Autumnal journey to snow 

In Copenhagen, sometimes you get the feeling that there are more trees than people: a proportion that you are not used to if you are from Lahore. With a population of 5 million, the entire country of Denmark has less than half the population of Lahore. So, with only half a million people, Copenhagen starts becoming deserted as autumn sets in.

With the first fall of leaves, you see people wearing turtlenecks, sweaters and jackets during sunny October days. The trees slowly begin acquiring a reddish hue of yellow. The trees cannot move around so they have to prepare for the coming snow by shedding their leaves. If the leaves stay on, the weight of snow can break the branches.

The width of the leaves of a tree can tell you how closer it is to snowy landscapes. The pine tree with its needle-like stiff leaves can hold the weight of snow and let it is thaw and let the water dribble without breaking the branches. In those parts of the world where natural liquids are permanently frozen, only snow exists. No trees. The snow freezes the sap so nothing can grow. That is why the Arctic and Antarctic tundra are barren.

Human beings can move around so they can acquire more cover. But the principle of shedding is the same in the trees and human beings. In extreme winter, in a case of frostbite, the body rids of the extremities because blood supply is needed for the vital organs. Nature has its own tricks to survive its own variance. The human self is probably nature reflecting on its own phases.

In Copenhagen, the café owners start providing blankets for those who want to sit along the kerb and watch the leaves and people moving around. There are not many weeks left before the definition of what a day is will also change. In the entire month of December, the average sunshine is approximately 48 hours. A sunset at 3 pm and the Danish people are looking for hygge, a Danish word for domestic, familiar and familial cosiness. Preparing for December, some housing companies have already turned their heating systems on in the buildings.

The common perception that the winter is not fun is also wrong. When the lakes in and around Copenhagen are frozen over, they become vast playing grounds and people skate and sleigh over them and some wild-at-heart people even light bonfires. There are some tricks involved in that. You have to build a layer of green wood first or use a metal bucket to create some distance between the fire and the snow.

Not all neighbourhoods are going to enjoy the hygge though. Tingbjerg, an immigrant neighborhood, in Copenhagen just goes quiet. Workers leave their houses before the sunrise and they come home after the sunset. There will be a couple of months without the sun for many immigrants. One Danish woman once joked about why Denmark develops some of the best anti-depressants in the world: “You need some of these happiness-inducing pills in the Danish winter.”

After this joke, one can wonder why Denmark constantly ranks as the happiest country in the world.

It is difficult to tell whether it is chemically induced happiness or a socially and structurally substantiated reality. After all, the living standards and the social safety network is quite good for a lot of people.

Some people, like seasons, are always less equal though.

Published in The News on Sunday

dated October 20, 2013