The poem goes:
Nine lovely maidens
argued over the path
one fell into the brook
then eight were left
So who will get wet? Theodóra, Olivia, Smali? Enjoy the story and find out!
“Hi!” Olivia leans over the garden wall and watches Theodóra pet a brownish dog with pricked ears and a curled tail. Theodóra looks up and smiles. “Hi! Where are you from?”
“Reykjavík. Why do you speak English to me?”
Theodóra’s face turns a crimson red. “I thought you were a foreigner, because, you know, the…” She leans over the dog, looking firmly at the earth.
“Because I’m not the color of skyr*?” Olivia laughs and jumps over the wall.
“It’s all right. People often assume I’m a foreigner. But it’s usually old-timers, not kids my own age.”
“I’m sorry. My name is Theodóra, what is your name?”
„Olivia. I moved in next door yesterday. And before you ask, my mother is Icelandic too, although she was adopted from abroad.”
“Great, welcome to the neighbourhood! Listen, I’m going to pick berries, do you want to come?” Theodóra straightens up, glad to be able to change the subject.
“Yes, I would love to!”
“Cool! My brother will drive us to the valley, and pick us up when we are done.”
“Which valley?” Olivia looks over the fjord, where deep narrow valleys are carved into the steep mountains.
“My deserted valley. Or my family's anyway. The biggest and sweetest blueberries you have ever tasted grow there.”
“Won’t any grownups go with us?”
“Thankfully no. Grownups are nothing but trouble when you are berry picking. The yell as soon as you are out of sight, even though you are just resting in a small hollow or something, and they can never finish in one area. They always think there are more berries elsewhere. I like to go alone.”
“But aren’t you afraid to go alone so far?”
“ I won’t be alone. You will be with me. And Smali. The dog,” she adds, explaining.
“Brand new rubber boots, a scarf, a hat and a coat. I can barely move, but at least I will be warm!” Olivia waddles like a penguin and Theodóra imitates her.
“Same here. I’m not allowed to go unless I dress very warmly.”
The valley greets them in the autumn sun. High uncut grass graces the opening, but the heather takes over a little further along. They follow the river upstream, talk, laugh and enjoy getting to know each other. Soon they are warmed by the walk and they stuff their mittens, hats and scarves in their bag.
„Isn’t this far enough? There are berries everywhere.” Olivia looks around, at tussocks bright blue and deep black with berries.
“Almost. We just have to cross the river, and climb a little up the slope to find the best berries. You will see.”
The slope is much steeper than it looks, and Olivia is a little out of breath when Theodóra shouts: “Here we are!” She starts picking at once, but Olivia stares at ground. She has never seen so many berries in one place before.
At first they eat until their lips and hands are dark blue. Smali runs around, following butterflies and barking at barely visible sheep.
They pick industriously. Theodóra is a bit faster, but Olivia is not far behind. They have filled two big boxes each, when they take a break and bring out their packed lunch.
„You know, I think there are more berries over there.” Theodóra squints and points up and along the slope.
“Can there be more berries there here? Is that possible?” Olivia would like to see that, so they agree to go a bit further. They stop and pick once in a while, but no matter how far they go, there are always more berries in the next hollow and on the next tussock. The evening fog creeps down the slope, but neither one notices. The berry boxes are full, but the lunch boxes are put to good use, and so are the water bottles.
But everything ends, and they fill up those last containers almost simultaneously.
“It will be great, bringing all this home!”
Yes, there will be a feast tonight. Fresh blueberries with cream!”
Smali barks loudly.
“What is it boy, are you hungry?” Theodóra pets the dog, but then she finally looks around.
“We need to go home Olivia. The fog.” She doesn’t have to say any more. Olivia feels the moisture in the air and she is suddenly cold. They tear the warm clothes out of the bags and dress fast.
When they get to the bottom it becomes evident that they are very far into the valley.
“Where is the bloody ford?”
“What do you mean?”
“Nothing! Come on!” Theodóra snarls, leading the way down river. But they can’t seem to find a good place to cross. The river seems much deeper and more foreboding that earlier in they day.
“Listen,Theodóra? Are you sure we didn’t pass the ford?”
“Sure? What do you mean?” Theodóra starts to work herself up, but resigns and answers quietly: “No, I’m not sure. But here are a few rocks in the river. Perhaps we should try to cross?”
Theodóra runs as fast as she can, gets to the first rock, over to the next one, and slips just a little off the third before she gets up to the bank.
“Come on! She yells. “This is easy!”
Olivia runs like Theodóra but her new slippery boot gain no footing on the rocks and she falls backwards into the ice cold river. Theodóra jumps into the river and helps her get up. Smali barks like mad and runs in circles on the riverbank.
Theodóra squeezes her hand into a dripping wet bag and drags up a small phone.
“It’s dead! It can’t take a little water! She shakes the phone in disbelief.
“Your brother will pick us up, right? He must remember, even if you won’t call?”
“Afraid not. He doesn’t remember anything but football practise. But my parents will look for me. I just don’t know when.”
Olivia isn’t one to cry, and certainly not in front of someone she knows as little as Theodóra. But now silent tears roll down her cheeks. She sprained her ankle in the fall and it is starting to hurt a lot. The main road seems way too far for her to limp, in dripping wet clothes.
Smali prods her lightly with his nose, as if to comfort her, but he cannot carry her home. Theodóra sighs. There is nobody in sight, and she doesn’t know how to get Olivia much further.
Suddenly Smali barks loudly and runs in direction of the road. He disappears behind a small hillock and leaves the girls staring in disbelief.
“Smali, come on boy, Smali” shouts Theodóra. „Smali, Smali” Olivia falls in.
They look at each other, unsure of what to do. Should they stay, try to find the dog, or start the journey towards the road?
Theodóra doesn’t want to leave Smali behind, but they decide to walk down river in direction of the road. They progress slowly, the wet boots are heavy but their lopi clothes warm them despite being wet, so they are no longer cold. Olivia has trouble walking; the pain in her ankle is steadily increasing.
They have not gone far, when they see an old jeep drive towards them. Theodóra runs towards shouting and waiving her arms. But who is it in the front seat, with his head out of the window? Can it be Smali?
“Hi there Theodóra, your friend here insisted I followed him.” Sigurður, Theodóra’s great-uncle, steps out of the jeep.
“I was at my summer cottage down there,” he says, pointing towards the sea. „I was just going fishing when your dog came running and barking. I was getting into my boat, but he didn’t give up until I followed him.”
“Do you understand dogs?” Olivia is astonished.
“Not really, no. But I was a sheep farmer for forty years and I’ve always kept Icelandic sheepdogs. I know they don’t try to fetch people unless they have a good reason. You two look pretty miserable. Hop in and I’ll give you a lift into town.”
The morning after Olivia hops on crutches over to Theodora’s yard, with big chucks of lamb for Smali.
* Skyr is a cultured non-fat milk product that has been a component of the Icelandic diet for centuries.
The Icelandic Knitter@Harpa Jónsdóttir 2011
All rights reserved. No part of this story, text, photographs or illustrations may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means or by any way without written permission obtained before hand from the author.
Harpa Jonsdóttir is an author. She has published a few books, among them “Ferðin til Samiraka” (the trip to Samiraka) that won the Icelandic Children’s Book Award in 2002 in Iceland. She is also a knitter and embellish her knits beautifully. Those two centers of interest seem to work nicely together: to know how, read the interview with harpa, "When knitting and writing spin together" in the issue 03 of The Icelandic Knitter's magazine.
Harpa's blog: harpaj.net