by Hazel Anna Rogers for the Carl Kruse Blog
We had landed, and it was night. A fine mist was shrouding the land, and all I could see was empty tarmac and blurred lamps. It was the kind of night where you might believe that behind the blanket fog there are the edges of cliffs, or simply oblivion, like in a dream where all that exists is that which is in front of you, and if you look behind, then you will only see the whiteness coming thick and fast.
Driving slow, passing not a soul, drifting from sleep to wake to sleep to wake. That was the car ride. Fraser in the front, I in the back, gazing sleepily into the void. Our driver, Fraser’s mother, said she lived by the fjord, but you might not have believed her, because when we arrived the only thing afore her house was the billowing smog. We could have been anywhere, and I would have believed you if you’d told me I had in fact never left my home. The only thing that was different was the air. The smell…like rope binding a boat to the shore. London does not smell much like that. London smells like broken wires and oil.
I awoke, and it was as before. The fog had not lifted. There are two words for fog in French. One is ‘brume’, which is the thick stuff, and the other is ‘brouillard’, which is the thinner stuff. The words are kind of interchangeable. But it doesn’t matter, because I did not wake up in France. I woke up in Norway, to the salt of the Hafrsfjord and the morning wind and the taste of seeded buttered bread and the feeling of travel wearing into my bones. I was here, at last.
Soon after eating, Fraser and I ran down to the fjord. He grew up here, in this land of water. The water was shallow, and salty, but not like a sea kind of salty, more like when you’ve put salt on the top of your meal and forgotten to mix it in but when you mix it in then it tastes quite wonderful. Cold – colder than I had expected – but perfect. Finally, travel slithered off me and I was awake. Fraser called me back to the shore. I was happy to crawl in, for my legs were being tugged and tickled by red weeds flailing below me. He pointed down in front of him, and said ‘look, jellyfish’. I could not see them. ‘Take off your goggles’, he said. ‘They’re clear, and tiny’. I took off my goggles and looked. Ah! Tiny things, all glassy clearness, floating about in little cubes; polyps, baby jellyfish. I cradled my hands below the tide and caught one between my palms. But I couldn’t see it, because my hands were too pink.
We ran back up the hill to the house and made coffee. How good it was to be away from the bustle and tussle and adverts on buses driving past our front window and the stench of the underground and the underground above ground that stunk as much as the underground underground and the endless people and the endless endless people! How good to be away!
Fraser’s mother was working that morning, and so she left us to our own devices. Fraser proposed we make some lunch, and journey up to the Ullandhaugtårnet, a large old white communications tower built in 1964 atop the forested hill a little north of the house, from where one has a view over Stavanger, Ryfylke and Northern Jæren. I agreed to his plan, and we left soon after.
Aerial view of Ryfylke
It was hot, yes. When the sun emerged, it was hot indeed. The fog was gone, and it had left mountains and water – endless water! – and islands and forests in its wake. We sat a little down from the big tower and ate our sandwiches near to a man playing a flute-like instrument. It sounds ridiculous, ridiculously perfect, ridiculously poetic – but it was just that. It was all that I had hoped. Here we were, under the soft trees unpreened and untouched, unlike the trees of England, all of whom have been cut and maimed and tortured to make man feel like he controls all. We ate, and smiled.
On the second day, we took a boat early in the morning through the Lysefjord to Flørli. The boat was small, and I hoped to see an orca or a porpoise in the waves of the fjord, but, alas, I did not. When one is searching for something, one never seems to find it. That is the way. Fraser’s mother was with us, and she pointed and told us things that I cannot remember so well now. We were to climb the 4444 rickety wooden steps up at Flørli, home of the old power plant, a place built of sweat and mettle and death and cold. The Helmikstøl brothers, who were famous in these parts, were known to have carried 135 kilos each on their backs up the 745-metre hill in order to construct the pipeline and dams for the power station. I looked up the steps when we arrived. I could not carry 135 kilos up that hill.
After the hike, Fraser and I were to stay in a little hytte nearer to the port. We visited the hytte first. It was surrounded by gonging sheep, whose necks hung low from the weight of the steel bells bound to them. Shy things, with mewing lambs.
The steps were arduous, but I hop and skipped many of them, for it is easy to keep going once one has momentum. That is the case with all of life’s tasks. At some points, all three of us took to crawling up the steps, which was a useful way to balance out the weight of carrying ourselves up the steepest portions of the stairs. We stopped for a spot of lunch. The sun was beaming shards and sweat dripped between my breasts. Onwards we went. Ah! To turn and see the sparkling fjord and the elephantine rocks and the green trees and the air above!
Up, up, up that last steep quarter. The steps had numbers on them, which I found myself counting even when I did not wish to. Up up up…and snow! Snow on the tracks, snow beside the thick teal pipe, snow covering our way! I stopped, and Fraser walked in front of me to touch it. Ice, thick ice. The snow would leave this place soon.
We crawled beneath the pipe to the other side of the stairs to the right and jumped through the icy compacted patches of white until Fraser’s mother called out that she had found a ‘T’ sign. ‘T’ is for trail. Now the downwards. Down down down until the knees beg to break. Down we went. There is not a step that can be taken in Norway without gazing at one’s feet, or else peril might come to pass. This makes it difficult to gaze and dream, so one must stop to admire the surroundings.
We stopped at a pool created by the steep waterfall crashing down the mountainside. I went in naked. Cold, cold freshness. I lay and washed the city from me.
We arrived, and we ached. I lay and watched the wind kick the clouds, then we went down to drink beer and apple juice and eat salty roasted peanuts. Fraser’s mother left, and all the hikers left, and all was gone save for Fraser and I waving the ship goodbye as she parted from her land kiss. We went down to the jetty, and I took a bathe. On the bottom rung of the steps down to the water, I saw clusters of shimmering blue mussels clinging to the rusting metal, their mouths tightly shut.
We did not sleep much. The first room smelled of wood varnish, and Fraser awoke in a sweat. The second room was better, but we were so tired that tiredness had fallen away from us and left us awake and tired all at once, and so I only slept a little. But it was good to wake to the sounds of bell-tolling sheep and the coursing of water over mossy rock. I went outside, and shivered, then we ate, packed up our things, and left for the boat, for we were to walk all the way up the mountain at Bratteli, on the other side of the fjord, over and down and over and down and up to Preikestolen, where we had hiked to on the first day. It is a most popular hike, that at Preikestolen, where a tongue of rock extends from the mount and hangs loosely over the water. When we hiked it that first day, with Fraser and his two friends – the best three men one could ever know, and it grieves me that you shall never know them – and we reached the thick tongue whereby I peered over its perimeter into the deep, I felt death fall upon me like a coaxing whisper.
But on this hike, we were to see no one but each other. I hop and skipped up the steepness from the port of Bratteli, and a few metres up, I saw a snake blocking my path, thick and slippery and brown like the sort of brown that the earth becomes when grass has died. I watched it slither away. It was not an adder, and we had been warned about adders.
Up we went, and soon we arrived at a small cliff face, which we were to scale around using a metal chain attached to the vertical rock with small metal loops. At the end of the chain, we reached a large open plinth of huge wide rocks looking out over the Lysefjord and over into the next valley. We stopped and ate crackers and slices of buttery cheese. It was good to rest a moment, but I did not feel tired, though my eyes were still a little stuck with sleep. Now I was cold, where before I had been hot. Fraser and I stood, and we called to the rocks. They answered us with our voices.
In the next valley, we found ourselves beside a lake. Inland, beneath the mossy pines and deciduous trees sprouting with new leaf, there was a little red hytte, but not a soul to be seen. On the beach where we sat to rest, there was a small wooden cabin inside which was hung a wooden rowboat, rusted and decaying. We swam, and ate, and then the wind began to blow, and the fog started clinging to the next peak up to Preikestolen. It had been four hours, and I was filled with joy. How could I ever return to the plastic wasteland of London? How could I ever parallel this simple, humble joy, the joy of cheese wrapped in thick bread, the joy of drinking water caught from the trickle of a waterfall, the joy of walking with the man I love until we collapse into blankets and duvets and dream of our smallness?
Onwards, and, after a time, I heard voices above me. I wasn’t sure if they were real, or figments of the dreamy landscape, but, indeed, they were real, and we arrived after a steep incline at Preikestolen once more, and the world was tourists and clambering feet and whining teens and endless people. But I could not be unhappy, for the world was beautiful.
We arrived finally at the bottom of Preikestolen, and I drank a fizzy orange juice. We were home a while later.
After a few days of recovery, and the discovery of my first tick guzzling blood beneath the skin above my right breast, daybreak revelled in the celebration of Syttende Mai, the 17th of May, National Independence Day in Norway since 1814, when the constitution was signed to stop Norway being seized by Sweden after Norway and Denmark were defeated during the Napoleonic wars. I have never seen a thing like it. Women in dresses passed down by their mothers and their mothers and their mothers and their mothers and men in dress passed down by their fathers and their fathers and their fathers. Hoards of people in the port of Stavanger Sentrum, dancing and singing and playing music and eating and drinking in the hot sun and chilled air. We do not have such a day in England; some celebrate May Day, others do not, some celebrate the Summer Solstice, others do not, some celebrate St Patrick’s Day, others do not, but the 17th of May is a day celebrated by nearly all, and they fill the streets with their parades. Amongst them are the teenagers partaking in Russ, a celebration for high schoolers in the Spring Semester before their final exam at the end of term. Russ is a purge of sorts, where all is permitted; a rite of passage, if you will. To earn Russeknuter (Russ knots) in one’s Russ cap, a student must complete certain challenges, which might include simple fare, such as eating a Big Mac in two bites, to such commitments as making out with 10 people in one night, having sex with the driver of one’s Russ bus, drinking 24 beers in 12 hours, crawling through a supermarket while biting customer’s legs and barking, and more.
During the period of Russ, students must wear Russ overalls in different colours indicating the study that the student is completing, for example, the red overall represents Allmennfag (general studies) such as history, English, drama, athletics, and the green overall represents agricultural studies. Students also carry around Russekorts which they’ve created, with the name of their school at the top, an address, a photo, a phone number, and some quotes from something or other. Most of the time, these cards are jokes, and push the boundaries of acceptability with much hilarity (something like “International School of Stavanger” changed to “International School of Jailbait”). I collected a few while I was in town, mainly to test out my primitive level of Norwegian, and when I received the precious red cards, I held them like gold.
Russ is debauchery, and yet it is not. It is a time to loosen oneself from the constraints of life to come, to revel in ridiculousness and stupidity and pleasure and laughter before adulthood arrives bearing with it responsibility, work, and stress. I cannot help but think that Russ would have been a good thing for me and many of my old classmates – perhaps it would have given us a chance to blow off some steam in a semi-regulated manner and not be reprimanded for doing so. Because we will all do these things anyway, will we not? We will all guzzle drink in the woods at the weekend and return pitter-pattering to our door, anticipating stern words and groundings and the like. We will all go out after school has finished on our own proper rampages over the city, regardless of whether we are permitted to or not. Ah, to be young and dumb, to live without consequence!
On the last day, Fraser and his mother and her friend and I took the car to go on a short hike. At the top, aside a cluster of rocks, I looked out over Norway, and thought it was good.
The Carl Kruse Blog homepage is at https://www.carlkruse.com
Contact: carl AT carlkruse DOT com
Other articles by Hazel include The Fate of the Little Prince, A Quick Trip to Cahors, and A Positive Spin on Hustle Culture.
More info on Carl Kruse here.