Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Walking on the Sea

It is said that Jesus walked on the water, and that it was a miracle. While out on the sea, Jesus then called to Peter, and so long as the man's faith remained strong, he too was able to walk across the water without trouble. So say the Scriptures, and so the Scriptures reveal their geography. For to walk on the Sea of Galilee is truly a miracle - such warm waters could never ordinarily hold two human beings upright.

In the north, however, to walk on the water is for everyone. A few months out of every year, the water freezes thick and solid as far as the eye can see - the lakes, streams, bays, inlets, out to some indeterminate point in the open water. The ice is quite thick - a foot or more - and feels solid as land. Covered by a thick layer of snow, it is not even slippery, and confronts the eye only as a seeming wasteland of open snow - unless familiar with the geography of the area, there is no particular reason to know that water flows dense and cold below these vast, flat expanses.

For most here, walking on the ice is quotidian. It is their seasonal shortcut to work or to school, their Sunday afternoon walk or ski, a fishing trip, a chance to get out under the dark gray sky of their homeland. For me, on the other hand, it is immense and magical - magical in its novelty and immense in its possibility.

Growing up in Virginia, going to college in her southeast tidewater, I never imagined the possibility of walking for hours on a frozen bay, with the icy sea wind cutting across my face. The multitude of tracks attests to the stability of route. They wind every which way - around the perimeter of Laajasalo, heading straight toward the open sea, cutting between the islands and showing the paths of exuberant dogs dashing about with their human families.

What is it like? Sometimes, it is an expansive desert, a terrifying wasteland. The wind blows with forces unknown on land, tossing the snow like sand into drifts of varying depths. Out in the middle of the bay, the wind has managed to scrape the ice almost bare, while on the edges, it is piled much more thickly. It is also a view of the dome of the sky. The landscape of southern Finland is comprised of rocky mounds, rolling hills and and tall trees - an unobstructed view of the horizon is quite rare, unless you are on top of a high point. Out on the ice, however, the darkening clouds hang low in the east, and seem to touch the icy sea, and the brighter clouds run off toward the west. You can almost sense the world turning. At the water's edge, the waves have washed up on the rocks and frozen in place. Yellowed with salt and sand, the waves seem to have leaped up from the water without ever making it back, hanging petrified over the edge of a stone on the shore, reaching long fingers toward the surface.

To walk on the sea is to know the earth in yet another way.

No comments: