Nature’s not my thing

30 June 2006 | Fiction, Prose

A short story from Hommes (Tammi, 2006)

Lying unemployed on my sofa I hear a lot of stuff on the radio almost every day you hear some children’s choir chanting the same songs over and over about our country’s blue lakes the sky and all our trees and their white trunks. They’ve all finally worked their way into my subconscious. After hearing enough of these songs my subconscious rears its head and commands my idle body: go to the forest. In a situation like that it’s hard to put up a fight or struggle against something you can’t see or hear or smell that all of a sudden pops into your head.

The great debate was over so quickly that hardly anyone managed to get a word in I think to myself as I lie in bed at night just before falling asleep.

Before going off into the forest you have to dress suitably like the scouts have been doing for thousands of years taking the right equipment as well as the right clothes. Knives caps and whistles. People going out hunting dress in such a way that the animals in the forest can’t see them even though of course they can see them. Their clothes are the same colour as the surrounding forest a mixture of green yellow grey and brown.

Belonging to neither of these groups I put on my jeans. I don’t pack anything to eat or drink because my subconscious meant go to the forest just the way you are and see if you can get yourself back in one piece. Nobody will miss me for at least a few days socially challenged as I am. It’s for the best. Almost every day I think about being one of a group of simpletons. I’ll drink water from the spring eat blueberries and wood sorrel for vegetables. Naturally I’ll take my watch too.

It’s a nice morning. Nobody else has decided to walk along this same path between the park and the forest. Is it a forest then? Not at first. Just a sort of man-made oasis where you can sit and cool off. Beyond that proper care hasn’t been maintained that’s where the real primeval journey to the other side begins.

With the sun shining just the way it should I begin my adventure at the beginning of the path. Clothed in my faithful denim I walk towards the silent forest. High-rise buildings disappear behind me the further I walk on. The sound of traffic along Kumpulantie road softens in my ears. Once the path through the park comes to an end everything seems to become much darker. The spruces their branches shading the sunlight from the path and the lower lying ground. Then path ends altogether!

My nervous system remains calm in this new environment. Far more dangerous places have been filmed for nature documentaries but I can never be bothered to watch them because of the narrators’ monotonous commentary. On films like that I’ve caught fleeting glimpses of snakes and alligators in places like the savannah and Southeast Asia. Memories of Tashkent suddenly flood my mind even though I’ve decided to focus on nothing but the moment here and now. Such great oil reserves could bring riches to their people I force the thought to the back of my mind.

Where are all the animals? Some flowers are pushing their way up through the bushes. Do any green flowers exist in the world? Later this evening I will record this thought in a black-covered notebook just in case I turn into a Green and start keeping a diary. Blue yellow and white ones appear almost too often. Their attractive colours are meant for the bees. Do colours come in and out of fashion for bees too: one bee buzzes towards a blue one while another falls for something a little simpler always going back to a white one. There are no bees in sight either. The buzz of the street is gone.

Oh I get it they’re all hiding. Take a really close look at the burrows beneath clumps of roots shaded damp hollows. Before I get a chance a wriggler appears. It can’t decide whether to fly up or down and ends up flying both up and down then lands on a tree. Now is an opportunity to see it close up. The creature has six legs and a pair of antennae on its head. If it has any eyes they must be hidden away beneath tiny little eyelids. I open my mouth and say haaa to see whether the flow of air my damp breath will affect the wriggler’s atmosphere. Nothing happens and nothing is everything; the creature doesn’t move at all unlike before the haaa. It takes up a position pretending it’s not really there but is a part of the tree. That’s what nature has taught it.

This same behaviour suits humans too. Animals come and sit on nearby tree-trunks and in the branches of trees whenever a human the most dangerous of them all infiltrates the terrain like any other animal like a part of a tree. Damp earth: I lie there looking at the blue sky of those songs. Here however the sound of children’s choirs is nowhere to be heard.

Sleep wants to envelop my body as the sun is warm once more I’m not in any kind of hurry. In a state like that memories start to rain upon my mind disturbing my observations. For instance I haven’t had any kind of sex life for ages many months without a woman. They won’t simply listen if you don’t say anything. That too ought to be replaced with thoughts of the moment here and now as I lie in the forest.

In my jacket pocket my pipe tries to slip out into the surrounding nature taking all its various bits and bobs with it. It doesn’t smell of anything round here! If it were night the smells of the forest would be prominent my senses sharper. Now a pipe would be a natural catastrophe. The smell would be so foreign to the animals that they would dash off into the scrub. Thirst fills my mouth. Where are those songs springing from?

Right then an eagle flies across the sky the majestic king of the air gliding on its short black wings or maybe a pigeon. My time has come. Now more than ever the animals understand that nature has received a new member lying amidst its animal tribe. I let out a little hum. They sense that it belongs to their breed begin to get used to it I slowly start to stand up. They think I am the oldest of our species great heroic deeds aren’t necessary.

Thus far I’d seen a wriggler and what was apparently a forest pigeon. It’s not enough I need to see at least ten creatures that I can remember for the days to come and make notes in my nature book. A squirrel the forest funny man darts rattling past on my right up a spruce. There’s nothing in its mouth but its teeth hidden away. By this time of year it has already gathered up enough food that it doesn’t need to collect anything else because winter is so far away. Before that it can feast on the local produce. It climbs higher and higher jumps from one tree to the next a birch standing nearby. And this is a mixed woodland.

Water vaguely reminiscent of a small brook glimmers nearby. My subconscious has said: drink from the spring eat blueberries and the fruits of the forests as vegetables. I throw my denim jacket on the ground so that it won’t get wet in the babbling brook. Its water is black.

Even at this time of year the water is rich in humus. A handful of water halves in size on the journey from the brook to my mouth it tastes muddy. At that moment the words you don’t miss your water until your well runs dry ring in my mind. The muddy Mississippi blues a sentiment that embraces entire worlds. The wisdom of the black people reduced to twelve bars. We have a similar saying here it’s a good job I can’t remember the words. I only came here to observe the animals’ lives.

I’m still not hungry. An experienced forest rambler will always find something to eat before collapsing limp with hunger. By then it’s too late to pray for chance morsels. It is July after all! It’s not the right time for blueberries even the wood sorrel won’t appear for a few months until the mushrooms have popped up from their homes in the ground.

While planning what to eat I notice an anthill in a clearing behind the tree those eternal forest labourers. They are the same colour as cocoa beans and the powder made from them. There is no such species as the cocoa ant. Thankfully they’re not yellow stinging ants otherwise the oldest animal in the forest would soon be over the other side of the brook again. Before long I’ve counted at least a hundred trying to follow only one of them. One is racing up the slope at the far end of the nest meeting an identical brother on the way. Behind them come a trio of ants carrying a largish worm on which to feast.

All the larger animals are missing like elks wolverines beavers and white-tailed deer. Perhaps the forest is too small for these larger boisterous beasts for the kings of the forest. Even houses have a place all of their own in suburbia no problem so why don’t animals have their own place in the wilderness and woodlands?

Three sensations are foremost hunger thirst my mouth is dry the long taste of mud the smell of my pipe that is if I were in fact smoking my pipe right now. My nerves start to feel tense so I decide to save it for a special moment in the evening. This makes the oxygen drain from my head I recall all the day’s nature experiences. After this a few metres away a great clump of moss the size of a bear rises from the ground.

I feel I now understand the squirrels of the world much better. Embracing this soft moist life the sorrows of recent memory disappear. Beside the moss a beetle goes about its business at an average speed. Only close can you see up close. Wishing for too much only makes you depressed for days at a time. That’s why you should always expect little. Allow yourself to be surprised by everything bigger than ants.

A cigarette end lies across the beetle’s path. It’s a Kent. There are traces of lipstick on its white tip. At once belief and disbelief hope despair disappointment wish and desire compete for space in my head. I leave wishes alongside hope because just maybe that Kent fell from the lips of some wood nymph so recently dressed in a tracksuit. When will I meet this slender woman with a cigarette in her mouth on a forest path soothing her dried lips with water from these same ditches?

In many ways I am over half way there. I lose weight with every moment that passes. Because of my inability to buy things there is nothing fresh at home. For a fleeting moment I think of the mushrooms the blueberries and the wood sorrels and their scheming plot. Hatred is a pointless emotion for someone losing out to nature. Bitter hatred. The machinations of world politics prove this with every day that dawns. Farmers’ questions and answers points towards my autumn programme a path to the peace of the countryside unemployed as I am. Maybe during the harvest season. That’s all I need.

A mosquito. A henchman of the dusk it floats down to my hand in the full light of day. I don’t kill it. The blood transfusion requires only a small sting sticks its sucker through the epidermis and turns a translucent red colour. Why don’t I kill it because its offspring need this transfusion to survive. I read that somewhere.

The cycle of the forest lasts a day a year. The cycle of a corset is thirty years. I read this in a women’s magazine in the library; little by little the corset is set to make a comeback to the streets next autumn.

Is the sun beginning to set over the suburbs? There will be no frost in the following nights since the banks of snow disappeared from the woodlands only months ago. New snow banks will come in their own time along with all the corsets.

Now it’s time to escape if I ever want to appear sane in front of other people again. I’ve already spent over half the day my return journey will take the same maybe less. Naturally my planned return route comes to life. If only close can you see up close it would be wise to take a different route back.

The words of those songs are partly right all water and blue skies. In part the words of these songs are lying telling us about birch trunks that are mostly dark spruces hills clumps of moss. When the silence deepens you realise that the silence itself is the entire conversation not words nor speeches landscape per se if its constituent parts are visible with all its animals in tow. Mosquitoes as little commas exclamation marks timothy grass growing in the chinks between sentences. Since time immemorial back when man first thought of crawling out of the water as the first protozoan. And so it continues until the species has disappeared without anyone remembering.

Walking back the great context of all I have seen begins to take shape to be written down not in a little black notebook but in a white-covered book of ideas: ‘The Great Debate exists only in the Forest’. I have to remember this thought now until I get home. The Great Change: first there were dark sentiments then a thought in the middle of the forest falls silent like a new day an adventure in any place at any time! You’d best hurry woodsman.

Only in the middle of the forest is it perfectly silent. Beyond Kumpulantie road the silence is joined by the rumbling of the trains. People travelling in the same direction further north each to their own personal destination: schoolchildren out to the pastures to stare at the cows. Ahead the path is cut from the left. A hundred metres I’d say. A path trodden by people winds down past the kiosk along the edge of the park.

He stops at the kiosk borrows two meat pies for a snack. Of all the forest’s friends the old man is the greatest. Still the forest cries after me: you should have taken some ditch water with you to drink.

Now it is too late like night flooding back to its home.


Interpreted by David Hackston, assisted by Soila Lehtonen


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