Lines of Flight Alvar Alaspää would open his office window every day...

Lines of Flight
Katja Garson

Alvar Alaspää would open his office window every day at approximately eleven a.m. to feed the sparrows. The hinges would creak as a narrow hand reached out to scatter plump barley grains across the white of the surprised, snow-crusted window-sill. A few grains would sometimes tip over the edge and fall to the courtyard below. Alvar always looked down to see if the birds noticed them, and it was this observation which caused him to linger.

Every day at eleven a.m. Henna Panjanen would lower her glasses and peer across the top of her steaming coffee, out of her window, and watch as the window opposite opened, stopped abruptly and swung closed once more. She would sigh and watch the sparrows alight keenly on the ledge, pecking here and there. They fluttered up and over one another, and gradually dispersed back into the frosted winter air. The watchful face behind the window retreated. Henna pushed her glasses back up her nose and returned to her reading.

Many coincidences later, Alvar Alaspää’s great-granddaughter tripped nimbly through the forest. Inside the pocket of her dress tumbled a smooth, palm-sized sielulintu, a soul-bird, carved in pine. Although a largely neglected belief, she entertained herself with the thought that, upon her birth, her soul was brought to her by a bird, and that the same bird guided her through life, through sleep and awakening, lest she stray too close to danger. Birds had always symbolised crossings, forwards movement and trajectories. The old tales gave her hope now. They cat-cradled the landscape, binding in time like old woven ryjy mats; reassuring, yet also suggestive of fresh shapes. She was taking a leap of faith, drawing out a line in a new direction.

The forest was thick here, enveloping, blanket-blue and soft in the dim summer night-light. Feathered ferns and springy, sinewy undergrowth brushed and caught at her bare legs as she wound her way amongst the silent pines, their flaked trunks extending into the gloom. The air was scented, tinged with hidden green and the flitting of moths’ wings. Through the trees the lake water gleamed invitingly, in cut-out slivers of silvery mercury.

Just as it’s easy to see things that aren’t there sometimes, she thought, it’s easy, too, to catch but glimpses of things that are very much there all along. Often, the ever-present becomes the backdrop against which everything else plays out, and we go on oblivious to the very things which sustain and guide us, which prejudice and tempt us, which shape our actions and our words and which mould our every move. So it was that recent times suddenly made sense to her, and she hurried through the junipers and the birches, tipping her fingers against the leaves, every touch dispelling the weight of the past just as it rose up to meet her more clearly, more crystalline than ever before. The beak of the sielulintu pressed into her hand, and she knew that she was right.

Within the family, the story went that Alvar Alaspää spent five days trapped inside his study in that same long-ago winter that he began to feed the birds. His room had always been his place of refuge, and he would often fold the space tightly about himself for several days, preferring to sleep amongst the pages of his books and papers. Such was Alvar’s combined love and neglect of his books that they were piled from floor to ceiling in impressive cliff-like stacks which shifted outwards from the desk and shelves until they became the furniture in themselves. Given this architectural experiment, it was easy to understand how the young professor was one day quite suddenly and without warning buried tome-deep in a thundering avalanche of books and sheets which toppled in flustered fright from their lofty, chaotic heights and knocked him from his chair. When he finally came to, he found that he could not move, and lay there unable to even make himself heard. He contemplated the many possible versions of his fate. It was interesting. He wondered if someone might write a book about him once he was gone, if he was about to go. On reflection, he wasn’t sure he liked the idea. He hoped no-one would go through his belongings – even in death he would quite like to keep himself to himself.

It was Henna Panjanen who saved him. Having looked out of her window at eleven a.m. on the first day, she waited with growing disquiet as the window opposite remained closed. When several minutes had passed, she decided that there must be some quite mundane explanation, and went on working, though not without some wonderment. The next day, a sense of foreboding set in, but once more she told herself not to worry. On the third day, she decided that she must do something to find out what had happened. On the fourth day she made it eleven steps down the corridor before turning back. It was only on the fifth day, when the window remained resolutely shut, that she gathered her courage and marched with purpose all the way round to the other side of the building.

Of course, no-one came to the door when she knocked, but it was unlocked. A vast literary mountain of fallen books and bookcase-limbs met the open door. Several volumes of the Kalevala lay at the foot of this mountain, some with their crushed, creased pages open to the air. It was in this way, that, having observed the size of the obstruction, Henna came to read to the hidden Alvar: shyly at first, but gaining in confidence with every line until further help arrived.

‘Polvin maasta ponnistihe,
käsivarsin käännältihe.
Nousi kuuta katsomahan,
päiveä ihoamahan,
otavaista oppimahan,
tähtiä tähyämähän.’

‘On his knees he leaves the ocean,
quickly turns his hands about him.
Stands erect to see the sunshine,
stands to see the golden moonlight,
that he may behold the Great Bear,
that he may the stars consider.’

Sometime during this recital, whilst he was still lying flat-out and trapped on the floor, his glasses askew, it dawned on Alvar with considerable surprise that out of his misfortune had come forth his fortune. The lilt of the Kalevala occupied all the dusty and unseen spaces of the room and brought forth a new understanding, illuminating and unfurling. An unfamiliar but admittedly exciting sensation grew within him then, even as he tried to cling onto his old, reassuring rules and responses. He was, in time, rescued.

A few weeks later and the sparrows pattered around on an ever-lighter dusting of snow, their delicate prints turning darker and darker, merging into and then becoming the window-sill. The gutter filled with water and the grain was thrown out one last time as a new season stirred into being.

‘Se oli synty Väinämöisen,
rotu rohkean runojan
kapehesta kantajasta,
Ilmattaresta emosta.’

‘Thus our hero, Väinämöinen,
thus the wonderful enchanter
was delivered from his mother,
Ilmatar, the Ether’s daughter.’

Alvar Alaspää’s great-granddaughter rose slowly from the lake. Hair dripping with cool water which trickled down her back, she shook the last few droplets of the night away and faced the forest. The sun cracked the darkness of the trees and gradually the tentative light rose to a glowing morning which gilded gold the shoreline boulders and moved along her naked limbs. Unspoken words unwound themselves, re-shaping and dancing upwards as the air rushed to her lungs and her heart beat a new rhythm. A thousand moments flashed before her eyes. The sielulintu stretched its wings.

We are each of us a miracle, born of the flight of birds and the coming together of moments; past, present and future entwining, breaking, joining. Alvar Alaspää’s great-granddaughter was already imagined in the scattering of grains, even in the ones which fell spinning down – especially in those. Deepest, longest, most melancholy mid-winter gives way to the snow-melts of spring, just as the sun sets but will always rise again.

We are constantly born and re-born, over and over and over.

[*Kalevala, the Finnish national epic, tells, through poetry, of the creation of the world. It was compiled from folk stories collected by Elias Lönnrot between 1831 and 1834 and has played a significant role in the development of Finnish national identity.]


Katja Garson HeadshotKatja Garson
was born to an English father and a Finnish mother in Lancashire, England. Her interests include writing, reading, the arts, travelling and being outdoors, and she draws inspiration from the landscape, everyday relationships, history and philosophy. Her Finnish heritage and knowledge of the language are also influential. She holds a BA in Geography from Durham University and is looking forward to starting an MSc in Environmental Governance at the University of Oxford.

Shain Ramjan HeadshotShain Ramjan was born on the 20th of December 1994 in Edmonton London, England. He studied at the New Eton College where his interests for Art and Designing extended. Later he was then introduced into fashion designing by his sister Insheera Ramjan. Attracted to grotesque figures and avant-garde, Shain started doing portraits of celebrities but re-interpreted them to his own views. He plays with different trends and ‘must haves’ in ‘MODE’ to give his artworks a bold daring appeal. Shain mainly paints feminine portraits which are sometimes pure and innocent or morbid and dark; he tries to reflect his dreams and nightmares through his works. He uses crayonnage, ink, pastel, charcoal, paint and some other techniques to add the ‘fashion art’ touch to his works. He believes that art, fashion and music are the three factors which define himself.

Submit a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *