Järgnev jutt ilmus Kanada "Eesti Elu" inglise keelses osas 2010 novembris:

Memories of Forest University, where being close to nature is the best lesson

It was a rainy August morning when I packed my car for parts unknown. I had a sleeping bag, air mattress (borrowed), pillows, extra blanket, towels, soap, a flashlight and mosquito repellent. I added all manner of gear to cover a myriad of weather possibilities and activities including hiking boots, walking shoes, waterproof sandals and clothing for rain, sun, heat and cold. I threw in an assortment of provisions such as trail mix, granola bars and a large jug of tap water. A roll of toilet paper in the glove compartment just in case. I was all set for an adventure I knew nothing about.

Well, I did know a few things. I knew I was going to a week-long summer camp near Huntsville , Ontario called Metsaulikool, or Forest University. It was total cultural immersion in Estonian, my birth language. It involved sleeping in rustic accommodations with women I hadn’t met before, communal bathing in a lakeside sauna, eating outdoors (heartily, I was assured) and an action-packed agenda of lectures, singing, study groups, films, art and overall merriment Estonian-style.

What would I, connoisseur of luxury bed and breakfast travel, make of all these hale and hearty outdoor goings-on? How long can a person survive without her pillow-top mattress, rainhead shower and flush toilet ?

As it turned out, a week wasn’t nearly long enough.

Forest University has been going on at the Estonian summer camp property known as Kotkajarv (Eagle Lake) in Muskoka for over 40 years. It is designed to connect people of Estonian descent with their roots and culture. Located within a pristine slice of the Ontario outdoors, it comes with a private lake that has never seen a power boat. One needs extreme patience to locate it at the end of a labyrinth of small roads that criss-cross the county. Once I bumped along to the end of the rutted road that leads to the camp, I was ready for a nap on my yet to be inflated air mattress. I was glad I had made a mental note of the location of the Motel 6 in Huntsville.

I was the first to arrive, so I set up my sleeping bag in corner of the “peamaja” (headquarters) building loft area that was reserved for the women attendees. I was keeping an open mind and began to be thankful I wasn’t camping outdoors, as some people were doing, since the weather was cold and it was beginning to pour. What on earth had I signed up for? Where was I supposed to brush my teeth and, more importantly, what if I needed to go to the loo in the middle of the night? The closest bathroom was, well, I actually hadn’t even seen anything remotely resembling a bathroom since I arrived.

Then it started to happen. The most extraordinary women began arriving in our dormitory. Regular attendees, they were delighted to find a newbie in their midst. There was Urve, a charming woman who had been coming to Metsaulikool (or MU as it’s called) for 26 years. She makes the trip by car from Chicago every summer. There was Linda from Detroit, Elva from Rochester, Liivi from New Zealand (who said she had to come for her MU fix), Maimu from South Carolina and Tiia and Virve from my hometown of Toronto. The room filled with sleeping bags, backpacks, assorted accoutrements and, in very short order, a very large bond of camaraderie.

Dinner was hearty as promised and prepared by Ulle , the impossibly cheerful proprietress who runs the restaurant at Toronto’s Estonian House, and her two daughters. No description of Estonian activity is complete without homage to the food served. Her impeccable taste meant fresh rye bread was delivered from Toronto every day, and she turned out an astonishing variety of baked goods and delicious meals from the small kitchen that served the 100-plus attendees. You know you are in authentic Estonian culture when the buffet table contains some kind of dish made with cabbage - on this night, cabbage rolls - boiled potatoes, sour cream and a huge bowl of chopped fresh dill. But I digress, we really were there for the culture.

My head hit the (somewhat hard) pillow, and I slept like a lamb stuffed with cabbage until morning. After a quick face wash and teeth cleaning at the outdoor tap (women’s sauna wasn’t until the next evening) the agenda kicked in. If I was ever in doubt as to where my Type A tendency to pack my days full of activities comes from, I am now at ease. It is inherited and in my genes and I cannot do anything about it.

We start by choosing our week’s study group, and I sign up for writing with Tiina Kirss, an amazing professor of literature from the University of Tartu in Estonia. Tiina is a gifted teacher who is originally from Buffalo, New York. She tells us we will be writing stories in Estonian. What?! But this is not possible. We all look at bit panic-stricken. All of us at the camp are bilingual in Estonian and English but we are not accustomed to writing very prolifically in our mother tongue. Tiina fixes her gaze on me and tells me to not say anything is impossible. I astonish myself by writing a story about my first kitchen – an outdoor play space at my grandparents’ cottage that rivals any of the granite -countertops-stainless- steel appliances-spaces I have had since. It has moved me no end to write this simple tale. I didn’t know I had it in me. I am now hooked on the Forest University experience.

Then there is the simple act of getting clean. All I can say is that you have not truly experienced the freedom of summer until you have sat and cooked in a cedar-stoked sauna with a gaggle of women, run naked down the steps to the lake and jumped into the water. You must, of course, do this several times to enjoy the euphoria of feeling close to nature and finally getting to wash your hair after two days of showerless existence.

There is no doubt that one of our guest lecturers, a young man named Ando Kiviberg from Estonia, was put on this Earth to bring music to the world. When he wasn’t sleeping, he was either playing any one of a number of musical instruments, singing or talking about music. He is the founder of an indigenous music festival in Viljandi, Estonia that attracts 20,000 people each summer. He was also instrumental in building a beautiful music centre in Viljandi that hosts year-round musical events.

Just in case we have excess energy after our study group, morning lecture, discussion panel, afternoon lecture, two massive meals and coffee break, we are invited to partake in folk dancing for an hour each day. Dance instructor Ene Jakobsen, who came from Estonia to lead what was a bit of a rag-tag group of participants, was a miracle worker. Then again, she has a modicum of experience as she is one of the organizers of Tantsupidu (Dance Festival) in Estonia where an astonishing 8,000 folk dancers from throughout the country come together for a massive, choreographed spectacle every four years. Thanks to Ene’s patience and skilful instruction we were actually able to perform a few numbers at our closing party.

There were many other marvelous speakers, classes and experiences. None of it was mandatory – one could disappear into the woods with a book if the activity level became absurd – but I figured in for a penny, in for a pound. Naturally, Ulle’s cooking guaranteed the reality of more than just one pound.

It is an amazing experience to be launched into such a singular experience, yet feel so much at home. One of the participants said it was like being with your “tribe.” Whether it’s the appreciation for the outdoors that our parents and grandparents taught us or the comfort of being surrounded by the culture that is the first thing many of us remember, there is no doubt that Forest University taught me a lot about myself in one short week.

Am I going back next year? Am I ready to once again ditch my electric toothbrush, digital TV channels and Egyptian cotton sheets? I can hardly wait.

Karin Ivand
October 2010

Suve Köök

Minu suve köök oli kõige kenam koht.
Seal oli ilusad seedri okstest seinad. Pehme samblast põrand. Väike pink.
Katust polnud üldsegi.
Potid, pannid ja kausid olid ilust riiulitel reas. Paar lusikat ja üks kulp.
Tegin seal häid sööke: käbidest herne suppi, lehtedest salatit.
Tassi kummeli teed. Paar marja korvale.

Vanaema käis mul külas suppi söömas.
See oli mulle nii suur rõõm kui ta istus pingi peal ja nautis mu käbidega tehtud herne suppi.
Mul on nii hästi meeles ku ta võttis lusikaga suppi ja mängis minuga kaasa ei seda süüa.
Ta alati kiitis.

Minu praegune köök on ka hiigla kena.
Uhke pliit, jääkapp ja puust ehitatud kappid.
Ilus mahe värv seinte peal, ja kivist kena lett.
Ja just tellisin sinna klaasist kivikesed seina peale asutada.

On seal ka väge tore minu külalistele suppi sööta.
Aga mul kunagi meelest ei lähe minu esimest kööki kui ma olin üheksa aastane,
kus oli samblast põrand ja pilvedest lagi.

Karin Ivand
August 2010