Out Stealing Horses
Nature Imagery in “Out Stealing Horses”
After stabbing Captain Hook in an epic sword battle, Peter Pan cheerfully exclaims, “I’m youth, I’m joy, I’m a little bird that has broken out of the egg!” This proclamation shows the relationship between adolescence, happiness, and nature. In many ways, Per Petterson’s Out Stealing Horses shows the same connections. Trond resembles James Barrie’s Peter Pan; both remain youthful, undertake many adventures, and are able to either literally or symbolically fly. However, while Peter Pan relies on his pixie dust for these powers, Trond uses his connection with nature, reliving his childhood memories to keep this bond with the natural world alive and fresh. Petterson uses natural imagery to establish the complete harmony and subsequent synonymous identity that exists between nature and Trond. Trond’s profound awareness of nature and the heightened perception that this awareness brings urge the reader to be more consciously mindful of the precious, quieter moments linked to the landscape that we may ignore in our daily interactions with our environment.
Trond’s connection with nature, which begins in his childhood, is shown through images that reflect his harmonious relationship to the environment. On his last adventure with his father, Trond navigates the forests and rides on horseback. His father notices that Trond is uncomfortable in the saddle and instructs him to “let [his] hips go loose… be a part of the horse” (207). He is suggesting that Trond become one with nature instead of fighting against it. Trond then says that “[his] body was put together in such a way that it was good for riding” (207). As soon as Trond allows himself to relax into the horse’s rhythm, he is able to become part of the natural world, something he is able to do with ease. After Trond and his father arrive at the log jam, Trond recognizes that he must tie a rope to one of the logs in order to break the dam. As Trond reaches the dam and begins to “jump from log to log” (216), he exclaims, “I’m flying!” (217). Though Trond isn’t actually flying, this statement has deeper meaning. He feels light and free, like a bird, not only able to appreciate nature, but also understand that he has become a part of nature itself. Later, as Trond takes the train with his mother to retrieve money from the bank, he makes many intimate observations about the Glomma River. He remarks that “[he] was friends with the water” (227). By calling the river a friend, Trond underscores his connection with the landscape. Trond also says, “the [Glomma River] was still within me” (227). He has moved past simple appreciation into integration with what he observes. The river provides a source of security for Trond. After waking up to find his father missing, Trond stands on the edge of a river, and says that, “[he] could immerse [himself] in water… and be the anchor [of the world]” (101). Not only are nature and Trond intertwined, but nature is important to Trond because it provides him with strength and stability. This imagery shows a symbiotic relationship between Trond and the earth, allowing him to form vivid, sensory memories he can immerse himself in even in his old age.
As a result of this harmonious connection, a heightened awareness awakens in Trond, allowing him to savor the precious moments that his consciousness grants him. While walking through the forest with Jon to go steal Barkald’s horses, Trond notices “the sweet, sharp, all pervading odor of something greater than ourselves… the forest” (22). Trond’s awe and reverence for nature arises from the simple smell of the woods, which to him, is much more than just a sensory happening. It is a connection to something larger than himself. Trond makes this more explicit when he states that the forest was “beyond all comprehension” (22), and that it was so large that “you could get lost… and a hundred people [couldn’t] find you” (22). Trond may only be walking down a path in the woods, but it is a path whose meaning is magnified by his synergistic link to nature. Trond then asks, “why should [getting lost in the forest] be so bad?” (22). Disappearing in the woods is not terrible, because for Trond, the trees, like the river, are a place of comfort. Trond later notices a distinct, “scent of new-felled timber” (74) after a morning of cutting trees. This odor “penetrated everything everywhere” (74) and “[he] smelled of resin, [his] clothes smelled, and [his] hair smelled, and [his] skin smelled” (74). Trond realizes the unity between him and the natural world and says, “I was forest” (74). What might be a simple sensory event for some people becomes a pantheistic experience for Trond. Though this imagery does not directly reference God, Trond has a moment of transcendent revelation.
While the forest is large and grand, smaller aspects of nature also offer Trond the chance to reach this higher plane of consciousness. As he rides Barkald’s horse with Jon, Trond screams “Yahoo!” (24) out of joy. He then has a moment of intense awareness when he feels like he is in, “a different place, from the great space where birds sing” (24). Not only does Trond notice the birds singing, he exists with them outside the sphere of ordinary life. After listening to the birds, Trond becomes “completely happy” (24). The horse’s back “drummed through [his] body like a heartbeat”, and he falls into a silence where he moves beyond the quotidian. In this place of enlightened recognition, the beautiful sounds of the birds are distinct from other sounds, and “each time [he] breathed, there were notes coming, out” (25). Once again, a simple experience sends Trond soaring above the mundane. He becomes a bird, just as he is the river and the forest, a transformation that reflects his ability to draw joy from what others may overlook. After stealing Barkald’s horses, Trond and Jon climb a spruce tree and find a goldcrest nest. Trond has an epiphany when looking at the goldcrest eggs, and whispers, “It’s weird that something so little come can come alive and just fly away” (29). Words cannot describe the “rushing, airy feeling [he] felt” (29). Trond recognizes the beauty and possibility in even a tiny and delicate bird egg. When Jon destroys the bird egg, Trond is broken. On an emotional level, Trond felt “desperate” (30). Because Trond is so intertwined with nature and has such reverence for its potential, this small gesture affects him physically. He has trouble breathing and feels like he has “asthma” (31). Trond’s responsiveness to the natural world gives him a sense of wonder and an ability to ascend, but can also cause his descension into despair. Through the use of natural imagery around the birds and bird egg, Petterson establishes how Trond appreciates and remembers the small details of his childhood.
Through Trond, Petterson urges the reader to hone his or her consciousness in order to fully experience the sacred moments we may otherwise ignore. Petterson captures Trond’s high regard for and relation to the wilderness through natural imagery that assimilates Trond with nature. Petterson suggests that like Trond, the reader become like Peter Pan – always youthful, always happy, and always rooted in the natural world.