- Naomi Moriyama has coauthored three books on traditional Japanese home-cooked meals and their health benefits.
- The following is an excerpt from her book “The Sisterhood of the Enchanted Forest: Sustenance, Wisdom, and Awakening in Finland’s Karelia.”
- In it, Moriyama describes her experience moving to Finland’s vast Karelian forest.
The following is an excerpt from Naomi Moriyama’s book “The Sisterhood of the Enchanted Forest: Sustenance, Wisdom, and Awakening in Finland’s Karelia,” coauthored with her husband, William Doyle.
She came out of the darkness and misty rain, with a 2-year-old girl strapped into a bucket on the back of her bicycle.
“So glad you could make it!” she exclaimed.
Her name was Irmeli Mustalahti. She was a world-renowned professor of natural resources governance, and a fellow parent at the university teacher-training lab school, where our 8-year-old sons were becoming fast friends, despite the fact that neither boy yet spoke the other’s language. Her stately, commanding beauty evoked images by Raphael or Botticelli, and like many Finnish women I was getting to know, her personality seemed suffused in a kind of calm, confident determination, contentment, and serenity.
Maybe they’re all blissed out by all the fresh air and the forest, I mused to myself.
Over lunch one day, Irmeli told me, “In my childhood, the forest was my playground. Back then my parents didn’t transport me to different hobbies or activities. I started going into the forest alone when I was 5 years old, to go skiing, hiking, and picking berries and mushrooms. The family cat and dog came with me and watched over me. I only got lost once, and not for long. There’s not much to be afraid of in the forest. In Finland, only city folk and politicians are afraid of the forest. Like a lot of Finns, we had lots of trees on our property and they were our ‘bank account.’ My parents planted, harvested, and sold trees for a living. It provided our family’s main income. You learn respect for nature when you look after such a bank account.”
She added, “I have epilepsy, which can be triggered by stress, so even today the forest is quite important neurologically and psychologically for me, as a place for healing.”
Besides being a fellow public school mom and one of my guides to the local customs in Finland, Irmeli was a professor and one of the world’s leading social scientists specializing in natural resources governance. The year before, she was honored with the award for social impact by the prestigious National Academy of Finland.
She was a globe-trotting expert on the interactions between human beings and nature, and frequently traveled from Joensuu to places like the United Nations in New York, Tanzania, Nepal, Mexico, Mozambique, and Laos to promote collaboration between government, business, youth, and communities on natural resources governance.
On this early autumn night, Irmeli met my family near the city square, and we headed for the festival grounds on the nearby island of Ilosaari in the middle of the Pielisjoki River, where an outdoor movie and music event that she had invited us to was supposed to be starting shortly.
But all through the day, it had been raining. I was surprised the event hadn’t been canceled yet. This made little sense.
I asked, “Will they move the show indoors because of the weather?”
“Why, of course not!” Irmeli replied quizzically. “We all have the right clothes on, and remember, as we Finns say, there is no bad weather, only inadequate clothing.” Irmeli’s son, who had a cold but didn’t want to stay at home and miss the fun, sneezed. “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,” noted his mother.
The Finns took these sayings very seriously to the point of sending all the nation’s schoolchildren outdoors every day for multiple 15-minute outdoor recesses, regardless of the weather, in snow, ice, rain, and temperatures as low as -10 degrees Fahrenheit.
Up ahead on the bridge to the island, I saw there were long columns of local couples, families, and groups of friends gamely trudging through the mud and slop toward the event. When we got there, I couldn’t believe my eyes. There were dozens of Finnish men, women, and children, standing contentedly still outside in the open air, in the rain, stoically waiting for a movie to begin on the jumbo screen. To my even bigger surprise, off to the side, a group of naked adults relaxed discreetly while submerged in a small outdoor portable hot tub and sauna on wheels, sipping Champagne.
In many parts of the world, weather like this would send people running for shelter. But here in rural Finland, these were perfectly normal conditions in which to take your loved ones — including small children — to watch an outdoor movie.
“This is a short film about the woods and mountains of Koli national park, an hour north of here,” Irmeli explained. The movie started, and the majestic opening chords of “Finlandia” by Jean Sibelius boomed through the speakers. The screen revealed the magnificent visuals of Koli.
Around me, the crowd was transfixed. We were standing outdoors in thick mist and rain, fully exposed to the elements, practically swimming in mud, on a little island in the middle of a river — watching a movie about a forest.
I asked Irmeli what the name of the island, Ilosaari, means. “It is Finnish for ‘Island of Joy,'” she smiled.
Of course, it’s called the Island of Joy, I thought. That makes perfect sense.
From “The Sisterhood of the Enchanted Forest: Sustenance, Wisdom, and Awakening in Finland’s Karelia,” by Naomi Moriyama and William Doyle, to be published by Pegasus Books. Copyright © 2021 by Naomi Moriyama and William Doyle.