I’ve always been a walker. Perhaps it was growing up in the fresh Norwegian countryside, or perhaps it was being a heavyset and nerdy kid in a fast-moving football community. Either way, walking – on the road, on paths, in the forest, on the beach – always seemed to me like a great way to spend my time.
Some of my favourite childhood memories revolve around walking to “hytta” – my family’s little wood cottage. It lies atop a cliff, overlooking a small lake, surrounded by tall, deep forest.
And yet, my memories are not about being at hytta – although I vividly remember the terror of staying the night there for the first time. My memories are about walking there and back again. Spending time with my family, moving and observing.
Memories are fickle and slippery like eels, squirming and twisting out of your hands. Mine are covered in fear and fairytale, but that only makes me love them more. I have memories of the long and challenging road that grew shorter and easier as I grew older. How it was mentally divided in two – before and after “den store brattebakken” – the big steep hill.
The big steep hill is not that big, but the top is, indeed, quite steep. It follows several other long, gentle inclines, surrounded by lush Norwegian spruce. The road slippery with thick grass, blueberry heather and overturned trees. Fat frogs might jump out at any turn and, if you’re lucky, your screech may scare up a wood grouse or a disoriented owl. Red squirrels leap between the trees, and everything smells of the season.
Then, the big steep hill marks a sharp turn to your right. The hill itself goes from wet mud to bare rock, and to your left you can glimpse the marsh. Do you remember how scary marshes are when you’re eight or ten or twelve? That’s basically where people go to die and be preserved forever. That’s where you’ll get so wet and cold that you’ll think you won’t ever be warm again.
After the hill, you’re in the real woods. The road is less pronounced here. Some places, the forest has crept all the way onto the road, stretching branches and roots out into your way, whipping your face or catching your feet. In between, there are large open spaces. Cold stone cliffs covered in grey lichen and lingonberry heather. Tall, straight Scots pine trees clinging to the barren ground. The woods are not as thick here, but they’re somehow wilder still.
This is where you can imagine a wolf weaving between the trees across the plateau, following you with its yellow eyes. This is where every creak and snap is a bear, a roe deer, a moose. The hissing to your right might be an adder, but it’s better not to look.
I have dozens of memories of these walks. Of racing up the hill. Of stepping through rotting snow. Of oranges and pieces of chocolate, of animals and the fear of animals, of conversations, laughter, anger, and seasons. Seasons slow and certain like tides.
I’ve been thinking about this a lot, the first 100,000 steps of 2019. I now walk mostly on pavement, asphalt, concrete and cobblestone. I’m surrounded by buildings rather than trees, people rather than animals, the smell of commerce rather than the smell of weather.
Somehow, it seems just as wild, yet I long to get into the woods.