The days are shortening, and a chilly wind blows some rain onto my face in these northern places. In one short week, I found myself with friends and family in Sweden, Finland and Lithuania. I am now fifty years old, and it is a time to look around and forward. Three simple gatherings with good vegan food, and creative people in nature celebrated my birthday.
- The owl house at Ugglevikskällan in the Lill-Jans forest in Stockholm used to have a spring with healing waters. A hundred years ago, Stockholmers would meet there to take the waters. It is a special island meadow quietly hidden in the modern metropolis of Stockholm. I jog past this spot in the mornings, and remember that this place has been a nearby special destination, both in winters and in summers, for half of my life. Nice place for a picnic.
- The Finland boats are a very typical Swedish-Finnish tradition. The Viking and Silja lines travel back and forth between the two countries several times a day. On board passengers gamble, buy tax-free alcohol, dance the tango, or sit in the saunas. The trips are inexpensive, so inexclusive. The destination was Mariehamn on Åland. This maritime Swedish-speaking part of Finland has its autonomy and its own postage stamps. The economy is more or less based on the Finland boats stopping with their tourists, for bike tours, and the idyllic archipelago. They claim to have more sun than the rest of the Baltic islands, but the rain reminded me that this is not a Mediterranean climate. The beauty of the hundreds of small islands is the draw, and each one has a name and a Viking history. But here the birds and fish are still more plentiful than the people. You can go back and forth to Åland from Stockholm in one day. A good way to avoid seasickness is to sit in the Jacuzzi hot tubs and sauna while enjoying the view. From the top of the ship, the feeling is like in an Imax movie theater, because the huge cruise ship seems stable, but the view moves around, surrounding the eyes.
- The same weather in Vilnius: periods of rain followed by periods of windy cloudiness during this particularly chilly August. But the flowers at the Vilnius University Botanical Gardens brighten the greyness. A small rainbow adds some more color. Now there is a bench there with my name on it. You can find it gracefully facing one of the small ponds. The island in the middle of the pond has a tree on it. The gathering at this memento of my age gives me one more foothold into the nature of my mother’s ancestors.
The summer is ending and now it is time for classes to begin. I am flying back to San Francisco to my favorite tomatoes, a welcome drought after much wetness, more creative friends, colleagues and students, and another home.