Linda’s father lives in Småland, literally meaning “small lands” – not because things are tiny here, but it was historically made up of several smaller, independent lands. Småland is a very special place. Swedes tend to have a very idyllic perception of Småland. It is indeed dotted with tiny villages made up of white-trimmed red houses accompanied by barns, workshops and guest houses.
Or perhaps it is the botanical wanderings of Karl von Linné, who catalogued thousands of species in Sweden, who hailed from the Småland village of Älmhult. (Also the home of the founder of the swedish megachain IKEA.) Or perhaps it’s the inspirational stories of Sweden’s national hero, Astrid Lindgren, set within the Småland landscape where she grew up. Whatever the case may be, it lives up to expectations. You can’t throw a mossy, lichen-covered stone here without splashing in a flower-lined lake or stream. Vitsippor is in full effect here making it hard to not fall in love with Swedish Spring.
Despite being hit hard with emigration in the 19th century – Småland was the largest exporter of Swedes to the U.S., most notably Minnesota – 21st century Småland has managed to attract our family to it. It all started with Linda’s brother’s family. They left the bustling city life of Stockholm behind and headed to an area where they could make a name for themselves. He is now a well-known Swedish photographer and his wife a publisher and graphic designer. Their move to the deep forest was soon followed by Linda’s sister. Wanting to live closer to his family and grandchildren, their father left his successful job of over 20 years managing Stockholm’s water facility to eventually find and rejuvenate Dunsjömåla. His coworkers thought he was going crazy, or having a mid-life crisis.
Now we have moved our family here to try to make our life here in the up-and-coming coastal region of Småland, completing the circle . This extends from Västervik in the north to Kalmar in the south. Her family all huddles around Oskarshamn, which is right in the middle. This region seems to be in a battle with tradition, complacency and entrepreneurship. Many businesses have closed and moved to other areas of Sweden over the last decades and some towns, especially smaller ones, rely mostly on tourism to fill the fiscal void. But Kalmar has attracted a growing university (Linneaus Universität) and Västervik has marketed itself as a hip, entrepreneurial town while Oskarshamn is struggling with its identity.
Family is just one many reasons we emigrated from the U.S. Dunsjömåla, right now anyways, is the center of this for us. Its a lovely estate in the forest, accessible only by several kilometers of dirt road. It’s not an estate in the sense I think of estates in the U.S. – a stately mansion, or a farm – though it does have a barn and is about the right size of property (not land). But it is a set of buildings on a property in a very rural setting. These typically get their own name. In fact the address to get here is just the name of the estate, no street number… and no street.
The name comes from “dun”, “sjö” and “måla” or “down lake place”; that is feather down, not the direction, by the way. Måla is a very specific place name to Småland, it directly translates to a “target”, like a destination, but måla also means to paint something. Like many words in many languages, the same word can have very different meanings depending on its context. This small lake has an outlet to a larger lake just a small row downstream. We’ve already explored the small, rocky island with a rowboat. Upstream leads to an old mill at a small waterfall with a few class 2 rapids. There are more than 5,000 lakes in Småland alone, so chances are you’ll live within walking distance to one. Of course, walking distance to a swede could be a few kilometers.
After leaving his job and purchasing Dunsjömåla, Linda’s father spent 8 months working on the property while looking for a new job. The labor of love really shows here. It is absolutely perfect. There are no small projects that still need to be worked on, just maintenance and the constant gathering of more wood to dry for next year’s winter. There is no water heater, if we want a warm shower we must start the wood burner early and patiently feed the fire until the temperature reaches about 40C. There should be enough hot water for a few “military showers” after that.
The main house itself, though, only has 1 bedroom so we sleep in a loft above the workshop barn. There is an insulated room with 2 beds, where the kids sleep. We sleep outside their door in a loft area where the only barrier between us and the forested world outside is about an inch of wood and some roof tiles. Yes, it’s cold but we got a cozy bed with thick down blankets, so it’s actually not too bad, much like camping. And besides, there is nothing as refreshing as waking up at 5am to full light and the morning chatter of dozens of bird species in ~0C freshly-breathed oxygen from the effectively infinite number of pines, oaks and birches.
Swedish words of the day: Skogen (skoog-en) – the forest, Våren (vor-en) – Spring, Logen (Lohg-en), barn.
* All photos by Linda Zelnio. Map created from wikipedia images.