In the Land of the Midnight Sun
July 12, 2016
I spent the week reading Murakami. It was a little joke, to read Norwegian Wood in the Norwegian woods. But a fitting one – Murakami’s dreamlike writing, a story within a story within a story, was like a murky mirror to the feeling that I myself had been dropped into another world, off the grid and off the beaten path. Living another life in another story I could tell myself later on.
I woke in the mornings to the persistent, endless sun streaming through the cracked slat of the wooden tipi’s window. I’d nestle deeper into the stack of reindeer hides that was my bed, the gentle tickle of soft fur brushing my skin. Eyes open, I rested, feeling the cool breeze from outside across my face, breathing in the scent of ashes and wood smoke lingering from last night’s fire.
I took my time getting ready. Brushing my teeth with water from a bottle, scattering spit foam in the gravel stones outside my hut. I’d walk to the spigot down the road and bathe in the ice cold water, splashing it first on my face to shock the sleep out of it. I’d dry off briskly with a towel, the cool morning wind sweeping like silk over my clean-scrubbed arms. I’d dress in the hut, make up my bed, and tidy my things, then step out for a day in the bright and green Norwegian woods.
There were two paths up to the farmhouse café – one through the woods, up a dirt and stone trail lined with thick green undergrowth and shaded by tall trees, the other along the gravel road, where sheep grazed nimbly, bells clanging around their necks, baas distinct enough to recognize them all by sound by the time the week was through. There were sheep everywhere it seemed, the mothers newly slim with bleating babes still suckling fiercely at their teats. The sound of bells replaced the city’s hum of traffic, and I wondered if it was a sound you finally ceased to hear.
I was in Norway for a celebration. A dear Brooklyn friend and former roommate was throwing a party in honor of her marriage and the birth of their son. Friends and family were flying in from everywhere for the occasion. Anyone who wanted to was welcome to stay at the farm – in cabins, in tents, in the wooden tipi on reindeer hides. There was the promise of copious food and drink, ample opportunities to experience nature, and the chance to turn away from technology, if only for a little while.
It was the first time I’d been to see Anette since she’d moved to this side of the world not so long ago. She and her husband, Casey, were now running a café in the middle of the woods – accessible only on foot or by mountain bike. It’s popular in the fall with nature enthusiasts and in the winter with cross-country skiers anxious for a warm waffle and hot coffee. The lines were often out the door, she said, and that first season was a chaotic whirlwind of buying food in bulk, cooking and baking, tending the yard and house, and at the same time being new parents. But if there is anyone I know who is capable of anything – it is my friend Anette.
When I arrived at Gupu, sweaty and red from the hike up, I was greeted by an easygoing entourage, already under the spell of the woods and the fresh mountain air. I dropped my bag in the grass, took off my shoes, and plunked myself at the picnic table. It wasn’t long before I was given a bowl of thick Norwegian yogurt with blueberries and then one of Anette’s granola bars – a dense and chewy bar of toasted oats, seeds, and nuts bound together by juicy, sweet dates, peanut butter, and honey. I was handed a mug of hot coffee and an ice cold water to hold against my flushed face. I had arrived. I turned off my phone and let go.
I find that once you start doing nothing, it’s hard to stop. In Norway, my days were filled with reading beneath the big, old tree in the backyard. A finger wedged between the pages of my Murakami when my eyes grew heavy with afternoon sleep. Once, I joined in a hike to a nearby lake, passing only shaggy horned cows, grazing horses, and a few brisk walkers leading bright-eyed dogs along on leashes. I helped a little with the cooking and a little with the cleaning, as we all did, but mostly I gravitated to that blanket with my book and lazed in walking up and down the path between my tipi and the farm. The meadow grasses were in bloom, sprouting pink and purple flowers on tall stalks; they waved between long clusters of Queen Anne’s lace.
But on the day of the celebration, the farmhouse was a flurry of activity. We snatched bites of breakfast – waffles with brown cheese and blueberry jam or buttery-rich smoked salmon tasting of salt and sea – as we set up for the party. We swept the floors and washed dishes, walked into the fields to pick wildflowers to arrange around the house and yard.
Anette and Casey had planned a Mexican feast – only fitting, having met and married in Brooklyn – and all week, people had been busy shelling and mashing avocadoes, chopping tomatoes, pulling soft and juicy pork from bones and frying the skin to a tooth-cracking crisp. All morning, we were busy putting the finishing touches on the feast. Anette had brewed meadowsweet syrup, and I spent some quiet minutes preparing fluted glasses filled with the sweet liqueur and cold champagne.
When the day guests arrived, we spread the food out on long tables – black beans and rice, pulled chicken and pork, a mosaic of salsas and pico de gallo, kale salad with cashews and broccoli, watermelon and cucumber salad, grilled peppers and red onions, guacamole, and red cabbage slaw. Later on, with hot black coffee, there was meringue to eat with fresh fruit and cream and a chewy almond ring cake drizzled with icing.
Anette and Casey planted an apple tree in honor of their son, and soon after the toasts began, peppering the sunny afternoon in brief bursts. The evening turned into a bluish dusk and the day guests left. We regrouped beneath that big, shady tree – now an arbor under which we sheltered from small sprinklings of rain. Smoke spirals kept the dogged gnats at bay, and candles cast deep shadows on our faces as the midnight sun began its brief dip below the horizon. We toasted on to friendship and love, lifted our glasses to paths travelled and friendships forged, the many changes life holds, and all the beauty that those changes bring.