…eight, nine, ten, I count the flower pots on my balcony. They leave delicate patterns of shadows on the floor. Thin and curly ones, distinctly flowery ones, leafy ones. They could be a pattern on a dress, like Manja’s poppies and other Tuscan flowers or Amanda’s rosemål prints.
If I had an endless amount of time to dispose of at my leisure, I might design a print of my own. Anyone can do it now. I might design baby clothes with cute round elephants and deep green jungle adventures. Maybe a blue-eyed boy sailing on a boat and then a big wave would catapult him into space, on his boat, and he would meet the most amazing figures there after landing on a friendly ice cream planet. Oh, all the directions my imagination could take me!
Summer has arrived in the far north of Europe, Helsinki to be exact. It’s no longer spring – how do I know? Well, for one, all the flowers have bloomed, all at once, efficiently. They are here now, ephemeral. Soon they will be gone and no one can predict how long this summer will take. It could be days. Weeks, if we’re lucky. It’s not rare to for sleet to greet Midsummer’s Eve.
Another indication of summer having arrived is that it’s as warm as it gets. 24°C counts as extreme heat and has the locals complaining immediately, after just one day. Local urban culture doesn’t include water sport-y activities so there are only the same grey concrete pavements and commercial options that winter has. Not many ways to embrace the warmth, which probably leads to all that complaining – people don’t know what to do with it. Plenty of bars. But if you don’t want a drink, what then? Wait til it’s over and you’re back in your comfort zone? But these days are so precious, please don’t spoil my joy in them.
During the fleeting moments they are freed from work, locals flock to their summer cabins outside of town, unaware of their good fortune in owning a second property, often lakeside. Those of us less privileged cabin-free urban dwellers are left to our own means to conjure summer without splashing – you see, for a girl who grew up in Australia, water is very much a part of my idea of what to do when it’s a nice day. As a solution, sans cabin and sans splashing options, I planted a garden on my balcony which only sees a slice of sun for two hours a day. The plants are still here. When the sun comes, they create shadows.
But are there really no water sports? Well, my dear readers, Helsinki has grown and continues to grow. And as I’ve become more and more absorbed in my own toddlers-and-playgrounds world, I seem to have lost touch with current events. It appears Helsinki now does have a few summery things to do, more so than in my youthful days of wishing I was elsewhere.
Last night, I was walking downtown through a park with a pond-like little bay. The pond water is dirty but there is talk of cleansing it one day. Several companies now offer stand-up paddling there, an activity I’ve wanted to try since I visited Hawaii but somehow something always gets in the way. Waveless and calm, that pond must be the perfect place to try it (providing you don’t fall into the dirty water). It looks very serene.
Walking past the pond, there were high grasses attracting insects and exuding a distinct buzz, blocking any city view. You could have been somewhere in the countryside for all you knew. There were couples there having champagne picnics with baskets, blankets, and little fluffy dogs. New green areas that didn’t exist before, and the wind brought me a faint melody of Iron, Lion, Zion. There was a playground with toddlers playing in it, taking my thoughts immediately to mine, who were already at home, snuggly tucked in their beds asleep. The sun was high and if you didn’t know better, it looked like daytime.
The brevity of summer highlights how special it is in this part of the world. To see blue sky is such a treat after the endlessly long winter months of nothing but greyness. As if to compensate for its short durance, summer has elongated its days and the sun refuses to set much before midnight. Midsummer is when the days start getting shorter again.
Butterflies and squirrels, grown-ups riding scooters with a thrilled expression, hammocks on balconies, and bikinis in urban parks. And also strong, cold winds and loud, rowdy drunkards and unseeing druggies, trash spread around, overlooked and cropped out of photos.
Hipsters and youth in inexplicable clothing, making me smile because style here used to be very uniform and now it has exploded in a happy way.
Summer is here right now, and though sunlight hours are longer, the days still don’t seem to have enough hours in them. So much to do, so little free time. Office work feels like a sin, a punishment right now when the sun is finally here. You get sun-stressed, feeling that you must not waste one second of it.
But the flowers on my balcony don’t look stressed. Their shadows are still and they don’t feel the cool wind. They reach towards the sun, briefly but surely approaching them each day, and they soak it in. Admiring it like it’s their last chance.
Here today, gone tomorrow.