Riches of the forest

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Many people I know wax lyrical about chanterelles, but we prefer boletus. Every year in August and September, we go for a drive in the forest and pick them.

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This Saturday was a perfect day for it. Warm and sunny, just a faint breeze that brushed the fair from my face as I sat staring at the slowly passing forest floor, looking for that special kind of bready brown.

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It’s a miracle that anything manages to grow here at all – it’s so dry, and the landscape is quite rough. The firs love it, though!

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Not only boletus grows in this sandy earth. Lingonberries are ripening now too. Perfect for preserving in water and a little sugar. Nothing else is needed since they contain natural preservatives, and the result is delicious with wipped cream. I’ll have to make a post about that some day!

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Hubby went back to a place where he found sheep polyporus last year, and I abandoned the fungus hunt for a while to explore the nearby stream.

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Back home we surveyed our ‘catch’. Luckily most of it was okay (fresh and without too many wormholes).

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Yum.

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After dinner, what better end to the evening than taking a walk up the clear-cut? Contrary to expectation, the hewed forest has actually expanded our world. We never went up there before, but now it’s almost mandatory.

 

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There were lots of crowberries up there, a berry that’s considered sort of boring and not very tasty. I have seen people sell crowberry jam at markets, but I’ve never tasted it. Maybe this will be the year?

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Heading home in a cloud of tiny winged creatures. 🙂

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Making a museum

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One of the perks of living in an old house is that you never know what you will find. In attics and basements, in outhouses and barns, you can discover old junk that someone stored there ‘just in case’. Things that first lost their value in the onslaught of the modern, but since then have gained another kind of value through the romantic tint of Olden Stuffe.

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During our latest stay at the cabin, we started cleaning out an old barn in order to display some of these old things in a museum-y way that heightens that value. You only have to put something in a frame or a context to make people see it in a more positive light. What looked like rubbish just now, lying thrown in a dusty corner, is suddenly a relic, an artifact. Like these old cake tins.

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It takes some doing to brush away the filth of the decades, but it’s very refreshing to survey the result.

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And windows that sit in the cracked old concrete walls of a barn where cows were once kept can suddenly become picturesque just because you put some ancient paraphernalia in them.

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Pretty, isn’t it? So let’s ignore the piles of still-unsorted junk right outside the frame…

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King of all I survey

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I’ve heard that an important Swedish trait is our love of nature, which makes me go “Huh? Doesn’t everyone in the world love nature?” so I guess in my case it’s true. 😀 But apparently some people are put off by the prospect of miles and miles of forest where they won’t meet a soul. To me it sounds like paradise.

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Or even better than a forest: a mountain. There’s nothing like standing on the top of a hill and looking down at things that usually seem important blur into insignificance.

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Maybe that’s why the elk is so emblematic of Sweden. It’s a solitary animal that goes where it wants in the woods – it has its paths and doesn’t care about the roads we’ve built – and it looks so majestic where it glides along beneath the towering pines and firs. There’s even an expression in Swedish – älga iväg (‘elk away’) – which means walk with long big strides.

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So like the elk I like to roam free and feel like I own the world. 😀 And nowhere do I feel it more than in unpopulated areas. Nothing calms my soul like listening to the special kind of silence that speaks of distance: you may hear the odd car on a highway far away, but the very fact that the sound travels such a long way tells you how alone you are – how utterly peaceful. No chatter, no demands, no social mores or rituals to honour. Just you and the water and the air and the sun.

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On a related note, I also love ruins and abandoned buildings. All the heartache and intrigue that once happened there is history, and all the people who struggled are long dead. You can own the place, because no one owns it anymore.

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You can imagine the echoes, but they don’t touch you. Only the atmosphere of the place, the final outbreath when the battle is over.

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It’s both lovely and awful how nature takes over as soon as humans stop fighting for a place in it. Lovely because it gives me hope for the planet after we’re gone, and awful because it really takes all we have to stop both ourselves and our houses from falling into decay.

And at the same time it’s so funny how we tend to want to fight. We could easily let beautiful weeds overgrow our gardens, but we insist on ripping them out and planting things that don’t really want to be there, that crave a subtle balance of sun and damp and shade that has us toiling in our free time just to cater to them!

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It’s as if the fact that we have to work for something makes it more valuable – and maybe that’s true to a point. But if we’re plagued by stress and demands, and gardening isn’t a hobby or a way for us to wind down, maybe we should lower our standards and be okay with a little wilderness.

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Finally, I can willingly trade a cluttered beach on the Riviera for the peaceful solitude of a tiny strip of sand by a northern Swedish lake.

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And yeah, alright – I might be persuaded to share it with a tiny little frog. 🙂

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Going to the chapel

This weekend, hubby and I went on an outing to an old chapel in the middle of the wilderness. It was built in 1891, and the spot was chosen to be accessible from several surrounding municipalities – even though people had to travel 25 miles’ worth of primitive forest paths to get there.

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Back then it was also used as a school. There was no central heating, but there was a fireplace that the teacher or the beadle had to stoke.

The house was really pretty both on the outside and the inside. It recently won an award for ‘most beautiful building in the county’. It almost had a viking feel, probably because it was built during a time in Swedish history when people liked music, literature, art, and architecture that smacked of romantic nationalism.

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The afternoon light really did the room justice.

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Outside the chapel there was just endless forest – and miles of winding road flanked by wild flowers. It was almost ridiculously picturesque.

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But then on the way home the weather turned really dramatic, veering from violent winds and pelting rain to the brightest sunlight. I almost couldn’t snap these pictures at all, because the wind kept buffeting at me, my camera was drenched, and I had no time either to compose the images or adjust focus and exposure.

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Fly by night

This post and the link in it contain advertisements for my book.

More documentation than art, but it was really nice to see these guys again. We think they live in the attic of our cabin. Normally we only see them in August when it’s darker, but this time we were treated to a display against a bright July sky. 🙂

Orphan Bats

Lyrics: Vaughan
Music: Vaughan/Gardiner

We are unwanted but loved
We are the scary squatters
We hang hidden in black
We won’t go back where we came from

And we won’t die
Even though you turn us away
We will keep crawling
Out of attics everywhere

And come twilight
You can see us
Winging our way
Hunting our prey
Through the horrid night
You can join us
Seeing with your ears
Knowing no fears

We are the children of chance
We are the brainy critters
We see your world upside down
And we are blind to progress

We may seem silent
And our flight random and queer
But we’ll keep on sending
Our voices everywhere

And come twilight…

There is something in the night
Something seems to move
A band of orphan bats
That don’t need you to approve

Dark and gruesome exteriors
Sprung from fevered dreams
But in the heart of darkness
There’s a light that ever gleams

(From Just Playing)

Fourteen years and counting

This post and some of the links in it contain advertisements for my books.

The fourth of July means a lot to some people, and I’m one of them. Because July 4, 2003 was when I met my nemesis – no, sorry, love of my life!

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Now I’m a complete romantic fool. Maybe that’s why I write romance books. But my idea of romance isn’t always that… uh, romantic.

You see, I’m an INTP, which is a personality type according to the Myers-Briggs typology system (if you’re unfamiliar with the MBTI, this is an awesome site for information on it). Anyway, INTPs tend to be unsentimental about things, or at least that’s the stereotype. Think Sheldon in Big Bang Theory (or so I’m told, I don’t watch it). INTPs love ideas and finding out how things work and logic and systems. Flowers and champagne? Not so much.

Yet here we are.

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Chin-chin!

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So what gives? How can this purple prose Angst Queen who photographs backlit flowers profess to be an INTP? Well, because the stereotype is a, how shall I put it? Stereotype. Yes, INTPs love systems and ideas, but that doesn’t mean they’re all mathematical geniuses. Ask my primary school teacher what my math book looked like. We had a meeting about it.

Because this particular INTP (pictured above with romantic interest, flowers, and champagne) is interested in human systems. Language. Psychology. Sociology. Physiology. The hard sciences are meh, but anything that helps me figure out what the hell makes people tick? Count me in.

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(Last Communion)

You can see this again and again – in a romantic context – in my books. In All You Can Eat, I explore not only the psychology behind eating disorders, but also the way we sometimes try to scare off people before we let them in: the old princess-guarded-by-a-dragon-of-her-own-making mechanism.

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In Not Safe For Work, the hurdle to overcome is other people’s expectations and not being allowed to make your own decisions because the script has already been written by other people. A mindfuck I really enjoyed torturing my poor boys with – especially because of the added breathless stress of having that script spreading like wildfire across social media!

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In Rival Poet, I go full INTP and have my protagonists find each other through their writing. Sometimes you can hardly separate their creative collaboration from their lovemaking – because that’s what makes it romantic from my point of view: working towards a common goal, admiring and enjoying each other’s talent and intelligence.

RP Long lost twin

The same goes for the Pax series, where play-writing is replaced with musicianship. During the long and arduous periods where Jamie and Michael are unable to talk to each other about their feelings, their music talks for them.

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So I guess this all sums up my view of romance. I’m a sucker for one-to-one-ness, for the concept of soulmates and the one person who understands and appreciates you. But I don’t have my characters yell “I love you, honey” at every possible moment, and I don’t think any of them has bought the other flowers or chocolate. The closest I ever get to a Hollywood moment is this type of confession from Rival Poet:

MAJOR SPOILER ALERT!

When Kit spoke, his voice was the mere wisp of a sound. “You’re going to hate this,” he prefaced. “Or laugh at me. But…” He stopped to breathe, to gather his courage. “I’m in love with you, Will.”

Will froze. Stared into those hypnotising eyes, that unique golden colour. In love? His whole upbringing rebelled against the words. They didn’t make sense. Loving someone was one thing, but being in love… that was just possible when one of the two was a woman.

Only… when Kit said it, it did make sense. In the secrecy of this room, in the greyness of predawn, with just the two of them present to hear it, it made perfect sense.

Will breathed in. “If it’s something you can be,” he replied slowly, “Then… I am too.”

Well. I guess that is kind of mushy. But if you’re not allowed to be mushy about the kiss at the end of the rainbow, then what other opportunities are there really?

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Midsummer at the cabin

The first thing to greet us as we approached our middle-of-the-forest paradise was a startled reindeer that obligingly ran alongside the car so I could document it.

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The second welcome came from the wealth of buttercups that dotted the entire lawn.

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The first day was lovely and bright, the kind of day when the sky is white and endless.

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On my walk, I was accompanied by a fearless butterfly that fluttered along in front of me and landed to let me snap dozens of closeups. Look how the light filters through those gossamer wings.

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And look at its tiny, furry face! How often do we pay attention to the faces of butterflies? We’re too seduced by their colourful wings.

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In this one it looks like it’s stumbling home after a night on the town!

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The lingonberry bushes were flowering.

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Back at the cabin, we made a miniature maypole in the garden.

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Dinner was served on the fire. 🙂

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The buttercups glowed in the light of a torch.

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And afterwards I went up to where the forest used to be and watched the clouds blush at the setting sun.

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And somewhere here, among the fallen trees and under the dramatic sky, I lost my battery charger, so the rest of the weekend went undocumented. Maybe it was for the best. It rained the entire time and I needed some rest – the kind of rest I call non-days, that is days when time passes from your first coffeecup to your final glass of wine without even touching you; when you somnambulate through the afternoon like a ghost through the grey gauze separating us from eternity; when there’s just a big Nothing where you usually live your life.

Sometimes I resent these days, because I like to pretend that I can live two lives at once, at the speed of light. But after a period of high activity, I always find myself in these empty slumps, as if they’re the price I must pay for living too much, for hoarding time and experiences. It’s a balance sheet, and I never get away with too much greed – or too much work. I guess it’s my body’s way of making sure I don’t exceed my ‘income’.

And today I took the bus into town to buy a new charger. It’s as symbolic as it gets. 🙂

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Working

These little fellas were all over the osier the entire weekend.

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I’ll take a leaf from their book for the upcoming week, when there’s a ton of things to do: paint the house, record a radio programme, and grade my pupils just to name a few. And of course my long dormant writing inspiration takes this opportunity to rear its head. Ideas for an Advent story are crowding into my mind, believe it or not. Must be something in the water.