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.

technicolor sun

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I hope you’re ready for a big photo post.

It’s just past midnight as I’m writing this post from my couch, looking out the window at the blue sky outside. The midnight sun continues to be disorienting; my husband pointed out that the lack of night seemed to be affecting him creatively and he’s right – we’re both night owls by nature and have a history of getting good creative work done in the wee hours. Which can go sideways when the wee hours don’t look or feel like night anymore. I think we’ll both be relieved when the sun starts to actually set again next week (the nights will still be light for several more weeks, but at least it marks the transition toward the night’s return).

The photos in this post were not taken at midnight, but rather earlier this afternoon. The weather’s been chilly and rainy since we got back to Tromsø, as it so often is at this time of year, but today we woke up to nearly cloudless blue skies and sunshine, and we hit temps around 24ºC / 75ºF (hot for Tromsø!). That’s a rarity to be taken advantage of, because in the summer when the weather’s like that, the whole world here is in technicolor. You immediately forget all about the weeks of grey weather as soon as you step outside. I decided to head out for a long walk in the afternoon to take advantage of the weather, because I always love exploring new paths and nooks and crannies of this island.

First I went up to Prestvannet, the lake on top of Tromsøya. The pictures look serene, but the racket is no joke – several species of birds nest here every spring and summer, and the noise is non-stop when the sun never sets.

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After a whole winter of seeing Tromsdalstinden covered in snow, it’s almost strange to see it with very little left.

I wandered some new forest paths…

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…and documented some wildflowers. One of my favorite things about the Norwegian summer is the wildflowers, and up north they grow like crazy due to all the daylight. It’s light and lush all at once. (I seemed to be very drawn to the purple ones today. Also, I’m no botanist, so it’s possible I’ve misidentified one or more of these.)

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I think this one’s skogstorknebb, or wood cranesbill.

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One of my very favorites: geitrams, or fireweed (or rosebay willowherb if you hail from the UK).

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Rødkløver! The red clover here is enormous and super saturated.

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I even spotted a few thistles.

While they’re not widlflowers, the lilacs bloom late here and I’ve certainly been enjoying their fragrance as I walk around town. The blooms make me think they might be dwarf lilacs, but I’m not really sure.

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I also can never resist a good dramatic patch of light coming down through the trees in the woods. It feels so inviting, cozy, and intense all at once.

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I mapped my route when I got home, and it turns out today’s walk was 8 kilometers. I think I’m going to feel it in the morning…

The rain is supposed to return next week, so I’m sure there’s some knitting on the horizon! Hoping to share some of that soon. For now, I hope you’re enjoying your summers as well. x

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summer days

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The midnight sun is disorienting. In Tromsø, the sun literally doesn’t set between May 18 and July 26 due to its location above the Arctic circle. We had many sunny (and even warm!) days in May, but once the calendar flipped over to June, the chilly clouds rolled in and we’ve seen a lot of rain. The thing about a cloudy sky when the sun never sets, though, is that midnight looks a lot like noon. Time does not exist. There have been clear pockets of weather, however, and in the evening on the summer solstice the clouds slowly dissipated and the sun came out. My friend Beth was in town for a visit and since the skies looked like they were clearing up, we decided rather spur of the moment to take the cable car up the mountain. It was still fairly cloudy while we were up there, but it was worth it. (We opted to walk home to enjoy the middle-of-the-night sunshine, and the photo above was taken at two in the morning!)

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We made it up the mountain just before midnight, and it was pretty amazing to walk around the mountaintop at that time of night. The light was constantly shifting and the reflection of the sky on the water was soft and beautiful.

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As you can see, the mountains still have some snow clinging to them, but otherwise, Tromsø is very green now. After the long winter and late spring, it seemed to happen very suddenly.

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I took Beth to the university’s botanical garden during her visit and for the first time, the little cafe that serves waffles and coffee was open while I was there (it’s always been closed on my previous visits to the garden). It was a highlight to sit outside the adorable building, surrounded by tulilps and other blooms, sipping coffee and eating Norwegian waffles. It was wonderful to see the botanical garden really coming alive again after the winter, too – in about a month I think it’s going to be spectacular.

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I’m off to Seattle for a couple weeks now, and I’m looking forward to seeing the night sky again. Stars! Remember those?

ut på tur

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Thank you all for your feedback on my last post! I’m happy to hear it seems like so many of you are interested in hearing more about wool in Norway, and I’m looking forward to sharing what I learn here on the blog. Today, though, I just have a few photos to share from a walk I took earlier this afternoon with my friend Anna. It’s the end of the semester for us, which means we’re both spending a lot of time working on papers and presentations and generally being shut up indoors with laptops and books. I like that well enough, especially when I can get into a bit of a groove, but it’s important to take proper breaks to clear one’s head, too. And Sundays are the perfect days for that, especially when the sun is shining and the temperatures are getting warmer.

Spring in Tromsø is interesting because throughout April, you have pockets of warmer days but it also still cools down regularly – enough for it to snow. There’s also still a lot of snow lying around, especially on high ground and on trails and things that aren’t plowed – our maximum snow depth this winter was just over a meter. You can imagine it takes awhile for all of that to melt away. So today we went traipsing around the northern half of the island, which I haven’t explored anywhere near as much as the southern half. It was actually quite nice to be in the snow, since it’s all melted in the city center and the roads are quite dusty. The north half of the island is less developed and there’s a lot more forests and trails, too, which meant that the sweeping views we enjoyed today were all pretty spectacular.

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Spring comes late here, but there are signs that greener times are on the way. Aside from the melting snow, I’ve seen crocuses sprouting up at the university! I’m looking forward to the leaves coming back as well.

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Looking to the south, the rest of the island of Tromsøya is visible behind the trees, as well as the mountains on the mainland (to the left) and on Kvaløya (on the right, at the back).

Could we have asked for a better day?

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While we might get a dusting of snow tonight overnight, it’s supposed to get much warmer this coming week. I’m already looking forward to the spring giving way to summer, since the summer in Norway is so absolutely magical. I feel incredibly lucky to live in this beautiful place.

april (snow) showers

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It was starting to get springlike around here – well, enough for the temps to reach near 10ºC / 50ºF with lots of sunny days, melting most of the snow. But today brought fresh snow, perfectly normal here in northern Norway at this time of year! Spring comes late. The days are growing long, though (sunset is after 8PM now) and the midnight sun will begin in mid-May. The light here is always changing and it continues to be surreally beautiful. I’m grateful for that.

It’s a bit quiet here on the blog at the moment because April also means I’m now spending a majority of my time working on my course papers, which are due in May, and I also broke my shoulder a month ago, which means I’m on a bit of a necessary break from knitting, obviously. I need a bit more sleep and I’m eating more than normal, but otherwise it hasn’t interrupted my everyday life too much – aside from the knitting. I definitely miss it at this point and I’m looking forward to when I’ll be able to pick up the needles again.

If you’ve ever had to take a break from knitting due to injury (or for any other reason), I’d love to hear about what helped the most when all you could think about was the projects you’d love to be casting on!

currently

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The daylight walks continue to be lovely. On clear days, the colors are unreal. The photo above was taken from Telegrafbukta, the park on the southwest side of Tromsøya. It continues to be one of my favorite places, and at this time of year it’s the perfect place to watch the sunset. (I also finally saw the sun again on Friday! Momentous. Glorious. The days are growing longer at a fast clip now – this is the fun part.)

School is already busy, but that’s no shocker. In my downtime I’m managing to get a bit of knitting done. I finished my Toatie Hottie (no photos yet, though) and I’ve been working on several other projects, but most of those are the kind I can’t show you yet (aka future patterns). So in lieu of that, here’s some things I’d love to be joining in on if I had the time:

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Bang Out a Sweater over at Mason Dixon Knitting – Kay and Ann are leading a KAL of Mary Jane Mucklestone‘s Stopover, a beautiful lopapeysa. Cast on is tomorrow (February 1st), and it’s probably a good thing I don’t have time to join in, because I don’t think “new lopapeysa” is really one of my pressing needs at the moment.

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I’d also love to join in on the Anna Vest KAL hosted by Fringe, starting February 15th. This is one of my favorite patterns from Farm to Needle and while I’m not sure a vest/waistcoat like this would be a perfect fit for my wardrobe, I’d still love to knit it someday (perhaps I could add sleeves, since I am in need of cardigans?). I’m really looking forward to the versions that come out of this knitalong – I’m expecting to see some cool yarn and color choices and I’ll definitely be following along on social media.

Both the Stopover and Anna Vest photos are by Kathy Cadigan.

daylight walks

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Winter is dark in Tromsø. I wrote on back on November 21st that we said goodbye to the sun that day (and then I cheated, because I wasn’t in Tromsø for the darkest four weeks of the year). Today, January 21st, is soldagen (“the sun day”), the day we welcome the sun back. All week the weather forecast for today has been cloudy, but we got lucky and the clouds stayed at bay just long enough for the sun to make its first brief appearance of the year.

Unfortunately, I was in a classroom during the few minutes it came out (the photo above was taken on Monday). I watched it happen on screen via NRK’s live feed (for the very curious, you can watch the playback here – the video is just under ten minutes). I was able to participate in other soldagen traditions, though, like eating solboller, which are sweet buns or donuts eaten on soldagen. In Tromsø the preferred type seems to be a frosted jelly-filled donut! What’s called a “solbolle” can vary from region to region. I must say, I’m in favor of holidays where it’s traditional to sit around with something warm to drink, eating donuts.

Even though I didn’t see the sun today, I’ll see it again soon enough. In the meantime, I’ve been taking lots of walks during the daylight hours. For me, the two most important ways to cope with the long hours of darkness are spending time outside during the daylight, and getting plenty of exercise. Long walks around the island during the daylight does a wonderful job of feeding two birds with one seed.

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People’s reactions when they first learn how little daylight we get at this time of year often aren’t that far from “horror-struck.” But somehow, I find it easier to really commit to darker days than to spend a winter with dark setting in at 4:00 pm all the time. I know it’s going to be dark for the vast majority of the hours in a day, so the daylight hours become precious (it’s part of why it’s so important to spend as much of the daylight outside as possible).

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The other thing, though, is that the light during the daylight is magical. It has an incredible quality. There is a time of day referred to by photographers as “golden hour” (or sometimes “magic hour”) and while without the sun I’m not sure it’s a true golden hour, it’s no secret the light at the edges of day has a special quality. The light we get here in winter? It’s like 4-5 hours of magic hour. On a cloudy day (and it seems my long walks have mostly been on cloudy days) there’s a softness cloaking everything, while on clear days, the sky turns into a giant ombre cotton candy daydream. Pair that with the snowy mountains all around, and I don’t feel sad about the darkness at all; on the contrary, I feel so lucky that this is the place I get to live and walk and breathe. And the snow makes it sound different too; the physical properties of snow make it a sound-absorber, which is why the world feels quiet when you’re out walking in a fresh snow.

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Thinking back to Tromsø when we arrived in the summer, it feels like a different planet. And while I am certainly looking forward to the days growing longer, and eventually, warmer (because the Norwegian summer is glorious), for now I am incredibly grateful for my long daylight walks through this magic winter wonderland.

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new year

It’s been a surreal start for 2016. Here’s a glimpse:

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Emma Watson started an online feminist book club (it’s called Our Shared Shelf, and you can join the group on Goodreads, if that’s at all appealing). I read most of the first book, Gloria Steinem’s My Life on the Road, on a flight to London over the weekend. My route back to Tromsø included an overnight stay in London where I got to hang out with Lydia of Pom Pom and some lovely folks at Loop. I didn’t take any pictures until the train ride to Gatwick (that always happens these days), but I had a lot of fun. I love London.

Monday morning I woke up at six (thanks, jet lag) and spent some quiet time hanging out in the tiny bed in my tiny hotel room. It was there that I learned about Bowie’s passing, via Twitter. It felt absolutely unreal, and then I was just sad. It’s still surreal.

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I finished My Life on the Road in the first hour of my flight from London to Tromsø. It was really, really excellent. I tweeted about this, and then Emma Watson replied and retweeted me (!). I’ve now had a (very) tiny glimpse of what it’s like to be a celebrity on Twitter, and I’m grateful that’s not my reality. Not only do I have a lot of respect and admiration for Emma, but she’s an actress near my age who I watched grow up on screen, so the surreal score is off the charts for seeing my tweet right there at the top of her feed.

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I’m back in snowy, dark Tromsø now and the beauty of this place at this time of year is as surreal as ever. The days have been clear since I got back and the light’s been incredible. In less surreal news, I’ve started classes for the new term and already have a stack of reading to do, but I’ve managed to get in a few stitches here and there on some small projects. I’m sensing a color theme; it might have something to do with the light outside. I love these wintry blues. Also, now that I’m thinking about it, the fern pattern and the tree motif have quite a lot in common…

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The embroidery is a kit I bought last summer at Urban Craft Uprising, from Studio MME. It’s one of those fantastic and simple little kits where the pattern is printed right on the fabric so the stitching is relatively mindless but the end result is stunning (I’m sort of halfway through, so if you look very closely you can see the difference between my stitches and the printed bit I have yet to embroider). You can find this particular kit in their online shop (although it appears that it’s now being sold with a round hoop, instead of the oval one I got). The knitting is another kit, a Toatie Hottie by Kate Davies. The pattern is for a hot water bottle cozy and the kit (not currently available in Kate’s shop) came with yarn and pattern plust a mini-hot water bottle just for that purpose. I bought the kit ages ago and have actually used the hot water bottle several times, but I’m using it more regularly in Tromsø and I thought it was about time I actually knit the thing. I managed to knit most of it in an evening, getting through the whole chart with just the top bit and ribbing left.

snow days

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It’s been snowing off and on since Tuesday; at first just a dusting, but now, in droves. There’s a substantial amount blanketing the ground outside; cars look like marshmallows. Since our first snow several weeks ago, I’ve been patiently waiting for its return (as a native North Carolinian, snow will always be pretty magical to me).

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The timing is good, because snow makes the dark season immensely more cheerful. And today, the dark season, mørketida, officially begins. November 21st marks the first day of the year in Tromsø when the sun doesn’t rise above the mountains in the south. We’ve said goodbye to the sun until January 21st! The middle hours of the day will be filled with twilight, which means that on a clear day, for a few hours the sky will be filled with the most beautiful colors – an hours-long dramatic sunrise/sunset (for it is both but neither, of course).

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Christmas lights have started going up around town, too. For an American, it can feel like holiday lights before Thanksgiving is too early – but Thanksgiving isn’t celebrated in Norway, of course, and as the sun disappears, lights around the city are a welcome sight. Tromsø’s holiday street lights are absurdly charming: garlands of evergreens strung with soft white lights framing huge red hearts. It’s hard not to love the warm glow.

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The city is also preparing its Christmas tree. This tree was brought in by helicopter just a few days ago; next weekend, the lights will be lit in a celebration. It sits in Stortorget (“the big square”) in the middle of town. I remember the tree lighting in Debrecen, so I’m looking forward to seeing the lights go on next weekend. With any luck the snow will stick around.

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If it’s cold where you are, I hope you’re keeping warm! I’ll be mostly snuggling up indoors (lovely) working on term papers (less lovely), but I’m also working on that blog post about making modifications for Aspen. It should be up soon!