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Using the eight seasons of the indigenous peoples of the north as her guide, the author takes us on an intimate personal journey in which she sees the world and herself anew through the fine detail of her extraordinary environment. For anyone who has ever felt trapped by preconceptions about themselves, Lindahl opens the door."
In this fine detail I came to know my own life and to realize that life up to that point had been in the pursuit of someone else's dream on a horizon, far away from my own. Today the water washed over my skin, leaving only the bare original; the one that had hidden from view under the layers of others' ambitions until now.
To be like this, soaked on an autumn morning alone in the wilderness, risked desolation. What was left without the dreams of others, the inherited habits and the surrounding onward march towards the future? This change that I had made was in some ways like a death: like the wilting stems of the flowers and the rapidly vanishing summer. There was an unavoidable sorrow in everything left behind; even those things that hurt and that I knew were dangerous to me.
Yet in the fine detail of the island I knew that this dying scene was just the prelude to new life. In every drop of pre-autumn rain and in every leaf that fed the soil, there was a certain and stubborn push towards new life. As the water trickled down my face, the death that comes with change, though melancholic, was no longer frightening because it was the precondition for something strong and authentic to be born.
In the detail I also learned that no two lives, even if they were genetically connected, were the same. The future would never simply be a repetition of the past; it could not be. The branches would grow in different directions, the wildflowers would crop up in different places and new birds with their own personalities would come to raise their families in our bay. To insist that life was a sort of replay of what came before would be denying all fascination and beauty, which exists and is real. Basic as this knowledge seemed, I had not really understood it until now because my conscience had been perpetually chained down by all of the ways that I had deviated from another's blueprint. Today, after ten years of learning how to observe, my conscience lightened and my spirit soared.
I wasn't entirely alone on this day. Lucy the dog had taken refuge from the rain on the front door mat, which was warm due to the fact that this was her favorite place to lie. I liked the fact that the entrance to my home was warm. It is the way that I wanted things to be even if it meant that our door mat looked like a slab of tangled white fur.
The smell of the house was a caress. It wasn't a smell that I could compare to one source, rather it was an amalgamation of history and old books, pine oil soap, a decade of fires lit in our tiled stoves and the many loaves of bread baked over the years. My heart twinged as I sensed the house's warmth. It hadn't lived an easy life during the past hundred years of its existence, yet had the grace to take in this woman from nowhere and everywhere, and make her feel at home.
One had to excuse the leaks in the roof, which had covered the heads of so many generations. First there had been the large families of sand miners who had shared the house, living mostly around the cast iron stoves in the two back-to-back kitchens. Then it had been turned over to the badgers and the field mice for some time until the local nobility handed it and the island over to my husband's grandfather who sometimes tasked it with a stateliness that it wasn't born to. Within a few years it found itself at the zenith of a long flight of steps cutting through a series of grand stone terraces. Now it governed over a gaggle of smaller houses - boat houses, guest houses - that were all in the service of its existence. Yet to the badgers and the field mice it was the same welcome shelter, which they would happily take over once again for some years after the passing of the old man and before the return of the adult grandson.
Whether it had been ready for the arrival of a woman who demanded, in its old age, that it become her place for growing roots, her first real home in life, is an open question. It had been challenging to meet all of her needs such as year-round running water and electricity, water-tight shelter from rain and the wild creatures that it had been required to house in previous periods of its history.
I knew that I had never fully appreciated the limitations of this rust-red cottage and that I had been hard on it. Today it seemed to put its arms around me despite my cravings. Like any good parent, it embraced me for who I was, not who I would become, and for this reason put up with my occasional naïve cries for more and better.
My husband, Claes the grandson, knew instinctively that I was asking too much. He knew this place better than I did, because as a youngster during the 1950s he had handed the nails to his grandfather who had hammered in the planks over an insulation of old newspaper. Yet it was precisely because of his years that he knew certain windows open up only once in life and in the blinking of an eye can close again leaving you wondering what might have been.
Now on this rainy day, I opened one of the many windows facing onto the dock and the vast lake that reached inland from the Baltic Sea. I wanted to continue listening to the rain but it receded as though to teach me a lesson for deserting it. Gradually its sound was overtaken by the bird song that rises from the trees when the rain is over. A lone swan had glided out from the reeds to graze tail-up on the vegetation below the water's surface. I saw our twins, Hannes and Jesine, as they had been when we began our life here: toddlers crouching on their hind shanks on the pebbled beach, their rubber boots nudged by the water, which they ignored as they marveled in silence at a grazing swan.
To a great extent, it was because of the potential for these types of experiences that I wanted us to be here. I often felt that learning to watch a grazing swan in silence gave more than all of the traveling in the world. Maybe I had the luxury to think this having seen so much from the time that I was a crouching toddler. Perhaps it was my duty, having seen so many places, to call attention to the small cosmos that lay at our feet. You could travel the world and see nothing, arriving and departing with mental stereotypes. I wanted my youngsters to go out into the world, as I knew that eventually they would, looking more than judging, and listening more than speaking because that is the way that they and their world would become whole.
My gaze fastened at the long dock where Claes and I were married. Overcome by the energy of this place, the pastor had forsaken his Bible and welcomed the Norse gods to bless our marriage. It seemed fitting to be blessed by Thor, Odin and Freja whose benevolence I would draw upon in future years. Had I been watching the fine detail in those days, I would immediately have noticed that there were dangers in living isolated in this seemingly benign wilderness. My modern eyes saw lovely trees and flowers but not fog, thin ice, freezing water and merciless storms in which the trees could be lethal.
Had I known these things, I would have called myself irresponsible in suggesting that we should make this place our year-round home. Yet lack of foresight can sometimes bring benefits. Above all, it can bring the hard-won experience required to create respect. Our local doctor who became a great friend in these parts once said to me that youngsters with 'problems' should be sent to survive in a Nordic forest for a week. It sounded like a harsh prescription, but with the years I began to understand what he meant. The power of respect for nature is immeasurable. It teaches us that despite our big brains, we are not greater than the place we live in.
The paint on the dock was crumbling with the wear and tear of the elements. "That will be a task for next year when we return," I thought. Once, this place had been an adventure; now it was home and it seemed like a desertion to be closing it down in waiting for the next summer. How could I forsake it and move on? This warm house on this minute island that not even the locals knew about had taught me almost everything valuable that I knew. My spirit lay under one of the flat, warm stones on the terraces and I didn't know whether it would follow me into the new phase of life that we were embarking upon.
The thought of leaving this place turned the rain on my skin clammy. I crumpled up some newspaper and stuffed it into the porthole of one of the tiled stoves. I piled up a bit of tinder on top of it, lit the fire and half-closed the porthole, knowing that this lighting of the fire in an old tiled stove is not a semi-automatic process. The draught can put out your initial effort and you might have to start over a few times. However many times it took, I would always know how to light a fire, I thought.
How could I live in a place for a decade where supposedly nothing happens? Many people have asked me that question in a more polite formulation. My answer is that if you go and sit in a place where supposedly nothing is happening for a while, you will soon find that everything happens because you are open to it.
A short tour around the coasts of the neighboring islands revealed that some of them had boarded up their houses with planks nailed across the front door. Painted in leftover blue on one of them was the message, "There is no point in breaking in, everything has already been taken." All upright citizens and their belongings were gone and we were left to deal with the pirates.
Amid my moment of doubt the children's first words rang out: "masses of boats". As they rattled the child-safe gate to the back terrace, I hesitated. Didn't most children say "mommy" and "daddy" before they got their vocal chords around boats? Maybe the prognostications of family and friends were already becoming a reality: the children would become socially maladjusted living away from cars, shops and play dates. We had registered them at the small day care not far away across the lake. Yet as the water cooled and the first north wind of the season began to blow, I sensed that they might be seeing more of me than their new friends.
The voices of doubt that encircle a decision to change life's direction are many and loud. They form a ring around you until it is hard to see any opening. In my case, the most obscuring voice was my father's. He had been my closest confidante in early life, and I assumed that all stability and confidence that I possessed flowed from my connection to him. I don't know whether he knew this since, had he known, I could not imagine that he would have said the things that eventually he did about my life choice. One of his milder descriptions was that it was "medieval." I tried to excuse him based on his early training to become a Catholic priest. Yet it was difficult because he still owned a direct channel to my confidence and by sending through a few hard words he could exponentially increase any existing doubts.
Dad had hoped that I would be a corporate whiz kid and travel the world just as he did. When at various points in time I showed indications of veering off this path, he suggested with a force disguised in calm that I reconsider, and I always did. My passion for Shakespearean tragedy was relegated to a dusty bookshelf when he asked what I could possibly do with that. I even entered into a marriage that was wrong at the time based on his distaste for people living together in sin. How I adored my father.
At the age of thirty I had begun to take possession, so to speak. I had re-married without consideration for anyone's feelings but my own and my beloved's . I had pulled back from corporations and travel to be a mother working from home. None of this could be classified as being particularly radical, but when the year-long island adventure came out into the open I had obviously crossed the Rubicon.
For me all decisions now flowed from the children. So, to start by insisting that this life in the middle of nowhere would somehow hurt their future was a strategically intelligent start by Dad. As I watched them shaking the safety gate on the terrace shouting "masses of boats" at the fleeing city folk, the children began to look more like two small inmates. Were we holding them back from the fullness of life that the other children were returning to?
"Love one another," the female pastor had said at the children's christening in the nearby church during the summer gone by. She looked sternly at Claes and me, each of us holding a child whose head had just been patted dry. Her thought was so blissfully simple yet at the same time loaded with the burden of experience, that no one in the congregation knew what to do with it except to give it air and silence. "Love one another". What did it really mean? I thought of a hundred things and then something that I could not describe. It was that thing, I thought, and whatever it was that I couldn't describe, it was something between the four of us that it was our greatest task to nurture and make grow. Everything and everyone else was secondary.
"How can you stand it here?" one of the guests asked, bolstered by a few glasses of wine at the modest event we threw on the island afterward. I paused; giving an opportunity for the feeling of offense to pass and to appreciate that asking the question demanded some courage. I glanced at our children who squealed with delight as they played crawl tag with one another on the floor. I smiled at the guest and scrounged around for some research findings that pointed to the fact that children under a certain age are more interested in being with their parents than with anyone else. In reality, the answer was as simple as, what can seem a trap for one person can be freedom for another.
Present at the christening and now sitting behind me on the terrace listening to the children repeating their first words was Jenny. She too was skeptical about our decision to move out to the island, which she knew meant that it was time for her to move on. She was young and setting out on her own life's adventure. Retreating to an isolated island understandably did not seem the right move for her. At the same time I knew that these two little 'prisoners' rattling at the gate were like the two apples of her eyes. There was nothing that could wipe the warm smile from her face when they were around. Being a good au pair isn't just a job and Jenny was a very good one.
Jenny was important to me. She had become my bridge into a culture that I didn't know and that my children had been born into. I would have to learn the language, the pat-i-cake songs and the stories that all children knew. She made sure that I watched Pippi Longstocking and learned Astrid Lindgren's stories whose characters were everyday metaphors in the lives of Swedish adults and children. Jenny knew what it was to feel like an outsider since she had been raised by Swedish parents who had adopted her from an orphanage in Korea. I sometimes pictured that we had helped one another to cross many bridges.
Jenny's departure was the reduction of our island community to the bare basics. There were now only four of us and Mats the electrician, who lived on an island for a reason, which was that he liked more privacy than most.
Excerpted from Rose in the Sand by Julie Catterson Lindahl Copyright © 2011 by Julie Catterson Lindahl. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Posted November 19, 2012
I truly loved this bittersweet story that takes place on an island in Sweden. My family also came from an island in Sweden before coming to America. Last year I was lucky enough to get the chance to visit there, so this helped me to replay some of those beautiful moments. The author's seasonal accounts of the simple pleasures (and hardships) of family life on her island was like a love letter that made me dream of having such an affair with life. It was written with a pureness which clearly painted a lovely picture of every scene, bringing it alive for us readers. I am planning on buying her other books ASAP:)Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.