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When I heard they were finally beginning to tear down the old Eesti Kunstiakadeemia building downtown, my first thought was, "Will they think to move the wonderful little oak by the front door?" It was more like a sculptural element, somehow bonsai-like, if simply due to being dwarfed and boxed-in by the huge Soviet clunker of a building surrounding it.
It turns out Estonian artists and their protegees have been gathering at Tartu maantee 1 on the corner of Laikmaa (after the Impressionist painter Ants Laikmaa) since 1917. The school was founded in 1914 and has had many names, the most famous acronyms of recent times being ERKI (Eesti Riiklik (State) Kunstiinstituut) during the Soviet era and now EKA. It's hard to see any Eesti aeg, or influences of the First Estonian Republic in the current building going down, (save for the little wooden house out back), since they've been masked by two stages of Soviet-era reconstruction in the 1960s and 70s. While it wasn't an ugly building, it had become so due to wear (and artist angst?). I and many others felt the dinginess befitted that different kind of art student aesthetic appreciation. The auditorium / gym was a glorious retro gem and the barely 10 year-old library was very 21st century indeed.
As for the oak growing in the relatively dark entranceway: what seemed tiny is actually 21 years old and was planted on the occasion of the school's 75th anniversary in 1989. I visited the oaks (tammed) old and new on April 26 and I'm sure they are still as bare as in the picture, since tammed take their time getting going in the spring. Unlike another favorite of parks and boulevards, the chestnut (kastan), which is definitely the epitome of spring power, with its impatient shiny red buds (pung, pl. pungad), giant hand-like lobed leaves and candelabra'esque blossoms.
The best thing about Estonian tree terms, for which there is no direct equivalent in English, are the names of groves of specific species. A grove or forest of tamm is a tammik, three kask (birch) and more are a kaasik. Mänd (pine) grows together in a männik, kuusk (spruce) in a kuusik, haab (aspen) in a haavik. Not as well known might be sarapuu (hazel, of hazelnut fame) forming a sarapik and kadakas (juniper) growing in a kadastik. Lepik / lepistik you know, it's a gaggle of lepp (alder, with those tiny cones). I wasn't sure, but EKSS, the Estonian Dictio-nary's online version confirms pärnik (pärn = linden) and pajustik (paju and remmelgas = willow).
Do you know that wonderfully amphibious tree that drops its needles after they've turned yellow in the fall? It's a lehis (larch, tamarack), most likely because it acts like a LEHTpuu ("leaf tree", deciduous) as opposed to an OKASpuu bearing needles. Yes, a wonderful thing like a tree (puu) has an unfortunate sounding name to the English ear, but no matter. You must simply be "strong like oak" and carry your tree name with pride if you have one and piles of Estos do. Among the most common Estonian surnames, according to statistics released by the Ministry of the Interior in April of 2008: Tamm is in 2nd place (5241 people have that name), Saar in 3rd (means Island, as well as the tree species Ash), 9th is Kask, 15th Pärn, 22nd Kaasik, 23rd Lepik, 26th Kuusk...
I know you want to know what the most prevalent surname in Eesti is. It's not Sepp (Smith), that's in 4th place. It's Ivanov(a), due to Russian naming traditions having created a more limited range of names. As for Estonia's most revered trees, tammed are surely king and often grew in sacred groves (hiis, hiied) along with pärnad and others. Kased and pihlakad (rowan, mountain ash) were planted near people's homes in the belief that they protected people from harm. And Estonians continued that tradition in their yards in their new homelands. Botanical beauty has inspired many girls first names in Estonian, such as Urve, from urb/urvad meaning catkins, (those snakey, droopy flower clusters on birch, as well as pussy willows), Taimi (taim = plant), Lehti/Lehte (leht is leaf) and Piibe from Lily of the Valley. Rowan has become a popular first name for boys and girls of late, as has the equivalent Pihla for girls in Finland. The population registry says eight little girls in Eesti currently answer to the name Pihel and carry the force of the mystical, magical pihlaka tree.

Riina Kindlam,


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