#scandinavianfolklore

KAIKU (part2)

On a small island in the north, where the winter days are short and the summer sun never sets, life must adapt to the changing seasons. A vision of two women with the same face sets a reclusive shaman on a journey from his dark forest cabin to the barren, windswept shores of a lighthouse. 

In Kaiku our relationship with nature is explored through sounds and seasons. Set over the course of a year in the isolation of a small island Kaiku is the result of a long-running fascination with traditional narrative, folklore and the natural environment. 

This is the second part of a four part series. The second part is SPRING.

 

 

SPRING

 

The Bear

Her face was as white as the snow that surrounded them. Wind blew across the ice and Aino’s wet body made the Shaman shiver. The weather had taken a turn for the worse. One step at a time, the Shaman approached the shoreline. From time to time he lowered Aino down on to the ice and rested. The Shaman looked at the girl’s face, her grain colour hair, the eyelids which shimmered with their whiteness and her wet, unkempt eyebrows. He had watched her grow.  

 

  Many years ago, on a sharp spring afternoon when he could still remember the number of his years, he walked through the forest. The snow had moved aside early and exposed the earth’s greenery. Vivid colours popped up all around. Gasping his lungs full of fresh air the Shaman stretched his torso. Strong smells filled his nostrils. The sun was high in the sky and the ground was wet. As the Shaman approached a lake he saw a man bent down drinking. The foreigner wore colourful clothing and his hair was dark, almost black. The Shaman moved closer and made his presence known. The man turned around. His body was short, strong and muscular from physical work. Deep wrinkles, carved by harsh winds encircled his alert eyes. His exposed arms revealed scars. He travelled light.  

  In silence the two men made a fire. The evening coloured the sky orange and the forest quietened down. The stillness of the early night was broken only by the occasional pop of sap burning in the fire. The Shaman bent down to fill a bucket with lake water, and in the surface he saw his reflection. On the bottom of the lake the Shaman could see small, black aquatics creeping in the brown water. He was looking into two worlds. He sunk his hand in, and the murky water transformed it into a lifeless limb. Behind him the foreigner sat in stillness, eyes staring at the flames. On the rippled surface of the lake the Shaman looked at his own distorted reflection.

  A light breeze blew in the forest. The foreigner covered himself with a cloak and the Shaman lit his pipe. The burning wood between them warmed their bodies as they waited for the darkness. In the shade of the extending shadows the foreigner opened his cloak. From inside he took a small object; it was a white flute made out of bone. In a deep singular ascending note the foreigner emptied his lungs. His body crumpled down like an empty sack. Flexing his body and drawing the night air into his lungs, he began to play. The Shaman closed his eyes and listened to the stranger’s song. The foreigner had walked a long way. He was from a family of herders, constantly changing their location with the need to feed their animals. The man had been on the move for some time. He had left his village, the animals and his family long ago. The Shaman saw a dark, corroded patch around his heart. Searching for weakness the Shaman looked into his eyes. The test of cold and the endlessly long, sunless winters had formed him in to a fighter. In this man the Shaman saw sisu. The foreigner’s breathing became quicker with the pace of the melody and the forest echoed with sound. He played without ending and the sound lulled the Shaman into sleep.    

  Small pieces of ash drifted in the air as the Shaman opened his eyes. It was very cold and the ground was wetted by the morning dew. The fire had burnt out leaving a white, brittle pile behind. The Shaman wrapped his cape tighter around his body and poked the fire. The campsite was empty. He lit his pipe and walked to the shore. The wind blew mildly, the warmth of the new day was present. Seagulls and terns hovered high in the sky. The Shaman looked out to sea. In the distance he could see a small boat. He puffed his pipe and put his hands in his pockets. There his fingers touched a small flute.         

 

  It had started to snow as the Shaman reached Aino's cabin. He laid her on the bed, lit a fire and went back outside. A strong, piercing wind had started to blow from the sea. From under a tarpaulin behind Aino's cabin, the Shaman collected wood. He opened the sauna door and stacked the heater full. In the cabin he prepared a drink of hot water and cowberry juice and placed it by Aino's bed. He undressed the girl and tucked her under a blanket and went out. The wind sang in the top branches of the pines. The Shaman dug into his cape and lit his pipe. With relief he disappeared back into the darkness of the forest and to his own solitude.         

  Behind Aino's closed eyelids darkness ruled. In her bones she bore the cold embrace of the ice, in her frame she felt the movement of the current. Outside the cabin a snowstorm covered everything in a thick white layer. The temperature dropped and everything started to freeze. It felt like time had slowed down. The small village close by was almost completely buried under the snow. No one moved outside. The villagers hid behind closed doors, behind the safety of their thick timber walls. The windows in the houses became frozen shut and covered in ice. The people inside could hear them clack and creak. It was a dangerous time to be outside. In the evenings the small village glowed faintly from candles lit in the windows.

  Aino opened her eyes to the darkness of the cabin. Everything was black, there was no light coming from outside. She lay still in her bed listening to the silence of the cabin. Outside Aino could hear the winter raging, the snowstorm ruled the island. Slowly, she got up. Her bare feet touched the cold wooden floor and made her shiver. She could smell burning wood. Aino lit a candle and placed it on the table. It created a small illuminating ring, but left the corners of the cabin in darkness. Above the fireplace Aino saw the clothes that the Shaman had put there to dry. They still smelled faintly of the sea. Aino looked out the window and was met by her own reflection. Dark rings circled her eyes and sharp shadows formed under her cheekbones. Her lips had lost their colour and her hair laid flat around her head.  

 

  Aino’s recovery was long and slow. Long after her fall to the sea, she could feel the cold inside her. It trapped her inside the cabin in a state of stillness and time passed slowly. During this time the only sound inside the cabin was the humming of the visiting Shaman. The flute lay silent in its red velvet den. Everything was still. Weeks passed and Aino slipped in and out of dream. When awake she was overcome by boredom. It was endlessly snowing outside and she was too weak to move. For the first time the darkness bothered her. She had started to resent its ever-present oppressiveness. Day and night had no difference, everything was black. At night she lay still in her bed, as if buried in a coffin underground. The restlessness that twirled inside her would not leave her alone. Aino did not dare to hope for spring, it felt as distant as her trips to the forest.

  When Aino did not sleep she lay silently awake in the bed, listening to the sounds inside the cabin. She could hear the small bugs rustling inside the ceiling, eating away the layers of wood, their small noises sounded voluminous in the silent cabin. Aino had memorized all the corners of her room. She had counted the roof beams and discovered figures in the dark patches of the wood. The rings on the wood created patterns which ran all over the cabin walls. A small mouse ran across the floor. It stopped underneath the table and sat on its haunches, cleaning its face with its front legs. Every now and then it stopped and looked around, alert.  

  One day, while scanning the ceiling, Aino found a new form. She stretched up on the bed and leaned forward, squinting her eyes. In the cabin corner Aino could see a large, dark shape. As it moved towards the light she could see a dark brown coat. From the shadows appeared a grown male bear. Slowly, stepping away from the darkness, the animal moved into the centre of the room. He stretched his torso up and sat on his hind legs staring at Aino. He was very tall and very still. In the air Aino could smell the

forest he brought in with him. Aino sat up on the bed. The two of them stared at each other in the respectful silence of the cabin. Slowly Aino got up and approached the bear. She stretched her hand out. His fur felt soft and thick. Aino moved closer. She leaned against the bear and felt the softness of his fur on her face, his embrace was grand. To keep their upright balanced they moved their legs slightly, in its way their movements resembled a dance. Outside the storm was blustering, but the two of them kept their dance going until they had figured each other out.

The next morning Aino woke up to calmer weather. The sun was shining timidly behind the clouds. She got up and went to the window, and the soft light made her eyes hurt. The outside world had become distant to her. The storm that had raged over the island for the past few weeks was getting tired. The falling snow had turned into water. Big drops fell down to the white ground and started to melt the snow. The storm was a sign of a change in the season and it had burdened the island uncommonly. The marks of its fury were visible everywhere; spring did not only bring beauty with her, she also brought destruction. On the ground lay broken trees, which had fallen down from the weight of the snow and the force of the wind. During the storm the forest had been a dangerous place to walk in. Now it looked like a big maze. The Shaman scampered over and under the fallen trees, his trusty stick helping him on his way. As he came to the seashore he was relieved to see an open plain. He sat down, fixed his eyes on the sea and listened. The sea ice had started to melt and break. For the whole winter it had been possible to walk far out to the sea, but all that was about to change. Spring was deceiving. The same ice that was strong enough to walk on in the morning could now give away in the evening due to the growing warmth of the sun. Spring was the time of big, quick changes. Cracks had started to appear on the surface of the ice and she had started to talk. Banging noises erupted from the ice and the Shaman listened to the concerto of claps and clacks from a safe distance. During the following weeks he visited the seashore often. He witnessed the separation of ice, from one big slab into small blocks that floated in the sea. It was fascinating to watch. It looked like a large puzzle was being separated, piece-by-piece. Water could once again float freely and the sun could penetrate the sea and warm the waters and the animals in it. Fish started to become active again, and soon it would be time to spawn. The sea would once again be filled with life.  

Later that day the Shaman came to Aino's cabin. Fine dust hovered in the air and the cabin smelled stuffy. Aino lay sleeping on the bed, breathing lightly. The Shaman piled fresh wood in the heater and mixed a medicine. He looked at the framed photograph hanging on the wall. Its black edges were grey from dust. During her recovery Aino had created her own private world and the Shaman could feel this invisible change in the cabin. He had felt the presence of this world from the first visit, but the vividness of it had increased so much that now he was hit by it as he stepped inside. As the Shaman turned around he saw the bear. He sat in the shadows, in the corner of the cabin. The bear was tall with thick and ruffled fur. The king of the forest stood in the small manmade structure with ease. Like a guardian of the sleeping girl he towered over the Shaman.

 

Aino sat by the window gazing at the early morning. Birds sang loudly in the forest. Outside the cabin snow melted, only small heaps stayed scattered in the shades where the sun did not shine. Aino sipped hot juice. Covered in a blanket she stuck her head out of the door. It was very bright, and fresh smells swished through the air. A light wind made her shiver. Aino sat down on a bench. The whole of nature seemed to have woken up, everything was noisy around her. The plants stretched their stems upwards to get closer to the sun. Aino could almost see them grow in front of her eyes. Different species of birds competed for nesting space. Everything was turning green. The plants and trees had survived the long winter and could now once again focus on growing. In front of Aino life was speeding up, erupting with a newfound energy. Bursts of colour appeared from under the melting snow piles. Coltsfoots were the first ones to bloom. Like small, yellow suns they peeked out from the dark soil. Aino sneezed and turned her face up towards the sun. It caressed the outlines of her face.

Inside the forest it was cooler. The sun percolated through the tall, thick trees on to the moss tussocks. The soil felt soft under Aino's feet. The earth and the needles made it pleasantly elastic to walk on. Aino followed small paths in the forest and let them take her where they wanted. She hopped over puddles and sniffed the strong smells of spring. Life was growing and being created everywhere around her. The change in the forest was evident, no longer was he a sleepy grandfather who calculated his every movement, but a young, vigorous man. The forest had got a sudden fire under its chest. Light crept to the deepest parts and melted away the snow giving room to the dark, wet ground.  

  Aino came to the cliff. Small streams run down its face, wetting the moss that held on to its surface. Even the vigour of spring could not change the dreary mood of the place. Slough surrounded her, the echo of birds sounded different here. On top of the cliff stood the bear. He looked down at the forest below, into his kingdom. Here in the forest he appeared a lot bigger. Slowly the bear started to descend, his heavy body shaking with his whole weight as he stepped down the steep cliff. Walking on all fours, his paws left deep marks on the moss. Around him the birds became quiet, giving space to the king. With a fast beating heart Aino watched him. Suddenly the bear stopped. He raised his head and sniffed the air. He fixed his gaze on the forest. Aino turned to look. On all sides the forest stood silent. The bear stood frozen staring in the distance and snorted silently. Then he backed up. Aino looked at his round back as he disappeared in to the forest. In a few moments he was gone.       

The passing weeks displayed a variety of weather. The island was on a brink of a new season, but it appeared as if nature was not ready to give in to the warmth without a fight. It rained often. Soil travelled to new places creating small mudslides. The village, which was built on a vale, started to flood. Streams ran across houses and everything became wet. People carried soil in their boots to their cabins. Like the wolf pack which takes shelter in their den, the villagers retreated inside. When the rain stopped Aino walked out to the forest. After their first encounter by the cliff the bear had appeared to her often. Aino would see him in the forest or by the lake. Sometimes he kept his distance, sometimes he came close. Aino reached her hand to touch the side of the bear. She ran her fingers in the short thick fur, it felt good. Their encounters had become more courageous. Aino liked to sit close by and watch as the bear sniffed the ground. His large paws and curved claws dug deep in to the earth. Their bond was not defined by words but by the silences shared between them. Together they listened to the rhythm of the forest. They heard its beat and adjusted their hearts to it. Blood rushed fast in their veins as they ran in the forest, jumping over fallen trees and rocks - competing, feeling alive. The girl and the bear lived in secret. They had created their own order. The bear never came to Aino's cabin again and he stayed away from the village. Aino could only find him in the forest.

 

A wall of rain approached the island from the sea. It pierced the surface of the water and harassed the waterfowls. A swan couple flew over the shore and their big wings made a loud noise. The rain had cut the Shaman’s fishing trip short. He dragged his boat to the shore and tied it to a birch. Smoke puffed out of Aino's chimney and faint light shined through the windows. Aino sat by the table. The fireplace warmed her back. With closed eyes she played the small white flute. Her fingers ran fast over the length of the flute and her slender body swayed with the rhythm of the song. Today her melody was slow. It was filled with yearning. The weather made her mind melancholic. It felt as if someone wanted to drown the whole island and unite it with the sea. She focused on the piercing high notes which stayed lingering in the cabin air. Her only audience was the three women staring at her from the framed photograph. They were a quiet, respectful audience. The Shaman heard the song in the forest and stopped to listen. Water poured down from the tips of his hair and landed on the flooding forest floor. The soft ground gave in, creating a pool around him. The song was strong enough to be heard even in the hard rain. Like lungs filling with fresh air the leather pouch hanging from his belt bloated up with sound. He listened to her song - at the same time both harrowing and triumphant.

 

 

A goodbye

A chimney puffed smoke into the forest air. With rosy cheeks Aino stood in the kitchen, her sleeves rolled up, hands holding on to the edges of a wooden trough, tiinu. In the bucket she was birthing bread. Taikinajuuri, the bread root, was the soul and foundation of the bread. The root lived on the wooden walls of the bucket, which were always kept dry so that mould would not grow on them. Aino poured water, salt and rye flour into the trough. Then with a hierin, a peeled pine branch that split into short fingers at one end, she stirred the mix. She would leave the dough to ferment, then add more rye flour and let it sour. A dough, in which wild yeasts and bacteria lived, was created. This was the foundation of her bread. Aino covered the tiinu with a cloth. Many years ago she had been given the root from an old woman in the village. The old woman herself had received the root from her mother and it had travelled through generations unchanged. The root had felt an array of hands caressing and moulding it and waking it up with water. In return it had provided food to many hungry mouths, keeping its taste the same throughout the decades. In front of Aino were the foundations of a bread 100 years her senior.

In between the ceiling beams Aino heard bats rustling, the warmth of the fireplace had made them active. They had lived with Aino, hibernating during winter under the roof, and now they were too warm. From the window Aino could see them swish out to the fresh air making sharp noises as they flew. During winter the cabin had been in a state of stillness, it had been important to harness all the warmth inside, but now with the increase of light and warmth it was time to shake things up. The cabin needed a good clean. A stale smell had resided inside for far too long, it was time to get rid of it. Aino washed the cabin with soap. She dragged the carpets outside and gave them a good beating. She walked to the shore and placed the mats on a table there. Aino filled a bucket with water and poured it on the mat. With a rough brush she started to scrub. Line by line the mat was cleaned. A fresh smell of soap and sea water filled the air and the sun warmed her back as she worked. Inside the cabin Aino swept the floors. She pushed the small, shrivelled beetle shells out of the door and placed the mats back on the floor. As they unfolded a fresh smell filled the cabin. Every corner was scraped clean. The cabin was shining. Suddenly Aino heard a bang, something had crashed into the window. Beneath the window lay a stunned blue-tit with its small body twitching. Aino lifted it in her palm. It lay still, the impact of the crash had broken its small neck. The soft yellow and blue plumage moved in the light breeze and the small, black eyes were half open. Aino carried the tit to the back of the house and started to dig the earth with her fingers. Aino dug a small, shallow grave. The earth felt cold around her fingers and dirt worked itself under her fingernails. Aino took the bird into her hands; its body was still warm. She loosened the scarf on her head and wrapped the Blue Tit in it. Aino laid the wrapped bird in the small hole and covered it with soil. The colourful scarf disappeared quickly in the dark earth. Around her the evening turned dark. A beetle entered the scene from the left and creeped over the mound, it had no time for grief. It scrambled over the mound and fell over half way through. With a big effort the beetle managed to right itself again. Determined, it continued its journey across the mound with its pitch-black shell, the perfect mourning suit. Aino watched it disappear into the dense vegetation. She got up and dusted the dirt out of her skirt. It was dark everywhere. On the edge of the forest appeared a dark shape. It was too dark to see clearly. Aino went to the cabin and lit the hurricane lamp that hung outside. She pointed it towards the forest and there, blending into the dark tree trunks, stood the bear. He stood on his four legs and stared at the cabin and Aino. Neither of them moved and the darkness around them deepened. The bear stood still for a while and then silently backed in to the forest. In a moment he was gone.    

  One day the bear disappeared completely. It was a warm late spring day. Aino lay on the forest floor, the canopy above her swaying in the light breeze. Feeling languid she closed her eyes and the sound of the forest filled her mind. A woodpecker tapped a tree somewhere and Aino could hear whispers all around her. Like unsolved mysteries they filled the forest. A long time ago she had known an old man. She remembered him unclearly. Only his good will but distant manner had stayed with her. The old man had been her caretaker. As long as she could remember he had been there, watching over her and teaching her. Aino's first memories of the forest were from a time when she had been smaller than the bigger ferns, and the branches of the blueberry bushes scraped her knees. The old man had sat her by the tussocks while he had dug roots from the ground. She had watched him work and listened to the song of the mosquitos endlessly dancing around her head in a cloud. When he had had to go further in to the forest he had tied a string around her waist and tied the other end around a tree. She would always wait for him to return, always sure he would. As she grew older the length of the rope increased. Aino remembered the old man’s endless curiosity towards the natural world. The two of them would sit for hours outside in silence, listening and watching. In his cabin Aino had nursed bird chicks and injured animals. Early on she had learned that all of them could not be saved. From time to time the old man walked to the village to trade. It was a foreign world. In the village people lived side by side, there was no forest to separate one house from another. It was a world filled with objects, customs and rules strange to Aino and she observed it all with a mix of curiosity and cautiousness. She remembered the faces of the people as the two of them walked to the village. A mix of fear and resentment showed in their eyes as they observed the old man and the young girl. There were many of them, young and old, big and small - all wearing similar clothing. She observed them all with care. In spite of the silent commotion their visits stirred in the village, the old man was always greeted with respect. He would always visit the same house and Aino would wait outside. A round old woman with a dirty apron greeted them by the door and the old man followed her inside. While Aino waited she would watch the children play around the village. Some, she thought, were the same age as her.

  When the old man's cabin had become too small for the two of them he had walked her to another. As Aino grew older the old man visited her more rarely and the gap between them grew. With as few words as possible he had taught her the necessities of life and then trusted her to survive on her own. Out of all the things he had taught her, one was above all. He had given her the flute and she had learned the language of music. It had become her companion, a confidante. In sound she had found a way to belong. The forest was never silent.  

 

  The terrain was difficult to walk in. Small fallen trunks lay everywhere. The spruce grew close together and only a few rays of sun reached the tussocks on the ground. This part of the forest was dark, it was a true wilderness. The trunks were rotten and brittle and inside them lived an army of beetles and larva. Everything squished under Aino’s boots. Behind a thick vale of spruces appeared a small house. The years had changed the Shaman's cabin. Its walls were dark grey and they blended perfectly with the surrounding forest. The cabin was very old and the windows looked bleary. It was impossible to see inside. Aino opened the door handle. With odd familiarity she looked around. Everything was the same. It was as if time moved at a different pace here. The cabin was dark, in the corner was a small sleeping quarter. Aino drew a long line in the dust and sat by the table. The timber walls were patterned with year rings. Here and there sap had squeezed itself out of the wood. It was like the wood was shedding frozen tears.

The evening had started to dim. The whole day Aino had circled around the forest searching for the bear, but he had not shown himself. Behind the canopy of trees she could faintly see the stars lighting in the sky. As she looked at them she could feel a strange connectedness. It was as if they were part of her. Their distance and coldness did not make her think of her smallness, but the isolation which at times felt painstakingly present was swept away by their glare. They appeared to her as anchors on the sky connecting her to the greater landscape of the universe.

 

  Aino could smell smoke, somewhere a fire was burning. As she walked further she could see a group of men sitting in ring. Silently Aino watched them from the safety of the forest. They were hunters. The light of the fire illuminated their wooden faces. Beside them on the ground lay their used weapons coloured dark red with blood. Behind them in the shadows where the light of the fire did not reach Aino could see a dark shape. Its familiarity halted her and made her heart beat faster. In the shadows laid the dead bear, his fur wet with blood. The blood had combed his hair sleek and he rested lifelessly on the forest floor. From inside Aino, from the deepest pit of her soul came a primal command - Move! it ordered. Aino started to run. The endless forest of the old trees covered her. The landscape rushed by her eyes. She ran to her cabin. Out of breath she collapsed by the table. Aino looked up at the photograph. The beating of the two hearts had ended, only one remained. The young woman in the photograph cried a silent tear.