The high North

Kirstin Vanlierde
Dec 4, 2019 · 5 min read

I have a thing with the high North.

Perhaps my name has something to do with it, a Scandinavian name better suited for rough pine forests and fjords and deep layers of snow then for the Flemish rural landscape of plowed fields and poplar trees, where it is invariably pronounced wrong.

My Mom had a soft spot for Scandinavia, too, which is one of the reasons she gave both her daughters names from that area. None of us three has ever really been there, though (not until I got to go on my writing residency to Sweden, last year), but as a child I let my fingers wander across the backs of books by Margit Söderholm en Sigrid Undset, sitting on my parents’ bookshelf. My mom loved them, I knew. Back then, I was merely fascinated by the fact that Kristin Lavransdottir’s name and my own only differed in a single letter, it always felt like I was almost reading my own name on the cover of a book.
I have never read them, any of them, but still, something was planted deep inside me because of this.

The fact that I cherish Ronja, the Robber’s Daughter above everything else on my own personal bookshelf, didn’t have anything to do, when I first discovered it, with the fact that Astrid Lindgren was Swedish. But that I have continued to love it, might. But in an unusual way. For I’m really not much of a fan of many of Lindgren’s other books. I have no particular love for Pippi Longstocking, and I found The Children of Noisy Village to be a truly boring book. But Ronja’s forest, with Mattis’ stronghold overlooking the violent river, the dark pine forest and the cracked rocks, where goblins and bird witches have their homes and where you can almost taste and smell all that lives in the wild, that is where I was truly at home. And sure, Ilon Wikland’s illustrations had something to do with it, too, let’s just admit that.

I reckon I don’t have the physical stamina to live in the high North. Neither the cold temperatures, nor the light-infused summers or the long, dark winters would suit me very well. And yet, I sometimes catch myself dreaming of it. For a piece of my heart is anchored there. To what? To an idea? To the dream I inherited from my Mom? To Ronja? To the trolls and moons? To the echo of something old and timeless? Sometimes it feels like I have an ancestry there, as if a remnant of that culture is still flowing in my blood. A part of me is connected to Scandinavia through an invisible web of slender threads, to the language and the landscape of the polar circle.

Travelling up to Sweden last year was therefore very special in a symbolical way, but it did not quench my hunger for the land itself. It just added more threads.
One of them is connected to Embla Granqvist, a young illustrator I met there, who does exquisite things with aquarel paints. For several months now, we have been preparing a children’s book together. And when I reached out to her a while ago to probe whether she might be interested in making a winter card together, with an English text, a small international collaboration, she was very enthousiastic right away.

When my Mom sends christmas cards (as she keeps calling them and in fact, so do I, even when all religious connotation has long been lost for both of us), they have to have snow in them. This can often lead to painfully sentimental clichés (sorry, mom, love you!), but somehow, I understand her, too.
And so does Embla. Of course, snow in Scandinavia is by no means as strongly connected to Christmas (or more broadly: to the days of celebration in the deep of winter) as it is around here in Flanders. But Embla has been living in Denmark for a while now, and apparently it hardly ever snows there, either. I never thought I’d miss snow, she wrote to me. But so she does, and that’s why she paints so much of it over the winter months.

The idea for this particular card originated when she showed me an older painting of a child hugging a white reindeer. The atmosphere of the image called out to my inner Ronja, that old, quiet Norse-rooted kid. Only, it didn’t really have to be a reindeer in the image at all, Embla assured me, catching on to my winks about clichés and red-nosed Rudolphs. In any case, she wanted to paint a new version of the image anyway.

During my trip to the USA this summer, I saw a taxidermy exposition that had a moose on display. I was very much intimidated and touched by the sheer shize of it, and it was the first animal that came to mind as even more suited for this image than a reindeer.
The idea appealed to both of us. And moose, too, could be white.
Go google that and make sure you sit down when you do. (Or no, don’t google it but check the image at the bottom of this blog first.)

So I am more than a little happy and proud to present this little project of ours. My inner Ronja is doing a dance of joy and knows she’s right where she’s supposed to be.

For all those who feel as happy about this as we do: this card is for sale (2,5 euro) and we are having a small stack printed. You can get in touch with either me or Embla, and we’ll make sure it makes its way over to you.

A dream to carry you, through the dark of night.

© Kirstin Vanlierde & Embla Granqvist

A gathering place for stories to be told, read and appreciated.

Kirstin Vanlierde

Written by

A songbird aiming to add its song to the endless music playing throughout the universe.

The Story Hall

A gathering place for stories to be told, read and appreciated.

Welcome to a place where words matter. On Medium, smart voices and original ideas take center stage - with no ads in sight. Watch
Follow all the topics you care about, and we’ll deliver the best stories for you to your homepage and inbox. Explore
Get unlimited access to the best stories on Medium — and support writers while you’re at it. Just $5/month. Upgrade