Many years ago, while on a geology fieldtrip in Norway, I had an interesting experience that clarified for me the origin of those ever so popular trolls in the tourist shops there.
One day, while mapping in the mountains, I came into a very remote and lonely valley that had at the far end of it a single stone cottage. A strange sight in that remoteness, I walked towards it to investigate. But as I approached, I saw there was an old person bent over, working at something on the ground. I approached slowly and with growing apprehension. The person seemed totally unaware of me and continued at his or her task.
Being in such a wilderness, so remote and alone, all the possibilities of the old fairytales solidified in my mind. A childish fear flooded over me. I moved towards the forbidding spectre, heart in my mouth. It wasn’t until the last moment that I saw that it was a gnarled old tree.
As did Patrick Kavanagh in his ‘Christmas Childhood,’ one crisp moonlit Christmas morning, I saw the three kings travelling up the hills outside Roscommon. It was a magical Christmas sight, and I stopped to look at it for a long time.
Now I am looking out at some scattered hawthorns on the slopes of the hills above Barnesmore. They pitch themselves against the winter gales and flaying rain. They stand, rooted in boulder strewn, thin soil, crabbed old codgers with tobacco coloured dead bracken all about. On another day, when the mist is heavy, they bend into the wind and prepare to walk. For eons they have passed travelers on the road without a word, or maybe they have lisped some message that seemed to come from souls long since departed.