Norway: Silence, Winter

As a teenager, I had a study room with a large, wooden desk. I would write there. On weekends, I remember working on drawings and paintings, absorbing the silence of the big house surrounded by trees. I remember the winter months, not for the holidays or for snow activities, but for the silence of the snow. In that study room were three skylights. When it snowed, I could look up and see the layers of white piling onto the house, enveloping our home in winter’s thick blanket. During those years, I remember staying up late at night, writing poetry or working on school assignments while the snow fell constantly and silently.

Today, watching falling snow still brings me to stillness.

Watching falling snow reminds me of silence.

In the Arctic darkness, there is stillness in the absence of sun which is always resting below the horizon, emitting a weak light that turns the entire land and ocean pale blue. Sunrise or sunset, the reflections of the clouds on the water last a few hours before the darkness sweeps over everything but the stars.

On our third day, we woke up to the waters being restful. The quietness disturbed me, and I immediately jumped out of bed and stared out my window to make sure we had not been swept out to some distant sea during the middle of our sleep. Instead, I saw the little orange buoy twenty meters out in the water, where it had always been. I saw the other little red cabins sitting against the rocks, huddled together. But out across from me, I saw something I had not yet seen since our arrival: mountains directly across from us; mountains that hid behind the frosted clouds; silent mountains that hid under the thickness of clouds; jagged mountains that stood unmoving against the beating of waters against its shores.

My Company and I share a love of mountains: from his hometown in the Sierras, to my childhood in the Adirondacks, from our travels in the Huascaran and Appalachia in the Americas to the Alps in Europe and finally to the Himalayas in India, we have traveled far to feel small against the shadows of older things. Sitting on the bed on the second floor of our little red cabin, staring out at the fjords and the jagged peaks of clouded cliffs, I could not help but feel a surge of excitement and awe – to be small again listening to the brushing winds against our window panes.

After a hearty morning breakfast of smoked fish and hard boiled egg, we took a bus to Camp Tamok to find snow in the valley between the mountains. Our bus ride was filled with singing and happy children, playing music from their cell phones to the annoyance of my Company who buried his head against the seat of the bus. “Children,” he groaned while overheating in his blue ski-suit rented from the resort, “are little menaces. Little tyrants and when they shout or cry, the adults orbit.”

Our bus swooned across the frozen roads from Malangen to Camp Tamok. We glanced out at little towns waking up, their lights shining in clusters against the whiteness of the snow. After an hour and a half drive, the bus turned into a wooded patch, the snow from the previous night still clinging onto the branches. Looking outside, I wished for nothing to disturb the peace of those branches and its resting snow.

The bus drove on.

Sled dogs ready for adventure.

Soon as we turned into Camp Tamok, we saw dozens of sled dogs barking in excitement at the prospects of a hard run. They were much smaller and leaner than the husky dogs I had imagined. As much as we wanted to go and play with the dogs, our first activity, however, would be snow-shoeing to explore the nearby trails and forests. After a short introduction to the camp, my Company and I strapped on snowshoes provided by the resort, and took charge up the hills, crunching along and talking to other tourists.

During the hike, we found that my Company can get away with pretending to be German, only long enough to eventually be revealed that he either has the vocabulary and mental capacity of a four year old, or he is foreign. It was inevitable that we’d spilled the beans about our Americanness, “Californian, actually,” we proudly asserted which opened up to replies of, “We’re so jealous of the sunshine!” and “Why would you ever leave?”

Forest of birches on our snowshoe hike.

On our walk through the woods, we explored the chewed bark of trees, learned why birch trees made for such good firewood in the north, and tracked the pawprints of other inhabitants of the forest. Two hours passed before we came to the last leg of our trek: a steep downhill back to the camp. “It’s easier if you run down this,” our guide warned. Scared, we ignored him and gingerly took slow, tense steps. On the third step, both my Company and I lost our footing and found ourselves tumbling and rolling down the steep hill; we tumbled all the way back to camp and managed to tumble our way into a heated tent and tumbled right onto some reindeer skins for a hearty lunch of reindeer stew, salmon calzones, and stove fired pancakes.

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Sitting around a cooking fire hut.

Warm and full of food, we spent the rest of the afternoon napping on couches, curled up against one another to the smell of stew, hot chocolate and sled dogs. Then when it was time, the my Company and I sleepily bopped our way back to the hotel on our bus, nodding off like exhausted children after an exciting day at summer camp.

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My company walking to a fire outside of the hut.

“Tonight, I think there’s supposed to be a very active solar storm. Do not stay inside,” our hotel receptionist advised us when we sauntered back into the reception.

My Company and I looked warily at one another. “Well, this isn’t the trip when we sleep then, is it?” he moaned. Looking outside at the night, though, we could not pass up another chance to see a brilliant showing. “Alright,” he shrugged, “Let’s go walk up the hill and see what we could find.”

Into the snow we walked, and I strained my neck high to look for a parting of the clouds. Any unexpected minute, I thought to myself, the lights might come. We set up the camera on a nearby hill overlooking the water. While the light pollution caused some worry, the view was enticing and we had privacy. In the silence, we talked and laughed, giggling at inside jokes and enjoying one another’s company the way one can do so easily up in the Arctic.

Soon, as we were laughing, the aurora broke through the clouds and this time, weaved from one end of the sky to another. My Company and I scrambled to photograph it, but the fast moving lights challenged us as it ran from one end of the horizon to another, across the lake and behind the mountains to directly overhead of us.

Green aurora over grove of trees.

A few hours later, cold, damp with melted snow and happy with our viewing, we ambled back to the hotel and shared a drink. As we walked out, we were greeted with a surprise aurora that lit the cabins ahead of us. Unpredictable and mischievous, it was as if the northern lights were beckoning us to stay up all night, lest we missed any possible show.

Excited and energized, my Company and I parked ourselves on the back deck of our cabin overlooking the water, splitting a bottle of champagne that we placed on the iced over table, photographing auroras over the fjords and counting shooting stars: one, two, three, four, never missing a wish. Hours later and after the clouds covered the skies again, we slowly made our way upstairs and into bed, falling into a deep sleep that carried us through the night on our creaking little cabin that swayed with the winds.

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Silence is something I’ll always think of when I see falling snow. It’s the silence of a thought, not yet ready to be spoken or written, the same silence of the snow that clings to the branches of the birch trees in Camp Tamok.

There’s a silence in the core of things, like a deep sleep you wake from not remembering a thing but feeling the night was restful and calming, filled with secret memories you are at peace with letting go.

A view from our frozen porch.

Snow falling – as if the sky is breathing above and behind the jagged mountains, catching itself and letting go of memories, filling them onto the earth, covering them with deeper mysteries that await melting by the spring.

Sky breathing – exhaling and sharing parts of it with us, heavily held and suppressed, ready to be let go.

Silence falling – at the core of it, wrapping itself into the air as we strain our eyes to the skies and watch the stars, falling deeply from one constellation to the other, through Orion’s Belt, the Seven Sisters, and Pleiades, landing onto the clouds, and falling once again, deeply into our memories, stirring lost and hidden thoughts.

Let go, Deep Memories, let go, unearthed, back to the sky, so they can fall down as Snow, as Breath, as the Stars that move and dance to some other Time.

Orion across the fjord.

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