Opinion Society

Rosenholm Bådelaug, Aarhus: Shelter and Other Simple Joys

Inger Stokkink
Written by Vera Wilde

Standing on most seashores, you can hear five sounds — water at the horizon, intermediate waves, some waves crashing ashore, others waves rolling out, and wings. But Rosenholm bådelaug, on the Kalø Vig bay in Aarhus, Denmark, makes only two sounds: water lapping and fishermen working. It’s a sheltered shore where water and creatures move together with gentle strength, creating something bigger than the sum of their parts.

Rosenholm bådelaug is where the creek meets the Kattegat (literally “cat butt”) Sea between Denmark and Sweden. Kalø Slotsruin, the island castle ruins barely visible from shore that give the bay its name, is an old Viking stronghold. Vig, the Danish analogue of –wich in English and –wijk in Dutch, means shelter or place of safety.

Its sheltered nature is part of what makes the bay calm and quieter than its northern Danish counterparts, where waves crash waist-high. A nearby flying jackdaw — gray and black — announces Scandinavia. A lone swan dives for mussels in the not-so-salty water near a sign reading Aarhus Commune.

One local tells me Aarhus is a former Viking village, and its name literally means what it sounds like — “our house.” Another says it means “place where creek opens into ocean.” Maybe the two meanings intersect. Our house — our place of shelter in the world — sometimes is where our small selves run into the larger whole, in faith communities, countries, fellow travelers around the world. I’m finding that shelter wherever I go since having a religious experience this winter-spring, and I’m grateful.

Kaløvig Strandgård campsite is 300 meters down the road. People come to Rosenholm bådelaug to play in the water, and leave. Black-headed reeds taller than me, their golden rods singing in greensleeve dresses, mark the hedge opening between the parking lot where they unload kayaks and sails, and the picnic area enclosure leading out into the sand.

In the neatly kept yards of the houses nearby, raspberry bushes and apple trees give their fall fruit. Red flags with white crosses flutter over them in the wind like Maypole banners or streamers, their thinness making more welcoming wave than staking of claim. Autumn light, soft and gentle, catches spiderwebs running between flagpoles and houses. All creatures have their domains. Private homeowners, in Aarhus as everywhere, take care of their land. But here at Rosenholm bådelaug, volunteers from Rosenholm boating guild care for the picnic tables with grills atop.

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Maybe communal responsibility works to keep the site so pristine and peaceful because Denmark is a small country by some metrics. Its population density contributes to foreign perceptions that it’s a provincial place, with only 5.6 million inhabitants — a fraction of the population of some cities — in the entire country.

But Americans and other Westerners also tend to be amazed at the quality of life here. The Danish have loads of free time in comparison with other countries. You would too, with a thirty-seven hour workweek — and no pressure or pride in going over.

This is what socialism looks like, or one of its many faces. Private property flourishes among groups of people who work and play together in public spaces on communal projects so that we can all have nice things.

But for all its illustrations of a Marxian paradise — smooth roads, clean playgrounds, healthy people with sane workweeks and free healthcare — Rosenholm bådelaug’s most striking feature is the combination of blues and greens as seaweed plays with sunlight in the shallows that stretch far out. Boats bounce near fishermen in waders. Further out, tiny black dots bob — kayakers.

Further along the shore, iridescent indigo muscle shells decorate a cove, smelling of the sea. Further along still, a pink jellyfish, the stinging kind, has its final resting place.

A lone pinecone in the shallows from the forest nearby blends in with clots of seaweed spread at intervals like a mosaic of stars on pebbles and larger, mossy stones by the receding tide. Rosenholm bådelaug is above all a place of simple joys — the cold shore, peaceful water, and a warm house to come back to.

A sign on the bulletin board marking the entrance and exit to the area reads: Alle er velkomne til at bruge strandens fauliteter, men efterlad gerne stedet paernere end da I kom. All are welcome at this facility, but leave it better than you found it.

It’s a good rule.

About the author

Vera Wilde

Reformed Harvard Kennedy Fellow, wondering artist, wandering artist. www.wildethinks.com

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Rosenholm Bådelaug, Aarhus: Shelter and Other Simple Joys

by Vera Wilde
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