Saturday, September 15, 2012

June Evening All the Time

September 15, 2012 – June Evening All the Time

It’s a late August day that still carries a hint of summer. A memory of June. A memory of childhood delights. I follow Pontus through the forest. He’s identifying trees and I’m talking to mushrooms and taking pictures of them. We’re in Östergötland County on the eastern hillside of Lake Vättern at Övralid, the home of Swedish poet and novelist Carl Gustaf Verner von Heidenstam, on our way to collect spring water. We’ve left our shoes in the car. I feel the freedoms that I had when I was young now, again, being barefooted. The ground is spongy and pleasant. Soft light elbows its way through the leaves. There’s a fairy-like quality of magical possibility in the air. It’s even warm enough to shed my jacket.

“Here,” Pontus says. He hands me a few raspberries. I’ve never had anything like them in my life. They’re sweet like candy; disintegrating in my mouth. One is almost enough. But I find another couple ripe ones on my own, and then we keep on our way down the trail.

It’s my third time here to get spring water. I’ve been with Pontus and his family for weeks by now. I feel like I’ve always been with them and that I’ve only just arrived. I’m caught up in a strange static stillness of time. I’m so liquid with peace I could slip through a drain by accident if I stumbled over one. At the house on Klockarevågen I live in my own room in the basement. I have a place at the table (which sometimes shifts depending on if the kids want me nearer or want me farther away). I leave my shoes by the door next to all of theirs and keep a glass out next to the sink for my tea and water.

My wakeup call each morning comes when Isak slams the garage door shut on his way to school. With the sound, I turn over and stretch, knowing that Linda and Agnes will leave soon after and that I should get up and start my own day. Some days Pontus has phone conference meetings, some days he goes in to the office to work, and on others we do things like collect spring water, talk, take forest walks, pick berries, stroll alongside the canal, go to the beach, listen to music or stay at home and sit in companionable silence as we both work on our own things. For me this means writing, reading, and planning the rest of my travels. 

Some days we get so wrapped up in what we’re doing that we forget to eat our breakfast until the afternoon. Pontus makes us nut yoghurts and I collect blackberries and raspberries from the garden to go along with it. We eat apples picked off the tree in the back yard. We have blueberries that Linda, Pontus and I gather from the forest. For dinner we have salads and stuffed peppers, Swedish pancakes and lentil soups, roasted vegetables and raw veggies. I get addicted to the Swedish hard bread knäckebröd. We have it with our meals, covered in butter and jam. Or plain. Or with butter and cheese and jam. Or butter and cheese. Or tahini. Or peanut butter. Or peanut butter and jelly. I feel like the badger Frances in the children’s book Bread and Jam for Frances who only wants to eat bread and jam.

“In this memorable story, Frances decides that bread and jam are all she wants to eat, and her understanding parents grant her wish at breakfast, lunch, dinner, and even snack time. Can there ever be too much bread and jam?”


It’s a good question and one I ask with only a slight variation: Can there ever be too much knäckebröd and jam?

So far the answer is no.

The kids get picked up from school at four. Sometimes Pontus and I pick them up, sometimes Pontus gets them by himself, and on other days Linda brings them home. Isak, now that we’re not on our own together at the Festival, mostly ignores me like an inconvenient pet. He has his bike and his friends. Our interactions are civil, but he’s not going to buy me a BFF necklace and keep half for himself. Agnes, Linda and Pontus’s five year old daughter, is at first shy of me the way Isak had been when I met him at the Festival. But she quickly warms up. Despite the fact that I only speak three phrases of Swedish she soon bosses me around like a pro. My Swedish vocabulary goes up incrementally thanks to her. I learn, “Will you play with me?” “Look!” “Watch this!” “Come here.” “Stay there.” “Stop.” “Yes.” “No.” “Up.” and understand by her insistence many other things. We play dolls together on the trampoline. She trounces me at her favorite video game Rio. She sits in my lap and plays with my ereader. We build a sand crocodile together at the beach. We share food. From me she learns, “Careful.” “Be nice.” “What happened?” “Where are you?” and just like I do when she speaks Swedish, she repeats the things I say, tasting the sounds of English in her mouth. From her I’m learning the language the way a child does, one word, one phrase, one command at a time. She’s my best teacher and I’m her best living toy. 

It’s not long before we all--me, Pontus, Linda, Isak and Agnes--settle into routine around each other. I feel a part of the family. I could live like this forever.

Motala, where we live, has a population of something like 30,000 people. There’s elbow room and breathing space. It’s a peaceful place. I’ve never known silence like this. I’ve longed for it all my life. When I step outside here the atmosphere is like a hug. What a contrast to Lima, Peru where every time I left my apartment I felt I had to take a deep breath and tense up for the noise, for the crowds, for the chaos. Even when it rains, when Linda and Pontus say, “This weather is so boring,” to me it’s soothing. I love the changing sky. The insistent storms. The variety. I know that it won’t last forever.

Nothing does.

For now, life moves at a viscous pace, seeping through my pores like molasses sunshine. I like watching the neighbors bike by. The dogwalkers and dogs. The kids playing together. I like listening to the birds, to the hum of bees, to the flight of the yellow jackets, to the sound of apples hitting the grass. I like how we sit together after dinner and talk. Even when we’re out doing things; visiting IKEA for my first time, attending Isak’s fútbol games, getting groceries, going to the Medieval Fair in Vadstena, seeing the old town part of Linköping or going to a kräftskiva (a traditional Swedish crayfish party) there’s no frenetic hustle. No mad dash haste. No rat race hurriedness.

Here I can just be.

Pontus and I make our way out of the forest, come around the corner and climb the hill to where the spring bubbles out of the ground. Pontus fills up the water jug. Then we walk up past von Heidenstam’s house. We stand underneath the cherry tree on the terrace that overlooks Lake Vättern. The landscape is so perfect that if I wasn’t there looking at it with my own eyes I wouldn’t believe it.

“It looks fake,” I say. “It’s too beautiful to be real.”
We sit on the edge of the terrace, our feet hanging down in open space and gaze out to where the green meets blue and to where the blue meets more blue. It’s every shade of green. Every shade of blue. I must be living some kind of incredible dream. 
It’s time to go pick up the kids so we head up to the car. I turn once or twice to look back. To capture this moment forever in my mind, in my soul.
We get the kids. We eat dinner. The sun sets. Another day dissolves with a sweet and sugary aftertaste. We all bid each other good night. I go to sleep content.

And I wake up content. The weeks fade into each other and when it’s time for me to leave Motala, I do it with wistful sadness. I’ve been humming nearly incessantly here. Humming is what I do when I’m most happy. And I’ve been really happy here.

If I had to sum up how I felt I couldn’t do it with better words than Verner von Heidenstam used when he wrote in a letter to a friend of his life at Övralid:

Upon this earth there is no lovelier place to live.
Never have I felt as good as here.
I have spent hours sitting on the terrace.
Why can’t every day have a June evening?
It’s so sad one has to die!

Why can’t it be June evening all the time?
And why do we have to die?

*[Translated from Swedish by Pontus Kristensson 2012]

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