there are places that summon us. they are remote, barely accessible, far from the comforts of the mainland.
every year, they beckon for our return.
and so we travel to the north.
that’s where the summerhouse is, sitting on an island that faces the skagerak.
there’s an enormous sky, which for most of the year is crowded with the constellations at night, with meteor showers and the occasional passing of an airliner, but during the summer, the daylight never really disappears. one barely sees the stars.
instead, the nighttime sky simply glows, like burning embers. the sunsets merge with the sunrises. you can follow the twilight as it moves from the northwest to the northeast, its edges bleeding beyond the silhouette of the tree-covered hills.
from the dock, i could gaze at the sky for the rest of my days.
that’s what compels me to return.
when we arrive by boat, an unfancied six-person boat with an outboard motor, one of the first things we do is raise the family flag: a light blue pennant emblazoned with the word “BIRGIDA” in all caps, for which the island is named.
the flag tells our neighbors across the water that we’re home. they’ll see it through their binoculars, so they’ll know that they are welcome to stop by for coffee or whiskey.
should we leave the house for brief trips, then we raise a different pennant that let’s them know that they’re we’re around, but just not at the moment.
when hosting a party, we raise yet another flag - the same one that’s used for national holidays and sundays - the traditional rectangular norwegian flag.
everyone who has a house here uses the same system. that’s how we communicate and keep an eye out for each other. it’s far more efficient than cell phones, emails or tweets. there is no internet out here.
not far from the summerhouse is an oyster bed. it’s about three hundred meters from the coast. you turn off the boat’s engine, then quietly lower yourself into the brackish water of the channel. at low tide, it will still reach your neck. at your feet, you’ll find the oysters: beautiful ostrea edulis, hearty and sublime to the taste. we use our hands to scoop them up, as many as we need, then we sail back to the summerhouse.
there used to be a wooden footbridge to the larger island behind the house. storms have washed it out so many times that it was no longer worth replacing, so now we use the canoes to get across the water. or swim.
on the larger island, there’s an abandoned apple orchard. it takes about thirty minutes to walk there, through old growth pine trees. after it rains, you can find mushrooms: occasionally chanterelles, sometimes porcini.
there are also blueberries growing wild in the forest. we compete with the sparrows, the redwings, wrens and foxes to pick them first.
swallows live by the boathouse, underneath the eaves. they’re house martins, actually. they return every year to start a new family. my mother recognizes one of them that’s been coming back for well over a decade. she’s convinced it’s her younger sister, who died many years back.
we worry that one day we won’t see them anymore, that we’ll come back one summer, but the house martins won’t. they’re precious to us.
it could also be the other way around. the birds keep coming back, but we don’t.
would they notice?
the house would remain. the summer skies wouldn’t change, and the water would still echo off the granite shores and wooden dock.
the house martins would still fly high at night in a twilight that never ends.