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Julie\'s Nordic Island

Space & Time for Your Wellbeing

Marching for play, humor and fantasy

February 9th, 2013 by julielindahl

Think of 10 ways to describe what you see

“I’m off to march in the protest this morning, Mamma,” my daughter said. Sweden’s right wing political party, discredited after senior members were filmed threatening to beat immigrants with a metal pipe, celebrates 25 years today. In response, thousands of people throughout Sweden are organizing themselves to march, amongst them my 14-year-old daughter and her friends. “Maybe I could come along?” I asked wishfully. “That would be weird, Mamma,” my daughter insisted, “I’m going with my friends.” I didn’t want to point out to my daughter that discrimination includes age discrimination, but I let it go. The dog needed to go out, and, heck, everyone is a teenager once.

So, it was that Ellie the dog and I set out for a protest in the park.  It wasn’t easy to know how we were going to express our solidarity with the movement against racism in all its forms, but we marched on nevertheless in the faith that we would find something. On Dog Island, Ellie sped like a rocket to meet the other frolicking canines. It is quite a miracle that they all manage together, but they do for the most part, giving one another the slightest little warning every now and again not to overdo it. There were all sorts from the handbag-sized chihuahua that shivered in the snow to the oversized American Staffordshire with the black spot over one eye that made him look like Captain Hook. Ellie quickly sorted out the ones who knew how best to play, and they chased one another like mad hatters until there was nothing to do but collapse with exhaustion in the snow. It didn’t seem like anyone was going to get too upset with anyone else. They were all too exhausted and, besides, they’d learned to hang out with one another by playing. It occurred to me that play is an excellent antidote to fear and suspicion, and that therefore we had successfully managed to deliver the first part of our protest.

A father pushed his toddler frenetically through the park in a covered jogging pram. One had the impression he’d come to Sweden from a warmer country. Through the transparent plastic sheet pulled over the forward-facing pram one saw the smiling face of a child peaking out of winter insulation that barely allowed it to move. One could react to this scene critically: What did this man think he was doing with his child? Surely it needed movement and fresh air. Child abuse! Another way was to laugh and consider that daddy had perhaps overdone the winter protection a bit today. Perhaps somewhere in the receptacles of his memory were the blinding sandstorms of his native home? Best to protect one’s child’s eyes. Acts of love are rarely logical. As he pushed the cumbersome jogging pram up the hill, the other youngsters sped down it wide-eyed in sleds. One had to laugh and feel for this well-meaning daddy. He’d work it all out in time. How silly it was to pass judgement on him. It occurred to me that our protest had taken another step forward with humor and the empathetic light that it bestows upon any situation. True humor requires that we laugh at our own perceptions as well as at the objects of them.

It was one of those days when all looked bare; pared down to its very minimum in the grey with the leafless branches. It wasn’t one of those days when I could find richness everywhere by just looking. When those days come, fanatasy knows no bounds. Yet, today was a day when fantasy was most needed and hardest to invoke. I looked down the path with the long line of groomed trees on either side. The designer of this path had managed to create the optical illusion of a new, lighter world at the path’s end. If one looked down it, one simply wanted to go there to that light opening at the long path’s end. What I would find there I did not know; it was simply the promise of discovering something new that attracted. Curiosity and fantasy about the many possibilities are qualities that summarily put out the fires of fanaticism and intolerance.

Even if Ellie and I don’t march with the many today, we have marched with them in spirit by playing, laughing and letting our fantasy run wild. The good news is that these are things that are within the reach of every human being.

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Learn more about Julie Lindahl’s writing and other projects at www.julielindahl.com. Learn more about her non-profit for storytelling, Stories for Society, and its new initiative, Beyond Tolerance.

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The eye of spring

January 13th, 2013 by julielindahl

The eye of the spring

The eye of spring peered through the frosted reeds. The thought of this delicate time of year, with its fragile flowers and pastel colors, often seems so far away in mid-winter;  but on this January morning at the water’s edge, the power of its steely light held all winter in a trance. Winter attempted to flex its muscles with -7 Celsius, demonstrating that it could still force us to wear warm clothes and thick-soled boots. Yet, like a child’s laugh which brings the world to a standstill, the yellow light broke through the cold mist that rose from the water’s surface and magically turned it warm.

I’ve waited so long for this morning to come. Since the waning light hours of October, I’ve thought of this January morning with Ellie the dog in the park when we would witness the magnificence of nature turning. It has been worth the wait; indeed, without it, this moment would not at all be the same. Everything to its time.

As my husband and I have both grown a year older this January, I have been thinking about time. During the first thirty years, one cannot hope for it to move quickly enough, releasing the reins on it like a thoroughbred on a race track. Thereafter, there is a short peace with time until one begins to hold the reins increasingly tightly. Life becomes more like dressage, with a greater respect for the dignity of restraint. Then there is a zone somewhere beyond 80, which I still haven’t quite understood, where the horse has been put back into its stall and where the whole business of release and restraint is a memory of the struggle. One goes more deeply into the beautiful simplicity of the child’s laugh and the effortlessness of the light that penetrates the mist in mid-January.

The snow in the back yard is marked by the shape of a sunken heart. In the evening it burned with many candles as the society of sauna brothers (a very exclusive club in our neighborhood that meets weekly to sweat and philosophize together) sang a Swedish Happy Birthday a capella from behind the fence. The sound of a male choir, with men and voices of different ages, is robust and full of musty vitality. There is a confidence in it that we will ride out the years with spirit.

Despite the rising years, I am alert once again these early mornings in January. As soon as my eyes open, I catch that glimmer of spring that breaks the coal black mornings of Scandinavian winter. The eyes that wanted to close again as soon as they opened when the light hours were on the decrease, are now open wide to milk the early mornings of their increasing light. The urge to get up and greet the day has returned and, like the bear, I leave my hibernation.

The bare branches of the fruit trees on the hill chirp. The silence of winter has been broken by the birds who know. The bulbs underground have been broken by small shoots. All of creation knows what we do not yet see. There is a revolution brewing under the surface. The birds fly into the blue sky and perch on a television antenna where the light warms their wings. On this static creation of man they can watch nature unfold.

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For more about Julie Lindahl’s books and other projects, please visit www.julielindahl.com, www.storiesforsociety.com and www.nordicwellbeing.com.

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A trip to infinity

December 31st, 2012 by julielindahl

Sacred mountains

I’ve come to the mountains to escape the idea of the last day. In the ancient mountains there are no last days, as the mountains go on forever. As we drive up, the giant spruce tower over us on either side of the road like attendants at the portal to this land of infinity. Their size should make them initimidating in the rapidly darkening skies, but it doesn’t. Their white coats of snow make them look like sad angels, overgrown children tasked with standing together and greeting newcomers at this entrance to the land that never ends.

From my cottage window I can see the sacred mountain. It gets in the way of progress, they say, because no one is allowed to build on it, over it or around it. One becomes quite ill climbing up this mountain, and one wonders why since, like most of the Swedish mountains, its altitude is not remarkable. Perhaps that is because its very being clashes with our need for speed; our inclination to divide life into the old and the new. On the mountain, old and new dwell together; they are a part of the same whole and change is constant.

In the nearby village it’s the time of peak business; time for excitement, hustle and bustle. Yet, the manner of speaking of our local hosts, the townspeople, remains constant. While happy to see us, the shop attendants find our ecstatic lowland approach to New Year’s puzzling. They’ve put out the fireworks for sale for our petty amusement, but the mountains will continue at the midnight chiming of the clocks and time will go on.

Out on the cross-country tracks, which are themselves an endless white, it occurs to me why it is that I long to escape finality and the ideas of old and new this year. It isn’t as simple as ageing. The challenges that we face today seem so final that opposites don’t matter any more. Young, old, this, that matter decreasingly as we begin to wake up to the fact that we’ve used up the earth. In this dark thought I come to an even space, as even as the land that stretches between the low, undulating Swedish mountains: when finality becomes great enough, contradictions and opposites seem to collapse. Old and new become time, time and infinity become the universe and, most importantly, you and me become we. My skis keep moving me forward in space and time through the white, but I hold onto this thought which seems so deeply entrenched in the spirit of the mountains.

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Learn more about Julie Lindahl’s books and other projects at www.julielindahl.com and www.storiesforsociety.com.

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As good as it gets

December 22nd, 2012 by julielindahl

Image by Rachel Stenback

Santa Claus walked down the road holding his young daughter’s hand. They both wore the same red Christmas robes with hoods that had a white fur trimming; and thick boots that kept their feet warm when, in just one day, they would soar overhead in their sled around the world in the cool skies. For now, they trudged down the road in the snow away from me, each one holding a lantern in their free hand that illuminated this special winter’s afternoon two days before Christmas.

I wondered where they were going: perhaps to check on the reindeer, which were bunkering up before the long journey by nibbling on the wintergreen lichen growing on the trees? Santa and his daughter are always so busy preparing at this time of year. Fancy them making their preparations right here in my neighborhood in Drottningholm, Sweden?

I walked home and felt the Christmas spirit coming on. Seeing all of the stuff in the stores hadn’t done it for me. In fact, I was beginning to find the whole concept of Christmas shopping one of alienation and terror. How could we, when we know what all of this superfluous stuff is doing to our planet? Future generations would consider us criminals. The peace of this deep winter’s afternoon, with the snow covering the palace rooftops despite valiant efforts to clear them this week, calmed me and I felt the urge to share the feeling. Perhaps I could light a couple of lanterns and put them out there in the snow in front of my house for passersby to enjoy. I hoped they’d understand that my lanterns were for them – particularly people I didn’t know – so that they might contribute in some small way to that one thing that makes Christmas indispensable: the rise of our common feeling of humanity.

An hour later there was a light knock on the door. It sounded like the small fist of a child. I opened the door and found it was Santa’s daughter with the lantern in her hand. She blinked twice and smiled gently without saying a word. Behind her, gathered in a small crowd of light, were many Santas, women and men, girls and boys. Someone had understood my lanterns, I thought. They launched into one of the most beautiful Swedish Christmas songs I know which starts with, “Light, light, wonderful light…” and two others followed. Santa’s daughter sang with all her might, hitting some curious and, as yet, undiscovered notes.

These days this sort of thing doesn’t tend to happen unless someone is out collecting for a good cause. I asked the question and then felt ashamed when the gathered crowd laughed and said, “Wish we’d thought of it.” It was then that I was reminded that one lantern attracts another, and that the purpose of their being there together is quite simply to make their common light grow, because that is as good as it gets. “Thank you,” I said to them in the most heartfelt manner I could muster. “Merry Christmas,! Merry Christmas! Merry Christmas!” they shouted, as they passed by my lanterns and walked out the gate back onto the street carrying their own light onwards.

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Wishing all of my readers and friends a wonderful and heartfelt holiday season.

As always, for more about my books visit www.julielindahl.com.

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Moment of Silence

December 15th, 2012 by julielindahl

"Hope"/Image by Silke Millan

The park was utterly quiet this grey early morning. Ellie the dog pricked her ears and turned her head abruptly, to the left and then to the right, looking for a sound. In the snow, which was softening and hardening at the same time with rising temperatures and accelerating wind, lay a child’s light blue ski helmet. I picked it up and shook out the snow that had collected inside. Ellie was jealous. Hadn’t she spotted this interesting find first?

I tried to hang the helmet on the gnarled trunk of an old tree, but it fell down into the snow again. It didn’t feel right to leave it lying there – felt something like leaving a lost child behind – so I took it along with me and decided to find a nearby park bench for it, so that it might eventually be retrieved by its owner. As I placed the helmet on the bench, I thought I could hear the echoes of the children that had played in sleds on the hill behind. In the silence, I could hear the echoes of their laughter; shrieks of terror and joy as they threw themselves down the steep drop. There was also the weeping from a red face at having stumbled and landed nose-down in the snow; then the sound of lips smacking at the good flavors of hot chocolate and clementines. It was an innocent world of raw emotion that was spontaneous and uncontrived. Today this world was just a ghost in the echoes of the young voices that had been.

Whenever the children suffer and their voices are silenced, our world becomes a poor beggar. We have nothing and the future seems hopeless. When the children are echoes, our world is silenced.

As I leave the park, a Chinese tourist snaps a picture of us. “Beautiful,” he says in broken English looking at Ellie. That which is young and full of joy is beautiful in any culture and in any language. Who could disagree?

The morning becomes an experience in staccato as the palace guards march up the hill. I see the staccato, but don’t hear it. The silence is overwhelming today. The young men and women of the royal guard, many of them just barely emerged from childhood, are themselves now bearers of rifles.  It is just tradition, people say. Time for new traditions, I say, to give this beggar world new hope.

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In memory of all of the children whose voices are silenced in the world every day.

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Wolf Winter

December 3rd, 2012 by julielindahl

Wolf Winter

-14 but the weather woman says it feels more like -17. Dawn lifts the heavy darkness of winter enough to see the silver landscape. My glove sticks to the gate as I open the latch, and I gently peel it off again. The snow is so dry it sounds like styrofoam under my boots. My face feels the grip of winter on it; the skin feels stretched and ageing temporarily halts. The rest of me continues ageing under many layers. At least it is a warm sort of process.

The candelabras of Swedish Christmas have been dutifully placed in every window. They glimmer with familiarity: “Here we are again; the year has gone round.” Our windows are no exception. The children have grown and there is more time to do things on time. A pine wreath with a casually-tied red ribbon hangs on the front door. It is a gift made by a friend and symbolizes the essence of the season. The roof is covered with snow, disguising the need for a paint job. The house looks perfect in this wolf winter.

On Dog Island in the park, I spot what I think looks like a glimmering light on the park bench. Perhaps it is just the morning light hitting a metal hinge? No, it is a small candle, protected in a glass jar, that has been lit and left there by someone in the small hours. Was it the little bit of joy experienced by a homeless person who had found an unused candle at the dump, and used one of his last matches to light it? There are no marks in the snow on the bench. No one had sat there next to the candle. Was it the park attendant out early to surprise his beloved dog walkers? On a morning this cold? There was a spot of magic around this lit candle on the bench. Somewhere in the cold air was the thought that someone who needed it would find it in this wolf winter.

Home in the back yard, a cat’s tail swirls over the snow scanning for mice. Under the white insulation in small caves under the wilted garden brush, mice struggle to survive.  The cat crouches in the colors of a tiger waiting for the right moment. The wolf winter is cold and unforgiving, and warm and generous. Where there is contradiction, there is fascination, and so we go on with our celebration of light towards the darkest day.

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Order Rose in the Sand, Julie Lindahl’s prize-winning book about a decade lived on a Swedish island. Learn more about her non-profit for story-telling and the new initiative, Beyond Tolerance, at www.storiesforsociety.com.

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Discovering Dog Island

November 9th, 2012 by julielindahl

The morning sun shone through the wide spaces between the bare branches onto the silhouette of a dog breaking the frost-encrusted ground. The frost yielded, and the grass turned to green again where Ellie had rolled on it; that little bit of body heat freeing it from its stiff winter encasement. The leaves were like stiff wafers in great mounds all around Dog Island; the only place in the park where no one rakes the leaves. In fact, Dog Island is a small oasis amid the formality of the Royal Park, where the usual etiquette does not apply. Here, dogs run free, the leaves pile up, and the trees tower above, unmanaged and unpruned.

A frightening looking animal charges through the gates and stands with ears pricked, ready to pounce on Ellie’s morning frost frolick. What looks like potential calamity almost always ends up as a lightning-speed chase through the maze of trees, and then a refreshing sip at the moat separating us from life dictated by humans. Here on Dog Island, the animals organize themselves, and they seem to do it very well, just not the way we’d do things. Another animal bounds in. It decides it is going to be dominant, and a little feigned cowering takes place among those gathered. Suddenly, it gets left behind. No one is interested. King for thirty seconds.

The truth is that for years I said I would never come to this place. Either it was too dangerous, too muddy, too disorderly, or too something-else. Everything that Dog Island represented seemed to be not me. In fact, it was so not me, that if I crossed the bridge over that moat, I might be in danger of becoming someone else. One day, however, Ellie decided that it was for her. She sat with ears pricked as I rested on an orderly park bench, and whined as she watched dogs of all shapes and sizes in a wild chase in the distance. Like a mother preaching to her child about the evils of candy (and forgetting how much she adored sweets as a child), I told Ellie to hush up; Dog Island was not good for her. Yet (also like a mother of a child), eventually I was forced to bend, and so we crossed the bridge over the moat together. “Just for five minutes in the early morning while no one else is around,” I said, strangely whispering so that no one would hear. Her raven black ears were pricked and her brown eyes focused, and like any excited child, she wasn’t listening to mother at all.

Within two minutes, a cross between a giant poodle and a German shepherd (can you imagine it?) came bounding in, and Ellie was off. As my five-minute plan collapsed somewhere on the hill, which the dogs ran incessantly up and down, I began to wonder about my objections to this place. There wasn’t really anything wrong with it. In fact, it was charming with the ducks paddling around in the last of the open water in the moat, oddly unafraid of the canines wrestling on the land above. Then it occurred to me that newness can be frightening, particularly as it means that we have to start questioning our old selves.

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Order Rose in the Sand, Julie Lindahl’s prize-winning account of a decade lived on a Swedish island. Learn more about her non-profit for story-telling and the new initiative, Beyond Tolerance, at www.storiesforsociety.com.

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Winter morning fantasy

October 28th, 2012 by julielindahl

The clocks had been set back an hour and I had awoken to a morning where there seemed at last to be time. The finely tuned machinery of a school morning had been switched off for the coming week with the autumn break here.

Out on the lake in front of the palace, steam rose in flames like gentle spirits, come to bring the winter. I’d been dreading it for quite some time, but now that winter was here, it was unthreatening, soft and beautiful in a familiar sort of way. The leaves crunched under my boot soles like encrusted jewels, the park floor feeling like a treasure trove. Perhaps it was because a Scandinavian winter looked like jewelry on this day, that it was so appealing. The leaves that had not yet fallen – and there were still quite a few – were various shades of gold and the frost was like diamonds on the grass.

To Ellie the dog, who is not yet one year old, the experience was new. She sniffed at the frost and immediately determined that this was something to roll in. Better than mud, I thought. A blackbird watched her from a distance and thought it rather odd that anyone would want to wet down their feathers like that in winter time.

The guards on duty prepared to inspect the grounds, and Ellie cringed at the sight of their rifles. How would she know what a rifle is? It occurred to me, that somewhere in her genetic memory rifles were dangerous. Noticing her fear, one of the guards thoughtfully hid his rifle behind his back. She immediately rushed to him and made friends.

During these mornings of walking with Ellie through the palace grounds, I have often thought that the world would have achieved something if suddenly the guards and the rifles were gone; somehow, they were superfluous and didn’t make sense any more. I was once a student of war studies and my educated mind says it is all just dreaming. Yet winter mornings, like all of the very real transformations in nature, keep my fantasy alive.

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Order Rose in the Sand, Julie Lindahl’s prize-winning account of a decade lived on a Swedish island. Learn more about her non-profit for story-telling at www.storiesforsociety.com.

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Meeting the new season

August 28th, 2012 by julielindahl

A little splotch of autumn

It all felt so sorrowful. The temperature had gone to neutral. The air was emptied of the carefree warmth of summer, at the same time as it was still free of the bite of autumn. The forest floor smelled musty and the mushrooms had already begun their work of breaking down the fallen debris from the trees. The bees at the coops under the berry-laden branches of the mountain ash tree buzzed at a lower frequency than during the previous week, when summer had seemed as though it had come to stay forever. The water birds knew that we were at the threshold of the new season, as they sought eagerly for the fish that had begun to rise from the depths to the cooling surface. Somewhere in the background were the early voices of departure, with Canada geese squawking like disorganized travellers.

I didn’t want to leave. I didn’t want change. I didn’t want autumn. These thoughts repeated themselves like a mantra that made next steps seem quite impossible. Just to make things doubly as challenging, the skies poured buckets of cool early autumn rain on our first day back in town. The weather woman had said that we were in for some “considerable change,” and, looking out the window on the first early school morning when there was no avoiding feeling tired, it seemed that she may have been right. It bothered me that under their umbrellas people were rushing down the hill past our house to the bus stop in the browns, greys and blacks of the latest autumn fashions. We hadn’t even seen out August.

Ellie the dog stood at the door wondering whether we were walking or swimming this early morning. In defiance of the pre-autumn mood, I swung on my bath robe and swimming gear, and we walked over the hill to the beach as the rain let up a little. In Stockholm one is never far from the water. As we walked down the length of the dock, the wind hit us and the sight of the choppy waves indicated that on this side of the hill we were in a storm. Since I wasn’t ready to give up on summer yet and reasoned that there was nothing wrong with swimming in the rain, I lowered myself into the water and swam along the length of the shore. The water felt warm compared to the outside temperature, and the waves massaged my shoulders as I backstroked to avoid the water hitting my face. As the sail boat moored at the next dock rocked back and forth like a cradle in the waves, it struck me how surprisingly calming all this was. Prejudice simply comes from the avoidance of experience.

This morning the sun shone on the dock at 7 am. The water was tame, but the dock had gone clammy and green, as it does each early autumn. Everything felt a degree or two colder, but it was alright. I had met the new season on my own terms. It is, after all, one of those distinguishing features of human nature that we feel better when we think we are in charge.

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Learn more about Julie Lindahl’s books about living in Sweden at www.julielindahl.com. Visiting the Gothenburg Book Fair? Like Julie’s Island at Facebook to keep up with news of where you can find Julie there.

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Reflecting on a little bird

July 22nd, 2012 by julielindahl

Where is mother?

There is a desperate peeping sound coming from inside the berry bushes. I pretend that it is coming from somewhere else and continue picking the luscious berries that stain my hands with their rich juice. Yet, the pitch heightens and comes ever closer so that I cannot deny there is a little soul in torment in the bush. I look into the heavy branches. It is difficult to see the source of the crying through the many green leaves and the generous strings of red berries blocking my view. A good place for a nest, but now it seems deserted, except for this one little crying soul that cannot find its way.

It hops onto my garden slipper, fighting fear by taking a chance. Like most young birds, it is tiny, grey-white attempting to spread its short wing span, but still unable to control the movement and finding it harder than it looks. “All around they are flying – why can’t I?” it wonders. Who hasn’t felt like that? I sympathize with the little bird. It jerks its head this way and that, hopping onto my other slipper, tired of feeling alone, winded from the shrieking for help and fatigued by the magnitude of the challenge. How will it all end?

I dare not touch the little bird and stand still, not moving my feet lest I scare it off or, even worse, tread on it. I’ve taken in wild animals before. Taking it with me is unlikely to result in its survival. And so we wait for the call from above. What is next? Then it comes: the deeper, more controlled call of experience from the mountain ash tree. Mother shows her presence by winging her way from one branch to another, calling out her location all of the time.

I look at my slippers. The tiny bird has hopped off and is standing next to me, darting its head back and forth, looking for the source of comfort. Time for me to leave and let them find their way to one another. My bowls are full of berries in any case. Greed serves no purpose. I step away slowly, but take a bit of the grass underfoot with me. The little bird tips over and, by instinct, spreads its wings. “There – you can do it!” is my thought. The little bird flaps and flaps, lifting slighty off the ground, but not quite mastering the laws of aerodynamics as yet. It will soon, it’s obvious. Time and practice solve most things.

All of the happenings around me in my island wilderness are a mirror of life. Things can get very desperate and lonely. We shriek and fall, either because of the inexperience of youth or the fragility of age. Life is frightfully hard. Yet in the moment of falling, most of us learn to spread our wings in some way. The promise of love and eventually love itself is what keeps us going, keeps us trying. Life is a tyrant and life is a wonder. In this way, it will never be resolved.

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Living in Sweden? Take advantage of the special offer available on Julie’s books just now by visiting www.julielindahl.com. If you live elsewhere, visit the site to learn about where you can purchase her newest award-winning book, “Rose in the Sand” about a decade lived on a Swedish island.

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