I live on top of a mountain. It might only be 200 feet high, but from its rocky summit my owl-like gaze takes in a 360-degree sweep of land and water. Up here I can feel the wind brush my cheeks as it rattles the leaves of a small rowan laden with berries. Down below, I watch passenger ferries ply the narrow fjord on their way across the Baltic Sea to Finland.
Stockholm: a cityscape of medieval rooftops, church spires, and modern apartment and office blocks; and yet a city of over a million people that hasn’t entirely obliterated its natural origins with the intrusion of asphalt, concrete, and steel. For amid the din of cars, one can still sense the beat of its once wilder self.
From my vantage point, just a stone’s throw from my apartment, I can see the broadleaf forest on Djurgården – designated the world’s first urban national park, and home to ancient oaks and orchards where I go to pick apples in late summer. To the south, a green-needled canopy of spruce and pine fringes the horizon where fall offers up a bounty of bilberries and mushrooms – and where my girlfriend and I fill our basket with chanterelles, yellow-foots, penny buns, and hedgehog fungus. In winter I traverse these same woods on cross-country skis while others take to ice-skates to link up frozen lakes and channels.
To the east, meanwhile, my eyes follow the city’s margins until they recede and give way to the 20,000 islands and skerries of the Stockholm archipelago. This is where I go canoeing from spring to freeze-up, silently paddling past old pine tops crowned with the nests of osprey pairs and sometimes sea eagles.
I am not of this place: I am a migrant like thousands of others who have come to the city in search of jobs and a new life. But with every passing season, I feel that I am planting roots here like the rowan on top of the hill. This is not simply a place where I live, but – perched above its lakes, forests, and islands – a place I might be able to call home.