Last night we took a sauna. Nothing unusual about that in the Arctic Circle, or even in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. But it was an especially luxurious sauna since it was one of our first outdoor saunas of the summer. It wasn’t dark outside (the Midnight Sun, it never sets), but inside the sauna it was murky enough for us to appreciate a couple of lit candles and the light of the fire burning in the woodstove. Outside the sauna, the wood water-boiler was gently bubbling, and the wood smoke wafted up. At corners of the house and the sauna, we have barrels collecting rain water from the rain spout just like in the old song. That’s our sauna wash-water. The tangy smell of pine tar also lingered outside. We had been using an old farmers' recipe of pine tar, pine turpentine, and linseed oil to treat our horse-drawn implements—a plow, a timber-sled, and a Russian-style sleigh called a rissla, as well as some big sturdy corner fence posts we had been drying and saved from going into the firewood heap. So with the horse drawn implements and some fence posts perfuming the air of a countryside yard on a late sunny evening, we got slowly and luxuriously clean after a hard day’s work, me thinking, who could ask for more?
The sauna isn’t something you rush, like a shower. The sauna is where you get comfortable and talk through the naked truth, as they say. It’s never too sweaty because both hot and cold water is abundant in dippers and tubs. We pour whole basins of water over ourselves, though our little granddaughter Isa, she is famous for lifting the basin heavily and carefully above her head, then accidentally flipping it all behind her back, missing every drop of water so it pours between the gaps in the floor boards. No matter. The barrels are full of water of both temperatures. There is no running out.
Having someone else scrub your feet is strangely more luxurious than doing it yourself. And the softness of the rainwater, well, it’s silk, both in the sauna and afterwards. There’s no conditioner that’s not improved by a rainwater rinse. And when we come out to sit on the sauna porch in bathrobes, there’s the crying of the curlew and, if we’re lucky, the clock-like call of the Cuckoo bird. Sometimes I am homesick for our Michigan Whippoorwills, I admit, but the Curlew and Cuckoo fill the gap and might as well be calling out, Life is good, Life is good, Life is good. Swedes have a saying about the Cuckoo bird based on the direction he calls from. Cuckoo from the south: death. Cuckoo from the east: solace. Cuckoo from the north: sorrow. Cuckoo from the west: best. When we hear him, there’s that initial thrill of haunting beauty, and then the eye goes to the weather vane—the weather vane we don’t have, but take stock of anyway. He didn’t call from the south, did he? But no, our Cuckoos call always from the east and the west (so we choose to believe). Life is good, time is going by, the world’s most natural clock is ringing out the hours: Death, sorrow, solace, joy.
If it’s the call of the curlew and cuckoo, the smell of pine tar and the soft luxury of plentiful rain water that makes this the lap (land) of luxury, so be it. Life is good. Life is good. Life is good.