The only word from Finnish to make it into English is sauna. But there is another important word that is perhaps equally ancient and valuable in Finland. Talkoot – now talko in Swedish-speaking Finland – means communal work, when extra hands are either needed or welcome. A talko can be any sort of endeavor large or small, involving dozens of people, or just two or three. It may last just a hour or two, or go on for days. Of course volunteer work is a worldwide concept, but in Finland, it is very much an integral and natural part of daily life and community-building.
When I travel to Finland, it is my honor to be invited to join in talkos. It might involve clearing small trees and pruning branches along a dirt road leading to a set of summer cabins. Helping someone pack or move. Foraging for mushrooms. Gathering and cleaning berries for the winter, or making jam or juice. Stacking firewood outside the sauna. Harvesting vegetables from the garden, or preserving cucumbers. Carrying dried brushwood and burning it by the seaside. Working together in the kitchen to prepare a large meal for a gathering. Setting out lanterns to celebrate the coming of the dark season. At the heart of each activity is shared labor.
I am quite sure that the people of Finland would survive their harsh winter without whatever small tasks I am able to accomplish during my precious summer weeks here. With their own work ethic, and countless shared acts of kindness between them, my humble work is literally a drop in the ocean. Yet I am enriched, and feel closer to my dear ones, having used my hands in their service. Each talko brings me closer to nature, and is a reminder of the communal living that our ancestors relied upon for their very survival. These shared efforts are useful and healing and lovely. And they provide a deep and abiding sense of deeply-rooted connection. Talko.