Nearly eighteen years ago me and my family dug up the roots we had so carefully planted in the countryside of England and moved to Norway.
It was so fun! We moved into an artists collective with a panoramic view of the Oslo fjord. The kids played up in the attic with the other artist kids, the adults hanging out with the other arty people. To start with I didn’t miss England in the least. I didn’t miss the language or the people. I didn’t miss all my friends or even my mum and dad.
But after some months there was something that I did miss. I swear to you the first thing I missed when I moved to Norway were the English trees. The giant beech tree, with its grey bark like elephant hide. The spreading oak with its tens of thousands of shiny acorns each sitting in its own dainty cup. In the winter I missed the spiky holly and in the spring I missed the hawthorn. Its blossom lining the hedges like scented snow. I really missed the English trees.
Its not like there are no trees in Norway. Check it out – the whole place is one gigantic forest. BUT they were totally the wrong kind of trees. When I was a girl they started planting fir trees in long long endless lines across my country. If you’ve trod in one of those arid spots you’ll know its less a forest than a sad prison.
My Dad told me – ‘You see those trees, they’re foreigners! They have shallow roots, they make the earth acid. They don’t belong here. They should go back where they bloody well came from!’ Well Ok he didn’t actually say that last thing but the fact is, like it or not, I was, and I’m not proud of it… But I was a Tree Racist. I despised needle trees one and all.
Until one day. I was sitting outside. We had moved out into a log cabin. The garden was a little forest, emerald moss studded with white wood anenomies and flowing beside us the black Sørkedals river. It was then I saw her. In all her grandeur and poise. Her branches, each one just a tiny bit wider than the one above, she held them curving upwards, like a graceful ballerina. For the first time I had fallen in love with a Norwegian tree. And its just gone on from there really. (See Trees)
It took a long time for me to see the Rowan. Crazily I thought it was some kind of weed. There is one in my garden and I was going to cut it down! Then, mainly due to my Finnish friend, the Finns have a deep history with trees, (we all do, but they sometimes remember it). She told me that the Rowan is a holy tree. A feminine tree, women used to give their girls a coming of age ceremony with Rowan in the forest.
In Norway its been a protector. They would put a sprig over their doors or the barn door to protect the brown eyed cows. The 90 year old man we walked with on the Pilgrims way would crunch a berry and offer it to the kids. ‘These kept us healthy during the war.’ He said.’So many vitamins.’ Since then its beauty has revealed itself to me, and when I tried to steep the leaves as a tea, I couldn’t believe the taste. Its like Almonds. Why don’t we all know this?
Its looking very much like I’m going to die here now. I mean hopefully not right now. But my roots are growing year by year. And when I do, I hope my children will take a little sapling. Perhaps a tiny rowan or a birch. And plant it over my body. A body I’ve spent years feeding, full of nutrition. And then that little tree will start to grow its roots down into me.
I will turn into a tree. My feet will turn into roots, exploring down into the earth. My red blood will become translucent sap. My soft, pale skin will turn into hard, shiny bark. My trunk will become the trunk of the tree. My arms will spread out into many many branches and twigs. My crown will become the much larger crown of the tree. As I reach up, my leaves will turn sunlight into sugar. I will become a tree, a meeting of Heaven and Earth.
Birch Mari Jerstad in Karasjok.