tirsdag den 31. maj 2016

the inside of things

I go out in the early morning chill in search for coffee. But the cafés haven't yet shaken off the night and let loose with the sweet scent of coffee and croissants. The quiet canals with their smooth luminescent water mirroring this world beckon me and I walk. Along one, then another, crossing bridges. I find myself in front of the Paper Island Streetfood Market, where the "Spotted Pig" café promises coffee and beer, but it's closed. Even a spotted pig needs it's beauty sleep. I turn to head back towards Christianshavn and more than a promise of coffee ... all, but the sleepiest of cafés must have opened now. At the corner of the bridge from the Paper Island there is a man.
He is hung on the frame of his tall body like a puppet between acts and as I approach he comes to life. Not a lot of life. He slowly comes out of the shadow of the tree he has been standing under and stands in my way in an innocent manner I find totally disarming. He is visibly drunk. His eyes staring a little stiffly behind the round metalrimmed yellow sunglasses. I suspect he wants money when he says "Can you help me ..." and I am already fingering the coins in my pocket. He struggles ... looking for the words. "Can you help me find ..." He pauses again. He speaks with an accent. Icelandic ... And icelandic drunk in Copenhagen. A drunk Icelandic guy in Copenhagen looking for ... a café? A bar? A hotel? The trainstation?
He deliberately pushes out the words, a difficult birth of meaning obliterated by alcohol or maybe accentuated by it ...
"Can you please show me the inside of things."
That's what he says. Can you please show me the inside of things? And maybe I would love to...
I can't help laughing, which makes me a bit ashamed because he looks so serious. Well, yes, let me show you the inside of things. This is what I try to do. I try to help people see the inside of things. To not stay on the surface of things, but to go deeper. To stay with their experience. To explore. This is what I practice and I try to pass this practice on. To my students. My clients. But I am not sure, that's what he means. My index finger gives him a sweeping virtual tour of the surroundings: "This is the Paper Island," I say and point to the factory buildings on the other side of the bridge, "that way is Christiania, out there is the Opera but it's probably closed now, and that way is Christianshavn and all cafés and the morning citylife if that's what you're looking for." He hangs on my finger and every word with what looks like intent, but probably he is just very very drunk. As I leave he retreats to the shadow of the tree. To the unlived life of a puppet between acts.
The marble sky is a promise of another beautiful spring day in Copenhagen. Can I show you the inside of things? Do I see the inside of things or am I stuck on the outside? I sit on a bench for a while and listen to a blackbird. Singing inside of me.

mandag den 4. januar 2016

Since Death alone is certain

I was in the middle of the story of our hike through Sarek, but life got in the way or rather death did.

It's the first day of a new year as I sit down to write this, and the old one made it's exit in a dramatic way, when I lost my old friend, Ole, who I knew from my youth. We lived together when I moved away from home 17 years old, and he was a good and close friend. A support. Someone that I counted on and loved.

Then we drifted apart. I got married, moved to the States, had a daughter. Then moved back, had a son, moved to the countryside.
But the last 10-15 years we had rekindled our friendship. I got to know his wife and his children, they got to know my partner and our children. They visited us, we visited them. Some friendships last through all the changes, this one did. And we had just started talking about maybe investing in a summerhouse together. Talking about building community, extending our families to include old friends. To tie together loose ends ... and then he suddenly died.

One late evening before christmas I got a text from his wife. A text that I didn't read, because I was on my way to bed, but I imagined it had to do with the house, we were looking for. Maybe they had found something. That night I dreamt, that we were out looking at a huge old place, that was falling apart, but Ole said, that he could fix it.
When I woke up and read the text, I had to reread it three times to grasp what it said. Ole is dead.

What happened over the next few days and weeks was almost a textbook journey through grief. A journey that has far from ended. It started in disbelief, went through anger and downright rage and then deep deep sadness to moments of intense joy in life. Those first intense emotions have faded, but the ripples are still felt in my system and reverberate in all aspects of my life. The echo whispers:

How do you want to live your life? Now? Now? Now? Nowowowowow

Meditating and reflecting on what was happening with me I could separate my feelings into several layers, that I want to share with you here:


We don't believe. really, that we are going to die. We can not really relate to it. We know that all things, that are born, die. We see it all the time. Yet when it comes to our own existence and the existence of those closest to us, it seems impossible to grasp. So we continue to live as though ... as though that reality is never going to affect us. Untill one day suddenly it does.What was there yesterday, suddenly isn't there anymore. I can't call up Ole and say, that I'll come by for a coffee and to shoot the breeze. He isn't there anymore. Life in the form of Ole seizes to exist. That is deeply puzzling. I mean, I talk about this all the time, when I teach, but when it hits close to home the realization is stark and intense.

Anger and rage:

Has to do with unlived life, I suspect. The realization that albeit all my best intentions to stay awake and aware, I am still caught up in patterns of sleepwalking. Of not being completely here. A little parenthesis here is, that I remember discussing this with Ole long time ago, where he thought it quite harsh to say, that we were sleepwalking in life.  We almost got into an argument about it. Him being so stubborn ... :-)
And suddenly we just die. The rage is just like: "Fuck, shit, fuck, shit!!!!" I want to roar at the world: "Stop sleepwalking!!! Wake up!" But only I can wake up and the rage is this intense waking up to the intense energy of life. I rage because I realize that I am not fully here. And death wakes me up and I DON'T WANT TO GO BACK TO SLEEP AGAIN! Maybe underneath the rage, there is fear. It doesn't feel like fear though. It feels very pure and very engaged and full of life energy.

Deep deep sadness: It's bittersweet. It's loss. It's longing. It's memories. The memories took me by surprise. I suddenly remembered things from my youth that I had no idea that I had forgotten. The memories flooded my senses. I woke up and they were fighting for space in my awareness, vivid, colourful, sensuous...the weirdest feeling - almost like the memories for a while were more real than the rest of my life. I was fighting to be here and annoyed with my surroundings (my partner) for drawing me back into everyday life. I wanted to nosedive down into those memories and sniff them in, cuddle up and lie real close with them. For a few days when I woke up, it would take me some time to fight my way back to this reality. I actually ended up cancelling classes to be able to withdraw and just be with those recurrent, detailed and enormously vivid memories.
A memory of sitting in our shared apartment in his room writing peoetry on an old typewriter( Yes, I am that old), his room, because it was bigger and cozier, and looking forward to Ole coming home from work and giving life to the apartment. Me, a little weird and teenagey and isolated. Ole a breath of fresh air.
Or the time when he visited me when my mother was dying, and I showed him my favourite spot in the forest, and we lay there side by side. Just being. Which was exactly what I needed at the time, and he knew.
But also the irritation. I used to get so irritated with him. He was so unplanned and uncontrolled and chaotic in his movements. Sometimes it felt like he was falling through life.
But the irritation fades to give way for the love. Loves is what lingers and stays. Love is what is remembered. That is so thought provoking, because what of the irritation I feel with the people who are close to me now? The urge to control. That completely falls away in the face of death. I want to remember that.

And I felt such heartache for the family and wanted to be with them and share their pain and ease it somehow ...
And I felt heartache for all my other losses.
Losses, that suddenly felt as real as this one. My mother, when I was 19. My father 10 years later.
My grandparents. My uncle. My cousin. A childhood friend. My aunt ... People, who were there, who aren't here anymore. Just the memories. Memories that were pushing on the gates of my awareness. Pushing them in. Pushing through them. What is really real?
And then taking in the losses of all the other beings in this world, on this earth. Through time eternal...What is this life? What is this death? Heart cracked open...

Joy in Life:

When death moves in and sits real close to us, we may wake up to the beauty of life. It has happened to me a few times. I was sitting in the church, the first one there, waiting for people to arrive and the ceremony to start. There was the coffin, white and covered in flowers, and this woman was hammering up and down the aisle arranging the flowers around the coffin, and when there was no more space, then down the aisle. Sun was shining in on the wall of the church, dancing light and shade a bit like light under water. And suddenly I grew very quiet, time stopped and I just watched the light and it was so beautiful that tears started welling up in my eyes. The simplicity of that moment. Just sitting in the church in the quiet, while this woman was doing her thing and the light doing it's thing. Life unfolding around me. And me just there. I can't describe the beauty of that moment.

This is the gift of birth and death. These to poles of existence can make us fall in love with life. Birth and death wake us up to the beauty of life. But they are only moments in the continuous unfolding. Only moments. Birth nothing to hold on to. Death nothing to hold on to.

Nothing to hold on to.
And like I said earlier the urge to control our lived and others falls away in the face of death. Or rather may fall away.

I am reminded of the zen contemplation:

Since death alone is certain, and the time of death uncertain
How shall  live?

There we have it. Again. I say this sentence to myself at the tail end of every meditation.
I say: "Since death alone is certain, and the time of death uncertain, how shall I live?"
And then ... I whisper to myself countless times during the day: "Relax ... nothing is under control..."

It is an invitation to contemplate what is important in our lives and be willing to do that every day, every time we remember. Is this thing that I worry about really so important? Do I need to get stressed and flustered? Are my hurt feelings so important? My grudges? My complaints?

Or can I surrender to enormous gratitude fed out of being content with what I have and knowing that in a moment I have to give EVERYTHING back? And then feel the joy of giving back now? When I am still here to be in touch the life that flows between my being and the being of everything/everyone else? The truth is that everything I have now is a loan, and I have to give it back. I don't own anything, not even my life.
If there is nothing to hold on to, then why on earth not begin to give back now? Are we too busy? Too preoccupied? Too bewildered? If I don't know how to give back, then I can start small. Give back to my immediate surroundings. Give back in the form of small acts of kindness. In the form of letting go of selfrighteousness. In the form of a smile. Just giving other people my face - no holding back. Let others see me. I don't belong to me anyway. I belong to the world.
And keep widening my circle of compassion.

I know that when death moves in close, this is what arises. The gratitude, the joy, the love and the sadness and the grief and the anger ... because one does not exist without the other. They are two sides of the same coin.

tirsdag den 17. november 2015

Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy part 6... Storm

Yes, I know. I left us there in the dark and in the rain and we have no idea what is going to happen, apart from the fact, that you know, that I survived to write this. Which will also be the fact later on in part 7, where we are in real danger. This is just uncomfortable.

I got caught up in life and didn't have time for my blog. A part of our family is moving to the States, and that moved us, and my son found a place to stay in Copenhagen after having searched for two months, and his moving out was quite a change too after four years here in our relatively small apartment. He is 20 and it felt right. Although my motherheart fears that he will get lonely and what about eating healthily and will he be happy? All the thoughts and worries, that are part of the reality when you love someone. And that you have to bear, because you can not save other people from the pain of growing up and you shouldn't. And he will grow.

And all manners of other things happened, that I don't want to bore you with now, but most of all what has been drawing me away from the Hikers' Guide to the Galaxy is the refugee situation in Europe. It is on everybody's mind, isn't it? We all think about it. And in a way I relate it to both that stormy night in the tent and a book by a guy called Viktor Frankl: "Man's Search for Meaning", which is his account of his experiences in a concentrationcamp.

The world has just gotten very much smaller. Events that normally happen "out there" in a part of the world, that seemingly doesn't really touch us or concern us, suddenly moved to front row. Literally to our doorstep. We are being affected by this and for good reason. In one way or the other, what was happening out there in the world that we didn't see close up and therefore couldn't really relate to, got very real. Real people. Real stories. Real suffering. Real deaths. It's easy to imagine, that the people that are suffering "out there" somehow don't suffer in the same way as we suffer. We can't imagine what it's like, when people "out there" are cold, hungry, scared, when they loose the ones they love. Suddenly seeing the images in the news or shared on Facebook, we understand that the people suffering are real people. And they are right here in Europe. They are people like us. It touches us. All of us. For some of us, what is evoked is compassion. For some it is fear. But no matter how we are touched, this situation changes us. We can't close our eyes anymore. I will write more about this in a later blogpost.

But let me first get us out of that tent and on with the hike, because by the minute things are just getting worse:

Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy part VI:

I can't sleep. I catch myself praying to the weather Gods or anyone who has any power over the weather. I am tense and apprehensive.
If you have never spent the night in a tent in a storm, you won't know what I mean, but Nature get's so close, creeps under your skin, in a tent and it's intense. Alive. And can be quite frightening. I realized several times during that night how small we are in the Universe. So insignificant. That is a very useful and beneficial insight. But in the situation, that night in the storm, it was actually just plain frightening. We really felt at the mercy of Mother Nature's immense power.
At one point it starts dripping down on my face, and I start getting obsessed with keeping an eye on the tent to make sure that it's not raining in anywhere. I make my way out of the sleeping bag and into the frontpart of the tent where all our gear is and sure enough, rain is dripping and sipping in. I cover our boots and the gasstove with the big plastic bags we use to keep our sleepingbags in in the backpacks when we hike and cover our backpacks with their raincovers. Then I crawl back in, determined to sleep. It's 11 pm. Johannes snores with comforting regularity, I twist and turn and with the regularity of Jo's snoring, I wipe down the inner tent to keep it dry. My sleeping bag is getting
damp, the mattress is wet, there is small puddle building in a corner of the tent. I am cursing the fact that we didn't treat it with water repellant before we left. It's an old tent so even though it's a good quality ten, it's not really performing optimally.
Normally the rain would just drench the outer tent and the inner tent would still be dry, but the gusts of wind are so hard that the outer tent beats down violently on the inner tent and delivers it's burden of water.
Hence the puddle, the wet mattress, the damp sleepingbag and hence I am unable to sleep.
At 1 am Johannes wakes up. We are both freezing and we turn on the lamp to warm try to warm ourselves up (much like the little matchgirl of H.C. Andersen's fairytale) and share a bar. We giggle a little talking about our situation and having no control over it, and as long as we are both awake it feels lighter and not so bad. Then Johannes goes back to sleep again and I continue my involuntary nightwatch. Drying off. Moving stuff out of harms way. My mattress keeps sliding into the puddle when I turn in the sleeping bag and then I try to move it away again. Out of the sleeping bag, back in. Sitting up, drying both sides of the innertent, back down again. 20 times during the night. Sleep won't come.
Finally morning comes and I'm not sure whether I have slept at all.
The storm tugs relentlessly at the tent and sometimes we feel like it's going to lift off. We eat porridge and drink coffee and debate our next step. We could stay here and wait or take a chance, pack up the tent and hope that we can get out of the worst of the wind by crossing the pass into the valley. It feels like we're in a windtunnel. But that means packing up in a storm, which in my mind
before we left home was the most challenging thing we could be exposed to. But now it seems uplifting to think of action. And in the end, after waiting for several hours, we decide to go for it.
We have practiced this. Packing everything inside the tent, which is an art, when there is that little space to do it in. We take turns in packing our stuff, while the other one waits in the inner tent. Finally we're ready to go outside and pack down the outer tent. And again we have a strategy and everything goes smoothly. We stuff the tent down in it's bag. Tighten the raincovers around the backpacks and we're ready to go. I roar at the storm. YES!!!!! As we climb to the top of the hillside, the wind intensifies to the point where it's hard to keep balance. We stumble with each gust of wind and stand still to push against it's powerful force. It's enormously physical and powerful and as we cross over the pass and start descending into the valley, we roar and yell, and our voices get swallowed up by the wind. Mother Nature is so incredibly, wonderfully badass, and we are feeling her full force now. The wind and rain beat on our backs and I get soaked in a matter of half an hour, my rainjacket not really up to this kind of weather.

But the energy is wonderful. We are on our way again.

søndag den 18. oktober 2015

Hikers Guide to the Galaxy part 5 in which the fog rolls in ...

This is what it looks like when we wake up in the morning. I woke up during the night and went out to pee in the cold drizzle. Then lay there listening to the sound of rain gently tapping on the tent like tiny insects wanting to come in and joins us in the warmth of the tent.

Of course we have to let go of the idea of climbing a peak and we spend the morning in the tent.
At one point we hear a noise outside. There is defintely an animal out there. When we investigate we see this:
It's a reindeer and her calf and she circles the tent several times. She just seems really curious about us. They talk to eachother all the time, mother and calf. A gentle reassuring chatter. It's kind of nice with a bit of company, but after half an hour or so she disappears up the mountain and in to the fog, calf close behind her and with them their chatter. We are in a fog enveloped pocket of the world, where all sounds seem muffled and intimate.

In the afternoon the weather clears up a bit, the fog lifts, and we go on an expedition up to the top of the slope to look down into the next valley, where we will be heading tomorrow. We discuss whether to stay here or make a move down into the valley, but decide against the move. It seems silly to pack up the wet tent just to move a couple of kilometres. And from the ridge we watch little tiny people along the lake in the next valley looking for places to pitch their tent. From a distance they look like ants aimlessly moving around in a pattern only they understand.

We hike back down again and head for shelter in the tent. The rain starts beating down harder and during the evening intensifies to a storm. We spend our time drinking tea and playing a quizgame, where we take turns in coming up with a person, that the other one has to guess. And the hours move by slowly. This is my worstcase scenario. To be idle in a tent. I think of the photographers from the BBC naturefilm and how they spend weeks waiting for some animal to turn up so that they can film it. We have only spent a day in the tent and I feel cramped. There is only one place where it's possible to sit up straight, so we take turns in sitting, while the other one lies in the sleepingbag. The real downside to being idle is that it's cold and we use quite a lot of gas letting the gaslamp heat up the tent just a little bit.

My patience is being tested. I am cold and hungry. The cold mkes us burn more calories, but we only have the day's ration. If we eat more now, we have less tomorrow, it's that simple. There are pockets of talk, where we fall into the social field of connection, then we fall back into silence, but the silence still connects us. It's a friendly silence. A warm comforting silence. And the hours pass. Finally, more because we are tired of being cold than tired, we get ready for bed to the incessant pounding of rain on the walls of the tent. Nature is taking her space and it's so clear how vulnerable we are, just guests in her realm. I lie in my sleepingbag, hoping, that the storm will die down, imagining how in the morning the sun will shine and dry all our stuff, but instead the storm picks up ...

mandag den 12. oktober 2015

Hikers guide to the galaxy, part 4, in which I reflect on the gift of a path

We wake up to a grey, cool day and pack up the gear early. We are going to eat breakfast at the little swimmingplace at the river, where we were caught in the nude yesterday. There is plenty of running water there for the oatmeal, the coffee and for doing the dishes. I thought I was going to go for a morning dip, water in all it's forms is a bit of an addiction, but I'm cold and not in the mood. So having finished breakfast we follow the path through the birch thicket that turns into real forest as we get closer to the valley. 
Once in a while the path disappears, and we spend a bit of time finding it again. This is the first time since we started hiking that we actually have a path, we can follow, and it's worth while sticking to it. It kind of guarantees us that we will find the easiest route through the valley and up again. We are following the river down where you can see it says Alep something and then following the river all the way to the place where it says Skårkistugan (which by the way is not a place to stay; it's locked and we actually missed it somehow) then we head up towards the mountains again. Looks easy? Think again. All the tiny blue threads are rivers that we have to cross and there are no bridges here, remember, this is wild nature. Wilderness. 
You see where the dotted line is on the map? That's the path. We ended up walking more in the middle of the river so to speak, where there was kind of a sandbank, we could walk on, which saved us a lot of time wading some of the rivers, that the other path crosses. See, you don't have to wade, when you're already in the water. But... I'm getting ahead of myself. 

We are following Alep down towards Rapaselet, but the path takes us further and further away from the constant murmur of the river and suddenly all we hear is the whisper of the birch-trees and the sound of our boots on the soft earth. We realize that this path is southbound and that just because there is a path, that doesn't mean it leads us in the right direction. This one clearly doesn't. We must have missed a fork somewhere and we have to backtrack. After about 10 minutes we find the right path again and follow it untill we meet the big river, the delta of Rapaselet. 
Now we just have to find the path that takes us along Rapaselet to where we head up again. We are at the grassclad banks and the birchforest ended a bit up, so there is literally nowhere to go but in along the river, so we just start although we haven't found a real path. We haven't hiked far, before we come to a sideriver, that we have to cross. Its quite wide, and although the water looks shallow, it's also not clear, so we can't see the bottom. We hesitate, but we have no choice, but to take off our boots and put on the Nikewaders. The sandy bottom is quite spongy and gives as we slowly wade across, using the sticks to feel our way. But we make it to the other side where we find footprints. Promising. Although again ... just because others have walked here, doesn't mean we're on the right track. We change back into boots and continue. We are on a sandy beach and hiking is easy here, so we continue in high spirits; it seems that we have come to a path of a sorts and at least leading in the right direction. Then a new river joins the delta - after all this is all a delta. I'll just show you a photo again of what it looks like. 
To be fair this hikingtrip starts further in the valley. On the photo on the right hand side you can see the rockface Skierfe, where we slept the first night, and we have come down now after Nammatj, the big flattop mountain in the middle of the valley. But you can tell by the colour of the water, that it's not easy to see what lurks beneath the surface or how deep the waters are. But one things for sure ...

It's very ... wet. A new crossing, we take off the boots again and put on the Nike; The temperature of the water is 10 degrees maybe, and compared to the icy glacial rivers this is comfortable. Having crossed, we again dry our feet, put on socks and boots and continue. New sideriver. New crossing. Boots off, boots on. After the fifth time I hear myself saying: "Now I don't want to have to do this again." Then I laugh, because who am I talking to and who am I trying to convince? This is beyond my control. Whether I like it or not we have to cross rivers for as long as there are rivers to cross.
Whether I like it or not we have to surrender. Some things are out of our control.

Finally after having done this a few times more, time consuming and tedious, we end up on the path we wanted to find. Luckily it hasn't rained for a while, so we can walk on the sandy bank in the river. After a rainy period the banks just disappear, which we were to discover a few days later. 
The grey day is a relief, cooler and no mosquitoes as long as we're walking anyway. We eat our lunch standing, not as pleasureable as sitting, but there is nowhere to sit and it's still a highlight to start the gasstove, heat up water, pour it into the bag containing the crunchy dried food and wait the 10 minutes it takes for the stuff to absorb the water and turn in to a tasty meal. Some more tasty than others. One favourite is lentils and spinach, another is lamb-casserole. Normally I don't eat meat, but here I relish the nourishment of this hardy dish.
We have been hiking along three small lakes on our right hand side, maybe you can spot them on the map, and we know that after them we have to find Skårkistugan and make our way up again towards the mountains. It feels like we have been hiking for ever. We pass a firesite, but no sign of a path heading up through the undergrowth and the birchforest and no sign of the cabin. Without a path, it's going to be hard if not impossible to get through the forest. We come to the end of the bank in the river, ahead of us only water, and for the second time today we have to backtrack. As we pass the firesite, I get the idea to cross inwards there and just check ... and sure enough, on the other side of the firesite, there's the path. 
There's this sense of relief and gratitude to once again be on a path. 

Reflections on a path: 
When we come upon a path, either by chance or because we know that it's there, there is this sense of trust, that it will take us to where we need to go. People have walked here before us and they have maintained the path. kept it open and easy to find by using it. This is the hallmark of a path, that it is used. But what really makes a path is not a something,(although some paths have steppingstones or bridges, the one we are following now is very basic), but the absence of something. The absence of obstacles/of hindrances. We know, that when we follow this path that thousands before us have walked, we are harvesting the fruit of their hard work. We can relax our efforts a little and let the path lead us. And at the same time we are also cultivating the path for others, the people who will in time follow in our footsteps. I feel such gratitude when following a path. At the same time a bit of discernment is wise, since not all paths would take us in the right direction, as we learned earlier today. We have to know what our general direction is and be able to make a decision to leave the path if it doesn't take us where we want to go ... even if doing so feels uncomfortable and scary. 

We make our way through the green and moist birchforest.. Everywhere we hear the sound of trickling streams. Soft, gentle, like the voice of little forestelves inhabiting this lush space. The path winding it's way upwards untill we're finally above the treeline again and can look down on where we have been. It's been quite a hike today and we still have to continue up, cross a river and find a place to camp for the night. 

I have lost count of how many times we have had our boots off and on today. My socks are damp, and I have hung my spare socks to dry on the backpack(they got wet, because I tried to cross one time witouth taking my boots off. I almost made it. But no sun today that can aid in drying them - still the sky is grey and heavy, pregnant with the promise of rain. We make our way up from the valley, up the side of the mountain ... and then down to the glacial river, that is lodged in a canyon.

 Suddenly we see a guy almost running towards us on the trail, and we step aside to let him pass. But since we see so few people out here, we grab the chance to ask about the conditions further along our route. 
He is german, and he will reappear later on our trip, but for now we just talk about his gear, that is all ultralight. He is wearing sneakers, a thin jacket and an ultralight backpack, that he has more or less designed himself. Johannes is curious and all ears, while I feel happy for our sturdy, although of course heavier gear. He seems almost uncannily enthusiastic about his ultraweight gear. I wonder what happens if the weather really gets tough. After all Sarek is known as the most rainy place in Sweden. He continues out of the canyon in the direction we came from, while I proceed to get my socks wet crossing the river. 
We decide to pitch the tent high up
on a slope looking back down on the valley and stay an extra night to rest tomorrow and maybe "just" climb the peak closest to us.But things are about to take an unexpected turn. 

More about that in part 5.

onsdag den 7. oktober 2015

Hikers guide to the galaxy part 3. Third day in sarek where we meet other hikers.

Evening. This was supposed to be a short hiking day, but then it's really hard to predict how things turn out out here. As you can see, the weather is still fabulous. I'm wearing my shorts and my cap.
And we have pitched our tent on the one decent camping spot available in the immediate area.

Good camping spots have 3 things in common:That there is water near by, the little stream here had almost dried out, and the roaring river, that is hidden in the gorge to my right on the photo, was a strenuous hike away, but we could extract enough water of the trickle of the stream to make do for cooking, washing hands, doing the dishes. Water is such a gift, really. The assurance of survival.
Then the spot has to be more or less dry, unless of course it's raining, then you take what you can get, and quite importantly the surface has to be more or less horizontal and quite even. Big rocks under the tent can make falling asleep a hard task. This spot has it all, and all around it the area rolled up and away from the valley. There was just the perfect spot for this one tent. More about that later.

Earlier to day we crossed Julep Vassjagåsj (vassjagåsj means river in Same, tjåkkå is mountain and vaggi is valley and here ends my short introduction to the Same langauge) and it proved a bit more complicated than we had anticipated. One of the big challenges of the hike is crossing the rivers, that on the map look like tiny veins threading down from the mountains to the valley, and seeing them at a distance is so deceptive. They often look smaller with good stones to step on, the distance between perfect for taking a big step. In reality the force of the rivers can be very intimidating close up and slipping in a stream could worse case scenario mean the end of our trip, Or just that we get soaked. The stuff in our backpacks are pretty protected in plastic-bags for exactly that reason.

 It took us time to decide on a place to cross Julep, We spent a long time hiking up and down trying to find a place, where the riverbed was wider and shallower. Then we took of our boots and put on our Nike Airs, that are doubling as wading-shoes on this trip. Wading barefoot is a no go. Hurting a foot, stubbing a toe, cutting the soles of the feet would create trouble for the rest of the trip. We depend so much on our feet to be happy and healthy.

Having crossed Julep we head for her bróther Alep; we had a lengthy discussion about whether Alep was the sister and Julep the brother but settled for the other way around and nobody was there to argue their case against us.
We had kept high ground all day, but as we got close to the Alep Vassjagåsj, we realized that it had spent the last thousands or millions of years cutting itself deep into the rock. The river was lodged deep into the canyon. There was no way we could get down to the water here, and there seemed to be no other stream where we were, so no water and ergo no camping spot. And here we got into a bit of an argument, I must admit. We knew there was supposed to be a good camping spot somewhere here, but we disagreed on where that might be. I suggested we hiked down into the canyon to see if it was down there. Johannes strongly disagreed and wanted us to maybe go back a little bit and down into the valley, where we also knew there was a campground, which I didn't like the thought of at all. I really wanted to stay at the river and go for a dip.
In the middle of our heated argument we realized that we had misread the map. We had to go further down alongside the river. We were too high up.
At that point it really dawned on me that we can't afford to argue here. We depend on eachother completely. We need to be friends and not succumb to childish arguments of who's right who's wrong. And also it makes the journey together so much more pleasurable. I think of all the times, I have walked away from an argument, which is my tendency. Here there is nowhere to go to. We have to stay together. We need eachother. At home winning an argument can seem really satisfactory for the part of me that wants to be right. Here what is important is not right or wrong, but the friendship that means survival. We have to cooperate ... or die. Sort of. When you are a small flock, everyone in the flock or the pack is needed. At home we have lost the sense of this need for connection and the reality of interdependence. Here it's so obvious. We didn't argue again on the trip. I could feel myself getting annoyed sometimes, when I KNEW I was right, but then Johannes KNEW he was right too.
It was a much greater joy to just let it go, and see where the other perspective would take me. The unknown perspective. The perspective of the other.


Having pitched the tent and realized that this Paradise is tainted by the presence of monstrous biting flies that sneak silently in on us like spies, settle in on a bit of flesh, preferably on the back of the body where it's harder to see them and then sink their teeth in to our warm skin to suck our blood. Unlike the mosquitoes that seem to prefer Johannes, these like my smell too. After having made their acquaintance I make for the river.
I don't know for sure, that I can make my way down into the canyon, but I am set on trying. Johannes asks a bit exasperated why I can't just relax, but then he joins me for about five minutes, before he decides to turn around. I continue down along the canyon on a path, that is probably the path we will follow down into the valley tomorrow.

After about ten minutes there is a ledge with a muddy path that leads down to the perfect swimming platform at the river. Smooth rocks shaped by the current through millennia. There is a rock shaped like a slide, that just fits, so I can sit in it and let the water wash over me. Icy water! I spend a few minutes in and then get out to warm myself in the sun, then in again. It is so delicious that I decide to get Johannes.

We strip naked and it is while Johannes is busy scrubbing his private parts I notice a couple of hikers struggling uphill from the valley - We notice eachother simultaneously and they stop dead in their tracks as a long moment of discomfort on both sides unfolds. How to tackle two wild nudists ....
We dress out of consideration for their apparent embarrassment and they come up to chat a bit and exchange valuable imformation. They have come up the path we will be taking tomorrow, and they talk of mosquitoes and heat and the mud on their pants are more revealing than words. I kind of dread the hike in the valley tomorrow. They are sweating profusely, but continue uphill resisting the temptation to wash off the sweat or maybe out of consideration for us. After all meeting so few people out here we can afford consideration. They were obviously going for the spot we are camping on and will now have to continue quite a bit to find another one. This time we were the lucky ones.

We make our way back up to the tent, refreshed and a little apprehensive about the hike tomorrow, where we first make our way down into the valley and then follow the river. Heat, mosquitoes, wading, mud, shrubbery awaits.

The sun sets and Johannes has built a fire of a bit of wood, he has collected. The evening is cool and I wrap my sleepingbag around me for warmth. It's been a good day, and I feel like I have finally landed. I can finally feel the silence penetrate and settle in me. This is good. An eagle cries somewhere on the other side of the valley and we see it circle on an upgoing stream and my heart follows it in a spiralmovement up into the darkening sky.

søndag den 4. oktober 2015

hikers guide to the galaxy, part 2. Second day in Sarek

We wake up before sunrise, and as the light slowly starts to dissolve the dark, stars fade and the sliver of a moon melts in to the rosecoloured morning..
It's cold, and I slept poorly, as I kept sliding off my improvised pillow, a drybag with a bit of clothes in, since we were sleeping slightly downhill. The buckle of the drybag irritated and I had silent discussions with the thing several times during the night. It wasn't a pillow and it didn't feel like a pillow.
Seeing the sun slowly rise and illuminate the mountains on the other side is pure joy as we eat our day's ration of oatmeal and sip freezedried coffee with dried milk and sugar of plastic mugs. A sugary drink that has little resemblance with the coffee that I enjoy at home, but none the less much enjoyed.
Most of our food is dried food, and everything is rationed so that we don't carry anything unnecessary with us. Around 8 kilo of the weight I'm carrying is food. Oats mixed with dried fruits and nuts for breakfast. Freezedried food for lunch and dinner. Nuts and dried fruits, a bar each and one single piece of chocolate for the little extra daily snack that sweetens our existence. Food is not just food up here, it is pure pleasure. Delightful.

We start hiking down the mountain and my sore back- and legmuscles get reacquainted with the backpack, and we head towards a snowy patch on the other side, trecking along the eastside of the valley.
Today and tomorrow we are going to stay up away from the valley, where it is reasonably dry and free of mosquitoes and where we can enjoy the magnificent view.

We hike in relative silence, making our way through patches of shrubbery, that block our way. Once we get up on the other side, no more shrubbery and hopefully it will get easier to hike. Progress is slow and deliberate. There are tiny little miracles of colour that light up the mountainsides. Little delicate flowers, that when I bend down to take a closer look, have intricate patterns and soft colours that belie the hardiness of survival up here. No doubt they get pollinated by the mosquitoes; only the female mosquitoes need to suck blood, the guys make do with flowersap.

We are heading up the opposite side, when we stop for a break and relieve our backs of their load. A bit of bar and a cup of tea. For a long time we have been watching some black spots on the white snow grow in size as we close in on them, and what I first took to be rocks or gravel on the snow, now is undoubtedly alive. We can see movement and wonder if it's a colony of birds. Then suddenly we realize it's a huge flock of reindeers, around 300 of them probably, and other snowpatches further away are dotted in the same way. All in all three flocks with a total of maybe 1000 reindeer.
And we are slowly heading straight towards them. They probably seek the snow to cool of a bit in the heat.

Suddenly the flock closest to us starts moving. A single animal decides to head off and more follow, starting a movement that picks up in speed and force as more and more animals join. We watch in anticipation; are they heading off? We sort of looked forward to walk straight past them.
But then the outbreakers suddenly turn around and back towards the flock in a spiral-like movement that closes in on itself and slows down towards the centre of the flock, and slowly the movement comes to a halt. It's like watching a hurricane move around it's eye. Completely incomprehensible to us, we have no idea why they do this, but it happens several times while we hike towards them.

Finally walking by them, they are calm and don't seem too concerned about us. They talk to each other in little almost barking sounds. Calves keeping close to their mothers. There is something very calming about the whole thing. All these animals living their lives out here, no where to go really, nothing to do, except the necessary. Once in a while they are rounded up by the same people and moved, some are used for meat. These are not wild animals, they all belong to the same community.

It's hard to hike and my initial enthusiasm in the morning gives way for the pain of walking with a 20 kilo backpack. Every time we eat something we silently celebrate that the packs are getting just a tiny bit lighter.
I keep trying to find the ideal way to carry the load on my back, but too much on the hips, and my hips ache, and when I loosen the hipbelt, my shoulders start to burn.
There is nothing to do, but to accept, that this isn't comfortable.
This is our first whole day of hiking and our bodies still haven't gotten used to it.
Bodies take time.