This story appears in the October 2012 issue of National Geographic magazine.
It was the air of desolation that drew Kai Fagerström to the handful of derelict dwellings near his family’s summer home in rural Suomusjärvi, Finland. As the amateur photographer peered through broken windows and cracks in doors, he noticed tiny tracks: Mice, badgers, and other feral trespassers had made themselves at home after the residents had died or relocated. “When I go into these houses, it’s like stepping back in time—the past lingers in the corners,” says the 48-year-old, who works by day managing properties for a parish in his hometown of Salo. “But there’s consolation in the idea that nature is reclaiming the places it has lent to people.” —Carolyn Butler