We have just enjoyed a season that the Finns call ruska, which sounds like it might be related to the word for brown, ruskea. And that might make sense, except that at the height of ruska the foliage is all bright orange and red. By rights, this season should be called oranssinvärinen
But by the time you got it all out—oh-rahns-seen-va-ree-nehn—it’d be over. Ruska lasted about a week, about as long as it takes the Japanese cherry blossoms to do their thing down by the Jefferson Memorial. Last Saturday was gorgeous; we saw the sun for the first time in a month. And so I did some laundry and hung it out to dry, which cued the rain, naturally, and that brought down all the leaves. As I look out the window of my flat today, I see that the birch trees, which were full of orange leaves 48 hours ago, are now completely bare. Meanwhile, the leaves, one by one, are making their way into my asunto.
There is an article about ruska in the current issue of the student newspaper, Oulun Ylioppilaslehti. The writer, Samantha Eidenbach, reports that Finns enjoy going out into the forest during this season to pick berries and mushrooms, and they tend to head north, as far as Lapland, because the autumnal colors are more vibrant the farther north one goes. Ms. Eidenbach interviewed scientists about why that is so, and the answer is that “there is a greater quantity of colour chemicals in the plants of the Far North,” which sounds like a tautology to me, which is why I’m not a scientist. However, the same scientist is quoted to the effect that there is a new theory that red pigments “might be a signal to animals,” which is to say that “the colour might be so strong in the north to attract birds to berries before the long winter arrives.” I’ll confess that I’m skeptical about all this, having seen a few Blue Ridge autumns in my time. But I am a guest here, so I will suspend disbelief.
One thing is clear, when the Finns go in search of berries, they bring them back in quantity. The kauppatori, or main market area in the center of town, has little else on offer these days (see photo, above). I couldn’t resist buying some little cranberries; they are very tart. Cranberry in Finnish is karpalo, but since I haven’t learned how to form the plural yet, we’ll just leave it at that, even though I have many more than one. I have no idea what to do with them, aside from throwing them on my Cheerios.
Then there are the mushrooms, chanterelles. These are lovely, delicate things. I bought some at Stockmann’s and have used them to enhance omelettes and a spaghetti sauce that I have learned how to construct on a base of Ragu. Once again, Stockmann’s, the Center of the Ouluniverse, has saved the day. It has provided me with a way of celebrating the season that doesn’t involve tromping through the forest. (Written on Monday, 16 October.)