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Contemporary Countryside

And suddenly it is more than two months since I last updated the blog. The corona situation in Finland seems to be rather settled and under control, most of the restrictions are lifted. Small-scale cultural events, live gigs and gatherings are safe again. I don't know how the other people feel, but I think that at the moment we can't know if this is just a temporary phase of ease before a new wave of epidemic - so better enjoy the situation while it lasts. To sum up the weeks since my previous blog post: I've been working long days, and cherishing nice free days with friends visiting or me visiting friends. Well, but instead of all the details let me tell one story;

My driveway connects to the local village road which is a 1.4 kilometre of dirt road. The village road is maintained by the people using the road - we have about six houses and a dozen of summer cottages. Every second year there is a general meeting of the road users, and the meeting decides on the broad plans of how to maintain the road, and chooses a person to carry out that plan. At the moment I'm that person responsible of the road maintenance - for most of the works I just call a local service and ask them to do this or that with their big machines. A few weeks ago I called one of the local farmers and asked him to level our road. When the levelling was done the farmer called me back, telling that there are some bigger stones on our road - stones so big that the levelling drag can't move them, but instead the stones make the drag to jump, leaving the road bumpy and uneven at those spots. So he suggested we remove the stones, for that will make the future road maintenance easier. He said that most of the stones can probably be removed by using a spade and an iron bar. "Well," I though to myself, "I will do that, as the road anyway needs some other small-scale manual maintenance work."

It was a sunny day when I was working with removing the stones. The first ones weren't that hard. But together with the other smaller tasks the whole operation took more time than I had planned. While I was working and sweating alone, maintaining the common village road, my mind slowly wandered thinking about how the countryside has changed. The background for my thoughts was provided by a radio program I happened to hear a day or two before.

In that radio program a cultural person was talking about his memories and thoughts that have affected his work and the way he sees the world. He grew up in a smallish countryside village, in the 1970's; most of the families sustained themselves with small-scale agriculture, so the community shared similar way of life. People didn't keep their doors locked. When someone had baked fresh bread, or got lucky with a good catch of fish, they sent children to take a portion to the neighbors. So children moved rather freely from a house to house, growing up in this culture of mutual sharing, feeling accepted and welcome in every house they went to. They felt that the community accepted varying kinds of adults (He didn't say that, but my guess is that at those times many of the adults were WW II veterans, many of the people sharing similar traumatic memories, each having their own ways to cope with the memories. So occasional strange behavior was calmly tolerated.) The old fashioned countryside was a place where people worked and lived together. Then, slowly, the countryside started to change. Many families quit the small-scale agriculture and got jobs in industry or services. More and more people moved to live in the cities. The network of mutual sharing has slowly withered away. Nowadays people keep their front doors locked. And when the kids want to see their friends, they make appointments before, marking dates on the calendar.

Myself I've also seen last glimpses of that old-fashioned countryside culture. And sometimes we discuss this theme with the neighbors. Some forty years ago most tasks required a lot of manual labor, people working together. Clear-cutting a smallish patch of forest and transporting the logs used to be a project of several weeks which required a good bunch of people and horses working together, gathering to have lunch by a camp-fire, telling stories and maybe singing a song or two. Nowadays all that is replaced by a single person operating a big machine, listening to the radio while sitting alone in the cabin using the controls, getting the job done in a day or two. The social network has become more fragmented, as the countryside neighborhood is no more connected by the necessity of working together to get the things done. Personally I grew up feeling that roads just are there - we pay taxes, and then some big anonymous system takes care of the road maintenance. Only when I moved to live at my current house I needed to get involved in the practical details of road maintenance. I had to realize that at our local 1.4 km stretch of road there is no 'The Society', no 'them' taking care of the road maintenance, but there is only us, the people who use the road. And since I'm one of those 'us', I need to carry my share of the responsibility - otherwise the road would just slowly deteriorate away.

With these thoughts I kept on working. While I was removing fourth of fifth stone, a car stopped next to me. It was some of the neighbors, a retired couple. They stopped to chat. They told they had been picking strawberries at the nearby farm. And they invited me to have coffee at them after I'm done with the work. I accepted the offer, telling them that there are still two more stones which need to be removed. The neighbors drove to their home, I drove to the last two stones. While I was working with the last stone I started to feel myself hungry and exhausted - the whole operation had already lasted one and half hour longer than I had thought, and I hadn't packed drinking water with me. The last stone was bigger than the ones I had already removed. I had to remove a lot of gravel, effectively making a big hole in the middle of the road. Using an iron bar I could tilt and shift and lift the stone, but I couldn't fully move it - the stone just kept sliding back into the hole. At some point I just had to admit my defeat - I gave up and decided to go have coffee at the neighbours hoping that I can think more clearly once I get my thirst extinguished. I quickly filled the hole and noticed that the whole operation left the stone more elevated than it was before - I was afraid that if people don't notice it the stone might hit the bottom of a car, so I marked it with spruce twigs. "Maybe I need to call someone who has a tractor or an excavator - but first I need to have that coffee", I thought.

When I arrived at the neighbours they were preparing their strawberries for the freezer. And there was not only coffee, but also bread, butter, fried eggs, salted fish, cheese and pickles. And a variety of cookies. Oh that tasted good! And I was delighted to enjoy this spontaneous event of the old-fashioned countryside culture still alive. While drinking the coffee we discussed this and that, and I told them how the last stone was so big and heavy that I couldn't remove it. The man pondered if he could be of any help. I tried to resist, knowing that he has problems with his knees and back. But since he himself felt that he could safely manage this kind of work, I found my resistance both useless and needless. So, after the coffee we packed more tools with us and went to the place which I had marked with the spruce twigs. We started to work together, and it was just so much more efficient that way! He lifted the stone as much as he could with his iron bar, I placed my iron bar to a lower position and continued shifting the stone from that on, and eventually we could roll the stone out from the hole. After that it was relatively easy to move the stone to the roadside.

Maybe I've already written about this in some of my earlier blog posts - but once again; I greatly enjoy those moments when people work together to get a common task done. How the physical movement gets co-ordinated without words, how there is sense of shared direction, how ones own muscular effort blends into a greater force, and we can move things that are too heavy for a lone person to move. I like the moments when words are put aside, suddenly your background or supposed status doesn't matter, as there is only this connection by shared muscular effort. And there is this shared sense of achievement. For me it was especially satisfying, as before the coffee break I was slightly uneasy for I felt my responsibility, I felt a need to get the stone removed before anyone hits it with a car, but I was uncertain who to call. And, because of my introverted character I find it difficult when I need to call someone: "Hey could you possibly get this done as soon as possible, like after fifteen minutes or so?". I find it uneasy to disturb other people with surprise work, as I assume other people are already busy with their own planned schedules. But this time I didn't need to disturb anyone, but instead got offered help. This is the old-fashioned countryside sense of "we". The countryside generation who now is at retirement age - they grew up to that culture and they still know how to do it and how to enjoy it. Personally I'm still learning, slowly finding my own place and my own contribution in the social network.

Moving a stone
Moving a stone
tags: 
diary
folklore
homesteading
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Comments

Thank you. Always a pleasure to read.

How wonderful! Thanks Erkka.

That's definitely one of the things that I love about the countryside. The communities are much closer knit and despite being far away from civilisation, you usually end up less lonely than in a city.

Thank you for the article. It made me quite nostalgic for a time that I don't even remember, being a city dweller all my life and accustomed to the "comforts" of modern life. I agree that it is a mistake to abandon the humanity that comes with working, especially physically, with your community. We live expecting convenience in everything, and we grow impatient with things that are slow. Information, entertainment, money--everything has to be instant now. I tried to initiate my 19-year-old nephew in philosophy once. He lost interest, because it's "not useful" and "takes too much time to learn." Perhaps time is running too fast for me to catch up.

It is nice to hear that community is not completely dead. You take me back to my childhood (50 years ago) with this story of the road. As a child i would go holiday to the north west of scotland in the month of July. We always arrived at the time of sheep sheering,Peat cutting and hay making. Part of our holiday was to help the local crofters with these tasks. Thank you for reminding me of a great time in my life.

Thanks for all the nice comments, everybody!

I'll reply with a live-update; I just came back from a walk in the woods. I gathered some mushroom and a little of blueberries. I lit up the stove, preparing to boil potatoes. When I was about to start slicing the mushroom I noticed that there is someone on my yard. I went out and saw an elder fisher lady from the neighborhood. She brought me a pike-perch she had caught today in the morning. Thank You! I cut the fish to two fillets, then went indoors to write this comment. Now off to fry the fish together with the mushroom!

Hi Erkka! The summer is over, how are you doing? Looking forward to new updates on the blog!

Hello!

Oh, thanks for asking - overall I'm doing fine. It feels like my verbal thoughts are like a flock of sheep, and I'm the shepherd who knows that there are no predators around, so I let the sheep roam free. The flock has scattered, I think some are climbing up the mountainside, while others enjoy the meadow in the valley. And the shepherd is napping, waiting for the flock to return. Once they are back I'll write a blog post - hopefully sooner instead of later =)

Heh, I guess that's how it often goes :)

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