Our last night in Sweden was at Treehotel. It’s on par with the IceHotel in terms of both its fame and its weirdness. What is it about Swedes? They have free education and heavily subsidized health care and everyone seems to be entitled to a Volvo—maybe that frees the mind, the artistic spirit. Why not build a hotel in the treetops? Kent and Britta Lindvall, the couple who own Treehotel, commissioned a handful of topflight architects to each build a room up in the pines. The most famous may be the Mirrorcube, which is skewered on a single tree, with mirrored surfaces that reflect the sky and surrounding boughs such that it seems to disappear.
But we were staying in the UFO. Kim is an actress. She shoots commercials and does plays, but her steady gig is at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, where she puts on a NASA space suit and walks onto the Mars diorama to do core drilling. The little kids in the audience go berserk with excitement, and are very concerned to know how she will eat lunch and whether there are aliens out there. So the flying saucer suspended from the trees was perfect. Standing at the base of a pine tree in the subzero darkness, we pushed a button on the trunk and zmmmmm, a ladder descended. We climbed up through a hatch. I felt just a little like Matt Damon when he climbed into the rocket in The Martian. Inside, the pod had a projector that threw swimming galaxies onto the curved walls. We lay in the dark and drank tea and watched them, knowing that this might be as close as we would get to a light show.
At 10:30 p.m. we put on long underwear, boots, and parkas, and climbed down from the UFO. We tromped through the snow to a clearing. It was so cold my nostrils stuck together. Nothing. Not nothing—a billion heedless stars. We climbed back into our spaceship. “It’s okay,” Kim said. “This whole trip has been like a fairy tale, a dream—who needs the aurora borealis. Right?” “Right.”
But she woke me up at 1 a.m. anyway, and again we tramped up into thigh-deep snow. Stars, stillness. At 3:30 a.m. she started awake from a dream. She had whimpered, and it had woken me, too. We were going home in a few hours. “C’mon,” she said. “One more look.” We piled on all the clothes and trudged back up to the clearing. If Mars is colder than that Nordic morning, I pity its future colonizers.
“Oh,” I murmured. There was Orion shooting his arrow, Cassiopeia, the Pleiades. And there was something moving between us and them. A scrim of pale light, almost like a cloud, except that it was crowning over the trees and shooting rays across the sky. Slowly, without sound, it was cascading in great waterfalls of light, shimmering in curtains the color of clouds. It felt, to me, like the spirit of winter. Understated, cold, and quiet. A spirit who has sung silently to these forests since the beginning of time. Kim reached a mittened hand for mine, and we stood in the clearing, transfixed, until we could no longer feel our fingers or toes.