Her grave lies in Røldal by the 800 year old stave church which she could see from her bedroom window. During her youth she had worked at a summer mountain farm as a milkmaid and every summer she would hike the mountain to Setesdalen to milk cows and work as a facility cook for the men there, who often jested about her being better than a good bottle of liquor; her deep blue eyes more stunning then the late summer sky.
She died in 1973, almost burying with her a secret, had it not been for a chance interview with local historian Jan Gravdal who met her to speak about a letter exchange she had had with the well-known Norwegian author Dagfinn Grønoset, whom she had met during her summers as a milkmaid. In the middle of her interview with Gravdal she arouse suddenly to pull out an old rose painted box and asked him if he wanted to see some old photographs of that period laying the box in her lap.
Pictures of the old mountain farm, friends and family relaying stories of her youth enthusiastically remembered, when suddenly she pulled forth the last photo and paused. Taken in Seljord in 1899 it was a portrait of a young and handsome well dressed man. “What do you think?” she asked. Gravdal looked at the photo, then at her, and this 93 year old woman blushed like a little girl. “He looks like a very elegant young man,” responded Gravdal. Embarrassed, she quietly mutters “he was my greatest love. The only one…. Do you think I am foolish in telling you this?”
They met shortly before the photo was taken at the age of 17. “I remember the last night we were together,” she continued. “It was mid-summer 1901, and we sat beneath a tall birch tree all night. He and his family was going to America the next day where the were planning on emigrating to. I never saw him again. I cried and promised to write to each other. And we did! We wrote to each other for many years after that, with letters flying to and from across the Atlantic. But… as time passed… the time between his letters became longer and longer when eventually stopped,” pausing for a moment. “Maybe he died, maybe… no, I don´t know. He was 19 when he left.”
After a moment of silence, she put the picture back and closed the lid returning the box to its place. It had been 72 years since he left. And at 93, two weeks after the interview she died carrying with her the flame she carried for a greater part of her life.
The story of Marta Dalen is the inspiration for Dreamarchers song Dalen from their EP Harding inspired by the stories of local historian Jan Gravdal. Stories of individual strength, courage and innovation that run through the isolated communities of Hardangerfjorden where Dreamarcher comes from.
Picture taken by Jan Gravdal.
The story was first published in Gravdal's book "Den første Harding" in 1994.
Read the original story on Gravdals blog here.