When Torbjørn Ekelund's son August was 7 years old, the pair went on an expedition. They shouldered their packs and set out to hike Styggemann, the tallest mountain in the Skrim range in Norway, where they live. For an adult, Ekelund writes in "The Boy and the Mountain," this would be a day's journey, but he and his son preferred to meander. For days, they wandered, with August climbing boulders, watching ravens and frogs, trying to figure out the compass. "Where shall we go next?" Ekelund asks him. " 'There is north,' August replies, pointing to the south."
August is plucky, chattering away when he's "in the zone," but cranky and tearful when exhausted. He's a "recent graduate of first grade" who no longer writes his K's backwards. You can't help but root for him.
Darkening this father-son adventure is the interwoven story of another boy who hiked that mountain 100 years before, and who disappeared. The story of Hans Torske gives an edge to this slender memoir — but a crucial one.
"Nature is not good," Ekelund writes. "It is indifferent." The author of several books about the outdoors, Ekelund wants August to understand that, and to understand how to experience the way a "vast, wild landscape ... puts you in your place" and "reveals something about the bigger context of which you are a small part."
As a torrential rainstorm pounds the mountain, as August melts down ("Why, Daddy? Why did you bring me with you?") and as Hans' story grows more grim, the reader feels that vastness, too.
Laurie Hertzel is the former senior editor for books at the Star Tribune.
The Boy and the Mountain
By: Torbjørn Ekelund, translated from the Norwegian by Becky L. Crook.
Publisher: Greystone, 131 pages, $22.95.