on seasons

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A bit related to my post on darkness: today I’m thinking about seasons.

For awhile now I’ve found it curious how so much our modern (western) society chooses to strictly adhere to the astronomical seasons as the only true definition of “season” (that is to say, the idea that each solstice or equinox marks the first day of a new season). As if seasons have borders. The winter solstice is December 22 this year, but does that mean that December 21 is “technically” still autumn? Plenty of people would say yes to that question, but for any of us who live in a climate where it’s been snowing already, that actually makes zero sense. Autumn one day, winter the next? (Maybe so, but that day came weeks ago here.) Perhaps printed calendars have something to do with it, but the older I get the more bizarre I find it, all the same.

In some ways I feel like social media has amplified this effect in my own life – many of the people I follow, and I myself, often post about the changing seasons at the solstices and equinox. (See a few of my old examples here and here) But the more I see posts about how it’s not “technically” some season yet but it sure feels like it is, the less relevant this strict adherence to astronomical seasons feels. So I guess I’ve been craving something different. Does it “sure feel like winter”? Cool, sounds like it’s winter to me.

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There are, both today and historically, different ways to define or conceptualize a season. Many places have or have had only two seasons: either a summer/winter dichotomy, or in more tropical regions, a wet season and a dry season. The Nordic countries are one of the regions that historically only distinguished between winter and summer – which makes the idea that Midsummer happens around the summer solstice make much more sense. I’m sure there must be others, but that’s the example I’m most familiar with.

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Even in four-season models, there are different boundaries for the four seasons. I’ve already mentioned the astronomical sense, where the seasons begin on the corresponding solstice or equinox. But do you know about meteorological seasons? Professional meteorologists in many regions use these definitions, and they correspond very neatly to three-month chunks: with winter beginning December 1, spring on March 1, summer on June 1, and autumn on September 1 (this is vindication for all you autumn-lovers out there who consider it autumn once the calendar hits September – remember this piece of information and you can use it next time someone tries to tell you “but it’s no technically autumn until September 21/22”).

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There are systems with six seasons, systems that pay no mind to the calendar at all but rather correspond to temperature or other natural or ecological cues, and other ways of marking seasons that you’ve probably never even considered. The “Season” Wikipedia page actually has a lot of interesting information about all of this, if you find all of this as fascinating or as liberating as I do to learn about.

It goes without saying that I speak from my own perspective as someone who grew up and has always lived in the northern hemisphere, so the dates here correspond to that. The photos in this post are all from 2015-2017, when we were living in Tromsø (which is probably the place where I started to disengage from the supremacy of astronomical seasons, because they made so little sense there beyond the summer/winter distinction).

peak fall

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I think Trondheim finally hit peak fall color in the past week (yes, I know, I am still talking about autumn, but I just can’t get over how long and slow it is here!). But on Tuesday a serious windstorm blew through and knocked down quite a few of the leaves. I have a few snaps from the weekend and the past few days, though, that show some of the beautiful golden color I’ve been surrounded by lately. Luckily, there are still a few leaves still hanging on even after the windstorm, though these photos are all from beforehand.

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I’ve also finished a few knitting projects lately. Both the No Frills I mentioned in my last post, as well as the Featherweight Cardigan you can see in this one, and I also finished up a new design. We got to take some pattern photos last weekend, pre-windstorm, and it was nice to take advantage of the fall colors both on the trees and blanketing the ground. These mitts are for a pattern that will be called Oak Hollow, about which more soon.

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If it’s fall in your part of the world, I hope you’re getting the chance to soak up some color. The autumn gold that’s ubiquitous in Norway always makes me feel like I’m in Lothlorien (especially if it’s a birch grove), and I love it so much.

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transitions

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Trondheim in the autumn continues to charm. I’m starting to adjust to the general level of busy-ness that my life here is going to involve, but it’s definitely been a big shift for me. Partly that’s because I’m still working on some patterns in the background along with my new day job at the university; partly it’s because my PhD coursework has started as well and my to-do list is growing longer; and partly it’s because we’ve still been living in temporary accommodations and it can be a challenge to get into routines when there are things about your living situation you can’t change. But we’ll be moving into our new long-term home in November, and I’m really looking forward to that.

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While we wait for that, though, the weather continues to shift. The leaves are changing, but we still haven’t reached peak color yet. We had a couple of weeks of solid rain in the middle of the month before the sun came back out last week. I was in Kraków for a conference the tail end of last week and over the weekend, and I got home to Trondheim last night after dark. This morning I woke up to much cooler weather than we had last week (a few degrees above 0°C) and saw that the higher peaks in Bymarka (which are still relatively low) had a dusting of snow on them. The mountains across the fjord, as well. Now it well and truly feels like Norwegian autumn. I love Norway at this time of year, and I still can’t get over how much longer and slower the autumn is here in Trondheim compared with up north in Tromsø. This city is truly beautiful in its fall colors.

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One of the things the weather’s change has brought on is a mild panic over the fact that I don’t have that many warm clothes in my suitcases with me (the rest of our clothes are packed away with the belongings we moved from Montreal – patiently waiting in storage for us to move into our new place in November). I feel like I haven’t had much time for knitting recently, but now I’m determined to knit a little more and a little faster, if I can. I have two sweaters which are only missing sleeves, so I feel like with some concentrated knitting time in the evenings I could finish this No Frills sweater by next weekend.

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I don’t usually knit the same pattern over and over, but this will be my third No Frills (or Ingen dikkedarer as it’s known in Scandinavia), and I’m approaching this one a little differently than my first two. I’ll elaborate more on that when it’s finished, perhaps, because each of them is different and brings something unique to my wardrobe even as they all feel like everyday staples. I adore this color, a limited edition colorway of Hillesvåg Tinde made for Drople Design called Villbringebær (“wild raspberry”). It’s a color I fell head over heels in love with when Anne first launched it over a year ago and I’m so thrilled to finally be knitting a garment with it.

So I’ve been enjoying knitting on this sweater very much, even if it’s felt like slow going. Knitting on a wooly sweater goes so well with changing colors, chilly rainy days, and the smell of woodsmoke in the air, after all. I’ve been getting into the spirit of autumn in other ways too. Some of the local apples have been wonderful recently, and the other week I baked a fyriskaka (a Swedish apple cake with cardamom) from Fika, which is one of my favorite bakes for this time of year. I also received a massive bag of little plums from a friend at work – the plum tree in her garden went crazy this year, it seems – and I managed to turn some of those into a few jars of pickled plums and roasted plum butter. I’ve been enjoying the plum butter on toast or lomper in the mornings for breakfast. (We’ll see about the pickles, which were more of an experiment.)

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I’ve also been getting out for long walks or little hikes whenever possible. Now that I’ve seen that the snow is encroaching on the mountains in Bymarka, I’d like to get in a short hike in the next week or two to soak up the season. I always enjoy walking by the water as well. I’m always drawn to the water like a magnet – the smell of saltwater was another thing I missed so much in Montreal. The Trondheim Fjord can feel so much like Puget Sound in Washington state, a similarity I really enjoy.

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Of course there are challenges that come with this transitional season (both of the year but also of our lives), but overall we have fallen in love with this city, and I was so happy to come home to it after a weekend away. I can’t help but feel incredibly lucky that we get to live here. Vi trives godt her i Trondheim.

september

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The semester started, and things got busy. There were a couple of weeks where there was suddenly a lot to do – campus was full of people again, my PhD to-do list grew rapidly, we moved apartments (from one temporary place to another, for now), and there was plenty outside of all of that to keep us busy too. There wasn’t a lot of knitting during those weeks, but we’re starting to settle in now a little bit. And I have managed to finish a project or two.

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One of them is my Granskog tee which I finished a couple of weeks ago! Sadly I did not make it to Oslo Knitting Festival this year – this pattern was designed by Renata Yerkes for this year’s festival magazine – but I know I’ll make it back at some point. I made a few minor modifications to mine, which can be found on my Ravelry project page along with yarn info and other details. While I love the bright green color of this yarn from Sjølingstad Uldvarefabrik, I initially wasn’t totally sure if I was going to be able to pull it off. But I quite like it! This is the fourth green garment I’ve finished this year, so 2019 definitely seems to be the year of the green sweater for me.

I’ve gotten to wear it several times, which I’m grateful for, because the weather is starting to feel distinctly autumnal in Trondheim (although I can’t get over how much later autumn comes here compared with Tromsø) and I’m realizing how many of my warmer sweaters are going to be in storage until November, when we’ll be moving into our new long-term home. Warmer projects are quickly going to become a priority.

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For now, though, I’m continuing to enjoy the shift in the seasons in a new place again. As the evenings grow darker earlier, I’m looking forward to the peak of autumn foliage (only a few trees have started changing so far), and a part of me is really looking forward to the Norwegian winter again (although I’m glad it’s still a couple of months away). There is nothing quite like a Norwegian landscape covered in snow in the blue light that comes with the dark season.

love letter to norway

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I’m just back from a 10-day trip to Norway. I mentioned in my last post that Norway had been on my mind lately, and thinking ahead to this trip is part of why. It was the first trip back since my husband and I moved away a year ago, and we visited three cities spanning the country on this trip (Tromsø, where we lived for two years, Trondheim, and Oslo). There was so much to enjoy, and I did my best to soak it all up.

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I love this time of year in Norway – early September in northern Norway means the birches are just beginning to turn golden, and the cool air was a respite after the grueling hot summer Montreal has had. We were extremely lucky with the weather, and enjoyed clear skies for most of our trip, and even got to wave hello at the northern lights again in Tromsø (I have missed the northern lights).

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In Trondheim, the maples were beginning to turn orange and red, which made my heart very happy. I hadn’t spent much time in Trondheim before, but it is a charming little city.

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And in Oslo, I walked some of my favorite oft-trodden paths. I’m incredibly fond of the little wooded paths southwest of Frognerparken, called Skøyenparken. Even though most of the leaves were still green on the trees and flowers were still in bloom around the city, here you could see that fall is coming.

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The trip left me with a lot to think about – and for me, ten days isn’t nearly enough for a trip to Norway anymore (especially when divided between three cities). It was lovely to visit old haunts, see old friends, hear and speak Norwegian again instead of French. But I’m also glad to be back home in my own apartment now, ready to dive into work for this fall after a very busy August. There’s a lot of exciting stuff on the horizon and I’m looking forward to sharing it with you. I hope that you’re having a good September wherever you are.

a rhinebeck weekend

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This time a week ago I was at my very first Rhinebeck. I took the train back to Montreal last Monday, a journey which is much longer than it seems like it should be (nine hours!), but I’m glad I had a little bit of time to myself to decompress after a whirlwind weekend before diving back into real life. What a wonderful weekend it was.

I’ve wanted to write about it, but how is it possible to say everything I want to say about the weekend? While I enjoyed the festival itself, it was truly the magical combination of the festival, the fall colors and atmosphere, and especially the presence of a huge number of friends I don’t get to see very often that made the weekend what it was.

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It’s admittedly a little strange to finally attend an event you’ve known about and watched others go to for years and years. There can be a lot of expectation tied up in the experience – is it is good as everyone says it is? Will I see everything I want to see? Do the apple cider donuts live up to the hype? (For the record, they do.) I think that for me, this trip came at exactly the right moment. I have been treading water a little bit since I left Norway and came to Montreal, trying to work out exactly who I am in this new city. Perhaps that sounds silly – I’m still me, after all – but I had become so accustomed to how I defined myself and presented myself to the world with Norway as a backdrop, that removing that backdrop and replacing it with something else left me feeling a little uncertain. Big moves and transitional periods don’t always allow for a lot of self reflection in the moment, it turns out. It’s after the fact that you realize there’s something different about the person looking back at you in the mirror and you haven’t figured out exactly what it is yet.

So it was wonderful to have a new experience that made me feel very much like me, getting to spend time with friends I haven’t seen since last year’s Oslo Strikkefestival, or Edinburgh Yarn Fest 2016, or friends I’d never met in person but I’ve known a long time. This wooly knitting industry is overall a very warm and supportive place to be, and I am so glad for all of the people I get to call friends within it.

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I saw a lot of wonderful stuff last weekend. I fell in love with a number of yarns, but mostly stuck to my plan to buy one sweater’s quantity as a souvenir (a few extra skeins came home with me, since Harrisville did a beautiful limited edition run of an irresistible blue). I was taking mental notes, though, checking out yarns I might want to try out in the future. I fell pretty hard for the naturally-dyed hues of Tidal Yarns‘s Romney wool, pictured below, and her booth was a reminder of why shows like this are so special – she doesn’t sell her yarns online at all, but she does do around 15 shows a year.

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In the end, I didn’t end up with a Rhinebeck sweater. I had been knitting away on my Circlet Shrug for a month and I got very close to finishing it – I was two cable repeats away from finishing the back. But with the weather in the 70s (fahrenheit), it worked out okay in the end. I finished knitting it on Wednesday, and will block it and seam the sides soon.. I did enjoy checking out the sweaters of those dedicated knitters (and crocheters) who wore their completed garments even in the heat. I also enjoyed checking out the animals.

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How could you not?

I came home feeling refreshed, motivated, and creatively inspired. Thank you, New York Sheep & Wool, and thank you to everyone who made this weekend so special.

nordland rundt

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I’m recently back from a whirlwind trip around Nordland, the Norwegian fylke (county) just to the south of Troms, the county where I live. We’ve had some dear friends visiting from the states, and it seemed like a great opportunity to get ourselves off the beaten track and show our friends a nice cross-section of northern Norway. We were lucky to have some very nice weather and the autumn colors were pretty spectacular, all of which we got to enjoy from planes, trains, and automobiles – and on foot too, of course.

Nordland is long and narrow from north to south (the mainland part is so narrow that one of its larger fjords, Tysfjord, ends just 6km from the Swedish border), but it’s also home to the famous Lofoten archipelago. The Arctic Circle also cuts through Nordland. We began our journey with a train ride from Bodø to Mo i Rana (after flying to Bodø – there’s no train that goes to Tromsø)*, where we rented a car and started heading north. We stayed somewhere new each night and the drives were short, which meant there was time for long pit stops or detours depending on how we were feeling each day – it’s an approach I can highly recommend. A few highlights:

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The flight! Flying over northern Norway on a clear day is always a special treat. Tromsø to Bodø is just a quick 45-minute hop.

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Saltfjellet is incredibly unique. The area surrounding this mountain range is all national park, and I’m so glad we got to spend some time here. Going north meant a stop at the bizarre gift shop at Polarsirkelsenteret (situated at the Arctic Circle) before we made it to our lodgings for the night, the charming Saltfjellet Hotell Polarsirkelen (which has a great big common room that’s lovely for knitting or reading, for the record). The hotel is surrounded by nature, and it’s a short walk from the Lønsdal train station if you don’t have a car. This area is incredible for hiking, and the colors are just beautiful in autumn (I feel very lucky that we got to see it like this – as the woman at the hotel said, “one windy night and it’s all gone!”).

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Saltstraumen has one of the strongest tidal currents in the world, and I’ve been looking forward to seeing it in person for a long time. We arrived at just the right time, as the tide was changing, and the speed of the water and the meandering whirlpools were difficult to wrap my head around. We also got to see some “Saltstraumen safari” boats zig zag and run circles across the water. We stayed a night here at a rental cabin, but on the quiter side of the water at Saltstraumen Brygge (on the peninsula just to the south of the strait – that was our view in the photo directly above).

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Visiting the former mining town of Sulitjelma tucked into the inland mountains on a lake is an experience I’m unlikely to forget. We weren’t able to walk through the mine museum, but as mining was an active industry here until 1991, the traces were easy to see.

And one last highlight: we took a Hurtigruten boat from Svolvær back to Tromsø, and were blessed with clear weather and some very active northern lights that night. Unfortunately, a moving boat + long exposures don’t make for the best photos, so I left my camera in the cabin.

Aside from the stops, the drives themselves were just beautiful. It’s hard not to love long drives down tree-lined roads at this time of year, especially when the pit stops are also beautiful.

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If I haven’t convinced you that a road trip through Nordland in autumn is worth it, Van over at Snow in Tromsø went on a road trip through Nordland last October and shared a photo essay on her blog. Since she was there a few weeks later in the year than my trip, the mountains all have a lovely dusting of snow.

* After having watched Nordlandsbanen minutt for minutt (the slow TV program produced by Norwegian national broadcaster NRK that documents the train journey from Trondheim to Bodø) multiple times, I was really excited to spend three hours on the northern end of the route. Someday we’ll do the whole thing. The full journey is 10 hours – I often put it on TV in the background when I’m working, as it’s relatively meditative background nosie – and you can check it out here (for free) on the NRK website if you’re interested.

first days of september

Yesterday evening the weather was good and I got to take a nice long walk around Tromsøya (I hope you all enjoy these posts about my walks around Tromsø, because they’re often the highlights of my weeks). I know many of you are trying your best to hang on to what’s left of summer, but here in the Arctic, fall is truly beginning (and I have to admit I’m quite happy about it). Autumn is a special time in Tromsø. The transitional seasons are short here (snow in September is not unheard of), but somehow that makes the way they mark the passage of time even more special to me. Ephemeral joys, and all that.

I love the life cycle of the fireweed. Five weeks ago it was in full bloom, and while there are a few stubborn blossoms still clinging to their stems, now most of the plants have lost their flowers and opened up their seed capsules (I love the silky hairs of the seeds). And in fall, the green leaves turn a vibrant red-orange. Many of the fireweed plants have turned already.

The leaves on the birches and the rowans have started changing, too. There’s still a lot of green – in some places the change is overall and subtle, and in others great tufts of leaves have changed at once. In a few weeks everything will be golden and red.

Autumn means a return to the most beautiful light. During the midnight sun, the light can be very mundane – the most beautiful time of day to see the sky is the middle of the night, when the sun is low in the sky (and if it’s overcast, the sky is just the same all the time). There are no sunsets. I’m so, so excited to have proper sunsets again, because the sky here is so incredible.

And of course, with sunsets comes a dark night sky again – the return of stars, and the return of one of my favorite things, the northern lights. The sky was clear enough on Friday to see them, even if they weren’t very strong.

So I’m quite content to welcome autumn with open arms. Bring on the changing leaves, the northern lights, and the stars. I’ll keep walking with my camera, the closest thing to bringing you along with me.

a year in tromsø

The anniversary marking my first year in Tromsø has come and gone – I arrived on August 2nd, 2015, and this year on that date I found myself back at the airport as I embarked on a quick trip to Canada. The past few weeks have been a bit crazy and intense but I’m back in my cozy apartment now and have a moment to reflect before diving headfirst into my second year as a graduate student here (hello, thesis; let’s get acquainted, shall we?).

Living abroad for extended periods of time is a curious experience, sometimes exciting and invigorating and other times isolating and deflating. I’ve had the incredible privelege of spending long stretches of time abroad before, and each experience is different. Norway has presented us with both incredible experiences as well as unique and frustrating challenges. But at the end of the day I usually feel very lucky to be living in this littly city in the Arctic, and as I’ve said before on this blog, one of my favorite things about being here is documenting the changing landscape around me through the seasons’ changes.

I’ve shared many, many photos of Tromsø on my Instagram account over the past year, and sometimes I have little videos to share too. What started as a whim – collecting little snippets of autumn into one video – turned into a four-part series of snippets of Tromsø in each season. I thought it would be fun to share those videos all in one place. (If for any reason the embedded Instagram videos below aren’t showing up for you, they’re also collected under the Instagram hashtag #ayearintromsø and can be viewed there.)

Autumn and winter are shorter, because Instagram’s limit for video was 15 seconds when they were posted, but I was able to be more indulgent with spring and summer.

I also enjoy revisiting photos of the same places in different times of year, and I think that our iconic peak, Tromsdalstinden (known colloquially as just “tinden,” or “the peak”) is a perfect example. On the top is a photo from February, and below, one from last month. Both photos are taken from Prestvannet, the lake on top of the island. I love seeing the lake frozen over and covered in snow in winter (with ski tracks!), while it forms a glassy mirror of sorts in the summer.

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I must admit, looking back through photos from the past year has gotten me more than a little bit excited for the arrival of autumn… the midnight sun has ended, the nights are growing darker, and soon this whole landscape will change yet again. September will bring visiting friends, and it’s always nice to have things to look forward to.

autumn days

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If October was “focused” last time I wrote, it got busy. Very busy. The last two weeks of October were my absolute busiest so far, and I’m hoping that the frenzied pace peaked with the two presentations I gave last Friday and I’m on the descent side of the slope now.

In between and around a bunch of schoolwork and an extra three-day course I took (focused!), I’ve continued to enjoy life in Tromsø.

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I made pickles for the first time. I used the light pickling solution from The New Nordic and these were a delight (that’s radishes on the left and onions on the right). One of the bonuses of living in Norway is that I can basically find any of the ingredients used in that cookbook. I also made some fancy cookies which I can’t show you yet, but more on those later (edit: the piece went live, so now I CAN link you to those fancy cookies!).

I collected a few short video snippets I’ve been taking over the last couple of months into one video. It’s just snippets, but for the curious, here’s a glimpse of autumn in Tromsø:

Mørketida, which I mentioned in my last post, draws ever nearer (or is already upon us, depending on how you look at it). Daylight Savings Time ended here on October 25th, which very suddenly made the days feel much shorter. The sun set today at 2:30 in the afternoon and it’s really not long now before the sun disappears for the winter. One thing that makes the dark easier to cope with, though, is the northern lights that visit us when the weather’s clear. I don’t get tired of watching them from my living room window. I love how they often look like twisting green flames coming from behind the mountains to the east.

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Another thing that makes it easier to cope is snow. About a week ago we had our first snow in the city. It started snowing on the 26th and by the morning of the 27th there were several inches on the ground. It stuck around for a few days before mostly melting away, but man, it was beautiful. From what I’ve heard, the snow-melt-snow-melt cycle is pretty common here, but after Christmas the snow is more likely to stick around (and it also starts to get lighter again, so that’s when skiing season really begins).

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This city is absolutely charming covered in snow. It’s such a treat to see my daily landscape transform so dramatically. The university campus, too, looks a little bit more magical in the snow.

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So between the northern lights, the dramatic skies, and the snow, I think I’m going to get by okay during the dark season.