Caught by the River

Tormented by the River

5th November 2009

by Nick Small.

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I like driving. I like Norway. Ipso Facto, I love driving through Norway.

Decanted onto the Bergen quayside by “The Queen of Scandinavia”, we make our way through the dawn mist onto the E16 towards Voss. Ultimately, we are headed for the far North and Lapland but, like eating an elephant, that’s a journey that should only be contemplated in small bites.
Rapidly suburbs give way to vertiginous walls of rock, and fjords like obsidian mirrors. Waterfalls take the short route from the tops of towering gorges so routinely that we’re barely 30 minutes into the ride before “Wow!” has been rendered meaningless.
As my wife snoozes, and the kids in the back of our trusty Truckasaurus count the seconds it takes to pass through each of the mountain tunnels (almost losing the will to live at Laerdal), I enter my own secret world of delicious torment. At the apex of every bend…and Norway specialises in bends….I can catch a glimpse into the bottom of precipice after precipice. There, tantalising pools, clear and deep, sit at the foot of long runs of turbulent spume. I know that there are really big fish in there. In fact, I know that in each maelstrom the fish are more firm, more beautiful and more ravenous than any that I’ve ever pursued. Yet I drive on.

I’ve travelled variations of this route, from South to North, and back again several times now. With each journey, more tantalising scenes are mentally catalogued and stored…all of them perfect in every way….except the crucial one: I’m not there in the water, lost in the rhythm of anticipation, despair and triumph. No, I’m lost in the rhythm of mile after mile of turning wheels, ticked off miles and toilet breaks.

When I dream of these Arcadian waters, I can recall them in every detail….each droplet of spray hits the rock precisely as it should. The essence of moss and wet granite can be tasted on the air. I go through the motions of a cast in my mind. It is important that I practice because I believe, one day, I’ll return to fish every single one of them.

Sometimes I’m transported instantly to a very specific scene by a song. Almost every yard of the 1,000 mile journey is represented by what happened to be turning in the CD player at the time. “Uriel” by The Ark takes me to tumbling melt waters running through lightly wooded ravines on the downslope from the Swedish border to Trofors. Patty Griffin is swimming, not with the snakes at the bottom of the well, as she should be in “Forgiveness”, but in the slush puppy opaque turquoise of a bottomless pool just outside Lom. “Delilah” by Plain White Tees (I have twin teenage daughters in the back ok!) has me immediately swinging an acute uphill left just as the Driva river draws my eye, steeply away to the right, near Oppdal…it’s a hairy moment. My favourite is the wide and wild Namsen, a boulder strewn salmon river that runs parallel to the E6 North of Grong. It is where I go when I hear John Martyn crooning “Just Now”.

Norway is awash with waters so tempting that it’s akin to entering the improbably beautiful landscapes of childhood jigsaw puzzles, or falling right into the pages of those Tight Lines catalogues that so tickled my teenage fancy.
One evening, as we travelled Route 51, heading South towards Bergen, we came to Maurvangen. We crossed a small road bridge over a pristine river cascading into a sublimely beautiful blue pool of swirling eddies and gargantuan trout. The river dropped rapidly away past a lively looking campsite, with cabins. I seized the moment.
We pulled in, took a cabin and, with obscene haste, I assembled my rods and disappeared. I spent the evening, through the long dusky hours into darkness, lost in the shadow of snow capped mountains and the depths of that pool. The clouds briskly wiped the stars from the sky, the cool breeze numbed my hands, and the sound of the waterfall slowly receded into a layer of my consciousness where it became white noise. Although I cast lure and fly a thousand times into the depths, I didn’t give the residents a moment’s trouble. It didn’t matter though, I was just happy for once, to be sharing that space with them, that moment.
Besides which, I will be back.