Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Kulla Peninsula (no photos yet)

Introductions

It’s another rainy day in a rainy three weeks, here in North Idaho (since I wrote this, it has since rained in Southern Sweden and grown warm and sunny in Northern Idaho). News from Southern Sweden is that it is STILL sunny (going on three or more weeks, now) and people are getting worried. A lesson for me: the weather really can be different around the world at similar latitudes.

We especially enjoyed the warmth of the sun on our trip to Sweden’s Kulla Peninsula the weekend of the American Mother’s Day (May 10--11, 2008). It was less than two weeks from our departure date (bound for the U.S.), but it was the time offered to us by friends to enjoy their little summer cottage. Kullaberg was the last of a list of special places in Skåne to visit. The list was given to me by a man I’d met in Seattle before moving to Sweden. We jumped at the chance.

Jumping at the chance might be an exaggeration. We were beginning to feel the pressure of packing to leave, of visiting many of our friends one last time, of seeing the changes going on in the church we attended, and more. The pressure seemed unbearable. We had started dragging the suitcases out and buying more suitcases and boxes to fit the excess. Psychologically exhausted, we half-heartedly packed small bags and headed for another beautiful place in Sweden to “get away from it all.”

To my delight, the drive was an easy hour and a half from Höllviken with glimpses of the sea. Sights of rape seed fields in sunny yellow blossom surrounding deep red barns and golden farm houses stretched before us until there was an obvious change from fields to hills. In those hills were miles of beech woods invoking the fairy tales of childhood.

We found the little town of Hjärnarp and met our host at the tiny ICA, which acted as a grocery, bakery, hardware, garden and curio store. Hunter found several things he thought interesting to buy, but found his parents difficult to persuade. From there we followed our friend’s car down a narrow, windy road past fields yellow with dandelions (worm roses, to the Swedes), cows at pasture, little farm houses and cottages sporting flowers and flowering fruit trees, a lake and on into the beech woods.

Our Friends’ Cottage

When I walked into our friends’ cottage, I thought I’d just walked into a Carl Larsson home. It was adorably decorated for simplicity, beauty and practicality. There were even Carl Larsson prints around the house, along with other Scandinavian handcrafts and prints. We sat down to fika (tea time) at a round table to chat. After showing us around and instructing us on what to put away, what to be careful about and other special things, they offered to go with us to some sites and lead us in the direction of the Kulla Peninsula.

A guided tour by friends was a welcome happening, indeed. However, the cottage was so charming that, though I had looked forward to seeing the Kulla Lighthouse and Nimis for nearly six months, everything in me wanted to stay behind and enjoy reading in the reading room. We climbed in two cars by gender so we could better enjoy each other’s comments as we traversed the countryside toward the peninsula.

A Ride in the Swedish Countryside

From our friends’ car, I learned that there were handicraft, antique and curio shops all over the area. This was of great interest to me, but I was worried about adding more to my packing efforts. 24 hours was too short a time to see two major sites as well as go shopping around a large section of countryside. I kept the information at the back of my mind.

Our first stop was Brunnby Kyrka, which R. said was a popular place to get married, especially this time of year. Looking around at the cloudless blue sky and sensing the air filled with spring fragrances, I believed her. She became worried that a wedding might happen that very day and she was correct. We were allowed a quick peek into the sanctuary and welcome to walk the grounds, but a wedding with bridesmaids in light peach was about to begin. We heard the first strains of an organ prelude as we pulled away from the church. The bells had already rung.

Our next stop was Krapperups Slott and Country Gardens. Our friends thought the Kaffestuga might be a wonderful place to have lunch and insisted that we walk among the blooming rhododendrons in the large gardens behind the manor house. They were correct on every account. To top it off, there was a live jazz band playing in the courtyard and a new art exhibition in the Konsthall. I was grateful for the interesting stop because I knew we would not have discovered it on our own, but would simply have headed straight to the lighthouse.

Though it was a perfect May day, the temperature and intensity of the sun grew warm enough that we desired shade. The poor jazz musicians sweltered and burned on a shade-less platform. It was growing late in the afternoon and we had yet to hike around the peninsula. The temperature did not seem to drop, as it usually did by late afternoon, especially near the sea. Even the wind had died to an ominous stillness.

Our friends decided it was time to drive home and leave us on our own to find what we were looking for, as well as finding our way back to the cottage.

Kulla Nature Reserve

It was a short drive from Krapperups Slott to the Kulla Nature Reserve. But the drive from the toll booth by winding road through a beech woods to parking was longer than expected. After a quiet golf course, the place was suddenly plush with large group picnics (complete with guitars and other foreign instruments), slim parking, Frisbees, soccer balls and motorcycles. We had been so accustomed to touring in wind, rain and very few tourists that we felt hesitant to turn off our air-conditioned car to fall in with the heat and the throng.

We followed a paved road uphill to a concession area nestled in behind several rocky outcroppings and the Kulla Fyr (lighthouse)—the brightest in Sweden. We purchased a cold orange soda to share and took note that they sold hot dogs at the stand. We climbed a bit higher past couples sunning and smooching on the rocks.

From the lighthouse and the grassy surrounds, we could see many paths through the granite and volcanic rock. On one side, a group of people snorkeled a few feet from the water’s edge (we were high above them). On another side people rock climbed. There were swimmers and sun bathers. When my son saw two people napping in the sun on a large cement slab surrounded by leather jackets, helmets and backpacks, he said, “Here are some dead people!” One of the “dead” rose up to see the source of the comment.

I was amazed to see people in high heels and wispy, scarf-like clothing (even dresses) trying to pick their way through the rock trails. Jeans (even if a too-warm nylon blend) and hiking boots suited me best and I still had to keep from twisting an ankle or catching my camera strap on bushes and rocks. It’s no wonder the Kulla Fyr is so bright. Those rocks were formidable, even if smaller as a whole than many famous climbing rocks around the world.

The weather was so amazing that the sea was as smooth as cobalt blue blown glass. I was drawn to watch ships, ferries, sailboats and jet boats zip as an opening zipper through the smooth water as they passed, no matter how slowly or quickly.

We didn’t see the brightness of Kulla Fyr, that day, the sun was so bright, but when we were finished with lighthouse photos and clambering over rocks, it was nearing six o’clock pm. It was a good time to eat something before going on to our next climbing adventure. Alas, the concession stand had already closed as per the Swedish way—five o’clock on the dot. It was a good thing we’d had a late lunch at the Kaffestuga.

Nimis

We enjoyed the late afternoon sun, brilliant on the rape seed fields, stopping along the way to take photos, even from a lookout over Mölle. We had asked the concession boy if he was allowed to direct us to Nimis and he chuckled a bit when he said, “yes!” gave us a map of the area and pointed out the way.

We drove the wrong narrow road between growing fields, ending up in the wrong parking lot. We discovered this after hiking a ways and finding too many private driveways, so that set us back a bit. Already the sun rays were coming in a bit lower through the trees. The temperature was dropping a bit, but we opted not to wear coats on our hike. It was a good thing, too, because the hike was more difficult and longer than we expected (theme of the day).

When we found the correct parking lot, two car loads of people were returning from the hike. Immediately up a steep little knoll, we found ourselves on a fenced lane beside a cow pasture. A farm house nestled deeper back in the meadow. Once beyond the fence, we faced a deep beech forest so dense we didn’t know where to turn. But we caught sight of a yellow N and an arrow on a tree and followed it. From there, we found a totem out of a tall stump with “Nimis” and how many km ahead along with a strange row (on each side of the trail) of topped trees, painted white and either painted white, having painted faces or strange carvings. It was enough to tip us off to the conspiratorial nature of the place we were headed. We kept the trail by finding the yellow N’s and arrows.

As the forest spread out before us, obscuring the sea, and the trail grew steeper up and then down, we often grew discouraged enough to turn around. We needed dinner and more water. We weren’t sure if we could get there and back before dark. What about Hunter? But Hunter was terrific. He kept asking how much longer, but he didn’t seem to grow as discouraged as Phil and me.

Sparing more hiking details, we persevered and came upon a shoddily but sturdily built (can I use those in the same description?) wooden structure. When I came upon it, Phil and Hunter had already entered the structure to move down through it. I could hear Hunter yelling, “Come on, Mom! It’s cool!” I waited to enter the tree house-like wooden “chute” while a cute, but very pregnant, Swedish woman climbed out on her way to take the slippery bare root and pounded dirt hike back! It was obviously time for me to ignore my aching back and hands.

Once inside the piece called Nimis, it’s difficult to see the surrounding area. The purpose of hiking down to this round-rocky shore is to see the art! One of the most accessible pieces a person will ever experience, Nimis’ construction invites a full-body observation. Perspiring from the hike up and down hills and around gnarly roots, I am already seeking out what will be the payback for all this work. I am not merely paying an entrance fee to wander through well-paved walkways and clearly marked works of art. Payback comes when with my eyes, I seek out where to place my feet and what to grab with my hands. Even at my slight height, I duck and weave a few times, though the chute is obviously built in consideration of the greater heights.

Such active participation allows for more in-depth observation of the kinds of driftwood used: Burled tree branches and roots, boat and sign boards, unmarked random source boards, boards with markings from water height measurements to latitude and longitude indicators. Wood slats underfoot and at hand are polished with use and sometimes slippery. Nail and screw heads slant this way and that, appearing to have been angled swiftly into fastening position without regard to consistency or a sense of symmetry. Sometimes a board or two are, understandably, loose.

This massive recycling effort leads to such mental ponderings as Why place such a monstrosity on a beautiful beach? and Surely this much wood did not wash up on shore? What kind of character is this Lars Wiljks and what was his motivation? and sometimes simply “Why?” The best place to ponder such questions is at the base of so many tons of wood, looking up at the towering monster with its spires and walkways superimposed against a backdrop of grassy, tree-topped cliffs and hovering over (anchored beneath) ankle-turning rocks the size of beach balls and beyond (car-sized, even).

As for us, we rested on a large rock we would use as our observation deck, which appeared to be a popular favorite among human and bird life alike, and ate some trail mix to quell our hunger. Slightly below this deck and stretching out into the great distance was a sea as smooth and reflective as glass below a deep blue sky softening into sunset. Two men slid by in a quiet canoe. A heron beat the air slowly past us to fish down shore beside the rock and mortar version of this piece. One by one, others in the “chute” disappeared so that we were left to perceive this space on our own. Hunter ran through all the passageways, appearing at open areas and yelling for us to find him—a Where’s Waldo in Nimis. He acted as if all this work were merely another play area with the child in mind.

Maybe that was the conclusion. Build anything out of anything else. Allow the creative child to live. Endeavor for the sake of endeavoring. Breathe more freely when you turn your back and go home, tired and ready for a long nap.

Arilds

The hike back to our car took less time than we dreaded. We were soon cruising past the farm fields on our way back to the cottage. We took the narrow road down to Arilds, parked among the quaint, even thatched roofed, houses and walked along the boat harbor to watch the sun melt into the sea. It had been a beautiful day.

Hunter was asleep before we found a restaurant. We felt so sticky from the hot weather and hiking that we opted not to eat at a large golf club restaurant which was obviously still open at nine in the evening. We drove straight to the cottage, showered, snacked on crackers and cheese, then fell into a deep sleep.

Mother’s Day in and around The Cottage

We had a camper's breakfast, overlooking a beech woods in a beautiful place. We were sore everywhere from yesterday's hikes. After dishes and packing our bedding, I was perusing a book about country decorating on a 100 year old couch in the tree and window filtered sunlight. I could rest. This is what I needed yesterday, but I was getting it while Hunter happily built a tank and a dungeon out of Legos on the floor. After awhile of this, and feeling the sense of peace and rest coming over me, I realized it was Mother's day. Amazing! I couldn't have planned a Mother's day like this.

We were going to try to leave by noon to attend the new 1:30 pm service for the International congregation. By 11 am, we both decided we needed this much-needed retreat before we proceeded into "the move" and we leaned farther back into rest. All of us.

Phil and Hunter explored an old logging road, and then they played pooh sticks in the creek that ran down the hill and across the road from the cottage. They did this while I rested and even recuperated a little. We took our time about everything. It seemed to suit Hunter well, too.

After awhile, I joined the boys at the creek. We climbed back up the bank and tried out the family-sized hammock below the cottage. We drove through little known countryside (much less known than the area we've been living that is suddenly overrun by summer dwellers). We couldn't find the quaint lunch place so we ate at a local grill and Hunter was pleased with the race car included with his meal.

We looked for the antique stores R. had told us about and only found one. The owner wanted to talk me into being his marketing agent in the U.S. He already has two big U.S. customers and wants more. He was selling things at prices 90% less than the same goods sell for in The States. It was amazing, but I was getting sleepy.

We drove back to the cottage (quite a ways back), packed and cleaned up. On the way back down the country road toward the freeway, we stopped at a "Fika" place where cows munched in a meadow as near as a front yard. We ate some delicious Swedish deserts (rhubarb cake and peach meringue cake) and homemade strawberry saft (they call it lemonade, but it's a watery juice, no lemons). We sat under an apple tree heavy with pink blossoms the petals of which fluttered over and around us as we ate.

To be sure, I have never had a more romantic, restful, peaceful mother's day in my life!

Phil said, "Oh yeah! I meant to get you a card."

I said, "Forget the card! This is the best Mother's Day I've ever had."

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Going Home Jabber

On the day of our departure from Höllviken, Sweden, across the Oresund Bridge and borne into the air over the top of the world from Copenhagen, Denmark to Seattle, Washington, U.S.A., I wasn’t finished packing or cleaning. The cupboards bore signs of spilled sugar and pepper and the kitchen floor needed mopping. Tell-tale signs of salt-water winds and on-the-fly birds streaked the windows. (Good thing we had generous and understanding Landlords!) I was still shoving items into boxes and suitcases, taking too much time taping and labeling the boxes, etc. Phil went behind me collecting things into a pile and vacuuming. We were giving away and throwing away more than we ever thought we would!

If it hadn’t been for some very helpful friends (one to help me pack more efficiently late into the night and another to offer to keep a few boxes and take us to the airport with all of our other baggage), we probably would have missed our flight! When we do this again, we’ll have to remember not to fill our time with so many visits with friends (how?), last minute sight-seeing trips (really?) and to hire out the cleaning. I’m not the young packer/cleaner I used to be!

Speaking of visits and trips, we enjoyed quite a few in the last three weeks of our time in Sweden. During that time, we had our first barbeque on the beach, my first barefoot walk in the sea, our first Almondy (Daim) cake, our first flight over the yellow-blossomed rape seed fields, Hunter’s first trip to Folket’s Park to ride the rides, my first meal in Skanor, tea at Vellinge Blomman with the person who originally told me about it, a chance to bake Swedish sweet breads and share them with my Fika Friends, and more I will write about more fully. Each event represents a person or family we spent time with, more whom I didn’t mention. Our hearts were positively full with the privilege of knowing so many wonderful people and our sights fixed on returning to see them again!

Busy as we were, I was grateful for an afternoon flight. Phil and Hunter gave me the window seat. It was the best seat I’ve ever had on an airplane. The only passenger I had to climb over was Hunter and the bathroom was immediately behind us. Our chairs still reclined. It was easy to get up and walk around awhile. However, I mostly studied the beauty of the Northern hemisphere as we passed over it.

I wondered when the green islands of Denmark would ever cease. Norway’s fjords and high mountains neatly smothered in frosting-like layers of snow took my breath away. Greenland was so white under the brilliant sun that I had to actually close the window against the blinding light (and felt deeply disappointed not to get some sense of the contours). There were miles upon miles of icebergs and ice floes, snow-covered lakes, their edges and spots of pure glacial blue shining through. The seas we flew over made ships look like ants. We flew over miles of brown land. When I called Phil over to see it, he said it must be what they called “The Barren Land.” When signs of habitation developed here and there until we could also see obvious towns and cities as we neared the North American West Coast, it was almost as amazing as seeing no habitation at all. The landscape changed first to more snow in the Northwest Territory, then to green with small patches of snow. The big snow year for North America was obvious both in the amounts of snow we saw and in the depths of green the landscape revealed.

Something in me wanted to walk on many of those places, but another part of me was content to drink in the beauty and wonder from the air.

Most strange and wonderful of all was approaching the United States from above. Even the flight map showed The States upside down. It was a bit of a challenge to find the landmarks I know so well. My father is a small airplane pilot, so I’ve learned to recognize many things from the air, even if my knowledge of them has been only bookish. However, the approach over the top of the earth threw me a curve, to say the least! I couldn’t even take a nap the whole time, so enamored was I with the new sights.

It was overcast and cool in Seattle. Though my oldest daughter lives in Seattle and we had a two hour layover, we opted not to get together as she had a bad cold and traffic would have been horrendous the Friday afternoon before a three-day weekend. Calling her from my U.S. cell phone was novel enough.

Our flight from Seattle to Spokane was delayed multiple times, but we arrived safely. I was glad to hug my middle daughter. We had her drive us home as we were very tired. At one point we could see the Spokane area horizon, including some of our own mountain ranges in North Idaho and we were struck by the familiarity as well as the strangeness of it. Its strangeness was due to its complete dissimilarity to Southern Sweden and its newness compared to the ancient buildings of Europe and Scandinavia.

Upon entering our own home, the sense of how much work was ahead compounded our weariness. Though the house was clean and in fairly good order, the aftermath (not so tidy piles) of my daughter moving out, two sets of renters moving out and the things we had left undone was a powerful blow. We’d had it fairly easy in Sweden, it appeared. We visited my daughter and her boyfriend a short while later, but were soon situated for sleep (it would be a week before I could sleep in my own bed due to a malfunction in the air mattress).

The next morning we busily packed again, Phil collected the held mail and Hunter ran around the neighborhood catching up with his little neighborhood friends. After this, we left for a long drive (nearly as long as our flight the day before) to Southern Idaho for my nephew’s graduation. A week ago, today, we returned home to the work set out before us.

We’ve mowed the lawn three times in an effort to get it under control. There is more to do, but it has been raining. Phil got the garden tilled and planted. Yesterday and today we have finally returned to our jobs and not just to the work around the house.

My body likes being back in the Pacific Northwest. It seems to know this is it’s time zone. However, on nights after I’ve worked too hard around the house and couldn’t sleep, I think of Sweden—my friends, Europaporten, the landscape and the sea. There is a kind of fear that I will forget as the distance wants to pull my memories with it. Because of this, I will be writing about some of our last adventures in Sweden before I write about the adventures we’re already having in The States.

Funny, people are talking about their vacations. We just want to be home where the lakes are great for skiing and swimming, the amusement park is putting up a new roller coaster, yard sales are abundant, we have access to camping supplies, we’re back at our own church, and the neighbors over the fence have been so warmly welcoming!