I recently had the pleasure of meeting Susi at the Vesterheim Easter Marketplace where I was introduced to her book Unni's Gift: A Journey of the Heart. I purchased the book shortly thereafter and read it a few weekends later. The story is sweet and tells the journey of a young girl, Unni, who is enjoying the simple life in the north country when her father dies unexpectedly. She then sets out on a journey to find what she has lost and learns a lot about herself along the way.
The story, although written for young readers, can be enjoyed by adults too. I can certainly say that I did! In fact, I enjoyed it so much that I wanted to learn more about the inspiration of this story. I asked Susi if I could come visit her, she agreed, and a date was set.
When I arrived, Susi gave me a quick tour of the house as well as her most treasured family heirlooms and then just as we would in a typical Norwegian home, together with her husband,Doug, we enjoyed coffee and some Norwegian treats. We sat at the "fancy table" as her husband called it and began the interview over lefse. Not a bad way to kick off a Sunday afternoon.
She had prepared some cheesecake dishes with fresh berries as well. I will need to get the recipe for these because they were delicious!
After the charming afternoon treats, Susi and I embarked on our own journey into the wilderness at her doorstep that they call Fjordhaven Forrest. As we hiked through the trees and underbrush, I asked Susi about her inspiration for the story and characters. Her response was simply that she wanted to "give life to the people I grew up with". As everyone in life Susi has overcome her own challenges and wanted to send a message to people to help them "realize what is important, that nothing ever stays the same, but while love changes, it never, ever ends.” . The Fjordhaven Forrest certainly inspired the book as well, but I won't delve into that much further so that I don't give any spoilers. Certainly the magical, enchanted trees and quaint cabin lend themselves well to fit into a fairy tale story much like the ones she read as a child.
There are many special places within Fjordhaven Forrest including a tree that doubles as a frequent resting spot for a local bald eagle, a creek, and the lakeside location. The highlight of the space is this tree. Resilience is her name due to the fact that her roots are barely embedded into the ground, her trunk is nearly hollow as it twists to the sky, but nonetheless the branches spread far and are filled with leaves. It doesn't take an arborist to see that the odds have been stacked against this tree. It really shouldn't be prospering as it is. If one were to just see the tree from the top half, you would never guess the foundation those branches are held up by. The woods have been in Susi's family for years, inspired her to write her book and then inspired her to save the property from development. Resilience was a key character in that last part. They were driven to keep the property safe for nature, for visitors, and for years to come. Hopefully it inspires more journeys for Unni as well.
One of the last questions I had for Susi as our hike came to an end was whether or not she had any advice for aspiring writers. She had a quick response to that question and said "just do it!" Susi said that the story had been originally written nearly twenty years earlier during a time when she owned a small Scandinavian goods store in a nearby town. She would write in between customers as the story poured out from within, but then took a very long breather before having it self published. She always "wanted to make it real, a real book with a real cover" so eventually she did! Susi also insisted on the idea that many people are held back by all the reasons someone may have to not do something, but why not take the chance and just try? "Give yourself permission to do it" and set out to accomplish your goal. This is good advice for any person wanting to fulfill a dream.
Her next bit of advice was to write what you know. A fun fact concerning this point is that both Susi and her mother Phyllis, are authors. In fact Fifty Thousand Holes and Klara's Beautiful Isle of Love were written by the two of them lending support to one another along the way. Fifty Thousand Holes is a story of her mother and father's life together. Both of her parents have since passed, but what a treasure to have at your fingertips to enjoy for years to come.
Are you interested in visiting Fjordhaven Forrest? You can do so online at www.fjordhavenforever.com. The good thing is it is a protected environmental space that will never be able to be built on further, thanks to a conservation easement in collaboration with the Minnesota Land Trust, Resilience will be able to spend all of her days in her home, pushing the limits of what one would think she can do. With a lake shoreline view, 55 acres of trees, wetlands, a weaving creek, thick underbrush and trails, it is a place that will feed the soul and inspire you too. If you are wondering where to find it, well that is up to your heart to figure out. Susi said she "wants the space to be a place of healing for those needing a place to go." She and her husband intend to someday have trails in place with meditation/prayer stops along the way and be able to welcome occasional visitors. She doesn't want it to become a large retreat and her goal isn't to sacrifice nature's beauty for profit, but that she believes "those who need it will find it." I did, so why can't you?