America’s Little Sweden

America’s Little Sweden

I live in “America’s Little Sweden.” Incorporated in 1894, Lindstrom was first settled by a man named Daniel Lindstrom — he left his homeland of Sweden for the prospect of a new start on American soil in 1853.  The water tower is an enormous coffee pot, Dala horses abound, and the Swedish flag is flown with pride.  People know how to make Lefse, drink Glogg and some even enjoy eating Lutefisk.  There is a sister city in Sweden: Tingsryd.  You can almost feel the commitment to heritage and the deep bond that gets passed on through families in the air around here, which in modern culture is so often lost. I am not Swedish, though my father’s side did come from Norway, so there’s a little Nordic blood running through me.  At any rate, I can appreciate the sense of belonging to a place that keeps this community’s Nordic roots nourished.

Right now in America’s Little Sweden the season is changing.  In this part of the world, October means that fall is here and summer is over.  Leaves are turning crispy and the air is either dry or punctuated by the chilly dampness of autumn rain.  It’s windy, and after a season of heat, coolness is starting to creep back into the daily experience.  The landscape around my little community is a mess of yellow and burnt orange with a backdrop of light blue sky and indigo water.

Eva and I went for a hike at a local nature preserve over the weekend, one that is home to huge basswoods, maples and oaks spread throughout 100+ acres.   I got a good workout hauling a 35 pounds of small child on my back, and when I needed a break, Eva had a great time playing in fallen leaves and using her hiking stick to navigate the trails on her own.  This particular forest is always quite lovely, but in mid October it is astonishingly gorgeous.  Everything looks like it’s glowing.

Some of the trees are upwards of 150 years old and seem to keep watch over this preserve, this place that has been set aside to embody the concept of the park’s name sake.  Allemanstratt, in Swedish, means “all men’s right”– in Scandinavia there’s a concept that we could all do well to embrace: Allowing people the freedom to roam. This concept takes the view that all people should be able to freely access wilderness and reap the benefits that come from doing so regularly, as long as it is done with respect for the land and others, without harming the natural environment.

In this particular preserve, there are earthen berms and ravines and valleys scattered throughout the trail system, and on this particular hike, all we could see in the distance were blazing maple leaves set against an impossibly blue sky and the occasional flutter of newly falling leaves.  We were completely surrounded by the energy of the season: beauty at its peak and extra reason to celebrate the natural wonder that still graces our community.

Sometimes I wonder what it will take to get our culture to truly embrace values like the ones that seem to have gotten left behind when people crossed the ocean to the promised land —  the values that informed the indigenous people who already lived here; being part of nature, rather than separate from it and living with the land, rather than considering it something to be owned and used for human gain.  The cliché American dream doesn’t leave much room for a quiet walk through some woods that have no chance of clearing a profit.

I can only hope that those old world values that did make it over the ocean all those years ago and still pepper the energy of this community (and so many others across the globe)can provide little bits of space that keep opportunities to witness the beauty of the earth’s cycles alive and growing.  Perhaps the new American dream will include the freedom to roam.

  • ThePeaceful Listener

    I hope so too! Love the bit about “mess of yellow and burnt orange.” I currently live in a suburb, because that is where my husband and I can find work. I can walk to a trail and drive to places where there is hiking and more nature. But it’s not enough. I feel like I’m biding my time and living by the “American Dream” rules so that one day I will be free to live in nature. But what if that day never comes? What if it takes NOT living by the rules to really live in communion with nature? Or how do we CHANGE the rules of the American Dream?

    • Heidi Barr

      I think the key is not living by the rules. Frankly, our culture needs new rules that set people up for success and joy not the ones we currently tend to live by, which encourage longing and anxiety. Easier typed than done, of course.