Here comes a feeling you thought you’d forgotten. Camilla Ackley remembers 23 years of long summers spent in a small seaside town in Denmark, cut shorter and shorter by the realities of adult life.
These summers in the countryside of Denmark, once so breathlessly long and sticky – sand in my shoes constantly, hair slick with salt, fingers coated in ice cream or liquorice and lungs filled with fresh, really truly fresh, air – are now brief. Fleeting; a week – maybe slightly more, if I can tease it out of my work diary.
All of it feels like home. The foreign place that I pick up in pieces, mulling words that feel like melted chocolate over in my mouth as I relearn a language with which my familiarity has been both better and worse than now over the course of my life. The long drive out of the city from the airport, the sun falling hot and red behind trees and hills and endless, endless, endless fields. The ease with which people navigate the space around them; coming from the outside, you feel immediately clunky and overdressed. Some summers I settle in and find the rhythm, others I spend my time here feeling like a spectator to some quiet untouchable scene. Something about it is better; intrinsically good – not the kind of virtue you have to work hard to find. Perhaps because of its temporary nature and the stolen feel of time here, or perhaps because it really is somehow just more. Even the water is better; I forget how tasteless and dull water is back home until arrive back in London and feel the grit in my teeth.
Pulling through the forest down the long road to the summerhouse is bliss. Especially on a night where the air is crisp and pleasantly warm. Here again. The place where I can walk the forest for hours and never be lost; I spent my childhood and adolescence running, cycling, strolling through them. I’ve watched trees grow with me, chasing my height and eventually blasting past me to meet the sky. Even in the middle of the woods I can always find my way back to the house or the sea, where I can amble along the cold sand letting the water splash at my ankles and knees, then home through the lavender fields that sit strangely like a no mans land between water and land. A lilac reef.
It is golden. When the sun shines here, there is nothing like it – the light is endless, barely dipping into dark in the small hours to rise again almost within minutes.
There is the kind of comfort you lose in London almost immediately after setting out into the streets. Nobody cares if your dress flies up around your waist while you bike the last stretch down to the beach. No one minds if you strip down and run into the sea, shouting as the cold hits your waist, breasts, head. You don’t blink an eye when they chase their grandchildren down to the water line completely naked, leathery bodies and pendulum breasts. You only hope when you’re old you have the strength and life left in you to be like that, exactly like that. Running clumsily, arms splayed against the modest heat like a prayer.
The ice cream lady is the same woman who grins as I order the same thing I’ve been ordering for over twenty years (tre kogle: mint chokolade, vanilje, Daim) in broken Danish. My Danish is better now, but the order is always the same. Wandering to the beach where we lost countless inflatable crocodiles and dolphins; where my father used to grab me by the ankles and spin me through the water when I was light as a feather. I used to laugh so much I didn’t have the air to scream or speak at all. Breathless laughs, hoarse against the general din of hot and busy air. We’d stay in the sea until we felt our bodies had turned blue. We were so young and unbreakable and it didn’t hurt at all. It hurts a little, now.
The distances that feel like seconds on a bike used to take years; month long treks to further away coasts as fast as my little legs would take me. I miss how long those rides used to feel, now always taking the scenic route to try to stretch them out.
Some years I bring this place like a gift to the people I love. We lay out extra beds, towels and make the long drive from Copenhagen watching it fade into green, and blue. This is the thing I can give. This space to breathe and think, and the way it can make even the hardest days feel slick like oil, like they slip past you in a second and all of a sudden you’re cycling through the forest as fast as you can go and you want to sing because it’s so beautiful.
You are invincible; completely endless and unstoppable.
It’s how I know I love someone – that urgent need to bring them here, to say “Look, see – isn’t this special? Do you understand? This place is half my heart, in my blood; small parts of sand stay stuck in the cracks of my palms until I find my way back” and then to watch them fall hard for it too.
Doing something for no reason makes sense: let’s just go for a walk, a ride, a wander. Let’s just see where we end up; it will be lovely.
It is a constant – the smell of pine, salt in the air and the way that you can smell a bakery around every corner. The sound of a continual slow breeze and laughter from some far away neighbour. Long evenings spent wrapped in blankets with schnapps and beer and liqueur filled chocolates, chatting about nothing; getting slow and heavy and a little drunk around a small fire.
I used to spend two months here every year; long and ambling summers. I’ve been young and loud, asking my brothers to play badminton with me or let me join in their video games, tucked away in the small shed near the bikes. I’ve thrown balls and inflatable pool toys and whole badminton nets out of frustration. I’ve been angry and anxious, a teenager who wouldn’t leave her room. I’ve found the headspace to write and paint that I rarely seem to be able to squeeze out of London. Space that comes as easy as breathing here. I’ve been through hell, and being here made it feel a little less like hurt and more like a journey.
But now it’s just these stolen weeks, brief glimpses that will probably only get briefer and briefer. This place I grew up, that held my hand and picked me up and opened its arms. The week always goes fast, the days endless but the time as a whole gone in the blink of an eye. I treasure the air, taking big breaths and holding them in my lungs to keep it in my blood before I’m dragged away again onto a plane.
Words: Camilla Ackley
Photograph of author: Giselle Storm Hyam