The Opposite of Cold: The Northwoods Finnish Sauna Tradition

The Hanka farmstead near Tapiola, Michigan, serves as a living museum to Finnish immigrant settlement of the Lake Superior region. Among the familiar characteristics of Finnish farms are modestly scaled buildings, their intimate arrangement, and the ever-present ladder on the roof.

Sauna was crucial to the Finnish farmstead, and the common wisdom that Finns settled the land by first erecting a structure that eventually became their bathhouse is buoyed by a sea of family stories. If a neighbor's sauna were available, then perhaps that project could be delayed. But for the trail blazers, building a first, small structure in which they could live protected from nature seemed like a smart and prudent progression. Ludwig Bajari, who grew up on the northwest shore of Cokato Lake on his immigrant parents' farm, put it plainly: "No respectable Finn could live in the wilderness very long without a sauna.... The sauna was really the heart of the farmyard just as the kitchen was the heart of
the house. Finns always felt sorry for the 'other language' people who didn't know enough to build one for themselves."

Text excerpts and photographs taken from The Opposite of Cold: The Northwoods Finnish Sauna Tradition by Michael Nordskog, photography by Aaron W. Hautala.
Published by the University of Minnesota Press, 2010. Copyright 2010 by Michael Nordskog. Photographs copyright 2010 by Aaron W. Hautala.