autumn and sauna

We said goodbye to summer and welcomed autumn by working outdoors in our yard all weekend. All day yesterday we were cutting and pruning some hugely overgrown laurel to let in some sunlight, trimming some of the neighbour’s birch tree branches that were resting on our roof, bringing in some pots of tender plants and rooting cuttings of favourite flowers for next year’s garden.

Our bodies ached all over from the full day’s physical labours, but we had a wonderful reward last night. We’d made a couple of fresh ‘vastas‘ from those trimmed leafy birch branches. (It’s usually done in early summer, but we were desperate!) We fired up our sauna for the first time since last winter. Aaah! I don’t remember how many years it’s been since we’ve had vastas. Beating aching muscles with these leafy, fragrant boughs in the hot steamy sauna makes for a wonderful massage, relaxing mind and body. I was even transported to the past, remembering other saunas. I fell asleep last night the minute I put my head on the pillow.


As most know, the sauna (pronounced ‘sow-nah’) is an important part of Finnish culture. I love the authentic sauna, usually a separate building or one half of a Finnish summer cottage, with its wood-burning stove covered with rocks and with a tank of hot water on one side. Situated next to a lake or river, it’s wonderful to go for a refreshing dip or swim, then back into the sauna again, and repeat as desired. The steam (löyly), the birch vasta and the swim are very much a part of the ritual of the sauna.

I’m not as fond of the ‘city’ sauna with the electric-fired stove because it’s a bit drier and I miss the cooling swim. The vasta is often missing too unless one makes a special effort to find birch groves in the country, gather the branches and store them. My parents were keen sauna bathers so my father built this one in our house when they lived here in their retirement.


(Our local recreation centre has a sauna with the electric stove but they don’t allow water to be thrown on the rocks. Without steam it’s not a sauna! )

Lots more work today continuing the cleaning up! Huge laurel branches strewn over the yard had to be trimmed and chopped, thick branches cut for firewood and the rest hauled into the trailer to be taken to the greens recycling depot. Raking and more raking. I even pulled out wild morning glory and blackberry branches that were invading from over the fence. Another sauna tonight?

UPDATE Sept.26th: In case you missed the comment from Dem, who is an Englishman with a Finnish partner, he has posted a video of how to make a vasta over at his blog. Thanks, Dem!

September 23, 2007 in Finland, Estonia & Finno-Ugric, Home by Marja-Leena