Sweden, Dressed in Summer

We’ve shown you Sweden in snow. Now see it in bloom.,

The World Through a Lens

Sweden, Dressed in Summer

We’ve shown you Sweden in snow. Now see it in bloom.

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For as long as I can remember, the forests, lakes and mountains of my native Sweden have been my refuge. Half of the photos from my childhood depict me with an armful of wildflowers or a bucket brimming with — not to mention my face covered with the juices of — blueberries.

After moving abroad with my family at the age of 10 and adopting an ever more nomadic lifestyle as an adult — in the last decade I’ve worked primarily in Africa and Asia, usually without a permanent base — I have developed the happy knack of feeling at ease wherever I find myself, almost regardless of the circumstances.

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A young brown bear looks around for its mother and siblings. In Sweden, bears are best seen from cabin-like hides; often hunted, they tend to keep their distance from people.

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Lingonberries, seen here, along with blueberries, cloudberries and forest strawberries, are among the most popular wild berries to pick — which anyone is at liberty to do.

Still, all energy reserves eventually run out. When they do, this is where I turn.

The moment my bags hit the floor, my hiking boots come on. I’ll meander aimlessly for hours, with a basket for mushrooms or berries if the season is right. I rarely bring a camera, and my wife knows not to worry, regardless of how long I stay out.

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Camping in the Stockholm archipelago — an easy way to social distance during a pandemic.

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In northern Sweden, autumn arrives early. In some areas, leaves turn yellow, orange and red as early as August.

Lately — especially during the last year, for reasons no longer necessary to explain — I have begun to explore the natural world I grew up in more earnestly, partly to understand why it comforts me so much and partly because I suspected there was far more to be seen and experienced than I had gotten around to in the past.

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The aurora borealis, also known as northern lights, can be seen from late August until April.

Much of what I was to discover came about simply by my being more present, more curious. Living at the edge of a forest, I would sometimes see a fox cross the road or a deer grazing on a meadow. Now, I started paying more attention to where I had seen them, often spending hours sitting motionless in wait.

I learned that there was a fox den less than half a mile from our front door, and that a beaver would swim past my favorite cliff at the nearby lake every evening.

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A fortuitous encounter with a fox cub led me to spend countless summer evenings trying to get close to the animals, with very mixed results. (I never minded the long waits.)

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A pair of nesting great gray owls look in on their young near Skinnskatteberg, in central Sweden.

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A roe deer pops its head up in a field a few hundred meters from our small cottage near Stockholm.

Soon realizing that this would only get me so far, however, I reached out to those already in touch with the Swedish wilderness. A friend of many years, Marcus Eldh, a nature guide and the founder of a tour company called WildSweden, took me along for what remains perhaps the most magical moment of my life: sitting at the edge of a lake, surrounded by a forest and the semidarkness of Swedish summer, listening to the howling of wolves just a few hundred meters away. They knew we were there, of course, but chose to remain nearby, making this auditory encounter one entirely on their terms.

Listen to a pack of howling wolves

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Lakeside forest camping: about as Swedish as it gets.

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Deep in wolf territory, after hours of silence, the howling suddenly began, coming from both sides of the lake. There is little reason to fear wolves in Sweden; the last recorded human fatality caused by a wild wolf was more than 200 years ago. But it is a thrilling and humbling experience to know that they’re out there.

Seeing some of Sweden’s elusive mega fauna — a far cry from my more typical experiences in Africa — was exhilarating.

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The moose is perhaps Sweden’s best known — and probably more awkward-looking — large mammal.

But there were other worlds to discover, too.

Professional forest biologists, as well as enthusiastic amateurs, showed me scenes best viewed through a magnifying glass: tiny lichens, mosses and fungi that I still overlook if I don’t know exactly where to turn my gaze.

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Linda Nordstrom examines a piece of wood for tiny lichen and fungi. Many such species are listed as threatened, and multiple finds in one location might lead to a forest being protected.

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A miniature moss forest in Tiveden National Park.

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The closer you look, the more fascinating mushrooms become.

Sebastian Kirppu, one of Sweden’s top surveyors of forest biodiversity, taught me about the life cycles of trees and forest ecosystems. Making friends among the Sami, an Indigenous people who live mainly in the northern reaches of Sweden, Norway, Finland and Russia, brought me into contact with an understanding of nature that includes ancestry, interconnectedness and a fiercely strong sense of belonging.

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Sweden’s reindeer are not wild. Though they roam freely for much of the year, all of them are owned by members of the Indigenous Sami community.

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A red squirrel feasting on an acorn.

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Watching the action around this nest of swallows under the roof overhang of a local restaurant was a real hoot, especially when the chicks began to look much too big for it. One day, inevitably, they were gone.

As I explained in my photo essay about Swedish winter, I soon understood that things were far from ideal in what I had previously believed to be a largely untouched wilderness. Despite the extensive and expensive public relations campaigns run by Sweden’s forestry industry, it became very apparent that we are in real danger of losing our last old-growth forests through a process of clear-cutting and monoculture plantations. A curtain was pulled aside, as it were, and my feelings about the nature-loving country of my birth are now far more muddled.

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Sweden logs about 1 percent of its forests every year, replacing complex ecosystems with monoculture plantations. Here, around 120 acres of forest had been clear-cut by Sveaskog, a state-owned company, in the northern province of Norrbotten.

Does it seem absurd if I claim to be as grateful for this insight as I am to have been introduced to the fascinating beauty of microscopic fungi? Well, I am. Ignorance might be bliss up to a point, but it rarely resolve existential threats.

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With around 100,000 lakes, as well as two expansive archipelagoes, Sweden is a great place for canoe and kayaking trips.

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A quiet, windless night near midsummer. Darkness never truly arrives, a strange feeling for those who aren’t used to it.

There is a Swedish word — “hemmablind,” or home-blind — that I think is particularly relevant today, given our reduced ability to travel. We often overlook that which is close to home. We travel abroad to experience the exotic, just as we donate money to support faraway causes.

But venturing beyond our borders needn’t come at the expense of appreciating our immediate surroundings. Wherever home is, it undoubtedly offers much to appreciate and experience — as well as plenty to fight for.

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The island of Gotland in the Baltic Sea was where my mother was born, where we spent the summers as I grew up and where my grandfather lies buried.

Marcus Westberg is a photographer and writer who focuses primarily on conservation and development issues in sub-Saharan Africa. You can follow his work on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.

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