We lay by a fire, John Janson and I, with Rikkika marshes close by,
at the blackening vastness he pointed and said: ’That’s where my mare had to die.
Do you know how it feels to put to an end the life of your very best friend,
when she’s kicked her way down in roots and in mud and one’s left alone to contend?
You should just have seen us at Bannberg forest, the harness-pin pushed through by snow,
and we loaded our timber, a saw’s length the stump, the top part six quarters, to tow.
Horse collars creaking and leather that’s stretched, frozen to chafing hard horn,
and life all depended on holes in the straps and that buckle prongs were not too worn.
Mornings when snow felt like fire all ablaze when one left the cabin’s safe cot,
and the bear-fastening seared through the gloves on your hands, just like an iron that’s red-hot.
Slopes where the screw coupling jumped at a jerk from nasty stones jutting like pegs
and three tons of timber shot from the load and skittled round Starlight’s legs,
and ended up crosswise and mashed and trashed the sleds’ gear that was steel-reinforced,
as if fired from a cannon one by one into the depths they then coursed. –
Days when the west wind was soft and warm and the forest stood soothingly wet –
oh, Starlight and I we fought night and day against want and poor tracks for the sled.
When the load stuck fast in bared-slopes’ grit when the last days of March were past
A shake of the reins was hardly required – Starlight heaved without being asked!
Days when the forest snow-crust just cracked and the lake-ice turned to and fro,
and pines that were centuries old simply snapped under tons of moist-dripping snow,
nights when in hours of moon-white mist the slush turned to stone in a trice,
days when the sun stuck hole on hole in the bog-ponds with grainy ice.
Nights in the horse blanket’s threadbare warmth, black with the charcoal-house dust,
when with me in the wagon’s protective cage, through snowstorms she pulled at full-thrust.
Moonlit paths in raging gales that smothered my urging shouts
and merely a twitch on the reins at times were signals to clear any doubts,
were signs between us half-frozen pair that you gave it all that you had
and were thanks from me that you gave yourself to a hard and poor life, good or bad.
The short cut at the neck of Bastmyren bog and a gunshot from Lammaloms Nor,
when the evening was frosty, the mire seemed firm, I prayed God there wasn’t a thaw.
You seemed to be flying, so lightly you moved and dealt with each hazardous sway.
A jerk and you seemed to take a sharp breath when the yellow-black ice gave way.
It took but an instant, I came to your aid with a single mighty leap,
and my knife hacked and hacked through all the straps round your body that slowly sank deep.
Nobody answered my calls of distress: no village lay near at hand,
and I saw both your forelegs pounding to foam the loose and now waterlogged sand,
I cannot remember, time ceased to exist, just how long the struggle went on
before your head sank and your last wild-eyed gaze was spattered in mire and was gone.
I saw – both your hind legs were out of their depth – you were lost but continued to fight
You still went on moving, I stood there and watched for an hour, maybe two, in the night.
Then once more you raised your ears from the sand – would dawn come before you were dead?
And I shivered and gritted my teeth before I returned for a while to the sled.
There lay my old rusty axe which had hacked through many a hampering root
and had knocked off so many clumps of dark ice from Starlight’s hobbling foot.
And I took it and silently slithered up close, shut my eyes when I struck the hard blow,
and with wide-staring eyes I watched and watched as Starlight sank down below,
how the swirling turned brown as the bubbles rose up to waterlogged sand and then spread,
and just at that moment the sun came up and coloured the mountains deep red.’
He fell silent. The bog stood dank and lukewarm, with vapour round jetty and slope.
And I heard my own heart beating time like a clock – the wilds spoke of peace, even hope.
To see the original, go to here