The Road to Skyllberg

Elsewhere: A Journal of Place, April 26, 2020

I can picture the house where we stayed, my grandmother’s house. Painted yellow and white with steps up to the door, and a balcony above. Walking up the steps and opening the front door, the smell of wood and paint. Inside the feel of wooden floors warm and solid under my feet. The kitchen with its green painted wooden cupboards, like being in a ship’s cabin. Together around the table in the evenings eating crispbread and cheese, and boiling water in the saucepan for tea, always served in big cups with saucers, the tea light and delicate. Unwrapping the tea bags and trying not to let the paper get wet. Sitting on the wooden bench at the table, darkness falling and a lantern in the window. The feeling of being away from home, everything is cosy. I plead to be allowed to sleep in the little wooden trundle bed that is made up downstairs so that I can hang on to the feeling of being in a story; and so I become Heidi, tucked up in the little attic room, far away in the mountains. 

Sometimes unexpectedly, the feel and smell of a Swedish summer day will appear from nowhere. In this landscape, with its red-painted wooden houses, its forests and lakes, wildflowers and meadows, I spent long summers. It is a place I have never lived but that I visited frequently as a child, my mother’s hometown of Askersund, at the top of Lake Vättern. 

It is a place I associate with a feeling of space, and of openness. This feeling I have framed, from a trip back to Sweden, in the archipelago where we walked. The road ahead bridges, stretching out into the seemingly unending blue horizon. 

For me, this place will always recall the sense of time and of space I felt there, of the hours spent riding my bike and the sense of freedom it gave me; something like the allure of childhood memory and its summer skies. I think of time outside by the lake, and long summer nights. The rocks covered in moss, and adventures outside; the forests like a picture book. Arriving in Sweden, it is the rocks I look for first – those great expansive rocks which seem to be everywhere. Gathering blueberries in the forest, which tasted so fresh and alive. And the time we picked wild mushrooms and cooked them, the most delicious thing I had ever tasted. Swimming in the lake and walking to the harbour in the town to look at the boats. If you continue walking, you can cross the bridge out to the island. 

There is a peacefulness and gentleness to the forest, the suggestion that there might be places to get lost in, and places where people have never set foot; but it is not a place to feel afraid in. The feel of a world co-existing and of non-human habitation. The forest provides a refuge for all kinds of creatures, not often seen by human eyes; even quite large animals like the mysterious and majestic elks. I am entranced by the lily pads, and the tiny frogs that can be found everywhere along the ground, that are given life in the picture books we read together; for the small creatures have as much value as the larger and more powerful ones. In these books there are trolls, the kind of trolls who watch over and protect the forest and its inhabitants. To look around the landscape, it seems to make sense that they are there, in the skies, the rocks, and trees; in all the hidden places of the forest. They are caught up in my mother’s journeys to England and in the stories of her childhood growing up on the farm. Her artist’s eye for detail, finding magic in the everyday. 

On a trip back to Sweden, we stay in a house in the forest and it rains for a week. I am looking for summers spent by the lake, the boats and the harbour; the light which brings openness and a sense of space. Every day we drive past and see the sign enticing, as divergences often are. From the house in the forest, we turn off the road and find a hidden valley and meadowland, fresh and bright after the rainfall; wildflowers growing by the side of the road. 

The road to Skyllberg is the turning we take off the main road on the last day of our trip. Not just a location on the map, but a symbol, found somewhere between the past and present. Each recall of memory is like a draft worked over and over. Each time I want to recreate the moment when we turn the corner and find the lake hidden behind trees. 

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