The next morning brought a certain relief — the storm had settled and there were at least a few hours of daylight to enjoy. But when I looked out the window, I was greeted with a sight I struggled to comprehend.
Pure, blinding, white light – like the first thing the soap opera characters see when they die.
White sky, white ground, white horizon.
After a long minute, and some sunglasses, I started to make out a few features. The clouded sky was brighter than the snow, even if only just. In the distance there were a few grey rocks poking out of the rounded mountain-tops.
Closer to home, I could make out a few chimneys poking through the snow — other ski cabins that hadn’t been dug out yet this season. And of course there was the so-called train station, not even a kilometer away for all our efforts the night before.
And that was all.
We put on sunscreen and layer after layer, and then set out to learn how to ski. Mountain skiing — where you more or less cross-country ski across and up, and alpine ski down — is apparently the most difficult type of skiing to learn, and the conditions weren’t exactly ideal either. There was old snow and new snow, deep powdery drifts and hard icy crusts, empty pockets of air and surprising slopes. And all looked the same — a blinding white — so we hardly knew the ground beneath our feet had turned uphill or down until we landed on our backs or face first.
And there the Norwegians were, sliding about easily, joking around, setting up slaloms and talking about which mountains they wanted to ski up first. They complained about the less-than-ideal snow, but I wouldn’t have noticed by their ease or eagerness to have “snow under their skis” again.
When the early winter darkness fell, we came back from the hills and set to work once again — tending the fire, cooking, melting drinking water (the river, as it turned out, was frozen too thick to access), lighting candles, cleaning, heating dish-water, waxing skis, hanging scarves and gloves out to dry over the wood-stove. Dinner was pizza — an anachronistic slice of normality in this strange world.
I began to understand why our old-fashioned primitive cabin was now a distinct rarity in Norway — most ski cabins are now equipped with electricity and running water. Even with the gas canister we had brought with us to power the oven and cooking stove, and the firewood that had been brought in by snowmobile earlier in the season, there was a lot of work to be done, things I had never really thought about before. Of course, once upon a time neither of those would have been available. I felt a new respect for anyone who managed to eke out an existence in the mountains in those days.
That night, feeling much braver and more comfortable than I had the evening before, I dared to walk alone into the wild — at least as far as the outhouse. On the surface, it felt surreal to look down and realize that the outhouse was settled into the rock and soil — that I was standing on eight feet of snow and ice. I climbed down, shoveled out enough of the fresh snow to pull the door partway open, did my business on the frozen toilet seat with frozen toilet paper, and then climbed back up using roughly cut footholds in the ice.
The night was cold and clear, and the stars were brilliant above me, the half-moon reflected on the mountains in the horizon. There was a strong wind, but I was dressed for it. I sat down for a while and enjoyed the strange but marvelous view of silver and black forms. It was simultaneously peaceful and brutal — I felt at the same time strong and incredibly vulnerable.
I had come to this place and I had learned how much was needed for survival.
I had learned that I could keep myself warm in the face of subzero winds, that I could handle more cold and discomfort than I had realized, that nothing human required electricity, running water or Wi-Fi.
And yet, I was incredibly dependent. Dependent on the Norwegians who knew this landscape and this culture much better than I ever would. Dependent on my store-bought winter clothing and sleeping bag. Dependent on the food I had brought with me. Dependent on that gas-canister, and the snowmobile that brought the firewood.
And most of all — dependent on Kreklingbu, and on the warmth and light within. It had quickly come to mean shelter, companionship and “home” in this place surrounded by nothingness.
Standing there at the border of the unforgiving wilderness, and that tiny hive of life and activity, I felt I understood both in a new way — the call of the mountains and the coziness of the hearth, and why Norwegians love them both so.
I sat there for several more minutes, until the wind driven snow started covering my legs. Then I stood up, shook the powder off and went back inside to join the others.