A little over 20 years ago we lived in Norway. I remember arriving in January 1996 and how blue the sky was here after close to ten years in the Middle East. That first weekend we ventured out with the children who stared open-mouthed at the icicles that had become crystal stalactites there on the side of the road. We walked gingerly out into the centre of a lake of ice and stared at folk who sat on wooden kitchen chairs and fished through perfect circles they had sliced from the ice.
And then we waited for spring. We waited and waited. March came and then April and still no daffodils arrived to break the stark monotony of white snow, grey sky and black leafless trees. Now we knew why the Norwegians painted their wooden homes in terracotta, yellow, blue. It was to stamp some colour on the landscape.
But this weekend we returned to Norway as the arrival of autumn colours more than compensated for the bleakness of those long winters. We were guests of a Dutch friend we had met in Oman and his Norwegian wife and were delighted to be invited to stay in their hytte, or log-cabin, in the nearby hills.
“Be prepared,” Luppo warned us. “We have no electricity, no running water and there is an outside loo!”
Ian and I prepared ourselves for the worst and packed our vests and hats and gloves. What met us was a weekend of bliss uninterrupted by the lure of wifi. As soon as we arrived, they lit the log burner and candles and the wooden walls warmed instantly.
“Do you want to look for mushrooms?” they asked.
Did I? Going mushrooming has been on my bucket-list for years. I have been desperate to do this but too scared to go alone in case I picked a wrong’un. This time, not only was I given a real mushrooming basket and a pair of scissors but also a real live Norwegian, who has grown up foraging and knows her porcini from her deadly nightshade.
We were looking for chanterelles. Chanterelles! I bought myself 100 grams as a treat on the Hague organic market recently and made them stretch for a supper for four of us. Now, we could gather them for free on our doorstep.
We soon learned that all those gorgeous-looking big fat specimens that jump out in clumps are to be avoided and only those that were best at hide and seek were the ones for us. Who knew that chanterelles came in various shades of yellow and brown and always had a dip in the middle and the prettiest pleated underskirt? Looking for edible mushrooms meant we had to stoop so low that we could see the individual blooms of alpine flowers and mosses, notice that the whiteish froth that from a distance looked like a plant that was a mass of tiny alveoli is actually reindeer lichen. We spied the few remaining blueberries and lingonberries that lingered on the bushes and watched the first bright leaves flutter to the forest floor as if in slow-motion.
It was not many minutes into the excursion that words began to pop into my mind. Poems began to form and inspiration bubbled. For there, as I foraged for mushrooms, I found my poet’s soul.
I can’t help myself creating metaphors and similes in my head. I love looking for new ways to describe things. My attention is grabbed by the beard-like airplants that hang like bats from branches, how the round leaves of silver birches look like the gold-wrapped toffees you get in a tin of Quality Street. I gaze at the way the lichen clusters on a bare bough and search for ways to describe how it looks in a way that someone who could not see it would be able to picture it in their mind’s eye. Are they like rags or leaves or lace? Do they cling, cluster, clump or lounge?
Foraging for free food and poetry at the same time is heaven. I realise I am being mindful and that I am fortunate enough both to have this opportunity but also to recognize that this is mindfulness. I am lucky that I allow myself this time to really look, to see, to see the stories and the metaphors that lurk like chanterelles among the leaf litter and the mosses.
Once back at the hytte, Merethe opened a bottle champagne as if to magnify the total indulgence of the trip. Me, I simply had to sit down with a pen and paper and capture the lines that had filled my head before they disappeared. As our resident Norwegian picked through my heavy basket to check my treasure trove for the required dips and frills.
The chanterelles we ate with local lamb for supper and again with bacon for breakfast.
The poetry, however, remains. I know more than I have ever known that my newly created Writing Me-Treats must also include foraging time.
Foraging for Poems
In the late September silence
the paths are paved with gold
for bright as sunshine, pennies
fall to light our way.
The gentle forest yields
the finest autumn fruit
that lurks like long-loved lyrics –
always hidden, yet in reach.
Chanterelles, yellow as butter,
darker, sweeter, like brown cheese,
sprout in clusters,
burrow deep in moss as soft as down.
Then berries, blue as night or red as robin’s throat
lie low among the sliver rocks,
carpet sylvan slopes.
My wicker basket swells.
I forage for our supper
but poems cling like lace on lichened branches
stanzas tumble from the boughs
as copper petals catch the breeze.
Words, like mushrooms,
emerge from nowhere,
they muscle in and shriek, “Me! Me!”
But beauty is a siren’s song.
I’m told to leave them be.
The basket, like this page,