I recently finished reading "A Sense of Estonia" by Estonian naturalist Fred Jüssi. 'Naturalist' is what you call people who like to hang out in the woods with cameras, journals, and recording equipment.
Naturalists, like Jüssi, also know things, like the names of trees, birds, et cetera. Not only that, they know the songs of birds, their migration patterns, how they rear their young. They observe the things that we too often ignore and dedicate some of their time to explaining it. Intriguing people, these naturalists.
Jüssi is even more intriguing because he was born on Aruba when his family was stationed there with some connection to the pre-war Estonian government. When I first heard this, I thought it was, excuse me, total bullshit. It just had to be made up. But no, it's true. Fred's from ... Aruba.
I met him once at the Olympia Hotel in Tallinn. It was mid- September 2004 and it was already chilly out in the city. As wild as Estonia's capital gets in the summer, it calms down as soon as September rolls in, bringing its gray skies and ice cool air blowing down from the northeast. "There is a poem about this weather," said Jüssi. "It's by Juhan Liiv. Sügisetuul raputab puud."
Every time it gets a bit dark and windy out I think of Fred Jüssi, and Juhan Liiv, because of that moment. But I am still intrigued more by Jüssi because I know that besides being a naturalist, he lives in Tallinn, has been married, has kids -- so where exactly did he find all the time to kill in a cabin on Hiiumaa?
I can imagine that if I bought a camera and told my naine that I was going to disappear for the weekend to the west coast to record the songs of tits and swallows and photograph ice, she'd be a bit cross with me. But Jüssi managed to fit nature into his life in an important way. How he continues to do it, I will never know, but it is certainly a feat worthy of respect.