This is a narrative essay, rooted in personal experience in Finland.
I raise my eyes from my late evening reading, my melancholy gaze wandering out through the window of the cottage onto the stillness of the lake and surrounding forest, bathed in the lingering boreal twilight. In the background, the murmur of half-understood conversation and drone of the television blur together; the topics comprehended, if not the details.
It is then I sense your unseen beckoning, with an ecstatic tingle of anticipation. While I take leave of my familial companions, you tug at my arm. I excuse myself and step out into the midnight, unexplained. I instinctively recognise your character and presence, although we have not consorted in this manner before. Tonight you are playful and youthful, but I know you to be wise and ancient as this forest.
We wander together through the garden to the shore, passing the small domestic buildings – the outdoor summer kitchen and the sauna cabin – to stand by the small waves, gently lapping against rocks. The stillness of the night air is punctuated only by the swan’s sonorous cry, the occasional honk of the wild goose, and the scaup’s coarse call, evoking this waterfowl’s role in creation myth, through her eggs of gold and iron. I’m reminded of our one previous encounter, as I then stood immersed chin-deep in this fresh water and became vividly aware of the gentle solace of your presence.
Gripping my hand, you turn and rush back up the path, towards the forest, towing me in your wake. “Slow down,” I laugh, “I’m not as young as I once was!” Reaching the forest’s edge, our strides fall into step, my boots crunching the gravel underfoot. This darkless night still affords vision, even beneath the shade of the sylvan canopy. For a while we are quiet together, as my nostrils fill with the rich aromas of these woods.
The path turns away from the small, humble dwellings where I go about my simple summer retreat. On soft ground now, and rising slightly uphill, you direct my attention to the rich abundance of this forest carpet on either side. Some of it I know to be good to eat; I spot patches of chanterelles, and blueberries coming to ripeness. Other fungi and lichens offer food for creatures small and large. The air here is dense and rich with mulch and earthiness, the ground plush with mosses and ferns. I am swept along with the infectious depth of benevolent pleasure and pride you, my enchanting companion, take in this. In outward silence, we come together in mind, and I grow comfortable in your company.
I wonder what I’m doing here and want to ask you everything: who and what you truly are, what is required of me, and why me? But I am afraid to dispel the embrace of this illusion. Before my question is fully formed, I inarticulately stammer, “What are you for?”. Your melodious laugh is music in my ear. “My child, I am for you. This is all that matters.”
“But why me?” I blunder on.
“Because I am who I am. My tenderness and healing is for all the ill and sad, the wanderer, the lost, and the foreigner.”
Reaching an opening, you release my hand and rush ahead. It is lighter here, with tall, white-barked aspen and silver-birch lending a palette of grey and muted pale green. A slight breeze rustles the trembling, rattling leaves; the air laden with verdant sweetness of fresh sap. I watch you mingle amidst the papery trunks, veiled in gossamer, swept and variegated as the quaking foliage. I’m not sure whether I see you from one moment to the next.
I begin to understand that you and the forest are one, indivisible. You hasten back to my side, I feel you brush against my shoulder, and again grasp my hand firmly as we walk onwards. A denser mixed woodland continues on your side, bearing over us, while on my side of the track a sloping field opens up, gently rolling down to the rushes of the bay. In the ethereal mist, a family of deer graze in peace near the water’s edge. They look towards us, but detect no threat. I feel your intimate closeness and concern for all life around.
We near the path’s end, mailboxes, farms and the road to civilisation. The woodland opens to a golden field of barley, each breath becoming honey-sweet. I watch the flaxen stalks gently sway and ripple, fine hairs shimmering; your rich golden tresses in constant motion. Around the perimeter, wild flowers flourish abundantly, in yellows and whites, pinks and purples. Your noble head is adorned with a regal circlet of willowherb, pink clover, marguerites and milk thistle.
Surely such an encounter does not come without demands. I hesitantly ask: “What is it that you want from me?” You lift my head and look into my eyes with such compassion that my question seems foolish. “Dear one, you have so much to learn, yet so much more to unlearn. Leave behind the fear that communion begets obligation. Stop worrying, take time and have confidence to simply be.”
Turning to face back along our path, I recognise your livid blue mantle enveloping all that lies before me, from the heavens to the lakeshore, hood draped lightly over your shoulders, around your crowned head, and hems where forest’s edge meets lapping waters.
Mielikki, your name of renown, familiar from myth, story and song, continually whispered by these trees, has become sacred to me. In this nightless night, I experience the forest and its creatures caressed beneath your cloak. Together with them, this wandering, lost sheep of a different fold finds comfort, and is confounded by unhoped embrace and heretical adoption.
The primary frame of reference is the collection of oral folk tradition in the Kalevala, the Finnish national epic:
Role of Scaup / Teal (in this translation) in Creation: Runo I [177-244]
References to Mielikki / Mimerkki (alternative name): Runo XIV [45-78] [213-230] [253-264]
and in the creation of the bear: Runo XLVI [379-460] [477-488]