It was a cool and cloudy late September morning by the waters of the Øresund ~a handful of miles north of Copenhagen along Denmark's picturesque east coast.
Not the sort of weather I imagined myself prancing about naked in ...
if indeed I had even imagined myself prancing about naked in Denmark at all, which at my age, I certainly hadn't ~
(perhaps back in my twenties... but that's another tale for another time)
But if you want to go native in Denmark, you may just have to shed your clothes. In public.
And then jump into some very, very cold water ...
as demonstrated by my Danish cousin, Karen.
The day began innocently enough in the kitchen of Karen's cosy farmhouse, one of my favorite places in the world,
with a cup of hot coffee and a slab of fresh bread with cheese and jam on it.
The first of my many visits to this beautiful old farmhouse happened when I was just 11 years old.
I met my cousin Karen, also 11, for the very first time.
I stayed for several days, not knowing a word of Danish other than chocolade (chocolate) and tak (thanks) and farvel (goodbye.)
Each morning, we rode bicycles across the countryside to Karen's school, a completely bewildering experience for me.
Isolated as I was by language,
I still have vivid memories of those sweet days ~
Karen pointing to things around the farm -- cat, rock, house -- and patiently saying their names over and over to me in Danish;
I felt like Heidi.
Or at least a Danish version of her.
The next time Karen & I saw one another, we were teenagers in London ~
Years passed before we saw one other again, back at the farm in Denmark,
not long after she'd had her first baby, Anne Sofie.
A few more years went by, and suddenly, somehow, that little baby had become a teenager, and I was again visiting the farmhouse ~
this time with my own ten-year-old daughter, Zoë (in the floppy blue hat)
the farmhouse looks like this ~
~ and Karen and I look like this ~
And so here I was, visiting again, and completely comfortable in that cosy plaid chair with my hot coffee, cheese and bread, when I heard Karen say,
"Would you like to come with me sometime when I take my morning swim in the Øresund?"
Karen had told me about her early morning, post jogging dips in the chilly waters that separate Denmark from Sweden.
I'd also heard about "becoming a Viking" (swimming naked in the Øresund) from another Danish friend who does the Viking thing each morning after he runs, regardless of time of year, temperatures, or the need to cut a hole in the ice first.
Sure, I said, envisioning a nice warm and sunny morning, sometime off in the future, perhaps on another trip.
Okay, said Karen. We leave in five minutes.
What?! Apparently the time had come to lay claim my Viking heritage.
Well, okay, I said, I'll just grab my swimsuit.
No swimsuit, Karen said with a laugh.
"In the winter, when it's freezing and you have to swim in the ice," said Karen said (who as you can see form the photo above, knows all about doing this from personal experience) "you'll find out that it's not a good idea to wear a suit at all. If it's that cold, you won't be able to get it off when you come out of the water, as it will become frozen to you."
But there's no ice today, I pointed out.
"I think you will feel more comfortable if you are just like everyone else," Karen replied (thoughtful as always), "and besides, you won't be a real Viking unless you swim without anything on."
And so ~ off we went.
When we arrived at a small parking lot, adjacent to the pier from which we were to take the plunge, the whole scene looked so innocent and unassuming ...
I took a quick look around to be sure I didn't know anyone there, then walked a bit nervously out onto the pier, trying not to stare at anyone.
But it was difficult not to notice how stunning the bodies and skin of some of the older 'Vikings' looked, women in their 80s and 90s. Karen said they're regulars.
Encouragement enough. I stripped and cautiously took the plunge.
Lost for words. Cold water took breath away.
Climbing out some moments later, I couldn't believe the sensation all over my body as the air touched it. If skin could sing and feel euphoric, mine did.
There was only one thought in my head...
Nu er jeg en Viking!
© Kristin Fellows 2012