Flat Mountain Dispatches


Temperatures have dropped to around -20 in the mornings now. During the day they mostly hover between -10 and -5. Cold, but the wind is still, so it's nothing a hat and an extra jumper can't fix.

All the lakes are frozen over. Spotted with ice-fishers and ice-skaters at the weekends. In the evenings you might catch kids from the local town, pulling doughnuts on them in their cars. Personally, I don't mind walking or skating on the ice, but thinking about driving cars around on it makes my legs twitch with a kind of uncanny vertigo.

The ice holds though.

If you stand out on the bigger lakes, you can hear the Singing Ice. The warbling sci-fi ambience that rises from the depths, generated by the ice shifting with temperature fluctuations — an imperceptible movement generating varying frequencies of noise. It sounds like a synthesised alien whale song, produced by a 70s Moog.

If you've never heard this, I highly recommend looking up some audio of singing lake ice.

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Looking for dead girls, down in the well. Also, making a note of the water table difference between Winter (above) and Summer (below).

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Vargträdet (The Wolf Tree)

Discovered this lovely example of a wolf tree off the trail near the house. There's a scattering of old stone walls about it, plus some remnants of fencing, so it was probably grazing land some time in the past. Wolf Tree's have deep roots in both land use and folklore, and they're one of the many (many many) markers that help us decode the history of the landscape.

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A comfortable dry iciness has replaced the humidity of past weeks. The air no longer seeps through layers of wool and synthetics. It's easier to be outside all day, even though the temperatures have dropped.

Walking in the morning forest is best. There's never as much snow on the ground (the tree's bring up the temperature of the earth, and the fir canopy catches a lot) so it's easy going. The presence of the snow is mostly felt at the edges of awareness, among the muffled quiet. And in the contrasted highlighting of the evergreens that obscures the usual trails. It's a kind of frozen clarity — a heightened attention — that washes over the senses.

It's easier to track the movements of animals too. Pathways that are usually hidden are suddenly revealed. At the same time our own pathways become obscured, as the white horizon merges into the white treeline. The only colour coming from the beech saplings, still golden brown.

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Out by the barn we have a stack of felled birch trees which the previous owner was unable to prepare before he died. Until now we'd written them off as unsalvagable, figuring that a year of mold growing had done its worst.

This week we had a closer look and were pleasantly surprised to discover they're still in good condition. Before the damp of this Winter season sets in they need to be cut and and stacked to dry though — work that is now taking up most of my time here.

A sane person would do this job with a chainsaw! I'm choosing to do it manually, using a handmade bow-saw that probably dates back a century or so.

For me, the barn itself is a symbolic building. Its foundations are embedded in the working of the land, and the tools inside it — made by several generations of families — are an extension of those memories. Solid moments of frozen time. Working artefacts.

I feel it's important to respect the history of the land here, especially as we move forwards with our new management of it. I enjoy utilising these old tools where possible — there's memory ingrained in them, and ritual in using them.

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One lovely old scythe (handmade like nearly all our tools) and one... honestly we have no idea what that is, but we have several of them.

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Repairing this makeshift abstraction of a fence, because the fucking Wild Boar keep breaking through it to eat fallen apples.

I like to picture the land as divided into several gradiated zones. Moving radially inwards from the old stone wall > the forest > the meadow > the fence > the garden > the house.

The previous owner erected the fence to keep the Wild Boar out of the innermost zone, the traditional garden. He kept it standing over his 90-something years living here, and I intend to do my best to keep it that way (using his old tools and materials).

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Removed the old flooring downstairs. We knew it hadn't been changed since 1920 — and the floor itself was laid in 1850 — so we were a little concerned about uncovering long-hidden damage. Luckily the only surprise lurking beneath the grimy linoleum was these faded paw prints, made in what we guess is the same green paint used on the outside of the house. Century old traces from a long lost companion.

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