In Medelpad


The boy and the eagle were out bright and early the next morning. Gorgo hoped that he would get far up into West Bothnia that day. As luck would have it, he heard the boy remark to himself that in a country like the one through which they were now travelling it must be impossible for people to live.

The land which spread below them was Southern Medelpad. When the eagle heard the boy’s remark, he replied:

“Up here they have forests for fields.”

The boy thought of the contrast between the light, golden-rye fields with their delicate blades that spring up in one summer, and the dark spruce forest with its solid trees which took many years to ripen for harvest.

“One who has to get his livelihood from such a field must have a deal of patience!” he observed.

Nothing more was said until they came to a place where the forest had been cleared, and the ground was covered with stumps and lopped-off branches. As they flew over this ground, the eagle heard the boy mutter to himself that it was a mighty ugly and poverty-stricken place.

“This field was cleared last winter,” said the eagle.

The boy thought of the harvesters at home, who rode on their reaping machines on fine summer mornings, and in a short time mowed a large field. But the forest field was harvested in winter. The lumbermen went out in the wilderness when the snow was deep, and the cold most severe. It was tedious work to fell even one tree, and to hew down a forest such as this they must have been out in the open many weeks.

“They have to be hardy men to mow a field of this kind,” he said.

When the eagle had taken two more wing strokes, they sighted a log cabin at the edge of the clearing. It had no windows and only two loose boards for a door. The roof had been covered with bark and twigs, but now it was gaping, and the boy could see that inside the cabin there were only a few big stones to serve as a fireplace, and two board benches. When they were above the cabin the eagle suspected that the boy was wondering who could have lived in such a wretched hut as that.

“The reapers who mowed the forest field lived there,” the eagle said.

The boy remembered how the reapers in his home had returned from their day’s work, cheerful and happy, and how the best his mother had in the larder was always spread for them; while here, after the arduous work of the day, they must rest on hard benches in a cabin that was worse than an outhouse. And what they had to eat he could not imagine.

“I wonder if there are any harvest festivals for these labourers?” he questioned.

A little farther on they saw below them a wretchedly bad road winding through the forest. It was narrow and zigzag, hilly and stony, and cut up by brooks in many places. As they flew over it the eagle knew that the boy was wondering what was carted over a road like that.

“Over this road the harvest was conveyed to the stack,” the eagle said.

The boy recalled what fun they had at home when the harvest wagons drawn by two sturdy horses, carried the grain from the field. The man who drove sat proudly on top of the load; the horses danced and pricked up their ears, while the village children, who were allowed to climb upon the sheaves, sat there laughing and shrieking, half-pleased, half-frightened. But here the great logs were drawn up and down steep hills; here the poor horses must be worked to their limit, and the driver must often be in peril. “I’m afraid there has been very little cheer along this road,” the boy observed.

The eagle flew on with powerful wing strokes, and soon they came to a river bank covered with logs, chips, and bark. The eagle perceived that the boy wondered why it looked so littered up down there.

“Here the harvest has been stacked,” the eagle told him.

The boy thought of how the grain stacks in his part of the country were piled up close to the farms, as if they were their greatest ornaments, while here the harvest was borne to a desolate river strand, and left there.

“I wonder if anyone out in this wilderness counts his stacks, and compares them with his neighbour’s?” he said.

A little later they came to Ljungen, a river which glides through a broad valley. Immediately everything was so changed that they might well think they had come to another country. The dark spruce forest had stopped on the inclines above the valley, and the slopes were clad in light-stemmed birches and aspens. The valley was so broad that in many places the river widened into lakes. Along the shores lay a large flourishing town.

As they soared above the valley the eagle realized that the boy was wondering if the fields and meadows here could provide a livelihood for so many people.

“Here live the reapers who mow the forest fields,” the eagle said.

The boy was thinking of the lowly cabins and the hedged-in farms down in Skåne when he exclaimed:

“Why, here the peasants live in real manors. It looks as if it might be worth one’s while to work in the forest!”

The eagle had intended to travel straight north, but when he had flown out over the river he understood that the boy wondered who handled the timber after it was stacked on the river bank.

The boy recollected how careful they had been at home never to let a grain be wasted, while here were great rafts of logs floating down the river, uncared for. He could not believe that more than half of the logs ever reached their destination. Many were floating in midstream, and for them all went smoothly; others moved close to the shore, bumping against points of land, and some were left behind in the still waters of the creeks. On the lakes there were so many logs that they covered the entire surface of the water. These appeared to be lodged for an indefinite period. At the bridges they stuck; in the falls they were bunched, then they were pyramided and broken in two; afterward, in the rapids, they were blocked by the stones and massed into great heaps.

“I wonder how long it takes for the logs to get to the mill?” said the boy.

The eagle continued his slow flight down River Ljungen. Over many places he paused in the air on outspread wings, that the boy might see how this kind of harvest work was done.

Presently they came to a place where the loggers were at work. The eagle marked that the boy wondered what they were doing.

“They are the ones who take care of all the belated harvest,” the eagle said.

The boy remembered the perfect ease with which his people at home had driven their grain to the mill. Here the men ran alongside the shores with long boat-hooks, and with toil and effort urged the logs along. They waded out in the river and were soaked from top to toe. They jumped from stone to stone far out into the rapids, and they tramped on the rolling log heaps as calmly as though they were on flat ground. They were daring and resolute men.

“As I watch this, I’m reminded of the iron-moulders in the mining districts, who juggle with fire as if it were perfectly harmless,” remarked the boy. “These loggers play with water as if they were its masters. They seem to have subjugated it so that it dare not harm them.”

Gradually they neared the mouth of the river, and Bothnia Bay was beyond them. Gorgo flew no farther straight ahead, but went northward along the coast. Before they had travelled very far they saw a lumber camp as large as a small city. While the eagle circled back and forth above it, he heard the boy remark that this place looked interesting.

“Here you have the great lumber camp called Svartvik,” the eagle said.

The boy thought of the mill at home, which stood peacefully embedded in foliage, and moved its wings very slowly. This mill, where they grind the forest harvest, stood on the water.

The mill pond was crowded with logs. One by one the helpers seized them with their cant-hooks, crowded them into the chutes and hurried them along to the whirling saws. What happened to the logs inside, the boy could not see, but he heard loud buzzing and roaring, and from the other end of the house small cars ran out, loaded with white planks. The cars ran on shining tracks down to the lumber yard, where the planks were piled in rows, forming streets⁠—like blocks of houses in a city. In one place they were building new piles; in another they were pulling down old ones. These were carried aboard two large vessels which lay waiting for cargo. The place was alive with workmen, and in the woods, back of the yard, they had their homes.

“They’ll soon manage to saw up all the forests in Medelpad the way they work here,” said the boy.

The eagle moved his wings just a little, and carried the boy above another large camp, very much like the first, with the mill, yard, wharf, and the homes of the workmen.

“This is called Kukikenborg,” the eagle said.

He flapped his wings slowly, flew past two big lumber camps, and approached a large city. When the eagle heard the boy ask the name of it, he cried; “This is Sundsvall, the manor of the lumber districts.”

The boy remembered the cities of Skåne, which looked so old and gray and solemn; while here in the bleak North the city of Sundsvall faced a beautiful bay, and looked young and happy and beaming. There was something odd about the city when one saw it from above, for in the middle stood a cluster of tall stone structures which looked so imposing that their match was hardly to be found in Stockholm. Around the stone buildings there was a large open space, then came a wreath of frame houses which looked pretty and cosy in their little gardens; but they seemed to be conscious of the fact that they were very much poorer than the stone houses, and dared not venture into their neighbourhood.

“This must be both a wealthy and powerful city,” remarked the boy. “Can it be possible that the poor forest soil is the source of all this?”

The eagle flapped his wings again, and went over to Aln Island, which lies opposite Sundsvall. The boy was greatly surprised to see all the sawmills that decked the shores. On Aln Island they stood, one next another, and on the mainland opposite were mill upon mill, lumber yard upon lumber yard. He counted forty, at least, but believed there were many more.

“How wonderful it all looks from up here!” he marvelled. “So much life and activity I have not seen in any place save this on the whole trip. It is a great country that we have! Wherever I go, there is always something new for people to live upon.”