When I turn off the main road, a narrow winding route takes me into the forest. Deep into the forest. Gaunt, tall pine trees, standing close together like freezing soldiers, sternly witness my slow progress ever deeper into their midst. I drive carefully, as it is more than likely that a deer will suddenly leap out in front of the car, and the road is gutted. Eventually it tapers to a dirt track and, with a sharp turn to the right away from the invisible river, starts making its way up the cliff.
I stop the car when I know I have reached the cabin, though I cannot see it. Nor can I see it when I get out, though it is a mere 30 metres away. I can just make out naked lace-like strands from the tops of birch trees around me. Muttering to the dog as I try to make my way to the door, I ask, as I have done as far back as I can remember: Was it really this dark last year?
After having lit the wood stove, brought in and unpacked clothes, food and water for the weekend, and having replenished the wood bin in front of the stove, I ask, as I have done as far back as I can remember: Was it really this cold last year?
Even sitting in front of the crackling, sweet-smelling wood stove with my computer on my lap, I am wearing a thick quilted jacket over my sweater, because when I arrived, the temperature was about one degree centigrade. Now it might be 10, but even the computer feels cold.
And this I have done, not out of penury, nor pressed by any obligation, but because, of all the alternatives I had to choose from for the weekend, this was the one I most longed for. I would have longed for it even if the number of alternatives had been squared or cubed.
In this country, there are many people who do likewise. Not every weekend, of course, but even in the winter season, people go off once in a while, leaving the comfort of their city dwellings to settle into freezing cabins. They do so because they want to.
Why, you may ask? Are we masochists? Hardly, I think. At the moment I am drinking a nice hot cup of coffee with whiskey and whipped cream – a concoction referred to in this country as Irish coffee. (I must really remember to ask my Irish neighbours whether this is how the Irish drink their coffee!)
Yes, I have electricity here, and it is true that I could well leave the electricity on while I am gone, keeping the place temperate, but that would be expensive and, from my point of view, “cheating”. For the same reason I have no TV and no Internet. The purpose of this game is precisely to make do with a minimum of modern comforts. Some of my countrymen don’t even have electricity in their cabins, preferring to keep it that way. And I for my part use only the wood stove for heating. The main ordeal is having to carry the water. Believe me, that is a sobering task.
The idea is to live the “simple life”.
I admit I shall be as grateful and eager to leave as I was to come. I shall enjoy returning to my flat, all the more, knowing that I am spared having to feed a wood stove 24 hours a day and carry all the water I consume. I shall leave the blessed, dark winter silence of these woods and the fear of my terror should I hear, all of a sudden, a human voice. Fear of humans can never be escaped, not even in the darkest of woods.
…realising that I have been asleep, that I have woken up, and knowing that I will look straight into a Pine tree, I open one eye, not expecting so see what I see, between the tree’s branches: an absolutely blue sky!
It’s a new day, and mine a refreshed body.
I jump out of bed and find the living room inundated by sunlight, amplified by illuminated patches of icy fog. The day is glorious! In my underwear, I stand on the threshold breathing in the complicated scents of an autumn forest before it freezes. A few birds – though most have left for the winter – tweet timidly. My dog jubilantly chases creatures who live underground – she makes sure that I never see them – be they foxes, hares, voles or something else. Down in the valley, the great river glitters on its course towards the sea.
That at least, is something that will not change. Even on foreign, lifeless planets, glittering rivers march towards the seas. Even on a lifeless planet, there will be skies of one kind or another and scents. Artists can find beauty almost anywhere, if the light is right; in deserts, in petrified forests even in battlefields and among lined-up corpses. What a pity that artists are not immortal, that they cannot live on lifeless planets.