My trip to the north of Holland was enveloped in a weekend heatwave, somewhere in the deepest summer, a tangle of clear skied days fading to warm nights that sheltered the symphonies of cicadas. Holland is by no means a big country which is perhaps why each area has seemed to cultivate its own identity. To Bergen. It surprised me as a place that revealed different parts of itself slowly, in the seasons, the shadow and the silence. My visits to the town in winter were punctuated with a sort of nostalgia for the Alps, with the timber-clad houses glowing amber from lamps and thin, frigid air soaked with the smell of wood fires. Cars clattered over the cobbles and silence swept through the wooden eaves. It was richly quiet, perhaps a faded white rose, lavender after spring rains. But in that deep summer it was different. More like trees dripping with lilac jacaranda; or vines of red roses draping a trellis. There was more life, perhaps too much at times. The town of Bergen itself is treated as a stop-off to the northern coast, and the Dutch seem to seek out water almost as much as it threatens to overwhelm them.
The windows of the houses with their wooden facades were thrown open and swimsuits dried on balcony railings. There was that noticeably marine atmosphere of real beach towns; not where sand is washed by warm seas and tourist sprawl lines the seafront, but of those temperate beaches bordered by dunes under milky skies. Small children on bikes wore caps and brought along their buckets and spades; their mothers’ sundresses streamed behind them, colorful as their bicycles. There were the men on their Vespas in bermuda shorts and hawaiian shirts, little dogs rode in bike baskets. This was the surface, what you may expect of a Dutch seaside town.
But there were surprises too. A green woodland, almost overburdened with pine; mottled summer sunlight dancing over the ferns. Flowers, in a clearing. From the heat and sun their luxurious red was watered down; like the bottom of a drink at a beach resort, its color diluted by melting ice. The patches of wildflowers, a muddled harmony of poppies and their late summer counterparts. Wild marigolds, foxgloves, cornflowers, daisies, the green stems and leaves slowly fading. There were petals on the sidewalk, and flowers growing wild over walls, that nobody really seemed to notice. The call of the sea was too strong, the ocean of flora in the last throes of its summer glory was all but invisible.
The sun set late, the aura of a latitude further north. The roads grew quieter. The sunburnt children had come home, bikes over cobbles. The air was still, chickens cooed in a garden nearby, hidden from view by a wall of vines weeping white flowers onto the lawn. The downpour would arrive soon, Bergen’s narrow roads would glisten with pooled rain and the nights would draw in more quickly, draping darkness over the pointed roofs and timber. There would be a reminder of the warm days, in the petals of those flowers, either dripping water, or fallen and dusting the street with summer.
“I will touch a hundred flowers and not pick one” - Edna St. Vincent Millay
*all photos were taken with my iPhone so they’re not perfect, but beauty of the flowers kind of speaks for itself.