Dispatch from the Flatlands

Dearest friends,

It’s finally time for an update. This time it is dispatched not from the tree line, but from the forest’s edge on the plains of Uppland. As many of you know, we’ve now moved back down south and relocated to the Uppsalian countryside, to the very house where Isak grew up. (And given the outbreak of the Coronavirus, we’ll likely be spending a lot of time out here rather than in town!) All of us are very happy to have Maj as our next door neighbor, not least Embla, who is exceptionally enthusiastic about having another co-walker. Thanks to Embla – thanks to her stubborn insistence on exploring – we’ve all discovered parts of the forests and fields that we never knew about here in Vänge. She helps us see that there are adventures to be had, even in the flatlands.

Isak has now embarked on his latest adventure into the murky waters of academia, working towards a PhD on how we might make rapid transitons to fossil-free energy systems.  He seems to enjoy it –  and he’s put up pictures of the Livsätra river in his office as emotional support.

As usual I am dabbling in various projects. Hopefully some of them will take on sufficient shape to share in more detail soon (spoiler alert: one of them is a podcast). I’m continuing to work with communication for universities, with a few fun projects lined up this year (although we’ll see how they pan out, given the new situation). And the writing continues, at the moment in the form of another creative writing course.

We miss waking up to the heather, the brook and the mountains. But there has been frost for Embla’s morning back rubs in the grass, the tawny owl hangs around in the evenings, the woodpecker comes around in the morning, we’ve seen the swans and geese overhead. There are elm trees, apple trees and sometimes sun. There are forests between the clear cuts where the moss is deep and wild boars roam, and even the local moose deign to show themselves on occasion. Even as we find ourselves in more domestic surroundings, the search continues; for the hidden time in between times, for the cracks in the firmament, and for the unexpected that plays in the corner of your eye.

Since we’ve been appallingly inconsistent in writing for this blog, I thought it might be nice to share some of the things I have been writing. Here’s a short fiction piece I wrote for one of my classes. I hope you enjoy.

Best greetings from us,

Ingrid, Isak & Embla





I shifted on the wooden bench, its straight back making it impossible to sit comfortably. Light filtered down through the arched windows, illuminating specks of dust as they drifted through the air. I noticed I had been holding my breath and exhaled suddenly, sending the dust particles tumbling into new, unknowable patterns.

I felt Jo’s hot whisper in my ear, “It’s about to start!” Each breathless word tickled the hairs on my neck.

“Yes, I can see that,” I said.

“Shhh!!” Her wide eyes were fixed on the dais at the front.

How could I have agreed to this? To come here – of all places? Jo had made it seem like a spontaneous idea, like something she’d thought up in the excitement of the moment. It was dawning on me that she’d probably planned it from the very beginning.

“Jo, please let’s not do this–” I started in a last desperate attempt, but then it was already too late. The organist had entered from a hidden side door and the hushed nave fell into complete silence. The man was dressed entirely in black, and gave a quick bow before sitting down at the instrument. Quickly, much too quickly, he struck the first chord.

Instantly the space was reverberating with the sound of reed pipes. Trills pierced the air. Oh god, I thought, it’s Bach. I knew then I would not be able to resist. The opening lines were mercifully gentle, their plaintive notes simple and almost solitary. I set my jaw and told myself I would just observe. I would simply watch the music from the outside.

Next to me Jo was already staring transfixed at the stained glass window above the organ – its colored glass probably spinning in kaleidoscopic visions – her well-shaped mouth slightly open, eyes glazed and wide with wonder.

The movement was picking up its pace. Melodies in counterpoint threw themselves into cascading rivers. I could feel myself at the edge, slipping. I pinched my eyes shut, but that only made the notes penetrate even deeper. The melodies began to work their way in and out of me, moving into fleshy depths and hard bone. The high flute pipes drummed their frequencies into my ribs and collarbone, while the coarse reed bass made the blood in my abdomen throb in a heavy pulse. Too much, it was too much…

I opened my eyes and tipped my head backward hoping for some respite, but instead I was swallowed by the gaping darkness where the cathedral ceiling should have been. The stone pillars stretched up into the dusk, into infinity. There was nothing there to keep this all in, and at any moment we would be gliding into that black hole – we were drifting already.

I forced my eyes back down to the organ. The fugue had begun. The man in black was playing vigorously, his hands and feet working in a feverish dance with some dark creature, a terrible dance. With a shudder I saw that this was not an organ at all. It was a monster of pipes towering above us, ready to devour me. Its shining limbs of steel were shafts for spearing human souls, the relentless pounding of pedals making pulp of human hearts. The deepest tones wound themselves into a blanket of thick chords which enveloped me, wrapping itself around me until I couldn’t breathe. The gargoyles high above laughed and sneered as I gasped for air. I had to leave, but I was paralyzed and could only cast about helplessly with my eyes.

I caught the gaze of St. Michael from where he stood perched high in an alcove on one wall, looking down on me with pity. Please Michael, I cried silently, for the air was already entirely saturated with with sound. Dark blotches began to cloud my vision. Please – help me!


And then – silence. Blessed silence.


Except it wasn’t silence. What was it? The music was still there, still playing, but without the sound. I blinked and realized I was floating in the air, high above the pews. I looked down and could see the top of Jo’s flaming red hair, and next to her… next to her was me, dirty sand-colored hair and all, slumped against the back of the wooden pew.

I lifted my gaze and saw I was level with the stained glass window. Concentric circles of colored glass spiraled inward towards a crucified Christ. The soundless music was still playing. How could I hear it? I tried to move my arms and legs to float closer to the organ, but realized that I didn’t have any; I was body-less. What was I now, without my body? I must still be a mind. A soul? I willed myself closer to the instrument and instantly floated forward, towards the steel flutes.

The music washed over me, soundlessly. I could feel its waves, its undulations and movements. I caught the joy of a high trill, the senseless audacity of a deep triplet. The music surged onward, its frequencies splitting the air into a thousand plateaus, each with infinite possibilities for exploration. Following the bold flight of one melody, I found it opened out onto countless others, each moving in streams that poured into every opening, crack and fissure of space.

I moved through the ripples and flutters, sensing them from the inside and outside at the same time, feeling the pulsating lines intermingling and coalescing, until I, too, was a wave. As soon as I felt it, I knew it had always been that way – and that nothing could be truer.

I blinked in amazement, but then remembered that I didn’t have a body – how could I possibly be blinking? I blinked again, and when I opened my eyes I saw the tattered Book of Psalms resting on the ledge in front of me, while men and women in their black and brown overcoats rose from their pews to shuffle out down the aisle.


I turned to look at Jo.

“Did you see the colors, Sam?” she half whispered. Her eyes were glittering green and bright, and the clear sheen of gathering teardrops coated their surface.

“I…” Images of colored glass and steel played at the corner of my vision, but they shrank away like darkness caught out at dawn. A surging wave was settling, but I felt it would ripple into infinity.

“Yes…” I said, “I think I did.”

She smiled and I brushed away a tear as it slipped down her cheek.

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