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Posts Tagged ‘Winter’

The eye of spring

Sunday, January 13th, 2013

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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Wolf Winter

Monday, December 3rd, 2012

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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Morning on the ICE

Sunday, December 11th, 2011

Morning on the ICE in Sweden

It’s a Sunday morning on the ICE. Were I in Sweden, it might have been possible to physically be on the ice, but here in northern Germany global warming has seen to it that there is no ice in early December. Instead the Inter City Express train shoots us through the flat, culturally-conditioned landscape. In Sweden we are still used to wildernesses. Here there are none. Still, there are mini-forests occupying small patches and straight lines dividing the fields, where man considers they should be.

In this land, the wind mills rise high above the earth in great clusters. Use of wind power is not a debate, it is a fact here, where the winds blow strong and unhindered across the flat landscape, and where people have recognized that it’s smart to go to the skies for power. In Sweden, people have debated about where to put the wind parks. Won’t they destroy our landscape? For myself, I think they are beautiful. Unfortunately, my back yard at home isn’t big enough for one. Perhaps this could be a suggestion for the king who lives across the road from me and has a bit more space in his back yard at Drottningholm.

At the train station I sat waiting for the ICE in front of a gigantic H&M billboard. Strangely, the models sporting the best of affordable Swedish clothing design looked Asian. I had expected that they would look more northern German, but it seems that we have come into a time when appearance frequently has nothing to do with nationality. Standing in a German train station where once the swastikas would have hung where the billboards are today, this feels like some of the most important progress we could be making as a species.

Out in the shopping mall next to the train platforms a young man outside The Body Shop entices women to try the latest body butter. It is interesting the way that global brands make you feel at home wherever you are. Whatever the challenges to local industry created by globalization, it is reassuring to know that humans can at times agree about tastes and smells. The globalization of this zone of life, tastes and smells, doesn’t seem to have reduced diversity either. Bratwurst, like smörrebröd or sill has simply been lifted out of its German, Danish or Swedish box into a globally accessible range of ideas about food. I like the thought.

As the ICE heads south, ice becomes ever less likely. Once we reach our destination, we’ll be somewhere at the Black Forest, just across from the French border. There I’ll be able to disembark and sniff at the air, hopefully to notice the smell of crepes from the cafes across the border.
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Wondering what to give a friend or loved one for Christmas? Learn more about Julie Lindahl’s prize-winning new book, “Rose in the Sand,” a memoir of a decade lived on a Swedish island. Order it now from amazon.com, amazon.co.uk , Author House, authorhouse.co.uk and many other online bookstores. Other books by Julie Lindahl available are: Letters from the Island (listen also to Julie’s podcasts from this site) and On My Swedish Island: Discovering the Secrets of Scandinavian Well-being.

Julie Lindahl is chairperson at Stories for Society, a non-profit organization dedicated to learning and communication through storytelling.

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Crisp thoughts in minus thirteen

Monday, December 13th, 2010

Time for thinking, not talking

The snow crunched that dry cold crunch under my boot soles as the morning sun hit the east facing side of the palace. It was one of those winter mornings that no sane mind would trade in for a day on the beach in Thailand. Lucy tip-toed on the freezing ground at first but then got into her stride as she too was taken by the pure gloriousness of this morning in our mutual playground, Drottningholm Park.

Out on dog island, an enclosure where dogs can socialize, doggie masters and mistresses urged their pets to get on with their morning ablutions so that they could return to the warmth of their blazing fireplaces. Lucy and I prefer not to go there (alright, I prefer not to go there) as it means that I have to talk and therefore cannot use these invaluable early hours to toss around thoughts and consider the connections. I don’t know whether it is just the effect of a decade lived on an isolated island of my own (read more about this in the page about this blog), but I often think that  people talk too much and reflect too little. Meetings, meetings, blaa, blaa, but where is the possibility to work out what it all means and to process it?

This morning my thoughts were definitely with the group of children I’d recently been working with at school. This and other projects I’ve been working on during the past year through my NGO (check www.berattelser.se  which will shortly be available in English language) have drawn my attention to how we handle integration; how we handle kids who come from war-torn countries and whose learning capacity as well as capacity for concentration has been affected by events that most of us cannot even begin to imagine; how we talk to their parents who want to participate in their children’s schooling but don’t know how to begin to do that in a society that seems to have tight systems for everything; how we get all children in Sweden to be curious about cultures that they are not familiar with rather than scared of them.

As the day went on I found myself watching  what is possibly Sweden’s most remarkable St. Lucia concert at the Ericsson Globe. 1000 candles are literally lit by countless youngsters from some of Sweden’s most prestigious music schools who sing Swedish songs of the season. I’ve been to this concert before and remember it as an experience that made me believe in this world again. While I thought it was superb again this year, something new struck me. Among the large number of children performing, almost all of the faces were white. This is not a criticism, simply an observation that hit hard after months of working in schools and increasing my awareness of the real Swedish student body. Where were they: the different colors that increasingly represent the place that Sweden is today? I couldn’t find them although I searched the performing crowd meticulously.

At day’s end I watched a bit of the endless media analysis of the terrible event in Stockholm on Saturday evening. You can read more about it elsewhere on this site. A senior journalist interviewed a panel of experts, asking them what could be done in the future to prevent such acts happening again. Most could only come with answers such as “keep a cool head”, “don’t over-react”, etc. The imam on the panel was in fact the only person who came up with anything close to what is needed: organized discussion among young people – an opportunity to vent frustrations and views that are based on anger and fear.

For myself, I had so many answers based on my experiences in schools, that I found myself shouting at the television. So, I guess I have some thoughts to sort out tomorrow morning in the park in the glistening winter sun. You got the uncut version (feel free to take whatever you like, WikiLeaks).

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Learn more about my work at schools at www.berattelser.se and stay tuned for the English language version. You can also learn more about my writing projects at 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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