We pass Suniva’s Spring. Suniva was a daughter of one of the local farmers many years ago. She got pregnant out of wedlock and, rather than facing the wrath of societal judgement, she went up the mountain and jumped to her death from the huge rock above the spring.
On along the Elf Path we walk past the wide open ribcage of a deer. It looks ominous hanging from the tree in the coldness, still red and very much from the source of something that once lived. It is there for the birds to pick the last goodness from it.
The crack and echo of a hunter’s gunshot pierces the silent air from across the water. The last deer has been killed, my host reckons, and we wait for the second gunshot that would confirm that the deer is definitely dead. It never comes.
People would have carried down two pitchers of milk each, after milking the cows further up the mountain. We are not but a fraction of the way up, and I am struggling a little already. I can’t imagine transporting that kind of weight on this gradient. They knitted as they walked, the nest of wool at their hip. One woman knitted all the way up the mountain and at the top she picked up the milk. She was going to head down the mountain when she realised she had used up all her wool. So she unravelled what she had knitted and began all over again.
As we reach the outskirts of the farm buildings we admire the big angular tree house and, just then, Eirik spots a Peregine flying past, deeper into the trees. I look in time to catch the last glimpse of its quiet grey wing span and tail, and that is enough of a privilege.
We pass signs of the animals that live on the mountain, which I would not notice unless they were pointed out to me by this person who seems to know every tree and rock and lichen, every story and history relating to this amazing land of his. Scraped bark, pecked wood, a hoof print.
In the old mountain hut there are signs of its past life in the wooden churns and stools; crude and perfect. We talk about what the people would have done here. About the animals that would have been dangerous. About the bear-proof hut that the children were put into in Telemark, which still has claw marks on it.
We head downwards towards the river which can be heard but not yet seen. Since the rain has stopped, so too have most of the waterfalls and rivers. We had made parts of this journey across empty boulder strewn waterfall paths. It was interesting to see the structure without all the water, like an X-ray. But now, approaching the strong sound of this river which has not been affected by the absence of rain, I am excited.
It is beautiful. Large sections have turned into swirling, curved bodies of ice, blue and white. The open parts around the rocks have built up organic globule structures of ice.
I plunge my hand into the river and under the ice, taking photos and videos. It is so much more painful than the salt water in the fjord. I put the camera timer on, so I don’t have to press the trigger underwater. But my hand is already swollen; I can’t make a fist any more. I switch the camera off with my less clumsy left hand and clutch my hands, one at a time, to the arteries in my neck to tease heat back into them. After a while the blood is flowing again in a more normal way. I protect them now in finely crafted felted mittens, brown with a beautiful cream-coloured icicle pattern. They are so efficient that they do not let any air in.
A Norwegian woman I met in Ireland told me about the fishermen in the North who would put their felted-mitten-clad hands into the freezing sea. They would let the ice build up around them to create further insulation.
Scrambling down and down the steep mountainside in the fading light we get to a wooden sign near the bottom, which states the name of this area: Piné. It means ‘Pain’. Not physical pain, more like inner turmoil.
Eirik and Hege run a permaculture farm in the Fykse Fjord, Hardanger, Norway. Click for a link to Alvastien Farm.