Jaegersborg Dyrehaven in May feels like walking in an 18th-century landscape painting: soft hills, scraggly bare trees, and broken trunks scattered across yesteryear’s grass turfs and dead leaves. But a painting is silent. And if I stop to listen, I hear a twittering robin, a screeching jay, and a hawk calling down to all of us, hovering high above in circles.
This is where I go to escape the bustle of every single other Copenhagen city park. Biking here requires a bit of effort and time, but it is all forgotten when my Finnish soul finally finds a spot without a single car, bike, unknown person, or useless chatter.
(Jaegersborg Dyrehave, Copenhagen, Denmark; April 2021)
A short hike from the road opened up to wild sights, unlike anything anywhere else in Denmark: white chalk cliffs with over a hundred-meter drop, tropically clear turquoise waters, and rugged trees exposed to wind gusts across the Baltic Sea. Møns Klint is a UNESCO world heritage site, a Dark Sky Park for stargazing (with zero light pollution), and one of those places where I feel the quietly and slowly but steadily beating heart of this age-old Earth of ours.
The white chalk cliffs stretching over the Eastern tip of the island of Møn are all made of creatures like us, alive a long, long time ago: tiny shelled mollusks and other animals sank to the seafloor when they died and, throughout time, were compressed into white mountains. Isn’t that a beautiful mark of a short life to leave behind?
(Møns Klint, Denmark; March 2021)
Danes sure love deer, and deer parks are a thing in Denmark. So much that the three large hunting grounds in the North of Zealand have become a UNESCO world heritage site for medieval par force hunting of the nobility (where animals were worn out by horse and dogs and then killed).
Half an hour’s bike ride up the coast brought us to Jaegersborg Dyrehave (the Hunter’s Castle Deer Park). First created by King Christian in the 17th century, it consists of a network of roads and paths, unfortunately giving the animals little shelter from hunting parties – and today, visitors of the park. Perhaps, during 350 years, the deer have grown accustomed of this way of living, as today their headcount is more than two thousand.
The park is vast and best explored by bike or horse-drawn carriage. In the winter, the scraggly hawthorn trees spread out over the decaying ground like they were modeling for a gothic romantic painting, and the hunting lodge looks like Edgar Allan Poe’s favorite weekend haunt.
And yet, somewhere underneath it all lie yellow and white anemones and fresh green beech leaves in wait.
(Jaegersborg Dyrehave, Denmark; January 2021)
“It says we can see this island at sixty degrees starboard, so have to be here, just off that rock.”
“No way, sixty degrees starboard means we’re already way past that island, so we must be right here… wait, that looks like dry land?!”
And on and on, for another two hours it went, before we solved our position and direction, using some very unorthodox methods of projecting off the map. Reading a map is relatively easy when you know where you are. But how about when you are out at sea, need to broadcast your position to ask for help, and you think you recognize a landmark off the map but have no idea exactly where you are? For very obvious reasons, this type of problem was the main one, repeated throughout my sister’s navigation course book.
In the end, navigation with a map is all very simple logic and trigonometry, but boy did it take me hours and a quite some googling to swipe away the dust and cobwebs over the section in my brain that stored the crumbled remains of a navigation course I attended some fifteen years ago. My sister pushed on with admirable resilience, after realizing that the classes she invested in all fall would not guarantee a passed exam. Two days later and with the help of Youtube tutorials (in Danish!) we were finally able to find ourselves, on demand.
(My sister’s exam was canceled due to COVID, of course. But hopefully this time around the skill is not lost).
(Loviisa, Finland; December 2020)
I stopped by the little lake on my daily route around the park. With the yellow, falling leaves and deeply overcast sky it looked like from an old, English countryside oil painting. Except that it was so much more rich and detailed.
I sometimes forget I am not in a central European country but in the Nordics – because the Nordic, impenetrable spruce thickets and lofty halls of pine trees are all missing. Even on Jylland, the coniferous forests consist of trees planted in rows. But that is okay, because the parklands in Denmark are beautiful, especially now.
(Copenhagen, Denmark; November 2020)
At the end of Copenhagen there are vast fields. And cows. And airplanes. All the way to the sea. But before the sea there is so much field (and some forest) that one could hike around for an entire day – and camp by one of the lakes, if one brought overnight gear.
(Kastrup, Denmark; October 2020)
Shinrin-yoku, or forest-bathing, every day. The Japanese prefer slow mindful sauntering instead of aerobic hiking. As a form of nature therapy, shinrin-yoku means not only crossing through a wood, but bathing in it: letting it fill one’s lungs, ears, nose, and eyes. It means not talking or listening to music, but listening to the birds, the grasshoppers, and the wind in the trees. And it means wandering off the path to caress the warm, dry bark of a tree, just because it feels like the best thing to do at the moment.That is why forest-bathing is best done alone. And while I like to alternate between running and walking through the forests in Loviisa, I still do it every day. And I come out from the forest feeling very centered and alive.
(Loviisa and Kotka, Finland; June 2020)
Partial lockdown started March 11th. All schools, kindergartens, and universities moved to virtual classes. Most shops and services closed, including all body-working services such as hair salons, masseuses, and fitness centers. My work continued as before, with the difference that I could no longer travel to Belgium to our regional headquarters, or do all the cross-European country local board meetings I had planned. Instead I squeezed in daily walks or runs, just to get outside. When lockdown was imposed, the sun came out. It shone from a cloudless sky most of two months. Weekend walks turned into long ambles, thirstily seeking fringes of green across the sprawling city center. Copenhagen parks are not natural oases to get lost in. But they are reviving, and after a dark cold winter, really any trees and green grass are reviving.(Copenhagen, Denmark; April 2020)
Somebody thought the huge boulders in the forest needed decorating. The green moss is gorgeous on its own, but a little pink sure does spruce up any spruce forest.
(Christmas Boxing Day in southern Finland was stunningly snowless.)(Loviisa, Finland; December 2019)
What’s the deal with deer parks in Denmark? Sofar I have run into deer parks in my both hometowns Brande and Vejle, as well as in Aarhus. And I know there are several around Copenhagen. The Danes sure seem to love deer.
Deer parks are parkland or wilderness, where you go for a leisurely walk and view deer. Interestingly, none of the species I’ve encountered (sika deer and fallow deer) are originally Danish, or even Nordic. The sika deer hails from East Asia (today mainly seen in Japan), while the beautifully horned and spotted fallow deer (below) was introduced to Europe, possibly by Phoenicians some 3,000 years ago, and adopted by many medieval aristocrats into their castle hunting grounds.
The native Danish roe deer are everywhere, even in our backyard forest in Vejle, but rarely in deer parks. I have also run into the other domestic species in the forest: the majestic, huge red deer. Think of Harry Potter’s patronus: an albino red deer stag. If you would like to see one for real, do head out into the rare natural forests of Jylland, not the deer parks.(Marselisborg Deer Park, Aarhus; October 2019)