I give a caw, stretch my wings and take flight from my wintered perch, fly over the cocked head of the woman below. She’s watching me. From that icy slope at the beginning of the path that leads beneath the bridge next to the river in to town. Steinkjer. Perched almost exactly in the middle of mainland Norway, inland from Trondheim, at the centre of the long neck that follows the Scandinavian mainland into the Norwegian Sea and the East Atlantic.
Steinkjer. It means stone barrier for fish.
Steinkjer. Ancient Viking seat of power. Its six-pointed star lies at the crossroads to the six other districts in the municipality: Beitstad, Egge, Kvam, Ogndal, Sparbu, and Stod.
Our presence says it all. At the crossroads.
Steinkjer. Town at the border. It is the town which marks the contrast between the more populated south of Norway and the more sparsely populated north. It is where the river from lake Snåsavatnet meets the Trondheimsfjord. It is also where the major road, the E6 crosses the river Byaelva. The town lies 60km east from the coast and 60km west of Sweden.
Over her head I glide. Over the slow moving black water. In places large and lazy bubbles form, soft and quick and inky, and caresses the worn shoulders of hidden rocks before passing out again into the smooth flowing river. Moving ink. Laden with ice. Black against white. Water and ice. It’s melting now. March. The end of winter.
As the river passes through congested zones, whether sub-water hindrances or a narrowing of the river, or deeper zones invisible to the naked eye, the happily chattering river gains new pitches. I can hear the tones perceptibly. Smaller stones do not seem to perturb the river too much, she lets her sound increase to applaud their presence. Then bold protrusions with their dark chocolate heads elegantly breaking the surface of the water, forcing little strands of white around, gently anger the river and her tone becomes more severe. And then the river slowly deepens. You cannot see it but a second base note is added to the harmony, underneath the steadily flowing and higher applause. This moving ink is my path. This moving ink is my home.
By the bank my friend the Great Tit sings at winter’s end, her familiar beep-ah-ah-ah such a strange commotion to my simple caw. But then, her voice makes up for her size, barely seen as she is hopping amongst the twisted, naked branches of the wych elm, thin and bare and cluttered together on that side of the river. The sun has already melted the ribbons of white that nestle on the upward side of the branches. So now they wait for their Spring attire.
I land atop a birch on the opposite bank, turn around. Black against white. My perch atop the still frosted landscape. And above – blue.
She’s still there. Fixed to the same spot, still staring at me. I stare back. She smiles. Pulls her camera around to her eye, levels at me, and snaps. Then she moves on.
She walks slowly, stopping every few meters to take a photograph. Lifts her head, closes her eyes. She seeks the sun. It hovers low above the river, lighting the path and turning the snow a pale yellow.
She continues. Slowly. Happily. Her solitude on the path is what she values.
And suddenly she is stiff. Alert. Attentive. Her smile vanishes. She stops. She is not the only one on the path any longer. She can tell.
She turns her head to look behind her and sure enough there is another on the path. A man walking his dog. The dog sees her in the distance and starts to pull at the lead, strangling himself and panting in his excitement and rush to taste this new scent. He strains.
The woman doesn’t move. She waits.
The man and his dog approach. Closer. Closer.
The man sees the pull of the dog and the stationary woman. He begins a long arc around the obstacle, veering to the left to avoid contact. But the path is narrow and the lead long and the woman does not move and there is to be a meeting, a collision of paths.
The dog strains to the woman, the man strains against the dog tightening the lead.
The woman lowers her mitten-clad hand, places it in front of the dog’s nose. She is smiling. “Hei,” she says in greeting. To the dog. She does not raise her head to the man.
The dog obediently wags his tail and sniffs her glove. Politely. Doesn’t slobber. The man’s brows are crinkled in surprise. He is not quite sure what to make of this situation. He waits. The dog’s strength is too much for him anyway and the woman does not seem to mind.
The dog takes his time. Sniffing. Very interesting mitten.
Now the dog is done. He looks up at the woman and wags his tail.
The woman smiles back at the dog.
The dog keeps moving down the path, no backward glance, and the man is pulled along. Time to go!
The woman remains fixed on her spot. Watching the pair leave.
Further along, the dog has stopped straining and picks up a scent along the path, close to the picket fence that borders the river.
She is still smiling. She raises her camera to her eye, levels it, and snaps. Then she waits. The pair veer left away from the river and into town. She watches them as they disappear over the rise onto the street.
She turns around. No one here. She is alone again.
And so she continues.