past and present tense by stephen voss



In a town in the Norwegian countryside that bears my name, our children walk stooped over, picking from long lines of strawberry plants that tumble down a hillside.

They come back with berry stained hands, joyfully bloodied by exuberant picking. When we leave by train, we bring along one last container, eating them carefully, knowing they won’t last.

I’m left without the proper words each time I talk about visiting this place. Yes, I bear it’s name, no, I don’t think I have any family there. Each day we’re there, an afternoon wind blows through, rendering the lake into a landscape of undulating hills.

The larger strawberries are less intensely sweet, the flavor diluted by their heft.

We walk down the middle of the road that rings the town, up in the hills. Purple flowers border the farmlands and old footpaths veer off into brush.

One afternoon, we walk to an old mill and watch the water erupt through a small hole that once housed the turbine runner. In the overgrown hillside, we find old, rusting tools and wonder whose hands held them last in those days before the doors were locked for good. Through a dirty window, a calendar reads July 1956 and an old jacket hangs on a hook.

I don’t pretend that this town’s past and mine overlap, but I wonder if these grassy hills looked at all like the hills my father’s father saw for the last time before leaving for America in the beginning of the last century. I walk outside and my daughter runs up to me, asks me to close my eyes, and gently feeds me a strawberry.

Photo: Voss, Norway

Stephen Voss