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Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The Park in the Snow

In keeping with what seems to be a theme of meditations on our community park, I now bring you the park in the snow--in other words, in real winter.  What can I say?  I spend A LOT of time in the park with Ted.  Besides, the park is a great example of some of the tensions in living abroad: ways to approach things that both make perfect sense to a Finn and, in some cases, seem really odd or wonderful to me.

First of all, the snow itself.  From what my Helsinki colleagues, "big" snowfalls (over 6" in 24 hours) are relatively rare in Helsinki.  They describe the pattern as a little bit everyday or every other day.  That's certainly what we've had here once the snow finally started falling, and it means that there's about a foot on the ground with drifts and piles from the plows that are much higher and thicker.

Yes, you read plows.  While there have to be some big ones to keep the larger streets going, they're not much in evidence around here.  Instead, what we now have are various versions of miniCats that work on the street in front of the apartment (1 lane), but I'll explain more about that in a later entry on dealing with snow in general in Helsinki.  For now, I'll just say that, as I'm figuring out the system, it's actually pretty easy to deal with, and given Anna's explanations, it all makes a lot of sense.

So how do the plows fit into my description of the park?  Well, you're about to get a story to get that story.  You see, as soon as the snow falls, people basically start making "deer trails" through the snow to walk everywhere, and these hard packed surfaces become the paths for people and animals; trust me, within a few days even my snow-naive dog figured out that walking on these is the way to go.  Sometimes it can really give you a winter wonderland effect (BTW, it's a good 8-10" deeper now);

other times, it's just a groove with slightly more solid footing in the snow.  While obviously I've dealt with this sort of thing before--it's not as if I've never lived with or seen snow--I've never seen this internalized so widely on a cultural scale.  For example, when I was in the Jura we had 2 solid months of snow plus lots of multiday and week-long periods with it, too, but in Dole the sidewalks just weren't big enough for such obvious paths, and in the center of cities they did a lot more scraping, deicing, etc.  Here they really are urban deer trails, and people dutifully tromp down them following the direction of traffic.  The latter really kills me.  Single file, very purposeful.  Sometimes people with dogs will veer off the path, but even the folks who've attempted to make snowmen do them right near the trails.  Wow.

In any case, the best part of the park in winter happens right where the old soccer pitch was in the summer.  About 10-14 days ago, I noticed someone had made a huge circle in the park scraping the snow out of the center into mounds on the edges.  (You can see how high the mounds are by now in the second picture above.)

Then I saw a city employee attach a hose to his truck and start spraying water all over where he scraped.

I mean, come on!  As if the snow isn't slippery enough!

In all seriousness, he was making a little ice rink right there in the park.  For the next few days when it was below freezing, he'd come back, rescrape everything, and coat the rink with more water.

It is INCREDIBLY neat!  I love walking out there watching the kids skate (or try to learn to), play hockey, or just putz around.  When the snow edge wasn't over Ted's head, he couldn't quite figure out how people's heads were just going past him; by now, though, he really doesn't notice.  My only disappointment is that they didn't find a way to incorporate the soccer nets into the rink.  THEN it would be a real ice hockey rink.  Or maybe that was intentional.

In any case, I may have to scoot my way around for the next couple of months, but at least the scenery for part of my walks with Ted (4 times a day) is nice to look at.

More later about me coping with the snow, Finns acting like the snow doesn't exist, little Finnish Michelin men, and some truly impressive heels that Finnish women can wear with snow and ice!

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