Finnish saunas immortalized in ‘The Opposite of Cold’It only makes sense that a Two Harbors native would write the definitive book on this part of the country’s obsession with Finnish saunas.
It only makes sense that a Two Harbors native would write the definitive book on this part of the country’s obsession with Finnish saunas.
“Everybody knew what a sauna was [growing up], and most people, Finnish or not, had some experience with them,” Michael Nordskog, author of “The Opposite of Cold,” told the Budgeteer. “I’m hard-pressed to think of a family cabin that I regularly visited that didn’t have a sauna.”
And you can’t craft a definitive anything without a good helping of substance. Nordskog’s book — which combines his writings with wonderful snapshots from photographer Aaron Hautala — comes in at about 200 pages and nearly 2.5 pounds.
“We wanted to create a record of all of the unique details that define saunas as a specific type of outbuilding, and celebrate the culture behind their construction,” said the writer, who now lives near Viroqua, Wis. “The heftiness comes from the abundance of great stories and subjects we found.”
Nordskog first worked with Hautala on a magazine piece about the old sauna at his family’s cabin in Brimson.
“When I saw his photographs,” Nordskog said, “I felt like I was seeing the structure — which I’ve known all my life — for the first time.”
Indeed, Nordskog and saunas go way back.
“One of my earliest memories is of my grandpa, who worked on the DM&IR docks in Two Harbors, shaving in the dressing room of our sauna on a summer weekend,” the writer said. “The heat always seemed like a good idea next to a spring-fed northern Minnesota lake.”
Hautala, who is based out of the Brainerd lakes area, could relate to Nordskog’s fascination with the great Finnish tradition.
“Sauna at the Hautala family household in Biwabik, Minn., was a regular Saturday evening event,” he told us. “My most vivid and warm memories of childhood revolve around the sauna. A handful of friends enjoyed the sauna experience, and others could not understand the practice. What we considered relaxing was just painful punishment to them.”
Though his travels for “The Opposite of Cold” took him far and wide in search of the best shots, Hautala pointed out a few saunas that really left him in awe. The first one he mentioned, the Roland Sauna on Madeline Island near Bayfield, was actually designed by Duluth architect David Salmela.
“This sauna stood out for its simplicity, clean lines and black exterior,” the photographer said. “The interior is beyond description; just being inside the sauna without the sauna stove fired up reduced my anxiety and calmed my nerves.
“The windows looking out to Lake Superior were also a special treat for the sauna experience.”
Another standout sauna belonged to Rock Ridge Camp up in Ely.
“In all of our travels across Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Canada and Finland, we did not run across another stone beauty such as this,” Hautala said. “The sauna was also placed strategically close to the refreshing waters of Little Long Lake, [which is great for] cooling off after a good steam.
“One other interesting tidbit is my wife had enjoyed a sauna in this structure during her teenage years, while I still wait for my first Rock Ridge sauna experience … maybe soon, Rock Ridge?”
Thankfully, it doesn’t look like saunas will be going anywhere soon.
“Sauna stove sales show that they remain very popular around the country, mostly for basement installations,” Nordskog pointed out. “But we met plenty of folks who have built, or are planning to build, a new wood-fired sauna outbuilding.
“Sauna is as much a part of the character of this part of the world as walleye fishing and hockey.”
Looking beyond “The Opposite of Cold,” Nordskog said he has a couple of non-fiction book ideas to keep him busy.
“One’s about a legendary Minnesota timber cruiser who was one of the first non-indigenous people born in the territory,” he said. “But I also wrote a novel a few years ago that I need to revisit. And, yes, it does have a sauna scene.”
And Hautala, who runs RedHouseMedia in Brainerd, will also have plenty to do after the press tour for the sauna book ends. First up is “The Wheel,” a collaboration with “A Porch Sofa Almanac” author (and Minnesota Public Radio personality) Peter Smith.
“We will be focusing and highlighting the amazing artwork of the steering wheel and dashboards of the automobile starting from the beginning, arriving to modern day,” he said.
Hautala also mentioned a music video for some clients in Crosby and Aitkin — before adding: “Maybe a sauna movie soon?”
NEWS TO USE
Michael Nordskog and Aaron Hautala’s “The Opposite of Cold: The Northwoods Finnish Sauna Tradition” is available now. See www.upress.umn.edu.