Estonia’s so-called ‘fifth season’ floods its tourism push

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The sign on the construction fence ringing at the Estonian Embassy made me suspicious. It wasn’t that the message from the embassy was self-serving – every diplomat should believe their country is the best in the world – it was that it seemed impossible.

Facing the intersection of 22nd and Massachusetts Avenue NW was a sign that read, “Visit Estonia. There’s so much to see, there’s an extra season to see it.

Since humans watch plants grow and animals migrate, we have divided the year into four seasons. In case you forgot them, they are spring, summer, winter and fall. And here was this Baltic state declaring that it somehow got a in addition season.

What is this season? If Estonians brag about it, it must be good, right?

Is it a particularly sublime spring? Something like “Spring 2: The Reawakening?” Is it “Summer: The Sequel?”

Is it an amalgamation of two non-contiguous seasons, a conjoined summer and winter, for example, with days mild enough to undress in a bathing suit and nights cold enough for mittens and hot chocolate? Or a fantastically fine fusion of spring and autumn: trees laden with flowers as their leaves turn red and yellow?

I had to know. So I contacted the Estonian Embassy here. They put me in contact with Aivar Ruukel, who presents the fifth season to the world as a guide in Soomaa National Park in southwestern Estonia.

On the phone, Aivar told me that the “fifth season” in Estonian is “viies aastaaeg”. As for what exactly this season is all about, it’s ‘ujutus’.

And what is a “ujutus”?

“It’s actually a flood,” Aivar said.

A flood? This is what does Estonia put in its tourist material? Come for our flood?

Is it a reflection of a unique northern European disposition, unable to be understood by the sunny American mind?

“I totally understand what you’re saying,” Aivar said. “Normally a flood is a disaster.”

Well, normally a flood is a surprise, unpleasant. But Estonians in and around Soomaa are waiting for their fifth season, which falls between winter and spring, when water from melting snow fills Soomaa with floodwater, flooding the forest and creating a web of lanes waterways perfect for canoeing.

“You know it happens,” Aivar said. “There’s this old saying, ‘It’s like a distant relative is coming to visit.’ ”

The water rises about nine feet, although in some years it can be double that. Flooding can also occur at other times of the year, if there is enough rain.

Aivar added: “It’s really fun to go into the forest by boat. This is what you can do if it is flooded. Another nickname used by journalists is “Estonian Amazon”. ”

It’s the Amazon without the crocodiles, snakes or piranhas.

When Estonia was under Soviet control, few outsiders knew about the flood season. It wasn’t widely known in Estonia either, Aivar said, except among people who lived near Soomaa.

“In Soviet times, nobody came here,” Aivar said. The area was mostly agricultural land, with 95% of the inhabitants working in agriculture. In fact, people looked forward to ujutus, Aivar said, because it meant it was impossible for them to work. Party time!

“There are some great photos from the 1920s and 30s of local people using these canoes which are a living culture here,” Aivar said. “The locals use their boats and celebrate it in a way.”

The flood occurs every spring, with the depth of the water varying from year to year. The three-year period from 2010 to 2012 was particularly high.

“He’s become very popular,” Aivar said. “All the Estonian media were here. Many people have visited us. After that, he becomes more and more famous.

Few people live in the park. Those who know how to move their affairs to higher ground and live on the second floor of their homes during the fifth season. It is then that Aivar leads canoe trips, paddling through the sunken world.

And during the other four seasons?

“I actually work year-round,” he said. “Right now we have mushroom season. And walk on bogs. In winter, when everything is frozen, we go sledding and snowshoeing.

Aivar invites you to visit Estonia in any season. Nature, he said, is open “24 hours a day, 365 days a year”.

Construction work on the embassy of the country behind the fence and sign is nearing completion, which means the tourism slogan is falling. I guess he did his job.

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