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Lived Experiences Fill My Canvases | Kaija Savinainen Mountain | Artist | The Ten Collective

Excerpt of essay written by Kaija Savinainen Mountain.

Started a new oil painting yesterday. I believe winter is one of my favorite times. I love being outdoors, feeling the cold fresh air, the colours are spectacular and dramatic. I muse frequently “as Canadians or Northerners we should be able to tolerate the cold..., it comes once a year after all does it not? We know that, so stop the endless complaining, I say!” It was during a March break trip to Yellowknife I discovered how beautiful the northern light can be.  I’m referring to daylight, the sun’s brightness, it truly is magical. I felt reborn, I felt at home. 

I have returned a number times to Yellowknife. One March break, daughter Lara talked my into skiing a race called the Frost Bite 50. Yes, 50 km long across the Arctic tundra. Truly magnificent experience! Jeremy (Lara’s partner) and I split the race, I completed the second half. The early afternoon light was brilliant and stunning, the landscape breathtaking in its wintery wonder. One of the stipulations of the race was that one must ski with a backpack containing extra clothing, snacks, water, hats, mitts, just in case winter blew back in.

 Detail of Painting by Kaija Savinainen Mountain

Detail of Painting by Kaija Savinainen Mountain

I have plenty of experience from years of cross county ski racing and from 100’s of long distance running races. But nothing prepared me for the “loneliness” of this race. Just me and the elements. Snow, sinking corn snow as I recall. Brilliant sunshine. Scrubby black spruce covering the rocky landscape. Silence, and more silence. Stretching ahead was the skidoo trail . Just me and the elements. A profoundly moving moment. I felt small and insignificant, almost powerless when I really pondered my situation. No movement in the bush, no wolves, no moose...just me and my skis.

Yep, I pushed forward, kept on skiing focusing my energies and mind on my task. Reached a check point, grabbed a cookie and a cup pf hot water. I pushed on, the kms began to disappear. Double pole, push the legs, gliding forward moving along. A skidoo went by checking on my progress. Yeah, I was making progress. I could not stop my self from admiring this spectacular landscape as I skied. It lulled me, calming the mind. I pushed on. Finally I reached the shores of a bay on Great Slave Lake. I could see Yellowknife and a few skiers in the distance. Yes another leg to conquer. Yeah, I could do this...I set my target on the skier up ahead, was going to catch him. I pushed forward and skied with determination.

 Detail of Painting by Kaija Savinainen Mountain

Detail of Painting by Kaija Savinainen Mountain

I dug deep into my sisu reserve, I’m a Finlander after all. Sisu is a Finlanders inner strength, tenacity and determination, something they rely on during times of difficulty. For instance I have tapped into my sisu reserve during the final push of a hard run marathon, my recovery from chemo, the loss of someone close. For my grandfather, sisu made it possible to survive unbelievable circumstance and odds during the Winter War, the Continuation War, 1939-1945. He skied, hiked, ran across a northern landscape while being pursued by an enemy or him, his son and small company doing reconnaissance work deep in the Karelian forests. From research I learned Pekka (granddad) and son Pauli,  in four short years, skied, ran over 4000 km. No small feat when considering the circumstances. His mission was to save his country, his beloved Karelia from being run over. The Finnish people fought, resisted, and stood up to an impossibly huge, powerful Russian army. My strength lies herein, I draw from there. When I paint I feel the deep energy, the essence of the landscape. Lived experience fills my canvases. 

Oh yes, the Frost Bite 50 was a hard slog, I pushed into the finish line, totally spent, nothing left in the tank!! In our category of skiers, Jeremy and I finished 2nd. Some groups had three skiers, we were a team of two. Our team name was Team Sisu. Yep we kicked some butt!! When I check on the results we were less than a minute from first place. Gads!! I smiled to myself as I know I was one of the older entries...but never discount an "old" lady who has a deep stubborn streak. 

 Detail of Painting by Kaija Savinainen Mountain

Detail of Painting by Kaija Savinainen Mountain