What was I saying about spring?

snow

We’re back in Norway. I spent Antonia’s midday nap today shovelling snow.

snow2

It’s pretty cosy inside though. Here’s our toy storage space in our living room, with an added box of baby toys. It’s been fun revisiting the things Felix used to play with. The two wicker baskets are still stuffed to the top with wooden trains and tracks, in use almost daily. This week Antonia has perfected crawling forward, so the tracks are frequently in peril.

sideboard2

I finally managed to hang up a picture of the two of them that I took last year. ‘Do what you love.’

sideboard3

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Exam day

I’m kicking myself for not packing my camera this morning, though I had two exams, so I guess I had other things on my mind. But my Norwegian exams were held in Gamlebyen, which is pretty at the worst of times, but a winter sunrise while the world is covered in fresh snow is something else altogether. It really is so lovely here. The clouds were dissolving as the sun came up, the sky a warm yellow behind the paper cut-out trees.

The tests went as well as they could have, I guess. The spoken test was fine and quite fun, really. The written test was split into listening comprehension, reading comprehension, and writing production. It’s the last section that I’m most unsure of – I guess it just depends how many little errors they let through. At this level they tell us it’s about communication more than perfection, so I should be ok. I’ll get the results in a month. These were level two tests, which are the end of the beginner’s level. I can’t wait till I’ve learnt enough to come back for the intermediate ones!

Looking at my schedule I thought – oh, good, I’ll have just enough time after the exam to go to a coffee shop and work on some teaching preparation before picking up Felix. And I may take out my books in a minute. But right now it’s so nice just to sit for a moment, amid the increasingly comprehensible conversations going on at tables around me.

You’ll learn a language just to be able to eavesdrop in cafes? A friend asked me while I was in Australia. There are other reasons, but, well, yes, actually. It’s very alienating not to understand the words spoken by strangers.

Teaching last week was wonderful, by the way. We spoke about sonnets, and my students were lovely, and it made me remember that there’s not too many things I would rather do than talk about poems.

Back

Landing in Oslo and the beautiful snowy drive down here was awesome, and we were so very glad to be back. But after enthusiastically exploring all the corners we let him reach of our little house, Felix was not himself, and sat on the floor, screeching. We contemplated joining him. Arriving home to a cold house (not as cold as it could have been, as our neighbour turned the heaters up for us yesterday, but still…), with an almost one year old in tow, after being away for eight months, is not exactly easy. Especially when Norway arranges a cold snap for us and our winter clothes seem to have got lost in the post. But we’ve cranked up the heating even more, the baby is asleep, and it is slowly, slowly beginning to feel like home.

The house is the same, but we have changed. When we left, Felix was a little baby – we would perch him in his bouncer or lay him on the floor, and he took up no space at all. Now he is a little tractor, roaming everywhere, making his opinions known. We need to reshape the space for this new us. It is the heat, slowly taking hold in the air and the wooden walls, that lets me know we’ll be ok. It starts to smell like it did a year ago, when we kept the house oh so warm indeed. And I would wake in the night and carry tiny Felix out to the change table, and he would squirm and fuss as I maneuvered him out of his miniature sleeping suit. No, more precisely a year ago, I hadn’t met him yet, and it was just my taut, uncomfortable belly I was lugging around, as my due date arrived with nothing to show for it. February. Month of beginnings.

Kennecott copper mine

The last few times we were in Salt Lake City, we said to ourselves – we really should go have a look at that copper mine. But we didn’t do it till last weekend. It was a good time to go, with the snow powdering the upper terraces. When they had the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City in 2002, all the medals were made with metal from the mine.

I started writing this last night when Felix woke up (after sleeping all of ten minutes) and decided he wanted to cry for three hours (with short bursts of being consoled by me). Eventually I took him for a walk in the cold, windy night (it’s so windy here!), and this distracted him enough that he went to sleep when we came home. While we were out I stopped for a hot chocolate at the cupcake shop. It was so sweet that I could only drink half of it. Today, at the Barnes and Noble, I overheard someone ordering a chocolate coconut cappuccino.

Anyway, here are a couple more pictures of the mine. I love how the huge trucks look like matchbox toys. Michael has been away at a conference all week and boy am I ready for him to come home tonight.

The end of February

Yesterday we took the little man for his first outdoor stroll in his pram. After feeds and naps (for him and me) it was 4.30 by the time we got out, but these days it is light till almost 6, hurrah! The light wasn’t great for taking photos but you get the idea. (You can’t see him but he’s wearing his cute little bobble hat again.) Also after two weeks of hovering around -8 it had heated up to around 0, so we felt less mean about taking him outside. I asked the nurse though, and she said as long as it’s above -10 it’s ok. So we’ll see. There will be a whole new problem once it all starts melting again, as I don’t like the idea of pushing a pram down a hill when the footpath resembles an ice-rink. One hurdle at a time I suppose. He didn’t mind the walk, and went to sleep. It muddled up his sleep and wake times though, as happened when we took him to the shops. I guess one gets the hang of this eventually!

Things we are learning:

  • He hates wet diapers.
  • He hates being too hot.
  • Simple cotton all-in-one suits are best, as his skin is very sensitive, and doesn’t like anything too tight or too synthetic, or with too many layers.
  • He looks most beautiful in cream.

He is getting a little more insistent with his demands and testing his lungs a bit further, but is still a pretty happy calm little chap on the whole. He also doesn’t like it when he gets over-tired, which seems to happen sometimes despite our best intentions. We love him dearly but gosh this is hard work! Oh and after a dream-run with breastfeeding I’ve developed a bit of mastitis, which I’m hoping I’ve nipped in the bud. Feels a bit better already but I still need to be careful.

Michael went back to work today which we both felt a bit sad about but I guess it’s the way it goes. I am very happy and blessed that my Mum is staying for another two weeks, which will make the transition into my new life as smooth as possible!

On the weekend I finally finished writing up the story of his birth, which felt like an important thing to do. (It takes so long to do anything at the moment!) It feels good to have that finished now, at the cusp of a new month, when the little man has had two whole weeks in the world.

We are still waiting on the documents we need to apply for his Norwegian birth certificate, which we need before we can even think about registering him as one of our various nationalities, which we also need to do before we can apply for his passport, which we need before we can apply for his US visa for later this year. So we might be leaving a couple of weeks later than planned, but I guess we’ll get there eventually.

It has been a most beautiful two weeks. Michael’s Mum was with us for five days, and left last Friday. She was very sad to go and we were sad to see her leave, but at least Germany isn’t as far away as Australia, and they’ll be able to come back to visit very soon. This is one of the hardest things, how far away our families are. But we will make it work. When she was leaving, Monica said she was especially sad to leave because it had been so very ‘harmonisch’. Which it had. But, little Felix, I am most excited to discover what March has in store for us, too.

Just in case you were wondering if no news was good news

It’s not. It’s just no news.

Still, we’re doing ok. And the week is flying past. The hospital is meant to ring me tomorrow to organize some sort of ‘overdue’ ultrasound, but it will drive me crazy waiting for a call all day so I think I will ring them. Yesterday I did all the vacuuming and made delicious apricot and marmalade flapjacks. They are all gone. Today it snowed all day. Mum and I braved the weather on an arctic expedition to buy milk.

In other news…

This is me a whole week ago when I was nearly 36 weeks. Now I’m nearly 37 weeks. And feeling pretty good really. I think bubs tried to engage about two weeks ago which was quite uncomfortable, but he jumped out again cos he likes wriggling around so much. At my GP appointment last week she said he was still really high up, and she would have liked to see him lower by now. Anyway. I feel him rumbling around and sticking little bits of fist and foot out at me and I can tell just by stroking him whether he’s lying on my left side or my right (he likes to swap around). At least he’s head down. My only real complaint is heartburn which seems to be exacerbated by his wriggling…

But it’s getting a bit boring just waiting and waiting. Today I did a couple of loads of washing, and the clothes horse is now full of little white suits and hats and socks all ready to go. Also my grandma knitted me the most gorgeous hat and jumper and booty set. The hat has a pompom! It is the sweetest thing in the world. I can’t wait to put it on him.

And yep the snow does make getting around a little difficult. Not too difficult, because Norway is used to such conditions, but reversing out of our driveway is a challenge. Actually last night it started to rain and we kept waking to the sound of great thuds of snow crashing down from the roof. Today our driveway resembled an ice-rink. We tried to go for a walk this afternoon but after teetering down the first little hill with our crampons on we gave up and tiptoed back. Can’t really afford to stack it on the ice at this point. The snow’s going to keep melting for a day or two and then it will all come back again.

Snow

It snowed all week. The neighbourhood started looking like one of those christmas cakes with too much icing.

The paths we cleared would disappear within hours.

And then it snowed some more.

New Years Day

Michael is surpassing himself with photos at the moment. And how much mileage are we getting out of our Christmas tree lights? This might evoke a slightly more festive atmosphere than was actually felt around here as we watched re-runs of The Lord of the Rings in order to stay awake.

We fell into bed before midnight but luckily all the crashes and bangs ensured we got up again to watch a 360 degree fireworks display from our windows. Very handy to have windows facing all directions. And there is something so satisfying about bursts of noise and colourful explosions.

New years day was a perfect day for the beginning of a year. I watched the crescent moon dissolve in a clear sky and the sun rise (at a very respectable hour, I might add) from my desk. In the afternoon we went for a long walk in the forest. The temperature had crept above zero, the sun shone and shone, and honestly it felt like spring.

Visitors

Yesterday I slept in, but Michael was up early enough to witness these loveliest of visitors.

I’m pretty sure they come past every day, but they are so quiet that if you don’t look out the window at the right moment you miss them.

There’s also an enormous hare I’ve seen bouncing around, leaving hare-prints in the snow, but I don’t have a picture of him.

A wedding in the snow

Yep. Got married today.

I didn’t really mean to wear black to my own wedding, but it was the only maternity dress I could find. I like it. And at least it’s got lace on it, right? Michael insisted on buying me a proper bridal bouquet of red roses. I wore the sparkly green jewellery Michael bought me within two weeks of our first kiss, six and a half years ago. (I did think about wearing the little casket of uncut emeralds Mum wore to her own wedding, but I decided I needed the extra sparkle.)

We decided to tie the knot now rather than later not because of bubs (I really don’t think he’ll mind much either way), but more out of visa considerations for next year. All that aside, it felt like a good time to do it. It felt special. The script for the ceremony was perfect. Here’s a link to it in Norwegian. If you copy and paste it into google translate you’ll get an idea of it, allowing for some amusing translation errors. We alternated between listening seriously and glancing across at one another and smiling shyly.

Then there were the rings, and the signing, and it was done! We bought the rings in October, from Robert Feather, who has a workshop in a little town near York. That was special too, because we met in York, and lived together for two years there, and the gold of our rings was like the gold of the leaves on the trees.

The wedding was a more solemn and more joyful experience than I had expected. It was very small – just us and our two witnesses – and was over very very quickly. But we were so happy!

The courthouse was right on the harbour so we trundled out there to get a couple of shots in the snow (thanks to Michael’s best man who was our impromptu photographer).

Then we all had pizza at our favourite restaurant, Spisekroken. These guys make the best pizza I have ever tasted. Nowegians love pizza, but mostly it is barely edible. The owners know us, and were very happy for us, and brought out sparkling wine on the house.

We know our families would have loved to be there, and we would have loved that too. But I hope I can share the moment with you this way! And I hope we can eat cake together at a later date. After eating all that pizza, there was no room for cake anyway!

It was a perfect mini wedding. We even got presents. Kylie came back for a cup of tea and we cracked open the Swiss Glory chocolates my Mum had sent for Christmas while the snow filled the windows and the kittens snoozed.

As I write, there was a knock on the door and more roses arrived, from my parents! They are beautiful, but I will take a photo tomorrow because now I think it’s time for some snoozing of our own.

December is better than November

The world has been very pretty around here lately. I’ve even got used to the cold. -7 feels positively mild after -16. And -1 feels almost tropical. During the day, especially, our house is lovely, with the windows filled with sparkly white trees. And quite cosy at night, too, when we light the fire. The kittens have adjusted to the weather too: their coats are fluffier than ever and their paws have gone all leathery, so they can walk on the snow without getting blisters. Mermos’s favourite spot, though, is here:

I’ve finally kicked the never-ending cold, and I feel so much better for it. There are still so many things to do, but we’re ticking them off one by one. Today we borrowed a car seat and a cot and some odds and ends from a friend. And thanks to an early Christmas package from Mum, we have more than enough clothes to get the little man through his first month or so. There are just a few little things we need to still get hold of, and then we need to wash everything and sort out the rooms upstairs, and Michael needs to finish off the insulation in the loft, and then we should be ok.

There’s still paperwork to send in, and expensive car repairs to orchestrate (at least I’ve booked it in now), and something special that we’re doing this Thursday, but we’re getting there. I also had a chat to the head of the department of languages at the University College here this week, and he’s very keen to get me on board there after my maternity leave, so that’s exciting. (They’re also looking to expand their English literature teaching and their research credentials, so it’s sounding very promising indeed.)

I’ve had a very busy weekend and eaten a lot of cake. We had the Christmas concert for the barnehage on Saturday morning, followed by our work Christmas lunch. More cake today from the friend who leant us the car seat, and then even more cake at a three year old’s birthday party. Now I’m tired. Goodnight!

And a mouse in the snow

Many things happened yesterday. My aunt died, my cousin’s daughter was born, and another cousin got engaged (all on my Dad’s side). I read some of this news on facebook, and some in an email. I feel a very long way away.

But also not. I feel very connected to my family, and to life and to death.

Yesterday, driving to work, I saw a row of frosted birch trees standing in an field of snow. The sun (a welcome stranger in these parts) shone fiercely, directly behind them, illuminating the layers and ribbons of mist caught in their hair.

And tonight, from my new window over the roof tops, I watched the moment evening became night. It was a long moment. The sun does not set here as it sets in Australia – blink and you’ll miss it. It lingers. But I’m not talking about sunset, I’m talking about a long time after. And also I don’t mean ‘fades’. You know, ‘day fades into night’. Because here it doesn’t, not on clear days. Slowly, slowly, long after the sun has set, the blue gets deeper and deeper, sifting its way through a thousand shades, until suddenly the whole sky is a deep iridescent purple. Glowing, I say. And in the middle of it, the first star.

Let me rephrase that…

There really is a lot of snow.

Snow that puffs off train tracks and whips off roofs.

Snow that closes the underground lines

and glitters in the dark like sugar.

Snow that stills the afternoon,

that falls and falls,

that fills the tracks left by foxes

and smooths the edges of the world.

Snow we shovel into heaps

but blows back over night,

every night,

without a word.

Teaching

I did it! Got through my first class despite multiple technical failures… (The person who promised me late last night that he’d help me with photocopying and getting the projector to work was off sick!!!) The students are lovely and friendly and engaged, and come from a wide variety of cultural and intellectual backgrounds, which should make for interesting discussions… The two hours just evaporated, especially once I got them into smaller groups. This worked extremely well, and is as I suspected absolutely necessary as it’s difficult to have a discussion between thirty people. Who knows, we might be doing a bit of that by the end. But I have very bad memories of a class I was in once of about thirty people. It’s just too easy to sit by the sidelines, which gets incredibly boring.

I’ve got a better idea now of how to more efficiently prepare for the next class. Really two hours is no time at all, especially for this number of students. But about half of this class was taken up with introductory stuff, so we’ll have more time from now on to get stuck into things…

When I couldn’t work out how to get the overhead projector to work I cornered a lovely young man in the lift who sorted it out for me. He looked at me quizzically and told me I looked far too young to be teaching. ‘Well,’ I said, ‘I must be older than I look.’

Truth be told the train conductor mistook me for a student as well. But here I am, on a snow covered campus, a shiny PhD in my pocket and a class all of my own.

Oh, and the university bookshop is lovely. I will have to be very restrained.

Progress report

Photos by Michael.

Well, I can declare the two quiet weeks at my desk a success. While none of the chapters I was working on is quite done, Murray is 95% done, Webb is 50% done, and theory chapter is 75% done. And I have clear plans for the remaining sections. By the end of today, I want to have shaved a large chunk off the Webb chapter, and hopefully smoothed off the edges of the Murray chapter – basically redone the conclusion and thought of a nice sentence to put at the end of the introduction – so I could hand it in tomorrow if necessary, even though it would be nice to have another day to sift over it. And really there’s only one good day’s work left in the theory chapter.

The very lovely thing is that formatting issues I thought were going to be a problem won’t be. I had a test run today of putting it all into one document and justifying the right margin as well as the left – and it worked perfectly! Didn’t muck my poem quotes up at all! I’ve been having a problem with varying sizes of footnote numbers in the different chapters, and that solved itself too. I was also worried that it wouldn’t fit into 300 pages (that’s the page limit), as it’s slightly over the 100,000 word limit, but it’s coming in rather nicely at 282. So I have space to play! And don’t have to spend hours cutting down bits that in all likelihood could do with cutting down but will be ok as they are. And, best of all, Michael showed me how to  turn it quickly and painlessly into a pdf so I can print it off on the uni printers without problem. (I’m using Open Office instead of Word, and the computers at Uni don’t have Open Office, so I was foreseeing all sorts of problems.) All this translates to HAPPY HAPPY HAPPY!!!!!

This weekend I’ve been planning some post-thesis adventures – meeting Michael in the States in early April, and going to Aussie-land for three weeks after that. Really looking forward to hanging out with my family again.

So, the end of March really is D-day. And, yeah, you probably won’t hear a whole lot from me before then. I’m off to the UK tomorrow. Outside is constant sleety snow. But when I’m back here in May, there will be sunshine late into the night, and lupins lining the roadsides, and green everywhere.

Goodbye Feb

I cannot believe it’s the end of February. That’s two months best over and done with! The snow has been pretty. But I can’t wait until I can wander blithely along a footpath again without the very real danger of slipping on the silly ice. Bring on May, I say. May here is just the best. I’ve checked up on my handy back-blogging of weather, and it snowed in April both last year and the year before. The first birch leaves didn’t appear till mid-late April and the trees along the river were even later. I guess spring happens all of a sudden… But at least at half past five now it’s not quite dark. The sun has set, but the light lingers. And the only way is up.

March will be a blur anyway. Hopefully a productive blur!

Why you should still love Les Murray

I felt so tired this morning that I promised myself an early night tonight. Why is it not possible to get more done? I am making progress but I wish it were quicker.

I am working on my Les Murray chapter. I like his work very much. I’m not sure my chapter will do him justice. Actually, ‘like’ is not the right word at all. I adore his poems. He is a genius. His politics are also terribly problematic and unfortunately I have to deal with them in the chapter. But they don’t make me adore his poetry any less. (Not every single poem, but a lot of them.) I came across this beautiful review by Clive James that sums up one of the things so brilliant about him. He says Murray is an example of the way poets are ‘ unfairly interesting, as if they didn’t deserve to get so much said in such a short space’:

‘The severed trunk
slips off its stump and drops along its shadow.’

Not only do you wonder how he thought of that, you imagine him wondering too…

There is another good example in ‘The Power-line Incarnation’, a poem about how it feels to clear fallen power-lines off the roof of your house and find them to be still transmitting their full load of electricity.

‘When I ran to snatch the wires off our roof
hands bloomed teeth shouted I was almost seized held back from this life
O flumes O chariot reins
you cover me with lurids deck me with gaudies…’

The non-Australian reader need not think that there are outback Australians who call wires flumes. ‘Flume’, meaning an artificial channel, is Middle English following Old French, and comes out of the dictionary, not out of colonial usage. But the flumes, lurids, and gaudies seem appropriate here because the shock has sent the narrator back to the roots, of language as of life; the voltage has impelled a Jungian power-dive into the collective unconscious.

Isn’t ‘flume’ a lovely word? It sums up for me the electric shiver I get like get from moments like this in Murray’s poetry. Instead of writing my chapter I would like to write pages and pages about these incredible phrases. His bat poem for example. And oh, there are millions and millions. (If you click over to James’s review he discusses a few more.)

But these magic phrases are not the only thing that is wonderful about Murray’s poetry. He has all these elaborate theories about Australian identity, involving fusions of Aboriginal poetry, and Catholicism, and Gaelic poetry, and the Middle Ages, and the poor farmers, and about how he experiences belonging in the country the same way the Aboriginals do but also in the same way his Scottish ancestors did. Which of course is terribly problematic and you can’t really do that, and in designating certain groups as truly ‘Australian’ he’s alienating a huge proportion of the population.

But – I don’t think his poetry is brilliant simply in spite of his weird politics and his intense spiritual visions. I think they’re bound up together somehow, they come from the same place. So while I can unpick the unsettling way he aligns the Middle Ages with Australia, in some ways I don’t want to, because his vision is compelling and marvelous. It is a myth, yes, and there are real problems with some of the things he implies, but what he gives outweighs by far anything we can objectively say is problematic about his poetry.

And I was going to talk about how reading his ‘The Idyll Wheel’ – a suite of poems based around the Australian seasons – while holed up in my study listening to The Magic Flute in a snowy Norwegian February made me cry. But I have to go to bed now otherwise my new curfew will count for nothing and I will be a slow writer tomorrow morning. But the poem reminded me of how some weird woman on TV in England said she’d hate to have a Christmas in Australia because you’d know winter was just around the corner, and I thought – she knows nothing, winter is the least of their problems right now. Winter is unimaginable right now. As Les knows well:

Weedy drymouth Feb, first cousin of scorched creek stones,
of barbed wire across gaunt gullies, bringer of soldered
death-freckles to the backs of farmer’s hands. . .

. . .

. . . needy Feb, who waits for the raw eel-perfume
of the first real rain’s pheromones, the magic rain-on-dust
sexual scent of Time itself, philtre of all native beings

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.

Ice crystals

I took this on the weekend. Not sure the past three days could be accurately described as my most productive days ever. Have put aside my loathed theory chapter for now (just wish it was less flimsy), and am getting back to one of my poets. Hopefully keeping feelings of hate and wretchedness at bay. (My poor books have even been copping it – I’ve been yelling at them when they hide on the shelves. Of course they’re always in an obvious place but with a different coloured spine than I remember.)

Today it is snowing, again. The sky is falling and falling.

Now quietly – as quiet as the cold – I will crystallise the last words and paragraphs into stars and pathways, and it will be enough.

A Sunday drive

This afternoon we drove up along our regular summer cycling route, marveling at the icicles cascading over the rocks on the side of the road, and the little green islands in the middle of the frozen lakes. At the end of the route, we got out and had a stroll. I can’t believe I swam here in summer – just about where I’m standing. There were little ducklings bobbing around. And waterlillies.

The conditions were perfect for cross-country skiing, as fifi suspected, and the lake provides a surface about as flat as you can get. We saw a couple of guys out and about, getting a helping hand from their dogs (surprisingly effective).

I’ve never walked on a lake before. Occasionally we’d come across a crack, which was less than reassuring. I have to include this photo too, because of the lovely snowy trees in the background. It hasn’t snowed for days but it’s been so cold that it doesn’t melt at all.

I’ve taken the weekend off the thesis because yesterday my brain was dead. I can work through every other weekend it seems, but not every weekend. So… one last final push before I fly to England. M’s off to Sweden for two days now, and I’m hoping this will be my most productive week EVER. But this weekend was so nice. Just like the best sort of holiday.

Brrrr

minus14

This is the weather forecast for today and tomorrow. As you can see, sunshine, with a delightful temperature range of between minus five and minus fourteen. (Here’s the weather website.)

The town is still covered in snow. It is soft and dry and light, like dust. I tried to make a snowball the other day and it wouldn’t stick together but came apart in my hand. It’s fun to kick up little clouds of it.

Last night I came back from the gym with wet hair without putting my hood up. We only live across the road, and I was warm from exercising. As I climbed the steps to our little flat I thought – what’s that crunching sound? Agh, what’s that twiggy thing stuck to my head? My hair had frozen, in all of one minute.

Snow and fire

The landlady is shoveling snow off our steps. Yesterday was the first blue day in ages. I saw shadows I had never seen before.

And I am sad about the bushfires. Which of course doesn’t change anything but there it is. And because I am writing about belonging right now, I can’t help but notice that the reason I am sad is because they are burning in my home. My country. The place that shaped my childhood. Luckily for me, they are not burning the people or places dearest to me, but they are burning people like them, places like them.

So I feel really quite Australian right now. Having grown up with warnings of how to deal with snake-bites, which jelly-fish not to step on, which spiders can hurt you, where not to swim, how to cover up in the sun, and how much water to take with you if you go for a walk in the bush. And stories of what bushfires can do. How you should wrap yourself in a blanket, and stay down. (Amazingly, in all the news stories I’ve trawled through, this does seem to work in some instances.) I’ve never been bitten by a snake or a poisonous spider – but I’ve seen plenty. I’ve felt the tug of dangerous rip-tides as I’ve stood in the shallows. I’ve never seen a bushfire. But I’ve seen the glowing lick-and-flame of campfires, their nests of embers. I know the heady, dusty scent of eucalypts, and how days like this, they’re fuses waiting to go.

And yet – it’s white outside, and quiet, and cold. I wish I could send some snow.

Small things

  • This week I ate porridge for breakfast every day
  • There is thick snow outside and it’s still snowing
  • My three day plan became a five day plan
  • I went for a swim for the first time in years (not counting splashing around in lakes and beaches)
  • We found and lost the house of our dreams
  • I decided two warm jumpers are the way to go
  • When I walked out of the bathing hall at five pm, my hair still wet, it was dark. The ground was covered in a not insubstantial layer of whiteness that hadn’t been there when I went in. The clean blank footpath glinted like diamonds. Tiny, tiny flakes swarmed down. If you looked up beneath a streetlamp it seemed the air was made of glitter.

The ribbon of mist

Came back! At half past nine, as the light crept down the hillside, it appeared again. After my rash but poetic promise, what could I do but wrap up in scarf and coat and rush outside. Running proved not to be practical on the icy footpath, but I did what I could.

The mist was elusive. But what was that strange sun, reflecting up into the clouds?

Windows, glowing. And then the mist curled around the hillside, and away.

This morning

Just after eight, when it was still night but almost night no longer, a thin, frail ribbon of mist hung over the houses on the other side of the river. I had never seen one so fine, just lying there. By half past eight it had dissolved, and the air was growing ever lighter, though the sun had not yet risen. The yellow eyes of the houses blinked at me. The clouds were pink in scalloped layers stacked above the hillside, and the sky emerged from dark slowly, now grey, now violet, now blue.

The river is flanked by snow, so that the sky’s pale colours are all that lives. Every time I look at the clouds they’ve changed – bleaching to a pearly cream, then deepening almost to terracotta. It is quarter past nine now, and the sun is still not up, but the edges of the sky glow like peaches. At nine-nineteen precisely, the first light touches the highest building, and it will be day again, it will.

I watch the slither of light creep down the hillside ever so slowly. And next time I spot a ribbon of mist so fine I could thread it in my hair, I will not stay inside my house. I will go after it, I will catch it, I will run.

Cold

We got back on Monday night. It was freezing. I have never been in a house so cold. The sheets were crisp with cold, even our clothes in their drawers. The floor was slippery. The toilet seat burned. We put the heater on in our bedroom and shut the door, and snuggled in with extra duvets, fleeces, thick socks and make-shift hot water bottles.

There we are, fluffing our feathers.

It was so cold that our refrigerator and freezer had decided there was no point staying on. Which meant it was warmer inside the freezer than out of it, and all our food had defrosted. I kept the fire going all day Tuesday and once it warmed up a bit it kicked into gear again. Also the pipes under our shower are broken.

It’s been regularly -10 for the past couple of weeks. Tomorrow, for the first time in ages, the forecast inches up to a comparatively toasty +5. It is with great reluctance that I turn my attention towards my phd for one final push. I walked to the harbour this afternoon, but the sun slid behind the islands all too swiftly.

On top of the world

We had the best flights today. We got high above launch, high enough to see the snowy mountains in the background, and we were up for more than two hours. We could have stayed up longer if we wanted. It was so much fun chasing the lift in thermals, zooming up up up like birds.

See that tiny green square in the middle of the mountains? That’s the launch site. That’s how far we were above it. And look – here are all the paragliders layed out and ready to go:

This is me scratching for lift (technical term) above a farm:

M was higher than me at this point but I soon overtook him – hihi! There were small pockets of rising air that moved around, and also a couple of surprise monster thermals which zoomed us up soooo fast and made our little variometres beep like crazy. It really was like being a bird – being able to go down and up whenever you chose.

My glider dried off in the wind and sunshine (it was still a little damp from yesterday) and I landed nowhere near the stream.

Afterwards we drove up through the mountains and watched the setting sun slant through the clouds, stuffing sky and light into our memories for the journey home.

An eventful journey

Today we explored a windy Monaco. (I mean windy as in lots of wind – but I guess the streets are windy as in curvy too.) There are extremely posh Christmas decorations. The buildings are a strange mix of extravagant and tumble-down. A miniature apartment will cost you two million euros.

There are steps and elevators everywhere. Driving (and helping whoever is driving avoid crashing into cars or pavements or the walls of the underground car park) is terrifying. Locals park their cars on footpaths, half a centimetre away from stone walls and the cars behind them. But the sun shone brilliantly and from the window of our warm apartment it looked positively summery.

Getting here was another matter altogether. We drove up from Barcelona, setting off at about half past four on boxing day, planning to get half way. (What were we doing in Barcelona, I hear you say – cheap flights.) It rained and rained. The motorway was closed because of snow, and we were re-routed around the coast. We drove slowly, taking comfort in the caravan of other re-routed traffic. As we descended into a seaside town, I looked down at the fierce white waves through the blackness. The ocean’s going crazy, I said. We drove lower and lower, towards the sea foam. The road was on a cliff above the sea, but the waves were reaching it. Traffic slowed to a snail’s pace. I was afraid. It was a different fear from a customary – oh this is a bit hairy but we’ll be ok. It felt like there was a small but undeniable possibility that things could go badly wrong. A wave buffeted my window. I decided that being swept out to sea in a little car would not be my preferred way to go. And then another wave, huge, hovered above us before smashing down and completely engulfing the car. The car didn’t budge, but we couldn’t see a thing. When it cleared, we inched forward. Shortly after this we reached the town centre, and it was clear that the worst weather had already passed. The beach and the roads were covered in rubble. Two telescope machines – you know the ones you put money in and then you can look out to sea – were completely smashed. The police directed us onwards, upwards, towards snowy roads that snaked around the cliffs.

We kept passing abandoned cars stuck in the snow. Again the worst had passed, and we travelled on without a problem. The motorway was still closed. The third time we tried to rejoin it, we had to negotiate our way through a traffic jam of cars that wanted to go the other way (the road toward Spain was shut). Finally, we made it on to a near-deserted motorway. On the other side, a long, silent line of at least one hundred lorries had decided to call it a night.

Looking at the bright blue sea, you’d never know.

Snowing!

On the first day of December! No photos yet, but if it makes the ground all pretty I will be out there this afternoon. Right now I am happy with the fat flakes of whiteness tumbling down outside. I think it bodes well for serious thesis writing.

I put up our Christmas pyramid last night. It was a present for me from Michael’s Mum two years ago (it’s German). This is the first time I’ve actually been at home close enough to Christmas to use it. I love these things. Warm air from the candles turns the windmill, which in turn makes all the little figures inside the pyramid go round and round. Wise men, shepherds, angels. (And don’t forget the donkey and the sheep and the lambs.) I love how this one looks so Persian, with the arches and mini gold domes.

The other Christmas creatures are: the blue Swedish horse I bought with my Grandparents in Stockholm a few years back, because it reminded me of the red Swedish horse that sat on their bookshelf all through my childhood; a Russian icon of St George that I bought also with my Grandparents (on the same trip) in St Petersburg; and the Russian dolls I bought with my cousin Hannah in Prague, nearly five years ago now. I was sorely tempted to buy a gingerbread house kit from the co-op on the corner (only 25 kroner!). I resisted, as we’re only here another week and then away for a month, and I wouldn’t want to invite a bunch of mice over for a party while we’re gone.

Goodbye Snow

The snow is gone, but I couldn’t resist sharing my last remaining snow photos. Now there is mist, and soft persistent rain. I do not mind. I think of the shoots and the seeds hiding in the earth, drinking up all the moisture, swelling, waiting. It is not so cold now. The magpies have made very impressive progress with their nest. They work in pairs, in all weathers. Now when they are inside I cannot see them. Wet and misty or icy blue, there is more light every day. Nothing will stop the spring.

You know the way

Up the white path. The factory hums beneath you but the snow is made of quietness. Your feet make soft shuffling sounds. You throw back your hood.

Through the guarded gate. The harbour waits beyond, all silver, but sometimes gold.

To where the the islands are frozen and the trees stand sentinel. In a town like this, you seek edges, horizons, the empty sky.

More ducks and more snow

This morning, the snow was thick and powdery and it creaked when I stepped on it. I made new footprints. It snowed all night and most of the day. When it stopped, I watched two magpies making a nest in the tree outside our window. Black and white, like everything else. They fussed with the twigs.

I hurried off to the harbour to see if it had all gone white. Only some of it had, but it was still quite a sight. Snow is a novelty to me. Not much of it where I come from. This afternoon, as it fell thick and fast, I stood by the window, entranced. The fat flakes moved as the air moved – you could see the wind! The flakes fell down and up and sideways. I watched them filling up the landscape, covering the flat shapes. Like colouring in, but opposite.

Feeling restless this evening, I scrubbed the bathroom. It’s just this weather – you can’t stay out in it long. You can’t ride your bike. (Comfortably, anyway.) But – how lovely it was, this afternoon, to feel the article begin to make hesitant sense, the tree branches by the window plump with snow, as bits of sky twirled and tumbled for hours.

The sun and the snow

Just about this time of year, you start to wish badly for warm sunshine. For now, the cold, sparkly sort will have to do. It makes your nose hurt. But the snow glittered rather nicely as we climbed to the fortress yesterday. And we had icicles on our roof when we got back. We ate one.

Snø!

Much excitement!

The master photographer in the house says this photo isn’t blog worthy, but as it is difficult to snap anything much more exciting from our lounge room window, and as it’s not exactly tempting to venture outside, it will do for now. I didn’t think I’d see snow in Halden this year, but it’s snowing at Easter, just like it did last year. It’s not meant to venture above zero for the next couple of days, so it should stick around. We’re quite happy to be inside with the fire and candles and pancakes and Easter eggs and writing projects.

Speaking of snow, there’s a low pressure system wreaking havoc in Germany and Switzerland right now, called Melli! God help them…

A walk in the park

For two days this week the park by uni was covered in snow, or more precisely, frozen fog. It was beautiful.

Now it has warmed up again but the wind has come back. It shakes my window panes and keeps blowing out the pilot light in our water heater. I have been analysing poems all day and my brain feels as hazy as the sky. But it is nice – to hold the poems lightly in your hands and hear them talk to each other, to coax them out of hiding.

It snowed in Halden, too

I woke on Saturday morning to snowflakes dusting the wibble-tree and the cars outside, patterning my cobbled street. Not enough to be spectacular. But the strange loveliness of the snowflakes’ quick-feathered dance made me hold my breath. They swirled and twisted, weightless. And it snowed in Halden, too. I think they should put the whole town on top of a Christmas cake.

The Yorkshire Dales

Here’s the viaduct near Ribbleshead, part of the Settle-Carlisle railway (we caught the train across from Leeds). It was built in 1870. I think it’s great. It was threatened with closure in the 1980s, but after much campaigning it was restored in 1991. At the Ribbleshead train station, there was a little museum about the railway line, into which we retreated yesterday to escape the cold. The Spanish students who were with us were quite dismissive of the whole thing, and incredulous that anyone had made such a fuss. But I think it is a thing of beauty.

From the viaduct, you can see the three highest peaks in the Yorkshire dales. Above is the view of Ingleborough, with slightly better visibility than when I climbed it last year. If you’re a bit mad you can climb all three peaks in a day (in summer), including walking between them. We did it once in ten and a half hours, and could barely move afterwards.

Yesterday, we got to the top of the ridge of Whernside, but turned back due to the slippery ice and the extreme wind. It was quite difficult to stand upright. It doesn’t matter. I love this place.

The Caravan of Love

Here is a wonderful construction created by the very clever Michael. To view it, click play, but then click pause and wait till it’s fully loaded (when the red line is all the way across). This could take a few minutes, but it might be very fast. Then you can press play. If you don’t do this it will stop and start and not come out properly. And it’s so lovely!

The snuggle-car goes north

Wow. This really is an amazing country. We got back yesterday from Geilo (pronounced yeilo), which is in the Hardangavidda national park. The snuggle-car did us proud, and drove us over a snow-covered mountain plateau, over mountain passes and through twisting, winding tunnels (one was a spiral, and another was 25k long!), along fjords, frozen lakes, alpine meadows, cherry blossom and rushing streams. It was amazing how quickly the landscapes changed, how rock and lichen would appear as the snow began to melt, how you could drive out of a tunnel into another world. Michael’s parents loved it too, and I got to practice my German (rather rusty, I’m afraid, though I understand a lot and they seem to understand me). Below are some of my favourite photos. I’m going back to Leeds tomorrow, which is sad, but I’ll just have to make the most of it (and get lots of work done). By the time I come back, it will be nearly June, and the tiny leaves, which are still just hesitant sketches on the trees, will all be grown, and open, and covered in sun.

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.