He swung open the gate to let his car through, the man in camouflage trousers and obligatory peaked hat. Not wanting to become a target, we enquired politely if there was any moose hunting going on in the area at present, it being moose hunting season still. He reassured us there was not and flashed us a cheeky smile.
He sort of apologised for locking the gate – meaning we couldn’t drive, only walk through – explaining it had started being used too much by tourist organisations. The local fishing organisation manages and owns the area, and at various points along the river they’ve arranged resting places with conveniently prepared piles of wood. Far too convenient for tourist organisations looking for a place to take people. We sympathised. We were heading for one of these places ourselves, to sit and have coffee and admire the river and autumn trees. He warned us the lingon berries weren’t good this year, in case we were thinking of picking any. But we might find some in the far direction, if we took that route to the river.
As we walked away in the direction he pointed I turned to see him shut the gate, and to check there was no tail. You never know in a forest, you might meet a troll, and they can look very human, except for the tail.
The route was delightful, if you like lumpy springy vegetation to walk on, trails that disappear and then reappear, sudden wet ground and autumn leaves. We got a bit lost but knew we couldn’t go far wrong so we just wandered, hopefully. Very few lingon, indeed. The mass of detailed colour on the ground was mesmerising – lichen and moss, leaves underfoot turning red, brown, orange, and then just occasionally, among the green, a sharp tiny stab of bright red, the lingon. Just like in the breakfast porridge – a tiny shot of sharp bright taste.
Last time we were walking we weren’t looking for lingon, but birch bark. It’s good for getting fires going, and can only be taken from a dead tree. We brought home a reasonable amount, and when we got home and went to store it in the garage we found to our surprise that we already had a whole sack of it there. But, you can never have too much birch bark.
You can never have too much lingon either, so we persisted in looking. We walked back on another, more common route than the one we came one, where we would have expected the lingon to have been taken long ago. Yet it was here we found huge handfuls of bursting red bubbles just waiting for the picking. So passed the time, hours probably – one loses track, because there’s always another bright red enticement, just within reach. The man at the gate seemed to have sent us in the wrong direction for lingon. Mm – but still, I saw no tail.
Our bag was fast filling with berries. Rolf recalled a story he’d been told at school. A couple go to collect wood in the forest and they take just one more piece, and then just one more piece, and then they have so much wood they can’t carry it, and feel because they can’t carry that piece then perhaps they can’t carry the next piece either, until in the end they walk home empty handed. What was the point of this story? He wasn’t sure. We looked at the bulging bag of lingon. We carried on picking.
An area of lingon is a sensuous pleasure. It’s soft to lie on, the berries don’t squash against your clothes, the greenery has a pleasant aroma. The sun flickered through the bright coloured leaves and nearby the Kalix river rushed and gurgled by. There were insects, but, they didn’t seem to bite. This really must be heaven I thought. And so the time passed.
You know, said Rolf, now when we get home we’re probably going to find a big bag of lingon in the fridge that we’d forgotten about.
It’s a strange fairy tale world, in the forest. At the gate we waved goodbye to the troll and then drove home.