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Julie\'s Nordic Island

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Posts Tagged ‘snow’

As good as it gets

Saturday, December 22nd, 2012

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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In the peace of the snow

Sunday, November 28th, 2010

Winter whispers in November

Sunday began with a walk in the snow-covered park. Lucy the dog gulped mouthfuls of fresh snow as she galloped through the sea of unexpected white. Her small soft ears fluttered behind her like two cashmere handkerchiefs. Wish I had something like those covering my ears today. It feels as though we are in February but it is only November. Is the coldest winter in a thousand years already here? The rumor had been circulating and I ignored it until the last three nights of ten degrees below zero (Celsius) in November.

On Friday afternoon, after a long week’s work, we trudged out to our summer island certain that the winter had beat us to the water pipes. Mounds of virgin white covered the paths, making it difficult to reach the house. To the left, a large indentation in the snow indicated that a moose had lain there less than an hour ago. I closed my eyes and  let my senses rest in the quiet. I remembered the many years of living here year-round. There was nothing like the peace of the snow and today I missed it in my busy, people-centered life.

My husband flicked up the lever of one of the taps and miraculously the water still ran. Had a little angel blown warm air over our pipes while we ran our frenetic lives in the city? We had been lucky and now drained the pipes so that the coldest winter in a thousand years would not ruin our plumbing.

I removed the many containers full of red currants that we had picked and frozen during the summer from the freezer. Inside these containers were an almost unbelievable memory of heat, dryness and the unrelenting buzzing of insects. Now the insects had fallen onto the window sills with the cold. My hands froze as I packed the containers into an IKEA bag to drag back to the city with me. Ridiculous to have a freezer going in this freezing house, I thought, and flicked the switch to ‘off’.

As I pulled the sled full of red currants through the forest toward the car, I remembered what it was like to stare into pitch darkness. If you look hard enough at it, you will always find a glimmer of light on the horizon. It’s one of those things that few people know since we live in cities of eternal light.

The lake was already closing up with islands of ice beginning to connect to one another and form large continents. Winter whispers everywhere and it is only November. Back in town I unpacked the candelabras that are customary in every window in Sweden starting on the first of Advent. The children long for the time to Christmas to rush and ask eagerly when we will be making the saffron buns, the gingerbread house and so forth. All of these things signify that we are moving one step closer to the moment of opening gifts. For myself, after another tiring week full of many impressions, I long to rest in the peace of the snow.

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Learn more about my writing and other projects at www.julielindahl.com. Join me at Facebook and/or Twitter.

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Roses bloom in October too

Sunday, October 24th, 2010

Little rebel

The rain hit the lawns and turned the first snow into tiny islands of white. It has been a week when the usual chaos of the first snow ensues. We know that it will come each year, but each time is as shocking as the last. The radio blurts out interviews with people relieving themselves of the shock by blaming the chaos of the weather on somebody else: “they should have done this,” “they should have done that,” they say. Yes, but weather is weather and each of us bears some responsibility when it comes.

This Sunday morning the rain is restoring some of the autumn. The fallen leaves have become visible again from under a thin cover of snow and provide a small respite before the inevitable happens and we head full throttle for Christmas. In my garden the roses refuse to give up. I love them for this. There is something extremely freeing about watching a rose bloom in the cold north in late October. As Lucy the dog and I head out for our morning stroll in the rain, the petals grin with the resilience of rebels. Out on the paths a group of Sunday morning backpackers unbelievably sets off for a hike in the forest behind the palace just as the rain intensifies. I catch a glimpse of their faces as I walk past them. They remind me of my roses.

This week our home seems constantly full of other rebels after school hours. Our children are in that twilight zone between childhood and teenager-ness (they are 12), and so are their friends. We’re never quite sure exactly what they are going to get up to next but at least they are doing it at home. It goes without saying that my favorite yogurt and juice is always gone before I can so much as catch a glimpse of it. The laundry baskets are overflowing with bed sheets used by kids staying over. No one thinks to use them twice. The furniture is rearranged in a way that I don’t recall placing it. Yet whenever I hear the peal of children’s laughter and the scrambling of intense play (all of the time), I can live with all of the symptoms of a household overflowing with young rebels.

As a parent one watches this age with a lump in one’s throat. The child for whom you were once the center of attention is suddenly looking out into the world and seeking new forms of belonging.  Belonging is one of those primal instincts that drives our behavior. It is like food or the instinct to reproduce ourselves; we seek it irrespective of logic, and sometimes to our detriment. Yesterday’s radio program about a man who as a child was drawn into a criminal gang because the other options for belonging (family, school) were so weak that they didn’t offer an appealing option, struck me hard in this respect. The thing that eventually saved this young rebel, who landed himself in juvenile care on several occasions, was a coach in a football team who was not afraid of putting his arms around this young man and making him feel a part of something more appealing than a criminal gang.

Perhaps I am not thinking so much of my own children when I hear this story, as of some of the children I have met through my various children’s projects over the years. In every group are at least two children out of ten who are viewed as having special challenges. These can range from learning disabilities to aggression. Many of these kids feel that they are not a part of the group and will never be (therefore they must seek other groups outside of school). I’ve noticed that when these children are given the opportunity to learn in a way that allows them to express themselves and feel that they are heard by others, they tend not only to participate but also to shine  with the consequence that the whole group is lifted.  This is not the way that learning generally happens in our schools which are still primarily governed by the idea that children should learn quietly at their desks by having information passed down to them.

One of the greatest challenges that our modern societies face is how to include these children who otherwise may go on to pursue their need for belonging in ways that become problematic for them and for the whole society. My own feeling is that opening up as many opportunities as we can to include them at schools – not as special needs but as a part of the group – will take us a long way. Perhaps the reason that my roses are blooming despite all at the end of October is because I actually see them.

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Learn more about my writing and other projects at www.julielindahl.com. Join me at Facebook and/or Twitter.

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The Snow Community

Thursday, February 25th, 2010

Heaven or hell?

Being snowed in can lead to a great deal of learning about the human condition. “It’s beautiful but I’ve had enough,” is the usual sentiment expressed by forlorn commuters upon finding that the subway stations are closed. We long for beauty but forget that it can be inconvenient and even require us to think again about how to do things. Even if the status quo gets us into a rut, it works and it’s the devil we know. Bring back the slush and the grey – at least it is functional!

Being snowed in can also show up humanity at its most resourceful. Early on a Sunday morning I drove my son to badminton so that my little cherub wouldn’t have to weather even five minutes of the chilly air. “Mamma – can’t you drive in there?” he pleaded with bassett hound eyes staring at the narrow road that constituted the last few meters to the sports hall entrance. With my son now deposited, I realized that I would have to back out of this narrow path flanked by great snow mountains on either side. Within less than a minute my Spanish-made front-wheel-drive vehicle had crashed into one of them and there I was a sitting duck in the beautiful winter.

Living closer to civilization these days has made me less responsible for my own fate. I hop into vehicles without gloves, a hat or even a snow shovel, expecting to move from one warm indoor environment to another with total efficiency. As I was kicking hopelessly at the snow caressing my back tire, a diminutive elderly woman with bright eyes stopped to look. “You’re not going to get very far that way,” she commented with the voice of experience. Her heavy Dalarna accent suggested that she’d been in a snow pile-up or two. “Come with me – my house is nearby and we can get you a snow shovel and – good lord, my dear, don’t you wear gloves?”

Following a twenty minute walk in which I learned that she and her husband were retired funeral entrepreneurs, diabetics and grandparents to three lovely grandchildren, we reached her home. I had met all of her neighbors whose dogs she walked from time to time in order to create interest during her daily walks. It is hard to look a funeral entrepreneur in the eye and not feel like potential business, but her husband was very kind and presented me with a wide selection of old gloves. The elderly lady insisted on walking back to my stranded vehicle with me and picked up “Cookie”, one of the local dogs, along the way.

I set about digging and Cookie barked. Another dog had turned up to observe with its owner, a robust middle-aged woman, who thought that she had a better snow shovel than I did. Five minutes later the two of us were shoveling, Cookie and “Meatball” were playing in the snow together, and the diminutive elderly woman had become our cheerleading squad. “Come on, ladies, you can do this without the men,” she cheered as though we were digging for all womankind. At that moment her kind husband pulled up in his car intending to haul us out with a chain attached to his trusty Volvo. Unlike his wife, I welcomed ‘mankind’ into our little snow community and hoped that his practical solution was better than ours.

With three women pushing at the boot of the car, our hero the funeral entrepreneur managed to drive my fragile Spanish car out of the snow heap. We jumped for joy, hugged one another and praised our trusty shovels. Without knowing one another’s names, we were friends – friends in the extraordinary community of humankind that snow and inconvenience creates.

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