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OCTOBER IN NORWAY

The Annual Retreat to the Great Indoors Has Begun!

Photo by Thomas Vitali

The days shorten, the light has begun to fade and we wake up to frost each morning. As the lake that is our front yard gradually grows cooler each day, a mist hangs over the water. A picturesque warning of the season to come.

Winter is in the way, as all the signs indicate. Soon, all the great snowy panoramas and dramatic frost-bitten landscapes that the country is famous for will be on display. But nevermind all that. The really great thing is that the cozy season is upon us. And Norwegians are great at doing cozy! Here come the candles and tea lights at breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Woolen slippers go straight on as soon as you arrive at home. The heating elements built into the floors are switched on. Thick blankets and thick, patterned sweaters appear.

It is also moving toward the time of the year when people here are at their most insular. They withdraw deep into the circle of close friends and family during these colder months, cultivating shared activities and time-honored traditions that are almost ritualistic and reassuring in their predictability. There is no question that the grandmother will invite for the extended family to gather for a fårikål (mutton in cabbage stew) feast right around this time, as she always has. Or that the college roommate who annually invites all of the old gang around to eat hotdogs and reminisce about the glory days will soon send off the email where everyone on the list has to indicate the best day for them to attend. It is just about that time.

It can be a challenging season of the year for foreigners because there is no ambiguity as to where you stand during this time. You have either made or found a tight social base or you have not. And if you have not, it is easy to feel you are standing outside of everything and everyone, with your nose pressed against the glass as practically every Norwegian seems to be enjoying an endless Instagram-perfect string of dinner parties, cabin visits and cafe rounds with their extended families and besties. More than a few newcomers begin to feel homesick and isolated in the increasingly deserted streets each evening.

But with the arrival of the snow in a matter of weeks, there will be an uptick in the visible population, as you encounter Norwegians out and about in high spirits on the ski trails, at ice skating venues, etc.. At intervals, they do emerge to indulge in the physical activity that is so highly prized as a sign of moral superiority in this society.

(Julie Aagaard for Pexels)

Exercise has replaced prayer in Norway, from what I can observe. So as nice as it is indoors, the winter gear is taken on regularly and it is out into the white stuff to move around. Which usually means sliding about in some way or another. But all of that is still yet to come.

For now the transformation to winter is still underway, with tons of falling leaves in the yard, the daily sound of tractors delivering firewood to nearby homes, the increasingly regular squawking of migrating geese overhead, and neighbors drawing their boats out of the lake ahead of the freeze that will come overnight sometime in the very near future.

Yes, the light is dying and the nights are dipping below zero more and more often. But summer is a distant memory that has been replaced by vibrantly colorful leaves that paint the ground, and many other wonders of nature to behold. The trick is to enjoy the beauty of the transition that October always brings in a land where the seasons have always shaped the character of the people, and probably always will.