There’s An Island In The Baltic Sea

After a forty-five minute bus ride out of Stockholm, the road ends at Stavsnäs with a pier jutting out into the water, pointing toward an archipelago, a labyrinth of islands we’ll navigate on our way to a greeting and hospitality.  This is Tomas Tranströmer’s realm as translated into another island language by Robin Fulton, a place of sky and sea where,

The black-backed bull, the sun-captain, holds his course.

Beneath him is the water.

The world is still sleeping like a

multicolored stone in the water.

The world above and the world below share the same shades of blue, grey, and white like the inside of an oyster shell, while the shadows of forests cast themselves on waves barely rippling from island to island.  A small boat docks, and we enter, going out on an uneven surface as Tranströmer’s grandfather did in another century.

He took them out to the Baltic, through the marvelous labyrinth of

islands and waters.

And those who met on board and were carried by the same hull for a 

few hours, or days,

how much did they come to know one another?


We rock back and forth as the boat cuts easily through the blue.  This going down to the sea, then out to small rocky coasts covered with lichen and pines mirrors another sea, another groups of rocky outcroppings far south of here that Odysseus charted so many myths ago.  Smells and colors surround me, a taste on my tongue like the well-stocked food halls of Stockholm where bream and bass, sturgeon and pike, eel and mussels tumble through a hill of ice at Hötorgshallen market.

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It’s the food and cooking of place that really puts land, sea and sky into our blood and breath, and maybe for moment our chemical make-up alters to this new depth. Maybe we become a bit Baltic, carry molecules of moss and oak in our very bones. Herring in a dill mayonnaise, roasted woodcock, smoked reindeer heart.  To my land-framed eyes the boat twists and turns in no discernible pattern, but then I don’t know waves and depths, I haven’t matched a slow curve of ice and slate to a flat world of sky-blue numbers, dotted lines and sand-colored islands.


I don’t have a feel for rocks tossed about and deep beds hollowed out by the last glacier which dug its fingers deep into the land as some great force dragged it back to the north, back to Valhalla.  In the old sagas, warriors drag their long ships into cold waters, riding horses of the waves, ever sailing seaward under shadows of great white shifts, drifting off-course when winds die, founding new land–a place to settle and call home.  Swells slap against the boat bringing me back to where I am.  As Tranströmer’s words try,

The ferryboat smells of oil and something rattles all the time like an obsession.

Through it all, a particular island appears.


It’s not much, not that big given the size of the Baltic Sea–six hundred and thirty-three thousand, eight hundred and forty square miles of briny water, smell of sulfur and dank earth working its way through nostrils and mouth to fill the lungs.  And yet it’s fairly young, only coming into being some ten thousand to fifteen thousand years ago. All that water, all those years and we’re out to spend a few days on one island.


Storö floats just a few strokes and kicks from the larger Runmarö where Tranströmer vacationed.   This small, rounded islet belongs to one family who has divided its land between sons and daughters, grandsons and granddaughters.  Again the old stories come back, the many visitations of Odysseus and his sailors, many generations of islanders who welcomed them.  We’re guests and hope for hospitality.  We walk up wood stairs to a table set with champagne.


No Laestrygonians, no Cyclops, no Circe with her poisoned drink; instead a glass of sparkling wine, fermented juice of Chardonnay grapes and a shelter beneath a wide open sky amidst wild strawberries and moss carpets.  A human touch of grace.  Bon Appétit!

Memories Look At Me

A June morning, too soon to wake,

too later to fall asleep again.


I must go out–the greenery is dense

with memories, they follow me with their gaze.


They can’t be seen, they merge completely into

the background, true chameleons.


They are so close that I can hear them breathe

though the birdsong is deafening.


Tomas Tranströmer




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