One is continually tempted to quote Bjornson up here in the Nordfjord country, and, indeed, it hardly calls for apology. Bjornson actually is, to a great extent, the voice of Norway, the poet, who, better than all others, knows how to put the soul of his native land into articulate words. Do those boys down by the old barn know him too, we wonder? Do they ever gaze off like Arne to the wall of granite and ice, and long to fly away to the big unknown world beyond?
“What shall I see if ever I go Over the mountains high? Now I can see but the peaks of snow Crowning the cliffs where the pine trees grow, Waiting and longing to rise Nearer, the beckoning skies.
Forth will I, forth ! Oh, far, far away, Over the mountains high ! I shall be smothered if here I stay ; Courage arises to seek the way. Let it a flight now be taking, Not on this rock-wall be breaking!”
These lake farms are, in truth, not quite so isolated as they used to be, for, even if the families born here stay here all their lives, every summer brings an influx of strangers from the outside world. This district is becoming more and more popular both with Norwegian city folk and with foreign travelers.
The glaciers that we see straight ahead at the south, and high up on either side of the lake, are parts of the same vast ice-sheet to which the Brigsdalsbrae belongs. Here around Loen Lake it not infrequently happens that the midsummer sun loosens great blocks of ice at the edges of such lofty ice-fields, and broken fragments come tumbling down into the lake in sudden avalanches. Some years ago such an avalanche descended on the side of the lake where we are now, and only a few miles from this very spot; it tore off trees and earth in a ragged streak down the mountain, and, though it happened not actually to touch any human habitation, its swift passing (like that of a gigantic express train) caused such a draught that two little farm houses were blown off into the lake !
Three or four generations ago it was not uncommon to find people in an isolated region like this believing quite firmly in the existence of supernatural creatures, on whose will such happenings depended. They had an idea that certain spirits watched over each farm, ready to do friendly services when in a good humor, or to cause all sorts of calamities if offended. When the mistress began to make new cheese, she always set a piece of the first and best somewhere out behind the barns, for the delectation of the unseen creature. In case of any family festival, like a christening, a betrothal or a wedding, pains were taken to compliment the same important person-age with the offering of cakes and ale.
Highways are few in this neighborhood. The usual way of going to church is by boateverybody around here has a boat and knows how to row. Even in win-ter, when the deep waters are locked fast under thick ice, the lake still offers the most convenient route to the village of Loen ; in winter the use of skis makes traveling comparatively easy, whatever the depth of snow.
By the way, there is hereabouts a curious superstition connected with churches. It used to be believed (indeed, some conservative old folk still hold to their own opinions in the matter) that on the day before Christmas, especially on Christmas Eve, spirits of evil hang about church buildings and other holy places, in a particularly bad temper, because of the coming anniversary of the birth of our Lord. The story is told that, a number of years ago, a young army officer, who professed not to believe in evil spirits at all, put on a bold front, and on Christmas Eve went into Loen Church, a few miles off behind us, to get a book kept there. Nobody now can be quite sure just what happened, but some awful Thing drove him out of the building and chased him away, so that he accidentally fell upon his own sword and died. At least, that is the way the tale is told. You may believe what you please.
If we go around on the farther side of that low, wooded point enclosing this cove, we shall get another view, one of the most beautiful in this vicinity.