Siri Skjerve

Visual Artist

Heart of Flesh and Blood (english)

Toril Redalen

Translated by Arlyne Moi

When I was seven years old, I saw my grandfather kill a rat with a scythe. At that time, I had no preconceptions for understanding the battle played out by the barn wall, but I remember being bewildered. I felt sorry for the rat who was bleeding and beaten senseless, but at the same time I was terrified it would gnaw into my flesh and marrow. The rat gritted his teeth. So did my grandfather. I was out of balance. One minute I was cheering for my grandfather, the next minute for the rat.

The farm where I grew up borders on a forest. Yet as a child I felt no borders between being inside, outside, under a cow, in the river, up a tree or inside a cave in the mountains. We pretended we were animals, we looked after them and played with them. The world was a unified whole for me, and all creatures had equal value.

After the rat killing, I underwent change. I grew a new outer layer of skin, a kind of border between myself and the other life-worlds and creatures around me. My grandfather never talked with me about the rat, neither when I was a child nor as an adult. He probably thought I had to find out for myself about life and death. Just as he had done. While still a young boy, he moved from a small flat in the Majorstua neighbourhood of Oslo to the countryside, for it had been decided that he would eventually take over the farm.

«Time to visit the other side of the street», my grandfather would always say when it was time for tjoning – milking or other farm work – and he would have to cross the courtyard between the farmhouse and the barn. He probably felt somewhat out of step with the occupation he had inherited. His thoughts on the ideal running of a farm tended towards a philosophical character, and slaughtering, building and repairing things were of only moderate interest.

He had daily conversations with the cows and bulls, all of whom were named after royalty and politicians. An imaginary accordion was brought forth on festive occasions. His foot kept time to the music from the radio. He used himself as an instrument, pressing his knitted vest as the buttons on the accordion. Grandfather kept the beat and was an avid dancer. But not a hunter. He did not shoot many animals, and maybe he missed some shots on purpose. It was well known that he participated in hunting for sake of good conversation – for sake of the people, not animals. He did not wear camouflage clothing and stuck out in the landscape.

My grandfather was a proud deer with winter fur in a summer-green fen.

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