Skip to content

Compost

July 26, 2017

I just built a compost bin for my patio.  In a month or so I’ll let you know how it’s working — for good or ill! For now I’m feeding it my kitchen scraps and some handfuls of browns, and waiting for my friends the microorganisms to do their work.

I realize I haven’t written anything here in a long time.  The past four years have been a time of enormous change in my life.  My parents sold my childhood home and moved far away. I got to celebrate the arrival of nephews, and I’ve been trying to understand my newfound role of aunt. I learned to drive. I learned to code. I played music in public. I found my own dentist. I was heartbroken and then heart-healed. I passed candidacy. I lost a grandmother. I travelled thousands of miles for fieldwork. I did my taxes. I found new ways of dancing. In short, I have been embroiled in the work of growing up, of figuring out how to live in this world that I’ve been thrust out into on my own.  If this were a fairy tale, I’d be in the part where the youngest child packs up their knapsack and ventures out into the forest to meet their fate, and long before they get to even a provisional happily-ever-after.

At the same time, these past four years have also been a time of stillness. I’m in the same place as I was — same department, same neighborhood. My dissertation inches along at a geologically slow pace, and I know it will never blossom into the bright and exotic flowers that I ambitiously proposed (whose ever does, really?). Many of my hopes have not come to fruition; many of my dreams have been eaten by stress. I am in a muddle in the middle of things, with no clear direction to where I want to be, and many days it feels as though I am waiting for my life to happen to me.

So, back to compost. The thing about compost is that it stinks. They say it won’t if you do it right, but let’s be real — no one gets anything right all the time. And while you can optimize your composting conditions, in the end you still have to let it sit there decomposing until it’s done. Perhaps you need some compost for your tomatoes? Too bad. Your compost is full of eggshells and smelly apple cores. It is not done yet; you’ll just have to wait, and find some other way in the meantime. How frustrating!

But the other thing about compost is that it is magical. It takes the cast-off useless scraps from your dinner and transforms them into dirt. And from that dirt — Oh, what wonders! Juicy tomatoes, sweet peas, bitter kale, fragrant herbs, sharp chives. Billions of bugs, and millions of microbes. Trees, even, bearing fruits and flowers and shade on a hot summer’s day. So many of the marvels of nature have their home in dirt.

Here I am in this eternal moment of transformation.  My life is a compost heap full of fragments of my past, and I have no idea what may grow out of it in the future.  Will I become a weed, bright and fast-spreading? Will I become an oak tree, slow and solid? There will surely be some volition involved when the time of planting comes, but for now all I can do is decompose, and wait, and imagine.

On Falling into Holes

April 6, 2013
tags:

I have started attending my local Unitarian Universalist church.  It’s an experiment on my part – less to do with anything theological, and more to do with connecting to my new neighborhood outside of the ivory walls of academia.  In that respect, it seems to be working, for now; I get my one hour a week interacting with people of all walks of life, many races, many different backgrounds, all ages, and though I rarely see them outside of church, I find I feel much more grounded in this city – part of a larger community, and not just a visitor.

Back to that “all ages” thing.  This church, like (I understand) many churches, keeps the kids with the rest of the congregation for maybe the first twenty minutes of the service, before they go off to their religious education classes.  Just before we sing them off to their classes, they get their own special storytime.  The story typically shares a topic with the upcoming sermon, and the minister tends to conclude with a bit of commentary or discussion on the lesson of the story.

Some weeks ago, the sermon was about how letting go of our histories would free us from prisons of our own devising.  The story was about a little girl called Jenny and her walk to school.

It went something like: Once upon a time there was a girl called Jenny.  Jenny liked to walk to school, and she always took the same path.  One day, as she was walking to school on her accustomed path, not really looking where she was going, she suddenly fell into a giant hole in the sidewalk that had not been there the day before! And she was quite shaken up, and brushed herself off and climbed out and went on her way.  The next day, the same thing happened, wham, Jenny fell into the hole, and she brushed herself off and climbed back out and went on her way.  On the third day, she got to the hole, and she remembered it was there, and so she edged around it, and so avoided a tumble.  And then, on the fourth day, quite daring, she CROSSED THE STREET and arrived at school right on time and so avoided encountering the hole at all. And she thought how silly she had been, those first two days, just walking on her accustomed path and taking the tumble down into the unexpected hole when she could so easily have changed her ways.

The moral of the story was that we should not cling to our habits and histories when they conflict with a changing world.  I suppose that’s a fine moral; adapting to reality, rather than expecting reality to bend to our wills, is an essential skill for any person.  But I keep thinking about that hole.

I’ve spent quite a lot of time sitting in holes, you see.  I’ve sat in holes in the tundra and the moors, sheltering from wind as I ate my lunch.  I’ve sat in holes in the beach, digging through dry sand until I reached the wet, and building castles around the edges.  I’ve sat in holes in the dirt, scraping it away centimeter by centimeter, revealing the fragments of ancient civilizations.  I’ve climbed down into holes in forests to study the gradating layers of soil and rock, root and worms.  And I’ve sat in holes in rock delved by miners, measured fractures and folds, and collected fossilized leaves from the tree of life.

Holes, from my point of view, are very interesting places, full of puzzles and mysteries.  You might say that they’re a gateway to another world.

So if, like little Jenny, I happened to fall into a hole on my way to school one day, my first step would be to brush myself off and make sure I hadn’t broken anything; but my second step would be to take a look at the hole.  What had dug it – shovels, backhoes, trowels, geological processes? How long had it been there? What were its walls made of – brick, soil, sand, rock? What strata were revealed in its walls? What creatures inhabited its depths? What buried fragments of  life had it revealed?

It would be a terrible betrayal of curiosity, I think, to climb right out of that hole and go on my way.  I go to school every day – but how often does a hole throw itself in my path? If I immediately climb out of that hole and go to school, nothing has changed.  If I edge around the hole and go to school, nothing has changed.  If I cross the street to avoid it, perhaps some little thing has changed, if the other side of the street is new and exciting; but at the end of the day, I’m still at school.  Real transformation lies not in crossing the street, but in turning outward to the wonders and mysteries of the hole.

 

On Revelations

March 1, 2013

Suppose one day you had a revelation.

You were walking down the street, minding your own business, turning over the thoughts and events of your day, when bam! you woke up, looked around, and really understood your place in the majestic immensity of being.  You felt tiny, because you realized your life was only a grain of sand on the shores of the universe; you felt immense, because your mind could grasp it all; and you felt loved, because in the face of all that vastness, you still mattered.

Wouldn’t you want to run through the streets and sing hallelujahs?

Let me tell you about my revelations.

One semester I took on a full slate advanced earth science courses: stratigraphy, climate science, marine ecology, forest ecology, biogeochemistry.  They look, at first glance, like very different subjects: rocks, atmospheres, oceans, trees, chemistry.  But one hour in climate science we’d be talking about the atmospheric boundary layer of the earth, the layer of air that’s directly affected by the earth’s surface, and the next hour I’d walk into forest ecology and find that the exact same concept and equations applied at the scale of leaves.  We ran through the equations of ocean acidification in biogeochemistry one day and the next discussed their effects on corals in marine ecology.  And the bulk of sedimentary rocks, of course, were deposited in marine settings and record the history of life in the oceans. Going through a week of classes was like examining a many-sided die; one object, many faces, each revealing a little bit more of the interconnected web of existence.

So by the time exams rolled around, my mind was swimming in all this knowledge.  My exams and final projects and papers had all piled up on each other, as exams and final projects and papers are wont to do, and I had not gotten a lot of sleep. I was scrambling to get everything done, breaking my life down into manageable parts (I was so busy I put “eat” on my to-do list, because I knew I probably wouldn’t otherwise), and certainly wasn’t taking time to integrate all I had learned.

And then, as I was running across campus to turn in my final papers, I happened to look down into one of the gorges that cuts across campus. There was everything laid open: the strata laid down like pages in a book, trees growing out of the bones of an ancient ocean, wind in my hair, water below my feet, chemistry, ecology, rocks, life, time. I felt inside-out, I wasn’t sure where I ended and the world began – my molecules, after all, came from plants and rocks and stars – and just outside the edge of my vision, I thought, there was a great consciousness supporting me.

I fully acknowledge that exam-induced sleep deprivation played a significant role in producing this experience.  That doesn’t make it any less valuable to me, and I count that as the day I became whatever sort of quasi-theist I am.

The second time I was more awake, but rocks were again on my mind.  I had been learning to identify minerals and name rocks.  I walked out of the geology building and there was a piece of granite, born in fire and hewn into a pillar to keep cars from driving onto parts of campus they oughtn’t.  I could name every mineral in the granite, and I felt keenly that it had once been in the heart of the earth.  How odd, I thought, that we so cavalierly use our planet’s innards as construction materials.  I looked to my left, and there was a wall made of local shale.  I looked down at my hand and remembered a professor saying “Why do you have five fingers? You have five fingers because your parents had five fingers, and their parents had five fingers, and their parents had five fingers, all the way back to the first tetrapod that came out of the oceans with five fingers.”  We are clever fish to build such artifices of stone, but really, we would have nothing without this planet. Everything is a product of the past.

I wrote about these things in a personal statement for a fellowship application.  A friend who was helping me edit my essay commented, “You’re excited about what you do, and that’s great, but you need to tone down the …” At a loss for words, she made big wavy gestures with her arms.  It was fair criticism; with limited space, I needed to spend more time on past activities and future ambitions, and less on revelations.  And then she added, “Trust me; we all feel that way.”

Do we really? I have no particular reason to believe she’s wrong, but I have not seen the evidence that she’s right, either.  There are a few exceptions — Carl Sagan, Neil DeGrasse Tyson — but by and large, this is not stuff that most scientists talk about, not even with each other. We focus on numbers and neglect the numinous. To be sure, numbers are crucial to doing good science, and I do not want to see theories argued in terms of God; but why, in the pub after talks, or when discussing our work with relatives, do so few of us breathe a word of the ongoing revelation which we play a part in building?

Are we afraid of appearing unscientific to each other? Are we afraid of blurring the boundary between science and pseudoscience? Do we find ourselves unable to trust the general public to distinguish fact from feeling? I know I have feared all these things, at one time or another.  The people of my country seem to have enough trouble accepting the validity of science without scientists running around being ambiguous. The concept of non-overlapping magisteria may be false, but it certainly simplifies discourse.

Whether that’s enough reason for staying silent, I don’t know.  But I do think we are all impoverished by this silence.  We are impoverished scientifically, because so long as we hide from the public what motivates us, they will continue to distrust us and our results.  And we’re also impoverished spiritually, because so long as we hide one face of the divine, the whole will never be complete.

Snowfall and Stillness

December 28, 2012

I feel like I have been on the road since last summer’s solstice.

I moved across town.  I moved across the country.  I left it all behind and walked three hundred kilometers.  I moved across a city. I flew to conferences, crossing paths with old friends and new.  I drove hundreds of miles through ancient oceans.  I went home for Thanksgiving and found it strange.  And now it’s the holidays and, once again, I find myself travelling.

The wind in autumn’s birches,
the splash of icy water,
the snort of reindeer, the peeps of marsh birds
whisper: Go home, wanderer;
Winter walks the wilderness,
and the ways are closing.

It was a turbulent autumn.  I left my friends and community behind and plopped myself down into a whole new set of people.  I had crossed some of their paths before.  It didn’t matter; living among people is very different from meeting them in passing. I had been in my new city before and that didn’t help either; I had changed a lot in the intervening years, and that made the world look very different.  I had a purpose and a path which I had never had before, but still little idea of how to walk it.  As the light of fall failed, I found myself groping through the darkness, trying to assemble the pieces of my new life.

I came home and found the windows dark,
the doors shut, the hearth cold.
The halls where friends once gathered
now breathed silence. Stale bread
and dregs of tea make bitter welcomes.
The wind in chimneys cries: Go home!
But waiting boots and loaded pack
and a gaping door lead onwards.

Settling, in a geological sense, is what happens when a fluid no longer flows fast enough to support a particle’s weight.  Unsupported, the particle sinks though the water column until it reaches its bed – ocean, lake, or river.  It might have travelled far, from mountain or gorge down to floodplain or delta, before falling into rest with its brethren.  So saying that I’ve settled into my new life implies a passive process which is not especially accurate.  I have been trying so hard to make my home.  I come back to my tiny apartment for dinner – properly cooked, if solitary.  I hang peppers in the windows to dry.  I make my bed and sort my beans and polish my shoes.  I go to dances where I know no one, and leave with a few more names. I listen at coffee hour; eventually, I speak.  I pile books onto the empty shelves of my new office and skid, sock-footed, down the silent halls on the weekends.  I accept invitations and make small talk with strangers.  I throw open my windows and play music for the wind.

In the twilit corridors of the city,
women light candles for their departed:
the lost, the lonesome,
the running, the returning.
These labyrinthine streets
are crossroads
for ten thousand lives
that never linger.

The holidays came and again I packed my bags. This time was different; instead of strange cities and weatherbeaten wilds, the open doors of many friends lay before me.  The shortest day of the year found me on a bus bound into the hills; the next morning I woke in this town that I love, in the house of my people, and oh joy of joys, it was snowing.  The nights may still be long and dark, but my heart feels light indeed; and as the sun on its yearly course has stilled, so too have my feet, for a time.

Snow has kept falling over this valley, muffling forests, drifting against rock walls, obscuring paths.  We have congregated with feasting and games, greenery and flames.  The darkness and the blue, snowy woodland gather us together, and at last, I feel at peace.

The Winter King now reigns
from his drafty hall,
his crown a wreath of holly,
his scepter a guttering torch,
his orb a cellared root
from summer’s stock.
On meadows of frost-flowers
spill song and light
from open doors,
and my overflowing heart
weeps tears
of love.

The Wide Embrace of Hurricane Sandy

November 2, 2012

The wind sang on the city’s chimneys. I sat at my open window, arms folded on the sill, and watched the ragged edge of Sandy’s cloudy cloak fly southward.  The northerly wind snaked into my apartment, bring with it the sounds of trembling trees and slamming doors. I imagined I could hear the roar of waves, far away. The pigeons which normally roost on the clifflike edifice across the street had gone to ground; that night, Sandy walked abroad.

I thought of my friends and family out on the East Coast — some crashing with friends on higher ground, some marathoning Star Trek until the power went out, some gleefully seizing the opportunity to build massive blanket forts in their living rooms.  None that I knew of were in a particularly threatened area, and all had made good preparations.  And so, because I knew those I loved were safe, I found a certain amount of comfort in the sight of those south-flying clouds and the feeling of the steady singing wind on my face.  Many hundreds of miles, hours of travel, dark forests, deep lakes, and great rivers lie between us, but on that night, we were reunited in the embrace of the storm.

Wide Welkin and Speaking Stones, Part 3: Wind in High Places

October 21, 2012

This post is part of a series.  See the introduction for background and previous posts.

August 9, 2012

Long, LONG day.  On the one hand, that gives me lots of things I could write about.  On the other hand … goodness, I’m tired.

Tired will probably win, since it’s 20 to 10 already.  The valley I’m sitting in is in shadow, but that’s just because the sun ducked behind a mountain.  It’s been hanging out there for hours, and there’s still light on the mountaintops.

I woke at about 5:30, feeling extraordinarily well-rested, and somehow managed to spend until 8 eating breakfast.  I don’t know how, except that I had made too much couscous but didn’t want to waste the calories, so was choking it down slowly.

I filled my water bottle from the tap that runs straight from the stream, feeling rather daring.  It tasted like water, and diarrhea didn’t spring out of nowhere at me. (As of evening, hasn’t yet.  Am crossing fingers.) I left at 9:30, passing through birch forest before starting to climb.

View of mountains from Abiskojaure on a fine day

Leaving Abiskojaure

It turns out there were plenty of excellent camping spots shortly outside the park boundary.  So now I know that.  Many of them were still occupied when I passed.

Abiskojaure from the Kungsleden

Looking back at Abiskojaure

At the bridge, where the trail started to climb for real, I was passed by two young men – one in a bright blue shirt, the other in a flat cap and carrying a very large leather binocular (I think) case.  I leapfrogged with them throughout the day, and was looking forward to seeing them at the end of it and actually talking, but they either fell behind or took a different path.

Kungsleden between Abiskojaure and Alesjaure

It was pretty flat after the pass, and nice open tundra.  I saw loads of people.  Then I got to the lake (Alesjaure) and felt like I was home free, but of course I wasn’t, there being another 10 km ahead.  Alternated tundra and bog, with some rhodedendron [actually, dwarf willow] thrown in, mostly around the bog.

The descent to Alesjaure

The first sign at Alesjaurestugorna said 22 km back to Abiskojaure.  The second, 20 km.  Which was it? Who knows.  But I managed to press on (after a break) another km past Alesjaure hut, to find a nice private camping-spot on the hillside.  Some previous inhabitant thought it needed decoration and left some trash, which was unfortunate.  On closer inspection it might not be the best-drained, but I’m too tired to move the tent; I just hope it doesn’t rain too hard.

Campsite past Alesjaure

Saw my first reindeer of the trip as I sat eating my beans and rice; they went running from a dog and its associated hiker.

Faults on Kungsleden

Faults

Shiny rock

Phyllite? Biotite?
(I am not a petrologist!)

Gneiss in Alisvagge

Gneiss

Geology: Glacial striations.  Greenschist or phyllite? (Probably phyllite.) Faults. Folds? Awesome gneiss.  I took a lot of pictures.  Beware hiking with a geologist, for they will stop every five minutes to look at rocks …

August 10, 2012

I’m still sleeping intermittently, and woke at 2 am as before before going back to sleep.  I suspect that’s when the sun rounded the side of the mountain again.  It didn’t rain, and my tent site didn’t flood – though on reflection, considering there was a mouse hole, it probably wouldn’t have anyway.  The morning was less cold than the night before – though, cold enough that there was condensation all along the top of my sleeping bag.  I love my new sleeping bag – it’s so nice to actually sleep warm, after years and years of shivering in a steadily delofting bag! – but the condensation is an unexpected problem.  I wiped it off with my pack towel, or maybe just spread it around.

I got out of the tent around 6:30, and for breakfast put muesli in my hot cocoa, which seemed like a good idea at the time and actually wasn’t terrible – more palatable than oatmeal, since it was more heterogeneous.  Then I had a nice big mug of tea that wasn’t even dishwater tea, because I’d overestimated how much fuel I would need for breakfast.  It seems that for breakfast, a half-full burner is too full?

River valley surrounded by mountains; huts in the distance

Looking back at Alesjaurestugorna

I was one of the first people on the trail, I think, since no one passed my way between when I got up and when I left, and lots of tents were still pitched back at Alesjaure.  The sun was low over the mountain behind my tent, casting gold over the tops of the mountains that had been in shadow last night.  To the south, where I was bound, clouds gathered at the head of the valley.

It was up and up all day, in and out of sunlight as I wandered up Alisvaggi and the clouds rolled by overhead.  The wind blew steadily out of the south.  A lot of people passed me from behind; I was going a little slowly, but that’s all right.

Not a whole lot of notable geology – I spent a good part of the day wondering if some particular piles of gravel were drumlins or moraines or neither, and never really decided.

The trail ran over ground that was steadily drier, more rocky, and more tundra-like throughout the day.  Down on the valley floor, Aliseatnu meandered like a river ought to be able to as it runs to base level.  The Nordkalottleden/Kallotireiti runs together with the Kungsleden here, but I only saw one Nordkalottleden blaze post; all the other blazes were paired standing stones, painted orange, which made me feel like I was walking through a series of gates deeper and deeper into … somewhere.Paired stone blazes on the Kungsleden

In this valley, I started to really feel small.  There were some pleasant reminders of human presence, like the blazes and the boardwalks, and some less pleasant reminders, like irresponsibly scattered toilet paper, but both were dwarfed by the mountains – and by the thought of the weight of the glacier that once filled this broad valley.

Tundra mountain under dappled sunlight

My left elbow hurts, as it does when I play the accordion for too long.  I really don’t know why this would be, and wish it would stop.

Starting out the day, I wasn’t sure where I would end it – Tjaktjastuga seemed awfully close, but I didn’t know that I really wanted to go over the pass at the end of the day.  I had a thought of camping further in the pass, before the highest point.  But sitting on a rock before Tjaktjastuga as a disarray of French boys passed me, stuff dangling every which way off their backpacks, I began to doubt that plan.  The wind, which had never ceased, was stronger up there, and the pass offered no shelter.  I’m pretty sure my tent could handle it, but I wasn’t so sure I could pitch it by myself without it blowing away down the mountainside.

Rock fields near the Tjaktja pass; cloudy sky

So at 2 pm I called it a day and decided to stay in the hut.  Based on the way the wind as ceaselessly wailed in the chimneys for the past three hours, it was the right choice. Besides, there are people to talk to.  I don’t think I’d talked to anyone since Abiskojaure, which seems a long time ago, besides the quick “Hey!s” exchanged in passing.

Tjaktjastuga, perched above the river

Tjaktjastuga feels a little like Tuottar [which I visited many years ago] – windswept brown cabins cabled on to the mountainside.  But unlike Tuottar, which is a bunch of little cabins, Tjaktjastuga has one main cabin.  There are plenty of windows, which you’re not supposed to open – because the stuga will catch the wind and blow away, I suppose – and woodstoves keep the place warm  The kitchen is filling with the smells of everyone’s tasty dinners – and the wind wants in, and is knocking at the chimney.

I’ve spent a goodly amount of time talking to one of the guys who passed me as I sat eating my lunch and tending my blisters in the sunlit field between streams by the renvakterstuga in Alisvagge.  I guessed he was an American by his Keen boots and because he was wearing shorts with long underwear, and I was right – he’s from Minnesota, a mechanical engineer currently bumming around between jobs.  He’s bound for Hemavan and has less time to get there than I do.  And doesn’t seem particularly organized – his stove is can of chicken salad which he hasn’t eaten yet, on account of having been vegetarian for the past six years, and he has a guidebook but no maps and doesn’t know how to pace himself.  Still, as I said, it’s nice to be able to talk to someone.

The Fjallraven Classic race-ish thing from Nikkaluokta to Abisko started today, and we’ve seen the first brave souls running by on the trail on the other side of the gorge, which is terribly impressive – it’s a long way to Nikkaluokta.  The first guy came by about 4:30, and had already run over a marathon.  Tomorrow I expect to encounter the straggling hordes …

… and now it’s raining.

First snowfields today.

Wide Welkin and Speaking Stones, Part 2: Pilgrimage

October 17, 2012

This post is part of a series.  See the bottom of the introduction for previous entries.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

For whatever reason, my brain regurgitates Old English poetry when it’s tired and traveling.  This time it was The Ruin:

Þær iu beorn monig,
gladmod ond gold-beorght, gleoma gefratwed,
wlonc ond wingal, wigehyrstum scan.
Seah on sinc, on sylfor, on searogimmas,
on ead, on æht, on eorcanstan,
on thas beorhtan burg bradan rice.

Inappropriate poetry, really, for a land that has seen little of kingdoms, cities, or hoards of treasure.  The Swedish settlements failed, more or less; the Sámi, who knew better, remained.

I didn’t get much sleep last night – I honestly don’t know if it was the jet lag or the perpetual light.  I went to bed at 10 and woke again at two- maybe the sun rose above something and Brain went “Ooh! Light! Time to get up!” No. After that I valiantly catnapped for another five and a half hours.

For breakfast I oatmeal made with milk, both from the hostel’s free cupboard; I’d had my eye on some eggs, but an earlier riser got to them first. Packed up, cleaned my room, and checked out without event.  I managed to pack my pack a little smaller than yesterday, though no lighter.  The hook scale outside said it weighed fifty pounds even.  At the end of the day I’m feeling it, but at the time I was surprised – the last time I carried a pack that I knew weighed fifty pounds, it felt much more oppressively heavy.  Key word is knew – Canada and the White Mountains don’t generally have pack scales scattered about, and I was younger the last time I was here.  Supposedly you’re at your strongest in your early twenties, and I guess I’m seeing that.

So I set out, and passed some people, and was passed by some people.  I had just about the biggest pack I saw; oh well.  The trail was moderately rocky but also quite flat; passing through birch groves, it paralleled the river.  The river had exposed some interesting geology, but it was too early in the day to stop and look at it.

Though I was in birch groves most of the day, little hints of tundra showed their faces now and then: bald spots on the tops of hummocks, crowberry bushes.  I must have climbed a little bit, because the trees got shorter, sparser, and more twisted.  I walked up the valley and the mountains embraced me, as though I were coming home.

Abiskojåkkå from the Kungsleden

A few kilometers into my day I stopped to take a break at an outcrop of granite which offered a fine view over the river.  There was a sign that said “meditationsplats,” whose meaning I could guess at, and a nice rock carved in Swedish on one side and Sámi on the other.  I couldn’t read either side, so I just sat on the rock and admired the view, until a woman caught up to me and told me it said “the longest journey is the inner journey,” and was a quote by Dag Hammer[somebody]*, who did lots of interesting things and hiked in the area a lot.  I should look him up.

Meditationsplats on Dag Hammerskjöldsleden

Rather apt, that rock.

My left knee stopped doing its unpleasant thing about two kilometers in; at the end of the day it’s been replaced by a general soreness in the kneecaps, which I know from experience is all right.  We’ll see how I feel in the morning.

Observation: Just about every pair of pants made by a Swedish outdoor company cinches up at the hem in some fashion – mine included. I wonder why this is. Is it a holdover from when most people wore gummi boots and tucked their pants in? Is it to keep the mosquitoes out? Is it so they act like gaiters and don’t let rocks fall into your boots?

Observation: Swedes are like elves.  They don’t sweat, they don’t get flushed.  Mud falls right off them.  They can survive on instant macaroni and spring water.  And there I was, a disheveled, sweaty, hungry human being.  It’s like Beren first glimpsing Luthien, only I’m not about to fall deeply in love with all these Swedes and get my hand bitten off by a giant wolf for them.

Kungsleden between Abisko and Abiskojaure. A boardwalk running over tundra and under blue sky.

I reached Abiskojaurestugorna around 3:30, so I contemplated pressing on another two kilometers to outside the national park boundary where I could camp anywhere I wanted.  Looking at the map, though, I wasn’t sure there was any good place to camp there – by then the ground was already rising to meet tomorrow’s pass.  There was a reindeer corral marked next to a stream, which usually corresponds to campable spots, but I don’t quite have my campsite nose back and didn’t want to count on it – I had enough energy to get there, but not enough to get there and back.  So camp at Abiskojaure it was.

It’s a peculiarly dismal set of stugor, considering its beautiful location.  On the one hand, it’s set at the head of the valley and the lake, surrounded by mountains.  On the other hand, it’s distressingly exposed, sort of under construction right now, and a bit marshy around the edges.  But once I sat down in the kitchen set aside for tent-users, I was very glad I’d stopped.

The free food shelf is quite well-stocked – you could make three or four tasty dinners for two out of it.  As I was drinking cocoa and trying to stay awake until a reasonable hour for dinner, a couple who turned out to be the incoming wardens for the next hut over came in and made their dinner out of that stuff.  I was tempted to do the same – it’s hard to turn down free food – but that wouldn’t have made my pack any lighter! I really don’t have any reason to be hoarding food right now.

I had some trouble lighting the stove – first you have to turn on the gas supply, then light your match, then actually turn on the gas at the burner and hold the knob down ~10 sec after the flame lights, and then ease up gently on the knob, or the flame goes out and you have to start all over again.  The incoming stugvärds helped me, and later I helped a young German couple – about my age, I think.  He used four of my matches – we were hoping for a fairy-tale three, but he let go of the knob too fast.

I found my parents in the guestbook from when they swung through here last summer.

The stugvärd has electricity in her cabin – there’s a small solar panel and also a turbine on a cord in the river.  It looks like a friendly red torpedo.

The stone with the quote from Dag Hammerborg*, “The longest journey is the inner journey,” makes this one kind of pilgrimage.  There are more of these stones along the way, judging by the map – about one for each day, all the way to Nikkaluokta.  You walk, you think, the mighty mountains make you feel small.  You emerge having lost something and having gained much more.  This is the coming-of-age side of my walk – I go walkabout, and somewhere along the way I claim my place as an adult.

And then there’s the pilgrimage where the stones begin to speak.

I planned this like I planned for going walkabout, but I didn’t expect it to hit so soon.  This corner of the world, where I spent so many summers growing up, is where I first became interested in geology and earth science in the vaguest sense. I appreciated nature sort of abstractly as a necessary part of my life.  Now I’m coming back to this place that made me so much of who I am, and I find that the once-silent stones are speaking – have, in fact, been speaking all along, but now I can hear their voices.

I saw conjugate fractures on the rocks of the path.  They were textbook perfect, and I knew what they meant.  I looked up at a fell and saw thrust faults on the cliff, and thought of the great forces that move mountains.  I watched forest give way to tundra, and thought of Alexander von Humboldt’s climatic zones.

Conjugate fractures on the trail to Abiskojaure

Conjugate fractures on the trail to Abiskojaure

I am only one person, and everything I know is connected.  The mountains were patient.  They could wait for me to learn their language.  And now they wait no more, and their faces turn towards me in greeting.

As I sat there in the kitchen hut writing, a lot more people trickled in.  The guestbook said most people came from Abisko and went south, like me.  I wonder what took them so long.  Many put up tents, thus exposing the Great Hilleberg Peril: the tent sites were scattered with near-identical dark green tunnel tents.  One of these days I’m going to crawl into the wrong tent by accident and that just won’t end well.

They’re good tents – excellent, in fact, which is why everyone here has them.  It’s the same reason everyone has a Trangia – someone hit on a recipe that does the job with a minimum of fuss and then just stuck with it.  It’s an odd contrast to the diversity of manufacturers and models seen on American campgrounds, where everyone has decidedly different opinions on what will suit their needs and the outdoor industry is large enough to support their demands.  Here in Sweden, it seems the Swedes have collectively determined what works best and pursued only that line – and it works very well indeed.  So are Swedes all just hiking the same way, thus necessitating the same equipment, or are Americans exaggerating how differentiated their gear needs to be?

I am so tired.  If I go to sleep now, at eight, and wake up at five, that’s reasonable, right?

*Hammerskjold