Stark Beauty

Buoy in the ice

The past week has been rather chilly here, with temperatures falling as low as -15ºC.  Ice chunks are floating in the waters that pass through Slussen, the sluice, from the freshwater lake Malaren out into the edges of the Archipelago.  Smaller lakes are frozen solid, with ice skating tracks in some communities — I even walked across one the other day with my colleagues after lunch.

Here we come, walk down the lake...

And the snow is gathering in the graveyards.

The cemetery behind my office, at Katarina Kyrka (CAT-uh-ree’-nuh SHUR-kuh), seems to be the home of an errant bunny. I’ve watched it drumming the snow to get to the grass beneath (which was just recently green and thriving!). One of my colleagues tells me that the people buried here include Swedish children who died in the tsunami in Bangladesh and Thailand in 2004. I think I’ve mentioned before that Anna Lindh, the foreign minister assassinated in 2003, lies next to a much older guy named Cornelius, buried here in the 1800s, I think.  Candles always burn by every headstone.

This morning, I attended my first Swedish begravning (or funeral). I went with my colleagues to mourn the passing of one of our group, a dynamic man who both scared me a little with his passion, and who inspires me.  His conviction could be frightening in heated discussion, but he could be so smiling and kind too. We had discussions about his book projects, and his past as a child of missionaries in Africa.  He had fire in the belly. He tackled hard subjects in his writing.  He and his daughter were part of a band; he sang Tom Waits’ songs, and I regret that I never got to hear him sing in person.  The funeral was filled with music: a jazz saxaphone piece, a violinist, piano, and a recording of Waits singing “Martha” (

The ceremony was not religious. Even the mural on the wall seemed ecumenical, with children and adults in various seasons and attitudes, but all facing toward the sea, and a single figure aboard a sailboat on the horizon. Yet, we were gathered in the Chapel of the Holy Cross, at the Skogskyrkogården, or Forest Cemetery.

Skogskyrkogården, 3 February 2012

The cemetery is amazing, designated as a World Heritage site for its architecture and unique setting. Many of the graves are truly in the forest. The metro actually has a stop here, so it’s easily accessible from the city for all.

As we sat in the chapel, the sun gradually brightened.  Outside, snow blanketed the peaceful forest, the huge old oaks and manicured cherry trees bowed over the graves.  I cried every time I looked at my colleague’s daughter, watching as the mourners passed, each placing a flower on the casket.

This may sound strange, but perhaps it is not:  As we walked on the snowy path to the chapel this morning, passing between grave stones, one of my colleagues commented on how much he loves the sound of walking on snow when it is so cold as it is now.  That crunch of newly fallen snow beneath my feet makes me happy too.  Everything is ephemeral.  Life is beautiful.

Trees, graves. Skogskyrkogården, 3 February 2012.

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