Estonia's lake-maker lives his dream

It started as a whim, but snowballed into a life-long passion.

Estonian Tonu Tamm has dedicated the past two decades of his life to his obsession of creating artificial lakes.

Surrounded by water in the south of the small Baltic republic, his enthusiasm is infectious as he insists everyone should do their bit for the environment and take tiny steps that help bring calm to a troubled world.

"People might think it's very hard to make a lake, but you just need a suitable landscape and some knowledge, including about dams," the 71-year-old told AFP.

"It all started in the spring of 1981. After spending all our summers from 1966 to 1980 on wild nature trips to Siberia, where I made several TV documentaries, I decided with my wife Tiiu-Mall to buy a summer cottage in Estonia," he explained.

At the time, Estonia was under Soviet rule. As in other communist-bloc states, escape to the countryside was one way for urban dwellers to forget the political sloganeering of daily life.

Despite the Soviet command economy, it was still possible to buy a cottage or exchange a city apartment for one.

"The plan was just to have a cottage to relax at weekends and retire when we got old. But when we arrived here, for one day only, the beauty of nature stunned us so much that we decided to stay forever," Tamm said.

Having loved the lakes he saw on his travels, he dreamed of having one near his new home.

"So I decided to make a lake myself. And suddenly making lakes just became part of my life," he explained.

After the nation of 1.3 million regained its independence peacefully in 1991, it became possible to buy privatised land and homes in exchange for coupons issued for the number of Soviet-era working years in a family.

Tamm gradually expanded his holding to 250 hectares (618 acres), turning fields into 14 lakes which cover 39 hectares in total.

The biggest lake covers 10 hectares and is 400 metres (1,300 feet) long, and has gradually filled with fish.

"People like how Tonu Tamm and his family have put nature at work in Leigo," Sirje Laansoo, a 50-year-old cosmetologist from the capital Tallinn, told AFP.

"Whenever we go there with family, they have a magic feeling, and that's what attracts people to return," she said.

The biggest lake is where he indulges his other passion: classical music.

Tamm built two concert stages and now draws thousands of music lovers to an annual festival which he launched in 1998 -- as well as the likes of star conductors Neeme and Paavo Jarvi, who hail from Estonia and perform for free.

"We make a decent income from farm tourism because people like to have various celebrations or just a quiet vacation here. But the festival, which takes a huge amount of work to organise, generally brings in less money than we invest," Tiiu-Mall Tamm told AFP.

"But we keep on, because the music festival and gratitude of people attending and performing has brought so much meaning to our lives," she added.

Her husband already has his sights on something new.

"I dream of a day when Swan Lake will be danced on the lake, with a stage slightly below water level," he said.

"The key to happiness is creativity," he added.

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