Entelechy, from the Greek: entelecheia, after Aristotle:
1. The process whereby something realises its potential, or
2. As a term for the actual end-product of a
It is July 431 AD, and the bishops have convened in Ephesus.
They elevate the Virgin Mary to Theotokos, God-Bearer, and declare that
the divine and the human shall no longer be two dissimilar natures.
At the same time, and much farther north of this church council, an acorn
has taken root in the fertile East Norwegian soil-pockets. Where the forest-
clad range of hills stretches toward endless Svealand the tree will grow while
Emperor Xuanwu governs the northern Wei dynasty and the West Goths take
possession of Narbonne and Toulouse.
Oak: The World-Tree
In a region where only wind, distant cries and owls’ warning hoots are heard
the vigorous specimen of Quercus robur will stand for many centuries.
The tree is frequented by predatory birds, deer and bears. It is nourished by
strong roots and survives the cold fifth century, which was ravaged by the
It grows slowly through the god-forsaken sixth century and into the dark
seventh. Sacrifice upon sacrifice are borne up to it while the Norse
alphabet, sign by sign, conjures up the world.
Towards new millennia cavities and habitats are formed for over a thousand
species of beetles, mites, birds and fungi. The tree gives shade and shelter to
animals and travellers, and no one shall take it yet – neither time, fire or axe.
So will the oak tree grow, in the east Norwegian forestlands, to Yggdrasil size.
And the world spreads out around the tree: King Valdemar takes King
Svein’s place, the battle of Grathe Heath ends, Queen Melisande of
Jerusalem dies, Damascus surrenders to Sultan Nur-ad-Din of Aleppo,
hurricanes hits settlements in Friesland and flood them, and the crusades
Up north, the winter cups a cold hand over extensive valleys and forests.
Women collect acorns in their aprons, grind them into flour and bake bread
for the dark months. They collect bark for wound compresses and decoctions
for illness, for in the most poverty-stricken houses phthisis and crisis
will soon claim lives and only God’s mercy and Queen Maria’s loving kindness
can shed light.
Trees upon trees have provided material for boats, weapons, houses and temples.
But the oak that is now to be handed over to the future assumes a different form.
A master lays out his irons: A V-shaped iron, a spoon-shaped curved iron,
a flat iron with a straight cutting edge, a spoon-shaped straight iron with a
bevelled cutting edge and many other good irons.
From the carefully selected material he shapes a Madonna with a low
crown of lilies and a falling cloak and for the madonna’s lap – a child.
The torso is carved, then the contours of the Infant Jesus, and finally the
head of the Virgin Mary. Large notches in the recalcitrant wood first, and after
that a face so mild that no one can doubt in the good from now on.
The finished sculpture is painted red, blue and yellow and placed to the right
of the chancel arch in the church, in view of all the paupers. They turn to the Virgin,
for their lives are hard and short-lived in the early twelfth century, and
leys þú oss frá illu – deliver us from evil.
Inside the dense timber: Wide growth rings from the warm summers,
invisible traces from bird’s beaks and beetles. All protected by the tannin
that has preserved the oak into this millennium, into the museum of antiquities.
’C.7490 Virgin Mary with child from Enebakk church, belonging to the
category Sedes Sapientia, throne of wisdom. Dating: c. 1230–1250.
Material: oak, painted with tempera and chalk priming, but all paint
now disappeared, except for a little red on the inside of the cloak.’
The sculpture has no right arm. The hand probably held a sceptre of lilies,
the flower of innocence. The arm possible broke off shortly after the
Reformation, lay together with the sculpture, but separate, forgotten
in a church attic for the next few centuries, before disappearing and
shifting into a different orbit.
The lost arm with the sceptre of lilies must now be in the same orbit as
the unknown master who created it. In the same orbit as the good
irons in the skin bag, in the same orbit as the votive offerings brought
up to the immortal oak, in the same orbit as the prayers the paupers uttered
in the murky church, where the queen of heaven, sitting on the
throne of wisdom, gleamed as powerfully as the light, the light that allows
everything to be.
Madrone[†]: Bones, birds, trees
Dressed in the uniform against death:
skin on top of skin, the leather jacket,
the woollen sweater with holes in it, carded and knitted,
the linen skirt that falls so heavily from the waist.
The boots, with their tough uppers,
protecting my hidden bones:
the ankle bone, the heel bone, the scaphoid bone,
the fourteen phalanges inside the toes.
I walk along the paths, among shadows,
suitably dressed in the uniform against death,
and the Californian forests sough, indulgently.
In the red branchwork of the madrone trees
the spirits of the Miwok Indians are roosting,
camouflaged as birds.
Everything looks as if it is earthbound,
but is probably supernal: bones, birds, trees.
Scots Pine[‡]: Alliance
We lean up against the trunk, claim that by standing like this we will be hardened
by resin and bark, and that we, like the birds,
will therefore also be able to become thick-skinned against death, courageous in life.
But soon, as expected, we start to fear, err and doubt.
Is our bold assertion to be trusted?
The tree has six thick boughs that form a crown, five fixed stars
above it, and on the hottest summer days: a cool Mediterranean-like
shadow under it.
We take all this into consideration, come to our senses.
Collect our scrap of remaining courage, lean up against the trunk once more,
and the pine bids us understand that from now on we, together with it,
the birds and the five stars, already form a perfect alliance.
Downy Birch[§]: Violet
We ask again, inquisitorially: Where are the dead?
No one answers, as expected, and we have no good enough definition of life,
no fundamental theory about nature. But just hereabouts trees have
grown and fallen, lightning has zigzagged over birches, bogs, moths,
eggs and blood.
A poor person has leant against a long-since ploughed-in tree,
dogs have dragged themselves along the roads, children have slept beneath the
returning light of the moon, and the moon has blocked out the sun
again and again.
No one saw the gleam from Sirius the winter’s night some travellers
gathered round a bonfire. A knife was unsheathed, a young woman struggled
an old woman mumbled, in a different language, names of healing herbs:
Affenblume, Milchstern, Ochsenherz and Götterduft.
(Maidenwort, Star of Bethlehem, Bullock’s Heart and Pink Fountain)
It is possible that the universe has existed since eternity and that
eternity has existed for all eternity.
The atoms move as far as we know, they manifest themselves elsewhere,
unsentimentally, so we pluck up courage,
see that the birches are standing close to us,
lightly camouflaged, like young warriors in a slender, pastel-coloured phalanx.
Around us it is half-light and hard times, and they stand together, are without
weapons, but they intertwine their branches until they form a matted violet script,
a crown of strange, obscure dicipherable signs, but
they hold out their leafless crowns, offer violet upon violet for us to make out.
Paper Birch[**]: ‘I have wasted my life’
For miles around black spruce, white spruce and balsam fir stand.
In the undergrowth beaked hazel and mulberry grow, all of them so green
among the light trunks of the paper birches. They stretch in a wide belt
across the northern continent, and quietly give me permission to harvest some
fine pieces of bark from them.
I place seven of them out to dry in a shady spot. The thin, writable
sheets with their caramel sheen curl into silk-like rolls, and I
write a quotation from James Wright on one of them: ‘I have wasted my life.’
But I do not really mean this, do so more as a penance for poetry,
which once seized hold of my life, and since then has left me possessed.
I let the first sheet float off down the wide St. Lawrence River,
the river that divides two countries.
Paper Birch: The bitter logic
I follow instructions on the Internet, make an origami box of thin
cellulose. On the next sheet of paper birch I write: ‘The bitter logic’,
place it in the box and give it to L, say he can do whatever he wants
L takes the sheet of bark back to the forest and glues it with wood glue to
the trunk of a fifty-year-old paper birch. He makes no further comment, but
says that he first ate a piece of the bark out of sheer solidarity with
the tree, and that it tasted, precisely, bitter.
His almond-shaped eyes make me want to write one love poem
after the other. All of them were to deal with the power of good deeds, and
with revering humans and insects, birds and trees.
Paper Birch: The heart
in its lonely, lonely
in its lonely, lonely
is what I write on the third sheet, and give it to I, say she can do
whatever she wants with it. She knows at once what she is to do, and goes
off to the graveyard, the one sloping down towards the north side of
Mosvatnet Lake, where the trees each evening throughout the winter receive
the great crow migration.
She places the bark on the grave. Then she writes about the dear, dead
female friend, that it is as if she
‘…lay asleep, an interminably long time and interminably lonely
down in the grave, outside the world, but that poetry (…)
even so could reach her, was the only thing that could do so,
and comfort her.’
I admit she both knows and does not know if this is possible.
But in the tops of the tall trees at Mosvatnet Lake the birds caw,
in unison and knowingly.
And in the Canadian forests all the paper birches, every single one,
are at the same moment transformed into antennae.
Paper Birch: The neural circuits are still crackling
I give the fourth sheet to T and say she can do whatever she wants with it.
It is left lying for a long time in a room with low afternoon sun. From time
to time T picks up the bark, reads what is written there: ‘The neural circuits
are still crackling’, and thinks she must do something else than just sit with it
But the demanding text I have written on the sheet causes her to fall asleep
with it in her lap. When she wakes up, she hopes that after Easter something
will announce itself. But after Easter the afternoon sun has become even warmer,
and T is on the barricades day out and day in, and once more she has to sleep
on the green sofa. When she wakes up, she places the sheet in a drawer, and knows
that the paper birches in Saskatchewan will nevertheless remain silent, approvingly.
Paper Birch: Alphabet for the dead ... a ? n x l © μ, e, °F
The fifth sheet is exquisite, with several layers of cohesive gossamer-thin bark,
shaped almost like a little book.
I write an alphabet for the dead on page 1 and give it to R,
say he can do whatever he wants with it.
What sort of a misconception is that?
R spends some time with the alphabet, especially the sign for Fahrenheit
and the letter x, but refuses to be influenced. He cycles off in the rain
with the sheet of paper birch in his backpack, runs down the slopes at forty
kilometres an hour while making some bold lines of connection
between the fourth industrial revolution and his next art project.
Before he arrives home, he has eliminated death as an option, and thereby
wiped out any alphabet for the dead. And the bark is left at the bottom
of his backpack, literally pulverised
under a bottle of champagne
and a water melon.
Paper Birch: The moon, at its apogee at the time of writing,
farthest from the earth
’The moon, at its apogee at the time of writing, farthest from the earth’
is what I have written on the sixth sheet of Betula papyrifera.
I give it to B one evening with a full moon, say she can do whatever she
wants with it. But B does not reveal what she will do, goes off stag-hunting
and is away for a long time.
And the moon moves to its apogee and perigee time and time again.
Perhaps the paper birch sheet has been burnt or thrown away, or B may have plans
to do something ceremonial with it when the moon, not until March next year, is
at its perigee – closest to the earth, and at that time, on top of everything,
will also have super-moon status.
But this is nothing more than a guess. Perhaps the sheet has simply been lost
or forgotten, and that it thereby now finds itself in the same circulation as
other objects, actions, thoughts and memories that are never made known.
And along with tons of berries, ripened in the forests, shed antlers of
cloven-footed animals, countless bird skeletons, and the almost invisible traces
of the threatened small dormouse, all this will remain lonely universes.
Even so there is much that a vanished sheet of paper birch can accomplish.
It changes into atoms that are not lost in the great circuit, and
the earth continues to spin undaunted on its axis, the moon rolls above us
like a demented satellite, near and far, far and near.
Paper Birch: There are still openings into the third millennium
I write, resignedly and with reservations, on the last and seventh sheet:
‘There are still openings into the third millennium,’ and give it to A,
say that she can do whatever she wants with it.
She tears it into thin strips, but lets all of them remain part of
the piece of bark, so that they form a tangled vase. The sheet is thereby
transformed into a light, voluminous sculpture, with the text running
intact out along one of the strips.
A arranges this bark sculpture in various tableaus.
With each tableau she places physical objects which she calls ‘the helpers’.
She photographs them, and in the first picture some verdigris-green frog figures
can be seen, the bark encircles them like a dense hedge. What are they
doing there in the middle of the paper birch architecture? The frogs hold empty jars
in their amphibious fingers, are changed from a threatened species into
anthropomorphic doorkeepers at the openings into the third millennium,
‘a mysterious future,’ A says.
Here and there the strip of text winds into a conch, as if it is
searching for the sound of the sea. In another picture the butterfly-like
leaves from Oxalis triangularis are hovering over stripped sheet of
A orders and moves around the helpers: frogs, leaves and conch, and
she does so with the underlying seriousness characteristic of all playfulness.
At the same time the paper birches stand in a broad belt across the northern
They stand, trunk next to trunk, form an army and shed leaves and bark so
that water and earth and air and fire will be able to convert fibres and sap, and
so that the future will be able to continue – and let this be clear, for
evolution has shown us this: Solvitur ambulando, everything is solved by motion.
Particles fall from the galaxies, and crackling comes from the star
as from the sound track of an old science-fiction film.
We believe this – just as the creationists believe, simply and naively, but
we are soon forced into sobriety, to concede that we do not know for sure
if the stars can crackle, and if at some point a spark will be able
to form from this improbable friction. If the spark will be able to ignite
words, and if words will be able to transport the small light, preferably to
where we now find ourselves. If this light will be able to pass on its gleam,
to the world itself. If the world, animated, such as we, child-like, hope it is, will
thereby be able to see us, and also light us up faintly, till we become visible.
For we do not know if the trusty chlorophyll will reach us in time, conjure up
life once more. If the birds will see us again. If the beloved trees or the
inarticulate lake or the unexpectant shiny mountain will look after us,
and not find fault with us. If the iris will be able to stay green in colour
for some time still from having so profoundly been recognised by spring.
And if our hands, lashed to the mast of time, will be released.