Sleepless in Hyytiälä, Finland

Desert, Dunes, Forests

Sand. I take off my shoes and there’s still some sand falling out of them. It comes from the Dutch Island of Texel, where – just a short week ago – I walked with people and interviewed them about their experience of nature in the dunes. A few months earlier, it was the Israeli Negev Desert. Thirty walking interviews in each country: Israel, Netherlands and now Finland. The Scottish Cairngorms (another Interact and LTER site) will be our fourth and last point, at least in 2018, as we aim for 120 total participants.

This is part of a year-long project, assessing a new interviewing protocol for a new methodology called “walking and focusing” interviews, where I ask people to focus on different aspects of their nature experiences as they walk with me in natural surroundings (a nature reserve or a national park). The project is hosted by the Technion Socio-Ecological Research Group, which hosts a few other projects that try to establish new theories and devise new methodologies for assessing ecosystem services.

Now I’m within the forests and lakes of Western Finland, at Hyytiälä forestry research station, and I still have sand in my shoes from the Dune nature reserve that stretches across the kilometers between the Wadden Sea and the North Sea. There’s something exciting but also challenging about these shifts: three countries, three very different landscapes and four languages (Hebrew, English, Dutch and now Finnish) in one week. My mind tries to somehow take it all in. Luckily, I had my post-doc advisor, Prof. Daniel Orenstein, with me, and we both had a lot of help from Jaana Bäck and Terhi Rasilo with our preparations, way before we even got to Finland.

 

Wooden Path at Seitseminen Park

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Sleepless in Hyytiälä – Our first Day/Night at the Station

We arrived at the Hyytiälä forestry research station on Thursday evening, the 14th of June, 2018. I informed Terhi, our contact at the station, that we wanted to see the trail we would walk with people the next day (and every day thereafter for a week). So, after dinner, we packed our backpacks and headed to the forest.

It was a very nice hour’s drive, one that would become very familiar to us in the next few days. And so, we began the actual (2.5 hour) walk itself in Seitseminen park at 21:30, with full daylight, thanks to the Finnish summer sun. Arctic researchers are probably used to this, but for me it was a first. Quite early on, we realized that despite the late hour, we were definitely not alone: swarms of mosquitoes decided that we were their (late) dinner. Although we all suffered a bit, Daniel was definitely their favorite, and continued to be so throughout our stay. Terhi didn’t seem to mind, and we all adopted a “just keep moving” approach. However, since our interview protocol, which we tested on each other, required that we stop for a minute at some point, this became an unbearable challenge in these infested surroundings – although discomfort and pain can also be considered an important ecosystem (dis)service! But more on our research goals later. We learned that this late evening hour was the peak time for mosquitos, so, luckily, we fared better on other trips, which were conducted earlier in the day. Apart from that little distraction, the park itself was beautiful: it had tall woods and bogs, wooden bridges that gave the feeling of a natural playground, and the old growth forest that we particularly enjoyed – a practically non-existent sight where we live, back in the Israeli Carmel mountains.

After a quick stop at the lake (where some participants enjoyed a swim in the upcoming days), we ended our walk at midnight. I will at least give it to the mosquitos that they never left a mark, so our suffering at least had an end. And so, around 1am, we returned to our comfortable rooms at the station, and I had my first of several semi-sleepless nights, thanks to the never-ending sunshine and the fact that 4am Finland sun is like 8am Israel sun. I couldn’t help but remember the Dutch church bells that rang every 30 minutes (day and night) during my first few nights in the Netherlands. However, unlike Dutch church bells, I did not really get used to the Finnish sun. Nevertheless, the sun did give me lots of energy, which would really come in handy in the next few days.

 

In my next post, I will elaborate more about the station itself, the facilities and support we received, and later on, I’ll write more about our methodology and our successes.

 

Prof. Daniel Orenstein and me at the Hyytiälä Forestry Research Station

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Daniel and Terhi Walking in the Woods, at Hyytiälä

 

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