What was the most important lesson of the six-day journey around the lake Ladoga with a group of happy researchers in mid-August 2019?
The images are blurred together, but the most touching ones are related to the partly hidden and more visible marks of human culture (and brutality) in nature. Our route took us from Vyborg to Käkisalmi (Priozersk), Novaja Ladoga, Šlisselburg, Vitele, Rautalahti and Sortavala. The area was marked by a constant variation between rural and urban, and the gravitation of Saint Petersburg was eminently present in the Leningradskaja oblast. Our goal, however, was to get to know something about the mighty Lake Ladoga and nature surrounding it’s shores, affecting the lives of the people living with the lake.
The relatively recent (world) wars of the 20th century dominated our thoughts while driving through the giant graveyard dotted by both Russian and Finnish memorials and places of remembrance. The most touching ones were hidden and silent, covered with vegetation and moss, celebrating the soothing fact of temporariness. In the corner of the former graveyard of village of Sakkola we came across a small, modest moss-covered statue with a engraving imitating the words of the Finnish poet Eino Leino: “Oh, sensitive be to each other you should …”  (Oi ihmiset toistanne ymmärtäkää) in both Finnish and Russian. This statue in the corner of the former churchyard next to a beautiful broad-leaved forest, behind the more ceremonious memory stones and the traces of the former church steps and a dugout left a permanent mark on this occasional visitor.
Another beautiful graveyard was a Russian one on a valley near the lake Ladoga in Salmi, where the thick green nature formed a nature’s shrine over the graves and memorials. The blue water of Ladoga in the distance made the atmosphere even more meaningful. Also the former orthodox church in Salmi (the church of Saint Nicholas) was a celebration to nature and temporariness: nature was slowly taking over the reddish brick walls forming a beautiful temple of nature.
The most memorable nature experience took place in Vitele, where for the first time I was able to sink my feet in the Ladoga, connect and root with the lake. Also there the traces of man were present: one could find pieces of slag left by a former iron factory polished smooth by the waves of the lake. Another time I put my feet on the muddy Taipale river whilst listening to a story about the horrific battles taken place in the second World War making the Taipale river an intangible memorial of Finnish national cultural remembrance. I remember the sadness of the moment, the steep banks of the mighty river – and the smell of clover coming from the fields nearby.
It is said that one can enjoy nature more with information about the human history and traces in the area. This proved to be very much true on our journey. People pass by and nature keeps on living, but we by-passers can find wisdom and consolation from the presence of previous generations. “The place you are standing on is holy” was a text written in many Finnish memory stones. One could state that one should treat with respect all natural environment, which has witnessed the happiness and suffering – life – of previous generations. Listen closely to the natural environment, and the they will speak to you.
 Eino Leino: Hymyileä Apollo (Smiling Apollo) 1898. Translation Rupert Moreton, see
Connecting with nature and history: Lake Ladoga in Vitele, former Jänisjoki (Läskelä) papermill in Harlu, ruins of Salmi church and a memory stone in the former Räisälä graveyard. Pictures Oona Ilmolahti.