• Sweden edition

Julie\'s Nordic Island

Space & Time for Your Wellbeing

What are we thinking?

The delicate flowers of spring

Lucy the dog and I have gone off the beaten path. We tread through the soft green wisps that have cropped up everywhere on the forest floor like a silk carpet. The lilac, yellow and white flowers that flourish in the shade of the trees in May tickle my ankles to catch my attention. We can marvel at the big peonies and roses of the summer, but these delicate flowers of spring are more graceful and more moving because of their determination to rise up despite all of the odds: the iron nights of spring, the mud of April and May, and people with their dogs who long to trample upon the greenery as soon as it emerges.

Lucy digs furiously at the base of a tree where obviously some poor unsuspecting creature has made its home. While I fully expect that someday something angry is going to bite her nose off, on this occasion I let her take her fate into her own hands – or should I say paws? Amid the delicate flowers and the blades of young grass, my eye strikes a large-sized coffee cup from Pressbyrån (the local kiosk), which someone obviously decided they were done with. A little further on, an empty plastic water bottle lies forelorn on the ground with some used white tissues scattered here and there.

I try to reconstruct the story: A woman walking through the park on a sunny May day sipping a cappuccino receives a call from her fiancée who says he has decided to break off their engagement. She drops her cup on the ground in shock and begins to weep, unconsciously throwing her tissues onto the ground, one after the other. In order to calm herself down, she takes out the plastic water bottle from her hand bag, sits on the bench next to the statue and sips water, unable to organize her thoughts and emotions.

I like to construct these types of stories around garbage I see scattered on the ground in public areas, since I want to believe that my fellow person cares but has simply experienced a momentary lapse of responsibility. I want to believe that there are good reasons as to why people leave garbage scattered amid the delicate flowers. In my heart of hearts I am always hoping.

During the summers I sometimes walk around my island with a black garbage bag picking up the debris that visiting sailboats have left at our shores. I remember sitting on a rock with a black garbage bag that was somewhere between full to brimming, and thinking about what this says about developments in our society. Can people be blamed for feeling that the land isn’t theirs, and that the forests and wild shores aren’t really a part of their reality? People live mostly in big cities which create a considerable degree of separation from the earth and its cycles. We have divided the land between us so that we don’t feel a collective responsibility for it. Here in Scandinavia this attitude is somewhat mitigated by customary laws allowing common access to the land and the seas, but signs of lack of common responsibility are nevertheless everywhere to be seen.

I pick up the debris on the ground so that the forest floor is once again a place where people can dream. Our systems have no doubt helped more of us to survive, but they have also weakened our will to take own responsibility. How we encourage that attitude is probably the greatest challenge to cleaning up our planet.


My new book, Rose in the Sand, a memoir of a decade lived in the Swedish wilderness, will be out shortly. Watch out for it at www.julielindahl.com and join me at Facebook and Twitter. Learn more about my non-profit, Stories for Society, which brings story-telling as a tool for learning and communication into schools. Enjoy my e-magazine at www.nordicwellbeing.com.

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7 responses to “What are we thinking?”

  1. Monica says:

    I have been reading many stories now about Sweden and one of the saddest things is how much people litter every where. I just don’t understand it….you have such a beautiful country and people just leave their trash where ever they want to. In my opinion it starts at home with parents teaching to respect their surroundings and their environment. And then these teachings should be reinforced in school. It happens here in the States as well we get people from out-of-State who move here or visit and litter it is frustrating.

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  2. Erik NorCal says:

    I believe there are several problems here that need to be addressed. First we must be more careful in our choices that promote more garbage( the coffee cup and the water bottle). The simple act of buying the coffee and the water means that an empty container is created when the contents are consumed. The result is two containers that may or may not be recycled or placed into the waste bin at home of tossed upon the forest floor. Garbage is garbage where ever it is deposited whether on the city street or on the forest floor. Bringing your own water in a re-usable container and buying a re-usable coffee cup can be a solution. The issue now becomes one of convenience and choice.
    Secondly there is the matter of people not caring about where they leave their waste. I’m not so sure that we can blame “city” people for all the problems with waste by being disconnected from the land. Some of the worst abuse of waste disposal I’ve ever seen occurred at the hands of people living on the land. Both are equally responsible for the problems and we must hold each other accountable in order to lessen the problems. I’m afraid it is just human nature to discard the used bits of our societies.
    In a world with diminishing resources and a growing population it is imperative that we create a new mind set that we are very much a part of the earth and to live as gently as we can on this earth. This will not be easy but it can be done at the level of the individual, we just have to begin by making small changes in our life style. Changes made by you, me, Monica, and janerowena are all additive. Some are able to make more changes than others and that’s okay. We just need to start. Read, become educated on the issues and make the world a better place for
    all of us.
    Spent time this past weekend cleaning up the family summer cabin in the redwoods. Here too the small delicate flowers of the redwood forest are in bloom at the the base of these towering giants of the plant world, such an amazing contrast of scale. The bloom lasts only a few weeks each year. I feel very fortunate to be able to experience this part of the world. Life is good!

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  3. Hi Erik,

    If we started by observing the small delicate flowers of the spring and really learned to take in what is required to continue to have them, maybe we could start to get a shift in attitude.

    I feel pretty free to go hard on city people since I grew up as a city person and then experienced the change in mindset that can occur after exposure to the wilderness – as you all know by now, I spent 10 years on an isolated island. That experience was pretty fundamental to shifting my mindset.

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  4. Erik NorCal says:

    10 years on an island would indeed change one’s perspective. How fortunate you were to have that experience.
    Perspective is the result of ones experiences in life. Life today seems to be filled with all manner of bright and shiny objects constantly diverting our attention from this beautiful planet we all live on. The technology we have in our lives today is incredible but it is very seductive and can easily become overwhelming and all consuming. I am concerned about the young generation who grow up with the present and future technologies. What will their perspective be if they never or seldom experience nature and what will that mean for the planet? We have to figure out a way to gain back their attention. I have no answers at this time.
    I’m going back to the redwoods this coming weekend…no TV, internet, or cell phone, I highly recommend it.

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  5. julielindahl says:

    That really is a major issue you raise there, Erik. I’ve been thinking about it a great deal too. Something I’ll have to write more about without sounding anti-technology.

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  6. Erik NorCal says:

    I love the technology but am able to put it aside to breathe in the life around me. I see so many who seemed possessed by it and that troubles me.
    Lycka till with the new book, currently reading your first

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  7. Thx for this great information that you are sharing with us!!!

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