No Snow Days in Sweden: A Forest Field Trip
While the east coast has been gripped by one heck of a winter, the weather in Sweden has been kind of blah, freezing cold one day, raining the next, weird. Today the sky is as still as stone, the ocean half frozen, half thawed; the water black as coal. The weather can’t seem to decide what it wants to do, (and neither can I).
As an American, I wouldn’t mind a few “snow days,” the excuse to stay indoors, bake cookies with the kids, keep my pajamas on, but it would take an avalanche of snow and polar bears invading from the north to make that happen. Swedes are accustomed to the frigid temperatures and snow-packed roads, life goes on as usual.
While school cancellations are making headlines and FB posts up and down the eastern seaboard, my 4-year old is taking to the woods. Every Tuesday, regardless of the weather, the children at Futura walk to the train (a kilometer away), climb aboard and ride one stop to where they hike into the forest to be in nature.
They dress in layers. Maggie wears: Under Armour running tights, compression top, “fleece” (as they call it), snowsuit, wool socks, gloves, hat, boots, and a bright green reflective vest. (I’m always in a complete sweat by the time she has it all on; I have no doubt she’s plenty warm.)
This week it was 25-degrees, give or take the wind chill. The children gathered inside the school first, all big smiles, hoisting on their backpacks. Stowed inside Maggie’s Addidas pack was a thermos of hot cocoa, a small tarp for sitting and a plate, knife and fork for lunch. My baby is going to the woods! I thought of Little Red Riding Hood, wolves and creatures lurking in the forest and lovingly tucked a pack of Kleenex in her side mesh pocket, just in case.
As I watched the children leave the school at 9 a.m. hand in hand with their kompis/friend, plodding contentedly down the hill (there was no risk of anyone escaping with all that gear), I heard parents say, “Isn’t it good for the children to get some fresh air in their lungs…to be in nature…to spend a morning in the forest playing the woods?” Not my thoughts exactly. But, I was excited for Maggie, because she was so excited.
“Nature” is often the destination in Sweden. You don’t need much more, maybe a sandwich if you’re staying very long, but being in nature is reason enough to be outdoors. Come spring, Swedes will be out in force, many foraging for wild things to eat, mushrooms and plants they’ll take home and cook up in a soup. I’ve yet to try. I’m afraid I’ll pick something wrong and poison my family. But friends assure me, come May, they’ll teach me what to do, I’ll love it.
Maggie loves nature. She has a collection of sticks she keeps on her dresser in her bedroom, treasures from the forest. They’re not just sticks, they’re tools for playing, digging, magic wands made by fairies, and swords. We’ve painted a few. Others I’m hoping to deposit back into nature, when she’s not looking.
Seeing Maggie with her “sticks,” toys really, I’m grateful for the enchanted forests that fill her with enough entertainment (logs, leaves, branches, rocks and insects), to keep her 4-year self imagining for hours. And while this Yank wouldn’t mind hunkering down to wait out the cold, I’m grateful for the Swedish gumption that has taught me the simple joys of being in nature, (when really I wouldn’t mind a snow day.)