Telling Tales 139
Old People and Old Places
Long ago, long before Great Lord Novgorod (his given name, I am sure, was Pyotr) fought for the lands of Kareliya, when Kareliya had only some few people and even fewer boundaries, that was the time when the forests still sang and spoke their own language if you knew how to listen. Nowadays it’s different and the trees have to scream to be heard if they’re going to be heard at all, and even then sometimes it’s not enough. It’s all they can do to resort to desperate measures. I know we like to think that our forests are mighty now, dark and forbidding at night and full of creatures and dangers to do you ill, but the truth is we’re taming them. First it was the paths, then it was the roads, then we started carving out villages from their core and thinning out their trees and brush. The world pays attention and the world takes note. Someday we may push things too far, all of us, all at once. This is a story of when a single forest took notice and of how it responded.
Kareliya is an old place. I know that sounds like a strange thing to say, because what land is not old? What is the earth, in fact, if not old? It is one thing to say that this house is old, or that man, or such and such a kingdom. We understand that things age at different rates and we believe that places are timeless, but I am here to tell you that there are pockets that are older than the earth, certain glades and streams, some mountains, a patch of sky. Kareliya is that, as if it were only on loan to this world, as though it came from another place altogether. Is that why so few people live there? I don’t know, but it seems as good a guess as any.
As with the land itself, there are its original inhabitants as well, the väki, the People, they call themselves, by which they mean the First People. And why shouldn’t they think of themselves as the first? Doesn’t everyone? Well, there are väki that are forest people and stone people and even people of graveyards. Not many of those last, of course. It seems that these väki can’t wait to set up a home as soon as one place splinters and becomes another kind of place. Say, a small part of a forest is cleared for a house. These People, they understand that life requires some give and take.
On the other hand, people like us, we may say that we understand. We may even believe that we understand. The truth is that as often as not we fight what we know to be true, and I’ll tell you this, I’m not better than the rest. I’ve made my mistakes and I’ll even tell you all about them, but they’re not this story. This story is about a man called Sami and what happened when he went into the forest with his own ideas and his own demands.
It doesn’t turn out well for anyone.