Eesti Elu
Bird Droppings
Arvamus 10 Nov 2011 Hilary BirdEesti Elu
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After the huge herring, where else but a Seal Safari? Out sailed my pal and I, into the sun lit Kattegatt on what looked like on old tugboat crammed with other intrepid explorers and a lot of prams. I took some moving film but the sun was so bright that my camera lens was dazzled and I missed the seals but I did get some great shots of sea and rocks . You Tube, however, has come up with
, it’s great for Seal Safari sea, sun and wind veracity but not recommended for those who suffer from sea sickness and no film, of course, can convey the smelliness of the seal sun worshippers… smell ‘em before you spot ‘em.

Due to it’s unique watery denizens the Kattegatt area is home to several research institutes. Googling can lead to some fascinating web sites such as ‘North Atlantic Oscillation primary productivity and toxic phytoplankton in the Gullmar Fjord, Sweden (1985—1996).’ Coo-er … On a less elevated level, I was thrilled to be taken out on the fjord by my old friends in a little fibreglass boat. It’s amazing isn’t it that you can know people for decades and then, in an unfamiliar setting , suddenly become aware of a side of ‘em that you never imagined. My pals are museum curators and I would never have guessed when we all lived in London that they spent sunny Swedish summers leaping over rocks and frisking round a fjord in fibreglass …Their two storey house, nestled in verdant woods on the side of the fjord, is marvellous. It’s painted, according to my Estonian friends, ‘Swedish red’ – a brownish-maroon-ish sort of red- and approached (when not by boat) by a leafy track well back off a country road. It was built by grandfather, a real character that dotted the environs with a monument to the family around an old milestone, ‘mount Olympus’ (a small hillock with a concrete bench), semi classical statues and a bell tower … The place has a real Pippi Longstocking feel about it . I can see that it is a paradise for children – light, airy bedrooms with a panoramic view of the fjord (I kept wanting to call it a ‘loch’ because it reminded me so much of Scotland) where a child can watch out for monsters, a Swallows and Amazons boat in a Swallows and Amazons boathouse( Arthur Ransome again!) and lots and lots of unspoilt nature …

Humans have a been around a long time in Bohuslän as witnessed by the amazing rock carvings of the Tanum plains. It’s quite astonishing what energy and sheer joie de vivre some of the stick pictures scratched into the rock 3,500 years ago impart. And there are so many of them! There are at least 1,500 known rock-carving sites and 13 categories of identified images (so far) - cup marks, discs, circles and wheels; boats, ships and sledges; animals; humans; hands; foot-soles and feet; wheeled vehicles; primitive ploughs; nets, traps and mazes; trees; weapons and other equipment and lots more. Animals depicted include bulls, a whale, deer, snakes and sheep but no cats or poultry. They weren’t domesticated till later. Goat drawn carts, men on horses, shamans, fighting warriors (with Wagnerite horned helmets!) , whole fleets of galleys, a shoemaker, a ploughman, dancers, an acrobat doing a somersault, a pair of lovers, all human life is there in stick-o-vision! There’s even a stick –y trash can. See archaeologists at work at
and visit Vitlycke Museum at . The museum is opposite one of the largest stick-y sites, where you can also visit a reconstruction of a Bronze Age farm, complete with not-very-stick like (in fact quite portly) spotty pigs and a cult site sacrificial bog, possibly dedicated to Nerthus, Mother Earth and goddess of fertility, with skulls and shields on poles by a tranquil but rather sinister lake … Here’s how Giaus Cornelius Tacitus describes Nerthus rituals of around 98AD in his Germania : “There is a sacred grove on an island in the Ocean, where there is a consecrated chariot, draped with cloth, which the priest alone may touch. When he perceives the presence of the goddess in the innermost shrine he escorts her out, with great reverence, in her chariot, drawn by female cattle. There is a festival wherever she deigns to visit and to accept hospitality. No one goes to war, no one takes up arms, all objects of iron are locked away. Then and only then do the people experience much prized peace until the goddess has had her fill of human society and is taken back to her temple. The chariot, the cloth, and, if one may believe it, the deity herself are then washed in a hidden lake. This service is performed by slaves who are drowned in the lake immediately afterwards. Thus mystery begets terror and a pious reluctance to ask what it is that only those doomed to die may see.”

There is an intriguing theory that the Bohuslän carvings were meant to be seen as part of a water feature and were placed where rain would lodge in the rock crevices. And indeed, when the weather was rainy the sparkling carvings took on a new life. Stopping off in Riga on my way home and passing the five memorial stones for those killed when Soviet troops stormed an Interior Ministry building as Latvia struggled for her independence, I mused on the immutability of some symbols. The names of the dead were etched on the top of stones that sparkle after rain. The five martyrs died on January 20, 1991 …

Greby gravfält (Greby grave field) near Grebbestad, is an Iron Age burial site (from 400 – 500 AD) with over 180 graves. According to legend, Greby is the last resting place of Scottish warriors who once popped over the North Sea for a spot of rape and pillage and met their come-uppance. It doesn’t hold water, however, because, when a sample of 11 graves were examined in 1873 no weapons were found, only sissy stuff. Newer findings indicate that Greby might have been an ancient trading site because the glass pearls, bone combs and other non-martial objects found suggest cosmopolitan connections to Norway, England and Germany. Whatever it was, Greby gravfält is now an atmospheric, deserted heath, dotted with around 200 elliptic and circular mounds, many of them with a standing stone, while others have smaller stones around the edges. It is clear that Greby was once an important place and it’s also clear that no one knows why it ceased to be so. Just like no one really knows what all those busy stick people, their animals and equipage were doing bustling and bouncing over the boulders of Bohuslän. How I love ancient, mysterious places! Just as well as the ancient Estonians were just about the worst in the world for leaving juicy clues as to what they got up to. Jõelähtme (just north of Tallinn) is twinned with Lysekil and I presume that it was chosen because people have lived there for nearly 3,000years - since the late Bronze Age. Jõelähtme has some ancient cyst graves but, like the Tõugu graves (see last ‘Drop’) pickings are sparse. Apart from some dimpled cup stones, there is nothing in Estonia to compare to the complexity and vitality of the Bohuslän sticky folk. Seems we are in the Scandinavian orbit but on the fringe and a bit slow on the uptake …
(to be continued)
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