Nighttime ride with the huskies

Nighttime ride with the huskies

Björkliden, Sweden – North of the Arctic Cirle

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We stood in the snow, flakes speckling our faces with moisture, and absorbed the howling yelps of the sled dogs. Most were still in their cages when our van pulled into the yard. Empty leads lay neatly in the snow, stretching out from the wooden sleds like red and purple vines. Noses peaked from the dog trailers, puffing out steam in the cold air, and the dogs’ yowling grew louder as they sensed their future passengers approaching. We watched, bundled completely and still unused to the extra space we were taking up in our massive snowsuits. We’d brush up against each other by accident, or get thrown off by how our ankles kept knocking into each other due to the thickness of the Velcro bottoms of the legs.

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We absorbed the smell of the dogs. Most of it was their breath and fur, filling the air with earthiness, sharp and sweet. Later you could smell their waste as they relieved themselves before the trip, but it was all quickly swept away by the wind and snow. A line of dogs was already out of the trailers, stakes down in their leads so they couldn’t run off with the sled, passengerless.

As soon as we’d been told that we could indeed give the dogs as much love as we wanted, we’d all fallen to our knees to obey. I tore off my mittens and sunk my fingers into the furry chests, after offering my hand, palm up under panting noses, to smell. They were all friendly, all desperate to run but also longing to rub their heads into human chests and hands. Nudging faces pushed up to be scratched on the forehead. I could sense when one of them longed to get closer and would move my face to be licked and nuzzled. Pure joy filled me, with a nagging drop of homesickness and longing for my Keeta, my Gaffer, my Diesel. Peace was the one I spent more time with, and she loved the “rubbies” – scrubbing her head into my nails and licking my face frantically.

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One of the men working there had begun to pull more dogs from their trailer homes and brought them, straining at their harnesses, to their place on the sled leads. The dogs bucked and kicked like racehorses, so eager to run it seemed like they’d strain so much that their muscles would burst out of their skins and furs and go running off without them. They howled.

As the man headed back to the trailer for more dogs, he spotted me waiting with my fellow student travelers and said, “You’re going to help me, come with me.”

“Sure!” I said, and followed without questions.

In the suit I felt invincible. The cold that was writhing around me in the wind did not so much as brush my ribs. My boots were sturdy and thick, gripping the snow with confidence. I had a hat, a buff, and a scarf keeping me warm, and thick tough mittens. I was overwhelmed with the knowledge that yes, sure, I could do anything he needed me to. I was used to dogs. I was used to working in snow. Dragging hay off of a tractor. Hacking ice apart with an axe. Dragging a sick sheep to her feet. In that moment I was full of cockiness and pride at my experience. And looking back at it, I don’t blame myself for that. If you can’t be proud of roots like that, and if you can’t be thrilled to use that experience for something else, what’s the point?

“You’re going to help me bring out one of the dogs. He’s a strong one, and likes to twist. Don’t let go of him.”

He pulled the gray and white beast, about half the size of my Keeta, out of the trailer and pulled his wiry forelegs through the harness. The dog panted, chest heaving with excitement and sound pouring from between his canines like drool. I hung onto the dog, feeling him pull against me. I’d rooted myself, as if I was walking Keeta and realized she’d seen some potential prey scuttling through the trees. He tried to pull me towards his companions already howling ahead of us on the road, but I stayed grounded. He twisted around, as I’d been warned, but I didn’t let go even when his harness pulled my mitten into a knot and crushed my fingers. I ended up having to spin myself around, not wanting to risk trying to transfer the harness loop from the twisted mitten to my free one.

After only a minute or so, the guide had harnessed another dog and we walked together up to the sled that was second from the front. The man held a dog in each hand and walked quickly up the slight slope, not being dragged, but not pulling back on them either. I slid and stumbled several times as my beastie pulled and tried to gallop off to his spot on the line. It was hard, and I worried I’d face plant before we got there. But we got the three of them hooked up without problems and then turned to get more. At that moment the man who would be my sled driver in the adventure to follow asked if I could hold the lead dogs while they go the rest of the team. Otherwise, he explained, they’ll turn around and tangle the harnesses.

The sound was incredible, standing between the two leaders, holding the connecting strap with a mitten hand. They screamed their pleasure and excitement. Every so often one of them would jump up, and scramble up my stomach and side, begging me to release her. The suit meant that I didn’t feel her claws, just the pressure of her big snow-shoe paws. At one point of the lead dogs jumped over the other, triggering a deep growl that is always a cue for any human around to remove any appendages from interfering with the power struggle that was to come. However, these were well-behaved workers. They each wanted the same thing, each were willing to forgive the other for invading their personal space. As long as they could run.

I waited there in the howling darkness. I was blinded every so often by the glare of the guides’ headlamps. Looking back towards the vans and trailers I could see my friends waiting to the side, lit up by the headlights of a truck idling in the snow. More dogs were brought to their sleds. I was warm from having wrestled the bucking dog from before. I’d taken off my hat and buff and one of my mittens, trying not to overheat, but still I felt sweat beginning to form on my sides. Not a good sign. Sweat freezes and then you’re in trouble.

Finally the dogs were all in place, and the students were too – stacked together four to a sled. Everyone quivered with excitement. I was relieved from my post and was waved forward to the leading sled where I squeezed myself in at the back, my knees up around the hips of the person in front of me, my boots pressed into the wooden runners. I could feel the sled at my back, nudging gently at my spine. I was already beaming even before we set off, so stupidly happy at being chosen to help. We sat in thrilled silence, as there was no point to try to talk over the tirade of sound coming from the dogs all around us. I thought we could probably leave then and be happy, just from having doted on the dogs for half an hour or so. I had re-bundled, and later would be thankful that I’d thought to bring my buff with me to the north.

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Look at these low light photography skills… 

I felt my heart would literally burst when finally our guide stepped onto the back of the sled and gave the okay to his team.

Sudden silence. Every dog had stopped barking at once. Every dog had leapt forward and as one power sped us along the snow and into the trails that spread out through the woods. Our team was at the front, so nothing was ahead of us except the stain of light cast by our driver’s headlamp, and snowy forest. I peered around the backs of my friends and saw the dogs running ahead as if we weighted nothing.

The ride was smooth and silent. The padding of the paws ahead of us, the whoosh of the wind and snow of the blizzard that had just begun, and the occasional scrape of the metal break of the sled were the only noises besides our occasional questions and chatter with our driver. The only thing I can compare that feeling to is sailing. There was no jolting or bumping, aside from a couple humps in the trail that the dogs skillfully. It felt like going over the wake of a motorboat in my smooth sweet sailboat back in Maine. At the same time as the ride felt relaxing and meditative, it was also just so so so fun. Not fast enough to be scary, not slow enough to be boring, but a speed that made our hearts race with pleasure and utter contentment. I could feel the joy radiating from my companions through their blue and red suits, flying back to me in the air, mixed with the snow. We could breathe easy.

We stopped a couple times as our guide looked back to see if the four other sleds were still behind us. Responsibility came with leading. We took the moment to look around even more, through the hills and trees of the arctic landscape. Our driver said he’d often see moose walking through the woods, and often got spooked by the huge beasts. At one point we saw a sparkling reflector through the trees, and he thought that it could be light blinking from the large brown eye of a moose. We didn’t see another living thing, but we saw the tracks and there was no sense of emptiness as one might have thought. I could feel that the woods were full of energies, full of creatures besides our furry companions. The dogs could smell them, but none of us could see them.

Our driver announced the halfway point and I breathed in relief, knowing that it wasn’t going to be over too quickly. Nothing is worse than the sinking disappointment of an adventure cut off too soon.

I tried to take a video, but eventually put my camera back in the baggy chest of the suit, and let it sit against my ribs for the rest of the ride. I wanted to consume every second of this. Plus my camera skills on a moving dogsled were nonexistent, right along with my nonexistent low-light photography skills…

The snow looked like the animated trails of white dots that appeared in Christmas specials. The blizzard pushed against our sides and faces and was illuminated by the headlamps. My face stayed warm under my scarf and buff, but my eyes occasionally had to blink away a stinking snowflake that had pelted through my eyelashes to freeze my irises. What a thrill to be our on a dog sled as the wind rose and the snow got thicker.

 

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Doesn’t matter if you get the right sized snowsuit, as long as you’re warm

It still ended too soon. We weren’t ready to leave, and were relieved when our driver said we could thank the dogs after we dismounted. We collapsed once more at their panting feet. This time they were quiet, exhausted with the thrill of the run and the fatigue that pulling us up the slopes of the trail had caused. They were affectionate still, but let it be more one sided this time. We planted kisses on their heads. We rubbed the folds of skin between their shoulders and necks. We worshipped them for the magic they’d provided us.

I thanked our driver and then found the man that had let me help at the beginning. He had his own team of students working for him now, and they staggered with their own dogs to bring them back to the kennel trailer. We shook hands and he said to have a good stay. He called me “farmer girl” and I beamed.

Photos by myself – The banner photo is me messing up the shutter speed while taking a photo of a snowmobile

Sami National Day at Skansen

Sami National Day at Skansen

February 6th is Sami National Day in Sweden, and as I happened to take a solo afternoon trip to Skansen on February 5th, I stumbled upon some of the celebrations.

A word about Skansen in general, before I describe my experience. This “museum” is a must see if you are living in or visiting Stockholm. It is a unique and immersive journey through Sweden’s past. You walk along cobble-stone roads past preserved houses from hundreds of years ago. You can walk into the shops and old houses of wealthy merchants or rugged farmers. For those of you who have been to Connecticut, it is very reminiscent of Mystic Seaport – though while Mystic has captured the maritime culture of New England, Skansen focuses more on the farming culture in Sweden I would say, though it’s hard to simplify it that much. There is even a section of this massive outdoor museum that is a small zoo of Scandinavian animals. You can try to spot the wolves, watch the wolverines play and compete, and see the lynx jump for proffered meat.

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It. is. amazing. And it is not an option to miss it if you have the time.

I went to Skansen that day knowing I wouldn’t be able to see everything in only one afternoon. So I took my time and dedicated myself to the animals. I particularly wanted to listen to a talk about the reindeer that would be in English. I wandered through the place, getting turned around a couple times, and slowly began to get chilly. It was a cold, harsh day, but walking made it bearable, and I was happily distracted by what was around me.

The best part was that it had started to snow. Not a snow that was impeding. It wasn’t even sticking or building up to grab at my boots. It was simply there, landing on my lashes occasionally and lulling me into pure contentment as I walked through the past. Just as it is meditative for me to look down through thick ice and count the cracks, it is also a lesson in calm to look up into a snowy sky and try to follow individual snowflakes.

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The deer were wandering around their paddock when I got there, and they all crowded the woman who came to feed them. I listened to the woman but watched the deer eat the lichen that she had brought them. Her talk was interesting, but I didn’t learn anything new (that’s what happens when you grow up with a biologist for a dad). No matter, I could watch and learn from the deer themselves. As they walked, I listened for the clicking sounds their ankles made. I tried to imagine how they could possibly tell one set of clicking ankles from another. Somehow they do, and that is how calves can find their mothers again if they get lost, or how a lone reindeer can find its way through a blizzard back to the herd.

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As the talk was ending, a voice suddenly range out from over the ridge to our left. Someone was singing, or playing music very loudly, and all of our attention was caught by it. The woman informed us that this was Sami music, which was timed perfectly to follow her description of how the Sami people had tamed reindeer long ago and were the only ones allow to hunt them in Sweden.

I thanked her quickly and strode ahead of the rest of the crowd to get to the crest of the hill. There I found the celebration. A couple dozen people were gathered around the traditional Sami dwellings that are part of Skansen. A booth of food and some merchandise was set up and the air smelled like reindeer meat, mushrooms, and lingonberry. It was absolute heaven. But at first I didn’t see this – I wanted to see the singer and approached the performance with my camera filming.

I will need to find her name as soon as I finish writing, because for the life of me I can’t remember it right now. The type of singing she performed is Sami traditional yoik and it was impossibly beautiful. You will have to watch the video I took, though the quality is quite low (a new camera is coming soon!), to really understand. Here it is.

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When she finished singing her “Peace song” I turned to see what they were selling at this booth. It was covered in bright fabric and reindeer skins and the smells was literally mouthwateringly good. I bought one of each of the meals being sold so that I could try both. I was not disappointed. The singer’s songs continued for ten more minutes or so and we all gathered to eat and watch, some of us standing, some of us perched on random boulders. We were absolutely mesmerized and could ignore the persistent pressure of the cold on our toes.

After I finished eating I ducked into the laavu and joined a woman who was talking to a group of teenage girls about traditional Sami folklore. I let her know I was American, again imposing my language on others, but I was desperate to learn. They didn’t seem to mind. We listened and leaned closer to the fire in the stove between us. We breathed in the scent of the balsam fir and reindeer hide we sat on. Slowly our hands began to thaw, but others wanted to see what it was like inside, and there was only so much scooting closer to each other that we could do in the space. I left to give my patch of reindeer fur to a father and daughter.

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Before leaving the area of celebration, I thanked the singer. She smiled warmly and was glad to talk with me for a few minutes. I was disappointed to learn she didn’t yet have a CD, but hopefully one day she will make one.

I think I will come back to this post and add more later, because for some reason that afternoon seems to be escaping me now. Maybe it is because today was so blue and warm. It’s started to smell like spring through the February cold and I don’t know how to feel about that. There was so much more to that afternoon than I can seem to express. But hopefully the pictures will bring you a bit closer to what I saw.

I hope that you are warm and content inside and out wherever you all are.

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Sturdy Ice – Wobbly Legs

Sturdy Ice – Wobbly Legs

In Sweden, a usual family activity for those living in Stockholm or the suburbs is to go lake skating. The lakes in the archipelago are usually thicker and safer than the edge of the sea, and many families, couples, and solo skaters spend time flying across these bodies of water.

My host family took me skating last weekend. The place looked like cold. Thick and reassuring, the ice stretched from one side of this narrow lake to the other. White lines, flat perfect planes of crystal, stretched down through the gray ice. They looked like veins of a crystal. Staring at the ice beneath my feet was like getting hypnotized by a crackling fire. It was almost a meditation to stare down there as I hobbled along. There were no ice sounds here, as there would have been if we were skating on the ocean, and everything was muffled through the hat I wore under my padded helmet.

But my attention wasn’t held by the ice for very long. I hadn’t skated since I was maybe ten years old, and even then I had only skated maybe twice. Now I was in a whole new world, with long lake skates on my feet that felt like mini skis and a lake that wasn’t much like the smooth groomed surface of a skating rink. Maybe the Bambi metaphor is over-used, but I really did feel like a baby deer out there. My ankles felt like twigs, my knees shook, and all my muscles clenched to keep balance.

I ended up doing pretty well I think. Well, I was at least able to slide along using the poles. Didn’t quite master the strokes of actually moving my feet to push me along – you know, actual skating- but I was going places. The wind was so strong along that lake that we could actually sail with our bodies and fly downwind. However, Anna wisely fetched us back before we went too far. Getting back upwind at that rate would have proven to be a nightmare. She was right. It was like trying to push myself through mud. My whole body felt weak and it was far more of a struggle than I’d expected.

When I finally  sat down to take a break, one of my legs started shaking so much it was jumping up and down on the ice. We all laughed at my exhausted muscles and I contented myself to sitting with my thermos of tea while the others did a couple loops around the lake. My fingers were red as I fumbled with my phone to take pictures. My host family really looked like they were flying. They used the ice as an engine, and sped anywhere they wanted to go. I thought to myself that maybe, just maybe, I’ll eventually be able to do that, if I really put the effort into learning.

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img_9871My feet and hands began to get cold. The pulsing burn that is the feeling when ones toes start to freeze is a very interesting kind of pain. It’s quite bearable if you don’t think about it too much. It becomes simply a pressure on your feet that isn’t usually there – if you distract yourself, the pain disappears. Later I paid attention as my feet thawed slowly. My big toe was the last to get warm, and it was so so nice to get the feeling back.

We had a picnic on the other side of the lake. We all sat on a dock out of the wind and had hot chocolate and egg sandwiches. It was so delicious after what had been for me and exhausting morning. Eating food after such a morning is always the best- anything tastes good because you feel you’ve earned it. As you can see below, my family was impossible to get a photo of without someone blinking or moving! Oh I love them so much.

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When we headed home, I wasn’t feeling the best. My whole body ached and I was surprised that my muscles were that sensitive to a new activity. I hadn’t fallen once while on the ice, and there didn’t seem to be reason for certain muscles to be paining me now. Well, if you have read my last post, you’ll know why I was feeling so wiped out and cruddy. I had the flu… But somehow, it didn’t manage to ruin such a magical experience. I can’t wait to go back with healthy strong legs and skate down that lake with birches leaning over it like nursemaids. The ice like quartz crystal. The wind a power to be harnessed and used to fly on tiny splinters of metal. I’ll be back.

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Yes, I know how stylish I look. The orange things around my neck were spikes that I could pull out if I fell in, and use to pull myself out of the water. I was also equipped with a helmet and knee pads. Thankfully I didn’t end up needing to use any of these things. Photo credit to Elias (my host brother).

 

 

The Women’s March – Stockholm

The Women’s March – Stockholm

If you haven’t heard of the Women’s March, then please do a little bit of googling to fill yourself in. Start here and then move on to the hundreds of articles and photos posted about this event.

My sister and many of my friends joined this march of solidarity and resistance in New York City, and many dear friends of mine were also at “the” march in Washington D.C.

However, these weren’t the only two marches on January 21st. Women all over the world were marching in their cities and towns, and I marched in Stockholm.

As a couple of my program-mates and I got off of the metro after having a beautiful brunch at one of their apartments, we ran into a protest just outside the station. They evidently were beginning there to later join the larger march at 2. Immediately I felt a warm emptiness to see how many people, american or no, were being affected by this election. The entire world has been thrown into a whirlwind of confusion and fear.

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We arrived at the main square to see that a couple thousand people had gathered there. People of all genders were standing with signs, babies, backpacks, coffee, pink hats, all talking to each other and trying to figure out the world, together. I stood with my friends, and later my amazing roommate from Hamilton (also in Sweden for semester), with my back to a restaurant in this square. We were stuck behind a large evergreen tree which blocked the view of the stage, but eventually I made my way through the mush of people to see through the branches.

The speakers, I assume, were incredible. There was just one tiny problem. The speeches, of course, were all in Swedish. I had had exactly two one hour lessons in swedish before that. I could hear the passion and love and power in each of these women’s voices. I could tell that they were eloquent speakers, by the silence in the audience and the speed and fluidity of their words. I could feel the rush of emotion and agreement every time the speaker was interrupted with a cheer, and I did my best to join in with the screaming love every time. But it was hard. I so wanted to hear the perspective the women of this country have on the recent events. I wanted words of comfort and advice and power. I was able to catch the meanings of random words: abortion, Trump, misogyny, racism, Trump, transgender, etc.

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I felt part of this but also apart. However, when we all started moving, it was a different story. We spread out to form this long line, and I looked behind me to see just how many people there were. I couldn’t see the end of the line as it curled around the block and who knows how far. We walked along the beautiful waterfront. I could see the island of museums, DjurgĂ„rden I believe, in the distance across the water. The lane where we walked was lined with old trees. The water was half ice. My fingers were cold but my face was flushed with pride to be among these people. The art of resistance all around me.

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The march ended outside the US Embassy. Soon after movement stopped my friends and I, tired and chilly, wandered away. We went exploring to clear our heads and warm up, but many many many people stayed. Though we couldn’t quite join in on the chanting, as most of it was in Swedish, we could still hear it as we left the line of people behind. We could have stayed there all night I suppose. Maybe some people did. But it was past four and food was much needed.

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I could not help reporting my marching as often as I could after that. Almost bragging. I was so filled with pride, especially reading about the marches all over the world. Seeing the signs. The pussy hats. The passion and love and bravery of every person who identifies as woman and who wants equality. I hope these photos inspire you. Even if you couldn’t march, that doesn’t mean you did nothing. There is still so much more to be done, so much to resist. So do it.

First photo from Pontus Lundahl/TT NEWS AGENCY via Associated Press, the others are my own, the last three are by artist Shepard Fairey.

A Warm Winter

A Warm Winter

The line of ice that used to stretch like a speed bump right in front of our driveway has slowly dwindled over this past week. Now only a thin line of it clings to the pavement, and the snow in the garden is completely gone. I suppose it’s been a warm winter across the globe (which makes sense because climate change is in fact real) but seeing photos from up north in Sweden makes me want to follow the cold. It’s not that I like being cold, it’s more that everything seems better and closer and calmer when there is snow. However, the warmth means that walking around Stockholm is a little easier, and my nose doesn’t get runny quite as quickly. I’ve stopped putting on blush though, because there is still enough crispness in the air to make my cheeks pink.

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On my walk to school – you can see some rare early morning blue up there

It still however, is unmistakably Scandinavian winter. The sun rises at around 8:10 these days, and that’s only when it begins to rise. It’s not all that different from home in the evening, or so it seems to me… But somehow the morning seems so vastly different. Every time my alarm goes off I think of those times when I was little that my family had to catch an early plane at the airport, so we all had to get up at 5am. But this time there is no sleeping in the car. I have to be up and showered in time to get to the train, even if in the end I get to school a little early. That’s the price of my amazing peaceful suburban home: trains leave every 25 minutes or so, and that could potentially make me late to class. (I might add that our professor of Swedish makes us sing to the whole class if we are late…)

Today I got out of class at 10 in the morning, my only class of the day, and took a metro right to Gamla Stan for some solo exploring. I wrote this little paragraph while I was there:

I am sitting in tiny cafĂ© down a thin alley in Gamla Stan. The place is cramped and small but still has five big flags pointing out where it is. The ceiling is rounded like a hobbit hole, and one wall is all brick. A set of armor, probably fake, stands guard there in the corner, and an old-fashioned radio plays dreadful top 20 music. It is so full of static that I thought maybe the coffee grinder was just on all the time. But no, it was just that ancient radio next to the empty knight near the wall. I ordered a cup of hot chocolate before sitting down to write, and it came to me in a small tea cup and cost 50 krona! For those americans out there, that’s more than 5 US dollars… And it was tiny! Plus it came out of a machine like it does in my college dining hall. But no matter. I honestly like any and all hot chocolate, so I was content. The white noise of the static-y radio and people chatting in the sweet language that is Swedish serve as a good background for my writing. My typewriter keyboard adds to the atmosphere I think, blends in, even. I’ve gotten several compliments today, the Swedes seem to like my hipster writing set-up. I just hope the tapping of the keys doesn’t annoy anyone, because I know people would be too polite to tell me. I’m not sure if I will come back here. I need a cheaper cup of cocoa, but now that I’m here I can make it my writing space just fine.

The whole morning and afternoon was spent wandering. I found that cafĂ© and another lovely art cafĂ©  (I will post a link once I remember the name) in which I mistakingly ordered four swedish pancakes instead of two… I ate them all anyway, they were heaven. I definitely recommend swedish pancakes (a breakfast food I actually grew up with) with powdered sugar and cloudberry jam. Absolute heaven I tell you.  

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Yes… those are indeed multiple shelves of Terry Pratchett’s books… In english!

And then I spent too much money at both a strangely wonderful clothing store, and my favorite book shop in the world (besides R.J, Julia of course): Science Fiction Bokhandeln. It is a magical place full of temptation… I’ve already bought three comic books there… Imagine a beautiful, organized bookstore, but it doesn’t feel like a chain of any kind, and it’s literally ALL science fiction and fantasy books. Plus all the nerdy tv shows ever. Plus comic books. Plus tons of fantasy-sci-fi merchandise. Plus all the gaming (board and cards, not so much video games) supplies one could ever hope for. Let’s just say I got a frequent shopper card from them right away.

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A little boutique I bought post cards in
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Amazing whimsical clothing…
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The bookstore of all bookstores

So yes, the freedom of being near a city and having many fewer hours of class than usual is beginning to set in. I realized I could spend as much time in that place as I wanted, and it was quite overwhelming. I wrote 2000 (ish) words of my book… And that too started to overwhelm me. I felt the edge of writer’s block begin to surface when I sat in that little cafĂ©. So, I left, and headed back to the train. I’m home now, but now have the knowledge that it takes only about 10 minutes to get to Gamla Stan from my school. I have a feeling my book is going to have a complete draft by the end of this semester. If I start to fade from that goal, promise that you folks reading this (family and friends, I love you for reading this) will leave some comments yelling at me to get back on track.

Photos by me, and the top one is of the Tintin section of a wonderful stationary store… I love Tintin… Though I’ve written many a discussion/criticism of the racist and disgusting themes that show it’s the product of its time… But I won’t get into that here.

 

The Sweet Sting of Culture Shock

The Sweet Sting of Culture Shock

My Swedish Adventure Begins

I am in Sweden… For about four months.

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Love at first sight, however cheesy

I arrived just outside of Stockholm about a week and a half ago. Now, on a windy Wednesday, I find that though I have done absolutely nothing but make tea, watch tv, and write all morning, I am exhausted. The many subtle adjustments that one’s body and mind have to make when entering a new place, especially one in which you will be staying for an extended period of time, do add up. I am learning how to live in a city, and operate with public transport. My ears are drinking in the language all around me, but my head understands very little of it. My desk is covered with lists of museums I want to go to and things I want to buy or see. My journal sits on my desk with one measly entry, and my sketchbook is still in the back I packed it in.

And now, I don’t have class until 3 in the afternoon, and all I want to do is sit around my new home, maybe watch some Netflix, but mostly drink tea and cuddle up with a book. And do homework. Can you believe that I am in one of the most beautiful and richly historical places in Europe, the place much of my family has called home for hundreds of years, and all I want to do is finish all my homework.

I suppose maybe I am more of a hermit than I’d previously thought, but I know really that it is just culture shock. Culture shock doesn’t need to be obvious. It often isn’t. We think the United States and Sweden aren’t all that different, and that’s true if you think of other countries that would contrast more with the two… But again, all the changes, the shifts in vibes and everyday-ness, it adds up.

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The road to my home in TĂ€by

I feel safe and comfortable in this house, the home of my wonderful host family who could not be more lovely, relaxed, eager, and loving. It is a blustery day on the top of this hill in the suburbs. The birch trees with long willow-like branches have been swaying this whole time, and gusts of wind sound like trains going by outside the windows. I need to give myself a break. There is no reason I shouldn’t be content to stay here while my mind and heart catches up with the new place and people and adventures.

Writing this all down here is important. Though my moleskin may feel abandoned, here I can pair words with my photographs, and with videos I hope to take as soon as my new camera makes it through customs… And I hope that some of you will get an idea about what it’s like to be in Sweden – to study there, live there, and explore as much as possible while still finding roots in the mossy frozen ground.

I find myself forgetting that this isn’t just a city filled with crowds and too much cigarette smoke – it is so unique and ancient and beautiful and surrounded but such life, especially the sea. It is an island city, and that to me means freedom and clarity. I am so excited to embrace it all.

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Exploring the parks in a walking tour with my study abroad program