Wild strawberries, skinny-dipping and other tales of Norwegian midsummer


In some parts of the world the turn of the sun does not matter much. July is almost as light as January. But for Norwegians, the bi-annual ebb and flow of the sun is very much part of who we are.

Summer solstice, the longest day of the year, is welcomed with a sense of joy and silent trepidation in my native Norway. Celebrated throughout millennia for the bounty of sun, the giver of life. Dreaded by the same people, who know that the calendar will turn and that every day the sun will come up a tad later and leave just a bit sooner. Imperceptible, yet mournfully noticeable. One day in mid-winter the gap of dwindling light will close completely and there will be no sun at all, at least if you live near the polar circle. But then the pendulum swings back again. First just a faint gleam of dusk meeting dawn, then people start counting and savoring the minutes and seconds added to each day. This circle of light is our cycle of life.

Midsummer is the sweet, dusty smell of a summerhouse laying in wait, a lace-curtained window, a dead fly legs in air on the sill, a treasured porcelain box with a glued lid containing a button, the old barometer on the wall pointing towards ‘fair’ weather, a ship’s bell by the door that used to announce dinner, an oil painting by a long-departed grand aunt, a strip of sunlight, breakfast on the stairs outside in the old striped bathrobe that has been used by three generations of morning lovers.

Midsummer is straight from bed, jumping naked into a freezing fjord, darting three kinds of jellyfish (only two poisonous) and springing revived out of the water, exclaiming how fantastic it feels afterwards, every cell of your skin tingling.

Midsummer is the golden white heads of freckled, tooth-missing children laying belly down on a pier, fishing crabs with a sting on twine, a mussel broken by a stone for bait, and a bucket for the catch, that later will be released, more or less willingly, after proud show offs to parents, cheering from a nearby cockpit.

Midsummer is walking through dewy grass bare feet, or in borrowed old green Viking rubber roots, picking a bouquet of flowers. Bushes of pink and white wild roses whose scent no perfume can match, climbing wild honeysuckle, more subtle in colour, but much more fragrant than its domestic counterpart, fields of purple clover, a heaven for the bees, blue bells and sky-blue corn flower, yellow St John’s Worth and wild carnations, all free for the picking.

Midsummer is sitting up all night studying the light on the water, wondering when or of it will get dark, reading the newspaper outside after midnight with a table of empty long drink glasses by your side, squawking seagulls following a small wooden fishing vessel heading out to sea trailed by golden drops of sunrise, the smell of fresh coffee announcing a new day.

Midsummer is people lining up for ice cream and stacks of heart shaped waffles with strawberry jam, the favourite dish for a sweet-toothed nation who found oil and went on a spending spree and forgot that we only forty years back was a poor nation living on codfish and boiled potatoes.

Midsummer is finding a patch of oh-so-sweet wild strawberries that has not been raided by humans, nor baptized by leg-lifting dogs, gathering them in a fist or a cup, and being kind enough to leave for others the berries that has only ripened and reddened on one side.

Midsummer is watching the NRK (Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation) fjord-land specials with accordion-playing, sea-shanty singing troubadours who was already popular when I was a child, and who still perform decades later, just a bit more windswept and sun-creased than I recall them, followed by news and weather, though the fumbling, cloud dropping (they were magnets instead of green-screen then…), bespectacled, tall and greying meteorologist who always sounded like he had a cold has been replaced by a younger female version with a clingy skirt and a feigned passion for weather patterns in the Oslo fjord.

Midsummer is a tall bond fire on the beach, lit at 22 hour when the light gets dimmer, children running about throwing rocks in the water, half-heartedly being scolded for getting their feet wet, locals and summer visitors from the capital alike gathered, the former talking of kids, work and fishing luck, the latter about offspring, golf scores, parties and province residences, the older guard reminiscing the ones that no longer are with them, Oslo’s former mayor on a DBS lady bicycle, weaving down the road with a bottle of calvados in pocket, passing the low wooden houses painted white, barn red or mustardy yellow, the fire dying down and the populous heading back for late night snacks, while the last sparks goes skywards.

Midsummer echoes of the black-and-white Bergman movies of the 60’s and a young Liv Ullman when she still could pull crowds regardless how odd and artsy the movies were.

Midsummer is waking up with three mosquito bites on one leg and seven on the other without having seen or heard a mosquito all night.  Midsummer is thunder through the night and bright sun the next morning. Midsummer can be hot and bothered or cold and wet, but it is always light.

If you have never suffered from sleepless nights due to too much sunlight at four in the morning, it is an experience you simply have to try!


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