Waking up to the Snow

March 10, 2009 § 3 Comments

I love being in the Norwegian countryside. Everything is so calm and beautiful. I had trouble sleeping last night as I am still a bit plagued by remnants of jet lag. At one point I woke to find myself overheating and covered in sweat, it’s great having hot flashes in your 20’s. There is a very small window in the loft cave my bed occupies. I felt around for the latch and after a few attempts was immediately refreshed by a burst of ice cold Norwegian air. After allowing it to bathe my face for a while I curled back into my nest of puffy, white comforters and oversized pillows. I lay there for maybe half an hour before falling back asleep, enjoying the gusts of cold air that managed to make it through the tiny window above my feet.

When morning finally came I lifted my eye mask to find that everything was covered with a fine layer of snow. There was no breeze so as the snow fell it settled comfortably on each and every twig and leaf of each tree. It was such a contrast from Oslo where the streets are covered in ice and footprints and the snow you see is dark with street pollution and dirt. I lay there for a moment enjoying the womblike comfort of my bed, which is just a queen-size triangle shape cut out of the wall along the slanted roof, full of thick comforters and framed by large, marshmallow pillows.

I made the bed, then undid the latch and cautiously made my way down the ladder-like stairs. A greeting from Tante Vibeke traveled through the kitchen from the living room and I entered to find her spread on her yoga mat by the fire. We talked for a few moments about how we slept and then about the snow. She said that she wanted to get a wider shovel that would make it easier to dig a way out to the road. I, being a California girl, was excited by the idea of shoveling the snow and decided to go out and clear at least a path to the car. It took me ten minutes to prepare myself for the chore and I learned that your gloves are the last thing you should put on.

I stepped out into the snowflakes with Alan Jackson singing in my wool covered ears. After an hour of successfully fighting through half a foot of snow and half a foot of ice, I was called in for breakfast. I haven’t had much of an appetite since I’ve been here. I don’t know if its because I’m still jet-lagged or because I’m either excited or nervous. I cleaned up after breakfast and we got ready to go out into town and get a big shovel.

There are some contrasts in Norway that I find very appealing. For instance, all residents have three garbage cans and the cities have large containers outside the apartment complexes. Each of these containers has a different use: one for paper, one for traditional waste, and the last for food, which is sorted and used for ecological benefits like soil or scraps for pigs. Norwegians are very, very conscientious when it comes to recycling. There are bins littering the main city, almost as many as there are trash cans. Also, at the tiny supermarkets there are machines that weigh, sort and process any glass bottles or cans you have. At the end, it prints out a receipt with an amount that you can redeem at the register or count towards your purchase.

Another thing I love is the traffic lights. No there are no fun new colors like blue or purple, but the light change sequence is different. Rather than switching immediately from red to green like they do in the U.S., they flash from red, to red and yellow, and then to green. It is nice because it prepares the drivers to begin moving, which they may need since the driving conditions are so much more strenuous. I find it less stressful, less like a race to get going.

Tjome is a small island off the southern coast of Norway. During the winter seasons, the population is small and homes vacant as many Norwegians have escaped to more ideal climates. There are currently around 6,000 people living here, but the number jumps to 60,000 when the summer months hit. Tjome boasts a town called Verdens Ende, literally meaning “the world’s end”, which is a very popular destination when the sun in high and the weather warm. There is a small fishing harbor there along with a horse barn for riding lessons. Most visitors come to lay on the large boulders that have smoothed out over time and extend like giant stepping stones almost a quarter mile into the sea. These boulders retain the heat of the sun throughout the summer and are perfectly complimented by the soft breeze that jumps off the surrounding water.

But here now in the winter, it is almost completely isolated. I go for a long walk in the afternoons and head into the main town. I’ve set-up my Norwegian lessons on my iPod and practice them for the first hour. I’m thankful for the lack of people because I’m not sure how comfortable I would be blurting out random Norwegian grammar as they passed by. On the way back home, for the second hour, I allow myself to listen to my country songs and take in the landscape. Whether it’s simply because its a new place or the change in my life, I feel a new appreciation for smaller things. I notice now the waterfalls formed by melted snow that fall off the walls of boulders and how the branches on the trees only grow in one direction, towards the sun, as if they are reaching for the light. I take pictures of all the things that make me think or the scenes that take my breath away. I feel so in tune with my existence in the moment, with all the senses I experience and all the feelings and thoughts I have. Over the last couple days, the sky has cleared and the temperature risen enough to begin melting the snow. While I enjoy the feeling that we are getting closer to spring, the ice layer that results from the snow is not the most pleasant surface to walk on.

I’m still having trouble sleeping. I spend at least four hours a night rolling around trying to find some resting point. My mind is my worst enemy. I thought the anxiety would escape me once I got here but I’ve come to believe that it has simply settled in my unconscious. When I lay at night I am plagued by the most bizarre thoughts. I wonder what I am doing here and think of all the things I forgot to do before I left. Then I begin to feel stressed about my plans and irritated that its going to be harder to make progress when I don’t know the language here. I never could have imagined that not knowing how to speak Norwegian well would have been such a large issue. I must have thought that either everyone here spoke perfect english or that I would all of a sudden be fluent. It’s even harder when the things around you make you feel like you are back in the U.S. The products are still the same packaging, the T.V. shows are simply spin-offs and the music played in stores are all the top songs back home. But then everything is unfamiliar. Sometimes I feel reborn and other times as though I’ve just lost my memory and have to relearn everything.

I miss having friends and meaningless conversations with random people I meet throughout the day. I miss knowing where I am and how to get where I want to go. I miss my family and knowing what they are doing. But in the end, this is where I am supposed to be. I just heard word from my old roommate that the house I was living in is being foreclosed and now they all have to find a new place to live by the end of the month. As soon as I heard the news I was stunned by the thoughts of how I would have had to manage everything if I was still there. When you move on to a new chapter in your life and see the chapter you left crumbling behind you, you can’t help but feel a deep sense of relief and purpose. I’m still scared, still lonely, and still have a sense of restlessness, but this is the right path for me. There is a quote that I love, from a Disney movie nonetheless, about the importance of living your life. I’ve read this quote over and over again at times when I needed to believe that these huge changes would be the best ones I ever make.

“When King Lear dies in Act 5, you know what Shakespeare has written? He’s written ‘He dies”. That’s all, nothing more. No fanfare, no metaphor, no brilliant final words. The culmination of the most influential work of dramatic literature is: He dies. It took Shakespeare, a genius, to come up with ‘he dies.”? And yet, every time I read those two words I find myself overwhelmed with dysphoria. And I know its only natural to be sad, and not because of the words ‘he dies’ but because of the life we saw prior to the words. I’ve lived all 5 of my acts, and I’m not asking you to be happy that I must go, I am only asking you that you turn the page, continue reading, and let the next story begin. And if anyone ever asks what became of me, you relate my life, in all its wonder, and end it with a simple and modest ‘he died’.”

I want my life to have this same sense of wonder and glory. This is how I know that I am taking the right step. If we don’t push ourselves, we will never truly know the greatness we are capable of 🙂

§ 3 Responses to Waking up to the Snow

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