Spring is coming. Allegedly. Right now, it feels like the worst winter I ever experienced in California: cold rain whipping against the windows, clouds so thick and so gray for so long you start to forget the sky was ever blue. In the interest of my own sanity, I thought I'd look for some proof of past springs here in the wild north.

Almost three years ago, Jonathan and I took a weekend trip to the historic old town of Fredrikstad, about an hour south of Oslo by train. As you can see, it was a bright, sunny day. (Proof!) A tourist's Scandinavian delight.


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The Gamlebyen (Old Town) is the center of a fortress and has been impressively preserved. Rather than taking a small ferry across the river from the train station (couldn't find the docks!), we braved traffic and walked across the long, modern bridge. Soon enough, we were passing through the 16th century stone main gate and onto the cobbled streets of old Fredrikstad.

We started with a light lunch. More specifically: I saw towers of plump, frosted, cream-filled pastries and flung myself at the counter, pressed to the glass like a starfish. Jonathan had a bowl of stew, which, three years later, he still thinks about. Fuel for a day of pure tourism.


Saturday loppemarkeds (flea markets) are very common in this part of the world. They range in size and scope, but I'll never forget this first one. Among the junk and jokes were so many treasures. Everything passed along. History, heartbreak, Christmas dinners, christenings, well-thumbed books, including a Norwegian edition of one of my favorite Nancy Drews!


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Love was in the air, too. We happened upon a wedding in the ancient chapel, having followed the sound of church bells ringing in the steeple. A crowd surrounded the happy couple (so blonde and tall and strong-browed and shining, they looked like a pair answering a Hollywood casting call for "Norwegian-types").

Several of the men wore black, wool knickers and tall socks with red tassels at the knee. Their ladies swished across the green lawns in long, dark skirts. Bright bits of silver--buttons and delicate chains and intricate hook-eye fasteners--flashed in the sunlight. They wore embroidered caps and puffed, white sleeves. At the time, I wondered whether these costumed folks were performers of some kind, there to entertain with song and dance at the reception. In actuality, they were family. It was my first glimpse of Norwegian bunad. Who knew it would one day feel familiar?



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The museum at Fredrikstad was fun, if small. I preferred the many cannons defending the fort from, well, a Danish invasion or a Swedish invasion or, ya know, another Danish invasion. Very intimidating.


Flipping through these photos has served its purpose. Under the cold, saturated ground in my neighborhood are the inklings of flowers. Against the weight of the water and cold, the inevitability of the seasons will ignite there around where the seeds lie. They will burn with life; they will rage upward. Tulips. Daises. Pansies. Roses. Lilacs.

My first spring in Norway, we visited Fredrikstad. I wore a yellow sweater and a smile. Summer seemed endless then. I remember the feeling. When the flowers bloom this year, I will drink in their colors and scents, their power, and appreciate them in a more immediate way. Not the smallest seed will I take for granted.

To spring...