Encounter at Jegersberg

Everything that I am about to narrate here is true. Yes, I could have mixed up some of the finer details, for I was lost and disoriented when it happened, but overall, this is a true story. Whether you believe it or not, is up to you. My only concern is to tell you everything truthfully, so that, you, too, may know the forces that live amongst us.

This incident took place sometime around the third week of October, perhaps at 17:00 or 17:30 in the evening. My mind was not at ease, filled as it was with worries and uncertainties. I had many things to do and little time to do them in. And yet, a restless spirit was upon me. I found that I could not focus on any one task. So, instead of wasting any more time, I threw on my jacket, grabbed the backpack and headed out for a walk in the Jegersberg forest.

This forest is just a year-long acquaintance, but it feels like a trusted friend. There is comfort among its well-trodden trails. A walk here never fails to silence the chatter, remove extraneous thoughts and make me feel at peace with the world. Not just that, I firmly believe that if you want to be at one with Norway, you must get on good terms with its nature. For Norway is nothing but these forests and lakes, these rolling hills and hidden valleys and these sheer vertical cliffs that rise straight up from the sea, overlooking miles of fjords sparkling in the sun. There is something jagged and raw about the nature here, but it is never brutal and always accepting if you give it the respect that it is due. The old gods, the trolls and spirits still lurk in the deeper recesses of these places, and it is only fitting that one should seek to propitiate them when one is looking for answers. Thus, a walk in Jegersberg is never just a walk, but a way to call forth the blessings of the Universe.

And so it was that day. As I wound my way along the trail that leads to the main Jegersberg lake, the Øvre Jegersbergvann, my very heartbeats started synchronizing with the rhythms of the forest. The smell of wood and rain and wet earth filled my nostrils and all around me was Jegersberg, ablaze in the reds and oranges of late autumn. Many of the trees had shed their leaves and their trunks gleamed a ghostly white as bunches of wet, decomposing leaves squished underfoot.

I walked deeper and deeper into the forest.

I had a need to get lost, and so a little way off from Vafflebua and on the trail that leads towards Gillsvannet, I decided to veer off the known path and follow a small, barely visible trail that led up the side of a low hill.

The forest was gloomy here. Bare, white trunks crowded in on me from both sides as I clambered up the steep slope. It was the magical hour of twilight, when the sun had already set, leaving behind some reflected light that lights up the horizon. As I huffed and puffed my way up, I could see the skyline through the trees ahead and knew that I was coming to the crest of the hill soon. When I got there, I found that it was the top of a ravine. From here, the land sloped steeply down. Odd-looking bushes and white tree trunks, curved into the most fantastic shapes grew all along this slope and the bottom was covered in deep shadow. On the opposite side was an open, grass covered valley with the treeline in the distance.

I made my way across the ravine and as I got to the crest on the opposite side, the residual sunlight disappeared from the sky almost as if some giant, unseen hand had turned off a light switch somewhere. Darkness came crashing, and with it came a wild wind and big drops of rain. All of this happened in an instant.

About 300 metres in front, I saw a huge ash tree standing alone in the middle of the valley. It was enormous, with branches spread out in every direction and covered with dense, green leaves even in this late season. I ran for the shelter of its branches, and stood there shivering, as I waited for the rain to abate. What I could not understand was where this rain had come from, for there hadn’t been a cloud in the sky when I started out, nor any mention of it in the weather forecasts.

The forecasters must have got it spectacularly wrong, for I have never seen a storm like this in Kristiansand. For the first time ever in Norway, I heard cracks of thunder that made me jump and saw flashes of lighting tearing up the sky, lighting up the inky curtain of blackness that smothered everything around me. In the intervals between the lightning bolts, I espied a faint, flickering light far ahead. Hope grew within me- perhaps there was a house or a village where I could find shelter from the storm.

I started making my way there when the thunderstorm had weakened a bit. However, as the rain calmed down, the sound of the wind became overpowering. It sounded like the howling of hundreds of huskies, or perhaps wolves, and it had a rhythm of its own – one moment the wind would be tearing through the valley with this unearthly sound ringing in my ears, and the very next instant it would die down, and the sounds of howling would grow faint – like a whisper coming from far away.

I was stumbling and slipping on the slushy ground. Up ahead, I could make out the dark shadow of a long, gigantic building from which the light was coming. As I came up to it, the harsh, insistent cawing of a crow cut through the wind and the rain and with a start I realised that there was another shadow moving about outside the building. The light, which seemed to be coming through the chink of a massive door, was momentarily blocked and I saw that there was another shadowy figure at the door. This person was knocking at the door and shouting to attract attention.

I was about 100 meters away when I saw the door open slightly. A hefty-looking woman wearing an old-fashioned skirt and bodice. A sense of relief surged over me. I decided to throw in my lot with this stranger and started running, so that I could ask for shelter together with him or her. However, as I got closer, I realised things were not going according to plan. The woman was gesticulating with rapid gestures and saying something to him – she seemed angry.

Finally, she slammed the door quite violently just as I got there. The stranger who had been looking for shelter before me seemed to be in shock. Now in the faint light coming from the home, I saw that he was probably a tramp. He was wearing a loose cloak made of some coarse material and carrying a crumpled bag in one hand and a long, sturdy, walking stick in the other. As he turned around to look at me, his face came into the light- a gaunt, long-suffering countenance, with a straggly white beard that was dripping with water and wet hair that seemed plastered to his scalp. At the spot where his left eye should have been was a red, fleshy wound.

There was something both ravaged and terrifying about him. He exuded the same energy – a mix of madness, shrewdness, pain and world-weary experience that I have seen in the faces of the homeless and the drug addicts in big cities all over the world. Perhaps he’s one of those, I thought to myself, one of this tribe that I have seen hanging around on the benches of the park next to the Kristiansand cathedral. Rage bubbled up inside me even as I thought this. Did the woman shut the door in his face just because he looked homeless? How could someone be so inhuman as to refuse shelter in the middle of a storm?

Fuelled by this rage, I started beating on the door. Louder and louder, I shouted till the door suddenly opened and out came the same woman. Up close, she seemed even bigger, with a face like Erling Haaland and a physique to match. Faced by this amazon, my anger suddenly melted as she started shouting at me. I could barely make out two or three phrases….’stikk av’, ‘Elfablot’, ‘idiot’, ‘drit’ and so on.

Anyway, long story short, this paragon of Norwegian physicality basically shook a stick at us, shouted a bundle of abuses and once again slammed the door shut. This time though, there was no anger inside me. Also, in trying to get away from her, I had basically slipped and was now lying ass down in the mud as I looked up at the old man. He offered me a hand and started saying something as he helped me up.

Unfortunately, my Norwegian is really basic and it looked like he couldn’t understand my English. And so we were at an impasse, as I racked my brain for all the wonderful things I had learnt in Norwegian class. Now let’s see, I could fluently say things like ‘han reiser med tog fra Oslo til Trondheim’, ‘Tom og Lisa drikker kaffe’ and ‘Det er Magnus. Han kommer fra Bergen’. I could also count from zero to thirty in Norwegian numerals and tell the time ‘Klokka er fem over fem’ for instance. However, he hadn’t asked me the time and nor was he interested in that blasted Magnus (or Tom og Lisa for that matter), so there was not much that I could offer by way of conversation.

After some gesticulations on both sides, I pointed him to the ash tree and we quickly hot-footed it there. It must have had a really thick canopy of leaves, for despite all the rain and wind, the ground underneath was still remarkably dry. The old man, started wringing the water out of his beard and cloak, as I took off my backpack to check how wet it had gotten. To my surprise, I found three packets of McDonalds chicken McNuggets that I had bought earlier and stuffed into the backpack in the morning. This cheered me up and led to a brainwave. I had finally thought of something intelligent I could say in Norwegian to my companion.

‘Hi, Jeg heter Rahul, Hva heter du?’

The old man perked up on hearing this and let loose with a whole torrent of Norsk. It was as if I had lobbed one small pebble from a catapult and been answered with a machine gun volley. I did make out that however, that he was heter’ed Váfuðr and was myself forced to admit that ‘Beklager, jeg snakker ikke Norsk.’ At this the old man looked visibly disappointed as he peered at my face with his one remaining good eye. For some reason, this intense stare made me really uncomfortable, and so to ease the tension, I offered him some chicken McNuggets with a cheery ‘Jeg har mat, ligger du chicken McNuggets?’

Judging from the resulting confusion, I realised I had made some mistake and so pointing to the mouth, I bade him understand that I was offering him food and gave him one of the packets. He looked extremely doubtful as he fished out one of those dry, cold nuggets and hesitantly put it in his mouth. It seemed as if he had never had a Chicken McNuggets in his life.

Be that as it may, however, his reaction was both instantaneous and joyful. A beatific smile lit up his face, he tilted his head just like Mark Wiens does and a very contented ‘aaah…’ escaped from his lips. He followed this up with a very excited set of gesticulations to let me know he loved it, and then in a matter of seconds polished off the remaining nuggets. Then with a big smile, he looked at me as if to ask, any more? I handed him the second packet with the very same result.

I couldn’t believe that anyone could possibly like those pieces of very, very dead, cold and dry chicken and so I also had a bite to confirm that no one had switched the chicken nuggets for something better. Nope, it was the very same piece of completely flavourless, mystery meat that I had always known. But I was intrigued – how could a possibly homeless guy and an imbiber of drugs not know about Chicken McNuggets?

Anyways, he gobbled up the second packet and so with a sigh, I offered him the remaining packet. It vanished in a trice, and now my friend let out a deep sigh, closed his eyes and leaned back against the tree trunk with a very contented air.

As Váfuðr ruminated about his latest gastronomical experience, I was left to reflect upon my situation; I had a thesis proposal and a Unikum article to submit, I had to revise for a Norwegian mid-term exam AND I had work over the next three days. I was lagging behind in the Norwegian class, had no idea what to write for the article and I was already behind on the thesis proposal deadline. On top of all that, I was caught here in the middle of this storm of the century. Panic rose within me as I thought of all the hours I had wasted and what would happen on the morrow.

Presently, as I was thinking these gloomy thoughts, my companion stirred from his rest, opened his bundle and took out an antique-looking earthen jar along with two cups, and filling up a cup, he offered it to me. I didn’t much like the look of it, but he was insistent and I felt scared to refuse, so I drank and downed it all in one big gulp. It was warm and sweet and honey-like, evidently alcoholic for it burned as it went down.

Dear reader, I do not know what was in that drink, but evidently it was just what I needed. As the drink burned its way to my stomach, an incandescent white flash went off in my brain and a burst of energy ran through my veins. Such a feeling of energy and power pulsated through my body that sitting still seemed almost unbearable. I felt an almost uncontrollable urge to move, to run and to shout. I felt like I could do anything in the world, even fly. Whatever it was I had just drunk, it had gone to my head.

I talked animatedly to my new friend, laughed loudly and boisterously thumped him on his back, chided him for being a sissy when he refused to join me in a rain dance, and basically, made an ass of myself. I do not remember much of what happened after that, except a few scenes here and there. I remember a flash of me hugging the tree as if my life depended upon it and another of me lying in some bushes in the rain and insisting to Váfuðr that I wanted to sleep out there ‘in the open’. I do not remember when and how the storm abated, or where Váfuðr went or how I found my way back home. All I know is that I have been writing on this story since the moment I got back home. It is now 3AM and I have many other pressing deadlines, I am tired and hungry but I am still writing like a madman, for I have tasted the mead of poetry.


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