Greatness in the Small

In that very moment, Mother Earth was speaking to me.

Kornsjø, Norway. Photo: Tom Thowsen 2020

Sounds a little bit odd in your ears, I guess. Mine too, for that sake. Like a hippie or a member of the alternative society.

However, it is comforting. Healing, as well. It could protect you from anxiousness and depression. I highly recommend this medicine. To walk in nature and listen to mother earth. It is where we belong. It is where it all began. Not in a humanmade artificial environment, remote from everything natural. So, let us get back.

Kornsjø, Norway. Photo: Tom Thowsen 2020

Late September, I woke up early in the morning, curious to catch the rising sun. Not all mornings are the same; the light conditions can differ a lot. It could be too bright or too cloudy. But this morning was outstanding. No wind at all, the water lies like a mirror. The mist over the lake. The bright clouds. The clean air. The smell of autumn. And the silence was overwhelming. Lucky me, I thought. What colour cascade. What a magic moment. And there was I equipped with my iPhone 11. My only camera.

Kornsjø, Norway. Photo: Tom Thowsen 2020

Everything glows—the contrasts between light and shadow. In the east, from the Swedish side of the lake, I can hear a wolf scream in the far distant. Besides that, just silence.

Kornsjø, Norway. Photo: Tom Thowsen 2020

Look at the tiny cabin, floating on the mist. It lies on its small islet, separated from the island where I stood.

Kornsjø, Norway. Photo: Tom Thowsen 2020

The clouds sailed in convoy over the sky, stretching out its fingers from Sweden towards Norway.

Kornsjø, Norway. Photo: Tom Thowsen 2020

So near, but still too far distant – some places I can toss stones at Sweden – nevertheless Covid-19 makes us parted. That is a surreal situation.

But if the very bedrock under my feet could speak, it would say this is a small and short-lived problem. A glacial period of hundreds of thousands of years made a more significant impact when this bedrock was lying under the pressure of a two kilometres layer of ice. A vast amount of frozen water that melted away just some ten thousand years ago.

Quite impressing to know.
It makes me realize that Mother Nature is a strange mother, indeed, and we must live our lives under her conditions – follow her rules. We need her, but she does not need us. We`re just lucky to be here.

NEARLY 800 YEARS OLD AND STILL STANDING TALL

Heddal Stave Church.
Photo: Tom Thowsen 2020

I`m talking about the biggest Stave Church in Norway, where some of the wooden structures have survived since it was ready in the mid-1200s — some 800 years ago — which is quite impressing

Due to the ongoing worldwide pandemic that hunts us all, I decided to travel in my homeland this summer. I went back to my roots in Telemark, to visit the Church where some of my relatives lie buried. The Amazing Heddal Stave Church.

Once seen, never forgotten.

Look for yourself

A chair from the church.
Photo: Anders Kvåle Rue

Some features in this monumental building are breathing Viking age. Did I hear someone saying WOW? — Yes it`s true, in this once a Roman Catholic Church, there are traces of the old paganism. The dragonheads, for instance.

Furthermore, there is a legend telling about the erection of the church. And fasten your seatbelt, please — it was a troll who built it. Just three days of construction!

Oh, by the way, Finn Fagerlokk(Fairhair) is his name. He could not ever after stand the sound of church bells, so he moved along with his family to Himing (Lifjell). In case you need an extremely efficient house builder.

Another pagan features in this church, is Sigurd Fåvnesbane, the dragon slayer, and the shieldmaiden Brynhild.

The heads at the top of these columns are also pagan decorations.
Photo: Christian Barth
Old taggers, using runic letters.
Photo: Tom Thowsen 2020
A door decorated with Viking style patterns.
Photo: Tom Thowsen
A thick layer of tar for preservation.
Photo: Tom Thowsen 2020

Though it can feel magical with the troll, he owes us an explanation of how he managed to build this church, in just three days, which have lasted for almost eight hundred years.

Psst, here you have a clue for the durability. Tar galore.

Another thing – he cheated. It demanded years of preparations. He had to choose the right trees in the forest, take the bark off them, let them bleed resin while they were still growing. And finally, after several years of waiting, he cut them down – with other words: A time-consuming prosses beyond our modern people’s imagination. That is the real story. Thankfully for us, someone cared, thank God.

Heddal Stave Church in its surroundings.
Tom Thowsen 2020

CROSSING THE BORDER

Midsummer 2020 has been one of the strangest in my life, filled with silence and a lack of cheeriness. I even got a sense of breaking the law.

Midsummer night at Kornsjø lake, 2020. Photo: Tom Thowsen

On the brightest day of the year, when the sun barely goes down, there was a shadow hanging over me. All thanks to the Covid-19 virus, which has parted us Norwegians from our dear neighbours in the east. The Swedes, known for their joyful midsummer celebrations, were almost absent at Kornsjø — a lake on the border.

Well, I must confess: Yes, we crossed the border. More than once. Most on the lake. We even went into a narrow channel, under a bridge, where some of us got worried.
Flying trouble in the air.

«Look out! There’s Batman!»

«Oh, is he that small. I’m not impressed.»

Not quite like that, these quotes were from another trip, but we joked about it now as well. Nevertheless, this time it was different. Now there was mention of bats and Covid-19 virus, and we decided to turn back to Norway again.

Should we have been sentenced to a 10 days quarantine?

No, I do not think so. We did not meet any Swedes, other than on a safe distance, only on the water.

Midsummer day at Kornsjø lake, 2020. Photo: Tom Thowsen

Some places Sweden is exceptionally near, so close that we can toss stones at each other. The island to the left is Sweden. The pole in the foreground, and the cabin as well, is in Norway. Hey, you`re bound to break the law when travelling by boat. There are no markings on the waves.

Midsummer day at Hisøya island, 2020. Photo: Tom Thowsen

Next day we visited «riksrøys» number one, a border marker from 1752, situated on Hisøya island. As you can see, the trees are chopped away along the borderlines — all the way down to the watershed.
Here some noblemen greeted us. — Yes, it is true. We saw their monograms carved in stone, placed at the top of the cairn. Strong guys? Yeah. It must have been a difficult job for them, to stack all these rocks into this fantastic pile. Just look at the photo, how proud they look.
The guy to the right, he with the sword in his hand, is the reflection of Frederick V. He was a freemason who loved to party. Besides that, he was king of Denmark and Norway. He would surely have joined our midsummer celebrations if he could.


Hm, one other thing that caught my attention — his sword. Did he cut down all those trees on his own? All by himself?


The guy to the left, Adolf Frederick, was also a freemason. But as a Swede, he loved snuff. His favourite hobby was to make snuffboxes, which he allegedly spent a great deal of time doing. Supposedly a good husband, a caring father, and a gentle master to his servants. Besides all that, he was also king of Sweden. A hard-working man!

Hisøya island and the borderline. Google Earth.

To make borders is a troublesome business—no wonder why they look so strange. Danes, Norwegians, and Swedes have argued about them for centuries. They have fought numerous wars and have been moving them back and forth and back again. Somewhere it follows a creek, and otherwhere it follows unexpected turns.


However, as this monument show, they came to an agreement in 1752, or more precisely, one year previous, in 1751.

My wife at the beach of Hisøya island, 2020. Photo: Tom Thowsen.

After we met with the kings, we headed back to our boat and left Hisøya island while the wind whispered gently in our ears: “Everything will be fine. One day the borders will open again.”
Until then – Carpe Diem!

A well-kept oasis of history and culture

Here do I live, and I feel privileged to live here, next to Northern Europe’s best-preserved fortified town. Gamlebyen, as we call old town Fredrikstad.

Founded in 1567 by the Danish king Frederick II, this is Norway’s first renaissance town. And it has a strategic location in the delta of Glomma — Norway’s largest river. Not far away from the Oslo fjord, too. Or Sweden for that sake.

For me, as an author of suspense novels, is this environment a gold mine. Hence, I often stroll along these ancient walls. As a matter of fact, this is an oasis for many artists, and the town has a few galleries and cafes, well worth a visit.

The Fortified Bridge and the Glassworks Factory. Photo: Tom Thowsen
Old Fredrikstad and Glomma river. Photo: Xalzlos (Wikipedia)
One of the Portals. Photo: Tom Thowsen

Thick walls of rocks and bricks, dark, narrow gateways, water graves, and wooden bridges – once a robust defence system from the past, built after Dutch standards.

A section of a map from 1776
The Main Gate. Photo: Tom Thowsen
One of the streets and a small park. Photo: Tom Thowsen
Along the riverside. Photo: Tom Thowsen
A statue of King Frederick II in the middle and the building to the right is Galleri Sand.
Photo: Tom Thowsen

Kirkøy

In the shadows of the pines at Storesand beach, you have a fabulous place to put up your tent. Here you can feel the breeze in your hair, you breath clean air. You can smell salty water and seagrass. Listen to the seagulls screaming in the sky—walk along the stony pathways. See the stone Church at Kirkøy, built over foundation stones who possibly stretch back to the Viking age. Back to the time when the Norwegians worshipped Thor and Odin.

Storesand Beach. Photo: Tom Thowsen

As an author of fiction books, I must get inspired by reality, because my fictional characters are “living” in the real world. Therefore, I sometimes walk in their “footsteps”. In this reportage, I walk at Kirkøy island, where my two main characters Willy Lauer and Raja Romanova talked with each other at the beginning of The Sea Lion. Storesand beach and Hvaler Church.

Hvaler Church. Photo: Tom Thowsen
Photo: Tom Thowsen
Photo: Tom Thowsen
View to Lauer. Photo: Tom Thowsen

The young fisherman Willy Lauer “lives” on Lauer island, which is a group of small islands. At these photos, you can see North Lauer, the very island where the Castle lies, Willy’s tiny house.

Homlungen lighthouse, and Lauer island in the background.
Photo: Tom Thowsen
An old house at Skjærhalden. Photo: Tom Thowsen

The white, wooden house above, is as I imagine, pretty like Willy`s house. But in my imagination his “Castle” is even smaller.

At the pier of Skjærhalden. Photo: Tom Thowsen
Storesand Beach. Photo: Tom Thowsen