Why I’m heading for the island

Why I'm heading for the island
Julie Lindahl has learnt to understand why Swedes disappear to their islands for the summer. These are places for rediscovering our humanity, she writes.

The tomato plants are in the boat with the bags of soil. A light wind blows across the lake and sways their delicate leaves, threatening to break them. I too lean forward at bow, mimicking their action and looking out to a land mass of rock, sand and virgin forest on the other side of the bay.  

Win a copy of Julie Lindahl’s book in our competition. See end of article for details

I am off to our island for the summer but there are still a hundred thoughts darting through my head: Did I respond to that VERY IMPORTANT e-mail? Have I updated my Facebook pages? Did I lock the door? Did I clear out the refrigerator? Did I cancel that appointment? Have I taken all of the papers and books that I need with me? The brain signals shoot back and forth at light speed, valiantly supporting the multi-tasking lifestyle that I’d love to overthrow. 

As I stand up to pull the start cord on the motor, the boat sinks down into the water so that the tomato plants nearly get a watering. Like all Swedes headed out to their islands for the summer, I have overfilled my trusty vessel with supplies. The many packs of strong “Swedish” coffee which will be drunk at the dock after a dip in the cold lake in the mornings weigh heavy in the hull. The engine chokes, gasping at my sudden demand to speed across after a winter of hibernation in the shed.  

Eventually it starts and we make it half way, until the engine splutters and gives out, refusing to start again until it has enjoyed a proper rest in the sun. I am irritated by my boat’s non-compliance: doesn’t it realize that I am a very busy person? Of course, I don’t get an answer and resign myself to locking in the oars and carefully moving some of the bags of soil without sinking the boat so that I can position myself to row.  

The first heave is just another irritation until eventually I find my rhythm. The tomato plants find this pace of things more agreeable than the fearsome speed generated by a functioning engine. The first real sweat of the year begins to gather on my back. This is an unexpected catharsis after a winter when sweating was a pipe dream. 

I pause the oars and glance over at our cottage. Have the mice turned it into a snug home for themselves, and gnawed down all of the candles which I forgot to put away at the end of last summer? They scoff at my cheese traps which I find untouched most years. Did the pipes freeze and burst this winter, and will we have running water this year? Are the weeds pushing their way up under my covered flower beds? My mind starts flinging brain signals around again, still not willing to let go of possible future events in favor of the moment. 

The landing is smooth. Long gone are my days of crashing into the dock. Today I could do this with my eyes shut. Still I’ve never learned to tie a sailor’s knot, and therefore my boat will just have to settle for the self-styled clump that has always worked for me. I climb up onto the dock, look up at the house which seems fine from the outside, and decide to delay the discovery of the winter damage by having a rest. By now I’ve learned never to set off for the island without a thermos of coffee.  

With my legs hanging freely over the water, I enjoy the first taste of coffee on summer’s dock. Instinct takes over and the shoes come off so that my feet which have only known the inside of a thick, dark boot since the autumn can revel in the freedom of the cool water. There is something about starting with your feet that gets to your brain very quickly. Going barefoot during the summer is an old Swedish health remedy.  

I’ve overthrown the tyranny of lists, schedules and multi-tasking for a while. My whole being rests and revels in the softness of the uncut green grass and the personal space created by silence. Here in this moment there is everything that I need: the water, the earth and the smell of young birch leaves. I am not my schedule, rather I am a person with real feet that have a need to touch the water. Summer is back and with this a time to return to our islands and remember who we are. 

Letters from the Island  is a collection of Julie Lindahl’s popular newspaper columns written with the perspective of life on a small Swedish island. Order the book online at www.lettersfromtheisland.com. 


The Local is offering a free copy of Letters from the Island to the first three submissions which correctly answer the question below. 

Question: Which island in Lake Mälar, Stockholm’s inland lake system, did the monk Ansgar (801-865 AD) go to to begin christianizing Sweden? 

The competition is now closed. Thank you to all those who have taken the time to respond. The three winning entries will be notified by post.

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