When I write this I’m in Sweden, staying at my parents’ summer place: it’s an old Swedish house right on the water (the water being a small inlet in the Bay of Bothnia), with a couple of smaller cabins clustered around it to house various family members, friends and relatives if and when they drop by. I’ve spent pretty much every summer here since my kids were born, and way-back in the way-back-when-time I spent my summers here from the age of 11 (when my parents first bought this place), until my early twenties when I moved away.
The place is a dream: there are trees all around, the grass and wild-flowers are beautiful, there are birds, there’s a small (slightly grassy) beach, water to swim in, and the whole place is peaceful and beautiful, and familiar in that way that makes you feel relaxed and at at home as soon as you arrive.
My kids love this place. They run around and play, the splash around in the water, they go out on the boat, they build sand castles (or throw sand at each other until they’re screaming), they eat ice cream and pick blueberries. They go on the swing, and watch movies, and cause a ruckus in the pool (a hot-tubbish, inflatable contraption they love). They grill Swedish falukorv (a kind of sausage) and marshmallows in the fire-place. They empty the fish trap, and we all head out on excursions every now and then. They watch the hare scamper off in the grass in the early mornings, and they hop and bounce on the trampoline before breakfast and after dinner. They stare into the water from the dock, looking for fish; and they sit in the upstairs bedrooms with their grandparents looking through old board-games and books and comic books that I remember from my childhood.
For my kids, this is the summer place, the place they think of when they think of summer. When I was a kid (before my parents bought this place), my summer place was located elsewhere. It was my grandparents’ tiny cabin on a lake here in northern Sweden. I’m not even sure how much time I actually spent there every summer: maybe a couple of weeks or so? Regardless of how much time I spent there, that place is fixed in my mind even now as a half-magical place of childhood adventures. It was where I would climb trees, feed lumps of sugar to the ants in the anthills, run on the narrow forest paths… It’s where I had all my own secret places and trails, games and rituals, places to visit, and things to see. The haunting call of the curlew flying overhead. That branch I would sit on in the rowan tree. Getting up early and lighting the fire under the huge old water-heater, using dried reeds and twigs for kindling. The smell of ‘Salubrin’, the old-school Swedish remedy for mosquito bites.
When I visit that old place by the lake now, I can still feel the tug of the old memories, but this place, the place my kids love now, is the one that really feels like summer and Sweden and peace and memory and longing and belonging all at once.
In the mornings, when I’m in bed, looking through the window of the small cabin I stay in with the kids, I can see the view above and beyond my toes: the water and a birch tree and the sky and the wild-flowers. And I tuck it all inside my mind – this vision of sky and water, this feeling of listening to my own thoughts, and the joy of letting the kids run free enough to find their own places and games and trails and small adventures. I tuck it all away inside, next to my own childhood’s rowan tree and lake and anthills.