Non Fiction: Silent retreat

I studied the notes. One by one. I had to go over the same bar again. And again. Most of the time I would play 6 or 7 hours a day. One hour before I went to school and 5-6 hours after I came home. I saw the girls at the stables on Thursdays and Sundays.

When I was 5, I held one the first time. When I was 10 I played my first competition, at 12 I played Dvorak and other Eastern European composer’s work and put my soul into every stroke. Heavy, sincere, melancholy vibrations through my violin. I felt it echo in my every nerve. I was 18 when I moved to Copenhagen to get a better teacher at The Royal Academy. I was 20 when I broke my hand.

The summer I was 21 I stayed in silence in our cabin in the mountains. Borgafjäll, Southern Sapmi (Lapland), Sweden. My great grandparents built the house. I remember my mother showing me where she, as a child, would stuff the insulation in between the timber, and how they would hurry back from the slaughterhouse with gallons of warm ox-blood in the back of the car. The house stood alone among the trees, red as my lips.

I had taken the mail-bus, and had no drivers license. The chauffeur dropped me off at the hotel. The smell of sour bog hit my face as I stepped out and dry dust from the road as the bus took off hit my eyes. I swung the bag up on my back, in my left hand i had my case and started walking through 3 foot high grass from the hotel to the cabin, since it made no sense walking down the road now that I had no car. Half a mile. This time with light-weight trekking boots. Can’t wait to hit the top of The Clover.

Cabin was dusty. Cabin was cosy. I used to give things names, but only names that were true. My first doll, a blue one, was called The Blue Doll my second, and last, was called I Have No Clue, it confused a lot of people, but what to do? I couldn’t lie. Could I? 

I spent the next couple of hours cleaning and putting things in order. I made my bed. I lit a fire in the fireplace, though there was no use for it. I did it for old times sake. The sun kept the wooden house very warm that summer.

Later that afternoon I walked the 2 miles to ICA (the local little food store (a chain), and an institution in Sweden.). Still surprised that it existed based on so few people living in Borga all year around.

“Oh! You’re back, little Swedane!” The lady who owned the shop had known me since I was born. I was three weeks old when my parents skied across the mountain range with me tucked into a covered sled. My father is Danish. The only Dane in that Sami area. Everyone knew that my mother had married a Danish man. After that we got known as Swedanes, with references to an old Swedish-Danish jazzband. Alice Babs, she sang, Ulrich Neumann played guitar and Svend Asmussen, played violin – I had two master-classes with him when I was a child. Alice used to sing with Duke Ellington. When Alice went on maternity leave Ellington had to replace her with three singers to cover her range. She used the natural-singing technique, jojka, a way of throwing sounds from mountain-wall to mountain-wall, in that way one was able guide cattle and sheep miles ahead of them. And to call on the gods, too.  

I don’t know what happened to Ulrich Neumann.

At ICA I bought smoked reindeer meat, (the only time a year I would eat meat, really. I knew that they were treated well), cloudberry jam (cloudberries grow in the bog and are impossible to grow in a greenhouse. A jar of the yellow gold costs a million, almost), Sami flatbread (surely, this was the beginning of the year’s first nostalgic shopping trip), Patées, herbs, more reindeer meet (topside), mushrooms, chives, lingonberries, blueberries (everything that was right outside my door). I had some serious cravings, couldn’t wait until I had picked and cooked the berries myself. For every taste a childhood memory. I carried my grocery bag in my right hand that was still numb. 

That night I walk an hour through the forest and turned left on the little secret path heading down to the bridge. When I stepped out on it I could feel it swing between the cliffs it was bolted into. Fresh cool winds hit my face. Under me, the roaring sound of waterfall, Bears Fall. If I fell off the bridge I would be gone, forever. The hight twisted my stomach as usual. I happened to be fond of things I was afraid of dealt with it by staring at it. I could barely see the pool at the end of the fall below me.

You see, the night was a little darker than the day. The sun never set this far up north during the summer, so we had six months of bright twilight, and the best time for fishing. I smacked the mosquitos, the few who dared to come close to me. The amounts of jungle-oil I’d used would probably give me cancer, but rather that than being eaten alive. Waterdrops hit me, cold and wild.

Day 4
I took my violin out of the case today. I threw my bow, in anger, from the porch. Found it intact between the pines. 

I tied the laces on the trekking boots 2 times around my ankles. I had waxed my jeans the night before and had hung them in front of the fireplace so they would heat up and the wax sink into the fabric. Almost waterproof. I had to sleep in the annex, it was too hot in the main house. With the windows open I could hear the wild river rumble just outside the cabin. It put me to sleep. 

Day 6
I haven’t spoken to anyone except from Maria when I was at the store 5 days ago. I’m leaving the cabin now; it’s 10:30am, July 27
th 2008. I’m heading for The Clover. 

Every tree, every stone, every mark in the landscape was my safety. Like so many other Sapmi areas this was untouched too, and my parents had given all the different hills and bends on the tracks in the area names so we kids would know where we were. 

The foot of The Clover was a one-and-a-half hour walk away from the cabin. From there two hours to the top. I had tied the laces of my boots real tight around my ankles this time to get more support so I wouldn’t slip when I was to head out on the wet planks stretching across the bog from Kajsa’s Super-Hill to Candy Stone. The planks were wet and under me laid the wet, sour, deep bog. If I fell down here I would be gone forever, too, and I remembered my Mamma’s supernatural reflexes. Whenever I slipped on a wet plank, she would grab my shoulder just before I would hit the never ending bog-hole, put me back on track, look at me with her piercing eagle eyes and point to the foot of the mountain and then back on the hole “That way, not that way”. Occasionally she would still point when I got off track. Albeit, this time the mountain was called Education and Bad-Ass Job.

I hit the top of the mountain after a good deal of climbing. I didn’t take any breaks. Silence pushing on my ears. The pressure was almost painful. The pressure of my thoughts was probably not making it any better either. I sat down on a rock that was not too pointy, next to stones piled up, a röse [roesae], left by people who had reached the pedestal. 20 stones, 20 souls who had been standing where I was now sitting. A penny for your thoughts.

I squeezed my right hand in my left and looked out on that wonderland of mine that I was placed in. In Sweden solitude is a strength. I felt safe here.

Knowing that I passed it walking down the mountain had my heart racing. Suddenly it stood there when I looked back, only 1000 feet away from me. It was skinny, and big. Instinctively I raised my hands and arms up in the air. SHOUTED (children’s verses), and walked BACKWARDS. Shouted backwards. I had no clue how I got home. I wanted to look up on the internet on my phone how many people had been killed by bears the last year. Luckily the Internet didn’t work up here.

Have I gone mad? I’m afraid so. You’re entirely Bonkers. But I’ll tell you a secret. All the best people are.

Day 13
I looked at it for a long time before I let my fingers run over the golden wood. I felt I had gone on a recreation trip with my love that I had let down…cheated on… cheated on with a broken hand.

I kissed it and closed the lid of the case well knowing that I would never be able to play professionally again. I had wanted to finish high school so I had something to fall back on.

All students playing an instrument where they had to use their fingers didn’t have to take gym class. Only one class in 3 years to pass. We did kickboxing. Now I’m happy I passed.

I took a deep breath and took a walk up to ICA and bought an ice-cream. It felt very exotic in all this nothing to eat something so colorful and cold on a stick. I went back to Cabin. As I came into the living room I saw the case laying where I left it. I couldn’t be in room with it. 

I left Cabin. I went down to the hotel which was open. No one locked their houses in the mountains. It was open all year around and with the lack of guests during the summertime it was more a ghost-house. I walked down all hallways. No one there.

I passed all rooms 1-189, I passed the main living room with hundreds of antlers hanging on the walls, I passed the kitchen, I passed and went back to the pool-room (inte-resting. No-one there) I went home found my bathing suit. Passed the rooms, passed the living room, passed the kitchen, did not pass the pool-room.

Day 19
Caught a 5.5 pound trout today. Not the biggest I’ve ever caught. (That was the pike. 16.5 pounds.) Grilled it outside. Went to bed.

Day 20
I broke the silence today. I said: I’m not going to be a violinist.

Two of the local boys passed the cabin that day. They stopped as they saw me sitting on the porch.

“We’re going down to the lake to fish and grill. You wanna come?”

That night we fished after sunset in the bright twilight. We grilled the trout and drank beer. Normally I didn’t drink. It affects your playing too much, but now I could. I told them my story. 

I left with one of them four days later. He drove me to Dorothea where I took the train back to the city.

/Kajsa Li Paludan

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Kajsa Li Paludan

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