A second traditional Winter in Finland gives us a fairy-tale Christmas up in the wilds of Kainu. Thick snow encasing the trees got us asking why we find this kind of scene so beautiful. I wondered how much it came down to some kind of conditioning. Brought up on storybook images of snowy landscapes, experiencing it for real is like entering a childhood dream. Perhaps a people who had never seen snow, the Pirahã of the Amazon Rain Forest for example, witnessing such a scene unprepared and for the first time, would find it just plain spooky, threatening even.
So for want of any available evidence, I turn to a fictional case, that which takes place in Tove Jansson’s Moominland Midwinter. Moomintroll wakes up during his winter hibernation and unable to get back to sleep goes out into an unwelcoming dark and cold world. At first he undergoes feelings of melancholy and even anger at the sun that refuses to rise above the horizon. Always lurking in the background is the gloomy Groke, who sits on the Midwinter bonfire to warm herself only to extinguish it completely.Some suggest that the Groke (Mårran in Swedish and Mörkö in Finnish) is Jansson’s symbol for Nordic Melancholy. In fact the whole book can be read as a journey through malignant sadness.
But it has a happy ending. Eventually Moomintroll finds a way to accept Winter in the midst of a blizzard:
Not until then did Moomintroll notice that the wind felt warm. It caried him along into the whirling snow, it made him feel light an almost like flying.
And here Moomintroll has his satori:
“I’m nothing but air and wind, I’m part of the blizzard,” Moomintroll thought and let himself go.
Of course, no season (of the world or the heart) lasts for ever. Eventually, Spring returns. The wise Too-ticky says,
“When the summer’s hot and green, and you lie on your tummy on the warm boards of the landing stage, and listen to the waves chuckling and clucking…”
“Why didn’t you talk like that in winter?” said Moomintroll. “It’d have been such a comfort. Remember, I said once: “There were a lot of apples here.” And you just replied: “But now there’s a lot of snow.” Didn’t you understnad that I was melancholy”
Too-ticky shrugged her shoulders. “One has to discover everything for oncself,” she replied. “And get over it all alone.”