Julie\'s Nordic Island

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Posts Tagged ‘spring’

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.


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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Spring at the water

Sunday, April 15th, 2012

Everything in its highest form

Early Sunday morning and the lake was all fog. One struggled to see a solid object, but the lake was a white haze. The facing island had vanished, and out on the water it seemed that there was nothing. Many people found this nothingness to be haunting, disorienting, something one hoped would lift and go away. During all of the years in this place, I had learned that this blankness was a friend, because it gave the possibility for the mind to rest and become fertile for own new thoughts.

An hour later, a motor boat headed out for the islands broke the silence and the evenness. Nothing had become something and had started to lift here and there. A pair of Canada geese flew low over the water, the tips of their wings skimming the surface to awaken the sleeping giant. The weeping birch branches swayed over the water as the dance of the day proper began.

Now the lake was patterns in the mid-morning sun. The birds in the trees chirped with excitement in a thousand voices. One heard the motor boats in the distance, darting between the islands, transporting and preparing for the life of summer. The garden furniture at the dock was still inhabited by the ghost of winter – empty, unarranged and quiet. Yet, soon, it too would join the carnival at the water.

It is wonderful to see a receptive mind discover the water for the first time. Ellie the dog cocked her floppy ears as the waves reached out to her at the shore. “Here we are, come and meet us, little pup,” they whispered. Ellie barked, since dogs don’t whisper, then crouched down and lapped mischievously at the incoming tide with her tongue, inviting the water to play. There was something about the water that was magical, frightening, alluring and original to us, all at the same time. We’d come from it, consisted mostly of it, and could never get enough of its shimmering surface.

I sat on a tree stump and shut my eyes. Ellie crept into my lap, exhausted from playing with the waves, which never seemed to give up. Her small pup’s body was soft and warm in the sun, which had consumed the fog and revealed the lake. Then I wished I could sit here forever, in the company of evenness and truth. Here there was no need to be strategic, make progress or achieve. Everything by its very nature, was already in its highest form. Yet, it took silence, fog and nothing to know and appreciate the essence of things. I wished more of it for more of us.


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, including major Swedish online bookstores such as bokia.se and adlibris.se. Learn more about Julie’s other books and activities at www.julielindahl.com.

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What are we thinking?

Wednesday, May 18th, 2011

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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Clearing out

Sunday, April 17th, 2011

Time to get your hands dirty

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!

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Spring rebellion

Saturday, March 26th, 2011

Little Rebel

A V-formation flew overhead. Lucy the dog and I watched it with necks craned back. The Canada geese had returned. My heart expanded with love of the season, wanting to break out and embrace every bud and creature that dared to speak despite the brisk temperatures. Each spring is like a rebellion in nature. That which lives will have its say, and like a ruthless dictator, the winter, which seemed impossible to depose just a few short weeks ago, begins to look increasingly toothless.

Over in the cropped linden trees the smaller birds are singing in an increasingly complex chorus. With each day that passes there are more voices. It’s beginning to sound like Mahler. Today a new diva in the branches catches Lucy’s attention. She sits with pricked ears and cocked head, and listens to this sound she has heard before but never tires of. Lucy is a retriever, in other words, a bird dog. Everything relating to birds fascinates her and now she has passed on her fascination to me. The thing about the birds in the trees is that it is often hard to spot where all of the sounds are coming from with the naked eye. I suspect that Lucy can smell the birds from her spot down on the ground. Without binoculars, I settle for the idea that trees sing. Not a bad thought.

Then down on the grass a crow caws condescendingly, provoking Lucy. There is something about crows that sends her blood pressure up. I hold her back and behold the raven creature. It looks at me with a regal air, as though I am nothing but a tiny spot. It is perhaps this attitude that gets Lucy all riled up. She’s a Swedish dog: she likes groups, lagom, consensus and togetherness; not a crow’s haughty tune.

We’ve gone to observe the small islands of tiny spring flowers breaking out on the sun-struck hills. Nature’s rebellion is dramatic. It has been going on under the snow for quite some time without anyone seeing it. Now as the snow retreats it is there for everyone to notice. There are purples, yellows, whites and all manner of shapes. The difference of form that life takes in this new free time is exciting and almost unbelievable after the montone rule of winter.

We’ve arrived back home and I urge Lucy to come in for breakfast. She cocks her head once again in such a way that says, “why?” Not even breakfast can tempt her out of the sun and the revolution of nature happening outside. She is a dog of the people and shuns creature comforts to be out there with them, witnessing the fall of winter. 

Out the back window I can see that she has instead run to greet Mrs. Bengtsson, an avid gardener well into her eighties. We have opened up our two gardens so that all of us can enjoy a bigger garden. Mrs. Bengtsson is one of those diehard spring rebels and finds a great deal in common with Lucy the light lover. She has already cut back all of her bushes in readiness for the greenery. My heart is there with her but I am still here at my keyboard putting my faith in the written word to inspire you to become a rebel too (if you are not one already, that is).


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!

Remember to check my e-magazine, www.nordicwellbeing.com, the one and only for wellbeing with Nordic inspiration!

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The pansies are on the doorstep

Tuesday, April 13th, 2010

Change is inevitable so pick your moment

I had just returned from the mountains where April was like silk glistening on every facade. In the mountains there was peace: no rush to prepare for the life to come when the snow had melted. Here there were no gardens to tend. The blueberries and the cloudberries would simply burst forth in the shade of the pine and the spruce, and there would be nothing else to do but pick them and enjoy. There is always a reluctance to leave the measured rhythm of the mountains for the speed of the south. If you are wondering where this treasured paradise of mine is check www.fjatervalen.se.

Back in reality, I made one of those resolutions that only the spring grants you the wherewithal to make. I would get up an hour earlier to take a longer and more energetic walk with Lucy the dog in the mornings. I would reach the park before the signs of rushed humans became evident in the gravel, and before the morning traffic reached its cacophonous peak. Somehow I would beat the speed.

At the waterfront all signs of the thick sheet of ice that had looked unmeltable only a couple of weeks ago were gone. As I walked down the linden alleys my thoughts were drowned out by the screeching of birds for which 6-7 am was obviously mating hour. The branches of the trees were still bare but the birds had got a head start on the race of the season. In the gardens of the well-kept homes leading down to the China Pavilion, the bishop’s goutweed had already managed to creep up before the garden sheds had been unlocked for the warm season. “Remember to get your tomato seeds planted by the end of March,” I had been advised by the lady with the greenhouse next door. Were mine planted? Were they hell! Time was running through my fingers.

Up at the China Pavilion, the pansies stood ready to be unveiled at the doorstep. Were we already back at the annual pansy exhibition? I sat down on the top step and took a sneak preview of the exhibit under one of the white covers that would be lifted later this morning. “Peaceful moment” read the sign in front of one of the many different varieties. Of course, peaceful moment, I thought, isn’t it so true? Change is in the nature of things so just pick your moment.

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You Are There

Wednesday, May 20th, 2009

In case you were too busy to notice it, I just wanted to remind you that you are there. “Where?”, you might ask.  In the time between hägg and syrén (bird cherry and lilac) which is so short-lived and delicate in the far North that modern life is in danger of not noticing it. We drive over it, chat and SMS over it, and blog over it (here I am…). Yet it somehow survives to return each year to offer us a powerful source of regeneration if we choose to source it.

Sometime back in the old days when we still took our winter shoes to the shoemaker for fixing in the spring so that they would be ready for the autumn, a shoemaker somewhere in the North decided that enough was enough. He sat exhausted in his workshop, took one look at the piles of ancient leather that had to be repaired before harvesting time, took one look out the window at the apple blossoms that were about to open and decided that he didn’t want to miss it all. He pulled out a slab of wood and on it painted with some of the faluröd color left over from re-painting his cottage, “Closed between bird cherry and lilac”. He laid down his tools with hands that had themselves become like the leather that he cut and polished everyday, turned the large key and locked the door. Passersby and people who came with their broken shoes during these weeks read the sign with curiosity, and immediately understood and respected the wisdom of the shoemaker.

This is the true story of this famous Nordic expression of time, between hägg and syrén, which has become a cultural institution in this part of the world. Even if most of us do not have the flexibility to just lock the door like the shoemaker, we can at the very least find the courage to sometimes put down our tools and know the extreme joy of this time.


Watch out for more about participating in Spring as National Park Day approaches on 24 May! Watch www.nordicwellbeing.com for more about this.

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Mountain Spring

Wednesday, April 15th, 2009

No sooner than the tulip leaves are small folds of green making their way out of those bulbs that have been waiting all winter for the light and warmth, my family decides that it’s time to head back to the winter. It’s always two against three at Easter time. Lucy the dog and me against everyone else. In families minorities still don’t seem to win although they seem to be doing so elsewhere these days. So here I am away from my two islands, in a mountain cabin noticing out of the corner of my eye that we have got a snow storm underway. A phone call with my mother who lives in sun-baked Florida tells me how happy I should be that the little chocolate eggs I will be hiding outside on Easter Sunday for the annual hunt won’t become mushy blobs wrapped in foil that has been pecked open by birds.

The snow storm subsides and the sky blanket of grey begins to thin.  Lucy and I step out for a stroll. She stretches her long white body and sniffs the air. Something is underway. In a few short minutes the mountain sun is reflecting the pristine white so that every cell feels as though it is being recharged after all of these months of darkness. We continue onto the cross-country tracks with no one on them for miles around. Lucy pricks her ears, cocks her head and adopts that prize-winning retriever stance that surprises her mother (yours truly) who has always treated her as a floppy, immature child.  A ptarmigan (willow grouse) trying to escape our gaze with its whiteness realizes that it has been spotted and rushes across the snow.  We look and listen more carefully. The spring is underway in the trees here too. The towering spruce chirp with birds hopeful for a good new season.

Then suddenly I hear the flow of water; not just a trickle but the steady flow of a proper stream. It is a thrilling experience to hear the strong flow of water when all you can see before you is ice and snow. Just when everything seems that it is the way it is, if you are watching and listening closely change is underway. I shut my eyes and think about this. Sometimes I think I can learn more by shutting my eyes and listening to a stream in the snow than I can learn from all of the books in the world. So, perhaps coming to the mountains in the spring isn’t all baloney after all.

I have often thought that we should have meditation spots in cities where people can stop and just notice the water trickling or some such. Of course, there are the parks but I was thinking of land marks that are more deliberate. Everyone would feel more satisfied and I am sure that we would have less violence. Until then, close your eyes this spring and listen to the trickling water, the chirping of the birds and feel the warm light of the sun. There is nothing more important that you could be doing this Easter.

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