It’s Thanksgiving weekend and most of us will pause for a little bit to reflect on the things and people that we are thankful for. Probably like you, I have a list! Letting those people know, however, is a whole other thing.
And I don’t know why.
I’m not sure if it’s the reserved, reticent Finlander parts that I’ve inherited, but saying the words isn’t always easy. The people who know they are important to me, know it, without me saying so. But that’s a cop-out. I get that. Like I wrote in my first blog post, I’m a very private person so public declarations kinda don’t fit well with me, which makes writing this blog of personal thoughts every week a bit out of my comfort zone. But I’m thankful for the people who read it, who give me feedback on it, and who encourage me by their comments.
This is my twentieth blog entry, and I realized what I hadn’t written about yet is where this blog title came from…where I’ve come from. So in the interest of sharing, and saying thank you, this is what ‘rocks and willows’ means to me.
I grew up in an area on the edge of the Coteau Hills called Rock Point. It was, and mostly still is, a small enclave of Finnish farming families. Like most immigrants coming to Saskatchewan in the early 1900’s, these weren’t farmers by trade, but farmers of necessity. My grandfather’s settler story involves travelling from Finland by boat, then by rail to Dunblane, Saskatchewan. At the time, that’s where the railway ended. He had 25 cents in his pocket and didn’t speak a word of English. But he persevered, broke land with oxen, and a small Finnish community flourished, including a store, school, and post office. It was given the name “Rock Point” by one of the only English settlers in the area, Isaac Moore, because the rolling hills and landscape reminded him of a place in Nova Scotia by the same name. Only a few weeks ago, Isaac’s son Benny, along with his own son, visited my mom and dad there. Benny remembered all the other kids speaking Finnish at recesses and noon hour. He learned some Finnish so that he could know if the other kids were talking about him, plus he didn’t want to be left out! In today’s rhetoric about immigrants ‘fitting in like the old days’ it’s a good reminder of what those days actually entailed.
Rock Point is appropriately named for the geology aspect too. There are a lot of rocks in that soil! I can’t imagine how many rocks my dad has piled, dragging the rock picker across acre after acre, year after year. The one thing that these rocks are good for is the Finnish sauna. Dad says the darker the rock, the better the steam! Every farm house had a sauna, and often the sauna (a separate building) was built before the house. It’s hard to explain the spiritual importance of a sauna, when most people associate them with hotels and gyms. Many deep and significant conversations happen when you sauna with someone.
On my own? There’s a lot of reflective thinking happening in that heat.
Wednesday and Saturday nights were sauna nights, and many evenings I remember neighbors coming over for a sauna and then coffee. Finns looooooooove their coffee! I sat through many conversations in Finnish around a table, listening politely to the cadence of words I didn’t understand. That simple rural upbringing has impacted who I am in innumerable ways, and Finnish ways of seeing the world infuse every aspect of my life.
The second part of my blog title is willows, like the willow tree. My maiden name is Pajunen. In Finnish, paju is a willow tree (with the -nen meaning little) so littlewillow is often my choice for username or email. The willow is an interesting tree. In Saskatchewan, willow trees are found growing around many sloughs and lakes. The roots of a willow tree are often bigger than its base and it absorbs water like a sponge. If you cut it off at the ground (and mow over it repeatedly lol) it stubbornly sprouts new branches. And just one cutting stuck in the soil will root itself. Persistent and resilient! Like that tree, our families and communities have strong connections that hold it up. Our part is just one root in many. In a school, as people move on and others move in, if a strong culture and vision exist, it lives beyond those migrations. In our families, as I lost my Finnish grandparents, those traditions lived on and are passed onto my own children now. No matter where they may choose to live, they will take that with them. And the persistent, resilient nature? Well, I’ve written about Finnish sisu before lol.
As someone who has loved words and writing my whole life, I see the title in another way too. It’s not just ‘rocks and willows’ but on some days, it can feel like ‘rock, sand, willows.’ There are times when it feels like I’m mired in sand. Hindered by self-doubt, questioning my effectiveness as a teacher, or mom, or just having a crappy day…stuck between a rock and, well, you know the rest. So I hope that in my writing and tweets, I don’t just give the Instagram-perfect version of teaching and life…because it’s not, and that’s okay. That’s human. It just means that I’m still growing and learning, and that’s a good thing.
But I also think of the rock and the willows as anchors, symbols to what I believe and who I am. Today, I give thanks for Rock Point, Mummu and Poppa, sauna conversations, family, freedom, mentors and mentoring, a career that is also my calling, and so much more. I’m headed to the farm to celebrate with my family today. I know that they know it, but I’ll do my best to tell them too. Happy Thanksgiving! Tawâw. Tervetuloa. Everyone is welcome!
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