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As Far North as I’ve ever been

August 23, 2016

swedish rainbow

Just before we reached our final destination, I saw the best defined rainbow I’ve ever seen in my life.  And given that I’ve lived twenty years in Ireland – that’s some accomplishment.  Thank you Sweden.

This picture is not that rainbow.  This just a file photo of a rainbow in Sweden.  I don’t take pictures really, because it’s not a skill I really possess, and I respect those who really do possess it.  The real rainbow was better than the rainbow in the picture, but the picture of the real rainbow that I would have taken would not have looked as nice as this more professional picture of a lesser rainbow.

The rainbow itself formed the culmination of one of the longer train journeys I can remember, from Göthenburg to Falun – changing at Örebro.   And the journey from start to finish was all about mountains and umlauts and lakes, oh my – mountains and umlauts and lakes.  At Falun, we discovered that we are staying in what seems to be an off season ski lodge.  The view outside the window is dominated by an almighty ski jump which looks rather ominous in green summer weather.  In fact it looks more like some kind of very invasive and threatening mining operation (indeed, copper mining was for many years, the defining principle and purpose of Falun).   But this is in fact a ski jump:


Again, this is not my photo.  But yes it looks like that.

Even the hotel has a ski-jumpy shape built into its design.


I will not be ski jumping this morning, but walking with the boy and meditating.   One thing this trip will have done for us is to reassess our sense of North.  We might just have flown further north than this on our way to Canada, but we’ve never trod on ground this far north.  Neither have most Canadians.  And although this is “Northern Sweden” from the point of view of where most Swedes live, it’s still only about half way up a rather large country.

And I remember Alexander Pope’s lines from Essay on Man

Ask where’s the North? at York, ’tis on the Tweed;
In Scotland, at the Orcades; and there,
At Greenland, Zembla, or the Lord knows where:
No creature owns it in the first degree,
But thinks his neighbour farther gone than he!
Ev’n those who dwell beneath its very zone,
Or never feel the rage, or never own;
What happier natures shrink at with affright,
The hard inhabitant contends is right.


Pope is using “North” as a metaphor for vice, a way of saying that relativism ensures that everybody flatters their own vices by means of comparison.   I should say that I’m not getting any sense of accelerating vice, only a sense that “North” has just been pushed a bit further “North”.  As my limited and parochial experience gradually advances – so “North” retreats just a bit.



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  1. I am going to Sweden in December. A little worried that it will be dark most of the day…

  2. Yes. Yes it will be.

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