Here is a piece I wrote for St. James' Church in New York City, where I am a happy parishioner and where, among other things, we explore what it means to live out our faith...
(click on title to read)
Here is a piece I wrote for St. James' Church in New York City, where I am a happy parishioner and where, among other things, we explore what it means to live out our faith...
(click on title to read)
There is no way to cleanly process the tragedy and horror that happened on Friday here in Norway. So I will, as a friend suggests, just write it out. From the past, I do know that along with the horror, compassion and sadness we feel, a fear, suspicion and dread has entered the blood and soul, and and it will surge. Eventually, the feelings subside, but not entirely. We will be altered, closed down a small bit. Our hearts will be less open than they were before.
I look out the kitchen window here, on a farm just south of Olso, and study the woods beyond the field, trying to remember what those woods looked like on Thursday, when they didn't seem so ominous. I remind myself what that summer, before Friday at 3pm----that happy, boring, endless-day summer life------was like.
I drove to the airport just north of Oslo yesterday to pick up my husband, who was flying in from New York. As we were returning, my husband's Sister called to say she was setting off to the airport now, to pick up their father, who was flying in from North Africa. An hour later, on the main thoroughfare to Oslo, we got a text from Sister. It said, "So you travel in coat and tie now?"
You see, in Norway, on the nation's major highway, just outside of its capital city, the speed limit is 80kph (50mph), and it is respected. There are two lanes in each direction, and though we were in the slow lane, Sister not only caught sight of her brother passing by, but could see in the car well enough to determinate that he was wearing a coat and tie.
It didn't strike my mother-in-law as odd when I told her. Ohh yes, she sang, and pretended to smile at my observation, and turned back to stirring the meatballs.
This is a small country.
Who are you calling small? Sister said to the tv when the BBC anchorman referred to Norway as "a small country" on while reporting on the tragedy on Friday, and, probably by coincidence, the news has been on Norwegian channels ever since.
Every summer we park the car at the RR station and walk up the steep path to the hytta (cottage) where my father-in-law lived until he was ten. The cottage is in ruins now, but he can still point out the outhouse, and the small creek where they used to get water still passes by. There's even a bicycle rusting against a wall. We pick berries and eat them. It's chilly in the middle of August, so surrounded by pines. The ground is soft. My father-in-law used to walk to school from the cottage, two miles down the hill and into town, even when the snow was this high. This wasn't so long ago, and we are just outside of Oslo. It was after the war, and things were hard for everyone, for a long time.
One night, he was walking home through the woods in the dark. He could hardly see arm's reach in front of him, when he passed another human. he felt the man passing by, neither thought to stop. When he got home, he told his mother about it, and they speculated for some time who the other person might have been. There was no fear at all. He's told the story several times over the years.
Sunday evening. All the family is here now. M. has arrived safely from New York, the father from North Africa. Another Brother is here with his wife and children from Oslo, and Sister is here with her boyfriend. It's a zoo. We sit around the big table that was hand-made from a fallen tree at the last house. The house that we are in now was hand built too. The Norwegians are what I imagine the Americans were 150 years ago. BesteMama's meatballs, berries, potatoes, and beer. In an hour everyone will be upstairs again watching the news. But now, we are all coming and going from the table, sibling arguments are heating up, the children rush past----they are pirates with swords----and someone has changed the music to jazz.
Yesterday, I went to the lake with the children. We drove down the road to town. We passed through town which is mostly just a school, a church at the top of a hill of wheat (where Vikings are buried in mounds by the horse pasture), and a little shop that sells ice cream and bread and we wonder how it survives. Then we pass through more fields under the blue sky---we are listening to 80s American tunes on the radio and I know all the words! Ha ha my kids are amazed--- and through a small the forest where we saw the moose last year, and then there is the lake.
This is thirty miles or so from Oslo, but sometimes, when viewed at a certain angle or caught in a certain light, this place offers the tranquility and stillness of the another era, another time. And then, the light changes or the angle shifts and it's back to iphones and malls and life in the modern world.
It was such a beautiful day yesterday! It was supposed to rain so it was even more preciously gorgeous. It was the first real summer day since we arrived three weeks ago. The sky was endless blue, the girl selling strawberries by the barn was sheltered by an umbrella and a sunhat, and, when we got to the lake, it was hot enough to actually want to swim. We had a picnic and the kids were swimming and time was passing when I heard a child cry.
The beach is so small and quiet. I love Norway because of its quiet. The swimmers do not yell from the water up to the towel people. Children play well and are addressed immediately if they have a problem. There is no music playing. Once I heard a mobile phone ring. It's not silent but it is quiet.
So this child's cry. He was three or four years old, standing on the edge of the water, and having quite a fit as his red blow-up beach ball floated away, out around the grass and cattails, out of his reach. Out of his mother's reach too. She took his hand and led him back to the beach towel, she didn't look at anyone, perhaps embarrassed, and got on with things.
I assume everyone saw the drifting ball. But no one went after it. No one looked at the ball or talked to each other or pointed or anything. Even the swimmers deliberately ignored it. I almost asked my daughter, but thought better of it. They know something perhaps. And that ball was drifting pretty fast.
After about five minutes, a boy walked decisively into the lake and started to swim after it. He was 14, we later decided. O yes! I thought. He's going after it! I wanted so much for the world to come together like this! I watched him swim. I watched the ball sail further. He kept swimming and the ball kept sailing. He was getting pretty far out. I had stopped watching my kids altogether. Is he going to be ok? Is he being watched by anyone else? No one else on the beach seemed at all aware of this deepening saga. His people weren't nervously looking after him.
Until his father stepped in and started swimming. Another wave of relief and joy swept through me. He swam hard and the boy swam too----but less so than before, he was really tiring---and the ball was all the over in the reeds by the other shore. But that boy was not going to stop.
The father, the boy, the ball all came together somehow and eventually swam back. When they got out of the water, the boy sort of tossed the ball to the kid. No one said anything and he expected nothing. No one on the little beach acknowledged this heroic deed, though I----the weird American---did kind of smile at him and nodded a little as he passed.
The boy sat down and breathed heavy for about 20 minutes. The father returned to his newspaper. The mothers continued chatting. I was practically weeping with the joy and beauty and wonder of it all.
Today, we woke to the most torrential rain. I looked at some photos I took yesterday and couldn't believe it was the same planet. We watched movies and I vacuumed and stared out at the pouring rain wondering where the three weeks went (my husband joins us on Sunday!) and then, when we were all so restless it was too much, we drove to my husband's 92 year old grandfather's (who dresses in a tie and jacket each day for lunch at the elderly center, and still does the snow shoveling) house to pick cherries and raspberries.
That was about the time that the bombs went off in Oslo. That was about the time that some of the young people on Utoya Island were fleeing across the water. And suddenly, yesterday in Norway feels like a different era----maybe not more peaceful, but more quiet. Suddenly, yesterday feels like a different world.
Day 12. The reckless (& futile) concerns of my mind have peaked, consumed me, tossed me about like a ship in a hurricane, and then, God bless, subsided. I am free now, at peace, liberated, but I still sometimes sense that there are white shapes moving between the trees...
The kids come screaming down the hill. Screaming! I am sure that this is it---the leg caught in a tractor; the snake bite; the fall from the barn roof. I hear the screams every five minutes. I hear the screams in my sleep. I am a city mother---I take my child rearing neat, clean and ultra-supervised. Life-on-a-Norwegian-farm-where-diplomats-live? Well it's just so... rustic.
But the children are running, screaming and laughing. Phew, as I stand in the door watching them take the last steps down the hill. Mummy! Mummy! Come see the Smudge Wall by Liv & Haakon!! "Smudge" and "wall"? See? Totally rustic.
We're a cross between our parents and hippies in a tent, sings Greg Brown. I've had that line stuck in my head since my daughter was born seven years ago. And I feel the pull happen again within me as I stand before my children's Smudge Wall: how my mother would respond; how a hippie in a tent would respond. I pause and admire. The drawings are done with magic marker, then smudged with dirty hands. They have drawn frames on the wall around the drawings. I reach through the arbitrariness that is my parenting style---seven years and I'm still waiting for the memo, or the conference, or even the a conversation where it will all be revealed. Then I'll be up to speed. Then I won't feel under-employed. Then I will find such joy in coloring! Then I will bring dinner to the table effortlessly and lovingly. Then I will get in the cold water, and teach them how to swim. Until then, however, I'm a babysitter waiting for the parents to return, and I'm a little pissed off that there's no Diet Coke in the fridge.
"That's cool," I say to my two, proud, mural-smudge-painting children. "You should get the camera and take a picture."
I walk back outside, checking the laundry on the line as I pass. The sheets are dry so I take them down and fold them to make room for the next load. As I finish, I remember I was looking for the clippers to prune the bushes a while ago, before I started the laundry, and the writing, and the outdoor pillow fluffing, and the Sound of Music dance performance watching, which led me to get the boom box out of the barn and hook it up to the ipod and play early Bob Dylan tunes on the back porch. I find the clipper and return to this new art of mine. I think I might be a genius with this pruning thing, and I'm sort of surprised my Norwegian family hasn't commented on my work. I always take care to not cut any flowers or buds---would be like shooting a pregnant deer, I think as I snip away. Although when I'm done, I wonder if it would be generous to shoot the deer, and put it out of its misery.
But it is 12:37pm in Norway and the children have just alerted me that the U.S. President is coming for two hours and he would like some proper music, nothing New York, maybe a disco song. Play that Funky Music comes on. The President will love that song! Haakon says, and so that's decided. But so many more preparations still to complete, oh so much to do.
It’s hard to go to sleep when it’s still light out. I stay up every night and sleep all day. It took me seven days to write that sentence. It's hard to write a sentence when you have two children who love you endlessly, unconditionally, joyously, and show it in a way that might seem needy at times. I think T.S. Elliot wrote that. I think e.e. cummings wrote that. I think Bob Dylan wrote that.
You'll think you don't need to know this, but you must hear about the weather in Norway. It is April in England; it is October in New England; it is July in Norway. I am wearing wool slippers and a sundress as I write.
The most incredible dark thunder clouds will roll in across an innocent afternoon. I run around collecting water guns and discarded shoes, coffee cups, sweaters, newspapers, rakes, wheel barrows and a blow-up shark. Put them all away. The Family doesn't notice me, out of politeness. Everyone steps inside when the rain begins (should we retreat to the cellar? I wonder. Did they hear about the tornado in Mass?).
A few minutes later someone opens a window and lets the light in. A splattering of rain, nothing more. It's about 50 degrees cooler than an hour before. We have dinner----mackeral, boiled potatoes, coffee and strawberries with cream for desert----wonderful---- and the talk is of what?
I don't know. I catch a word here or there. It is wonderfully bliss to understand nothing. Not many Americans would have the patience, but I find it soothing and lovely these interludes of innocence, and I have never---in years of spending summers here---become irritated or offended by my in-laws. Can you say that?
After dinner, we see BestePapa out the window, crossing the yard. He's carrying a newspaper and heading toward the path that leads to the outhouse. The outhouse is up the hill where a little cottage sits, once used by a great-uncle or someone during the war or something. My sister-in-law is appalled, Is he...? she asks. Oh yes, BesteMama replies. If you keep the door open while you sit, you can see out all the way to the church steeple in town....
We wake up at 11am the children and I, or sometimes 10:30 or even noon, still groggy with jetlag and maybe simply wiped out from a year of New York City noise, buses, subways, rushing, dressing, smiling, worshiping, running, bill paying, forgetting, agonizing, snacking, homeworking, cat caring, doorman hello-ing and the rest. The oddest part of waking up after 12 hours of sleep here is that I feel no remorse. No frustration about how I should be up at 6am out picking berries or building troll huts in the woods. When you are with a five- and a seven-year-old all day every day, in a pure quiet uninterrupted setting, that sort of ambition seems to fall away. You simply become.
The only sound as I write is the birds outside and the scratch scratch scratch of the children's coloring markers.
We have three weeks before Papa and BestePapa join the women here (my sister-in-law and mother-in-law come and go). The forecast shows many days of little suns being cruelly shoved aside by dark, rainy clouds. The highs are in the low 60s. Wetsuits for the sprinkler and the lake are de rigueur.
The other day, on our way to Kristiansand, we stopped in a little town off the main route to look for a spot for a picnic. It was a sunny day. We had some bread and grapes and coffee in a thermos and apples and salami. We drove through the little town and turned a bend and there we came upon an old church settled into itself with the dignity, resignation, and peace characteristic of buildings that have harbored generations. There was a strip of grass along the parking lot behind the church, which rose to a stone wall which bordered the church graveyard. There was plenty of shade under the tall birch trees. The light came through the leaves of the birches and speckled the dirt parking lot.
We got out of the car, took in the scene, adjusted to the stillness and sat down to eat. M. poured the coffee. It felt, in the tiniest way, like a safari in Africa. It felt nothing like a road trip in America. "This is not an American road trip," I had thought to myself as we puttered down the major highway going 50mph in a SAAB. (Where speed traps are frequent, and fines are impressive and inflexible, no one---not one law-abiding citizen----speeds). It is a bit like traveling in a dream, the yearning to run impeded by a weight in your legs that is hell.
I watched a couple in an old convertible come down an on-ramp up ahead. We puttered along. I watched the driver accelerate along the on-ramp and then---where traditionally one would hit the gas and leap into the traffic on the highway----the car slowed back down to join the giddy line of 45mph. The couple in the convertible were well-dressed and poised, like film stars from the 1950s taking a drive down the California coast. It was the way they slowed down to join the highway that made them suddenly seem like Barbie and Ken in a weird doll movie.
Anyway. There was a RV parked by the church, and behind the RV there were some young men laughing and hanging out. We couldn't see them but M. said, "What kind of guys hang out in a church parking lot?" I didn't know but there is much in this country that I have yet to learn. We didn't think anything more of it.
Another car pulled in, more film stars from the 50s, the man in a tuxedo and the woman with her hair up and glittery earrings. They were studying directions, I assumed, the way she was looking down reading something. But then they parked and got out. She was wearing a long, aqua blue evening gown. They each took out a pack of cigarettes and began to smoke. They were having a cigarette break on the way to somewhere, in order to not smell like smoke upon arrival. She was wearing cheap black sandals and he had on cheap black shoes too, and I have recently been informed that first impressions are often based on the shoes you are wearing, so know that, because it definitely had an effect on my impression of the movie starlet.
"What a strange church parking lot this is," I said. And everyone agreed.
A man boarded the RV. He sat in the driver's seat and watched us through the side window. I assumed he was the man who tended the graveyard. But why he would drive to work in a RV, I couldn't fathom. And why, I wondered, was he looking at us?
"Maybe he's Schmidt and he's dilly dally-ing now that his wife is dead," M. said. He did have a distant expression, in the way that an older man might not be able reach his sadness. But then, perhaps, over the years a grave-digger's face might take on a permanent shape of longing, out of respect for the dead.
We continued to eat and watch Schmitt sit in his RV and the girl in the aqua-blue evening gown smoke her cigarette, when another car pulled up and out came a woman in a bunad. A bunad is a traditional Norwegian dress, still worn for special occasions such as christenings or ... weddings.
"Really, you think so?" M. said. "It's kind of an usual time for a wedding."
"A Saturday afternoon in July? I don't think it's so radical." Our wedding was on a Tuesday in Kampala, in a lawyer's office during M's lunch break, so I guess anything else seems weird to us. It was not a glamorous affair (M. returned to work and I went out to lunch with a friend) but I've never had a moment's regret, which surprises me. I am surprised by the fact that I do not want what I am supposed to want.
Maybe I'll feel regret on my deathbed. For that and for all the things I should have done that I never did; all the things I should have said that I never said... Well, I can always say that I've had lunch at Tanum kirke, and also that we read the gravestones of the colonels and lieutenants and their wives and virgin sisters, and that one gravestone had my name Emilie on it, from one hundred years ago. How unusual to have that french name way back then in this land of Knuts and Ingrids; I'm curious about her story.
And I can always say that we all piled back into the car, and argued about the best way back to the main road, and I accelerated ever so slightly on the on-ramp then slowed down again to join the line of Norwegians heading south for the weekend.
The painting above, entitled Barnedap i Tanum kirke, is by Harriet Backer (Norway 1845-1932). It was painted in 1892.
All day today it was wind, wind, wind. I love it. The field of grain out this window is indigo-green and the shadows sweep across the field in the wind and the gentle hills are like swelling ocean waves. The trees in the woods along the field bend and sway, and the leaves flutter.
That was Monday.
By now the wind had subsided----it is approaching midnight, with the light still hovering----and it is quiet but for the footsteps upstairs. Bestepapa has come in from working in the barn.
That was Tuesday.
Let me see where this goes.
It's Wednesday now. Lost shoes; long walks; a bottle of vermouth on the windowsill so rustic and French-seeming in this otherwise Northern clime. 'Nor', 'Way,'" M. said yesterday in the car. "The north way!" And no one argued. "Let's take this moment," I said at lunch by the fountain when we arrived in DrØbok (I was wearing two sweaters and admiring the Norwegian ease with rubber boots. The rain was not too heavy, and the wind hadn't yet picked up, so a picnic in town was not so outlandish.) "Let us take this moment to thank Daddy for being Norwegian.
"Papa," I turned to my love. "Thank you for not being from southern Italy. Thank you for not being Tuscan, say, or from boring old South of France." A light rain pelted upon us. The children squinted up at me, the mist dripped from their rain hats. Their little expressions had that What's happened to Mama? look.
"Ha. Ha," he said and I laughed too. I joke, but I love it. I love the gorgeous days and I love the cold, rainy days. ("I could live here," I tell M. "Say that after living through the month of January," he replies.) The way the wheat responds in an almost-chilling path when a fox runs through the field. The way the endless days pass without a trace of judgement. The gentle lilt of the Norwegian language, the generations coming through, the open front door. I bless each day here.
Anyway, you have to, don't you think? You never know when life might pull it all right out from under you, in one way or another. Why is it the thing we want the most in life so often eludes us? It is God's way of showing us something, but I have yet to learn why.
1. On sunny warm days, the Norwegians come out wearing hardly anything and they lounge around reading the paper and drinking coffee from a thermos, or they sit against a barn with their faces to the sun and eyes closed, or they lie on the rocky beach like basking seals.
2. Part of the beauty of being here is that I understand nothing going on around me. My husband's family speaks perfect English, but naturally they speak Norwegian to each other, and it's in the little comments and slights and nudges that any family's drama lies. And here, I know none of it. There is no strife or bitterness or irritation or exasperation in this family! It's all just happy people speaking a sing-songy Muppet language.
3. There is thunder and rain at night. The days are crisp, already autumnal---the slightest, dusky-summer nostalgia feeling crept in last week. One of the sister's left yesterday for school. The trees whoooosh in the wind. The wind through the forest sounds like ocean waves crashing. The shadows lengthen. I have a familiar feeling that I should be somewhere getting ready for something, and I'm not.
4. Children here run down hills, ride tractors, feed pigs apples from the trees, chase barn cats, climb ladders, scratch their knees, search for trolls, get scared of bugs, eat ice cream, pick raspberries, weed gardens, cut grass, pester the dog, get barked at by the dog, go to town, eat fish, and don't (we feel obliged to remind them) know how lucky they are.
5. A month, I am here to remind you, can be a very long time. That's good news when you're 41 years old with two small children living in New York City and always saying, Where does the time go Where does the time go Where does it go?
Yesterday, I went out for a long walk after the children were asleep. I took a left at the end of the drive and went up the hill and through the little patch of woods at the top of the hill. I passed the bathtub half full of murky summer rain, and wondered again why it was there, and continued along the farm road, thinking about the Midwest, and England, and Kenya and Tanzania and Rwanda, and Normandy, and how this walk reminded me one way or another of all those places----Tanzania without the people; Normandy without the cows; the Midwest without the pick-up trucks, etc.
I came to the intersection and took a left and passed another farm, and wondered why they had cut the trees in the woods over there, and when, and remembered the time we bought ice cream that time when the girl was just a baby. I wondered about winter on these farms, and I wondered if I would ever write again; if I even wanted to; and if not, what I would do with my life instead. Tiny little frogs stood still in the road and how I wanted to pick up each one and toss it into the tall, safe grass. It would take all night to do that, and when I finished I would have to turn around and begin again, because they keep coming and coming and coming. Is there something Biblical about tiny frogs swarming before the deluge? O but they are sweet----I want to take one home and shellack it and perch it on a shelf forever---and I hate seeing the unfortunate smudge they leave on the road. They must be very dumb. They sit on the pavement all evening, frozen next to their squished comrades, and they don't even leap away when I try to scare them into the grass.
I turned around. The setting sun was bright on the horizon. A car passed, eerily slow. There was a fire burning by the side of a barn, and the smell reminded me of rural Tanzania. I passed the bathtub and entered the grove at the top of the hill and began to descend. There was M.'s family house up ahead on the right. It seemed quiet and still; the generations teeming within----the siblings and spouses and children and grandchildren and dogs---were not evident from here. Way up ahead on the road the Landrover was approaching: BestePapa and Little Sister returning from Oslo. I watched it approach, "I know that car," I thought, "But they won't recognize me from there." I walked and walked and they drove and drove and we were still quite far apart when they reached the driveway and, to my surprise, the horn sounded. Two arms came out of the car windows waving. "They know me!" I thought, and I waved back madly, madly, and they continued up the driveway and I continued walking, home.
It's late in the evening and the sky is light and soft and gentle. Before I spent time here in the summer, I thought the weirdness of the day's eternal light would unsettle me. But actually,
it's lovely and relaxing. The day's unspooling lasts for
hours---one is never tired, never rushed.
We are here for the month. I haven't written in a long time. The children are asleep in the next room; M. is around, he's been obsessed with emptying the barn. BestePapa and an older
grandson are in the back woods making a sound that I thought was a
clumsy deer in the brush until I heard a male voice speak. They must be
cutting or clearing or something. There's always a project of that
nature going on, some chore that seems to have survival at its very
Mornings on the farm in July are clear and fresh: dew soaks the surrounding fields, the kitchen lawn, and the grove of birch saplings between. The air is crisp, it is silent, even the dog is still asleep. Bestepapa has his morning coffee and reads the paper on the front step. He will soon pack up his sandwiches and flasks and skis and silver and head up to the cottage: he has been working on its repair every day, steadily and methodically, from dawn to dusk---never pausing, never rushing. It was some great-uncle, I believe, who built the cottage at the turn of the last century---the eccentric great-uncle who lost all the money and came to live here in the woods. Over the years of its neglect, the cottage settled into the soft mossy ground, retreated under vines and weeds, and sunk under the now-towering pines. Otherwise, however, it remained untouched--- a tea kettle sits on the front table, horseshoes rust on the shed's wall, the out-house door perfectly frames the view of town's distant church steeple...
When I arrive a few hours later, I find the children having a tea party with rust-tainted water from the bathtub that rests by the front door. They look like aliens to me, perfectly at home in this foreign mossy land that I know nothing about. (It is weird, as a mother, when I experience a glimpse of my children comfortable in a setting that is independent from me). M. welcomes me kindly. He puts down his tools. The babe offers me a cup of tea. We peek into the shed, I have an urge to sell everything on Ebay. we enter the cottage and admire the entry way hooks, the kitchen and its bunk beds, the picture on the wall of Queen Elizabeth at her coronation. There is a wood stove in the main room, and a trap door in the floor that leads to the cellar where we could (it is pointed out) store our potatoes and yams, presumably for winter.
“You see!” M. says, “Our cream is still there from when we were building the main house ten years ago! But don't drink it!” He is speaking with more exclamation points during this tour than in all of our years together combined. He is entertaining an idea---I'm beginning to suspect---that we should move here.
Up until this moment, I had thought we were on a certain life trajectory together---a slow build-up of responsibilities, burdens and stresses for the next twenty years; then a transition period as the children join the adult world and we begin to retreat from it; then retirement, or some sort of waning into our old age. I had not considered that M. would ever quit his job, sell our possessions, buy some hemp frocks and live by subsistence in a one room cottage in the woods. He's just not the type, I thought, panicking (I admit) a little.
“No,” I said, putting the subject to rest.
But you know, there was a time when I did imagine that life for me. There was a time when I spent months alone in cabins in the woods---deep in the backwoods of Virginia one August with two dogs and some chickens; high in the northern woods of Maine in a ski house during the off-season with a cat and some friends in the valley. I looked out of the Petterson hytta window, the tree leaves were shimmering in the morning sun. All the chores I had to do seemed far, far away and suddenly irrelevant. All my failure dissolved. All my wasted days, my tedious errands, my procrastinations---all just faded off. I imagined spending the first summer weeding that gnarled area out back. How peaceful the children would be without whining for tv; how pure and creative; how their minds would flourish unimpeded by the cheap nonsense of the 21st century! After I made coffee on the wood stove each morning, I thought, I would write my stories here, on the kitchen counter, while the children played naked in the yard. In the winter, they would be out chopping trees or tapping for maple syrup. M. and I would play Scrabble at night, or read the literary magazines that our artist friends had left behind (who would come for weeks at a time, to have discussion with us and to allow their minds to rejuvenate in the pure, untarnished nature).
I turned to M. and said, “You know, actually, I could actually, maybe, really consider living here.” He try to restrain his joy as he kept pointing out all the wonderful things. He kept talking all the way back down the path, and there was a little bounce in my step as I followed him. And the children seemed more delighted than ever---more blond, more naked, more free and unfettered. I would have to learn the names of all the trees and wildflowers, I said, and we would ride our bikes everywhere...
When we returned to his parents' kitchen, I emptied the dishwasher and boiled eggs for lunch. We sliced some bread and ate another bowl of strawberries and discussed how to arrange the afternoon, and we haven't returned to the subject of moving to the Petterson hytta since.
At the end of the day, Liv crosses the yard carrying her pink sun hat in her hand. She is returning from the cottage in the woods. The northern evening light catches her blond hair and, with the sun hat in her hand, the child crossing the yard becomes a painting. She is dragging her feet just a little, and when she reaches me she sort of flops into my lap. In Norway, of course, 'end of the day' lingers for as long as the day itself and actually, when Liv flops into my lap, it is not so much early evening as, mood-wise, the final moments of day. What time is it? The hours after 6pm or so don't seem to matter, as there is no pressing night to define them, no closure or definition. And it's like my day job as a mother---the feedings and nose-wiping and lotion applying and fight resolutions---suddenly ends, we stamp our time cards, the children and I, and head off together like Wylie coyote and that bunny he chases. "Oh I'm tired," Liv says.
A plastic orange watering can sits proudly by the clothes hanging on the laundry line, like a father standing before his lovely daughters. The not-yet finished child's table is upside-down next to the chain saw, which is unplugged. The toy dump truck is full of water and twigs and buttercups and strawberry leaves. The white chair is up by the big stone and birch tree, it has made its way across the yard over the course of the day. A child's pink shirt is drapped over it, drying. A small post-war summer cottage has been moved from the woods and renovated into a playhouse for the children. It is settled in the grove of new birches on the edge of the lawn in splendid perfection. Beste Papa has returned from Drobeck with the lawn mower. The laundry is dry on the line. The baby pool is half full of water. We have eaten one million strawberries today. The dog (on her leash until September because of hunting) has wrapped herself around the birch again, I will unravel the leash, for the 100th time today, in a minute. The dog is barking at Papa and Haakon who are approaching us now, returning from the cottage in the woods.
... there's Vigeland Park.
Click on the photo album in the right column to get an idea.
"Me, view a slide show of a) someone's vacation and b) statues?" you say.
I know you have corporations to run and books to write and Peace Negotiations to not be late for, but trust me, these photos will cast a new light on all your innocent-seeming Norwegian friends, colleagues and husbands.
The following lifted directly from Wikipedia (which oddly overlooks the fact that the statues are all bare naked while "engaging in various typical human pursuits") (and since when is a pile of naked babies or a 30 foot column of intertwined nude people a "typical human pursuit"?) (Is Wikipedia really all that great?):
"The park has as its theme what could be called "The Human Condition". Most of the statues depict people engaging in various typically human pursuits such as running, wrestling, dancing, hugging, holding hands and so on. However Vigeland [the sculptor] occassionally included some statues that are more abstract and to some degree defy understanding. Such as the "man attacked by babies" statue which shows an adult male fighting off a horde of tiny babies."
(sorry, the example is not included in the album).
Long Afternoon at the Edge of Little Sister Pond
by Mary Oliver
As for life,
I'm without words
sufficient to say
how it has been hard as flint,
and soft as a spring pond,
both of these
and over and over,
and long pale afternoons besides,
and so many mysteries
beautiful as eggs in a nest,
though warm and watched over
by something I have never seen---
a tree angel, perhaps,
or a ghost of holiness.
Every day I walk out into the world
to be dazzled, then to be reflective.
It suffices, it is all comfort---
along with human love,
dog love, water love, little-serpent love,
sunburst love, or love for that smallest of birds
flying among the scarlet flowers.
There is hardly time to think about
stopping, and lying down at last
to the long afterlife, to the tenderness
yet to come, when
time will brim over the singular pond, and become forever,
and we will pretend to melt away into the leaves.
As for death,
I can't wait to be the hummingbird,
We fly to Norway tonight, where they commute with horse and carriage and don't have computers so there won't be any posts for a while. But there are nice woodstoves there with fires and a harvest full moon and people talking in words I can not understand. For years I thought M's family were brilliant with all of their intricate political conversations and arguments about the state of the world. Then I started studying a little Norwegian and I realised they were discussing the neighbor's driveway that cuts, some feel, a bit too close to the farm house.
But they are brillant and we can't wait to see them. And imagine Vigeland Park!