To Volda for a party. Not so far as the crow flies but on these fjord-hugging roads it takes ten hours, three buses and three ferries. The party is worth the journey with dancing until 8am: disco, swing, metal, 90s rave, Flamenco, Irish, Norwegian, Balkan and some crowd-surfing thrown in for good measure. We witness the dawn.
The next day I see the mountains clearly. They are very pointy and very steep.
The sun shines and shines upon us as we nurse hangovers. Being the guest who has travelled the most arduous journey to get to the party I am omitted from the day-after cleaning process and am instructed to find a path up the mountain and enjoy the day.
I try lots of paths and finally get up beyond the tree line. I pause there. So still and quiet in the snow, out of the trees. Alone.
Up and up. I am nearly at the first summit and happen to glance up accidentally (I had been trying to hold off looking until I got to the very top). The view hits me like a shovel of snow on my hot face and my breath catches in my throat. I have never seen anything like this before. A perfect panorama of pointed snow-capped mountains, blue sky, the snail-trail of the ferry on the glistening fjord far below. The light and shadow and reflection create blueness on the underside of each smooth mountain crest: good enough to eat.
The exposed soil on the summit smells of warmed earth. I stumble further through the snow to the next summit and then the next one. I find it hard to take in the epic scale and beauty. Lying on the moss I fall asleep until I hear a human cough. Horrified at the thought of sharing the mountain with someone else, I move on.
After a few days I am ready to go back to Hardanger. I miss the humble, big, flat mountains there. I miss Messen: my home for these three months; and the town, the people, the privacy of the rounded rocks below the house where the waves lap steadily, the space above the water and the sound scape of the factory.
Returning south, after ten hours, we drive out of Norheimsund and suddenly the Hardangerfjord presents itself in all its luxurious, evening drama. The weather is coming up the fjord from the sea creating layer upon layer of moody, navy cloud. The mountains are losing snow and the dark patches of rock contrast sharply against the white. Every turn of the road brings an altered view as the light fades and I paste myself to the window like I did as a child seeing the Atlantic Ocean in County Clare for the first time, drinking in the colours and textures. I am the only passenger on the bus now.
Closer and we pass the signposts and places that are now so familiar to me: Fykse, Steinstø, Tveit, Ytre-Ålvik, and then around the last corner and there is the factory and the red box of Messen: stately, authoritative and welcoming at the front of the town.
The cherry tree below the house at the top of the steps down to the jetty has begun to bloom in my absence. Spring comes early to Ålvik.