Last month I traveled to Finland, and my visit happened to coincide with the country’s grand Midsummer holiday. Hopscotching around the country for the better part of a week, I eventually ended up attending a small, intimate dinner party at a summer house on Paskskar, a tiny, 30-acre island on the southern fringe of the Finnish archipelago. There, in the shadow of Old Europe, I found a sustainable sensibility that values practicality and independence over altruism and guilt.
A quick word on summer homes: The nature of Finland’s limited socialist government means that every citizen enjoys a relatively strong social net; no one needs to save for retirement because they know the state will provide for them. As such, they’re able to spend their savings and income on worldly items. It’s not uncommon for a Finnish household of modest income to own a seaworthy boat and at least one summer home.
Our hosts at Paskskar were Uwe and Siv. The island itself is wholly owned by the couple; Siv hails from a farming family that has historically laid claim to a number of islands in the archipelago, and she brought Paskskar as dowry into her marriage with Uwe several decades ago.
Located in the southern assemblage of landmasses, tiny Paskskar is a two-hour boat ride from the mainland. Uninhabited for most of the year, the rocky, forested island plays host to its owners only during the short summer months. In the 1970s, Uwe and Siv would visit and spend the night in canvas tents under the open stars. Later, Uwe began construction of a small summer cottage, but his naturalist predilections prompted him to make the construction project small and efficient.
During our quiet day on Paskskar, Uwe showed me the potential for sustainability on a person-by-person scale. His setup on Paskskar, for example, had minimal contact to the mainland. Water came from a shallow well—outfitted with a modern pump—in the center of the island. Electricity, what little he and Siv used, came from a nearby wind turbine and solar array. And a small sauna—the very essence of Finland—was attached the cottage, providing necessary warmth during the long, cold winter.
Uwe is a consummate hunter and fisher, though you wouldn’t know it from his bookish appearance. Nearly everything we ate that day—flounder and whitefish, mostly—was caught by him on the shores of Paskskar. If needed, he and Siv could likely live for most of the year on the island, requiring only basic supplies and staples from the mainland.
The archipelago area of Finland was one of the first regions of the world to have contact with Sweden’s Viking culture, and it’s easy to look out over the ocean and imagine longships racing through the salt spray, warriors gripping their axes with visions of pillage and conquest in their minds. And while Finland has changed, offering up market-leading companies like Nokia and embracing the European Union with gusto, the archipelago has remained largely unchanged for the past century. The only real addition has been GPS navigation equipment, which permits mariners a newfound level of reliability and confidence navigating the islands.
By 10 p.m. that evening, as the sun hung low in the sky and the sauna was nearly warmed up for use, I reflected on the secure, serene landscape spread out before me. While never far from the rest of the world—Finland received a dose of fallout from Chernobyl back in 1985 and shares a border with Russia today—the quiet archipelago nonetheless makes a fine place to pull up a chair, grab a mug of coffee and watch the future roll in.