Floating cherry blossoms in the Swedish spring

Floating cherry blossoms in the Swedish spring

Every winter I’ve been in Sweden has been subtly different from each other. Same for spring. They interact and create a new season – so this is the spring of cherry blossoms I’ve never seen before and lots of early mosquitoes. I love cherry trees and the way the flowers float along our fence line, even though the effect comes totally because the lower parts of the trees are dead, killed off by some insect or disease. (The photo doesn’t really convey this affect but maybe it will let you imagine the trees in context of our clearing in the forest, with the river glistening in the background).

It’s enough to make your body start to forget winter, and you remember why you need all these long weekends in spring and the long summers, not to be indulgent but to stay truly alive.

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when the winter ice breaks in walden and in stockholm

I am on the alert for the first signs of spring, to hear the chance note of some arriving bird, or the striped squirrel’s chirp, for his stores must be now nearly exhausted, or see the woodchuck venture out of his winter quarters. On the 13th of March, after I had heard the bluebird, song sparrow, and red-wing, the ice was still nearly a foot thick …

One year I went across the middle only five days before it disappeared entirely. In 1845 Walden was first completely open on the 1st of April; in ’46, the 25th of March; in ’47, the 8th of April; in ’51, the 28th of March; in ’52, the 18th of April; in ’53, the 23d of March; in ’54, about the 7th of April.

Every incident connected with the breaking up of the rivers and ponds and the settling of the weather is particularly interesting to us who live in a climate of so great extremes.

From Walden: A Life in the Woods, by Thoreau

I chose this partially because I still do not trust the spring is really here, though we were all in sweaters at the park yesterday afternoon. But I also chose it because the ice in Walden Pond in Massachusetts broke so much later than the ice does here in Stockholm, at least, even at our small pond.  It shows that the winters, at least back in 1853, can be so much harder in New England than in Scandinavia.

Yet a Boston winter is a summer vacation compared with a Swedish one, even one with little snow.  It drives home how much of our winter pain is about the dark here, and the winter dark is not going away, no matter how warm the climate gets.

A Californian finally feels spring winter in Sweden

This week it seemed like spring in Stockholm. The snow is melting, leaving thin sheets of ice over the shadowy depressions in our park. There are green shoots poking through the earth, and the temperature got into the high 40’s probably.

But I am not deceived.  I know the winter will return.

But it will be what Swedes call spring winter. This is mostly a northern mountain phrase, but to a Californian it goes for Stockholm as well.  It is the time of year when the sun is returning but the winter refuses to go.

In years past it has been the hardest time of year.  My body feels the winter ending, feels the sun warming my closed eyelids as I stand and face the heat.  But the winter does not end. I still dress the children in snowsuits, I still bundle up, my feet still freeze.

It seemed like spring stalled, leaving me in a winter limbo.

I am a minority on this, I think.  People seem to love spring winter, getting to ski in the sun, camp and ice skate, that sort of thing.

And this year I get that.  I get spring winter. I have finally been in Sweden long enough for my soul to calibrate not to the snow, not to the temperature but to the sun.

The sun returns slowly, inching forward, but then near the end of February seeming to come 10 minutes earlier each day and linger well after we have come back from work and preschool.

In Sweden they do not measure seasons by the calendar but by the weather.  So spring comes when the temperature is above freezing for so many days in a row.  That sort of thing.

But that does not reflect the joy of the sun returning, even behind overcast clouds, even in a freezing wind like today. So we get spring winter.  And I get to know that in less than three weeks, we will be tipping over the spring equinox and suddenly days here will be longer than in the US.

And that brings the promise of summer and of the forest and the blueberries and the lake by our summer cottage and riding my bike to the country store miles away.

Easter comes early to Daddyland

Today is Good Friday, but in Daddyland it is Easter, and I mean that in no religious sense, but in the sense that Easter is about spring, about rebirth, about the coming of the sun, the moment when the days in Sweden are longer than the rest of the world, not shorter.

If you want to extend the holy week metaphor, we had Good Friday a couple days ago, when the spring vanished in a freezing fog, sending us reeling, back to January, searching for any signs that this stubborn winter was not returning.

It wasn’t.  Today the sun came out.  Today the snow had melted, leaving behind gravel and dog poop and trash, but also grass and sand and pine cones.  Today both kids played outside, while E and I stood on the side of the sandbox and drank coffee out of pink plastic cups.

It was a revelation on more than one level.  It reminded me that we have more than our small space – which I knew intellectually but could not feel anymore – that we live near all these parks, that the kids do not have to be engaged on the living room floor (I actually felt guilty when they played by themselves in the sandbox, not grateful, but worried that I neglected them.   Talk about a twisted winter.)

And it was a revelation of my kids, of Baby B who last crawled on the ground in Arizona two months ago.  He walked.  He dug in the sand.  He seemed freed in some way, almost like he developed a month’s worth in those two hours.