The Stairway with the Three Steps


The following day the wild geese intended to travel northward through Allbo district, in Småland. They sent Iksi and Kaksi to spy out the land. But when they returned, they said that all the water was frozen, and all the land was snow-covered. “We may as well remain where we are,” said the wild geese. “We cannot travel over a country where there is neither water nor food.”

“If we remain where we are, we may have to wait here until the next moon,” said Akka. “It is better to go eastward, through Blekinge, and see if we can’t get to Småland by way of Möre, which lies near the coast, and has an early spring.”

Thus the boy came to ride over Blekinge the next day. Now, that it was light again, he was in a merry mood once more, and could not comprehend what had come over him the night before. He certainly didn’t want to give up the journey and the outdoor life now.

There lay a thick fog over Blekinge. The boy couldn’t see how it looked out there. “I wonder if it is a good, or a poor country that I’m riding over,” thought he, and tried to search his memory for the things which he had heard about the country at school. But at the same time he knew well enough that this was useless, as he had never been in the habit of studying his lessons.

At once the boy saw the whole school before him. The children sat by the little desks and raised their hands; the teacher sat in the lectern and looked displeased; and he himself stood before the map and should answer some question about Blekinge, but he hadn’t a word to say. The schoolmaster’s face grew darker and darker for every second that passed, and the boy thought the teacher was more particular that they should know their geography, than anything else. Now he came down from the lectern, took the pointer from the boy, and sent him back to his seat. “This won’t end well,” the boy thought then.

But the schoolmaster had gone over to a window, and had stood there for a moment and looked out, and then he had whistled to himself once. Then he had gone up into the lectern and said that he would tell them something about Blekinge. And that which he then talked about had been so amusing that the boy had listened. When he only stopped and thought for a moment, he remembered every word.

“Småland is a tall house with spruce trees on the roof,” said the teacher, “and leading up to it is a broad stairway with three big steps; and this stairway is called Blekinge. It is a stairway that is well constructed. It stretches forty-two miles along the frontage of Småland house, and anyone who wishes to go all the way down to the East sea, by way of the stairs, has twenty-four miles to wander.

“A good long time must have elapsed since the stairway was built. Both days and years have gone by since the steps were hewn from gray stones and laid down⁠—evenly and smoothly⁠—for a convenient track between Småland and the East sea.

“Since the stairway is so old, one can, of course, understand that it doesn’t look just the same now, as it did when it was new. I don’t know how much they troubled themselves about such matters at that time; but big as it was, no broom could have kept it clean. After a couple of years, moss and lichen began to grow on it. In the autumn dry leaves and dry grass blew down over it; and in the spring it was piled up with falling stones and gravel. And as all these things were left there to mould, they finally gathered so much soil on the steps that not only herbs and grass, but even bushes and trees could take root there.

“But, at the same time, a great disparity has arisen between the three steps. The topmost step, which lies nearest Småland, is mostly covered with poor soil and small stones, and no trees except birches and bird-cherry and spruce⁠—which can stand the cold on the heights, and are satisfied with little⁠—can thrive up there. One understands best how poor and dry it is there, when one sees how small the field-plots are, that are ploughed up from the forest lands; and how many little cabins the people build for themselves; and how far it is between the churches. But on the middle step there is better soil, and it does not lie bound down under such severe cold, either. This one can see at a glance, since the trees are both higher and of finer quality. There you’ll find maple and oak and linden and weeping-birch and hazel trees growing, but no cone-trees to speak of. And it is still more noticeable because of the amount of cultivated land that you will find there; and also because the people have built themselves great and beautiful houses. On the middle step, there are many churches, with large towns around them; and in every way it makes a better and finer appearance than the top step.

“But the very lowest step is the best of all. It is covered with good rich soil; and, where it lies and bathes in the sea, it hasn’t the slightest feeling of the Småland chill. Beeches and chestnut and walnut trees thrive down here; and they grow so big that they tower above the church-roofs. Here lie also the largest grainfields; but the people have not only timber and farming to live upon, but they are also occupied with fishing and trading and seafaring. For this reason you will find the most costly residences and the prettiest churches here; and the parishes have developed into villages and cities.

“But this is not all that is said of the three steps. For one must realise that when it rains on the roof of the big Småland house, or when the snow melts up there, the water has to go somewhere; and then, naturally, a lot of it is spilled over the big stairway. In the beginning it probably oozed over the whole stairway, big as it was; then cracks appeared in it, and, gradually, the water has accustomed itself to flow alongside of it, in well dug out grooves. And water is water, whatever one does with it. It never has any rest. In one place it cuts and files away, and in another it adds to. Those grooves it has dug into vales, and the walls of the vales it has decked with soil; and bushes and trees and vines have clung to them ever since⁠—so thick, and in such profusion, that they almost hide the stream of water that winds its way down there in the deep. But when the streams come to the landings between the steps, they throw themselves headlong over them; this is why the water comes with such a seething rush, that it gathers strength with which to move mill-wheels and machinery⁠—these, too, have sprung up by every waterfall.

“But this does not tell all that is said of the land with the three steps. It must also be told that up in the big house in Småland there lived once upon a time a giant, who had grown very old. And it fatigued him in his extreme age, to be forced to walk down that long stairway in order to catch salmon from the sea. To him it seemed much more suitable that the salmon should come up to him, where he lived.

“Therefore, he went up on the roof of his great house; and there he stood and threw stones down into the East sea. He threw them with such force that they flew over the whole of Blekinge and dropped into the sea. And when the stones came down, the salmon got so scared that they came up from the sea and fled toward the Blekinge streams; ran through the rapids; flung themselves with high leaps over the waterfalls, and stopped.

“How true this is, one can see by the number of islands and points that lie along the coast of Blekinge, and which are nothing in the world but the big stones that the giant threw.

“One can also tell because the salmon always go up in the Blekinge streams and work their way up through rapids and still water, all the way to Småland.

“That giant is worthy of great thanks and much honour from the Blekinge people; for salmon in the streams, and stone-cutting on the island⁠—that means work which gives food to many of them even to this day.”