Bjerringbro and (Magical) Hjermind Forest

December 8

I started planning the Incredible Distance Tour in June, shortly after returning from the 2017 Japan Tour. My original plan was to tour the UK and western Europe, but I kept finding shows further east and further north. I found shows in Poland and thought, "Hmm... Kaliningrad is right there..." Then I found the show at Think.dk in Copenhagen, and I thought, "Hmm... Aarhus is right there... and Malmö is right there..." Then I found the show in Helsinki and thought, "Saint Petersburg is right there, I can't go to Helsinki and not go to Saint Petersburg..."

You get the idea.

I posted on Couchsurfing that I was looking to play a show in Aarhus. I soon received a message from Rasmus and Ane, who live near Bjerringbro, 45 minutes from Aarhus, in "a magical place called Hjermind Forest". I certainly couldn't say no to an enchanted forest. And I'm glad I didn't. Don't worry, this isn't one of my disaster stories — except for a minor mishap right at the beginning of the day.

I left Think.dk early that morning and caught the metro to the train station. I had bought train tickets in advance, so all I needed to do was find my platform. I'd have more than enough time.

I watched each metro stop go by, and I was pleased to see that we were right on schedule. Then, maybe a stop and a half from the train station, we came to a halt. There was an announcement in Danish. We sat there. One minute. Two. Five.

Finally, we stared moving forward again. When we pulled into the station, I was ready to bolt out and run to find my train. I dashed to the schedule screens, and couldn't figure out which platform I needed. I hurried over to some cops and asked them, and they shrugged and said (basically) they didn't know anything about anything. I ran into the ticket office and asked, frantically, "What platform for this train?"

A ticket agent looked at a clock on the wall and asked me, "For what time?" It seemed to me that it should have been obvious which train I was trying to catch — the one that was about to leave — but I told him the time. He said, 'Why, that's now!" and I said, "I know!!" And with unbelievable slowness, like an Ent, he said, "If you are running, and if you are very lucky, track 6." I thanked him and ran like my life depended on it, my chest burning, and when I reached the platform, the train was still there but the doors were closing. And then it was gone, and I stood there, panting and feeling deflated. And irritated, because if the ticket agent had just told me what track to go to in the first place, I definitely would have made it.

I trudged back to the ticket office, in no big hurry anymore. The ticket agent looked smug and said, "Ah, it was already gone," and I responded bitterly, "No. It was there. The doors just closed before I could get on."

He directed me to a desk and another ticket agent, who said, "Ah, you were late? I cannot just give you a new seat, you must buy another ticket." Seeing how crestfallen I was, she asked me why I was late, and I explained about the metro. A look of commiseration washed over her, and she said, "Ahh, yes, I understand!" She gave me a new ticket, which was a huge relief.

While waiting for the next train, I sat on bench to write some postcards. Immediately, a guy approached me and asked me for money. I offered him food, and he said no, he wanted money. I said I didn't have any cash and he said we could go to an ATM. He said he needed beer, that he was an alcoholic and was suffering from withdrawal symptoms, and I said that sounded difficult but that food was the only thing I could give him. Annoyed, he finally gave up and wandered off.

The train was fairly crowded. My seat was at the end of a car in one of those arrangements where four seats are facing each other. My neighbors for a couple hours were a mother and her children. I seem to remember there being three children, but it may have been two children who were just all over the place. One of the kids was talking basically the entire time, and when they weren't talking, they were singing or whispering (sometimes in Danish, sometimes in English). (I'm not saying this in judgment — I'm just trying to paint the picture for you.) For a while, they were whispering, "No babies at the train, no babies at the train, no babies at the train... no job is too big, no bob is too small... no job is too big, no bob is too small..." Eventually the mom asked, in a tone that was maybe annoyed but possibly slightly concerned, "What's too big, what's too small?" And the kid just looked at her silently.

(I Googled the "no job is too big" thing and it turned out to be from something called Paw Patrol.)

I tried to take some video of the scenery passing by, but it's difficult to see anything past the grimy train window. You can hear the kid talking, though. (Maybe someone who speaks Danish can tell us what they're saying.)

Footage of my dirty train window, and possibly the world beyond it.

The first thing I saw when I arrived in Bjerringbro was a lot of bicycles.

 Double-decker bicycle storage at the train station in Bjerringbro.

Double-decker bicycle storage at the train station in Bjerringbro.

My first goal in Bjerringbro was to go pee at the train station, which didn't turn out to be possible. Always make use of the washrooms on the train. You just never know.

 Hooded Crow in Bjerringbro.

Hooded Crow in Bjerringbro.

So I started the 45-minute walk to Rasmus and Ane's house. I didn't find a place to pee, but I did find more Hooded Crows. (I had seen my first Hooded Crows a few days earlier in Kaliningrad.)

I went through the quaint little town. Cute little shops gave way to cute little houses, which in turn gave way to gas stations and the headquarters of Grundfos, the world's largest pump manufacturer,  which finally gave way to fields, Christmas tree farms, and Hjermind Forest. I probably appeared to be hopelessly lost, wheeling my suitcase down the motorway, further and further out of town.

 The motorway I walked along, and a first glimpse of forest.

The motorway I walked along, and a first glimpse of forest.

At Rasmus and Ane's adorable house, I finally had the opportunity to pee. Then I thought I'd go experience the magic of the forest, but before I even made it out of the house, I saw a Marsh Tit in a tree in their yard. They look a lot like various other tits, but it was still exciting to see a new species in a new place.

 Marsh Tit.

Marsh Tit.

I entered the forest, crossing by a small sort of reservoir filled with clay-colored water. The trail had sloped down steeply from Rasmus and Ane's house, leveled out, and then rose again. I arrived at a clearing where there were various surprising structures.

 The Cabin in the Woods.

The Cabin in the Woods.

 The Three Little Cabins in the Woods.

The Three Little Cabins in the Woods.

The first building was apparently some kind of cabin. It had pretty windows and doors and a thick thatched roof. In an adjacent clearing, there were three squat wooden structures like flattened cabins. They looked a little bit spooky. There was a distinguished-looking placard on the path, and I imagined I had stumbled upon a UNESCO Heritage Site, but Rasmus later told me they were just shelters you could rent to camp in.

There were birds hanging around this clearing, mostly a lot of tits — Marsh Tits, Eurasian Blue Tits, Great Tits — as well as a few European Goldfinches, a Goldcrest, and a couple of Eurasian Blackbirds.

 "Come explore Denmark's outdoors." You know, just like Charlotte Gainsbourg does in Antichrist.

"Come explore Denmark's outdoors." You know, just like Charlotte Gainsbourg does in Antichrist.

Being in the forest in Denmark naturally brought to mind that video on The Onion (which is a satire news site, in case you don't know) about a Denmark tourism campaign created by Lars von Trier (Denmark Introduces Harrowing New Tourism Ads Directed By Lars Von Trier). ("Tourism officials hope the acclaimed Danish director's bleak vision of unsettling sexuality and brutal violence will attract more visitors to their country.")

I made my way back to the house, and soon Ane (and the dog) came home from work . (I had gotten in earlier using a key they'd hidden for me.) Ane was very friendly and fun to talk to. She and Rasmus are both educators who work with children. Ane and I sat at the table cracking nuts and eating dried fruit while she told me some recent activities she'd done with the kids. I was impressed by how outdoorsy the activities were, even in December.

Eventually Rasmus arrived — on roller skis. I had seen some of these in the bathroom and had no clue what they were. I thought they must have something to do with accessibility, somehow. But it turned out they had just been drying after being washed.

Rasmus played with the dog, or the dog played with Rasmus — they both had an abundance of energy to expend. It was especially impressive, considering Rasmus had just worked with kids all day and skied home!

Ane made a lovely dinner that definitely involved bread and salad and almost certainly involved soup, though for some reason this part of my memory is fuzzy.

 A fun little stage set-up featuring a solar system backdrop and assorted gymnastics equipment.

A fun little stage set-up featuring a solar system backdrop and assorted gymnastics equipment.

We got ready to go to the venue, which for this night's concert was a building that used to be a school but now apparently served various purposes as needed. We set up in the gymnasium against a solar system backdrop; next to each planet was its corresponding astronomical symbol, and then there were also some bonus characters, such as a turtle.

To my right and to my left were a pommel horse and a vaulting box, respectively. I dragged the pommel horse over to the piano to see if I could sit on it to play, but it just wasn't practical.

Rasmus had managed to get me some press coverage in a local paper, which was exciting. The audience ended up being rather small, thanks to a live broadcast of a significant sporting event at the same time as my show. Nonetheless, it was a very nice show, and I'm so grateful to Rasmus and Ane for all the work they did to make it happen.

When we left the building after the show, the night sky was full of stars. Rasmus was locking up, and Ane and I were walking to the car. We passed the corner of the building and were immediately struck by an absurdly cold wind that was no longer blocked now that we were in the openness of the parking lot.

Soon, though, we were back in their warm, cozy home in the forest. Nestled in my comfy little bed in the attic, I wrote a few postcards and dropped off to sleep, wishing I could stay a few days to wander through the forest and meet more of its inhabitants. But it's good to save something to look forward to for next time.