Traditionally Norwegians disperse to mountain getaways for a long weekend of cross-country skiing (being sure, of course, to take the national skiing snack of fresh oranges and the candy bar called “kvik lunsj”, similar to Kit Kat). My husbands’ family tradition breaks with these norms and instead heads south to Norway’s southernmost town, Mandal.
Mandal is a beautiful coastal town full of quaint white houses and cobble-stoned streets. The marina is fresh and bright and at the southern edge of town the forest gives way to a sandy beach and the sea. In just one breath you can breathe the fresh, salty ocean air coupled with the musky scent of the forest. In a curving inlet nearby elegant white swans glide in the waters, staring at passersby with a mixture of daring bravery and curiosity (how apropos, a Swan Sea).
The family cabin lies on a knoll in a small valley with views of two different lakes on either side. Just beyond one lake is a glimpse of the sea couched along the horizon of a small island. It is a classic Norwegian cabin in the sense that it is rugged with modern conveniences rounding off some of the edges. The toilet is a composting toilet (throw a cup of wood chips instead of flushing and then bury it all eventually), the scarce electricity is powered by a single solar panel and the water supply is dependent on rain filling the water tank or pure manpower (water-hauling from the lake, thankfully it rained solid the day we drove down - thankfully, that is, for my husband). Carefully tended fires in the wood stove heat the living room and kitchen morning and evening.
The day after our arrival was sunny and clear, a perfectly clean slate without a trace of cloud in the sky. Such a day calls for what Norwegians call “the sun wall”, the technique of sitting one’s chair up against a wall where the sun reflects around you creating a sensation of warmth from the sun when the air is still chilly. Moving just inches from the wall can moderate the degree of warmth, allowing one to choose a perfect temperature. On Saturday afternoon I found the definitive temperature and lounging in a very comfortable reclining lawn chair I found myself slipping gently in and out of sleep as I relished the warmth of the sun and the simultaneous cooling caresses of the breeze. These sensations coupled with the exquisite symphony of spring birdsong echoing around me and along the valley walls made an indelible impression on me. It was enchanting.
It wasn’t just that afternoon that was enchanting, it was all of the elements of the holiday merged into a beautiful mosaic of contentment: the quiet silver ripples in the lakes, the salty ocean breezes, the growing baby blueberries in the forest, the tender newly-opened birch leaves, the lime green clusters of clover, the white sun-worshiping wind flowers, the long evenings of conversation, playing games and puzzles, reading, knitting and the peaceful serenity of leisure.
The day before our departure I gravely said I wanted Easter in Mandal to go on forever, to which two relatives laughed saying it was nice for a few days, but not forever. But I had meant it; perhaps that was the only way to express the deep sense of gratitude I felt for that Easter holiday, for the gift of those few enchanting days in Mandal.