Eesti Elu
Räätsad & läätsed, a must for late winter adventures
Eestlased Eestis 19 Mar 2010  Eesti Elu
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I've wanted to introduce readers to the Estonian word for snowshoe for many winters now. Finally I got my chance before the snow melts! At least our snow over here in Eesti, because we've still got a lot of it to melt. Andres Ideon had barely managed to post some winter hike pics on Facebook when I knew my chance had arrived, since I have yet to experience a räätsamatk (snowshoe hike), rabamatk (bog hike) with the help of räätsad, or what I can only imagine to be the glorious experience of strapping blades to your boots and skating on the ice-capped sea.

Andres is actually no stranger to Toronto. He spent a semester studying at U of T as a visiting masters student in geography from Tartu University. And he wrote about his experience, through the eyes of an urban geographer in the Dec. 23, 2004 issue of this paper.

The group demonstrating winter bliss is the Eesti Geograafia Seltsi Noorteklubi – Estonian Geographical Society's Youth Club, who visited Matsalu National Park, a major stopover point for migratory birds (rändlinnud). They snowshoed across the 6,5 km mouth of Matsalu Bay, from Puise nina (point, literally "nose") to Saasta poolsaar (peninsula, literally "half-island"), which can be seen in the background.

Räätsa hike season begins in the fall, the perfect time to strap on the plastic descendants of the original North-American First Nations (esmarahvaste) models. Hiking in bogs (raba, pl. rabad) with räätsad keeps you dry without harming the bog's pristine surface. They have also been called sookingad (marsh-shoes), which were certainly not foreign to the metsavennad / Forest Brothers in hiding following WWII. Next time you're in Eesti, look into the possibility of a kanuu-, süsta- (kayak), or parve- (rafting) matk or a combination kanuu-rääts trip in Kõrvemaa – a region in North-Central Estonia which many say is reminiscent of Kotkajärve... Reimann Retked is one place to look into: www.retked.ee

The word (lume)rääts was new to me, but I knew it was not a new word. It turns out rääts (possessive räätsa) is an old-fashioned fastening device, similar to a buckle, while rääts (poss. räätsi) is a woven basket, i.e. kalarääts – for rinsing fish. Woven and fastened with a buckle sums up snowshoes quite well.

As for other hiking equipment, sunglasses are a must on sunny March snowfields and hence for many, contact lenses as well (kontaktläätsed, läätsed for short). Any kind of lens is a lääts, and lentils certainly look like tiny lenses, that must be why they are exactly the same word! Both have the possessive form läätse, (läätsesupp, lentil soup). A rääts on the other hand, has the possessive form räätsa. And if you remember that, your adventure guide will definitely kiss you!
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