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  • Writer's pictureAndreas Kornevall


Lily-White First published in Yellow Medicine Review, A journal of Indigenous Literature, Art and Thought ©Andreas Kornevall My name is Dag, and I am a farmer. I’m older than I can remember, and tonight I sit in my study courting the old Goddess Nat, the night. With her soft eyes she brings rest, and she loves to take away sorrow. My memories dance before me over the dim oil lamp. I remember my children especially. Their laughter has left the farm, and they live in the towns now. I want to tell you the story of the silver child, Lily-White, my adopted daughter. In Sweden they say some children are born through the knot holes in the trunks of pine trees. Old people who lived when the world was as wild as the eyes of the wolf say the trees themselves sung life into being. One morning I woke up to find that our only dairy cow on the farm had gone missing. I tracked her into the woods. I looked for her most of that day until I was too tired to carry on and a clearing in the woods provided a place to lay and rest. As I was resting, I noticed an unusual silence around me; the birds had stopped singing, the winds were still, and I couldn’t even hear the river. The silence was broken by the sound of a baby crying in the distance. Confused and bewildered, I followed the crying sounds, and there I saw, in front of me, at the bottom of a large pine tree, a baby girl lying bare and unprotected, crying. The moment I looked at her, I received her heart into my own. Her eyes were large and wild, and they shone with a silvery light. I took her to my chest. The baby girl was exposed and wouldn’t survive the night; the wild would take her. With my coat and bent birch branches, I managed to create a strong enough cot for her so I could carry her back to the farm. My dairy cow would have to wait. When I arrived at the farm, my wife Inga, seeing the baby girl who had been left out in the wild, became very distressed. There was much commotion, and many riders were sent to neighbouring farms in all directions to ask after the whereabouts of the parents or guardians of this child. The moons passed, and, with no news, the baby girl was declared an orphan. We held a naming ceremony in her honour, and, as the baby girl was the loveliest flower I had ever picked, she was to be named Lily-White. She grew up with her brothers and sisters. She would play with them but would lose interest quickly and preferred to spend her time alone in the woods. We tried to teach her the ways of the farm, but farm work was not in her nature. Lily-White was happiest when she could sit in the tree crowns and look at the world below through the leaves. Many times we found her standing alone with her arms outstretched and her eyes closed; she would hum an old tune and sway slowly from left to right. She sang and hummed to the plants and trees, but we could never understand where she learnt these songs. She would tell me how her mother was from the flowering worlds. She knew instinctually which earth-flower was fit for medicine and food. One autumn morning, I had to go with the other local farmers to fell trees for our firewood. The felling of trees is dangerous; the pine trees grow straight but fall awkwardly to the axe, and that day I was hit by a heavy branch and lost consciousness. My head wound was so grave that my family had to prepare for the worst. I was laid close to the hearth fire, and my breathing was slow and strained. During this time, Lily-White went outside and returned with bundles of herbs of all kinds, with leaves and sap from the pine, lime and birch trees. She put all of them in a clay casket and started to sing over them, her voice like the birds in spring. She sang next to me for two days and nights. On the third day, my wound was healed and my recovery remains a mystery to this day. Relationships with friends and siblings were difficult for Lily-White. She was aloof and would shy away from any contact beyond our farm. If she had to venture into a town, she would weaken or catch a fever, but we couldn’t confine her as we wished. The great winds were music for her, and she would hum like the tree tops, sounding like the ocean swells. My wife Inga would be upset and became anxious over her strange behaviour, but I forbade her to suggest our adopted daughter was mentally unwell. Naturally, people in the area started to speak about her, and soon relatives and neighbours started to offer advice on how she needed help. When she grew older I decided to bring her back to the place where I had found her. Underneath the spreading tree we both sat in silence. Then she said with a clear voice: “This tree is my mother, I was born from the knot-holes.” She stood up and felt through the trunk. I replied: “I will always be your father and carry you through wide rivers and stormy winters. My love for you is strong, you know that. Trees are not our parents, Lily-White. I am sure your real parents would have loved you as well; they were probably on the edge of starvation and left you when they spotted me in the woods that day.” I didn’t mention our conversations to my wife; Lily-White needed to confide in me and keep our conversations a secret. She was an extraordinary child; the linnet and the thrush were her friends, and she brought many wild animals back to the farm – foxes, pine martens and an eagle owl, all living amongst the lofty beams of the farm. The language of the owls she knew well enough, and at night her hooting could be heard for miles around. But unfortunately her behaviour was mocked by her sisters. As our children matured, they got married and started their own families. Lily-White was the last to be with us on the farm. Her maturity had blossomed, and her beauty was renowned in the area. Many local lads tried to woo her. Her hair swayed like the leaves of white willows, and the silver light in her eyes outshone the moon. We were eager for her to find a suitable husband as we were getting older, and my wife Inga arranged for her to marry a boy from a good family. Both of our houses were happy with the arrangements, and even Lily-White didn’t complain. She understood our worry, and we started to organise her wedding. The lad she was to marry, Nils, had big hands and good woodworking skills. He was going to build a great timber lodge for them to live in by the rich meadows. He chose only the best trees in the area, and he wanted to keep this a secret and surprise for Lily-White until their wedding day. So it was, unbeknownst to me at the time, that he felled the large pine in the grove where I first found Lily-White. Just days before the wedding, Lily-White grew withdrawn. Her eyes grew vacant and she would stare out to the woods beyond. My heart was worried for her. I wanted to make her happy, so I said: “Come with me child, I will show you a mountain-lodge sitting in the meadows that has been built for your happiness.” I took her hand and we both walked to her new home. The lodge was near rivers full of leaping salmon and trout; there were swampy marches, large ravines, tall trees, streams and budding flower groves. We walked to the cottage as the sun was dipping its rays over the valley, and we went inside. There was a fresh smell of sap in the room. She took a deep breath and went straight over to the walls where her fingertips gently touched every grain and curvature. There were many knot-holes in the wood, and all had been sealed, except one. A worry and fear came over her. A dim beam of light was coming through the unsealed knot-hole; a strange humming noise filled the room. Lily-White told me she felt a beckoning to go to the woods, back to the grove where I had found her. Her eyes were filled with tears. The next day as she set off to the woods she looked frail and unwell. The day was stormy, and dark clouds had gathered. She didn’t return that night. As soon as it was light, I went tracking for her footmarks. I followed them to the grove where I had first seen her. A large stump stood in the grove where the large pine tree had been felled. I saw that one knot hole remained in the trunk, and her tracks stopped before it. I looked furiously for more signs, but couldn’t find any. I stood there alone, waiting. I waited all of that day and night, and then I waited for a week and many more moons. Lily-White had left with no trace. The brightest day closed its eyes on me for many years after that. Lily-White had returned to her home, to the flowering world where the lark is heard, and she is with her mother. My time with her was borrowed; she belonged to the crowns of the pine trees and amongst the fragrant flowers. I am reminded of her singing when the winds thrum in the tree-tops; it is my balm and my respite. I still hear her voice whenever I wander alone under the great pine woods.

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