Sunday, November 10, 2013

Old Friends, Troll-Folk, Silver Coins & Meeting the Sitka Spruce

There is one more story waiting to be told of my time in British Columbia. After visiting Honey Grove, and meeting new friends, and the magic of bees, I travelled back down the island to Victoria to visit one of my oldest friends and her mother and grandmother. Three beautiful generations of Danish, and Danish-American, women. We walked in the old wet troll-sung woods of Sooke, which were dark and lush and made me think of the woods of northern European fairytales, at once dangerous and deeply mystical, where trolls and elk and wayward maidens loose and find their ways.

A young cedar grew her roots like a many fingered hand, like a dripping candle, over the old grandmother stump of an old-growth tree. Root-magic, dirt and earth-magic, these are the purview of the troll-folk, who I see, in my own imagination, as the decomposers of the forest, not Evil, but actually very regenerative, and fascinated with new blooming flowers, new needles on the tips of trees, as much as the underground.
John Bauer, 1913

The big-leaf maples lived up to their name, bigger than our faces, great boats of leaves.

The moss and sword ferns sang out their damp songs into the thin October light.
Princess Tuvstarr and the Fishpond, 1913, John Bauer

The mushrooms adored this stretch of wet wood, like troll-altars, these bursts of fruit from the great networks of the underground mycelium, connecting each tree, so that they may all share minerals, and sugars, and their own stored sunbeams, through the ground.

I met a new species of huckleberry, the red variety, which you can see here growing tenaciously from the top of this old cedar stump, with a cavern quite big enough for all manner of underworldly creatures to dwell in.

Trolls and the Princess Tuvstarr, 1915, John Bauer

The path led us to a sheltered ocean cove, guarded by the graceful creamy alders.

Where we basked in the cool golden sun, golden as the hair of those northern maidens from old tales.

We gathered shells and rocks and examined the seaweeds.

We found grass growing on the tops of ocean-side stones, and wild rosehips, and the canes of thimbleberries, and the salt-reaching branches of the alders.

A speckled seal came very close to the shore, within a few feet of a log where Elsinore and I lounged and stretched like cats, peering at us, curious, hidden within the sun-sparkles on the water, just her back visible in the photo I tried to take. One of the seal-folk, she seemed to me, drawn in to watch us as much as we were drawn to watching her.

On the way back I ran my hands over the bark of the Sitka spruce, a new tree to me, with extraordinary gold-tinged scaled cones. What a marvelous feeling, to meet a new tree!

Stephen J. Baskauf (c) 2005
What could be more perfect than the miraculous shape of seeds, and cones, and fruits?

It seemed, as we walked back, that new mushrooms had sprouted up everywhere, creating small umbrella-lanterns for the little folk who traverse the great ridges of fallen logs...

...and the dark magic reds of the amanitas, a troll-favorite, no doubt.

When I write of trolls, and that particular sort of old dark northern European fairytale magic, I hold in my mind not only the trolls of the imagination, such as those in John Bauer's magnificent paintings here, but also the troll-energies of any landscape, those forces who preside over the decay, the dark places, the root-place where the plants are, at this time of year, storing their resources.

This is the time of year for the sharing of stories over long morning teas, or around evening fires, stories of the trolls of autumn, of the young maidens who befriend elk in the dark mossy forests, the old tales that chronicle some piece of this great seasonal round, the Neverending of growth, decay, regeneration.

Leap the Elk and the Little Princess Cottongrass, 1913, John Bauer
And so, back in the cosy warmth of Elsinore's grandmother's home in Victoria, seated on the little wool and sheepskin covered sofa, beside this most marvelous embroidered pillows, we heard stories of her mother's and grandmother's childhoods in Denmark, stories of lost silver coins and men who bit the noses of their tractors the way they would once have done to their horses, stories of northern winter darkness and stern aunties.

And isn't this one of the great deep powers of stories-- to bring us together, in warmth, in great old friendship, through the autumn and winter, to stir us full again with the wild magic of the world?


  1. Your blogposts always bring me back home to the oldest part of myself. Thank you.

  2. What a magical day, seal, root, toadstool, tea and tales. I associate trolls with stone, present here along the shores...I wonder whether the Native American tales have a troll analog?

  3. I'm very pleased when I see your stories here, and how you clearly show the interconnectedness of all the old ways and today—the only thing that seems to have truly changed since the trolls and faeries wandered through the forests is most people's capacity to believe in them: but I do not think that that effects their being anyway. Some of your travels remind me of my own: I spent about 7 years wandering through the northern landscapes of the world—Canada and Europe largely—collecting oral folk-stories from the people I met in remote areas, before the stories might be lost; and in all other ways improving my time and seeing the magic that surrounds us. It cheers me to think that someone as young as I was at the time is appreciating and sharing some of these similar experiences. Thank you!

  4. Gosh, what a beautiful post.
    I lived on the island for half a year many years back. You've captured the enchantment of the place.
    Thanks for the lovely troll-stroll :)

  5. -happy sigh- Oh thank your for this completely magical post, with the same, in photos. Oh thank you!!!!!