I am grateful beyond measure for the trip I took this week
Sometimes you do things just for fun. You know to visit a place you’ve dreamt for seeing. And sometimes that place leaves a mark on you. I recall the Taj Mahal in Agra or Uluru being two such places which have left deep marks in my soul. Those places, albeit visited just for pleasure, as a tourist, are very powerful. They taught me things I never thought possible, never thought I needed to know. They’ve changed who I am as a human being. As an author, I am lucky to have been able to use those lessons and the imagery etched onto my retinas in more than one of my books, but mainly The Fallen Angels of Karnataka. This week, I did something I had not done before. I left my house to travel to a place I have already written about, in my current work in progress (WIP), tentatively still called “The Pillow“, although that, too, may change.
This trip was different. I had planned it to learn. I did not go there to have fun. I went alone, without my family, at a time where there are no tourists (I was the only guest in town) to understand the soul of the Sami people, to learn what it means to be Sami. Not having been brought up in the Swedish school system, I knew nothing about that people, yet somehow, in my semi-conscious efforts to highlight diversity in my work, my main character decided to appear as a Sami. To do him justice, I had to learn. When I write about a specific place, particularly if I haven’t been there, is to go online, look at pictures, maps, and web sites to get the information I need. I tend to keep it generic and I rarely go into great detail. When I’ve been to the place, it’s obviously much easier to be specific. Although, my storytelling focuses more on the emotional impact of a place than lengthy descriptions of wall papers or architectural details. A choice.
For some reason, and the faithful among you are free to claim divine intervention, the land of the Sami, Sápmi, called to me. The mountains around Ammarnäs called to me, and I had an almost physical urge to visit. Yes, to learn about the Sami, but I was sure it was primarily to ‘see’ what Nilas would see, to get a feeling for the land.
Now I understand it was more than that. The Sami ARE the land. There was a point in my conversations with my guide Mikael where he told us how deeply wounded his people feel every time the colonists (aka the Swedish) talk about the “wilderness” of the mountain landscapes of northern Scandinavia, where in fact, they would never apply that term to their own back yard.
To the Sami, who have lived around these mountains for thousands of years, this is not wilderness, it is their home, a cultural landscape. And while we as visitors or colonizers may be unable to see it, there are countless signs of culture: trails, places of worship and sacrifice to the gods, homesteads, milking stations, etc.
The Sami live in harmony with nature, and unlike the Abrahamic Peoples who believe that the earth is ‘theirs to subdue’ (Genesis 1:28-29), this indigenous people understands to take only what they need to live. Not more. And their needs are simple. Their joy is to watch a reindeer calve, to see an arctic fox hunt lemming, an eagle soar, or commune with a bear, the carrier of messages to and from the afterlife.
After my first day on the mountain I was exhausted. More so from the stories I was told, the lessons I had learned, than from the physical fatigue of riding a snowmobile all day. And it wasn’t until the end of the second day when I realized the power of this land, how it beckons and calls. I’ve learned to see it differently, and I now understand that it called upon me because Nilas is the mountains and the land is Nilas.
Back in Gothenburg, in my own four walls, I wonder how the first draft will be affected. How much of the Sami story will find its way into the pages of it? Nilas has morphed before my eyes. I see him much clearer now, his life, his soul. I also understand why the books ends the way it does, and it is the perfect ending (if I may say so). I have a lot of work to do in the coming two weeks before the manuscript is due to reach my publisher.
I’m glad for this enlightening journey, this pilgrimage of sorts, because it has once again instilled in me a sense of purpose, and maybe, just maybe this is what we need from time to time: to shut up and listen. Not just to each other, as important as that is, but to listen to the earth talk to us. I know this sounds very new age and strange, particularly coming from someone who does not believe in deities. However, I do believe that we and all living things are connected somehow and that we simply don’t fully understand how the neutrons, protons and electrons that make up everything, how the basic strings resonate. Maybe when we’re totally still, in a place where silence reigns, maybe, just maybe, we can here those strings swing, resonate and talk to us…
Have a wonderful weekend!