It’s a beautiful, warm summer day at the end of July. We arrive to a small harbor where many boats are waiting for their owners to take off to the islands. I can feel the sea breeze in my hair and smell the fresh sea air. We fill-in big water cans with freshwater and place them at the bottom of the boat. Then we empty the trunk of the car, hop in to the boat and off we go.
The main land leaves behind and after a short boat ride I start to see in front of me, a green island. All islands are green and the sea colored in green and blue shades. Sky is clear, only a few big white clouds are making reflections to the surface of the sea. The air is 25 degrees which means the best possible summer weather in July in the archipelago of Finland!
When the boat arrives to the quay of the island, we get greeted by two swans and their two babies. The swan nest must be somewhere close by. However, the parents stay calm like they had recognized us from last time. I make a sailor node with the robe and fasten the boat to the quay.
I jump off the boat and start walking towards the sauna cottage and then towards the main cottages. The birds are singing, waves are rippling and the sun is shining high up on the sky. The summer holiday can begin!
Finland is a country of thousands of lakes and islands. Almost every Finnish family has a summer cottage or some kind of summer place where the whole family usually spend their summer holidays. Traditionally the summer cottage is a wooden house built by a lake or by a sea. Our small, family-owned island is situated in the Bothnian Sea, in the archipelago of the Western Finland. The summer place is the place of serenity for me.
Since the summer cottage is only used during the summer months, we have decided to make it as sustainable as possible in many ways. First of all, the summer cottage can be reached in less than thirty minutes from home which gives flexibility and decreases the emissions created by the transport. The other sustainable choices are the solutions of energy efficiency that we use on the island and coping without running water.
Energy efficiency solutions
On the island we use solar energy. A small solar panel, which is attached to the most sunniest place of the island, gives the necessary energy to the LED bulbs of three cottages. The solar panel battery is storing the energy when the sun is shining and when it is less sunny, we can still enjoy lightings in the darkening evenings.
A big advantage in the energy efficiency in Finland is actually nature’s own. It is the Northern nightless nights. From May to August there is no need for artificial lighting during the day or the night. We put the LED bulbs on, only in the evenings starting from end of August when the daylight starts to get little bit shorter. It is the contrary at winter time, of course, when Finnish people live in “kaamos”.
Each cottage have a chimney which works as the only source of heating. The chimneys are heated with wood. The firewood comes from the island itself or from our own forest. If a tree falls down or dies on the island, we cut it down and make firewood of it.
We do not have running water on the island. That means that all the freshwater we need, we have to bring by boat from the main land. When there is no running water the freshwater utilization gets higher appreciation. The freshwater consumption decreases tremendously because it is limited in a few 10 liter water cans. After spending 10 days on the island and having used maximum of 40 liters of freshwater per person, you finally realize what a luxury the running water is and how little we need it when we don’t have plenty of it.
In the heart of the island is a traditional Finnish sauna. The sauna is separated from the main cottages and is situated half on the water. The sauna stove has an integrated container for freshwater, which actually heats up at the same time as the sauna stove is heated with firewood. We use only biodegradable soaps and shampoos in the sauna since the water goes directly to the sea and to the ground. There is no shower since the running water is missing but the washing is done in a traditional way. First you will take a plastic bucket and fill it with the sea water. If the sea water feels too cold, you can mix it with the boiling freshwater from the sauna stove container to reach a good temperature.
Taking a shower requires a little bit creativity since you need to act as a “shower holder” for yourself. The excess soap can be always washed away by going for a nice, refreshing swim in the sea! Above all, a shiny hair is guaranteed and a boost in the blood circulation when taking a swim in fresh sea water.
Thinking about Finnish summer food makes me hungry in my small Parisian apartment. All the dishes must be planned carefully in advance going to the island. No unnecessary food is bought. This makes no food loss which is a great thing. To the island the groceries are done at the local farmer’s market for vegetables and fish. For the other food products we use a supermarket but try to avoid buying products wrapped in plastic packaging. In any situation, all waste is recycled or composted.
After lunch someone has the honor and privilege to do the dishes. Luckily it is a great pleasure to wash dishes outside! The warm freshwater comes from sauna and it is mixed with cold freshwater in order to reach a good temperature. The dish-washing liquid is also biodegradable. When the weather gets little bit colder it is very satisfying to put hands in the warm water and wash the dishes without worrying about spilling it on the floor!
Since there is no running water, we have built a dry sanitary toilet by Kekkilä. The dry sanitary toilet doesn’t need energy or water to function. Sawdust is used in the dry sanitary toilet after each visit to speed up the composting and to eliminate unpleasant odors. Good ventilation is a key element in the effective use of the dry toilet. The waste is turned into compost mass in the carefully managed dry sanitary toilet with the help of microbes. Once the compost mass is turned into compost dirt after 1-2 years, the dirt is used for land-filling purposes on the island. The compost dirt is not suitable in the garden, except for naturally fertilizing flower plants. After a visit in the dry sanitary toilet, you can wash your hands with the sea water and biodegradable hand soap.
What is so great about living on an authentic island?
After spending most of the year in the capital of France, the holiday on an authentic island feels incredibly well deserved. The “lack” of certain things, such as unlimited access to electricity, heating and shower doesn’t feel like a necessity after a day or two. It actually makes good for you to not to dry your hair with a hairdryer after the sauna and to not to charge your mobile phone in a panic mode once the battery dies.
Taking a break from using electronic devices and welcoming a mode of doing nothing, watching the birds and admiring the sunsets, is both making a favor for your personal health and living sustainably, respecting the environment.
The total silence what an isolated place creates, feels like a temporary freedom from the rat race. You are part of the nature and it brings peace inside. The waves are moving endlessly and the wind is blowing at its own pace.
The sea air is rich in oxygen which naturally makes us feel sleepy. But what would be a better place to take a nap than in a hammock while trees are swaying in the wind. A relaxing nap is guaranteed if you read a few pages of a good library book before falling asleep.
The power of nature
Nature brings us back to the “center”. It stimulates thinking, creativity and the peace of mind. It brings calm inside us and lets us concentrate on breathing. It helps us to raise the mood and makes a positive impact.
There is no hurry to anywhere. Lets enjoy everything the nature has to offer to us and be sure to take care of it, responsibly, and sustainably.