The Trip to Öland


The wild geese went out on a wooded island to feed. There they happened to run across a few gray geese, who were surprised to see them⁠—since they knew very well that their kinsmen, the wild geese, usually travel over the interior of the country.

They were curious and inquisitive, and wouldn’t be satisfied with less than that the wild geese should tell them all about the persecution which they had to endure from Smirre Fox. When they had finished, a gray goose, who appeared to be as old and as wise as Akka herself, said: “It was a great misfortune for you that Smirre Fox was declared an outlaw in his own land. He’ll be sure to keep his word, and follow you all the way up to Lapland. If I were in your place, I shouldn’t travel north over Småland, but would take the outside route over Öland instead, so that he’ll be thrown off the track entirely. To really mislead him, you must remain for a couple of days on Öland’s southern point. There you’ll find lots of food and lots of company. I don’t believe you’ll regret it, if you go over there.”

It was certainly very sensible advice, and the wild geese concluded to follow it. As soon as they had eaten all they could hold, they started on the trip to Öland. None of them had ever been there before, but the gray goose had given them excellent directions. They only had to travel direct south until they came to a large bird-track, which extended all along the Blekinge coast. All the birds who had winter residences by the West sea, and who now intended to travel to Finland and Russia, flew forward there⁠—and, in passing, they were always in the habit of stopping at Öland to rest. The wild geese would have no trouble in finding guides.

That day it was perfectly still and warm⁠—like a summer’s day⁠—the best weather in the world for a sea trip. The only grave thing about it was that it was not quite clear, for the sky was gray and veiled. Here and there were enormous mist-clouds which hung way down to the sea’s outer edge, and obstructed the view.

When the travellers had gotten away from the wooded island, the sea spread itself so smooth and mirror-like, that the boy as he looked down thought the water had disappeared. There was no longer any earth under him. He had nothing but mist and sky around him. He grew very dizzy, and held himself tight on the goose-back, more frightened than when he sat there for the first time. It seemed as though he couldn’t possibly hold on; he must fall in some direction.

It was even worse when they reached the big bird-track, of which the gray goose had spoken. Actually, there came flock after flock flying in exactly the same direction. They seemed to follow a fixed route. There were ducks and gray geese, surf-scoters and guillemots, loons and pintail ducks and mergansers and grebes and oystercatchers and sea-grouse. But now, when the boy leaned forward, and looked in the direction where the sea ought to lie, he saw the whole bird procession reflected in the water. But he was so dizzy that he didn’t understand how this had come about: he thought that the whole bird procession flew with their bellies upside down. Still he didn’t wonder at this so much, for he did not himself know which was up, and which was down.

The birds were tired out and impatient to get on. None of them shrieked or said a funny thing, and this made everything seem peculiarly unreal.

“Think, if we have travelled away from the Earth!” he said to himself. “Think, if we are on our way up to heaven!”

He saw nothing but mists and birds around him, and began to look upon it as reasonable that they were travelling heavenward. He was glad, and wondered what he should see up there. The dizziness passed all at once. He was so exceedingly happy at the thought that he was on his way to heaven and was leaving this earth.

Just about then he heard a couple of loud shots, and saw two white smoke-columns ascend.

There was a sudden awakening, and an unrest among the birds. “Hunters! Hunters!” they cried. “Fly high! Fly away!”

Then the boy saw, finally, that they were travelling all the while over the seacoast, and that they certainly were not in heaven. In a long row lay small boats filled with hunters, who fired shot upon shot. The nearest bird-flocks hadn’t noticed them in time. They had flown too low. Several dark bodies sank down toward the sea; and for every one that fell, there arose cries of anguish from the living.

It was strange for one who had but lately believed himself in heaven, to wake up suddenly to such fear and lamentation. Akka shot toward the heights as fast as she could, and the flock followed with the greatest possible speed. The wild geese got safely out of the way, but the boy couldn’t get over his amazement. “To think that anyone could wish to shoot upon such as Akka and Yksi and Kaksi and the goosey-gander and the others! Human beings had no conception of what they did.”

So it bore on again, in the still air, and everything was as quiet as heretofore⁠—with the exception that some of the tired birds called out every now and then: “Are we not there soon? Are you sure we’re on the right track?” Hereupon, those who flew in the centre answered: “We are flying straight to Öland; straight to Öland.”

The gray geese were tired out, and the loons flew around them. “Don’t be in such a rush!” cried the ducks. “You’ll eat up all the food before we get there.”

“Oh! there’ll be enough for both you and us,” answered the loons.

Before they had gotten so far that they saw Öland, there came a light wind against them. It brought with it something that resembled immense clouds of white smoke⁠—just as if there was a big fire somewhere.

When the birds saw the first white spiral haze, they became uneasy and increased their speed. But that which resembled smoke blew thicker and thicker, and at last it enveloped them altogether. They smelled no smoke; and the smoke was not dark and dry, but white and damp. Suddenly the boy understood that it was nothing but a mist.

When the mist became so thick that one couldn’t see a goose-length ahead, the birds began to carry on like real lunatics. All these, who before had travelled forward in such perfect order, began to play in the mist. They flew hither and thither, to entice one another astray. “Be careful!” they cried. “You’re only travelling round and round. Turn back, for pity’s sake! You’ll never get to Öland in this way.”

They all knew perfectly well where the island was, but they did their best to lead each other astray. “Look at those wagtails!” rang out in the mist. “They are going back toward the North Sea!”

“Have a care, wild geese!” shrieked someone from another direction. “If you continue like this, you’ll get clear up to Rügen.”

There was, of course, no danger that the birds who were accustomed to travel here would permit themselves to be lured in a wrong direction. But the ones who had a hard time of it were the wild geese. The jesters observed that they were uncertain as to the way, and did all they could to confuse them.

“Where do you intend to go, good people?” called a swan. He came right up to Akka, and looked sympathetic and serious.

“We shall travel to Öland; but we have never been there before,” said Akka. She thought that this was a bird to be trusted.

“It’s too bad,” said the swan. “They have lured you in the wrong direction. You’re on the road to Blekinge. Now come with me, and I’ll put you right!”

And so he flew off with them; and when he had taken them so far away from the track that they heard no calls, he disappeared in the mist.

They flew around for a while at random. They had barely succeeded in finding the birds again, when a duck approached them. “It’s best that you lie down on the water until the mist clears,” said the duck. “It is evident that you are not accustomed to look out for yourselves on journeys.”

Those rogues succeeded in making Akka’s head swim. As near as the boy could make out, the wild geese flew round and round for a long time.

“Be careful! Can’t you see that you are flying up and down?” shouted a loon as he rushed by. The boy positively clutched the goosey-gander around the neck. This was something which he had feared for a long time.

No one can tell when they would have arrived, if they hadn’t heard a rolling and muffled sound in the distance.

Then Akka craned her neck, snapped hard with her wings, and rushed on at full speed. Now she had something to go by. The gray goose had told her not to light on Öland’s southern point, because there was a cannon there, which the people used to shoot the mist with. Now she knew the way, and now no one in the world should lead her astray again.