Living Madly: Hyggeligt
By Emilie-Noelle Provost
A couple of years ago, I wrote a post for my professional website (emilienoelleprovost.com) called Everyday Magic. I wrote the piece after my husband, Rob, and I came across a barred owl at Harold Parker State Forest in Andover. The owl was perched on an oak branch that stretched out over Salem Pond. As we stood and watched, the powerful bird took flight, swooped down toward the water’s surface and grasped a fish in its talons, never making a sound.
Although the owl was going about its daily business, something about seeing it catch that fish seemed magical. It was a Sunday afternoon. The trails at Harold Parker are usually humming with hikers and mountain bikers on weekends, but no one else had seen it.
Several weeks after publishing the post, I was thumbing through a coffee table book featuring photographs of A-frame style homes located in remote areas of the U.S. and Canada. Often used by their owners as weekend retreats, the houses pictured in the book looked cozy and inviting. One of the A-frames, on Vancouver Island in British Columbia, was named Hyggeligt.
A form of the Danish word Hygge—a noun that, loosely translated, refers to the warmhearted feeling one gets when sitting by a crackling fire drinking cocoa with friends while a blizzard is raging outside—Hyggeligt describes the moment something ordinary feels extraordinary.
Immediately, I thought of the owl. In the post on my website, I had written that magic is everywhere if we are open to seeing it. I realized I had been talking about Hyggeligt.
Giving something a name makes it tangible, something we can learn to recognize and talk about with other people. Hyggeligt occurs all the time. It’s in a toddler’s spontaneous smile, and in the symmetry of a spider’s web. It’s in the way we sometimes catch a glimpse of something new and beautiful in a person we’ve known all our lives. We don’t have a word for hyggeligt in English, so it can be hard to acknowledge or describe.
Making a point to consistently notice the amazing things right in front of me at any given time is one the best ways I’ve found to live in the moment. It’s helped me to better appreciate all the wonderful people in my life, and to be more grateful for the comforts that my family and I are lucky enough to have. It’s also made the things I don’t have, or don’t like, seem much less important and intrusive.
This past summer, I stood on the porch of the Mount Holyoke Summit House in Holyoke, Mass., watching a male ruby throated hummingbird buzz back and forth between a flowerbed and a slim cable used to stabilize a radio transmitter. Several people passed the garden, but not one of them noticed the tiny bird sipping nectar from the flowers. At one point, the hummingbird flew up to the railing near the place I was standing and perched there briefly. It was as if he knew I’d been watching him and had come to say hello.
More recently, Rob and I were hiking at Great Brook Farm State Park in Carlisle. We turned down a trail we don’t usually use, leading to a shallow wetland. As we admired the oranges, yellows and reds of the emerging fall foliage, we noticed something moving in the grass. A furry creature, no larger than my thumb, sat beside us. A moment later, another one popped out from under a fallen tree near the water, squinting in the afternoon sunlight and wobbling on unsure legs. They were baby muskrats, kits, only a week or two old, coming out to explore the world, perhaps for the first time.
With the holiday season approaching, I’m going to do my best to appreciate the twinkling of the lights on our Christmas tree, the symmetrical shapes of snowflakes that land on my windshield. When I venture out into the cold forest early in the morning, I’ll pay close attention to the sounds of flowing water and rustling leaves. Because magic is out there. It’s everywhere, just waiting to be seen.
Emilie-Noelle Provost (she/her) is the author of The River Is Everywhere, a National Indie Excellence Award and American Fiction Award finalist, and The Blue Bottle, a middle-grade adventure with sea monsters. Visit her at emilienoelleprovost.com.