Min Otroliga Svenska Resa: Rötter

aka My Incredible Swedish Journey: Roots

monstera / photo by shf

I consider the changing light, which plant should be moved and why. With the dogs sunning themselves and the morning birds dancing in the limbs of the berry-filled photinia, I unnest a couple dirt-crusted pots, thinking of the monstera that needs more room to root. As I scrub the largest of the containers, I think about how long I’d had this last tangible artifact from my ex-mother-in-law, now in her ninth decade, a matriarch who maintained strong local ties with generations of her East Texas family. Sponging soapy water over the fragile glazed pot, my thoughts light on the farmor (father’s mother) of my offspring.

Clean things up before you bring them inside, I think. Whatever I let live in me needs a proper polishing first. Brush away the dangling regrets, soften the crusts of guilt, wipe off the webs of failings and droppings of insecurity. I made peace with the end of my marriage decades ago, celebrating the resulting children and gleaning a wealth of lessons I might not have learned otherwise. For one, I can choose to disengage from that which limits a healthier, happier me.

The inherited planter mirrors the color of my long-gone wedding gown, a lacy ivory, progressively off-white. The mother of the groom wore scarlet that day. The older I became, the more I admired her commitment to place. I hadn’t been satisfied staying put. Let me be on the move, mapping the horizon, boots and binoculars packed along. My eyes had been the hungry kind. Show me more! Show me more!

And suddenly I’m thinking about a garden outside Umeå during the filming of the fifth episode of Allt for Sverige. Some may call my involvement a frivolous waste of time. I call it fate. Cast and crew had traveled nine hours north of Stockholm in late August. The sun was as flirty as I had ever seen it, and the breezes made me tingle like sexy kisses from a crush. I relished the thrill and hugged myself as I walked with my comrades up to the farm where we would spend the night.

Hanna and her extended family granted us the delights of their garden, the freshness of their youth, the whole space a container for sustainability, beauty, and love. Whether the rabbit hutch or the fire pits or the outside feast table, each feature of the farm from greenhouse to pasture to kitchen ordained home as a sacred space to be shared.

Sweden in a nutshell / photo by shf

After a good night’s sleep on the third floor of the farmhouse, I found myself sitting in the sudden intimacy of the kitchen where several of us savored strong Swedish coffee, buttery bread, homemade cloudberry jam, and fresh eggs. This is what conviviality means, I thought. After months of COVID sequester, being a guest in someone else’s kitchen was like a dream, one I wanted to keep having.

a corner of the farmhouse kitchen / photo by shf

I could imagine myself staying, stowing away behind the oldest cabin, one built by the farfar (father’s father) of Hanna’s husband. I would make a bed in the fern softness under the pines and spruce of the hillside, lie on my back, knees bent, feet planted on earth. I’d fold my hands behind my neck, elbows pointing past the tree tips up toward the glow. I’d breathe as if the exchange of air in this place were turning me into more of myself. I’d inhale and exhale for a good long time, then I’d dig into my knapsack for something I’d written in Swedish, with the help of an online translation tool, before the trip. In the forested light, I’d reread the soul stuff, longing for the melody to lift it into song.

my lyrics in search of a tune

The wind wakes the tree chimes as the washed planter tumbles onto its side at my feet. Daydreaming has emptied my hands of a chore. Stretching upward, I move to the rock pile for enough pebbles to line the bottom of the pot before adding a cushion of dirt and the unhoused monstera. I think about what is required to take root, to leaf, to grow. The chimes cheer me, and I hum along as I press fresh soil around the transplant, promising it good light inside.

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