There was human habitation on the shores of Immalanjärvi lake as early as the 4000s BCE. Fragments of clay pots, burnt bones and stone tools remained as evidence of the daily lives of the people who dwelt there in ancient times. In legends, the lake was also inhabited by sea serpents seeking a way towards the Saimaa waterways. Rather more recent oral history is represented by the stories of the devil riding on a moose or the man entangled in fishing nets after a great storm. National news was made by the sighting of a lion; its footprints were being measured in the area in the early 1990s. No reliable proof of the feline beast’s existence was ever found, but a couple of years later the birdwatchers’ binoculars were buzzing when an aged specimen of flamingo found a resting place in the shallow shores of the lake. The rare visitor enjoyed the South Karelian scenery for a few weeks.
How many weird things can a human being stand to see before going out of his mind?
I have seen at least three, and one or two more are probably waiting in the back of my mind. All of them are as true as I am telling you now.
See, when one has spent one’s whole life in these places and mostly just seen the same people grow and mature at close quarters, wonders are not so quick to stick. Life lopes on at a stubborn pace, trees are decked with leaves that fall again, and the eyes are dazzled both by the glaring sun and the frost-bitten moon coldly staring from the sky.
But so it did happen once, that when I went to draw in my nets after a June storm, my catch on Humpunselkä included something very strange. He was wearing a yellow mackintosh. And the chap eyed me from the waterline rather inquisitively behind his specs, like how do you explain this.
Of course, I found out later who was gawping at me with vacant eyes. But there was no explanation as to why the hapless man had put out on the water in the storm, despite surely knowing how to decipher the wind and the boat’s rocking, being an old sailor.
And this was not all.
One day, there was a terrific commotion over there on the Jäkärä shoreline. Men and women rolling up on bikes and in cars and boats and who knows what else. Horns blew and the ground shook as they charged around the place, binoculars and cameras at the ready. They had even destroyed Oinonen’s berry bush in the stampede, left just the broken branches and roots half pulled out, grimacing at us.
By and by, I strolled along too. I had to rub my eyes a few times, like what the heck? A handsome bird it was, good-looking like anything. Stretching its long legs it was and very neatly bending them, taking dignified steps. Now and then it took some water in its thick, black, odd-looking bill, and seemed very proud of its pink plumage. They said it had come all the way from Africa to say how-do-you-do. And why not, the day was fine, as was the whole of the week it deigned to spend with us.
But the weirdest of all was this.
There is nothing unusual in moose using the lake as their customary route. They have to cross somewhere. But it was a strange, almost frightening sight, when I was resting my limbs after my sauna one early evening and saw something utterly weird. First I heard splashing from the shore, then a couple of blows and snorts of the muzzle and kind of a coughing fit. A moose soon appeared and started to swim across the open water, crowned head swaying.
But soon the beast was joined by a boat and in it a rower. Splashing his oars in the water, he rowed alongside the moose, took a fair leap and landed on the animal’s back. So they travelled together, the moose’s eyes rolling in its head and the dark figure like the Devil himself with his hair flowing, riding the moose towards the setting sun.
And still I remember my neighbour telling me that they had seen lion prints on the Huhtasenkylä sawdust running track. But I don’t even want to think about that. So what can you believe any more, if you can’t rely on your own eyes and ears?
Picture on the top of the page: Anni Jokitalo
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.