Saerlig Store Elgfare. Very High Elk Risk.
Heading out of Oslo, it was this roadsign that really made me aware of my surroundings. Of the strangely claustrophobic amount of empty space around me.
Barely an hour out of the city and already we were moving through a landscape that was vast enough to support a creature as large as an elk.
Until I read that sign, I hadn’t noticed it. The space.
I’d been too preoccupied with the weather.
Entering Oslo that morning, ice floating on the water as our ship sailed in, a thin veneer of snow still carpeting the city, I’d stood on the deck, braced against the chill, with one thought in my head.
My God. It’s still winter here.
Back home my psyche had already made the shift to spring and I was more than ready for the change of season.
So to be assaulted by winter again seemed harsh.
Quite why I should be so taken aback by the weather is a mystery. It’s mid-March. In Norway. There’s snow on the ground.
What else did I expect?
That roadsign soon shakes me from my stupor though and with each bend in the road I scan the landscape on the lookout for a glimpse of an elk.
To no avail. The gargantuan scandinavian traffic hazards remain as elusive as ever. Damn.
We’re headed to the frozen shores of Lake Fefor, one time testing ground for a certain Scott of the Antarctic.
When I first read that Scott had come to Fefor to test his expedition gear, I must admit I wondered just what it was we thought we were doing. Was it really wise to head into such an environment with a toddler and an old dog in tow?
Scott was an intrepid adventurer. We are an urban family, off for a spot of quiet R&R. The very idea that we are off on holiday to an Antarctic training ground just makes me giggle.
A creosote red, wooden outpost, with formidable carved dragons roaring from its rafters. Gee.
Inside, it seems strangely familiar and it takes me a while before I realise that I am walking inside the set of “Twin Peaks”. Or that’s how it feels at least.
Something about the lighting, the decor, the wood. It feels very weird, very Lynchian. Very funny.
The taxidermied fauna on the walls, however, are testament to the fact that this place is far from some liminal, dissonant world. It is very real.
From the window, I look down at the frozen lake and spot a solitary figure sitting there, hunched over his hole, head bowed intently. An ice fisher.
I’ve never seen someone do this before and I stand transfixed, waiting to see if he will move. Five minutes or so pass, perhaps more, and there is no movement from the little figure out on the ice.
I think of the herons back home, perched still, almost lifeless on the river banks, lying in wait for their fish. My fisherman is as still as they are, as patient, and something about the way in which he sits, the small, unmoving stillness of it, tells me that its this sitting that matters most. A fish on the line would almost be a distraction, a rude awakening from this transcedent bliss he seems to have found out there, alone on the ice.
Maybe David Lynch would be at home here right enough.
Especially at this time of year. Winter’s end, the crowds gone, the snow beginning to melt. I don’t think I’ve ever been to an emptier place.
It takes a while to get used to actually, this emptiness. Empty hotels have a very strange feeling to them. The corridors seem too long, the sounds seem too hollow. Things seem to expand and contract simultaneously.
The few people that are around, turn out to be locals here for the weekend, for a bit of skiing and a dinner dance. They stay one night and revel, then, just as quickly they are gone, and the heavy atmosphere returns once more.
I have to remind myself not to pay too much attention to the mood of the hotel. That we’re not here to smooch around indoors, but to charge around, hale and hearty in the snow.
Which is just as well, for the space here, the sheer expanse of it, is a perfect antidote for any claustrophobia.
Hours and hours of wide, white space and undulating horizons. Peopled, it seems, by no-one but ourselves.
Each day we head out into this space under a sky of cornflower blue, the low sun sharpening the glint of the snow and transforming the landscape from colour to black and white when you turn into it.
It is impossible to imagine anything more perfect. Some days I just stop and twist about, watching this play of light just for the hell of it. Just because there is no rush about anything. If I want to mesmerise myself with the light, then I can.
Behind me, all I can hear is the scratching crunch of Nikki’s paws as he putters about in the snow.
He may be an old dog, but this is the landscape that envigorates him and sends him flying around with a grin on his face as wide as the Amazon.
I had worried that he wouldn’t be able to keep up with us this time, that his eleven years would have crept into his bones and sent him snuggling up to the log fire and his basket, but nothing could have been further from his mind. One look at the snow and he was scratching at the door to get out and get running.
Perhaps the local huskies had spurred him on. The day before he had sat on the ridge above the lake and watched us as we hurtled across the ice with the dogs. Their high pitched braying and enthusastic howling seemed to carry all over the lake and I could see Nikki was straining to run with us, to join in with this canine chase across the ice.
In the end he settled for charging down the hill ahead of Helena’s sled, racing her to the bottom then charging back up the hill, his loopy toungue hanging out with glee.
It’s been years since I’ve seen him move so fast. There must be some rejuvenating element concealed in that snow he’s been eating. I consider bottling it as a wonder cure and selling it on to Californians.
Then I realise that there is nothing wondrous about any of this.
It’s just what happens when you leave the city. Leave that world behind and come to some place quiet and elemental.
Norway always does this to me. It takes me so far away from everything, everyone, and allows me just to be.
To just turn into the sun and breathe and realise that this is all I ever really need…