Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Thin Ice

When my children were small, they religiously watched Pikku Kakkonen (“Little Two”), a TV program that I dare say enjoys the undivided attention of the entire Finnish-speaking population of preschoolers every afternoon around five-thirty.  (Swedish-speaking youngsters are probably likewise riveted to Pikku Kakkonen’s linguistic counterpart, BUU-klubben.)  Pikku Kakkonen has been an institution on Finland's channel two for over thirty years now and – like most shows aimed at very young viewers who don’t mind predictable programming at all – the show has an amazing timelessness to it. 

For decades, one sure sign of the changing season is the little public-service announcement added at the end of Pikku Kakkonen for a few weeks at the beginning of spring.  The short animated spot stars a boy and teddy bear – who, along with a moon, fish, ghost and a TV-shaped bird, form the mosaic of the show’s logo.  As the spot opens, the bear and the boy are playing in the snow across a lake from the TV studio and are interrupted when the bird summons them to hurry back.  Presumably, they need to take their places in the logo before the show signs off. 

While the boy does the prudent thing and walks around the lake, the impetuous bear decides to cut straight across to the studio, as he’s probably done dozens of times during the winter when the ice was thick.  But now it’s spring and the ice is thin.  Near the other shore, he falls through to the frigid water underneath and is saved only by the quick action of his friend.  The boy demonstrates the correct rescue technique by flattening himself on the ice to reach the floundering bear and extend his scarf as a lifeline.  The bear pulls himself onto the fragile ice and, lying flat to distribute his weight, carefully rolls safely to shore. 

The animation ends with the teddy bear, recovered from his ordeal, joining his friends in the logo and solemnly intoning:  "Varokaa heikkoa jäätä."  ("Beware of weak ice.") 

The animation is quaint, but the message is deadly serious.  Throughout the long winter, the ice of countless lakes and rivers is usually more than strong enough to bear the weight of anyone who ventures out on those inviting, flat expanses of white.  Skiers and the heaviest of ice fishermen can safely travel across the ice in many places, even on the sea in certain spots near shore.  In some places the ice is strong enough even for cars and buses.  But once the days turn longer and milder, it’s only a matter of time before – although the snow on the surface might look unchanged – the ice becomes treacherously thin.    

Every year, the spring thaw brings tragedy to some Finnish family, a sad reminder that despite the welcome sight of emerging crocuses and tender leafs spouting on the birches, the coming of warm weather also has a deceptively dangerous side.  

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