Saturday, September 20, 2014

Gifts and the greatest gift of all....

Last monday and tuesday (15th and 16th) I received a visitor from Norway; a buddy I got into contact with online. A fellow who goes by the name of Skaukraft, but in real life is called Odd Sverre. At first we had planned to take a meetingtrip together to the Rogen-district, a national park on both sides of the border a few 100 km's higher north, but that trip never materialized for me and was cut short for him, too.
So we planned another live-meet at my place. I am not the person who very easily steps up to meet new people, so I was a little nervous when monday morning started to draw close. Odd arrived earlier than anticipated, having spent the night only 35km away from here.
What can I say, after the initial first contact we settled over some coffee and chatted for a while. He then brought out his stuff, including "the goodybag" in which he had several things for me. I started packing my bag in the meantime. We had actually not planned for anything, but I figured he'd like to stay at the coaler cabin for the night. The mentioned goodybag turned out to be quite big. Apart from some items he was able to get me through previous arrangements, he had also added quite a handfull of other things I might like... And boy, did I!!
I knew he would be bringing a Norwegian army sleepingbag, suitable for winter too plus a set of Norwegian army mittens, being a wool liner with shell. He'd also bring a scalemodel, a Tigertank with crew, he had lying around for a while, but instead of 1 box, he turned up with 4! He would also bring along a fishingrod for my son, but that turned out to be a flyfishing rod with carryingcontainer and 2 reels.
Then came the bonuses.... First a Norwegian army shelterpiece. The romboid one, not the triangular and that turned out to be like new. Probably is. Next was a copy of the Swedish army manual "Överlevnad" by Lars Fält and as icing on the cake a Norwegian army wool sweater, which I already love to bits!
But the biggest gift of all was the time we were to spend together in the woods, the knowledge and stories we shared next to a fire and the dinner we had together with my family, where one dish was a mushroomstew, which he prepared. I dare say we now have a friend in Norway, which is an equally large gift.
Tack så hemskt mycket, Odd!!

After lunch we headed out into the woods, so I could show him a few of the places I regularly visit; the coalingsite and the viewpoint. We promissed my wife that we'd hunt for moose too. If we'd catch one I'd have to hold it, while Odd would strangle it...
We hiked up there under a clear blue sky and with much higher temperatures then we had anticipated. Because I also took the scenic route, which involved a substantial increase in height, we ended up losing more than a handful of sweat droplets. The not so topnotch state of physical fitness of both of us might have added to that, too. But I was able to show him our valley, bathing in sunlight and with a clear view. 
After having enjoyed the view, which I can not get enough of either, we headed toward the charcoalkilnsite. During the entire hike we saw numerous mushrooms; large numbers, many species and most of them of a substantial size! 

I just love this picture Odd took of me...

We did not undertake any exiting woodsman kind off things. We mostly sat in the shelter, talking, getting to know one another better, playing with flint and steel and Odd exploring the immediate area around the kilnsite. But we also made some discoveries. The focus did lie with mushrooms, since they were so abundant and we ended up studying one species, a fungusspecies, growing on trees with a red rim; the Formitopsis pinicola or Klibbticka in Swedish.
We started studying them, taking them apart, looking and smelling at what we found and discovering new things. Things like the fact that the fungi are layered and can be peeled apart, that they have a distinct structure and that you can actually see through the (spore?)channels, when held against the light.

Then it was about time to prepare some food and what better way that to do that the old way; cast iron, coals, and typical foods like falukorv and pyttipanna. As a good host I took care of that, while the coffee was simmering.

A sunset in the forest.
Later that night the sky turned bloodred, before becoming inky blue dotted with stars.

After dinner we went off to explore the area off track. We trudged through the forest, seeing more and more mushrooms, but next to no sign of wildlife, except for a single deertrack. The forest was also quite quiet. Not many birds to be heard, except from an occassional passing raven, green woodpecker or magpies. We walked from sunset till almost dark, checking out mushrooms for edibility, but most were big and worminfested, apart from 2 socalled fårticka. Odd explained that they were good food. Mushrooms with a firm flesh, resembling chicken and a good, nutty taste. We picked those and I brought out my foraging bag, which appearantly was approved by Odd, judging by his "The force is strong with this one"-remark...

As we returned to camp we used the gravelroad going around it and just before we made it back, we hit the jackpot! Right next to the road, about 100 meters from the shelter, there was a patch full of these mushrooms; big and uninfested! We picked and filled the foragingbag and I guess it would at least have been between 3 and 4kg.

Fårticka (Albatrellus ovinus)
source; wikipedia
Happy with this lucky find we returned to camp and spent the rest of the evening talking, sharing stories and staring into the fire. Turns out that we share quite a few things, like our belief in socalled otherworldly presences. That did make some interesting conversation. We turned in for the night at around 21:30.

After a reasonably good night's sleep, Odd claiming that he had slept like a baby and better then in months, we made breakfast and broke camp, taking our time doing so. Slowly we headed back to my place, where we arrived shortly before lunch, unfortunately without moose. Those damn animals kept slipping between our fingers.... We spent the rest of the day in a quiet and relaxed manor. I had to admit that the previous week's potatoharvest had left me feeling more tired than I had previously thought.

After a quiet afternoon, Odd was appointed to volunteer to prepare the mushrooms according to a simple recipe he knew; mushrooms cut in cubes, fried with plenty of real butter and then simmered in cream. My wife had planned on a wildstew, being deer and mushrooms with Brussels sprouts.

Dinner was very good and my oldest daughter actually ate and liked mushrooms for the first time in her life! My youngest one had 4 portions of Odd's mushrooms....
The rest of the evening was spent enjoying each other's company and we turned in early again, since he had a long trip ahead of him the next day and I had to be out in the fields again by 07:00. Unfortunately we lack the accommodations to have guests staying over and Odd had to spend the night on a fieldcot/stretcher with wool blankets. That felt like a lack of hospitality on my behalf, but it was the best we could do.

Early morning the next day we said goodbye and off we went, both in different directions.
A Dutch Marine-poncho and 2 large nodules of Danish flint followed Odd home...

Despite the often heard advice it can actually be a good thing to go out into the woods at night with strangers, carrying axes and knives...

Thank you very much Odd.
I truly enjoyed your visit and I really hope we can add more things like this one in the future!

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Mushrooms, potatoes and woodsmoke

Yep, autumn is here!
The weather changed quite dramatically about 2 weeks ago. Not that it turned bad, but it turned from summer to autumn almost overnight and quite literally so. A few days of rain, heavy early morning fogs and dropping temperatures meant that the mushrooms popped out of the ground like... well... mushrooms.

As I said before I have become occupied with this year's charcoalkiln and potatoharvest. This year I took my turn in watching and guarding it, learning more in depth about the process of making coal. I will not be able to attend the dismantling of the kiln, so I figured I might as well show you what I've been up to instead of waiting untill the process is completed.
During those watches I was also able to swing a smith's hammer from time to time, but due to limitations in equipment and raw materials I did
not get much else done but a simple wallhanger for coats. The steel striker I had forged turned out to be the wrong material for that purpose, so useless in that manor.
I took 3 watches; wednesday, thursday and sunday afternoon and -evening, with a overnight stay from saturday to sundaymorning; the by now traditional family sleepover. The watches on wednesday and thursday were very relaxed ones. The kiln behaved itself with only 1 burst of flames during these watches, so plenty of time to just sit, relax, enjoy the weather and the forest and just being out there. The shelter we have been building since last year has been completed a while ago and now it was used properly. My family joined me on thursday for an outdoordiner, prepared over an open fire.

On saturday I was "off duty", so the Mrs. my youngest daughter and I took a walk through the woods, heading for the viewpoint we more often visit. Our Dutch summerguests had left a message in the guestbook there, but we were not allowed to read it then, only on our next visit there. It is not a long walk, but the late afternoon early autumn sun poured its golden light over the forest, giving everything a deep, warm glow which gave the already visible autumncolours a very intense appearance. There were mushrooms everywhere and we hated the fact that we do not have any knowledge on the matter. What a rich harvest that would have yielded, since many of the species are indeed edible. Ahhh, the feast that would have been, savouring those mushrooms together with some moosemeat and some red wine.... But alas.... we'll have to make due with some pictures instead...

the biggest mushroom I ever saw!
On our way towards the viewpoint I saw something very peculiar; a treestump that resembled a deer. The backdrop made the image complete;

I never get tired of this view.....

I just hope I did not ruin my wife's view... ;)

Back at the kilnsite it was time to start making dinner. Equally traditional as the sleepover is the making of a beanstew and I have to say it turned out to be the best stew I ever did make! If only I can remember how exactly I did it!
While I was busy doing so, my wife got her first lessons in mushroom-ology. We so really want to learn this, but running into the woods with a book in our hands and taking our chances..... Those fungi are not to be messed with! 

By now the area was covered in tents. All in all there were some 15 kids + accompanying adults and the place really looked like a camping. I thought it was "slightly" overcrowded and above all noisy. Kids running around, high on a sugarrush, screaming and tossing fireworks around is not my idea of fun. Despite that it did turn out to be a good evening with some drinks, some small talk and a lot of laughs.
And I had the best bed in the house: I was to share the night with my youngest daughter in the coaler's cabin and she thought that was awesome!! By the time she went to bed, the majority of the kids had burned up their carbs, so they quieted down a little, making it possible for her to fall asleep.... which did not take that long. The rest of the kids were then treated to a ghoststory in the shelter, which in itself was not all that spooky. That is until the storyteller, in an unguarded moment, took a piece of firewood and in the middle of a sentence banged hard on the metal chimney in the shelter, scaring the living bejesus out of every one! Our youngest did not even catch that. She slept like a baby and seeing her lying there, lit the the flicker of the flames in the fireplace.... Well, that gave me a special feeling.... I could not help but smile and feel proud of her.

The day after was pretty uneventful. We made breakfast, broke camp and headed home around 11. We unpacked the car, I grabbed some food and headed back. We had to close up the kiln, so it would stop burning. 

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

The grass isn't always greener on the other side...

It just might appear less brown.

Much has happened and at the same time nothing either. It has been a rough summer, full of emotional ups and downs, physical and mental trouble and that ever present issue of economics, becoming more and more pressing.

I more often than not feel as if I am trudging up a huge sand dune, feet sinking deep in the fine sand, making no or very little progress, while the searing sun drains my strength or as if I am caught in quicksand, sinking away deeper, despite or because of my struggles.
The sands of time are running and it feels as if my life/future is slipping away like dry sand between my fingers...... which is a coincidence, since I strongly dislike sand....

I actually tried to hold on to dry sand, while on a beach last summer and no matter how hard I tightened my grip, the sand just kept running....

You may have noticed a near total lack of outdoorsy things I did myself, apart from that short week on the coast and truth be told there just was not anything to write or tell about. I simply lost interest (or heart). I still have no (lasting) job and by now have become convinced that I probably never will either, for the simple reason that a) I am not indigenous, b) to old and thus to expensive and c) am experienced and matured, which means I most likely am not as compliant as my employer would like me to be. These experiences are being shared by other non-natives I have come to speak with btw...

Taken during a trip with our guests.
On the large horse my youngest daughter...
and on the pig.... well... ;)
One of the absolute highlights was the visit of a couple of old friends. We had not seen each other since we left Holland 3 years ago, but when we met it felt as if we had only seen each other last week. The connection was still there and that felt so good after previous, less positive experiences. Sharing time with people like that, talking about real things in life, communicating on a level above the weather and social niceties really lifts the heart and mind. And I even was able to share some of my limited woodcarving knowledge with one of their daughters. This visit however did also made some other things painfully clear. When they left for home, they left behind a sense of  emptiness and loneliness, a void that can not be filled by what we have here.
We have come to the conclusion that Swedish social structures (families, friendships etc), at least in our area, are like loose sand (there's the sand-thing again), lacking cohesion. They are courteous, friendly and will help you if you ask, but will back away afterwards. They shy away from developing real relationships.
It is one of the cultural and social differences from what we are used to and one with which we struggle, ever since we came here. Again, this is confirmed by other non-natives and indeed by some natives as well.

I even caught myself wondering if we should just go back, but looking around, I realized that we can not. We could never adjust to the rushing concrete jungle again, if we ever did.

That means keep going and trying new things, finding new ways, continue probing for a hole in order to break the deadlock.

For now I'll be busy, thank God, with our charcoal kiln and harvesting potatoes again. At least that might yield some things to show for and talk about and give a sense of purpose...