...because you thought Sweden was Switzerland!

Thursday, July 23, 2009

"Blue ridge mountains, Shenandoah river" and food for thought

...Okay, that picture isn't of West Virginia, but of Ljusdal municipality in southern Norrland here in Sweden. The famous mountain in the area is called Järvsö klack (not the one in the picture however) and the river that runs through the municipality is called Ljusnan. But that won't make a memorable country-western song, would it? ;-)


I've been stalling writing about last weekend's trip to Ljusdal because I honestly don't know where to begin. In some respects, it was just a normal trip: we went up by train, we toured the city and its surrounding areas by car and hopped from one spot to the other. But what you can't see just by looking at any trip's pictures is the feeling. It was a good feeling up there. But there were so many feelings and sensations packed in a short time that I left too happily overwhelmed to be able to write anything coherent when we came back home. Though I didn't want to make the trip appear to be any grander than it was – Ljusdal has an unpretentious beauty – I also wanted to express that "something else" which hung in the air all that time. And, I'll say it again, I just didn't know where to begin.

Lara and Jaakko took us to many beautiful sites. All were really lovely in their own ways, all of them too spectacular to digest in a matter of a few days. We also ate in many of the municipality's charming cafés – even people in the north need their fika, apparently – and in a place like that, all cafés seem to have a view.

But I'll have to start the story somewhere.

For starters, I guess I can say something about the air up there. The general air quality in Sweden is great, but up north, the air around us could have come straight out of an Evian bottle, never mind that Evian is French, or that it's bottled water.

I can also say something about the seeming remoteness of the place. In Sweden, there are fewer people the farther up you go, and Ljusdal, although technically in the geographical middle of Sweden, belongs to the most sparsely populated "lands" of Sweden, Norrland. The municipality of Ljusdal has only about 14,000 residents, and Ljusdal town is home to but 6,000 – the population of a Philippine college. Driving around, we never met more than a few cars in the highway. This is Sweden from my earlier stereotypes, before I knew anything else about this country: small towns, large farms and enormous forests home to a lonely house or two. Actually though, Ljusdal seems to have all the basic amenities of an urban area and more. It has several groceries, it's littered with lovely cafés and river-side pubs, and even has its own Chinese & Japanese all-you-can-eat restaurant. The seeming remoteness from all the rest of Sweden was what was striking though. It was as if the little valley where the municipality lay was all there was to the world, and the rest of Sweden was a long journey beyond its blue mountains. The remoteness was beautiful.

Okay, that's not a ski slope in the distance after all, but space cut for power lines! Haha! The municipality does have a ski slope, though.

Jaakko drove all of us to different nature attractions in the area. The municipality has a lot to offer if you're interested in the outdoors – which is not surprising because most of the area is "nature" after all. We spotted many wind shelters where hikers can stay the night, and grilling pits were conveniently placed in scenic spots – that's to prevent you from building your own, by the way, as haphazardly built grilling pits are fire hazards and can set fire to roots.

The two that top my list among the nature sights we've seen – if I had to choose, that is – must have been the rapids of the Ljusnan river and Gröntjärn, a forest pond with no in- and outlets, so it takes all of its water from the soil or precipitation. Those must also have been the two most contrasting sights we saw: on the one hand violently rushing water that can drag you down with its currents, on the other hand a greenish bubbly pond that would take thousands of years to transform (the water was clear, however).

The river rapids

Gröntjärn's nature reserve

The municipality also wasn't short of lookout points from where you can see the river, lakes and villages from a height. Each view affirms how beautifully situated the municipality is at the foot of the mountains and along the river.

Forestry was, and I imagine still is, a big part of the economy up in Ljusdal, and if you'd like to learn more about how this industry was in the old days, the town's Hembygdsgården, as well as the restaurant in Torön, have small exhibitions. The Ljusnan river had played a big role in the industry though, as it was the major highway for the logs. Workers used to be hired to collect the logs downstream and to carry them ashore. Pictures in the exhibits showed men carrying whole tree trunks on their bare shoulders, one trunk for each man. They were strong, those foresters.

I was kind of reflecting about something the whole time we were looking at the forests – about the value of the natural, how natural "natural" is, and if keeping nature alive is the same thing as keeping nature "natural". More specifically, I was thinking of my sister who works in Greenpeace, who feels that it's a shame that there aren't any original forests left in Europe. She has an anecdote about this German visitor to the Philippines who claimed the tropical rain forest was too "disorderly" because, presumably, it was "in its natural state", "without human intervention" (never mind the fact that they were there. Also, I don't know if his statement on the forest being "disorderly" just got lost in translation).

The forests in Ljusdal don't look ancient. In fact, I don't doubt that many parts of it have been planted by some forester at one point in time because some look equally old (or young). My first reaction was an abstract sense of loss: What would this valley have looked like if the original forests still lived? I guessed that this place, remote as it was and despite its Evian-bottle air, was not as "pristine" as it would seem. And yet I thought: does it really matter? If people can appreciate nature and take real joy from it, can be in nature and experience it, can have a real sense of preservation, what added value to Nature Itself does being "natural" give? Or is being "natural" a value human beings themselves impose on nature? Who can know, can remember, or define what "natural" is, if time, the elements and countless of living beings in this planet including ourselves have already transformed nature into what we recognize it to be? The question just boils down to how "natural" natural really is, if it's something out there, or if it is a human idea.

That's what I was thinking, when I was looking at the forests of Ljusdal. And although this post wasn't too much of a story, I'd just like to pass on that train of thought, which you can think about as you look at this picture.


Thanks for the weekend, Lara and Jaakko! The kimchi bottle you gave us is already half-empty. And I already baked your recipe for Finnish buns, which I'll post next time :-)

Pictures of this trip posted at my Multiply.


Blogger aka Cheryl said...

hi joy! really, you gave food for thought :) i'm reminded of wade davis's talk on ted (http://www.ted.com/talks/wade_davis_on_endangered_cultures.html)

there's a part where he says the way a kid from a certain tribe views the forest is significantly different from a kid brought up to views the mountain as something to be quarried. something like that. i love this talk. anyway, i don't think i have an actual point, except that it's good to visit places like Ljusdal and listen to talks like wade's, if only to remember to ask these questions :)

5:08 PM

Anonymous Lara said...

dearest joy,
thank you for this wonderful feature/review of our lilla ljusdal. you have an amazing gift with words.

jaakko, though, thinks comparing our air here with the Evian water is an insult because he doesn't consider the latter clean. :-)

i had actually forgotten feeling that this place is even remote. when i first came, i remember complaining to jaakko, "i dont want to live in the middle of nowhere!" but now i hardly feel that it is so. everything one needs is conveniently close.

again, we are happy that you came, that you enjoyed your stay, and captured a certain "feeling". i guessed it must have a been a good one ;-)

blessings to you and marcus!

6:46 PM

Blogger Leplume said...

Beautiful pictures!

8:03 PM

Anonymous Jaakko said...

"In the distance, you can see the ski slope at Järvsö"

Where? I don't see any ski slope. I do see a "streak" where they cut forest for the power line :-P.

I'm not sure if you in the beginning of the blog, mentioning Järvsö klack, refer to the first photo. That hill in the photo is Vikaråsen. Järvsö klack around 80 degrees to the left hehe.

8:12 PM

Blogger Ahoy! said...

Jaako: Oh darn. I guess I need to be more familiar with Ljusdal! I already made the changes to the blog. I was thinking of asking you about some stuff before I blogged the pictures, particularly about which mountain was Järvsö klack, but I got too excited and decided just to publish. Ho ho! Thanks for the corrections though. At least I know some people read this blog thoroughly! :-D

Evian water isn't clean?

9:31 PM

Anonymous Lara said...

jaakko said: not clean enough to qualify as swedish tap water :)

6:55 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Looks nice! And definitely thought provoking! On Per's visit here, he loved that the forests here were obviously not planted as in Sweden (with a whole range of trees, young, old and some dead/fallen from storms).

On the flip side - we put more highways through our parks, which Per and I have debated a lot... But I will say that as selfish as it is, I do see how and why a natural place is enjoyable when you have it all to yourself, as we did when we went hiking :) And yes, hopefully we will meet again, with my move to Sweden for the next year!

5:45 AM

Blogger karmi said...

Hi there! It sounds like a beautiful place. I suddenly have a longing for someplace remote, quiet, and very green. I live in the desert, so you'll understand.

9:12 PM

Blogger Ahoy! said...

Hey karmi, nice that you dropped by again! So, it isn't remote in the desert?

3:32 PM


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