The fury of winter storms has been much in the news this month. In our last issue of Letter from Europe for 2013, we look at the impact of a hurricane on a woodland we know well. We have seen the plantation at Froeslev in Denmark at all seasons. It is an intensely beautiful spot. But this month, the storm came.
Dear fellow travellers
It is one of those wild sulphurous days, and the bare heath beats to the roar of the winds. The storm sweeps in from the west. The drenched heath lies low. And it survives the fierce onslaught. The forest at Froeslev is less fortunate.
French reparations after the Franco-Prussian war of 1870-71 gave a boost to silviculture in Jutland. The Prussians used the funds from France to create a dozen plantations on the sandy soils between the Baltic and the North Sea - most of them on territory that Prussia had seized from Denmark in 1864 (during the Second Schleswig War) and then ceded back to Denmark in the wake of the First World War. Froeslev was one of those plantations.
The storm knows no borders. It owes nothing to France or Prussia. It tears through Denmark. With howls and groans, Sitka spruce and Scots pine bend and tumble. Firs topple as the fearsome gale funnels through the heart of Froeslev. A stately birch crashes over the road, knocking over half a dozen conifers on the way. The glade where a few years ago we watched roe deer at dawn is a torn mass of uprooted and broken trees.
The fractured history of Jutland fades in the storm. The wind rages through a fenced compound in the middle of the forest. It was once a prisoner-of-war camp where German troops held members of the Danish resistance. The camp museum is closed at this time of year, but on bright summer days it is a place where visitors are numbed by the awful tumult of history.
Today's tumult brings its own reign of terror. The forest at Froeslev has stood for five generations or more. Where are the sylvan spirits that should be guarding this handsome woodland? Froeslev has been forsaken, abandoned to the elements.
Will the forest cattle come back next year? And what of the sparrows and song birds, the buzzards and ravens, for whom this woodland is home? What about the adders who on summer days lie by the heather on the warm sandy soils? What do they make of the hurricane that cuts through Froeslev?
Torn branches shriek as ancient trunks split and weep. The firs and spruces rock and rock until they crash to the earth in splintered agony. A vicious wall of violence pushes through the plantation, reshaping the map of this little fragment of Denmark. And in the village of Sofiedal to the west, the dim of a wild afternoon slips to dusk and evening. In neat farmhouses, candles are lit. Tea and cake are served.
"Yet another storm," the locals will remark. But for the plantation at Froeslev this hurricane was more than yet another storm. Some years fade quietly to nothingness and night. Those are the good years. This is not one of them.
Nicky Gardner and Susanne Kries
(editors, hidden europe magazine)