These are the days when the Swedes in this land of the midnight sun abandon their sailboats, their fishing rods, and their country cabins, and speed back to Stockholm, Malm"o, and Gothenburg. The signs of the collapse of stretched-out summer days are all too evident.
The other day, the entrance to the elevator in an apartment building was besieged with 37 pieces of piled-up baggage. At first, it looked as if a busload of tourists had arrived, but the containers of half-opened food and coat hangers jammed hurriedly into boxes suggested that the man ferrying in the goods was less likely to be a tour operator than a harassed parent trying to come to terms again with city apartment living.
Out in the countryside, Sweden's extraordinary, translucent light is still as scintillating as ever -- as if you are always looking through a window that has just been freshly washed. But the leaves are turning red and gold now, and soon the 8 million Swedes will witness one of the most cataclysmic of all nature's changes -- from days of everlasting summer light to a period of almost perpetual winter darkness.
At this time, the light over the myriad waterways of Stockholm is fading around 8:30 at night. By Christmas, it will be gone before 3 p.m. Several hundred miles north, in the Arctic Circle, the Lapps and their reindeer won't see the sun rise at all.
To be in Lapland in a country cabin in the heart of winter, a Swede assures me, ``is not very funny.'' It's obvious, then, why Swedes make the most of summer and embrace the countryside so wholeheartedly.
``Of all the clich'es about the Swedes,'' says one native, ``the one that is really true is that they love nature and the environment.'' And so, the countryside pervades the city in paintings, drawings, photographs, posters, and even on the backs of napkin boxes.
When winter comes, it must be challenged and concealed. So much of a Swede's disposable income is spent on ski equipment or alternatively lavished on interior furnishings. Interior decor is an art form to close out the hard winters. Nuclear power? No, thanks!
Swedes may be leaving the countryside, but the problems of pollution in the countryside -- affecting trees, land, reindeer, and lakes -- are uppermost in many of their minds. What angers Swedes is that much of this pollution is not of their making, but emanates from the Soviet Union, Poland, or Britain.
Sweden was the first Western country to detect the radioactivity from the April Soviet nuclear accident at Chernobyl. It was tragic that the air stream bringing the particles from Chernobyl over part of Sweden coincided with a heavy thunderstorm. The result was dramatic, and is still being felt. Cows had to remain indoors for a month, and thousands of reindeer, which forage over a wide area, have been slaughtered.
Swedes had already decided in a referendum to dispense with all nuclear energy by the year 2010, even though the industry supplies the nation with as much as 47 percent of the country's electricity.
Chernobyl tipped the balance among those unsure whether to continue with nuclear energy. The great debate now is whether the country should accelerate the timetable for phasing out nuclear energy.
The Danes, meanwhile, are acting as if Sweden's Barseb"ack reactor, close to the 4 million residents who live around Copenhagen, poses more risk than Chernobyl. In a recent vote, the Danish parliament has registered its desire that Barseb"ack be shut down, and environmental slogans on the backs of Copenhagen buses proclaim ``Chernobyl 1,200 kilometers, Barseb"ack 20.'' Acid-rain fallout
Whatever the differences in Scandinavia over the wisdom of continuing nuclear plants, Sweden, Denmark, and Norway speak with one voice in protesting acid rain.
Of Sweden's 96,000 lakes, about 40,000 to 50,000 of them are considered ``dead'' as far as fish life is concerned.
``Your country,'' says a Swede to this London-based correspondent, ``is the worst culprit.'' But Poland doesn't come off any better. Scandinavian acid-rain problems are largely blamed on Britain's coal-fired power stations and the spraying of forests in Poland with DDT.
Sulfur emissions are more corrosive here in Sweden because the soil, unlike in France or West Germany, has a low chalk content.
British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher is now showing more sympathy for the Scandinavian acid-rain problem. During her visit to Norway last week, Mrs. Thatcher pledged $900 million for a program to cut emissions from Britain's power stations in an effort to stop acid rain. Squeaky clean
If there is pollution in Sweden, don't blame it on any bad Swedish habits. When it comes to personal hygiene and cleanliness, countries don't come any cleaner than Sweden, save possibly Switzerland.
Public restrooms in Stockholm are immaculate. There are at least five squeaky-clean restaurants in the central railway station, and one is actually eye-catching, with a lattice fence, hexagonal-tiled pillars, and a fish tank -- all designed, no doubt, with the intention of helping travelers forget the hassle of train-catching. (No smoking on the trains, of course.)
Any Stockholm post office, meanwhile, would make a similar establishment in Britain or the United States look scruffy. The interior of one post office is a bright, cheery yellow (one of the national colors). Nobody waits in line. Instead, you collect a numbered ticket and wait your turn in a comfortable, modernly-designed living room. At 5:40 p.m. (yes, the post office is open until 6 p.m.) there are some 25 people in the spacious post office. Nobody is smoking and there's not a scrap of litter on the floor.