A 2008 Norwegian study revealed that four out of ten people either own or have access to a cabin. Often the cabin is built by family members and passed down through the generations. In some cases a family may have two cabins – one in the mountains for the winter ski season and one by the coast for summer holidays. They range from extremely rustic (outhouses, water-hauling and propane) to luxurious (spa-tub, dishwasher and cable TV). There is, of course, a lot of variety between cabins. Recent, eco-friendly inventions like solar power and incinerating toilets have made the traditionally rustic cabin a bit more comfortable.
In mid-November my husband and I experienced a wintry ‘hytte tur’ firsthand. His cousin’s company provides a cabin to employees on a rotating basis. It was his and his wife’s turn and we were the lucky invitees! Once we made it out of Oslo’s Friday rush hour traffic it was a quiet ride in the dark light of the early evening. It was warm and comfortable in the car and knowing I was headed for relaxation, my mind became a blank. I slid in and out of sleep for a good deal of the two and a half hour ride.
As we drove off the highway and began our ascent to the cabin on smaller roads I could mark the moment we crossed the snowline. One second our surroundings were murky and dark and the next moment everything became illuminated in white. Just like that I witnessed the magic! When we finally found the cabin (we had to risk trying the key on a few cabins before we got it right) we waded through about a foot of snow to a delightfully cozy and spacious interior. With warming floors, an equipped kitchen, a large bathroom that included sauna, washer & dryer, shower and spa-tub it quickly became apparent it was a cabin of the resort variety.
We easily settled into the rhythm of the weekend; namely the rhythm of no set agenda. Our meals were seasoned with the sweetness of fellowship as we often all participated in their preparation amidst rambling conversations. We took a couple of meandering walks. Our first was especially memorable. We made our way through gentle flurries of snowfall. The stark white path was framed with artistically barren and twisting trees painted with thick layers of powdery snow. It was as if we had landed on a canvas and the unseen artist was intent on briskly finishing the masterpiece and covering us all in white.
Back in the warmth of the cabin we played a series of amusing card games with mugs of hot tea, watched cross-country ski competitions and ate chocolate. On our last night we stayed up late and bathed in the sauna. Initially the warmth was so strong it felt slightly suffocating but a ladle of water on the hot rocks made clouds of steam that cleared the air and upped the ante of heat. I followed my husband out to the snow between sessions for a quick rub down. The snow instantly vanished into streams of water between my hands and hot skin. Eventually as I gained heat and courage I dropped to the ground and completely rolled in the snow. While the snow-rolling tradition has specifically Finnish roots, I think you could still say there is a dab of Norwegian Viking in me! The ensuing calm and relaxation that permeated my mind and body was so palpable that I didn’t remember anything after I got in bed. Reality instantly vanished into a deep, tranquil sleep.
You could say the sauna bath was a microcosm of our entire trip. It was so soothing that the ease lulled me into a space where time didn’t have limits. Indeed our two days were so full of leisure that our departure came as a slight surprise to me. And while I left the haven of the cabin in that wintry wonderland I didn’t leave the gift that it gave me. A package of calm came back to Oslo with me. My list-keeping, time-tracking self felt a new, broad expansiveness. While I can’t claim to join Norwegians in their mastery of repose, I’m certainly up for the practice to get it just right.