In former times summer was a frantically busy time for the inhabitants of these northern climes. It was the time when massive effort was expended to grow, gather and store enough food supplies for the long cold months ahead – food for not just humans, but for animals too, the cows that would provide milk and cheese, the sheep that would supply wool and meat, the chickens that would provide eggs and an occasional Sunday roast.
This is the season for crop farming. If we drive the few kilometres to the edge of town we find ourselves immediately surrounded by fields of ripening wheat and oats. Bits of forest stand dark between the fields, a reminder of the reality that if left to itself Sweden would soon be overgrown with firs and birches and pines and beeches. But the fields now changing from green to golden are what fills me with wonder as I see the extraordinary productivity of land which for a large part of the year lies dead and grey. Further south, in the massive region of Skåne, the “breadbasket of Sweden,” there are not even the forest glades to interrupt the fields of grain stretching as far as the eye can see. Of course, as you travel north the wheatfields diminish, but there the meadows of grass are busily being mowed and baled.
In modern times summer has become instead a season for resting, for holidays. I understand that every Swede has a “right” to holidays in the summer. I’m not sure if farmers claim this right, but in the cities it is almost as if the nation has closed for business. Even hospitals reduce their activities for three whole months, June, July and August.
Yet a visit to IKEA on any summer day, rain, hail or shine, makes one realise that not everyone is on the beach or flying out to Thailand or the Greek islands. The carpark is packed with vehicles and trailers. It is the high season too for DIY shops, as every one rushes to buy timber for their new verandah, or garden shed, or the thousand and one things that every home needs for running repairs. There is a frenzy of activity even for city dwellers in the summer, as people move to new homes, redecorate, renovate, extend. Not to mention the garden. There is amazing pressure to get everything in order before the darkness and the coldness returns. Holidays are spent fixing and reorganising as much as resting.
Perhaps things have not really changed that much since former times. Even if our physical survival is not so dependent on frenzied farming, our psychological and emotional comfort, even survival, during the winter ahead, is dependent on feverish refurbishing…