In a past worn parchment-thin with age, when the tribes of my people still kept a watchful eye on the gloomy forests and nasty marshes of northwestern Europe for marauding wolves and Romans, we regarded all Finns as wizards.
Wrapped in raven's clothes, bearing rune-scratched bones, they were the most powerful shamans in all our close, precious, capricious world. Heralded by a barking village dog, the wizard strode down from the north, pausing open-handed at the village's ill-defined threshold before being excitedly pulled near the blazing fire - an iron-age celebrity - a spiritual doctor making a house call.
The far north was the birthplace of the furious wind, the realm of timeless ice, of tusks and teeth and awesomely thick furs of white. The Finns, men and women who somehow confronted and overcame the screeching storms of winter in their land of silent lakes and mystery, obviously maintained strong bonds with the ancient vengeful gods.
We speak now of times so long past that even the legends have been worn out, like snow blown back and forth across rocky ground until it finally dissolves into the welcoming air. One of the only tales recalled about the Finnish wizards concerns the magical ropes they sold, with spell-encased knots each holding little pieces of the wind, which could be unloosed when out upon the sea to propel our boats when the natural breeze fell still.
I have a vision of my family parting with a few of the hard-fought silver coins we hoarded, handing them over to a scary northern shaman, insurance of a fair wind on the voyage of our Germanic tribes across the North Sea to a new home in Britain. I'm not too sophisticated to harbor a slender suspicion the knots may have worked - we obviously reached our destination, didn't we?
So far as I know, something like 1,500 years passed before any of my clan had additional commerce with the Finns, but when we did it was again to purchase a variety of magic - a Nokia cellphone - and it has to be admitted that northern technology has advanced quite a way since the knotted-rope business.
It's still somewhat questionable to me whether cell phones are truly as essential as they're made out to be. Perhaps, 15 centuries from now, our descendants will look back upon them as more of a marketing triumph than a communication breakthrough, a distant echo of the salesmanship techniques the Finns employed in foisting spell-enwrapped knots upon us as vital transportation infrastructure. Still, it's nice for my wife to be able find me, no matter where I may hide ...
Saunas, though, are an aspect of Finn culture deserving of the greatest affection and respect. At their most elemental, the sauna acts as a direct conduit back to olden times when the Finns and Saxons shared a European wilderness that the Roman chronicler Tacitus considered hideously distasteful.
Writing in about 110 A.D., Tacitus scathingly observed "Besides the dangers from a sea tempestuous, horrid and unknown, who would relinquish Asia, or Africa, or Italy, to repair to Germany, a region hideous and rude, under a rigorous climate, dismal to behold." Considering the German climate so unforgiving, how much worse would Tacitus have considered Finland, with its dark and combative winters?
The true, simple dry sauna still is a delightful cure for bone-deep cold, the pure wood radiating a healing heat that calls forth memories safeguarded deep in the cells of Finns and other northern peoples - memories of the hot Mediterranean and African climates we left behind so many millennia ago on our epic migrations ever west and north.
So please join me in welcoming the world's Finns to Astoria and Naselle, Wash., next week. They gather here to celebrate their intensely rich and subtly nuanced culture.
Finns are about much more than cell phones, saunas and magic ropes. Even in these latter days, they possess strong connections to the governing spirits of the northern world, plus an indomitable sense of fun.
Tacitus gives us guidance, telling of how the Finnish wizards of old would have been greeted by my old folks: "Every man receives every comer, and treats him with repasts as large as his ability can possibly furnish. When the whole stock is consumed, he who had treated so hospitably guides and accompanies his guest to a new scene of hospitality; and both proceed to the next house, though neither of them invited. Nor avails it, that they were not: they are there received, with the same frankness and humanity."
Welcome to our villages, all you Finns.
Matt Winters is editor of the Chinook Observer