Tuesday, June 09, 2009

The Hill Behind the House No. 1

When we moved to Norway from France last August, I knew I would have to start a new blog about our new life in a different country. I also knew that it might take me some time to get the measure of that country, as it had taken me some time in France. I think I had been in France for at least a year before I started the Connaissances blog, and it wasn't too soon because in the first year I had many adverse reactions to the culture change which would not have been good to spread around in public.

I later realised that these adverse reactions were not so much to do with short-comings in the French as an inability in myself to adjust. Thus I have been cautious in coming to conclusions about Norway and its people too soon after arriving here and have not posted very often on this blog. When I first arrived I thought about writing a different kind of blog, not about Norway as some vague anthropological entity, but a blog that limited itself to descriptions of the hill behind our house. In this way I thought I might avoid causing any offence in my newly adopted country. I imagined myself up there on the hill most evenings, making observations of this or that minutae and recording them lovingly like a latter-day Henry David Thoreau.

Well, I didn't follow that impulse at the time, but because a blog is a thoroughly untethered form of literature, I am going to indulge myself now and tell you a bit about The Hill Behind the House. In fact, The Hill Behind the House is not in reality so much behind the house as under the house. It is a very solid hill, made out of very ancient rock. Solid that is, except that it has a very large hole drilled through it where the E39 duel carriageway travels south out of Stavanger towards Sandnes, a nearby town. Living on the hill not far from where the tunnel cuts through, we are occasionally aware of the E39 traffic as a distant noise, especially if the wind is blowing the sound of traffic towards us. Which is a strange concept, is it not?

The hill is easily accessible from suburban housing on 3 points of the compass. Well marked paths run up from the houses and converge on a circling trackway that encloses a small nature reserve on the summit. The fourth point of the compass, towards the west, leads out into more open countryside away from houses. It is possible to follow tracks down into a valley closed off from traffic and then reascend onto another twin peak called Ullenhaug which is topped by a towering white building covered in radio antennae. But more about that on another occasion...

Our hill doesn't really seem to have a name, perhaps because it is dwarfed a little by Ullenhaug and its tower. Everyone knows Ullenhaug, and sometimes they drive to the car park and walk up to the summit, but few people make a special visit to walk on our hill. And because of this it is quiet, especially late in the evening.

This evening, at 11 pm, I went for a jog around the summit's circular path as I have started doing lately, now that the summer weather is with us. Here it is still very light at that hour and the fjord and distant grey-blue mountains beyond are still quite visible. I tried to run up the hill from our house in one stretch, but was again beaten by a lack of fitness and the cobbly roughness of the track. And then I set out along the summit circle track which is wide, well looked after and fairly flat.

As I rounded the first corner, I saw one hundred yards ahead in the twilight a graceful animal which I first took for a large brown doberman-type dog, judged partly by its sturdy posture and insolent stare. But as I continued to approach, I saw that it was in fact a red deer. It had been drinking at a small Guinness-coloured pond situated at a cross-road of two paths. Seeing my advance, the deer ambled off the path into the trees and disappeared from view. I continued forwards until I reached the point of disappearance, and then I saw the deer again. It had not moved far, perhaps fifty yards over a stretch of grassland. It was clearly not very concerned about my presence and only flinched and darted away when the distant bang of a car back-firing drifted up from the houses below.

As I continued around the pool of Guinness, I noticed two wild ducks standing out in the shallow water, their heads tucked under their wings. They were completely still, roosting, and made not a motion as I passed only a few feet away. Like the deer, they trusted me. I continued on between the pine trees that cover the summit. Here, where the path is a little darker due to the trees, there are lamp-posts positioned every 30 yards. Their bulbs gleam through the branches of the pine trees in a manner that recalls the famous lamp-post discovered by Lucy when she first entered Narnia.

Once over the summit, which was no effort at all, I came into an open area where a rough, quaggy football pitch has been sited in an approximately flat clearing among the trees. A wooden hut has recently been constructed on the edge of this clearing where anyone can come and build a small fire to sit beside and meditate or grill food.

The path descends past some well constructed wood piles and then disappears again into the forest. Immediately on entering the forest, another animal suddenly sprung out in front of me: a large brown rabbit. It casually gazed at me as I approached, then lolloped a few yards ahead of me before turning off into the trees on the other side of the path. I watched it go unhurriedly on its away among the bronze pine needles. There are quite a lot of rabbits on the hill. Some are black and some are brown and some are browny-black or blacky-brown. Perhaps the domestic rabbits that have escaped onto the hill have brought a little of their docility to the wild, or perhaps the animals that live here on the hills have found they have little to fear from the Norwegians living densely round about. I think it may be more the latter.

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