Friday, December 10, 2010

Opposite of Cold explores the Finnish sauna tradition in the Upper Great Lakes region

Book Signing with author
Michael Nordskog
Saturday, Dec. 18 at 2 p.m.
Northern Lights Books & Gifts
307 Canal Park Drive
Duluth, MN
218-722-5267 or 800-868-8904

By Carol Wallwork
The Opposite of Cold - The Northwoods Finnish Sauna Tradition, written by Michael Nordskog, should be added to that small but impressive list of books examining facets of everyday life most people take for granted. These books, like Cod by Mark Kurlansky or Longitude by Dava Sobel, jump-start the ordinary into the sublime. By the time you put this book down you will almost feel the sauna’s heat.

Aaron Hautala’s stunning color photographs share the beauty of this delightful story about saunas old and new, inside and out, in pristine woodland or on the lakeshores of Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan and Finland. There are also historical photos, advertisements and paintings. Some of Hautala’s best photos show the saunas of Minnesota’s immigrant Finnish farmsteads from the late 19th century. There’s even an early Time magazine article leery about Finnish saunas, speculating they were up to witchcraft in those little wooden huts.

Saunas are the perfect adaptation to living in a cold climate. Many contend they’re a therapeutic treatment for ailments of all kinds, and they were commonly used as birthing rooms. In the book’s forward, Duluth architect David Salmela says, “My father was born (in 1902) in a sauna that stood next to Pike River…in northern Minnesota.” He sums up: “The physics of water thrown on hot rocks turning to steam clean the pores, ease the stress of the day, and enhance enjoyment of the open night air.”

Judging from the photos, sitting in a sauna isn’t the most elegant looking pastime. However, there’s a redeeming flourish reserved for those with lakeside saunas: running out of the pore-cleansing heat into the lake, making a big splash. It’s even more dramatic in winter.
Arnold R. Alanen’s introduction, called “The Sign of the Finn,” offers a key pronunciation tip: “The first syllable of sauna rhymes with pow!” As you leaf through the book, the orange, red and woody browns that predominate in the photos impart glowing visual warmth.

In the chapter on North American Lakeside Tradition, naturalist Sigurd Olson describes his love of sauna at his lakeside cabin: “Toward evening all was in readiness. We opened the door and the bathhouse smelled as it should, rich with the pungence of burning, odors of hot logs and of many saunas of the past. We stripped and took our places on the lower bench...”