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    Ch. 19 - In the Forest

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    Chapter 19
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    We are a long way over the elv. We have left the corn-fields behind,
    and have just come into the forest, where we halt at that small inn,
    which is ornamented over the doors and windows with green branches for
    the Midsummer festival. The whole kitchen is hung round with branches
    of birch and the berries of the mountain-ash: the oat-cakes hang on
    long poles under the ceiling; the berries are suspended above the head
    of the old woman who is just scouring her brass kettle bright.

    The tap-room, where the peasant sits and carouse, is just as finely
    hung round with green. Midsummer raises its leafy arbour everywhere,
    yet it is most flush in the forest--it extends for miles around. Our
    road goes for miles through that forest, without seeing a house, or
    the possibility of meeting travellers, driving, riding or walking.
    Come! The ostler puts fresh horses to the carriage; come with us into
    the large woody desert: we have a regular trodden way to travel, the
    air is clear, here is summer's warmth and the fragrance of birch and
    lime. It is an up and down hill road, always bending, and so, ever
    changing, but yet always forest scenery--the close, thick forest. We
    pass small lakes, which lie so still and deep, as if they concealed
    night and sleep under their dark, glassy surfaces.

    We are now on a forest plain, where only charred stumps of trees are
    to be seen: this long tract is black, burnt, and deserted--not a bird
    flies over it. Tall, hanging birches now greet us again; a squirrel
    springs playfully across the road, and up into the tree; we cast our
    eye searchingly over the wood-grown mountain-side, which slopes so
    far, far forward; but not a trace of a house is to be seen: nowhere
    does that blueish smoke-cloud rise, that shows us, here are
    fellow-men.

    The sun shines warm; the flies dance around the horses, settle on
    them, fly off again, and dance, as though it were to qualify
    themselves for resting and being still. They perhaps think: "Nothing
    is going on without us: there is no life while we are doing nothing."
    They think, as many persons think, and do not remember that Time's
    horses always fly onward with us!

    How solitary it is here!--so delightfully solitary! one is so entirely
    alone with God and one's self. As the sunlight streams forth over the
    earth, and over the extensive solitary forests, so does God's spirit
    stream over and into mankind; ideas and thoughts unfold
    themselves--endless, inexhaustible, as he is--as the magnet which
    apportions its powers to the steel, and itself loses nothing thereby.
    As our journey through the forest-scenery here along the extended
    solitary road, so, travelling on the great high-road of thought, ideas
    pass through our head. Strange, rich caravans pass by from the works
    of poets, from the home of memory, strange and novel--for capricious
    fancy gives birth to them at the moment. There comes a procession of
    pious children with waving flags and joyous songs; there come dancing
    Moenades, the blood's wild Bacchantes. The sun pours down hot in the
    open forest: it is as if the Southern summer had laid itself up here
    to rest in Scandinavian forest-solitude, and sought itself out a glade
    where it might lie in the sun's hot beams and sleep: hence this
    stillness, as if it were night. Not a bird is heard to twitter, not a
    pine-tree moves: of what does the Southern summer dream here in the
    North, amongst pines and fragrant birches?

    In the writings of the olden time, from the classic soil of the South,
    are _sagas_ of mighty fairies who, in the skins of swans, flew towards
    the North, to the Hyperborean's land, to the east of the north wind;
    up there, in the deep, still lakes, they bathed themselves, and
    acquired a renewed form. We are in the forest by these deep lakes; we
    see swans in flocks fly over us, and swim upon the rapid elv and on
    the still waters. The forests, we perceive, continue to extend further
    towards the west and the north, and are more dense as we proceed: the
    carriage-roads cease, and one can only pursue one's way along the
    outskirts by the solitary path, and on horseback.

    The saga, from the time of the plague (A.D., 1350), here impresses
    itself on the mind, when the pestilence passed through the land, and
    transformed cultivated fields and towns--nay, whole parishes, into
    barren fields and wild forests. Deserted and forgotten, overgrown with
    moss, grass, and bushes, churches stood for years far in the forest;
    no one knew of their existence, until, in a later century, a huntsman
    lost himself here: his arrow rebounded from the green wall, the moss
    of which he loosened, and the church was found. The wood-cutter felled
    the trees for fuel; his axe struck against the overgrown wall, and it
    gave way to the blow; the fir-planks fell, and the church, from the
    time of the pestilence, was discovered; the sun again shone bright
    through the openings of the doors and windows, on the brass candelabra
    and the altar, where the communion-cup still stood. The cuckoo came,
    sat there, and sang: "Many, many years shalt thou live!"

    Woodland solitude! what images dost thou not present to our thoughts!
    Woodland solitude! through thy vaulted halls people now pass in the
    summer-time with cattle and domestic utensils; children and old men go
    to the solitary pasture where echo dwells, where the national song
    springs forth with the wild mountain flower! Dost thou see the
    procession?--paint it if thou canst! The broad wooden cart laden high
    with chests and barrels, with jars and with crockery. The bright
    copper kettle and the tin dish shine in the sun. The old grandmother
    sits at the top of the load and holds her spinning-wheel, which
    completes the pyramid. The father drives the horse, the mother carries
    the youngest child on her back, sewed up in a skin, and the procession
    moves on step by step. The cattle are driven by the half-grown
    children: they have stuck a birch branch between one of the cows'
    horns, but she does not appear to be proud of her finery, she goes the
    same quiet pace as the others and lashes the saucy flies with her
    tail. If the night becomes cold on this solitary pasture, there is
    fuel enough here--the tree falls of itself from old age and lies and
    rots.

    But take especial care of the fire fear the fire-spirit in the forest
    desert! He comes from the unextinguishable pile--he comes from the
    thunder-cloud, riding on the blue lightning's flame, which kindles the
    thick, dry moss of the earth: trees and bushes are kindled, the flames
    run from tree to tree--it is like a snow-storm of fire! the flame
    leaps to the tops of the trees--what a crackling and roaring, as if it
    were the ocean in its course! The birds fly upward in flocks, and fall
    down suffocated by the smoke; the animals flee, or, encircled by the
    fire, are consumed in it! Hear their cries and roars of agony! The
    howling of the wolf and the bear, dos't thou know it? A calm,
    rainy-day, and the forest-plains themselves, alone are able to confine
    the fiery sea, and the burnt forest stands charred, with black trunks
    and black stumps of trees, as we saw them here in the forest by the
    broad high-road. On this road we continue to travel, but it becomes
    worse and worse; it is, properly speaking, no road at all, but it is
    about to become one. Large stones lie half dug up, and we drive past
    them; large trees are cast down, and obstruct our way, and therefore
    we must descend from the carriage. The horses are taken out, and the
    peasants help to lift and push the carriage forward over ditches and
    opened paths.

    The sun now ceases to shine; some few rain-drops fall, and now it is a
    steady rain. But how it causes the birch to shed its fragrance! At a
    distance there are huts erected, of loose trunks of trees and fresh
    green boughs, and in each there is a large fire burning. See where the
    blue smoke curls through the green leafy roof; peasants are within at
    work, hammering and forging; here they have their meals. They are now
    laying a mine in order to blast a rock, and the rain falls faster and
    faster, and the pine and birch emit a finer fragrance. It is
    delightful in the forest.
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