Several days later, my wife and I took a three-hour ferry ride from a town just outside Stockholm to the island of Gotland. Steeples from medieval churches came into focus as our boat neared its port city, Visby, arguably the best preserved medieval city in all of Scandinavia and a former Viking site.
Back on land, we wandered around the 13th century ring wall, which sprouts yellow flowers in hollows among its ancient stones. They were a bright nod to summer.
The next day, we drove a beat-up, 1980s Audi — a rental car we picked up in Visby — onto a car ferry for the short ride to the nearby speck of an island called Faro, a popular if off-the-beaten-path summer destination for Swedes. Along with a few others, we wandered along a windswept rocky shore, where unusual rock formations sprouted up, looking like thick Giacometti sculptures, the result of age-old erosion. After getting our fill, we hopped into our car for a drive across the flat, lush land.
Many visitors get lost looking for the former home of Ingmar Bergman. (The privacy of the filmmaker was protected by his fellow islanders, who gave baffling, erroneous directions to would-be gawkers.) We got lost on a simple tour, when a wrong turn landed us in a bird sanctuary.
The Audi’s hand-cranked sunroof was open and suddenly, a whoosh from white wings turned our attention skyward. An arctic tern angry at our intrusion nearly pecked us through the roof opening, screeching and diving again and again until we were a safe distance from her nest.
The bird’s defensive energy may have been a world apart from the joyful verve we saw in the Swedes. Still, she was merely protecting her hatchlings, so her display was its own distinct sign of summer.