The Bull on the Mountain

Saturday the 24th of August started overcast and sullen in the Norwegian village where I was staying a few years ago, but there was promise of fine weather later in the day. I could start my climb early, through the low-lying orchards and woods, and by noon, I reckoned, reach the top of the mountain. By then, perhaps, the weather would have cleared, and there would be a magnificent view from the summit—the lower mountains all around me, sweeping down into Hardanger fiord, and the great fiord itself visible in its entirety. “Climb” suggests scaling rocks, and ropes. But it was not that sort of climb, simply a steep mountain path. I foresaw no particular problems or difficulties. I was as strong as a bull, in the prime, the pride, the high noon of life. I looked forward to the walk with assurance and pleasure.

I soon got into my stride—a supple swinging stride, which covers ground fast. I had started before dawn, and by half past seven had ascended, perhaps, to two thousand feet. Already the early mists were beginning to clear. Now came a dark and piney wood, where the going was slower, partly because of knotted roots in the path and partly because I was enchanted by the world of tiny vegetation which sheltered in the wood, and was often stopping to examine a new fern, a moss, a lichen. Even so, I was through the woods by a little after nine, and had come to the great cone that formed the mountain proper and towered above the fiord to six thousand feet. To my surprise there was a fence and a gate at this point, and the gate bore a still more surprising notice: BEWARE OF THE BULL! in Norwegian, and for those who might not be able to read the words, a rather droll picture of a man being tossed.

I stopped, and scrutinized the picture and scratched my head. A bull? Up here? What would a bull be doing up here? I had not seen even sheep in the pastures and farms down below. Perhaps it was some sort of joke, tacked there by the villagers, or by some previous hiker with an odd sense of humor. Or perhaps there was a bull, summering amid a vast mountain pasture, subsisting on the spare grass and scrubby vegetation. Well, enough of speculation! Onward to the top!

The terrain had changed again. It was now very stony, with enormous boulders here and there; but there was also a light topsoil, muddy in places because it had rained in the night, but with plenty of grass and a few scanty shrubs—fodder enough for an animal that had the whole mountain to graze.

The path was much steeper and fairly well marked, though, I felt, not much used. It was not exactly a populous part of the world. I had seen no visitors apart from myself, and the villagers, I imagined, were too busy with farming…

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