Markus Stocker bio photo

Markus Stocker

Between information technology and environmental science with a flair for economics, the clarinet, and the world of soups and salads.

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What is that falling from the skies? Wait a moment, water? Markus, where have you been lately? Don’t you remember what rain looks and feels like? In four months only snowflakes had been falling from the skies; coming back to a wet umbrella seeking season feels, indeed, like if I had been an actor in a fairy tale, you know those dreamful stories of far away land and their mysterious inhabitants. In my role, I might almost have forgotten one or two things.

I think, one of the first predictions that had fallen upon my decision to move to Finland in 2009 were Seasonal Affective Disorder and that I’ll freeze my a$$ off. The winter has seen its last day with temperatures above freezing point late November and the first early March, though only to tease and head back to frost, with repeated lows in the range of -25 to -30 degrees Celsius. Now, however, the big melting is definitively under way. A colleague commented that it is accepted to wear long underpants, pants and possibly weatherproof pants but I must say I did just fine with my jeans. The second prediction was that I’ll need some good pair of shoes. To my surprise, the pair I had in fall was a comfortable one throughout winter. The third prediction was that I’ll be bitten by mosquitoes. I’ll tell about that one in a late summer post.

A Finnish snow storm is more like the Graceful Dance of the Finest Ice Crystals, rather than a storm.

As usual, nothing beats experience. This post is an attempt to share some thoughts on the experience of winter at latitude 62.8933 and longitude 27.6793 where the shortest day counts 4 hours and 45 minutes between sunrise and sunset, the sun too shy to leave the horizon, too misplaced to send any warmth upon land 3.6686 degrees south from the Arctic Circle, above which the sun never appears on polar night and never disappears on polar day. All this might sound frightening but my experience was anything but. You must know, dealing with the low temperatures and light is a small price for the uncountable little surprises that come with such extremes. I hope this post takes away from the commonly held public believes and encourages to experience yourself.

First and foremost, the wet slightly above freezing rainy day may feel colder than a snowy frosty day. Some say it’s because of the humidity. At -25 degrees Celsius, all you need to do is to cover your extremities and walk, perhaps slightly above your average pace to keep circulation going. My guess is you won’t be cold, at least not in the first 30 minutes.

The rate of change in length of days is one of the most impressive phenomena. While the shortest day counts slightly below 5 hours between sunrise and sunset the longest counts more than 20 hours. In six months ± 15 hours. That’s almost 5 minutes each day, slightly more than half an hour every week. Spring just gained a new meaning with experiencing the breakpoint at which days north become longer than south. Though the sun draws a wider arc during summers more south, too, I can’t wait to see the almost full circle at latitude 62.8933. A sunset at 7 pm with temperatures hovering around freezing point is priceless.

A Finnish snow storm is more like the Graceful Dance of the Finest Ice Crystals, rather than a storm; 70 cm of it lay on the ground without suggesting snowapocalypse. One might think at -25 degrees Celsius it must be slippery on sidewalks; no, the danger is around freezing point, which is also when you realize that lately you have been walking on a 5-15 cm ice sheet, a marvelous, natural, perfectly walkable ground under your feet.

But there is one secret of winter at latitude 62.8933 that beats all others: trees fully covered with a 5-10 mm coat made of snowflakes. Conditions permitted, those conglomerations of frozen ice crystals actually cover almost everything, being commercial fences another curious example. Think of every leaf and tiny branch of an evergreen tree coated with crystal on crystals; then think of thicker branches coated with the flakes; then the tree bark repeating just the same along its intricate structure. Imagine yourself in a forest standing in front of such a tree with an orange-red glowing peak that reflects the last incoming rays of a sunny day. Priceless.