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 third part of a four part series.
The third part is SUMMER.
The Shaman followed a small creek, which wandered lazily in-between the pines. Moss-covered granite blocks surrounded the stream. The Shaman climbed over the rocks and descended to the water. It was the lightest time of the year. Nature was in full bloom, she was showing off and displaying all her colours. The nightless nights continued the days, and the air was thick with sound. Over the short summer months all living things gathered the energy of the sun, they harnessed it deep in their hearts, so that during the winter they would have something to believe in. The Shaman approached a swamp. He could hear the grasshoppers and frogs. Everywhere around him grew cotton-grass like small, floating clouds swaying in the light breeze. Dragonflies hovered low above the swamp and water-striders played, making faint ripples on its still surface. The swamp was alive. Carefully the Shaman stepped across the old boardwalk and came to a lake. The evening was still and filled with miniature sounds, only a fool would have said it was silent. The Shaman could hear the bubbles made by small fish in the lake. He listened to the birch branches swaying in the light breeze - then another noise entered his ears. The sound came from the forest behind him. Branches and twigs were bending and breaking. Behind the trees a forest reindeer appeared. Surprised, both the Shaman and the forest reindeer stared at each other. The animal was almost white. Its eyes were round and deep brown in colour. Flies hovered over its antlers. It was a young buck. The forest reindeer waded into the lake. Head above water, with a determined face, the young buck swam. He was a good swimmer and soon the Shaman could only see a small dot in the middle of the lake. He was on a quest, but that quest was clear only to him. The Shaman sat down, opened his bag and took out a piece of rye bread. He crumbled small pieces into the lake and watched as the fish eagerly came to nibble on them. The Shaman was heading to the north end of the island, he was on a quest of his own. A pouch hung from his belt. Restlessly bloating, the contents kept moving inside the leather walls.
On the north end of the island it blew hard. During the night the sea was covered in spray. Fine dust whirled in the air. There were no trees to shelter the land. Whitecaps moved on the surface of the sea like bumping eels. The sea was a force to be reckoned with; her movement had shaped the landscape and rounded the rocks. The change she created was slow but inevitable. The sea could appear deceivingly gentle but with time could break even the hardest of rocks. At the beginning of the new day she showed her gentler face, absent was the fury displayed during the night. Calmly she greeted the awakening island. In the early hours of the morning the Shaman came to the shoreline. Before he could see the sea he could hear it. He could hear the seagull’s scream and the roar of the surf. He smelled the salt in the air and felt it on his face. It had been windless in the forest, but as he arrived to the shore he was greeted with a gust. It blew onto his face, twitched in his jacket and moved on to harass the trees on the edge of the forest. This was barren land. On the furthest rock, in the embrace of the sea, he saw the lighthouse. It stood tall welcoming him to its grounds. It was a grand sight. Carefully the Shaman approached it. The lighthouse stood on rocky ground with nothing but small juniper bushes as its companions. They were the only ones who could endure the hard winds, salty water and barren ground. The force of the wind had made them grow sideways. They were small and crooked, but they were fighters. The Shaman sat down. The never-ending concert of the seagulls continued above him. The beacon was off, the lighthouse in front of him was having an eternal rest. From a distance he could see a small shape appearing. A small dot, which slowly grew bigger, approached him.
The rocks on the shore felt soft under her soles. Kaiku never wore shoes during the summer and the ground she stepped on hardened her feet. The rocks massaged the bottom of her bare feet and gave her a good grip as she jumped from rock to rock. In her hand she carried a basket full of eggs. Kaiku stopped and looked around. Gusts vibrated a spider’s web. It was weaved in between two rocks and quivered rhythmically in the wind. The spider had chosen the windy beach as its home. It was a wonder the wind didn’t tear it apart. In the background, the lighthouse towered up from the sea. Its bright red silhouette rested beautifully on the blue sky.
As Kaiku approached the lighthouse she saw an old man sitting on the rocks. The man sucked a pipe and the wind kept stealing his smoke. No introductions were made between the two. They both stepped inside the lighthouse, Kaiku first and the old man behind her. With an instinct they both knew the meeting was cordial.
Inside, the stone walls crumbled white, fine dust onto the floor. Mould inflorescence grew freely on the walls. The room they stepped into was tall, it consisted of a large kitchen which took up most of the lower floor. Next to the outside door was another. From the root of the room coiled steps to the upper levels on the lighthouse, forming a deep spiral. The Shaman positioned himself in the middle of the stairs and looked up, he could see almost all the way up to the beacon. A small square window above the sink faced the sea. It was sunny outside, but the room was bathed in shadows and dark corners. The beacon had died out. No one except Kaiku had seen the insides of the lighthouse for a very long time. This side of the island was uninhabited. Perhaps it was the harsh winds or the barren rocks and the snakes living underneath them that kept the people away. Whatever the reason, a long time ago someone had decided to build a lighthouse on this edge of the island. One time there must have been a lighthouse keeper living there too.
It started to rain outside; the sunny morning had taken a turn. Kaiku and the Shaman sat by the kitchen table facing each other. Kaiku had never seen anyone this close before. The man was very old with a face full of sharp features and expressive eyes. Wrinkles lined his visage; it was like time had forgotten him. His features were prominent and his skin as old and rough as bark. A stick the Shaman had brought with him rested against the wall. On top of the stick was a carving of a wolf, an elk and a bear, all side by side, all looking down in a posture of deep concentration. The Shaman let the girl observe him freely. As a girl without the power of words her curiosity could only be satisfied by her observant eyes. Outside on the window a snail clung to the glass. It was baring its underside to the ones inside the lighthouse. Slowly it was making its journey across the window, from one side to the other. Inside the lighthouse time seemed to have slowed down, matching the speed of the snail.
The Shaman watched as Kaiku walked to the shore. The afternoon sun was out now, creating long shadows on the rocks behind her. Her bare feet stood firmly on a rock made slippery by the passing rain. Kaiku had erected two wooden poles on a small section of the beach which had sand. It made a good base to clean her nets. The air whistled as Kaiku hit the net with a loop shaped metal tool with a wooden handle. The day was slowly turning into a warm evening. The Shaman gazed at the horizon. Small islands made of granite embellished the view. Their colour varied from black to grey, pink and red. Some of them had lakes - some smaller, poorer ones could not sustain any plant life. They were only suitable for the visiting seals and sea birds who took their rest there. The Shaman sucked his pipe. A strong breeze blew over him. The sea that isolated him from the rest of the world had been his companion for as long as he could remember. For a long time he had tried to confine it in to a sentence but his old friend had turned out to be too big and old. Nothing was absolute with the sea.
Kaiku sat on the floor by the beacon. The summer evenings were bright and the air was still. Nothing moved outside and the beacon was very hot. Kaiku opened the narrow glass door and went out. Carefully she slipped her feet onto the slender railing. Underneath her she saw the edge of the island and the big sea. In the distance she could see a ship. It sailed slowly, on the edge of the hazy horizon. She closed her eyes to see its cargo in her mind; colourful cloths, exotic smells, skins and leather perhaps. Up above her on the bright sky shone a faint half-moon.
Kaiku walked quietly down the spiralling steps. From the windows, which rotated around the lighthouse tower, she could see the view all around. When she came to the kitchen she found the Shaman sleeping in the corner. He lay on the small bed breathing heavily and his long, grey beard rested on his chest. He had stayed in the lighthouse. From the beacon Kaiku had seen him walk the shores. The old man was constantly moving. Kaiku opened the door. She could hear the gentle ripple of the waves as they hit the rounded rocks. She walked past the nets and sat down on the rocks. They were still warm from the sun. Kaiku tucked her knees close to her body and rested her chin against them. The island was different at night, even at summer. It felt like it let her observe it more closely. At night time the island let her in. Kaiku peeked into a crack that ran up from the sea. Curled in the bottom of the crack was an adder. It was easy to identify by the dark saw-tooth pattern on its back. Light flooded into the forest, the nights were now no darker then the days. The wind had died and filled the forest with mosquitos. Clouds of them formed all around Kaiku, whimpering in an excruciating choir. On the edge of a field, on a small rock poking in between the trees, Kaiku saw a forest reindeer. It stood munching on a willow. Every now and then it stopped and scanned its surroundings with watchful eyes, the forest was hidden with dangers. Kaiku walked to the field where hay grew tall and unkempt and came to the other side of the shore. Here the wind blew hard and the rocks where jagged. Deep notches ran across the surface. It appeared as if someone had dragged big hooks across their surface. Around her unfolded a wild, untamed coastal garden. Yellow sedum and purple chives protruded from the crevasses. They survived on thin, dry soil. On this side of the island the coast was open. There were no islands nearby, only the endless sea, which ruled the landscape, whirling salt over all that dared to grow close by.
The day began with the concerto of the screaming seagulls, their sound was an inseparable part of the shore. The sea glared like mercury. Sunlight played on the restless surface, constantly changing its appearance. In the lighthouse kitchen the Shaman stirred a pot. He cracked eggs and added them to the mix, which blended into one mutual colour. Sunlight leaked into the kitchen and created a streak on the floor, reaching to the Shamans feet. It came from under the locked door.
Kaiku lay on the bottom of a small wooden rowing boat. Her toes touched the surface of the water as she drifted with the light current. Gentle waves hit the boat and made Kaiku languid. The wooden boat smelled good; a combination of salt and fish lived in its walls. Underneath the boat swam a swarm of Baltic herring. After them came a lonely pike with its open mouth revealing a row of sharp teeth. As always, it was hunting. On the seabed, in the mud, ruffled a flounder. It was a curious looking fish. Both its eyes were turned upwards, close to each other; it only saw what happened above. A rock nudged the bottom of the boat. From the middle of the sea rose a small shoal. It consisted of a cluster of rocks covered in seaweed and kelp. Kaiku ran her fingers through the seaweed. They were poison green. Like hair they covered the rock floating in the water. Next to the rock floated kelp. It was anchored to the bottom rocks and the plump air pockets, which supported the algae and helped it reach for light, floated near the surface. Kaiku grabbed a cluster in her hands. They were heavy and felt leathery. During big storms the sea would bring heaps of kelp to the shore. Sometimes they were thrown all the way to the steps of the lighthouse. But it was not all bad with kelp; it was a good fertilizer and could be eaten. In the water kelp was soft and had a rich brown colour, but when it was exposed to the sun, it quickly dried and became crisp as the air pockets hardened. Kaiku looked up. In the distance she saw a small island shimmering with whiteness. As she came closer she could see the island was dead. It was covered in rows of white birches. Kaiku dragged the boat to the shore and stepped inside the forest that rose up from the sea. Eeriness surrounded her. It was like she was walking in a forest made out of bone. Different shades of white surrounded her and the dry, sharp forest rustled under her bare feet. Some of the tree trunks had a hint of bluish grey in their white and some carried a warm cream colour in their bark. Kaiku had never seen so much whiteness at summer. She leaned against a trunk and it toppled down. A cloud of dust arose around her. The forest was entirely dead. As Kaiku looked closer at the trunks she saw marks on their bark. Engraved patterns ran up and down. Someone had eaten up all the trees, sucked out their life and left only their skeletons behind. In the skeletons they had left their last gift, the imprint of their journey. Kaiku walked around the small island, it was a transparent experience. All of it was the same, not a living plant grew in sight. In every direction around her she saw the sea. It undulated around the small island, restricting, keeping its grip tightly on the land. Kaiku sat down on the rustling ground. The still tree trunks formed an insufficient canopy above her, there were no leaves to flicker in the wind, making the scene feel incomplete. As if to replace the greenery a pair of ravens flew over her and landed on two separate branches of the dead birches. They were as black as the birch was white. They cawed in a choir, knowing each other’s melodies by heart. The ravens had had the time to lean; they mated for life.
Kaiku peeked through the kitchen window, the scene was empty - the Shaman was out. Kaiku went to the kitchen cupboard. Behind the pots and pans her fingers found a key. With great care she opened the door, the action made her shiver with excitement. The heavy door opened slowly. The room bathed in sunlight. The air was hot and stifling, here the windows were always kept closed. Wooden driftwood shelves filled the walls and an almost nervous energy lingered in the air. On the shelves sat an army of glass jars. Kaiku closed the door behind her. The glass jars felt warm, and light reflected from the surface of the glass on to the walls. As she rotated the jar the spots of light on the wall danced. Perhaps because Kaiku could not speak or make a sound of her own she had developed a fascination for all sounds. They seemed to fill an empty void and comfort her. She had heard the sea in her different moods. Kaiku had heard the gentle ripple, which formed when the sea caressed the closest rocks on the shore and penetrated between every small crevice. The rocks further out, which formed small reefs, were in a constant turmoil with the sea. Sometimes the waves around them looked like the splashes of a big fish tearing up its pray underneath the water. At times the surges appeared as an underwater organ lifting up small amounts of sharp water spikes. Sometimes the waves appeared as a broad shouldered swimmer gobbling the water as he dove. They all formed a different sound. The sea had offered her a number of voices to collect. When Kaiku could not sleep she would go to the forest and listen to the owls. They would fly very close and she would look at their big round eyes, which gave away nothing. Kaiku had developed an efficient process to store and collect. Her method, which was perfected with time, consisted of sitting still, patiently waiting and listening. Then with one efficient movement she would open the mouth of a pouch and trap the sound in. Then she would bring the sounds to the lighthouse. The various sounds lived with her in harmony, side by side in her library, separated from each other by thin glass walls. She had collected them all, the sound of a fire eating dry wood, morning dew falling onto a leaf, two rocks smashing against each other, a bell someone had left to the mercy of the wind and countless others. Kaiku was intrigued by the minuscule and the massive. From the natural soundscape surrounding her she could evaluate the islands condition. A healthy forest by nature was noisy, constantly communicating with the spectrum of life that lived in it.
The Shaman had taken the boat and the small pier was empty. Kaiku lay on the rocks looking at the sky and listening to the surf. The granite under her felt solid and strong and carried the warmth of the day in it. Streaks of colour meandered through the landscape. Pink, silver and grey threads of different widths embellished the rocks. Kaiku looked at the lighthouse towering over her. It was truly brave. To exist in a nest made out of rock, in the embrace of the sea, under the burning sun, was courageous. The harsh waves and the salty wind kept engraving her surface, sculpting her shape to their liking. All the little soil that wandered to her grounds were swept away by the autumn storms, a garden was only a distant dream. The lighthouse was destined to stand in solitude. Yet she had the grit to provide shelter for those who dared to trek to the outer rocks. Solid she rose up from the rocks amid the constantly changing weather thanks to her clever builders. The evening started to dim. In the distance, somewhere far away, Kaiku could see a small flame lighting. Soon others joined the lonely bonfire. From island to island a chain was created. Like small glow-worms they burnt brightly in the dusk. Kaiku rose up. The fires represented and united the people who resided on the edges of the sea. They acted as a link, a communication system. With their bright flames they spoke of the century long, unbroken bond between the people, who had promised to protect and guard each other. The fires were also burnt for those who never returned from the sea. For Kaiku they were a reminder of others around her. They were people she never saw and who she would never learn to know, but with the shape of their flames they showed themselves to her. With the fires they were all linked. Kaiku got up and ran in to the lighthouse. She climbed to the beacon. Through the glass windows, she could see the fires lighting all around the islands. She opened the door and stepped out. The wind played in her rough, dry hair, she could smell the change it carried with it. There was a hint of coldness in the air.
When Kaiku came back outside the Shaman had returned. The boat was back in its usual place and he had lit a fire. Like the rightful keeper of it he sat cross-legged with a stick in his hands, hunched in a shawl. His eyes were closed. The light had captured him, demanded his presence and taken him somewhere far away. Kaiku chucked more wood on to the fire. The light of the bonfire made the Shaman appear younger; it smoothened his wrinkles and seemed to take years off the old man, catching the essence of a young spirit. Kaiku walked to the other side of the lighthouse. There, illuminating a small part of the rocky ground burnt a hurricane lamp and on the surface of it hovered moths. Three big bodied, hairy legged creatures strayed closest to the light. They were beautiful. She opened a wooden cover that protected a pit in between the rocks on the ground. From there she took a bucket full of perch. When Kaiku returned the Shaman smoked his pipe and the smell of herbs lingered in the air. She pierced a gutted perch on a wooden stick and stuck it in between small rocks by the fire. New sounds which came with the dusk surrounded them. The screech of the seagulls quietened down. The sea rippled close by and Kaiku could smell a faint mixture of seaweed and salt in it. She took a piece of burnt wood in her hand. It felt soft and coloured her hands black. The Shaman and Kaiku looked at each other over the fire. Neither one of them had a need to say anything; only the flames spoke.
Later on the Shaman sat outside by the extinct fire. He sucked up the last pieces of juicy meat from the perch. They had been perfectly smoked. With sticky fingers he lit his pipe. The fire was slowly dying. Small white bones and skin lay on the rocks. Bright red coals glowed in the middle of the fire. They were covered in deep cracks and soon all of them would turn into dust. The Shaman poked the fire, encouraged the flames lit up for one last burn.
Kaiku had gone. In her hair and clothing she carried smoke inside the lighthouse. It was a persistent scent. Tired and with a stomach full of smoked fish she dragged her feet up and curled next to the beacon. She instantly fell asleep in the warm beacon room. Outside the air was cool. The Shaman sat as silently as a rock, not moving at all, and the coldness did not find him. He stared at the sea in front of him. Summer was slowly coming to an end.
Since the Shaman’s arrival to the lighthouse something had changed in Kaiku; she had started to dream. This was something she had never done before, suddenly her nights were filled with adventures just as her days were. She often dreamt about the island, about the things which were known to her from the day. But sometimes she dreamt about things she did not understand, things she had never seen before. Tonight she dreamt about the forest. Like many times before she walked to the field where hay grew tall and continued to the forest behind it. Kaiku walked slowly, but the landscape around her changed quickly. Soon she came to be further from the lighthouse than ever before. Behind the trees, in the middle of the forest she saw a lake. In the forest it was silent and still, the wind from the shore did not reach this far. Kaiku walked to the bank of the lake. The surface was still. She leaned in and saw her own reflection. The dark water bore her face; small eyes, high cheeks, long hair. She touched the surface and ripples blurred the view. For a moment she looked like someone else; unrecognisable and out of place, then her image disappeared completely. When Kaiku looked up she saw a forest reindeer. It was very close and gazed past Kaiku to the lake. It was light in colour, almost white. The skin on the horns was peeling off. Drops of red blood fell on the fur. The forest reindeer changed feet restlessly. It turned around and started to walk towards the forest, Kaiku followed it. Deeper in the forest, in all directions the view was the same; endless mixed rows of trees. It was a uniform landscape, a maze. Small forest birds sat disorderly on the outer branches of the trees. Blueberry twigs and moss filled the ground. On the side of a shallow hill Kaiku saw a human form. Silently she squatted down and hid behind a tree. Kaiku had occasionally seen hunters in the forest, but she was not a hunter, she was a girl. Her back was turned away and she squatted down picking something from the ground. Beside her was a basket. The girl wore a red skirt, which trailed over the green tussocks like a river of blood. Suddenly the girl turned her head and faced Kaiku, she looked straight at her. The familiar face expressed no sign of amazement; it bore a defiant look, like a call for a challenge. Kaiku stared at the visage; small eyes, high cheeks and long open hair. It was her face.
Rain whipped the forest and trees bent in the strong wind. Heavy drops formed big craters on the surface of the sea. All animals had taken refuge from the storm. Wet and crouching in their dens they all waited for the rain to stop. Only the earthworms and snails endured the weather. Big drops fell onto the ground as earthworms stuck out from it and snails soaked in the water moving slowly leaving a trail of slime. They relished in the wet. Kaiku walked the slippery rocks on the northernmost peak of the island, they reached far away from the shore here. Blocks of granite stuck out from the coast, some over, some under the water level. It was a difficult terrain to walk in. Kaiku leapt to a flat rock and squatted down. It rained heavily. She gazed towards the horizon. Scattered around the sea were small islands. Their shores were filled with waterfowl, which covered the rocks with their white excrement. Even the rain could not intimidate them. Kaiku stuck her hand in the water, the sea felt colder today. Out of the depths a swarm of jellyfish floated towards the shore. Their transparent, fragile, gel like bodies looked ethereal, they were the ghosts of the sea. In the deep green, turbid water their pale orange colour looked striking. The storms had brought them close to the island. Even though the jellyfish could swim the ocean currents controlled were they went. They would sink, drift and float according to the movements of the sea. The jellyfish moved with rhythmical contractions of their muscles, water was pumped in and out of their bodies. They accepted the sea inside them completely.
Later Kaiku came back to the lighthouse. Outside the rain was beating against the window forming an almost even rhythm. Besides this sound it was nearly silent inside the lighthouse. Kaiku closed a lid on top of a jar and placed it on the end of the shelf with the others. She squeezed water out of her hair and it made a small puddle on the floor. Her feet had left a trail of wet footprints behind her. The sounds moved restlessly inside the jars. Their consistence was so faint it was almost impossible to detect the movement. Kaiku leaned closer. The round walls of the glass jars imprisoned the wild ones inside. Kaiku took a jar into her hands and slowly rotated the lid off. A thin, string like form levitated out of the jar. As it fully emerged it changed its shape to a row of tall pointed mountains. Kaiku sat down on the floor. A landscape of sound was painted in front of her. Almost see-through it floated around the room in a cluster and the room was filled with soft click-like noises. The windows trembled gently from the soft deep tones, the room was expanding. When Kaiku opened the door she saw the Shaman sitting at the kitchen table gazing in to a cup of tea. Next to him burned a candle. He had lit the stove and placed his wet clothing above it. His long hair was glued on his cheeks and he was wrapped in a cloak. The Shaman did not lift his eyes from the cup as Kaiku closed the door behind her. The kitchen bathed in silence as the old door behind her closed slowly. Kaiku took a candle and walked up to the beacon.
Kaiku placed the candle on the beacon floor and changed in to a dry shirt. The restlessness that haunted her had moved into the lighthouse. The calmness she knew before had moved aside and had been replaced by endless questions. She had started to dream. With the arrival of her dreams she had started to yearn for things and these things she could not find in the forest. Kaiku leaned against the wall, she felt like the extinct lighthouse. She thought about the rocks and the rotten wood the waves kept throwing to shores of the island. The island that had been the centre of her world had now made her feel like the wood, an outcast, a drifter. She remembered the girl from her dream and wondered if she was real and the idea of her own un-realness painted a corrosive hole inside her. On the floor next to her lay a pair of scissors. Their handless were red and rust covered the blades. From the glass walls around her she saw her reflection; small eyes, high cheeks and long hair. The image had stayed unchanged for a long time. Kaiku took the scissors and placed them close to her face. They felt cold against her skin. Lit by the small light of a candle, in the secrecy of the darkening night, a transformation began.