Getting Bogged Down
The Tarvasjõgi River flows through the Estonian nature reserve Kõrvemaa (located about thirty miles east of Tallinn). Photo by Ireen Trummer (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Getting Bogged Down

Protecting Estonia’s Natural Treasure
Paulina Wilk
time 20 minutes

The Estonian coast is still dominated by wetlands, flying squirrels, and respect for solitude––one’s own and that of others. But to protect these long-existing treasures requires a new consciousness. Luckily, it’s already being born.

“Do you like the swings?” Andreas doesn’t wait for an answer. I chase after him, this big, baby-faced boy making his way towards the village, his shoulders swaying from side to side. His leather boots crunch on the stones. Estonians are uncompromising when it comes to footwear. No ridiculous sneakers in the early spring, no plimsolls in the fields. Life here is one step away from nature, and you have to take that into account.

Behind us lies the undulating coast of the Baltic Sea, the headlands and bays covered with erratic blocks left over from various glaciations. In front of us are old fishing buildings: log cabins with thatched roofs, mangers, stables, and a well with a sweep by the path. In this small village in Lahemaa National Park, living history meets current trends. Stylish new wooden buildings have sprung up next to the ancient farms. The old ones were used by fishermen 150 years ago. The newly built ones belong to holidaymakers who come here from Tallinn, an hour away. Since the COVID-19 pandemic, country houses are pricey again. Formerly used to living in seclusion, Estonians have remembered that cramming together in cities is not in their nature. There is a return to favor for rural cabins and their modern equivalents, where one can tend their solitude and secrets all year round.

“When I was little, I was very curious about what other people were doing in their homes,” says Andreas, looking through a window into one of the cabins. “We all have hobbies here. We have to have something to do when we’re sitting inside for hours on end during the dark winter months. But we’re reluctant to talk about it, I don’t know why.” He shrugs. I cast him an inquisitive look, to which he responds: “Me? I play the piano, the saxophone, and the drums. But the piano is the most important. If you can play that, you can play anything. Come on!” he says, racing off. I don’t think he’s capable of walking slowly. And I think that before fall comes around, I should find a hobby, not necessarily a secret one.

The Estonian capital, once the pearl of the medieval Hanseatic League, now ranks seventh on the list of the world’s most “smart” cities. Photo by Rudy Balasko/iStock by Getty Images

At Home in Nature

The cheerful giant finally stops to check if I know how to use a wooden sweep to draw water from the well. I pick a full bucket and he brushes a few mosquitoes off the surface and tells me to


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Anywhere Will Do
“HW,” Kevin McNamee-Tweed, 2019 (glazed ceramic). Photo by Wild Don Lewis, courtesy of Steve Turner Gallery Los Angeles

Anywhere Will Do

The Art of Serendipitous Travel
Paulina Wilk

I rarely plan my trips, and I always leave some space in my backpack. Lack of prior knowledge and lightness are the two patron saints of a good journey. The more open the mind and the lighter the luggage, the better the chance for a lucky coincidence.

When a shoe store attendant asks what I’m looking for, I tell them that as soon as I know, I’ll buy two pairs straight away. I did that once on a June afternoon in Amsterdam—I saw them out of the corner of my eye just as the store’s shutters were closing and dived in. I promised the annoyed saleswoman that if she found me a size 9.5 in the back, I’d take two pairs. Suede, above the ankle boots, with a thin sole. I trekked halfway around the world in them—Norway, the Emirates, India, and Singapore. They fell apart as I walked across the endless city of Seoul. They were my friends at first sight, companions of lonely expeditions, captured in hundreds of photographs.

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