Out on the streets people are cleaning. The last of the snow has melted and trickled down the gutters. All attention has turned to the debris which is the only remaining evidence of the gargantuan winter gone by. You’d imagine that with the sun shining warmth on this pre-Easter weekend, everyone would be in their sunchairs basking in the newspaper. But no, here in do-it-yourself Sweden there is no time for that sort of thing until your hands are sore and swollen, you’ve got a few scratches on your bare legs and you’ve put your back out from the first manual work of the season.
I stand on a ladder cutting down the hedges with an electric saw. “I’ll take care of that,” my husband says, somewhat embarassed that the passers by see him on the ground with a mere rake while his wife is up in the trees wielding a heavy machine. Yet I insist on sticking to my task because I enjoy the expanding view as the crowns of the hedges fall away.
Suddenly I can see the woman who usually passes laden with jewellry in the shiniest of black Jaguars. Usually I feel like a peasant when she passes. Today she is out with everyone else raking away the molten leaves on the flower beds that line the streets. Her appearance is still elegant, and so the rest of us are all still peasants, but the leaves in her rake and the black garbage bag in the corner are the same as everyone else’s. Nature in the spring unites us on the streets and feels like an experience of true socialism without the politics.
As I cut down the corner hedge, the tennis court comes into view. The community’s tennis players are out in full force preparing their red earth courts for the matches of the summer. Children chase one another around the perimeter of the courts while their parents clear the leaves and restore the lines of play. At such an illustrious location as the courts at the royal palace one might expect the King’s white-gloved tennis court maintenance crew to appear, but here in DIY Sweden there is always the possibility that the King and Queen might turn up in their shorts, t-shirts and visors to help clear out.
A glance beyond the courts reveals an enormous pyre that is building up so that it can be burnt on Walpurgis Night or Valborg. People from around the community make pilgrimages with their garden waste to this rapidly growing pile of garden twigs. Here in two weeks a leader of the community will make the customary protest speech before the first of May, International Worker’s Day (even if he isn’t on the left of the political spectrum). Everyone needs a good protest every once in a while. This will be smoothed over by the spring psalms of the local choir, which will give way to the flames that finally clear away the debris of the winter.
The hedge is even now and my husband is relieved that I haven’t lost a finger using the electric saw. I take one last look out onto the water that reaches out to the islands. The steam boat that transports eager visitors from the city hoots in advance of arriving to forewarn us that it is time to be done with our clearing out. In the gap between the distant islands there is a space beyond which I cannot see. It seems that there is nothing there except peace, silence and the promise of summer away from cars and the bustle of life. My spirit has already gone there as I suspect it has for everyone who has been clearing out with me on the streets today.
Happy News! My new book, “Rose in the Sand,” which is a memoir of Swedish island life and the writing of which has generously been sponsored by a literary prize from www.gather.com will be out this April. Join me at Facebook and/or Twitter for notification about the release date and more information about how to order it at my web site. Learn more about my writing and other projects at www.julielindahl.com. I a manage a non-profit for bringing story-telling to schools as a new tool for learning and communicating. If you are a principal, teacher or other person interested in knowing more about this, please visit www.storiesforsociety.com and get in touch!