I once had thought of writing a book about animals and flowers, the way I had seen them as a child and still saw them, whenever grief and sadness filled my mind and I escaped into the world of a child, which deep inside me gained a more beautious and sunny glow as the years passed. But I found I couldn't write, for it always felt as though the minute I tried, my pencil became dull and my typewriter changed into a cold, unthinking piece of metal.
It's not that I still didn't find all kinds of wondrous things in a field of clover, hidden from those who saw it only as cattle feed for the coming winter. A cultivated forest still remained uninspiring to me, but an old pasture - where the cows had chewed the tops off the saplings, so that they had grown into half-rotted and gnarled trees into which woodpeckers had drilled their holes - fascinated me with its concealed treasures of nature.
But to me it wasn't enough that one could see - on fields, in forest meadows, in woods and lakes - the flowers and animals which one could name, and could see colours and hear the songs of birds. All this wasn't enough for the kind of book I intended to write. One has to know how to look into a blade of grass, behind trees, to the bottom of a lake, into the caverns of remote and inaccessible mountains and up the peaks of fells domed by northern lights. That is where one finds much of the stuff that writers conjecture and children know. Only they can surmise nature's many fairies and little trolls, and feel sincere joy and sometimes dread - for in nature they see destiny. They know how to read nature's book. They understand the language of the flowers and animals.
Just as I was beginning to understand the speech of animals and the stories of flowers, I became an adult and never had the opportunity to perfect my learning.
However, I never lost my faith in nature. When a new member arrived in my family - a daughter - and she learned to understand the language of people, I told her about nature and about fairies and she listened, her eyes sparkling. She was still a child and children have a better grasp of those values that are more precious than gold that is panned from the river sand, than seed hay that is cut from the fields, than trees that are chopped down and driven along lakes to sawmills to be made into raw material for carpenters and construction workers.
A couple of years passed and my daughter grew older. She no longer kept only to her mother and father. The girl next-door came to play with her.
It was a beautiful summer day. I sat in the living room in an armchair, upholstered with flowered cretonne, and observed how the sun shone in through the large windows and the pane of glass on the door that led to the terrace. It glimmered on the edges of the crystal vase on the table and threw upon the floor the netlike shadows of the rattan chairs. In the garden, where a huge bird cherry tree grew, I could hear the sound of Jeppe's voice,
Jeppe was a golden oriole, who always began to play his flute the minute it saw people in the garden. It seemed to be very sociable and if one answered its call by whistling in the same manner, it would fly up very close and show off its golden outfit. Normally orioles are shy and hide inconspicuously in the top branches of a tree.
Now Jeppe had noticed my daughter and her playmate, a girl called Rauha. They were cavorting on the lawn, enclosed by a semicircular lilac bush. The grass had been eaten by geese, so that it now ressembled a short-piled Persian carpet.
I was just thinking how lovely nature and the sun could be, and how difficult it would be to describe this beauty in words, when my daughter ran in through the terrace door and cried,
"Here I am," I replied from the depths of my armchair, assuming that she had seen a new flower or a butterfly and wanted to know its name. But she ran, breathless, straight into my arms and, looking directly into my eyes, she repeated,
"What now?" I asked and saw that she had something more weighty on her mind.
"Listen, Daddy. Do fairies really exist?" my daughter asked, pronouncing her words with unusual fervency.
I looked at her. She was already at the age when Santa Claus lives at Korvatunturi, and children dance elf-dances. But why she suddenly posed this question, I couldn't guess at the moment.
"What do you mean?" I asked in order to win some time, so I could answer correctly. "Why are you asking this right now?"
"Well, Rauha said there's no such things as fairies and you've told me there is. You remember when we were walking on the snow in Ohrasaari last spring and you told me..."
I well remembered that morning, the previous April, when the glow of spring shimmered violet on the surface of the hard-frozen snow, which easily carried even my weight. We had walked over the bay to an island and had come across a spiraling curly birch, at the base of which an open fountain sent its steam into the freezing air. I had told her how, in the spring when nature awakens back to life, the fairies emerge from the spring, where they have remained unfrozen through the winter.
"Are you thinking that I perhaps lied to you?" I asked.
"No, no. I don't think that at all," my daughter answered and on her countenance I could see the expression that one sees on the face of a person who realizes that she is about to lose something that has been beautiful and precious to her. I didn't know what I could say and how I could explain it all to her. Her burning look was questioning.
"My daughter. The fact of the matter is," I could hear myself begin a fumbling reply. "The fact of the matter is, that actually there are no fairies and actually there are. It's how you look at it and how you understand it. There are people who don't have fairies and so then they don't exist. And, again, there are people who have fairies, and I believe then they really do exist. And I feel that the life of these people is somehow more beautiful and rich..."
"You know, Daddy!" my daughter cried happily. "We have fairies."
"That's true," I replied, feeling satisfaction at having been able to find an answer to the difficult question. "We have fairies," I went on and took her in my arms.
"Always," I said quietly.
"Always, Daddy," she whispered, joy reflecting on her face. The tear that had squeezed out from the corner of her eye fell on my hand like a refreshing dewdrop from the tip of a willow leaf. She kissed me on the cheek, jumped down from my arms and hurried out. Soon I could hear the sound of the girls' chatter and Jeppe's whistling call.
How beautiful and good the world was then! We probably didn't even realize that fact ourselves, and were dissatisfied with things. Peace was part of that time and fairies feel at home where it's quiet and peaceful. But that same autumn war broke out in Central Europe. We, up in the north, thought we could remain in peace, but we were mistaken. The rowan trees were full of red berries, and just from that we should have been able to surmise that war was coming here, for rowan berries are berries of war.
In the winter the enemy attacked. They could have armed as many as twenty-five million soldiers, while our nation could only provide four million vigilants. The temperature dropped to minus fifty degrees Celsius, even the wells froze and thousands of our lakes could support the weight of tanks of any size. Enemy airplanes were criss-crossing everywhere, bombing our villages and cities, always with an endless supply of fresh and well-rested reinforcements. At that time the enemy wasn't fighting on any other front.
No one came to help us. It's true the whole world pitied us and believed that our end had come. Who, at a time like that, could have believed in fairies!
But the winter passed, and one spring day I returned from the front, just as the nature and my home, in the middle of the garden, were bathed in sunlight. In the garden fluttered yellow brimstone butterflies and there, under the birches, blossomed wood anemones. The black-out curtains had been removed from the windows and the summer wind blew into the house through open doors and windows, billowing the curtains. The half-tame teal, which usually nested in my garden under the spirea bush, had returned from its winter migration and swam in the lake near the boat landing.
And so once again I rested in my arm chair. My daughter, who had started taking music lessons, went to sit at the piano.
"Daddy," she said. "I already know how to play real pieces." And then she did.
The melody was short and simple, but to me it was all so beautiful. The horror and rumble of war vanished from my mind. It was as though I had moved into the quiet home of my deceased grandmother. That's how the old alarm clock used to play there. That's exactly how it played when it was starting to wind down. That's how it sputtered, plim, plam ... plum...plim.
"Keep playing, although I'm going out," I said to my daughter.
"Go ahead," she said to me. "You've become so sickly-looking in the war. Do you know that this piece is called "A Happy Melody"?
In the garden I kneeled beside the clump of wood anemones. I couldn't believe that after the war, something as pure and white and delicate as the wood anemone, still remained. Above me in the birch, a pied flycatcher chirped its short song, for it had also returned to its home in the nesting box. From the living room, into the garden, flowed "The Happy Melody" and I remembered how my daughter had said the previous spring,
"You know, Daddy. We'll always have fairies."
I had to believe in fairytales and decided once more that I would write a book about flowers and animals.
But the following summer a new war started. We took back the land that the enemy had seized from us in the previous war. Winter came again and the war continued. I had no time to think, much less to write.
One intensely cold winter's day I was making an extended round of inspections. When I had finished my assignment, we started on our return trip by car. We drove along a snowy road. On both sides, the land stretched abandoned and destroyed by war, forests beated down by grenades, villages in ruins and churches in splinters. The darkness of the winter evening was beginning to descend and from the front we could hear the pounding of cannons. The flames issuing from their mouths flashed in the black sky like August lightning.
In the severe cold our breaths froze on the windshield. I tried to rub off the frost with a linen rag dipped in glycerine, but that helped for only a moment. It was extremely cold in the car, which had no heater. My state of mind was beginning to sink into despondency, for Christmas was coming and there was no chance for me to go and spend it with my family. It would be the second Christmas I had to spend on the front!
In order to prepare something personal for my children I had been writing a Christmas newsletter for them during the evenings in my dugout. The newsletter was ready, except that it was missing a fairytale. I hadn't been able to think up any topic for a story that would have satisfied me and now it was time to put the paper into the field post so it would get home by Christmas. Even at this moment I was racking my brain for a suitable topic, but to no avail.
Once more I rubbed the windshield with the rag. Suddenly my hand stopped. I saw on the glass a little creature, the size of a finger, whose features became clearer and clearer. Why, it was a rosy-cheeked little girl, wearing a snow-white fur coat. The girl smiled at me and pointed a finger at another creature, which was the same size, and which I hadn't even noticed. There, in flesh, smiling at me, was a woodland troll, the kind whose pictures I had seen in storybooks.
"His name is Pessi and I'm Illusia," the girl whispered to me, with a friendly smile.
"Pessi and Illusia!" I hadn't heard of them before.
The girl started to tell me about herself and about Pessi, how they had lived and about their joys and sufferings. I heard the song of birds, the smell of flowers, the roaring of the storm.
I thought the tale Illusia told me was wonderful. It was made up of a collection of tiny crystals, which at first were translucent and then became more pronounced and glowed with different colours. The crystals joined together to form an entity, like ice, which slowly closed the hole I had rubbed there with the glycerine rag.
I couldn't see the road any more, so now its bends didn't reveal to me of the actions of war. I only heard what Illusia told me. I no longer even felt the cold.
As soon s I reached my bunker, I began to write. I tried to write down what the little girl I had seen on the windshield had told me. The whole night I wrote. My officer companions slept, but I didn't hear their snores, nor did I feel the overcrowded congestion of the bunker, nor its the lack of air. Once in a while, I added wood to the camp stove and went out to check on the guards, since I had offered to be on call for the night. Outside I admired the spruce trees that stood silent and snow-covered, the high dome of the star-studded sky, and the sparks that flew out of the bunker chimneys and looked as though they came from snow-covered underground volcanoes. Once more I hurried off to write. When the dawn was breaking, the story - a fairytale - was finished. It wasn't nearly as beautiful as the one told by the girl, but I had done my best. Then I took some ink and on the edges of the pages I drew pictures of the animals which were mentioned in the story.
"What in the world have you been writing all night?" the other officers asked in the morning when they woke up.
"I got a story for the Christmas newsletter after all," I told them.
My friends wanted to read the story. When they had finished reading, they cried, "You have to give me a copy of it, so I can send it to my children!"
"But, my good man. You must write a whole books about this!"
As the war continued I began to write. I drew pictures and took photographs of the plants and animals that had lived as neighbours of Pessi and Illusia. When at last I tapped the final period with my portable typewriter, I felt sad and melancholy. It was as though I had lost two good and faithful friends, who had shared so many terrible ordeals with me.
To return, click here.