Before I moved to Finland and before I met my wife I had been travelling a lot from the United States to Europe, particularly Norway, Sweden and Finland. I had a very well-paying job back in the States and it allowed me to travel six months of the year. I had travelled to Finland actually 3–4 times before I even met my wife.
You know, I’m a big Instagram person. I’ve been doing it for years. One day I was walking in San Diego, I would walk a lot there. I was walking home from work and I took some pictures. When I got home I did my Instagram, tagged them San Diego and then just thought I would look to see who else had pictures in San Diego.
I saw this photo, only one half of a face, a really interesting-looking girl tagging San Diego. I looked up her profile and it was a girl from Finland wandering around California. I ended up sending her a message saying, “you know it’s pretty interesting that you’ve been in San Diego, because the last place I imagine a Finnish person to hang around is here…” She replied something short and I told her that I had actually been in Finland and then that really caught her, “what is a guy from San Diego doing in Finland?!”
We got talking and I explained how I had been there a few times and I knew Joensuu and Tuska, where I’d been in 2013 – I’m a metal head. She was really impressed. She had been staying with friends of hers in Los Angeles and she was planning to stay another month. I said that if she ever wanted to come to San Diego again, she should hit me up and I could show her some of the best craft beers places, because that’s a huge thing in California. A week later she caught the train down to San Diego. We met up and the rest is history, as they say. I came to Finland that winter, in 2014.
“Finding work in the winter is easy, but not summer. I mean, Lapland dies in the summer”
We were so crazy about each other that in 2015 we got married, before my 90 days of travel visa was up and I had to go back to the States. We met in October 2014 and we were married in April 2015. We couldn’t even find… what is it? I call it a Maserati… a maestrati, maistraatti (Magistrates). I always kept calling it ‘Maserati’.
We couldn’t find anybody in Helsinki to do the marriage, then we eventually got an appointment in Porvoo and we went there with her parents and got married on a rainy day in April. A couple of days later I left for San Diego. She was going to move over and join me, that was the plan. We didn’t know at the time that we were expecting our daughter, but as soon as we knew that we thought it was the best idea to move to Finland. I had a pretty good health care situation – as far as American standards go – but of course a child adds to the costs, so we decided to give Finland a try and see how I would adapt.
Our daughter was born in March 2016 and how she got her name is another story. We knew this Swiss guy who was working in Alaska and doing northern lights tours and I just gave him a shout in 2015 to work there. My wife said why not, so we spent some months there together. We were both without a doubt, no hesitation, that if we had a girl her name would be Aurora because it’s also a Finnish name. It’s a pretty name and what it represents for me and my wife… it’s a no-brainer. She was a she and so her name became Aurora.
In the States I worked in production audiovisual support for international conferences. I have done concerts as well and theatre – Broadway theatre – but my specialty is video, anything to do with video production. I did a lot of camera work and a lot of video production work back in the States, like behind-the-scene production work for huge conferences. The smallest ones would be around 6,000 people.
“In the past I would have all these million excuses why I wouldn’t challenge myself”
In San Diego I got really used to creating my own schedule and I was working loads on my own. I was in charge of my own workload and I came with the same idea to Finland. I had been working for this large company and they told me at the outset that they couldn’t provide in Finland what I was used to in the States. That’s been the hardest thing for me, the wages here don’t even cut close to what I’m used to making in the States for what I do. Everything here is much smaller scale than in the States.
But I’ve kept myself busy and last winter 2016 I was up in Ivalo working, doing a seasonal job. It worked out and it was the best experience I’ve had in Finland. In the spring I stayed in Rovaniemi and found out about a company called Beyond Arctic that specialised in aurora photography tours. I had gotten pretty good at aurora photography from my time in Ivalo and earlier I have been ‘hunting’ northern lights since 2015 everywhere from Alaska, to Norway and Sweden, to Iceland and of course Finnish Lapland. I have become the main guide at Beyond Arctic leading the aurora photography trips out of Rovaniemi five to six nights per week. I will build a fire at a lavvu and the group will grill sausages and we will talk about the aurora and life in Lapland. At the first stop of the evening I give a small photo workshop for everyone who has a camera. I teach the guests how to set up their cameras for night photography and explain the different camera settings and why we use them for shooting northern lights.
I like all sorts of extreme sports and I’ve been working on these outdoor skills. Bushcraft, survivalist, outdoorsman or whatever term you use. I’ve become one of those guys over the years. I also took a survival course in Sweden. At some point I want to do my own special thing and I have ideas already, very specific ideas. The focus of my tours would not just be going out and taking picture of auroras or nature. I want to give more because of my background with trekking and camping and survival. I want to offer this whole experience that not only would we go and take pictures of aurora, but we would go camping in the snow. I’ve done this many times now. Just like digging a trench in the snow, putting my tent in and sleeping on top of a fell. I think people nowadays really have a curiosity for this adventure tourism. And if you can offer something like this in Finnish Lapland… oh man. So I’m putting this all together, these ideas.
My wife thinks I’m a bit crazy. I think she just thinks that she sure as hell isn’t going to do it with me… because she’s Finnish and has lived here, so why the hell would she wanna go camping in the snow in Lapland?
“If I die in the north of Finland in the snow and ice, at my funeral they wouldn’t say ‘Greg got ran over by a car’”
I’ve had my share of struggles in Finland I guess you could say. Finding work in the winter is easy, but not summer. I mean, Lapland dies in the summer. For me it’s just the wages. When I got married and had a child, I was like I’m that ‘all American guy’, I want to provide for my family with my income. I’m gonna make enough money so that my family can live comfortably. I feel like if I was fluent in Finnish I would maybe have more work opportunities. In the summer I was working in my friend’s café in Esplanadi (in Helsinki) serving coffee.
Lately I have become obsessed with pushing myself. It’s great stress relief when you’re really out there sweating and you come home and your legs are kind of burning and throbbing. One day I decided to cycle to Porvoo and back, it’s 56 km from our door one way so I thought it can’t be that bad. I was dying when I came home. I’ve been this adventure person for a long time now and I’ve kind of reached this point – I don’t want to sound clichéd – of thinking what am I afraid of? I’m not afraid of death. In the past I would have all these million excuses why I wouldn’t challenge myself but over the years of travelling and camping in the snow and doing crazy shit, I’ve now got to the point where I’m not scared anymore. I’m 46 you know, if I climb some rocks in Central Park and I fall then it’s pretty bad-ass. It’s like if I die in the north of Finland in the snow and ice, at my funeral they wouldn’t say ‘Greg got ran over by a car’, but he died because he wanted to be out doing arctic survival in the middle of nowhere.
My friends at home… even they’re like you’re crazy man, sleeping in the snow it’s -18°C! What’s wrong with you? I’m like, “dude it makes me feel alive”. Yeah, it’s cold as hell and my fingers burn and I can hardly sleep, but I realise that life is amazing and that I’m out there pushing myself. I feel alive, instead of being stuck in some really monotonous routine that you don’t even realise is affecting you.
I’m like a dog, I suppose, a feral dog that somebody tried to keep as a pet in a house for a long time and then they got back out. Maybe as a puppy they were feral. They were raised in a home with a loving family but one day they escaped. The dog may come back but it will never ever want to stay home again. My wife now, I think, really understands that’s something I need to do and we’ve learned somehow to work with my need to answer that call of the wild.
Interview by Peter Seenan recorded in Helsinki, Finland in 2017. If you wish to support our work in sharing the reflections of people who’ve moved to Finland please like our Facebook page and share Greg’s story.