40 Pools

Celebrating a Big Birthday with 40 Swims

Not a Pool: Siljan

on September 2, 2015

postcard: Hälsning från Siljansnäs

Swedish swims #2 and #3 were in Lake Siljan, the heart of Sweden’s heartland, Dalarna. The country’s seventh-largest lake, Siljan is a vision in blue surrounded by red houses, purple roads, golden fields, and green hills, punctuated by flowery maypoles and flag poles with blue and yellow streamers, and known for craftsmen who carve and paint those iconic Swedish horses. It’s both simple and stunning. In high school, I spent a summer in the idyllic lakeside town of Siljansnäs, so returning here took me even farther down memory lane. Everything was just as I remembered, except perhaps the trees being a little bigger.

tree-covered island off SiljansnasA three-hour train ride northwest from Stockholm whisked me into this beautiful countryside for the weekend. I slipped back into life in the same house I’d stayed in 27 years ago, now occupied by my host family’s youngest daughter and her wonderful husband, daughters, and dog. “My” room had a view of the lake just down the way out the back.

The rest of the family is scattered around the small town, and after dinner one night the middle sister, her two boys, and I made for the lake. Everyone had been complaining that there’d only been about five days of summer–or was it three?–so a post-downpour clearing was excuse enough to go out, never mind the chilly air.

We rolled down a dirt road to a wooded beach at the east side of town and plunged in. The water was comfortable, and the sinking sun made long shadows and dark reflections. An island in the sun a couple hundred yards off shore was all the motivation I needed for a quick out-and-back swim.

the twins and I

Geese (upper right) kept us away one night, but they were gone when I returned on my own.

The next night, I walked down the street to a boat launch. We’d thought about swimming there the night before, but it was full of geese who didn’t seem to want company. They were gone by the second night, so I had the water all to myself–and once again I headed for an island. The water was quite shallow, so reeds brushed up against me most of the way. The shallowness explains something I’ve seen in the winter, namely, drivers taking a shortcut across the ice!

Looking back at the town from the water was the opposite of the postcard view I’ve seen so many times: blue expanse in the foreground, then fields dotted by red houses with white trim, trees, church, and hill rising in the distance. (Perhaps I should apologize here for the lack of pictures owing to my camera giving up the ghost on day 2 in Stockholm, and thank those who kindly shared their images with me.)

Both of these swims took place in a relatively tiny pocket of the lake created by the näs–“nose,” or isthmus–sticking into the big, irregularly shaped lake. It’s wonderful to be able to simply walk down the street and hop in, and to know that miles and miles more of lake are there for the swimming. It’s not quite right to say that Swedes take access to nature for granted. Rather, it’s unfathomable to them that they wouldn’t have it. The Swedish tradition of allemansrätt gives all comers access to almost all the land and the water in the country for reasonable recreational use. In other words, of course you can walk down the street and hop in the lake on a beautiful summer evening!

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