapids and swirling waters that winds its way towards the sea. The people, who used be one nation under the Swedish rule for several centuries. It should be of no real surprise that there is such unity and conformability with the populations on both sides of the river here, as historically, culturally and geographically they were ONE NATION for a time period of six to seven hundred years. That is an awfully long time. It is not going be wiped of by any artificial ‘border’ – however hard the politics of the day may try.
Two peoples, and if the Saami is counted as they should be, that would make three people, four languages and a majestic river make Tornio Valley unique . The local population use several languages, Swedish, Finnish, Saami and Meänkieli. Meänkieli – Our Language – that is what the name means in English – is a language spoken in both Swedish and Finnish Tornio Valley. Meänkieli is a language derived from Finnish. Newspapers and books are written in Meänkieli. Even films have been made in this language. In 1999, a new Minorities Act in Sweden recognised Meänkieli as an indigenous minority language. In Finland it does not have such a recognized status.
Unfortunately, I think, because it is very different from the Finnish in many ways.
When we moved to the Southern Finland, the people there did not understand what we were saying for most of the time and so we had to learn the ordinary Finnish. The southerners thought that we were speaking in Saami. They also thought that we had lived in a Kota – the Saami dwelling special to them.
It must have been the only few weeks that I have ever been silent in my entire life while learning the ‘other’ language!! (Finnish Finnish)
This area belonged to Sweden for several centuries, as already mentioned above, until 1809, actually, when Sweden ceded Finnish Tornio Valley to Russia which I will go into more detail in the next posting in Part 3. That war of 1808-1809 is the last war that Sweden has fought. Finland has not been as spared from wars, but we do have a Big Bear of a neighbour on our eastern side. They do not.
Tis for now. Riihele xx
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