Easter at home

Thought I’d better do something about the lack of content here. I’m still only taking photos on my phone (something I plan to fix within the next month) but these are better than nothing. This morning Antonia totally bailed on the Easter egg hunt (she’s not into sweet things and couldn’t see the point) but Felix declared today to be one of the best days of his life. He woke up early and put two fleeces on and went for a solo ‘expedition’ with Whitby to the forest to check if Easter Bunny had been yet. She hadn’t. Luckily Easter Bunny managed to sneak out quietly before making waffles.

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Easter starts early in Norway (it’s closer to a week than a weekend) and it’s been so lovely to have this time to potter around with the kids. It’s been filled with everything good: gardening, hiking, crafting, baking, reading, knitting, hanging out with friends, and wandering down to our little beach. With some cleaning and sorting thrown in as well. At times (especially Friday, when Antonia had a fever all day) there has been a bit too much screen time for the kids, but it’s always worth it when we manage to peel them away. Michael’s been making a real effort to take Felix hiking – he complains a bit but I think he’s getting better. We’ve been pushing Antonia a bit too, though if we make her walk anywhere it’s slow going as she likes to roll around on the ground every 20 metres or so…

It hasn’t been entirely without challenges but on the whole it’s been really nice, and exactly what we needed. We finally sold our old house on Tuesday, and we had a somewhat stressful few days of emptying our loft and basement before we handed over the keys. (We’ve thrown a lot of stuff away but are still not sure where to put everything, so will have to get rid of a bit more.) But it’s been so nice just to slow down and hang out with the kids and enjoy being here. I remember really enjoying staying in Norway for Easter two years ago, when Antonia was still a baby. We tend to try to get to Germany for Easter, but last year that was so gruelling that we’ve decided to take a break from that particular endeavour. It’s just not warm enough yet to make it easy to hang out there with the kids.

Also it is just so lovely to get the chance to cultivate a few of our own traditions. We’ve never spent Christmas in our own house with the children (in fact we’ve only ever spent Christmas in our own house once, when I was eight months pregnant with Felix). So it feels special to have this time just for ourselves, to have an egg hunt, to make the hot cross buns. You can’t buy them here and Easter just isn’t the same for me without them. Felix helped make them so they are quite rustic to look at but they were delicious. They have orange rind, apple pieces, sultanas, dried apricots and cranberries inside, and plenty of spices. We spent last Easter dreaming about this house and deciding to try to buy it – we had a look at it the day before we left for Germany, and bought it the day we returned. I looked out of the window this morning and saw a squirrel preening itself on a tree branch. It is good to be here.

Yesterday we walked down to the beach after dinner. The sun had come out. We had to pester Felix terribly to get him out of the house, but as soon as we got to the beach he saw that the little wooden landing was in the water again, and he clambered out to it straight away, deciding that it was a magical vehicle that could be a boat or a plane or a car. Antonia was more or less happy to go with his storyline (“you’re fishing in the air now, Antonia, not the water, we’re flying.” “Ok”). He navigated us to magic land and cloud land and beach land, fetching rocks to throw into the water to get the “bad guys”. And it was pretty perfect.

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Autumn light

Right now it’s rainy and miserable, but all week the light here was glorious.

Last Monday we climbed the fortress after dinner, all too aware that soon it will be too dark to do that.

For just a little longer, the leaves catch light and spin it and weave it.

This is exactly the time of year when the sunset hits the cobblestones through the fortress’s inner archway.

And I can’t help but believe that if I run along that path I will reach some place altogether new: a city of gold, with a gate only open for a few seconds each amber-washed autumn evening.

A most beautiful day

On Friday, after lunch, I looked out the window, and the snow was still tumbling down, ever so lightly. But the sun was shining! A sun-snow-shower! So I put on my coat and pulled up my hood.

Everything sparkled, even the air, laced as it was with floating crystals.

And snow everywhere! Snow on the steps, snow on the boats, snow on the train tracks and the lampposts, snow on the stone walls and crosses.

The seagulls sat on little nests of snow on top of the posts in the river. Picnic anyone?

And I am so tired now, and not doing this justice. But it felt like the most beautiful day in the world, ever.

The snow glittered below and above and the sun shone on everything, and the seagulls swarmed and flocked like snowflakes themselves.

Babbies and bairns we’ll always be

Me babbies, me bairns!‘ The immortal opening lines of the York pantomime. I thought I’d better say a few words about it before the moment passes. We went to York especially for the pantomime, before coming to Germany. We love it. It’s been going for more than thirty years. The same panto-dame has had the lead role for thirty years, and the panto-baddy has been in it for twenty-one. It’s just super. We watched it every year while we lived in York, and now still try to get to it. Frivolous songs and dances and silly story-lines and cross-dressing and amazing costumes and local references… Hard to explain really, if you’ve never been to one. This time it was Dick Turpin (famous highway man who was hanged in York – though of course the panto changed the story somewhat). In the past I’ve seen Sleeping Beauty and Sinbad the Sailor and I can’t remember what else. Lovely. This was my fifth panto, and Michael’s seventh. I’m hoping for many more!

And then I read this

Above all remember this: that magic belongs as much to the heart as to the head and everything which is done, should be done from love or joy or righteous anger.

And if we honour this principle we shall discover that our magic is much greater than all the sum of all the spells that were ever taught. Then magic is to us as flight is to the birds, because then our magic comes from the dark and dreaming heart, just as the flight of a bird comes from the heart. And we will feel the same joy in performing that magic that the bird feels as it casts itself into the void and we will know that magic is part of what man is, just as flight is part of what a bird is.

Susanna Clarke, The Ladies of Grace Adieu

Could that work for writing too? I know academic writing comes mostly from the head, but other times, writing about dragons or volcanoes, I have felt this frightening and exhilarating flight. My PhD feels old and worn and tangled, but I will straighten its lines, and ease air into its cells, and who knows what will happen next.

The Stone Ship

A detour on the way to our grocery shopping takes us to Blomsholm. When the sign mentions stone ships I don’t pay much attention. These are standing stones. If they found stone ships here, they must have taken them away.

The wind is cold. The stones stand as they have for fifteen hundred years.

And there it is – the stone ship.

The stones outline the shape of the ship – a ghost ship, sailing through the earth.

What skies it has sailed.

The Story of an Unknown Church

Last night I started reading a short story by William Morris, ‘The Story of the Unknown Church’. I didn’t get very far into it, because it was time to sleep. But a few sentences on the first page reminded me of one of my favourite places in all the world. The story is told in the voice of the master mason of a church built six hundred years ago, and destroyed two hundred years ago.

No one knows now even where it stood, only in this very autumn-tide, if you knew the place, you would see the heaps made by the earth-covered ruins heaving the yellow corn into glorious waves, so that the place where my church used to be is as beautiful now as when it stood in all its splendour.

The mason goes on to remember the church. He can only remember it clearly in autumn,

. . . yet it was beautiful in spring, too, when brown earth began to grow green: beautiful in summer, when the blue sky looked so much bluer, if you could hem a piece of it in between the new white carving; beautiful in the solemn starry nights, so solemn that it almost reached agony. . .

I too remember a church. The beautiful Bolton Abbey, in the Yorkshire Dales. I love walking around abbey ruins. Reivaulx Abbey and Whitby Abbey are also among my favourites. I love how crumbling stone arches frame the sky, how outlines of windows once decked with stained glass now show the dazzling patterns of cloud and sun. I love the ground, where the monks have walked and slept, and I love how the wind sweeps in. The sky seems an appropriate ceiling, and the shifting weather a worthy heir to the monks’ prayers. But I always try to imagine how it would have been – the windows glassed, the arches roofed, the walls painted. There is a melancholy about such open, broken places.

I was thinking these very thoughts as I wandered the ruins of Bolton Abbey, thinking how wonderful it would be to see this place as it was then. And then I turned a corner, and found a door, opened it, and stepped inside.

The nave of Bolton Abbey is still in use. You can attend church services. There is a roof and windows, paintings on the walls. I hadn’t known this, and it seemed like an apparition come to life, a fragment of history. The wall paintings aren’t old ones, but they are lovely. Twining stems of lilies cover the back wall. This seemed right, too – nature brought inside. The abbey is set in the most wonderful grounds – there is a river with stepping-stones, and thousands of trees. You can walk along the river and then up into the dales – truly a magical place, ‘as beautiful now as when it stood in all its splendour’.

Cross-posted at The Little Book Room.

Ice and Fire

This is a memory. But it’s a pretty young memory, so I thought I’d write it down. Also, ever since it happened, I’ve been wanting to write about it, and have written about it, in fragments, in emails, but here is the space to tell it properly.

Three or four weeks ago I was out on my regular ride along the lakes. It’s actually one enormous long lake, but it seems like lots of different lakes, because you keep reaching it at different points through the pine forest. On my way out, as I passed a sandy shore of the lake, I noticed a crinkling, crunching sound, sort of like the roar of the sea, but different. I didn’t think much of it. But on the way back, I saw it. The ice on the lake had begun to melt, and washed up around the shore in glittering shards. The fragments rubbed against each other in the movement of the ripples, and made this incredible sound – the sound of water, and ice, and sunlight.

I stood there for a few moments, and then went on my way. That evening, we lit the wood stove in our apartment. We left the door open for a bit, to watch the fire sing, and surge, and crackle. And that’s when I noticed. It was the same sound as the ice on the lake. I had not known that sheens of flame and ice crystals spoke the same language.

Easter

We hired a car over Easter and did two trips down the Swedish coast, one trip to the islands near Fredrikstad, and one trip on the ferry across the fjord into central Norway. Halden is right in the south east corner of Norway, next to Sweden. It was good to finally explore the area further afield than you can reach with a bicycle! We also spent an eminently horrible day trying to look at used cars in Oslo (me in charge of directions, not a good start…). Unfortunately the weather, which had been glorious, turned a bit nasty on us, but it wasn’t too bad.

The rocks on the Swedish coast are amazing. I love bleak landscapes – bare rock and sea and sky. It’s why I love the North York Moors, and the Dales, and the Australian desert. It was fun to get away from the pine trees. Unfortunately it was too windy for ground-handling (paragliding practice where you try to get the glider above your head and keep it there), but that didn’t stop Michael trying, resulting in several frenzied efforts to fold it up again before it blew us away.

And then on Sunday it snowed! You can see it through the windows of our flat. Snow on the spring branches of the tree outside, snow on the riverbank and the rooftops, snow on the little car.