The Landscape

I must now describe the long lake, the rich plains and the blue mountains, since they were the scene where Gösta Berling and the other knights of Ekeby passed their joyous existence.

The lake has its sources far up in the north, and it is a perfect country for a lake. The forest and the mountains never cease to collect water for it; rivulets and brooks stream into it the whole year round. It has fine white sand to stretch itself over, headlands and islands to mirror and to look at, river sprites and sea nymphs have free play room there, and it quickly grows large and beautiful. There, in the north, it is smiling and friendly; one needs but to see it on a summer morning, when it lies half awake under a veil of mist, to perceive how gay it is. It plays first for a while, creeps softly, softly, out of its light covering, so magically beautiful that one can hardly recognize it; but then it casts from it, suddenly, the whole covering, and lies there bare and uncovered and rosy, shining in the morning light.

But the lake is not content with this life of play; it draws itself together to a narrow strait, breaks its way out through the sand-hills to the south, and seeks out a new kingdom for itself. And such a one it also finds; it gets larger and more powerful, has bottomless depths to fill, and a busy landscape to adorn. And now its water is darker, its shores less varying, its winds sharper, its whole character more severe. It has become a stately and magnificent lake. Many are the ships and the rafts of timber which pass there; late in the year it finds time to take its winter rest, rarely before Christmas. Often is it in peevish mood, when it grows white with wrath and drags down sailing-boats; but it can also lie in a dreamy calm and reflect the heavens.

But still farther out into the world will the lake go, although the mountains become bolder and space narrower; still farther down it comes, so that it once again must creep as a narrow strait between sand-bound shores. Then it broadens out for the third time, but no longer with the same beauty and might.

The shores sink down and become tame, gentler winds blow, the lake takes its winter rest early. It is still beautiful, but it has lost youth’s giddiness and manhood’s strength⁠—it is now a lake like any other. With two arms it gropes after a way to Lake Vänern, and when that is found it throws itself with the feebleness of old age over the slopes and goes with a last thundering leap to rest.

The plain is as long as the lake; but it has no easy time to find a place between sea and mountain, all the way from the valley of the basin at the lake’s northern end, where it first dares to spread itself out, till it lays itself to easy rest by the Vänern’s shore. There is no doubt that the plain would rather follow the shore of the lake, long as it is, but the mountains give it no peace. The mountains are mighty granite walls, covered with woods, full of cliffs difficult to cross, rich in moss and lichen⁠—in those old days the home of many wild things.

On the far-stretching ridges one often comes upon a wet swamp or a pool with dark water. Here and there is a charcoal kiln or an open patch where timber and wood have been cut, or a burnt clearing, and these all bear witness that there is work going on on the mountains; but as a rule they lie in careless peace and amuse themselves with watching the lights and shadows play over their slopes.

And with these mountains the plain, which is peaceful and rich, and loves work, wages a perpetual war, in a friendly spirit, however.

“It is quite enough,” says the plain to the mountains; “if you set up your walls about me, that is safety enough for me.”

But the mountains will not listen. They send out long rows of hills and barren tablelands way down to the lake. They raise great lookout towers on every promontory, and leave the shores of the lake so seldom that the plain can but rarely stretch itself out by the soft, broad sands. But it does not help to complain.

“You ought to be glad that we stand here,” the mountains say. “Think of that time before Christmas, when the icy fogs, day after day, rolled up from the Löfven. We do you good service.”

The plain complains that it has no space and an ugly view.

“You are so stupid,” answer the mountains; “if you could only feel how it is blowing down here by the lake. One needs at least a granite back and a fir-tree jacket to withstand it. And, besides, you can be glad to have us to look at.”

Yes, looking at the mountains, that is just what the plain is doing. It knows so well all the wonderful shiftings of light and shade, which pass over them. It knows how they sink down in the noonday heat towards the horizon, low and a dim light-blue, and in the morning or evening light raise their venerable heights, clear blue as the sky at noon.

Sometimes the light falls so sharply over them that they look green or dark-blue, and every separate fir-tree, each path and cleft, is visible miles away.

There are places where the mountains draw back and allow the plain to come forward and gaze at the lake. But when it sees the lake in its anger, hissing and spitting like a wildcat, or sees it covered with that cold mist which happens when the sea-sprite is busy with brewing or washing, then it agrees that the mountains were right, and draws back to its narrow prison again.

Men have cultivated the beautiful plain time out of mind, and have built much there. Wherever a stream in white foaming falls throws itself down the slope, rose up factories and mills. On the bright, open places, where the plain came down to the lake, churches and vicarages were built; but on the edges of the valley, halfway up the slope, on stony grounds, where grain would not grow, lie farmhouses and officers’ quarters, and here and there a manor.

Still, in the twenties, this district was not nearly so much cultivated as now. Many were the woods and lakes and swamps which now can be tilled. There were not so many people either, and they earned their living partly by carting and day labor at the many factories, partly by working at neighboring places; agriculture could not feed them. At that time they went dressed in homespun, ate oatcakes, and were satisfied with a wage of ten cents a day. Many were in great want; but life was often made easier for them by a light and glad temper, and by an inborn handiness and capability.

And all those three, the long lake, the rich plain, and the blue mountains, made the most beautiful scenery, and still do, just as the people are still to this day, strong, brave and intelligent. Great progress has been made, however, in prosperity and culture.

May everything go well with those who live far away by the long lake and the blue mountains! I shall now recall some of their memories.