I was born and raised in Sweden, and every year the girls and I go back there to visit family and old friends. This year was no exception and we’ve spent the past few weeks immersing ourselves in Scandinavia’s amazing outdoor culture, also known as “friluftsliv”.
One of the cornerstones of this culture is Sweden’s unique right to public access (Allemansrätten), which means that woodlands, pastures, lakes, and other natural areas in the countryside can be used by everybody, without asking permission from the landowner. As long as you follow two simple guidelines – don’t disturb, don’t destroy – you can hike, bike, ski and in some cases ride a horse through private land. Assuming that you stick to certain rules and don’t get too close to people’s homes, you can even pitch a tent and have a campfire on private land. Although I realize how crazy this may sound to somebody who hasn’t grown up with these laws, Allemansrätten is deeply embedded in the culture and rarely leads to conflicts between landowners and users.
Another right that is clearly protected by Allemansrätten is foraging for mushrooms, berries and other wild edibles on private land. It’s also a little bit of a national pastime, and something that the girls have enjoyed many times while visiting Sweden. This time, I suggested that they thread the berries on a blade of grass to make a “berry kebab,” and they were immediately intrigued.
The kids each grabbed a container to collect their berries in, and then we all started walking down a small dirt road that leads to the woods near my sister’s house. Our timing was right – thanks to an unusually warm spring and early summer, blueberries, wild strawberries and raspberries had all matured roughly at the same time, and now lined the side of the road. The kids were quickly engrossed by the task, running from one plant to another, meticulously scouring them for ripe goodies and shoving just as many berries in their mouths as they were actually putting in the containers. Before we headed back to the house, they each picked out a blade of grass for their berries.
If picking the berries required fine motor skills, threading them on a blade of grass really put them to the test. The Little Naturalist (3) got off to a good start but needed some assistance to get hers finished, whereas the Big Naturalist (6) and my nephew (7) proudly completed theirs without help. After all that hard work the Big Naturalist was generous enough to give hers away. And believe me – to be on the receiving end of a berry kebab is a real treat!
All in all, I’m pretty sure it was an experience that will stay with them for a while. At least it seems like the simplest outdoor activities are the ones that stand out the most from my own childhood. Maybe because they are usually things that us kids did by ourselves, without adult supervision or intervention.
Foraging for the berries is of course part of the fun, but hard to do if you don’t have access to public areas where wild berries grow and can be legally picked. If that’s the case, try bringing the kids to a U-pick orchard or farmers’ market – those are also wonderful places to make summertime memories that will last a lifetime!