Reconnecting with Nature

Friluftsliv in Sweden

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We are a part of nature. Listen to that sound: We are nature. I am nature. How does it feel? Exciting? Odd? Unfamiliar? Or maybe: Beautiful?

In the last centuries humanity has more and more sealed itself off from forests and oceans, from deserts and mountains. Built its own landscapes with concrete, glass and steel instead – and thus lost its connection, its unity with the natural world. Simultaneously many of us seem to lose their happiness, connectedness and inner peace.

Nature lives inside us, as we are supposed to live inside it. And whenever we allow it, we can reconnect, hear the sounds and feel the rhythms. Four weeks we fell off the grid and found our own version of „Friluftsliv“ between forests and a thousand lakes in Sweden.

„Friluftsliv“ consists of the words free, air and life, with free being the most crucial. As we link „free“ with notions such as wide, open and without limits or barriers, we need to apply these not only to outer landscapes, but to our senses and our inner spaces, our mind.

Explorer Fridtjof Nansen believed, that free nature is our true home and reclaiming our connection with the natural world would be our way back to that home.

Traveling with a campervan generally torpedoes our intention and almost contradicts the idea behind friluftsliv – to fully immerse in nature. Our beginners mind and our enthusiasm for being „unstuck“ from the city will have to compensate our cheating.
And as we find ourselves at a tranquil waterfront in Uttervik on our first evening, starting a fire on the stony shoreline and watching some cargo ships in the distance, while the sun slowly sets; we get a first grasp of the simple pleasure of being outdoors.
Searching for dry wood, cutting it to smaller pieces, preparing the food already slows down our inner urban pace. And as the fire starts crackling, a rush of happiness flows through my body.

What is it, that makes a campfire so soothing, so „enough“? How can just sitting there, watching it burn, seemingly have the power to touch everyone alike, bring peace in an almost spiritual way? And as fascinating this unifying quality alone is, it is even more intriguing that urban people from this day and age, endlessly on the lookout for new satisfaction, don’t get bored by a fire simply burning.

In Sweden everything will be explained, from the mystery of the fire to my love for asymmetries. The encryption key? A little biology and a simple truth: We are nature.

Hans Gelter, scientist at the technical university in Luleå, who I had the pleasure to meet a few years ago on another trip to Swedish Lapland, did research on the philosophy behind „Friluftsliv“ and he is explaining one simple fact: In nature nothing is straight or uniform, flat or consistent.

Nature has its own patters and structures, its own biological rhythms connected to the moon and the seasons. But unlike in our manmade cities, they are fractal, each time slightly different, ever changing. The processing structure of our brain and our inner clock work within these same fractal patterns, as we have not evolved with the same speed as our lifestyle has. And whenever we immerse ourselves in nature, we can fully synchronize with our surroundings again, re-connect and re-nature ourselves.

By looking at a fire, our thoughts can spin untamed just like its sparks. And long after our meal is finished, I find myself lying on the cold sandy ground, peacefully looking at another form of fractal sparkling: A glorious night sky far away from bigger cities, the falling skies asking for our deepest wishes.

It is late September and the Swedish landscape has turned into a colourful feast for the senses. While the myriad of coniferes stays dark green, the birches, beeches and elm trees display every shade of yellow, orange and red imaginable. Birch leaves are covering the surface of tiny waves at the lakeshores and whirl through the air in the first chill autumn winds. Sea fog creeps up from the Bothnian Sea, a misty haze gently touching our faces.

For long stretches we are following a single road through this vast country. Most days our navigation system will tell us something like „go straight for 48km!“, which allows for long hours of free flowing thoughts and observation.

No need to look at a map or to plan anything, but all the time in the world to look around and take in the scenery and its subtly changing shapes, colors and atmosphere. Even  inside the car we feel connected to the land and the weather and from time to time we are driving without music or any conversation at all, as there is enough already there.

Nevertheless it is off the road, where the real Friluftsliv awaits; where not only the visual sense is stimulated with new sights, but even those senses, that we are rather seldom truly aware of: Sounds of hammering woodpeckers and fighting wood grouses new to our ears, while hiking a part of the „Kustleden“ suddenly the „smell of wet animals“ lies in the air… the mossy ground beneath our feet feels soft and cushion like and surprises us in shades of purple, green and white. The incredible sweetness of blueberries, freshly picked from an abundance of shrubs to both sides of the trail. And as our hike leads us through some rocky terrain, our tactile sense is activated, as we hold on to cold stones and wet tree trunks, balancing on slippery crags – an unusual task for rusty urban ankles and feet.

Being surrounded by nature, one starts to move simultaneously more careful and with a hightened awareness; instincts kick in, that were asleep for a long time… And through this movement and alert state, one reaches new levels of energy and experiences a form of mental renewal. In the alleged silence we so urgently craved, we learn to hear new things and think new thoughts; our mind and our spirit filled with nature itself.

We are following the „Vildmarksvägen“, a route that almost touches the Norwegian border and includes the highest road in Sweden, the „Stekenjokk Pass“. Slowely the misty forests begin to disappear and a fjell like scenery lies to both sides of the road. Hilly planes stretch as far as the horizon. In the distance we spot the distinctive red wooden crosses, marking another one of countless hiking paths crossing the land.

A reindeer herd is silenty grazing in the distance; a smooth mountainscape lies under a softly clouded sky, while golden sunbeams fall onto the scenery. It is almost unbearable in its beauty and undeniably nativeness. Although I am excited, my heartrate slows down. Carefully we walk into the scrubs and boggy meadows. The gurgling of a tiny stream captures my attention, and I see the movement of the clouds mirrored in it. An unrelenting wind is bending the cotton grass and biting my cheeks. And as my feet sink in with every step, I’m harmonising with my surroundings, my mind finally gets fully absorbed by the landscape. Time stops to exist and I feel a deep inner peace arise.

With a blissful tiredness I will sink into sleep tonight. „Impression tiredness“ will be my name for this newly found state of mind. It will become a companion for the rest of our journey, as we knit ourselves into the lands of Swedish Lapland.

We couldn’t have come to a better place. As we follow our route settlements get even scarcer and if it wasn’t for the awareness of driving on a street, it would almost feel like lands untouched by human interventions. We reached Sápmi, the land of the indigenous Samí and even though we will only meet very few, who are more integrated in the „modern way“, while the hunters and herders are in the hills with their animals, the spirit of this land is telling their stories. Visiting one of the old Samí villages, Ankarede, I know that we are not alone, even though the village is abandoned.

We will collect many more of these moments and store them in our minds. We’ll see Samí paintings on hydro power plants, requesting the spirits’ protection for the exploited land; we will stand against forceful winds, creating waves that turn a lake into an ocean; we will hike to Trollsjön (Rissájávri in Northern Samí), greeted by brisk clear air and a first winter chill, by deep hanging clouds and relentless winds; by the vastness of the Kärkevagge, that only expands each time we reach a ridge. And on our way back by the sudden golden light of the sun as the view opens before our eyes as far as the snowcaps of the Norwegian mountains.

Arne Nress dsscribes Friluftsliv as „a paradigm shift of worldview, an emotional identity.“ As we become a part of the river, the forest, the hill, we discover a sense of home in a place we’ve never been before. And with our new identity we start being out there with ourselves rather than alone.

„In the wilderness, in the loneliness of the forest, with a view toward the mountains and a distance from clamour and confusion – this is where personalities are formed. ” 

                                                                                                                          – Nils Faarlund

Photography

Constantin Gerlach, Laura Droße

Text

Laura Droße

Big thank you to our Partners of this Trip.
Without you it would’nt have been possible:

–  Ahoi Bullies
–  Visit Sweden
–  Petromax Germany
–  Fujifilm Deutschland

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