Summer sojourn with snakes and slugs

I’ve been trying to partake in Swedish summer, which is difficult for several reasons, but the biggest is that it’s not really warm. (!)

We’ve had a bit of rain and cool temperatures for the past few weeks. Occasionally the sun shines and the temperatures hit the 70s F/low 20s C. But then it will thunderstorm, or clouds will roll in, the temperatures will drop into the 60s F/teens C, and I and all the other foreigners living here start to shiver and complain.

Really, if you are Swedish, the non-summer-like weather probably doesn’t stop you. They are all tanned, despite this damp. And the answer as to why is that Swedes are accustomed to this. They’ve grown up in it.

And when I say “in it,” I mean really in it, existing outside in this kind of weather, every day from childhood. My friend American friend J was here in town a few weeks ago, the height of Swedish summer, with her Swedish husband and their little boy who is about to enter kindergarten in the US. They had found a Nordic dayschool, where the languages are Swedish, Norwegian and Finnish, and the dress code requires that the kids have proper gear for the weather. She could only find it here in Sweden at Polarn O. Pyret (something like “Friends and Tiny Tots”).

The afternoon before they left for home, J and her family stopped at PO.P to buy the company’s typical all-weather gear built for little kids. Just take a look at their “Fireman Rain Pants” or fisherman’s suspenders for rain (http://www.polarnopyretusa.com/CAMPRAIN): these kids are prepared. I bet you can’t even get something like this in rainy Seattle.

Yes, that beach is on Gotland, in Sweden... and that water is COLD.

Yes, that beach is on Gotland, in Sweden… and that water is COLD.

In hopes of attaining that Swedish summer spirit, I’ve jumped into the Baltic from a beach in Stockholm, an island in the Stockholm Archipelago, and a sandy beach on Gotland. It was so cold, every single time: chest-clenching, feet-freezing, bitterly cold. I managed to get my head underwater each time anyway. On the second outing, I thought for sure I would have a heart attack just meters offshore of the island and be unable to clamber out onto the rocks. Of course, with a thunderstorm nearby, a kind Swedish soul thought he had to warn us how dangerous it is to swim with lightning strikes so close. Screw the lightning, I felt like telling him, the cold was going to kill me first!

I shouldn’t joke about hypothermia, but my word, it’s times like these that I wonder why Swedes stay so far north in Sweden. I have still managed to go running in windows of sunshine here, wearing shorts and a t-shirt no less. But it’s just like winter — you have to go outside as soon as you see that the sun is shining.

Live slug, running shoe.

Live slug, running shoe.

And whether on foot or by bike, I have to watch for slugs. The slimy little buggers have been everywhere, a bumper crop this wet summer; I pulled some off of a friend’s strawberry patch one evening — the sticky slime stayed on my fingers after three handwashings. Even so, I swerve to avoid them on my bike, and have stopped to examine with revolted interest the exploded slugs, squashed by a cyclist or pedestrian, their inner guts hanging out on the damp tarmac.

Matt looking for a swimming snake offshore of Fårö

Matt looking for a swimming snake offshore of Fårö

But the weirdest thing about this summer, perhaps, is that I’ve been on the lookout for swimming snakes. This is the first summer that I figured out snakes swim here in the water. I am pretty sure they are harmless, but wow, my hackles went up when I saw one off of a pier on disembarking from the ferry to Landsort. Since then, I saw several swimming offshore of Gotland’s northern island Fårö (translation: “sheep island,” which was Ingrid Bergman’s home), at the amazing Larhammars beach. While I watched these snakes for a while in both places, to see if they would hunt a fish, no luck yet.

Instead, I’ve had fish nibble on my feet, where I went swimming off the island. The tiny baitfish swarmed as I stepped off the ladder at the end of the dock. Even more reason to get out of the cold, cold water quickly. And perhaps make plans to spend part of next summer somewhere else, say, the Mediterranean.

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