Finding a Natural Rhythm, Sweden Style

1 October 2019

I roll in and out of the shadows lining the rugged path. A tricky mix of gravel and giant rock chunks makes it seem like my tires are rolling over ball bearings instead of solid ground. After a couple of close calls, I resign myself to the fact that it’s better not to brake at all. Barely in control of my less-than-trusty steed — a three-speed mint green clunker with pedal brakes and no shocks — I smile, tilt my head back, laugh out loud, let it all go, and drop fully into the moment. My biggest goal: stay upright.

Sweden invites people to be completely present in the moment. © Chris Kassar

I am transported back to second grade. Each day after school, my eight-year-old self pedaled the quiet neighborhood streets for hours, alone or as part of a group of tiny people, on a sparkly purple hand-me- down cruiser too big for my body. Today (35 years later), as I cruise through the Swedish countryside feeling the sun kiss my skin and craning my neck to see the treetops dancing in the wind, there is, just like back then, no destination, no rush, no finish line, no expectation, no performance goals. Only joy.

Five days ago, I arrived in Sweden to take part in a Pre-Summit Adventure hosted by Marianne Jordvi of Hotel Sommarhagen in the southern part of the country. From our very first jaunt through nature, I noticed that instead of focusing on how far or fast we traveled, we moved deliberately, slowly, becoming part of the landscape and not merely moving through it. This made all the difference. it didn’t take long before I matched the cadence of the country and sank into its — and my — natural rhythm.

One night while cooking around the campfire, Marianne explained, “As Swedes, nature is in our DNA. Children learn early on in school that we have to respect nature, to take care of it. Nature is our temple. It is like religion.”

Sweden’s policy of public access — where everyone may roam freely in nature, if they adhere to the rule of “don’t disturb, don’t destroy” — is perhaps the most obvious example of how ingrained the importance of and connection to nature is, and always has been, within the culture. Everything we do on this adventure reflects this idea. We follow in the footsteps of those who came before us: drinking directly from the lake, catching fish, picking lingonberries, and foraging for mushrooms, all of which we cook on an open fire.

People are encouraged to connect and discover as they explore Sweden's natural landscape. @ Chris Kassar

Marianne bases her experience on simple pleasures where there is very little separation between us and nature. “Even as a little girl, nature was critical to my growth and discovery,” she said. “Anytime I needed to rejuvenate or figure something out, I went to the forest — to nature — to heal, to breathe, to find space.” After traveling the globe as an international project manager for years, Marianne realized people across the world also yearn for the chance to connect with nature. She returned home, bought Sommarhagen, and turned it into a retreat where others could do just that.

I am proof she has succeeded in creating refuge. Here, we are not kept busy. In fact, we are gifted space to relax and reconnect with ourselves and each other. Amid this space, conversations go deeper. Our group, strangers just days ago, dives into how we in the adventure travel industry can address climate change and overtourism. We discuss the future of travel. We don’t come up with definitive solutions, but we agree that travel like this, steeped in love and connection, is the way forward.

One morning, I wake before everyone else. I slink out of the glass house, where I watched the full moon rise from my cozy bed the night before, and head down to explore the lake.

The Swedish love for nature is rooted deep in its culture. © Chris Kassar

Step, sink, step, sink. A bed of soft mossy green squishes beneath my feet. It’s decorated with crunchy light green antler-shaped lichen and lingonberry flowers turning to fruit. One fireweed flower — a splash of brilliant magenta — hides on the shores of the crystal blue lake. Tree branches wave in the wind, leaves trembling delicately.

My shoulders drop further from my ears, my breath comes freely. I pause for a talk with the lake. Sun touches my skin, wind tosses my hair, breezes dance across the water. The dappled lake glistens.

For the first time in a long while, I am not checking out, I’m checking in.