Spring has been so late in arriving after the long hard winter. Not that I'm complaining really, I'm all for a long hard winter. It's how I grew up. But still, it felt a mite miraculous to drive out of the city, into rolling hills and past a long thin lake, and further, to the pop star's country house.
Oh, the green - when the tree doctor came to look at the trees, he told us that the grass had grown six inches in a week - and the lilacs, as late as I've ever seen them, lining the country lane and making me think of my mother, who come spring always had a vase of lilacs on the kitchen table in an old jade-colored ceramic pitcher from the thirties.
So the pop star drove her rider mower madly about the lawn, like a cowboy, like some vision out of the American suburbs I grew up in - the grass was more than a foot high. While I made rhubarb cream - which is just stewed rhubarb with a bit of sugar and a pinch of potato starch to thicken it - one of those beloved Swedish treats that you serve warm with milk poured over it, a reminder of how poor the country was until relatively recent (and how hard it is to grow anything up here in the far north - you get far enough north and there are no fruit trees, so strawberries, raspberries and rhubarb are about all you've got to work with.)
Then we walked down the road, past the peculiar Scottish cows with their wooly hides and broad faces and curly horns, and turned down a path.
"This is what I wanted to show you," said the pop star. "This tree is a thousand years old, the oldest one around. Can you believe it? It's beautiful!"
Apparently everyone around knew about the thousand-year-old oak. (Just think, it was around when the Vikings were still rampaging, and Sweden was still a century away from official christianization.) A fairly large branch - as big as a tree itself - had fallen not so long ago, but otherwise it looked fairly healthy. The four of us - me, the husband, the pop star and the girl from L.A. - tried to reach around the tree, holding hands, but it was too big.
"Look up," said the girl from L.A., gazing into the branches above us. "it is beautiful, really, really."
The Swedish word for the day is ek. It means oak.