This isn’t a typical Scandinavian summer. It was the warmest July on record for three major cities in Norway and the fourth warmest July in Oslo. Weeks of warm weather culminated in a heat wave with temperatures varying from the low 80’s to 90 degrees. One headline read, “Norway can’t handle the heat” and it was kind of true; people started to look a bit more wilted in the warm weather and a tad bit less ecstatic. Even the lush green grass has begun to show faint patches of yellow, and with no sprinkler systems – there really isn’t much to do about it (we saw one instance of surface sprinklers and my husband remarked on the “fake” watering!).
It’s even been a little too muggy and hot for me (a Southern California girl born and raised in the heat) – especially suffocating train rides in the late afternoon heat with no air conditioning. But all of this heat has provided the perfect conditions for what I consider to be a completely idyllic Norwegian summer, mainly a lot of outdoor activities in (mostly) perfectly comfortable weather (and the luxury of trading extra layers of clothing for sandals, short-sleeves and skirts).
In the evenings we take a fifteen-minute walk from our apartment through thick forest, speckled with the red of ripening raspberries, to the edge of Key Lake where the 74-degree waters provide a quintessentially refreshing swim. A couple of weeks ago we found the perfect spot just off of a meadow of birches (where the beavers have evidently been hard at work). The rocks jut out into the water creating shallows for wading and the deeper water nearby slowly fades into islands of thick grassland making it shallower and several degrees warmer than the rest of the lake. Small fish dart in the clear waters and families of waterfowl swim around the rock outcroppings to graze in the shallows.
Oslo was virtually deserted by its inhabitants and sparsely repopulated with summer tourists during July (the official public summer holiday when Norwegians flock en masse to warm places in the world like the Mediterranean and Canary Islands), replacing the fast-pace of the capital with a hushed calm that seemed to gently rest over the city. It was a veritable stay at home vacation.
But before the big summer holiday we did take a vacation. We returned to the family cabin in Mandal, the quaint coastal town on the Southern tip of Norway (the town I fell in love with this past Easter). We took evening walks to the small marina by the cabin where I gazed intently into the living aquarium before me, meticulously counting the jellyfish and watching their pulsing movements in fascination as they ever so slowly traversed the waters. We took a “secret” path rising steeply out of the cobblestone streets of downtown to a lookout with a birds-eye view of the coast and outlying islands – the very same spot where Viking children kept watch for their fathers returning from missions of plunder. We ate a lunch of (the best ever) fish and chips on the roof of the local fish market. We rented bikes and rode along a peaceful fjord, across the main highway, up (and up and up) a hill, and past two placid lakes to an old wool factory. On the ride home we stopped and ate our sack lunches on a small bridge over a cheerful stream, our feet dangling and our backs warming in the sun. We picnicked on one of Mandal’s famous white sand beaches and took a swim in the cold, clear blue sea. We listened to bleating sheep, greeting them in turn and admiring their lambs. We watched intently as bees plunged the depths of foxgloves and wild roses. We bathed in the lake behind the cabin and I dried my hair in front of the blazing firewood stove.
We celebrated the fourth of July in Mandal with my husband’s cousin and wife and their baby. My husband made pancakes for breakfast and we managed to belt out the last lines of the chorus of “Star Spangled Banner” together. Later he surprised me with red, white and blue balloons, sparklers and a card that said, “Today is Your Day!” in flashy silver Norwegian writing. We grilled cod and vegetables and ate our dinner on the deck, retreating indoors from the foggy evening for our desert of a patriotic Pavlova (meringue) cake topped with whipped cream, raspberries and blueberries.
But my all-time favorite adventure was along a coastal path in a region called Farsund. The main attraction, Lista Lighthouse, rose dramatically along the coastal landscape and it was satisfactorily old, but we were more interested in finding the ancient Viking carvings rumored to lay several kilometers beyond the lighthouse. We took the coastal trail watching intently for the blue posts sparsely marking the way (spotting each one with a sense of triumph – we were on the right path!). The trail threaded the coast guiding us past old German bunkers, wary cows and sheep in rocky pastures that literally bordered the sea, shallow marsh, and through a thick, dark tunnel of forest (that, I imagined, would even challenge the courage of the fabled Anne of Green Gables). At the end of the path two angelic young girls, their waist-long hair flowing in the wind, walked their bikes alongside us as they talked in their sweet southern accents and guided us to the Viking carvings. After inspecting the carvings (see my Scandinavian Summer photo blog) we ate our lunch with our backs against nearby rocks, the ocean winds whipping deliciously around us.
The week after we returned from Mandal we received an impromptu weekend invitation to an aunt’s cabin in Sweden. Our appetites whetted for adventure, we immediately said yes. That weekend we boated along a fjord and docked by ocean rocks where we floated in the ocean feeling free and buoyant in the salty waters. We picked cherries in the midday mugginess and took a refreshing swim in a nearby lake afterward. We ate baked fish with the family on the patio (complete with china and glassware) only to be interrupted just before dessert with big drops of rain that quickly turned into a downpour as we dashed between the cabin and patio, rescuing cushions and leftovers.
It is all so idyllic isn’t it? A treasure chest of unending gems and golden goblets, each one delightfully turned over carefully in my awareness and cherished. All of this treasure, all of this summer, all of this adventure has helped me find this important truth: life is an adventure. It is here just waiting to be discovered and experienced. And I can be content, happy even, on this journey. It isn’t just about arriving somewhere – it is about how I get there too.