The Empty Northern Hemisphere

Dear Ann,

I only left my home in Norway one week ago, and reflection on my 5 months there has been difficult. It seemed at first that I had failed in my goal, although looking back, it seems like my goal was a tad lofty. I had intended this trip to help me define what I wanted in life, in other words, to help me find a specific career that would suit a real adult.

My husband and I landed in Tromso on a soggy Monday morning in August, where we were met by a chorus of gulls and the smell of the sea. We fell instantly in love with the place, the people and the work. We were working on a small strawberry farm at 70 N, 200 miles north of the Arctic Circle. Where grows, much to my surprise, the sweetest strawberries on earth. The days were still long then, the weather still fluctuating between cool sunny mornings and rainy dark afternoons.

The work took a toll on my body; I lost 5 pounds in the first week. My fingers grew callouses from digging rows of dirt in which to begin a new strawberry field. My back ached from the hours of bending over the little plants to pick or trim or prune.

My husband is a 6’4″ hockey player, who knows almost no physical limitations. I however, at 5’0″ (if I wear tall shoes), find myself quite limited. There are simply things that I cannot do, or at least not well. I learned that pushing wheelbarrows up mountains is not my forte, but dammit if I won’t try. Even in the likely event that I fail, at least I did my best.

This type of work was something I had never known. It came with stiff joints, cramped muscles, post work yoga sessions and lots of tiger balm. But it also came with peace. I had never really understood what it meant to be satisfied with a day’s work until I was able to look out the window and see the field I had dug with my own hands, and ate the fruit and vegetables that I had harvested myself.

The effort was about more than merely interacting with the earth and transforming it from an inhospitable chunk of land, it was transforming the way that I viewed it. Suddenly the idea of being a person defined by their work ethic became something I wanted very much. There was no one holding me accountable to do the job I was given and to do it well. I found that I enjoyed the feeling I got from the exhaustion of a fully physical day of work, even if there wasn’t a single person who acknowledged or appreciated it. Somewhere under the rain and mud and sore muscles, I had found the joy of doing hard work.

Five months later, I am nowhere nearer to knowing what I want to be when I “grow up” than I was when I was 6. I now know though, that whatever job I decide to do and for whatever amount of time I decide to do it, it will be a job done with the joy of hard work. Whatever “real adult career” I take, I will work to find that exhausting satisfaction of knowing that I did my best. I’m ready to have a career that may not be as glamorous as I had once imagined, as long as I can leave it feeling content with a job well done.

Your still career-less friend,



  1. Dear Lexi,

    I have just recently read your letter about your account of your Nordic days. I truly believe that trying to be a BETTER HUMAN BEING is a heck of a career. I think that you are pretty amazing at that.

    Yours, always

    Monica Unhinged