The Nitelv and the Oak

Did you hear what the oak tree said to the river?  I’d be lying if I said I heard it but neither would it do not to mention the river and the tree as they are a part of it too, do you see?  The threads of life are many and there’s one, not one but a big knot of events in amongst the wire cage branches and out on the white icesheet looking up in wonder at an ordinary grey Nordic sky.  You won’t understand much at all without the Nitelv and the oak.  You won’t understand my Hatiya without my Norway.

In the low hillocks above the small river that oak tree guards a gully beyond the suburbanised streets outside Oslo and from its enormous, watchtower trunk branches radiate upward and then, spindly and thinner, shower downwards once more in a lattice network that gives to the tree its overall mushroom shape.  That tree must’ve witnessed things: the carving out of small plots of farmland from around its position, the retreat of the pine forest to the tops of the hills, the replacement of deer with a few cows or sheep feasting on the newer grasses that colonise the cleared space of the paddock when the summer comes.

The Nitelv meanwhile cannot be seen from the oak but it’s only over the nearest hills in the broader valley, and the small river is also an historian.  On its flat marshy lands that were once the habitat solely of summer reeds and wild ducks a minor town came to settle, when in the nineteenth century a steam powered sawmill encouraged the populating of the river flats by workers.  Lillestrøm was founded.  These days it’s a satellite town of the capital, Oslo, and alongside the collection of apartments, stores, the culture centre and buildings of civic administration that look a bit 1970s Nordic, amongst the older wooden cottages, there’s a fast train service to the airport and a ticket on it costs more than Situ’s budget for half a trip to Ukraine.

In summer the greenery of the parkland and bike paths along Nitelva’s banks bring cheerfulness to the long evenings.  The sunshine is warmer at that time of year.  In autumn white swans paddle the blackened ponds just out from the deadened reeds nearest the shore, now brown and newly covered in frost and by winter the Nitelv is frozen silent and layered with snow.  It was winter when I first saw it.  Each morning, so it was, I’d resolve to walk across the winter’s Nitelv instead of using the bridge, on the way to Norwegian class.  I’d seen it done in movies, walking across frozen rivers although for me the opportunity was the first of its kind.  But I was worried about falling through a hole in the ice and drowning as also happens in movies; so I hesitated.

Aha! To hesitate is not the story of the oak and the river.

But it was between the two on the Rælingen bank that stood the first Norwegian house.  From its kitchen there were views across the river with Lillestrøm beyond.  There were views further too, as there always are, that our eyes are unable to master, away downstream to the grazing buffalo of Thailand and a hilltop quarter-mosque in the green scrubby jungles of Assam, away downstream to the yellow and red cherries in a water cooler bottle in the steppes of the East and to the pungent steam of stargazing in the vast treeless plateau to the South, that plateau fresh with mud from the unusual event of rain.  There was the view too, of course, to a shack on a strip of road on an island: all the many oak and river aspects, do you see it? 

The first Norwegian house isn’t there anymore.  The land on which it lay was resumed, the apple trees in the garden gone for the building of the high speed train link.

I really don’t know what the oak tree might’ve said to Nitelva, calling out across the few hills between them.  I speak neither oak nor river, so it is, but they must’ve had some interesting conversations over the course of centuries. 

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