A very short fictional story about the first encounter with nature, the outdoors and how we respond to taking part of it.
Coming from a family rooted in the city, I never did get to experience the outdoors as a child. My father was a lawyer at a semi-prestigious firm and my mother worked as a software tester at a company who made printers. My grandparents lived far away, in Spain, which was exotic and hot, but offered us little more than a few weeks of lasting tan after the summer vacation. It’s actually neither here nor there, but it made me all the more excited when the car finally pulled up to my friend Oskar’s summer cabin.
It was an exceptionally dry summer that year. In Sweden it’s rare to get even a week without rain, let alone a whole month. Yet the grass crunched softly under our feet as we stepped out of the car. It was just the three of us that time. Me, Oskar and Ingrid. Oskar and Ingrid had both been there before and started unpacking the trunk while I took in the scene. The tall pine trees looming over the hill down to the lake where the skiff lay face down next to the jetty. The cabin itself was modest. On a small plateau it stood looking over the scene, old and a little bent. The paint on the walls was dry to the point of crackled. Inside, the furnishing invoked a feeling of conscious unassertiveness, as if to make a point of proud self-restraint with its lack of cushioning and excessive decoration. Scraggly wooden chairs and a remodeled attic with rows of foldable metal beds made for guests. Everyone who came here was a guest, said Oskar.
They had spent many summer evenings here, all of the guests that came over the years. Some could sing, some could play the harmonica or guitar, especially in front of the fireplace. Everyone could drink. The sun sets late and rises early during the Swedish summer. So did the guests. So would we. We clothed ourselves in flannel shirts and knitted sweaters and unassuming t-shirts jeans that must have been there for at least fifteen years, too comfortable in where we were to be able to live in the clothes we arrived with. They were of the city, not of the outdoors.
The water level of the lake was low, and we had to wade out far with the skiff before we could jump in. Being me, I didn’t have any rubber boots to bring along, but I couldn’t care less. I left my sneakers back at the jetty and by the end of those days my feet would be hardened and calloused. The fish managed to escape us but it was never about catching something. It was about not noticing how hungry we were until we got back to the cabin and hearing nothing but the waves slapping lazily against the side of the boat.
Three sundrenched days, miles away from the closest town, feasting on wild mushrooms and whisky and fire and treks through the surrounding area and excursions on the lake. Different islands greeted us each day. We never mapped them in any way, didn’t leave no trace of our stay. Timeless and constant. On the fourth morning the arid atmosphere felt pressed and thick, and soon enough it was not arid anymore. The rain poured down as if its sole purpose was to drown out everything below the plateau with the cabin. We sat for hours in silence on the porch under shelter. Ingrid was usually quite talkative but that day even she just sat in awe watching the understated yet powerful display that nature put on just for us. Oskar was the one who finally broke the spell which had us in its hold. He rose from the faded blue garden chair and went out into the soaked yard. He started picking flowers. For ten minutes we watched him scout his own feet, reach down and pluck living things out of the ground. When he finally stopped, he came back, himself soaking wet, and tied what he had gathered into a wreath which he crowned Ingrid with.
That night we all fell asleep to the sound of rain thudding on the roof and against the windows, and I cannot remember feeling so calm and sleeping so deep and sincerely before or since.
On the fifth day we cleaned out the cabin, packing the car with things we did not bring to it. My first time there would be the last time someone ever was. It seemed sad, and fitting, that the beginning of what would become me was something I never since have been able to find again. My first encounter with what nature and the outdoors has to offer.