Where the Wild Things Are: The Raw Beauty of Rovaniemi.
"You're going on your own?"
"You sure you'll be OK?"
"Won't you get lonely? Or bored even?"
"Are you not a bit weirded out by being alone with a wilderness guy for three nights in a tiny cabin...in the snow...in the woods?"
The above are just a few examples of what you can expect from people upon evening that you plan on travelling alone.
Especially if that destination involves you traversing to a shabby little cabin in the middle of a Lappish snowscape; face wind-bitten by the harshness of the air as you endeavour to use a snowmobile for the first time; completely on your own, (asides from your male wilderness guide to prevent certain death from starvation of pneumonia, and the inevitable settling in of philosophical thoughts) with no electricity, heating, or modern day resources to help you out in a snowstorm. For three days, you get a taste of the Bear Grylls side of living; (to a certain extent - I am unashamed to admit that I was still able to upload those ever-vital Instagram photos to make myself look like one of those travel bloggers who get paid to jet off across the globe. Needless to say this was not the case here.) making your own fires, cooking your own Finnish cuisine from scratch in the wilderness, hiking, collecting water from a nearby stream and, of course, plucking uproar courage to see if Santa's put you on the nice list this year.
Despite all of this, the naysayers, (and by naysayers here I really mean: pragmatic advice) the spontaneity, and the inadvisable weather conditions, in the second that I saw this isolated little cabin, positioned alluringly in the hidden glades of white and frost, I knew I had to go.
Travelling alone isn't something completely alien to me. I lived abroad on my own in both Spain and Portugal, - six months apiece -pursuing my studies for a languages degree. I constantly travel alone when it comes to modelling work. I genuinely like my own company in that I know it's the perfect time for me to get lost in a profound book or creative activity. Travelling alone gives me the perspective sometimes amiss from friend-filled adventures or a getaway with a fellow adventurer; being on your own allows yourself to truly 'connect' in a sense that isn't just hippy dippy or nonsensical, New Age realpolitik. There's nobody there to give you advice on that sucky professional situation you've found yourself in. There's nobody there to listen to your fifteenth re-enactment of that embarrassingly petty break up you continue to relive in your mind after five years. There's nobody there to empathise with the whirligig of confusion that is language barriers. There's nobody there to tell you what to do, who you are, or who you need to become. Travelling alone offers you the perfect opportunity to put on your big person panties and figure that kind of stuff out on your own.
And when you're on your own, you figure out your own set of important values conducive to becoming a better person, both for you and others. You learn to appreciate the friendliness or energy a culture brings forth, and mentally note down to cultivate it in your daily interactions back home. Patience, once dulled by the need for instant gratification and technological advancements, becomes sharpened once more once you're thrust upon vast wilderness as you're forced to forgo modern day privileges in favour of a slower - and in many ways, better - way of living. Human connection becomes restored one more as you're not incessantly ping-ponging your eyes from side to side in front of a rectangular screen. You really do learn to become that bit more 'you' again in the most fundamental sense.
And, whilst I always knew on an intellectual level that nature, trees, and pretty green shit acted as a fantastic panacea for mental health struggles, this trip really brought it home to me on the most intense level. Surrounded by the cabin was almost a silver, glimmering halo of snow and silence. In the mornings, I could just pop on my snow boots, take a sharp, anticipatory breath, and step outside into a brand new world. It was pretty awesome for morning reflection and Wim Hof-style meditation.
The first thing that hit you was obviously the intense gleam of the white that surrounded you, so pure that it almost seemed to purge your memory of all the dull grey that I had always been so used to seeing on a daily basis. It was both both beautiful and unnerving at the same time. But what was the most astonishing aspect was the atmosphere. It was so beautifully silent that you could literally hear the cold of the air. If you were really astute, you'd be lucky enough to be lulled by the soft susurration of flowing rapids in the distance, which had yet been untouched by the sweeping ice. The rawness of it all (quite literally - I lived off vaseline to ensure the skin of my nose and lips came back unscathed, in one piece) reminded me in the most profound way of the importance of being solitary in order to feel more connected to a society which can sometimes isolate more so than unite. It highlighted the important distinction between loneliness and being alone. A person can be alone without feeling lonely - since 'loneliness' is merely an emotional response to a set of circumstance. Yet, despite sprawling cities offering a plethora of parties, dating/friendship apps, and new opportunities everywhere to surround yourself with people,it seems now more than ever we are getting lonelier and lonelier in the midst of metropolis madness. Despite being in an age of 'constant connection' on the most superfluous level, it appears that we are actually becoming more disconnected and disillusioned as opposed to anything else - mental illness rates are skyrocketing, particularly among young men where suicide is becoming something of an epidemic, and nowadays the term 'anxiety' has become so diluted due to its everyday use in describing one's emotional state. And nonetheless, we are constantly told to go out, drink, party, see friends, be as extroverted as you possibly can, and fulfil your social needs with short-term fixes and superficial gossiping. I feel as though something here has gone astray.
In those three days of being 'alone', I actually felt incredibly connected, satisfied, and at peace more so than I could ever feel at a crowded house party. That's not to say there's anything wrong with being a social butterfly - of course there isn't, as being a hermit is as detrimental for our wellbeing as inundating yourself with substances activities is. We are social animals, and require levels of intimacy and connection not found in neither aimless cityscapes, nor barren wastelands. And of course, emotional connection, vulnerability and support can only be obtained from other humans - without it, we cannot fulfil ourselves, or make ourselves happier, better people. But without connecting to yourself first, you will never feel inspired or warmed by the human spirit; rather, you will become curmudgeonly, bitter, and isolate yourself as you feel frustrated by the superficial relations you form.
It's about balancing your inner chaos and order in order to find an inner peace and look after yourself mentally and emotionally. And we should always be checking in on ourselves to see whether or not we need more socialising, or more alone time. It may be that one week you need to let loose and go out with a couple of girlfriends after having your social life cut down by work priorities, or alternatively, your brain might be begging you for some repose and recharging with a good book and a hot bath if you derive your energy away from people. Either way, we cannot connect to what we need if we feel disconnected to the world around us and our inner voice. I felt enormously rejuvenated spending a few days on my own - there's nothing more empowering than foraging for chaga and not killing yourself, too, which is always a nice bonus - and could not recommend it enough for my fellow city dwellers as a way of improving mental health.
In a society where we are constantly told being alone is 'bad' or 'unhealthy', yet the mental health statistics of city life show us otherwise, maybe Albert Einstein and Nikolas Tesla were onto something about the beauty of being alone - at least for a little while.
- Cross-country skiing - the only way to explore rugged woodland entrenched in snow, plus if you see wild reindeer, it's an absolute treat.
- Northern Lights - no words needed. You can thank me later.
- Sauna and ice bath - a hugely popular tradition found in the Nordic/Scandinavian countries, it involves your human self indulging on some seriously warm sauna R&R, followed by jumping into subzero waters in frost darkness. Get your Wim Hof on and feel alive.
- Hiking/snowmobiling - get ready for some seriously awe-inspiring sights. I never knew snow could be both so dangerous, yet so beautiful at the same time. (I am describing snow here, not my string of bad choices in men when I was younger.)
- Santa Claus Village - guess which list I was on this year?