20 April 2014
I swear that in the ominous calm of that oncoming November night I could hear the whispers of erstwhile kings beckoning us across the lake: “In i dimman, in i dimman.”
Into the mist we drift.
Aboard our humble aluminum skiff I descend into placid musings as the pattern heaves and lurches that propel us gently ahead transform into rhythmic draws and sways. Our odyssey has just begun and already I am dreaming.
Stockholm returns to me in wisps of sturdy stone bridges and hubristic wooden ships. Flooding back come the taste of strong black coffee and bittersweet beer, the sound of jazz saxophone swimming through a crowded room, the sight of a woman picking, slurping, and tossing her way through a mountain of fresh mussels, the bustling streets of long legs, blonde heads, and elegant attire, the absence of cardboard homes—a product of wallets filled with receipts dripping in sales tax—the feeling of social obligation; a veritable un-American dream.
Bearing witness to an orange moon rising in the early afternoon, I quickly come to understand the ramifications of my late autumn visit to Nordic latitudes. The interminable light of Swedish Midsummer keeps far from the horizon as the days continue their conciliatory death in anticipation of perpetual night.
But as my short-lived visions of good feels and socialist utopias begin to seep into the depths of my unconscious, the lugubrious gulp of the oars’ dip beckons my mind back to that silent world of moss and fog. In these days of fleeing light, we voyage to the muddy shores of long gone Viking kings.
Languid and stubborn I reorient.
Beyond the bow I behold the island looming heavy—our destination growing larger with every revolution of the oars. Looking back I meet the source of our propulsion. There, acting as helmsman to our two-man rowboat crew, assuredly perched atop his wooden slat, is my friend and host, Frej. With the ubiquitous Swedish manna in lip, and evincing vestiges of his military service, he ably navigates our faithful vessel through the midnight blue waters of the bottomless lake.
Peering beyond my captain, beaming profound blues and brilliant yellows—a man in his element—I catch a glance of our departure point, there in the growing distance. Steadfast and solemn, the pier stands. In our wake the lake laps at its plinths as the eager thuds of our boots continue their swim through the surrounding forest of oak and pine, echoing in the dusk.
Tracing down the pier’s spine past the dimly lit sauna, my sight sets foot on land—firm and resolute, preparing for the bitter cold of the Scandinavian winter. Gliding over the methodically trimmed lawn, she halts before the striking architecture of a modern lakeside home: the parents’ place of rest. Skimming right along the vitreous walls that vault the angled roof, she encounters another hus bearing the same modern design: my lodging for the stay and Frej’s permanent dwelling. Counting one, two, three, four she sums the individual quarters that occupy the grounds—a pleasant familiar gathering place of peace, rest, and tradition.
Caught in a reverie of her own, my sight becomes aware of her timeless wandering. Turning towards the shore from which we shoved off, she hurriedly retreats to our faithful vessel, and we continue on our course.
Sight restored I discern to either side of us rock formations jutting out of the placid lake. Recognizing my wonderment as to their significance, Frej recounts the legend of the Monk and the Nun who, due to their concubine promiscuity, were condemned to eternal divide, forever longing for one another across the schismatic lake.
Nearing now our destination, Frej unpacks the history of the island and its mythological origins. We slice through the growing fog as he makes it known that this is the home of trolls. It is held to believe that before the Swedish kings of old founded their kingdom upon this misty archipelago, that trolls roamed the earth. A cautionary tale of peril and mystique recounted to him by his mother, I could hear in his hushed tone a younger Frej that still held to his childhood shrouded in fantasy and lore.
As the skiff runs aground and Frej steps out with a learned discretion, I set my gaze upon the leafy hill of leaning trees disappearing into the fog. With the boat tied off and the island urging us forward, I rise and lay my foot on the shore anticipating the trolls.
And into the mist we go.
Two years ago I made this journey to the farthest north I have ever been. Sweden spoke to me in ways that I had only ever imagined. A nation perpetually leaning left I felt in the efficient, yet courteous formality of the Swedish people a true sense of society. The clean air and open minds of this discreet Nordic country cut through my prevailing pessimism, giving me a newfound hope for human potential. Though it carries with it problems of immigration, inclusion, and national identity, this problem is not singularly Swedish. We all share in this beautiful struggle of cultural diversity.
Sweden, for me, was and is a beacon of social progressiveness, one that can be seen even through the densest of November fog. We have the boat and we have the oars, and the lake is laid before us. Now all that is left is to row.