It’s gotten very chilly in New York City these days, and this past weekend the wind was simply icy. Despite a woolly cap and double wrapped scarf, the little rounds of my cheeks that were exposed actually tingled and went numb.
I’m not good at handling very cold weather, but I do like to taste the air when it gets that cold, just for a minute! I can open my mouth and take a deep breath, and the air is fresh and slightly sweet, something like a very intense chewing gum. I used to hate weather this cold, but a trip to Sweden in November 2007 changed that for me.
I visited my friend Staffan and he showed me Stockholm and Leksand. It was my first time in Scandinavia and winter is a wonderful time to go. The first thing I noticed were the people, so pixie-ish and elfin, they seemed magical. All of them dazzled me, with perfectly sloping noses, and small sparkling eyes. When girls would push their hair back, I was convinced I’d see pointed ears, but I didn’t. They hid them well I guess.
A long train ride to Leksand seems to not only traverse space but time too. The area is rich in copper ore, and a by-product of the processing is a rich deep brick red paint, which all the houses are regularly coated in. You can kind of see it in the snowy landscape shot above. A glance through the rushing train window shows the landscape outside scattered with what seems like perfect gingerbread homes. The conductor, along with many other passengers, was a round man, with a beard so fluffy it would instantly recommit your faith in Santa. Even Staffan seemed to resemble a young Santa, don’t you think?
Scandinavia is also home to amazing fashion, in particular, knitwear. I personally love to knit and last year became a huge fan of Hanne Falkenberg, a Danish knitwear designer. Many of her designs are knit entirely in one piece. So they are challenging to make but also result in sweaters with beautiful draping. This year when New York got so frosty cold, I couldn’t help but remember my icy trip and felt some knitting inspiration. I came across a great mittens/gloves pattern book that covers traditional Fair Isle patterns, many using the traditional Norwegian star motif and some patterns dating back to the 1500’s. This has become my obsession this winter, these darling snowflakes, starbursts, crosses and x’s. Here’s what I mean, the picture at the start of this post is from the Selbu Folk Museum in Norway, and the one pictured below is from a book called Selbuvotter: Biography of a Knitting Tradition:
Handmade knits like this are really special and a pleasure to wear. Think of the time it takes to knit each stitch into something so detailed. And there’s nothing like a good wool. The intricate pattern and fuzzy warmth, coziness in winter is a luxury in it’s own right. If you buy or make a pair like these, be sure to take good care of them, remember, wool is perishable.
And so the best part of the trip? Brace yourself. In Leksand’s winter the nights go dark around 3.30 or 4pm, and one night we went for a walk after dinner. I skid stupidly across the path, waddling behind Staffan who expertly walks on ice. And we got down to the edge of a lake, I think Lake Siljan, but it might have been a smaller pool near it. He told me to look up!
And there in the frosty night sky, from that far north on the globe, we could see a clear strip of stars clustered from the horizon infront, arching over me and then behind as far as I could see. To the left and to the right I saw blacker space, scattered with far fewer start. There were no words to say, it was incredible, one of the most overwhelmingly beautious things I’ve ever seen. “See? it’s the Milky Way, that stripey bit. You can see it from here in winter time!” Staffan beamed. “wow” I inhaled.
And then I flipped out, “I just saw something moving! it was glowing! what was that?! did you see it?!” And dear Staffan quietly said, with mild annoyance, “it’s a shooting star. calm down.” I’d never seen one before that night. There are a few moments in life when you can feel the with certainty, how large the world is and how humbly small a creature you are. You get connected to the ground beneath you and the air around you and the stars above you, and your spirit wakes up.
Be sure to bundle up tight this winter. Jack Frost is ever playful, he’ll kiss your cheeks when you’re not looking, so keep an eye out for him.