Coordinates: 57° 48′ 0″ N, 23° 15′ 0″ E
Area: 11.88 km²
Length: 5.5 km
Width: 3.5 km
70 km from Kuressaare, 96 km from Pärnu and 54 km from Kihnu Island
37 km from Cape Kolka (Latvia)
Coastline length: 24.17 km
Highest point: Håubjärre (28 m)
Residents: ca 60 in winter, ca 150 in summer
From the beginning of May to the end of October, Ruhnu is accessible by a ferry from both the mainland (the ports of Pärnu and Munalaid) and Saaremaa (the port of Roomassaare). From autumn to spring, the only regular connection is provided by an 8-seater plane, which flies between Kuressaare and Ruhnu four days a week. Weather permitting. The same airplane carries all the supplies required during the winter for the two shops of the island. While I enjoy seafaring, I must say that this brief dash over water, lasting only 20 minutes, was in equal measure both a comfortable and a surreal experience. For context, my first landing in Ruhnu occurred in the first half of the 80s in the previous century, and I was travelling from Pärnu by sea. As we headed out to Ruhnu, the sea was turbulent, with the wind and waves against us. As a result, the deck and hold of the ship were full of sea water and vomit, and the passage must have lasted for about ten hours. In any case, I remember a young lady giving a sacred vow that if by some miracle we will eventually arrive, she would become a resident of Ruhnu because she would not suffer this for a second time. However, as it happened, she did not remain to live on Ruhnu back then nor any time later, as far as I am aware. Like the wind is bound to chance, sooner or later, so is the human mind.
Picasso and other artists
Another detail about our flight was that, in addition to two-legged beings, a cat named Picasso was also heading for a brief holiday on the island. If you have not noticed it before, let me tell you that islands are like a magnet for artists. Also for musicians. And actors. And writers. In short, all creative individuals. Many of them have even acquired a summer residence on one of the larger or smaller islands. And some have become resident islanders, leaving the urban bustling behind. I have my own theory to explain this. As the world is becoming increasingly crazy, especially in the last decades, the more sensitive types are likely to look for support and protection from an environment closer to nature.
Over centuries, the island communities have developed their own living patterns required for survival in isolation. They are like large, blended families that quarrel and make up, where some can bear a grudge, but everyone is always there for others when needed. They are a community, because it is natural, and it has been the same for centuries. Generations come and go but the pattern remains because it is dictated by the island itself.
At the same time, people on the mainland can write something like this: “Even though access to the island is difficult due to the long seaway, the local residents no longer feel isolated from the rest of the world. They are surrounded by comprehensive care of the party and the government.” This quote was not invented by me; these words about Ruhnu were published in 1954 in the newspaper Pärnu Kommunist. Do you catch my drift?
For instance, artist Ann Jõers succeeded in buying a former shop house on Ruhnu as her summer residence as early as in the 60s of the previous century. At about the same time, graphic artist Gita Teearu acquired the Lääne-Bullers Farm, while metal artist Tõnu Lauk got hold of the Bulders Farm.
Ann Jõers’ daughter, Luise, spent all her summers on Ruhnu as a child. After she had grown up, she lost her heart to a young man from Saaremaa but did not like the idea of moving with him to his island. As the groom, in turn, was firmly against living in the capital, the couple eventually ended up moving to Ruhnu. Over time, Luise started offering accommodation to summer visitors, opened a shop and a bakery, and converted her granaries and even the sheep shed into holiday houses. Indeed, it was the Liise Farm, run by Luise, that I chose as accommodation during my visit. I would heartily recommend the Liise Farm to everyone who would like to get a deeper insight into the life on Ruhnu. For more information on the farm, the wooden church, the museum and the people of Ruhnu,
Some more figures:
1919: Residents of Ruhnu sold 644 poods and 25 pounds (ca 10.5 tons) of seal oil for 13,140 marks.
This was less than the annual salary of a member of the Constituent Assembly.
1927: All residents of Ruhnu are given surnames.
1953: The first motor vehicle on Ruhnu – military truck ZIS-150, which for some reason was guarded by a soldier around the clock. As a reminder for absent-minded readers, Ruhnu is an island.
1958: The GOELRO plan for the electrification of the country is implemented in Ruhnu – all households are supplied with electricity.
1959: The first bathing room is built on Ruhnu, in the schoolhouse.
1969: The first passenger car on Ruhnu – Moskvich 401.
Author’s acknowledgements and greetings:
Ruhnu Rural Municipality Government and Municipality Mayor, Andre Nõu;
Ruhnu Museum, a branch of the Rannarootsi Museum, and Ruth Keskpaik;
Liise Farm and Luise Maria Jõers;
…and all the other people of Ruhnu.
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