Saturday, July 31, 2010

Out In The Blueberry Field

They thrive everywhere. In the woods, under the pine, spruce and birch trees. In an open field where trees have been cut. They bear multitudinous little fruits dangling from their twigs, almost hidden by leaves that are about the size of  the fruits.

This is the European blueberry, which also flourishes throughout Sweden. Unlike the cultivated American blueberry, which is a fairly big bush, the European blueberry grows wild and low, about one foot high or below. It thrives better and bears more fruits in the open field that is well-lit with sunshine.

just a small section of the field

Like all other places in Sweden, the small city of Umeå has several blueberry fields that draw people from some Asian countries to pick the fruits throughout summer and make a good living out of it. Even then, no matter how many pickers are out there, still they cannot pick all the fruits throughout the season. There's more than enough to feed all blueberry lovers and to thicken the wallets of those who engage in blueberry business. There would still be lots of fruits waiting for harvesters who may never discover their existence until they wither away.

Recently, I had my first experience in picking blueberries. When I first saw the berries amongst the trees, I got so excited that I started to pick with my fingers. Those were much fruits for me at the time. But when my hubby and I went to the real open field along the slope of a hill, I was completely overwhelmed by the vastness of the area covered all over with blueberry bushes.  My exhilaration went even higher when I saw the little bushes laden with fruits. I couldn't help hurrying to the first bush and harvesting its abundant yield. This time, I used a plastic berry-picker which could pluck almost all the fruits from a single bush.

berry picker

I was so completely engrossed in picking, which I enjoyed so much that I could go on picking forever. I just went on enthusiastically and indefatigably, wishing that I could pick all the fruits, which is impossible. We covered just a small area, and filled up two buckets. We're going to pick more some other days and get us an ample supply for our cereal meals or desserts which may  last until winter.

winnowing away some leaves and twigs

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Duck Family Going for a Swim

Mingling with the bathers by the lake, a family of ducks had also their day of fun and enjoyed the warmth of the summer sun.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The Painting in the Sky

courtesy of

It was November 17, 1998. Before midnight. The sky was clear, the air chilly. I stood alone in the veranda in front of my bedroom, my eyes sky-bound, aiming at Leo constellation. In the dead of night, when everyone in our house was fast asleep, I waited alone, shivering. My gaze never strayed from my target constellation. 

In a moment, a bright streak zipped across the sky. My heart leaped in excitement. It came at last! The Leonid meteor shower. No, not just a shower, but a storm, fireballs of comet debris raining down to earth. From that first shooting star came a succession of meteors shooting out in every direction, their sizes much enlarged than the ordinary shooting stars, their brightness accentuated with greenish, bluish, pinkish and yellowish hues. In a single minute, I spotted about two to five long streaks, unaware that the part of the sky hidden from my view by the roof of our house was also being adorned with several of them. It was only when I climbed over the roof that I found this out, at a time when dawn had almost ascended, about 4:00 a.m. All night, there were hundreds of them lighting up the night sky, each luminous trail washing me all over with a pleasant glow, and painting a unique and delightful picture in my mind. The sensation that such memory evoked still keeps flowing through me veins, sending up warmth to my heart. 

I stayed up all night, not wanting to leave that awe-inspiring panorama which is just a rare occurrence. I quivered in the icy coldness of dawn and in pure delight and excitement for witnessing that one of the wonders of God's creations. It is a celestial vista that is forever etched in my heart.

I don't know how many more chanced upon that meteor shower or any others before, but I'm sure that those who have been fortunate to witness such heavenly phenomenon experienced the thrill of seeing that marvel of creation, and they have a clearer picture of the analogy that I'm going to make.
Just imagine, hundreds of shooting stars in a single night! Which would also mean hundreds of chances to make wishes, as they said. But that's fairy tale, and so I didn't make wishes. And I didn't need to, because to me, each meteor or shooting star represents every wish of mine granted, every prayer answered and every pleasant little thing that I received.

The dark sky represents my life in its dismal state, when I see things in black and gray. But that darkness is illuminated whenever I fix my eyes on those bright sparks in my life - the cornucopia of blessings that have been poured upon me, never losing sight of them but always keeping them before my eyes. When darkness of adversities and intense loneliness would swallow me up, I would take off the cloth draped over the painting that is in my mind and review the delightful picture once again. 

All the blessings that I accumulated throughout my whole life are still there, not blotted out at all. There are the happy memories I have with my family, the caring friends who never stopped believing in me, the sincere smiles shot at me. I also have my hobbies and jobs that were well-accomplished and duties well-performed. Then there's the soothing beauty of nature, the "intergalactic journeys" I had with my bosom friend, the thoughtful cards from friends, appreciations and commendations I received, the beaming faces of those I tried to comfort and encourage, my collection of cute little things. I also treasure the daily spiritual, physical and material provisions from our loving Creator, and thousands of other blessings, making up the meteoric blazes that embellished the night sky. 

Reliving the memories associated with those lovely things that are mine is like looking at that heavenly painting once again, where darkness is pushed in the background and light takes over. But even with the backdrop of darkness, it is still a lovely picture, one that is painted indelibly, not in the sky, but in my heart. And it brightens up my whole life.

After the Wildflowers

The procession of the colorful wildflowers that carpeted the landscapes has culminated to the comeback of the green grasses, along with some tiny white flowers. But the grasses this time have blossomed into astronomical thin stalks crowned with tiny spikelets (grass flowers?) in cream, yellow, red and brown colors.

They're only grasses, but they too have their own loveliness to showcase. Their lustrous stalks glisten as the sun shines on them. And when the wind blows over them, they wave gently and form soft ripples rhythmically chasing each other like the smooth waves of the sea.

Monday, July 26, 2010

My First Maple Leaves

When I was younger, maple tree had been one of my favorite trees, though I've never seen that tree in reality, only in the movies and pictures. I was enchanted by its elegance, the design of its leaves and its warm colors in autumn. I've collected many pictures of it, put them in a scrapbook and stored the ones I downloaded from photo websites in a folder in my computer. I may be crazy doing this but it made me feel good looking at such beauty over and over again.

one of my first attempts at capturing the beauty of maple leaves in fall

When my friend, Levs, left for America-Canada to work as a nurse some years ago, the one request that I ask from her was to send me a maple leaf. And she did! I was so thrilled! I got three dried maple leaves taped on a writing paper. I have kept them all these years until I moved here to another country. I deposited the leaves in my keepsakes box, safe in my former home where my mother and my sister still reside. I wanted to take all my precious mementos with me, but that was not possible. What I did, though, was to make  replicas by photographing them, and took the memories with me. And here are my maple leaves.

This is one of my little treasures, my one simple source of joy. 

Here and now, I see several maple trees, and they spark in me the same admiration that I had in the past. My excitement escalates as I await for autumn, when their leaves will be ablaze with yellow, orange and red hues.

Still, my first maple leaves will retain their special place in my garden of memories.

The Everchanging Summer Landscapes

Since the onset of summer, I've been constantly fascinated by the changes in the landscapes throughout the city. I have never imagined that the whole tracts of green grass brought about by spring would subsequently metamorphose into several colors throughout the summer season. After dominating the grounds in the spring time, the golden dandelions gave way to other wildflowers to unfurl their colorful carpets in summer.

First came the white delicate cow parsely,

The  tiny golden butter flowers,

The white and pink clover flowers,

These pink flowers here,

The lupines,

These blue ones,

The wild daisies (or chamomiles?),

And another kind of white flowers.

The ever-changing colors of the landscapes invite me to just walk to my destinations instead of taking the bus. It's my opportunity to be with nature and drink in its refreshing loveliness.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

It's Raining Daffodils

Reminiscing on my rainy days experiences in a tropical country where I have lived most of my life. It's rainy season  there now, and the awareness of it reminds me of this memoir that I have written a few years ago.

My mind was half-awake, my eyes half-open, but my body was still sleeping. I had the sensation that I was lying under a thick blanket of chilly air, which in reality was the cold rainy air seeping through the three-layered fabrics spread over me. And then I heard muffled howls from outside. I suddenly bolted from my bed, headed to the window and looked out. It was raining, and the wind galloped wildly in the open air, bumping with everything along its way. I realized that rainy days have come to stay once again and that was one of the first storms that would visit us this year. And I smiled with myself. How I've loved this season!
"Oh, it's raining again!" "It's terrible!" "It's disgusting!" "I hate rain!" I often hear such expressions of complaints from those who don't like rainy days. And some are shocked or get mad at me whenever I tell them that I love this season, be it soft and misty, when the wind would just gently sway the tops of the trees, or tempestuous rainy days when the furious wind would whirl over the roof and bend all the trees.
For me, the rain is a poetry, with its melodious thudding on the roof, rapping on the window panes or pouring off the eaves. Even the howling of the storm wind accompanying the rain is music to me. The musical pine-scented rain has an electrifying effect on me and sends my emotions spiraling upward into the clear blue sky just beyond the thick clouds, all the while setting off my creative faculties, which would then make lovely thoughts come flying toward me like colorful birds alighting on the branches of a tree.

It's hard to understand what mysterious thing is at work inside me that turns me on whenever the rain comes. Some people growl when it rains, especially on a day when they had planned for some outdoor activities, and they wish to drive the rain away. It's the opposite with me. I growl when it doesn't rain, or when it rarely rains, during the rainy season. This is one season I'm always eagerly waiting for, and I often feel disappointed when it doesn't come. I wouldn't want to miss that mystical feeling the rain would generate inside me nor would I want to miss going out in the rain and walk up and down the road with my umbrella up, and feel the tempestuous wind beating against it and the streaming waters sluicing past my feet and legs. I like being out in the rain, when I can feel the light sprays of water on my face or catch the silvery liquid in my palm. I also like being shut in by the rain when I would just stay home the whole day reading a lot or writing all the beautiful thoughts that are sizzling in my brain. Or I would take out my recent photographs and create artistic scrapbooks and photo journals, or I would finish all those projects that I haven't touched for months - the handcrafted novelties and decorations that have been piled up on my working table.
Far from being a boring day, the rainy season opens up opportunities for creative and heartwarming activities. I have that lingering memory of years gone by when I was a little kid in the province, and I would run out with my relatives into the rain, bathing and playing, chasing one another and making paper boats which we floated on the rivulet of rain water streaming down the canal along the street. We would watch them sail away until they went out of sight. Such a heartwarming rainy day reminiscences!

Rainy seasons would come and go, carrying me along with them in their eternal voyage into the future, and each time the season would stop by in midyear, I would savor its magical sensation that flows throughout my body. Sometimes, when I was still a student and classes were cancelled because a storm was in its full fury, all of us in the family would stay home and play scrabble from morning to evening, the muffled roaring of the wind serving as our background music, which was an aid to my concentration as I tried to mentally juggle my letters to form words. Such activities also helped me discover difficult words at an early age and helped keep our family intact. While playing, my mother would cook a hodgepodge of snacks which we devoured during our breaks. At other times, we just gathered around our dining table or huddled together in our sofa and told stories while eating popcorns, peanuts or watermelon seeds.

These are the homely joys that can possibly come about during the rainy days. And there are other hundreds of wholesome and therapeutic things to do - some hobbies that are being neglected on fine days. Or we can prowl within the confines of our minds and see if we have hidden talents that need to be developed and start making use of them.

Rain is not a nuisance but a part of nature's way of breaking the year-long weather monotony, which brings along with it refreshment in the daytime and lullaby in the night as we go to sleep. An aerial bath in a rainy night washes our souls free of the bitterness of the preceding day. Was it Longfellow who said, "Into each life, some rain must fall; some days must be dark and dreary."? I believe that even when the days are dark and dreary, and I'm inside the house, I can see visions of rainbows and flowers and sunshine surrounding me as I solitarily engage in some fruitful activities. And I can see delightful things all around me. I enjoy looking at the sparkling pine needles as the rains trickle on them and coat them with silver. I can see the wild beauty of the surroundings as the field bursts into verdant vegetations in their charming lushness, which would then reach up to a blissful flourish of colorful flowers that would set our minds in anticipation of abundant harvest of their fruits as the season comes to its close.

Such loveliness always reminds me of the lines of Robert Loveman's poem: "It is not raining rain for me; it's raining daffodils." Yes, in my mind, the raindrops metamorphose into daffodils, those bright golden flowers that blanket a vast field, gracefully dancing in the breeze. And my heart also dances with happiness on rainy days.

When Sunlight Eats Up The Night

Every summer, brightness envelops this country for twenty-four hours. It's not easy to determine when day has ascended except by looking at the clock. As the day progresses, sunshine becomes more intense, the translucent sky turns to deeper blue as clouds clear away.

The day advances surreptitiously while people go about their daily summer activities, unaware that evening has long arrived. It is the warm amber glow of the setting sun that heralds the presence of the night. The sun lingers just above the horizon before it finally descends, but not so low that it withholds its brightness. It lies there all night long, bestowing this part of the earth with luminance that eats up the darkness. Activities go on uninterrupted right  up to midnight. And then the people go to sleep in the brightness of the night.

Brightness peaked during midsummer (June 26), after which the night slowly goes back to its normal darkness, so slowly and  imperceptibly that one doesn't notice it. Night time is still bright even now, though not as luminous as the midsummer nights. Soon, before anyone realizes it, darkness will have taken its rightful place. And summer starts to fade away.

a view from our dining room window at 9:30 p.m.

where the sun sets at around 9:30 p.m., as seen from our back porch

a few steps away from our unit, same time

swallows still  playing blithely under the bright night sky

sunlight-illuminated lake at 11:30 p.m.

I love my first summer in this part of the north pole, which is home for me now.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Searching For The Rugged Path

I was walking in the woods one day when a feeling of familiarity came over me. I stared at the path ahead of me and some thoughts stirred in my head. What was it? The path. There was something about that path, some connection with the past. And then it came. Yes, the rugged path!

How long had it been since my friend and I spoke about the rugged path? It was HER rugged path, her ideal path in the forest where she could walk by herself and just be alone with nature and her personal reflections. It’s been several years ago, and I had almost forgotten it.

Especially now that we’re oceans apart, there’s not a chance for us to discuss about it in a heart-to-heart way. I left her there in a place where her rugged path may not exist at all, but only in the perimeters of her mind. And I’m here in the northern hemisphere where such paths could be anywhere. But I need to find the right one.

So whatever forest I tread on, I keep looking around, searching for that path. All the while, I keep thinking about her and what’s going on with her now. We used to have fantastic times together as we went through our “intergalactic travels” as wholesome aliens. We embarked on a thousand voyages to literary wonderlands where we discovered interesting places and met literary friends whom we held dear in our hearts. We traveled together to different places and enjoyed thrilling rides like little children in some recreational park. We had fun together going to the movies, shopping in the malls, eating street foods and just being crazy. We shared joys and laughters,  pains and heartaches. We talked about a thousand diverse subjects that fed our intellect. Oh the many things we have enjoyed doing together!

I have missed them. Especially more so when she gradually disappeared into darkness, which locked her up for years. She said goodbye to the light, blocking the rays of hope from entering her heart. I almost gave up on her after seeing her seemingly adamant decision to remain in her dark tiny universe. And I got scared that I might never see her again, that our days in the sunshine had come to their end.

But then, after over four years of seclusion in her capsule of darkness, she finally found her way out and back to the light. It’s been a long and hard struggle with herself and with the forces of darkness, but somehow, she came out victorious, like a survivor that she had always been. My friend was back and I welcomed her with all my heart! And I hoped that she would keep herself in the light and not drift away again.

Sadly, though, we could never be together again. We could no longer do all those things that we had loved to do. No more heart-to-heart talks. No more intergalactic journeys….It was my turn to go away. Off to another “galaxy” where she may not follow me. She just came back, and I had to go away. How time plots! But maybe, someday, she would be able to follow me. I wish she would.

Where I am now, I still think of her, though I haven’t heard much from her for quite a time. I have no inkling about what’s going on with her now, except that she wants to tell me many things. Yes, I know, she has so much to tell me, her new life in the light, her latest inmost thoughts and feelings. And yet….

I keep looking and searching for the rugged path. I found some, but which one is closest to her heart?  Is it this?

Or this?

Or could it be this?

I wish I could find the exact one. Perhaps she would be there, sitting on a fallen tree and waiting for me. Perhaps she had come to bare her heart to her old loyal buddy who is always willing to listen to the outpourings of her heart. How I wish…

Monday, July 19, 2010

Swallows Playing In The Air

"Swallow, Swallow, little Swallow, will you not stay with me for one night, and be my messenger?" 

This is my favorite line from the book The Happy Prince , which I keep on mentally reciting. The message took on a new significance for me when I watched these little swallows for the first time. It was some weeks ago when I saw a flock of little birds circling overhead and playfully gliding downward and upward. I didn't know at first what kind of birds they were until I was told that they were swallows. As expected, I recited the line orally to myself.

In the story, the Happy Prince asked one swallow to stay with him for just one night in winter so it could fulfill a charitable mission , but the little swallow was reluctant, complaining that all its friends had been off to Egypt to enjoy the sunshine there. However, the swallow was persuaded to stay and served as the Prince's messenger until its death.

This summer, I often see these swallows flying merrily overhead, and I keep remembering the story, especially that one little swallow who sacrificed himself for humanity. 

I'll keep watching them until the last one will fly away somewhere this coming winter. And it's pleasurable to watch them play up there, their merriment being contagious.  Though it's hard to photograph them because of their swift and erratic flight, I just took my chance and these two shots  here are the best I could get. 

Thursday, July 15, 2010

The Journey To Fjällen, The Wilderness of Sweden

On Friday afternoon, 9th of July, my hubby decided to travel at the spur of the moment, and so we set out on a journey to the northwestern part of Sweden. We started here from the east coast of northern Sweden and proceeded to travel westward to the northern inland of the country.  We traversed an unbelievable expanse of lands covered all over with evergreen trees (spruces and pines)  and other seasonal vegetation.  We passed by some communities that broke the monotony of vast forests. From Umeå to Vännäs to Bjurnholm to Åsele to Dorotea, then down to Stromsund, then up again to Gäddede. We kept on traveling for hours through dense forests and hundreds of lakes and rivers. It was late at night when we reached Gäddede where we took lodging in a cabin by a lake.

The following day, we moved on to the fjällen (mountains), a series of mountains where trees cannot thrive (just a few surviving ones). The  parts of the mountain ranges that we visited started from Stora Blåsjön to Ankarrede, Stekenjokk, Saxnäs and Stalon. This is only a section of the long tract of the wilderness in the northwestern Sweden where adventurers love to hike and set up camps  and enjoy this kind of overwhelming isolation that is remote from the cacophony of urban life. Here, the spring comes late, so we experienced a second spring  since summer hasn’t arrived yet in this part of the country.

But before we proceeded to the fjällen, my hubby wanted to show me a part of Norway that he had seen before and had charmed him. And so we crossed the border between Sweden and Norway, and dropped by that Norwegian community called Röyrvik, which also hosts  a section of the fjällen.  True enough, it was a wonderful place with colorful landscapes and beautiful rolling mountains! Wow, I felt so fortunate to set foot on a another country even for just a few minutes. The memory of that lovely place has been etched in my mind.

Time to go back to Sweden and to the fjällen. The weather had been  bad all the way and even when we got there, being cloudy and windy. Nevertheless, the wonderful mountainscapes along the way made up for the uncooperative weather.  We  dropped by a few waterfalls, cascades and rivers, and took some photos. We also visited a place where the people of the mountains called Sami (highlanders) live.

At last, we reached the wilderness where only grasses and mosses covered the mountains and valleys. The mountains were still dotted with snows.  As our car meandered through the lengthy asphalted roadway that snaked across the valleys, we spotted some trailers and cars stationed near some little lakes or rivers,or alongside the road, and met other vehicles on our way. There were also daring backpackers starting out on their ascent to the mountains despite the bad weather.  

We’d been traveling for quite a time and it seemed like we hadn’t moved farther at all. A scary feeling crept over me as I stared at those seemingly threatening mountains and as strange thoughts of never being able to get out of that wilderness nudged at me. We kept on driving and yet, it seemed like we were not getting any farther. And to think that my hubby had planned to set up our tent right here in the middle of nowhere! But the bad weather prevented us.

Finally, we came out of the wilderness. What a relief! Yet in some way, I did enjoy being there, feeling the thrill of real adventure. And I want to visit the place again, hopefully in good weather. So we’re back on the regular road again, going past marvelous landscapes, lakes, mountains and forests. This time, we took another route in the north, taking us down to Vilhelmina, a little community that also attracts tourists because of their comfortable camping sites along the lakes. Here we put up our tent, in a camping site called Kolgårdens Camping, where many campers (they had trailers and housecars) also stopped by for a night or more.

This facility fascinated me because there’s no reception room or counter or receptionist. Just take up the phone at the veranda and a voice tells you to wait for a moment and he would come. Tell him what you want and then he shows you where you could set up your tent. Then pay him, and you’re free to do whatever you want there. Simple and neat. There’s a main building with kitchen, dining rooms, toilet, laundry, shower and everything you need. Feel free to use them all. You can cook in their kitchen, get some soft drinks from the ref, but you must pay for the drinks by dropping  an amount in a can beside the drinks. You can also get ice cream, popsicles or ice cones of your choice from the freezer and drop the payment in a box.  Same goes with the souvenirs and books sold there. You can also use their computer. The building is open for 24 hours and everything  there is at your disposal.  The owner really trusts all the customers. I was impressed!

We spent the night there in our little tent a few steps from the lake. It was a calm and bright night, no need for any lighting at all. Before we went to sleep, we strolled down the lake shore to enjoy the serenity of the place. Then we walked around, looking at and admiring the luxurious cottages hired by some well-to-do vacationers. But I was happy to sleep in our lowly tent because that gave me a sense of adventure.

The next day, we started out to go back home. It’s been a brief journey, and yet packed with new experiences and adventures, which drew me closer to nature and to God, the Creator of all these wonderful things.