Hi Gary,

The reason why I travel as much as I do is purely because I like it.
I have been on the road since I was 18 and i am 41 now and plan to continue with that a few decades more. I earn my living from doing freelance jobs in tourism. This is both as a tourleader, as a consultant and as a lecturer. I am showing some tourists around the Azores at the moment and when that is done then i take 3 months off for a round the world trip taking me to Turkey, Malaysia, Borneo, Brunei, the Phillipines, Vietnam and California.

The soil was collected on a roadtrip I did with some people I met through the travel site It´s a travel tip sharing website, but it has a very good community spirit too and we were 6 persons from 5 different countries who did this trip very spontaneously after a chat in the travel forum on We visited 7 countries in 7 days (Finland, Estonia, Latvia. Lithuania, Belarus, Poland and England) and in all the countries we met up with people we got in touch with through virtualtourist, so it was a bit of a party trip.

The biggest challenge when collecting the soil was that we did the trip in january and the temperatures were around minus 30 degrees celcius and the ground was frozen solid.
But we got it up with tools we borrowed from locals and the soil in Estonia was collected from just outside the train station in the old university town "Tartu".

In Lithuania I got the soil from a Park in the center of Vilnius and in Belarus we got the soil from a little forest next to the train station.

It was a little tricky in Belarus as we were actually refused entry because we did not apply for visas in advance, but we had to wait 6 hours for a train to deport us so I had time to get the soil in the little forst next to the train station.

That was my 5 cents.
Just write me if you need more info.


Phantom Evolution

By Jheri St. James

Arches of Evolution in Estonia

Estonian culture has existed for over 4000 years in north central Europe. The nation has coasts on the Baltic Sea, Gulf of Finland, and Gulf of Riga. Included in the Estonian territory are more than 800 islands in the Baltic Sea. To the east of Estonia is Russia; across the Baltic Sea to the west is Sweden; to the north lies Finland beyond the Gulf of Finland; and south of Estonia is Latvia.

Estonia and its culture have evolved as a result of outside forces since the late 12th century, when Christian crusaders invaded in 1193, waging war against all Estonian farmers. The acceptance of Christianity brought officials of the Roman Catholic Church, who brought with them German landowners called Knights of the Sword, who seized ethnic Estonian farms and reduced farmers to serfs. Throughout the next 1800 years, Estonian soil was the platform for battles involving Denmark, Germany, Russia, Poland, and Sweden.

Alexander Nevis Cathedral

In 1991 Estonia declared its independence—establishing its own currency, flag, language, and foreign policy. Since the last Russian troops left in 1994, Estonia has been free to promote economic and political ties with Western Europe. It joined both NATO and the EU in the spring of 2004. As a new member of the World Trade Organization and the European Union, Estonia has transitioned effectively to a modern market economy with strong ties to the West, including the pegging of its currency to the euro. The economy benefits from strong electronics and telecommunications sectors and is greatly influenced by developments in Finland, Sweden, and Germany, three major trading partners. The current account deficit remains high, however, the state budget is essentially in balance, and public debt is low. Estonia’s largest cities are Tallinn, the capital, Tartu and Pamu.

One of the most successful and influential theories in the history of science has been the theory of evolution—the process by which organisms change and species arise and disappear, a process in effect since the origins of life itself. As postulated by Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace, 19th century British scientists, the central mechanism of evolution was natural selection. In essence, this theory states that life forms with certain characteristics tend to reproduce in larger numbers and survive environmental changes better than other, similar life forms that lack these characteristics. These forms then tend to become dominant within the population, and the characteristics are inherited by subsequent generations. Integral to the theory is the notion that all species of life on earth are interrelated, ultimately having common ancestry. Today the evidence for evolution is overwhelming, coming from many branches of science—biology, anatomy, embryology, paleontology, biochemistry, genetics, and other fields. Evolution in any one moment is a phantom process, invisible to the observer.

For our purposes, this can be interpreted to mean that all the nations that fought over and upon Estonian soil have a common ancestry. Here we have the core of the Common Ground 191 project philosophy—the fact that this common ancestry of mankind has evolved, with myriad variations, on a common staging area—the soil of Earth. And the project has evolved with variations in collectors. Some, like Fanis in Greece, and Simin in Turkey get very involved in the details of our project—filling out the volunteer identification form, carefully collecting important soil, completing the volunteer collection form, taking photos, and even writing the journal entry narrative. The Common Ground 191 project continues to color their lives as they send rewrites, corrections, and additional pictures for consideration.

Others, as in the case of the soils of Estonia, Belarus and Lithuania, are more like “collector phantoms”—they email Gary Simpson, founder of the project, get the carton, put some soil in, ship it back to Laguna Beach, California, and that’s it—no form filling, no photos, no words. That’s what happened in the collection from Estonia. All we know is that Claus Andersen is Danish, works in the tourist industry, and was very busy during the recent controversy over the Mohammed cartoon emanating from Denmark in the world press. But, the Biking Viking is one of our Common Ground 191 phantom collectors and we thank him for the soils of those three countries—whoever he is! Even anonymously, he is an important link to the evolution of the mind of mankind, an unseen divergence.

* * *

Art in Estonia

Estonians have one of the biggest collections of folk songs in the world, with written records of about 133,000 folk songs. Music in Estonia has evolved to the point where every fifth year now tens of thousands of singers from all over the country come to sing for countless listeners. World-famous conductors Neeme Jarvi and Tonu Kaijuste and composers Arvo Part, Veijo Tormis and Erkki-Sven Tuur are well known abroad.

Estonian writers are often not only book authors, but also spiritual leaders. Estonian culture has been tool of political struggle, and writers like Anton Hansen, Tammsaare, Eduard Vilde, Marie Under, Betti Alver, Friedebert Tuglas and Karl Ristikivi, have evolved that artistic expression very successfully. Throughout the world, Jaan Kross is most well known, along with Jaan Kaplinski, Andrus Kivirank and Toni Onnepalu. In researching this journal entry, the writer discovered a huge feminist writing and art community also active in Estonia.

In Estonia’s evolution of fine art, the earliest finds are animalistic figures and metal ornaments. Polychrome wooden altars and wood carvings have survived from the 14th and 15th centuries. The oldest secular works of art are the benches in the Tallinn Town Hall. Altars by Hermen Rode and Bernt Notke were brought to Tallinn from Lubeck and from Brugge, the large wing altar created by the anonymous Master of the St. Lucia Legend.

Master of the Legend of Saint Lucy (flourished 1480- 1510) was a Flemish painter who worked out of Bruges, now a city in Belgium. His name was coined for an altarpiece in the church of Saint James in Bruges, which is dated 1480 and depicts three scenes from the life of Saint Lucy. Since then, twenty-five to thirty-five paintings have been attributed to the same hand. He may have trained Spanish students at his studio in Bruges. Another phantom artist.

St. Lucia is the patron saint of blindness and is the only saint celebrated by the Lutheran Swedes, Finns, Danes and Norwegians in December. Lucy means “light,” with the same Latin root as “lucid,” which means clear, radiant, understandable. St. Lucy’s history is shrouded in darkness, as is the history of her portraitist. All that is really known for certain is that she was a martyr in Syracuse in Diocletian’s persecutions of A.D. 303. A phantom saint, symbolic of the invisibility of evoluation?

The first exponent of Renaissance art was the Tallinn artist Michel Sittow. Wood carving flourished during the Baroque period. The Tartu University drawing school was founded in 1803 as the first art school in Estonia. Art creation was prohibited with WWII and the occupation of Estonia by the USSR. Since the 1960’s, art has begun to diversify again with responses to international friends of art. The works of Aleksander Vardi, Elmar Kits and Avo Keerend represent non-figurative art. Lepo Mikko, Olev Subbi and Tiit Paasuke are representative artists in the classical modernism style. Many, many other artists have emerged during Estonia’s independence.

A large number of cultural institutions such as theaters, museums and libraries are financed by the state, as are cultural periodicals, whose editions are very large, given the size of the population. Cultural efforts are supported financially by the Kultuurkapital fund, which derives its revenue from duty on the sale of alcohol and on gambling.

More about the graffiti photos: It all began as a grant proposal submitted to the National Research Council. The research projects involve James S. Aber at Emporia State University, Kansas and Volli Kalm at the University of Tartu, Estonia. Both are senior scientists with similar backgrounds and interests in surficial geology and geomorphology, specifically glacial deposits and landforms with associated features of the Quaternary ice age. They proposed to undertake a series of exchanges to utilize geographic information system (GIS) and satellite remote sensing techniques combined with ground observations for mapping, classifying, and interpreting the geomorphology of Estonia. Low altitude ground observations would be recorded with both conventional photography and with kite aerial photography.The proposal was accepted and Professor Kalm visited Kansas in the summers of 1999 and 2000. The Aber family moved to Tartu, Estonia, arriving the 14th of August, 2000 and made these observations and experiences available to all who are interested in viewing. (Graffiti photos by Jeremy Aber, 2000)

Graffiti may be the most obviously evolving art expression in the world, and Estonia’s phantom graffiti artists are at work expressing themselves in ways that may only be defined by the perceptions of the viewer. The website says, “The task now facing us is to ward off globalization and guard against the whims of market forces so as to keep our own national culture, retain our specific cultural features, even as a member state of the European Union,” in other words to evolve as Estonia.

Let us take a moment to appreciate the special qualities of the soil of this ancient land, Estonia, as we welcome the fleeting contributions of the phantom Biking Viking to our pastiche of soils at Common Ground 191.

Pot Sculpture outside the Botanical Gardens Museum in Tallinn, Estonia





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