Church boats were widely used in Finland until the 1920s. The Rautjärvi church was not in the centre of the parish, so going to church required a long journey across several lakes for some. Three lakes had to be crossed coming from the Torsansalo and Laikko direction. Each village had its own boats for each lake crossing. The land between the lakes was
crossed on foot.
After crossing Torsa, we were already preparing for the race. We ran as fast as our legs would carry us, as the shores of Nurmijärvi lake got closer. We no longer cared about the headwind, which at the final stage had slowed our oar strokes and made us puff a little. The sunlight trickled through the spruce trees, and wispy white clouds sailed haughtily across the sky.
The Yläpää folks were already boarding their boat, pulled up to the shore. We had to make haste getting aboard ours. So many heads had been crammed into the boats of Kekäleniemi and the other villages that it was hard to keep track. Someone called out to us Alapää folk that you’re wasting your time coming, you won’t keep up. The old farmer who had taken the tiller repaid the insult with one of his own. Soon would start the most strenuous stage of the journey to church, but also the most fun. Hymn-singing would take a back seat now.
Rhythmic calls and the oars hitting the water in unison steered the passage of the boats across Nurmijärvi. The shore receded from view and we moved along, the waves rushing at the bow. In the early stages, there was an uncomfortable stitch in my back, but it was forgotten when the fellows alongside told stories of their previous journeys. There had been storms, and occasionally someone had swung an oar at a boat coming too close, so that one or two oarsmen had been forced to taste a good slug of clean lake water.
Loakeri, the stopping-off place where a picnic lunch was served, was a source of good stories, too. After the service everybody is always starving hungry, and some are hungrier than others. On arrival at the picnic site, you had to use your elbows to get your share of the fare. Kalakukko and kalarove fish pies, pasties with potato, rice or barley filling, leaf cakes and egg-butter vanished down the diners’ gullets at an amazing speed.
The Yläpää boat was in the lead, but we were not far behind. The farmer’s hoarse voice commanded us to step up our pace. When the wind seemed to turn to our tail, we began to catch them up. A few long pulls had us alongside, and from there past them at a jolly speed.
This time it was our turn to win the race across Nurmijärvi lake. The walk to Rautjärvi passed as if floating on air, winged by our victory
Pictures: Anu Nuutinen
Transl. Annira Silver
Location on map
The story and the pictures are a part of Tarinajoki book (River of Stories), made in Rural Explorer project. As part of a culture tourism project, stories arising from the body of folk narratives and history also have a function in relation to the productisation of tourism. The stories are linked to real locations.