Friday, September 07, 2012

Lysekil, Sweden

Contrary to how it appears to be pronounced if you're a native English speaker--an elided, furtively mumbled version of License to Kill--the name of the town is actually pronounced something more like "Lees-uh-sheeul", with the "sheeul" part said deep in the back of the throat. Swedish, as spoken, is definitely a language I have little experience with.

We're here at this resort town--about 1 month post-summer season (and yes, it's 7 Sept)--for Ian to teach another course in AD Model Builder, a stock assessment software that was originally developed (I believe) by one of his PhD advisors, and which he has now taught in Chile and Japan, as well as here. I, of course, given any opportunity to fling myself out into the world beyond Seattle, am here to . . . well . . . be here.

It turns out that Lysekil at this time of year is a perfect place to clear out any sort of gunks, cobwebs, old habits, and thought patterns that have long since lost any value and are just circling tiredly around the same decaying mind-tracks. That's true, at least, if nature can get into your psyche, and let me tell you, it can.

It is starkly bright in the day times here, with a blinding white-gold sun, glinting off sparklingly clean buildings and streets. The streets also sparkle because of the high quartz content of the locally produced paving stones. Walking with Ian and his co-teacher, A, to the Institut every morning is a bit like walking along a path strewn with diamonds. Even with my sunnies on, I'm squinting a lot.

The light may be so dazzling because of the latitude and time of year--58 degrees north, approaching the equinox, whereas Seattle is about 47 degrees (equal with Munich, for some perspective)--but the atmosphere is also shockingly clear. There are not many people up here, and not any industry, and no hint of pollution. The sun stabs right through not only the sunnies and the clothes, but flesh and bone and long-held secrets.

It has also been, except for a delicious few hours yesterday morning, windy. Really windy. Like, blow your knit stocking cap off your head windy. In part, for me, that's because I've decided to let my hair grow back and see what state it's in, and so it's too long to act like Velcro with my hats any more and instead is like fine, slippery threads of silk, but really it's the wind. Once the sun has exposed your innermost fears and shames, the wind races in to scour everything clean.

We're on a peninsula here at the mouth of a fjord opening into a branch of the North Sea. One characteristic of fjords is that they tend to be shallow at the mouth and deep up inside, because the glaciers that formed them, when they finally melted, left all sorts of debris near the sea. What's left of the land after that ice age bulldozing, at least here, are rounded granite hillocks, deeply veined with pink and orange and silvery quartz. An enterprising man in Lysekil's history quarried much of the stone for building in the town; fortunately, his wife recognized the beauty and uniqueness of the area and got him to stop, leaving a nature preserve at the very tip of our peninsula. I spent yesterday morning's calm meandering along the shoreline and up over the tops of these mounds.

The clarity of the water and the abundance of light make it possible to see deep down, to waving grasses and tiny fish. There are hardly any barnacles on the rocks, very few mussels that I've seen, and occasional schools of teeny fish, but the richness of sea life along the rocky shores in the Pacific Northwest is almost completely un-duplicated here. I finally made the connection by the end of my meander yesterday--by some weird aquatic physics, there is no tide to speak of, and so no inter-tidal zone, and the pools of water shining amongst the granite mounds are either from spray (when the wind blows, it blows water), or from the occasional downpours (the third arm of the cleansing atmosphere is torrential rain). We asked someone at the celebratory feast last night if she knew anything about why there were no tides--it's not a lake; it's not the Mediterranean--and she said "I really don't know anything about tides. We don't have tides here; I never thought about it."

Earth is a fascinating place.

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