Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Going home

As I sit here I am recovering from quite a hectic week. 2 jobinterviews, a 16th birthday, travelling by flight, staying in a city, visiting places, restaurants and pubs, overall immersing ourselves in Dutch "everyday"-life.
Back in august I decided, quite spontaniously, that a trip "home" would be a good idea. A long weekend for me and the wife to visit our homeland and some friends and/or family. So I contacted our, still, best friends and we could stay at their place. I booked our flight, which would go the day after our oldest daughter turned 16. It also meant our kids staying home alone. They would have to fend for themselves, take care of the house and the animals. A good lesson for all of us, we figured.

Well, last weekend was THE weekend.
But things did not go smoothly. First of all there was our daughter's 16th birthday on the day before leaving and at that same day I also had a jobinterview. So it was a rather busy day for me, not taking into account the packing that had to be done at night, last instructions-round with the kids and getting up at 05:00 for the 2,5hr drive to Stockholm. We made it thought and with time to spare, but we could not find our flight?!? Checked with the informationdesk and the woman helping us had a hard time finding it too. But eventually it popped up and we were directed toward terminal 2, which was on the other side of the airport. Of course. There the same procedure ensued; flight could not be found. Again infodesk and after a few minutes the flight popped up. Yes, we were at the correct gate...... but on the wrong date! In august the flight specifics were changed and I made note of the changed time of departure, but somehow missed that the flight had been postponed by a day... So there we were, with 2 options; a hotel or drive home and do the same thing again the day after. We opted for the latter, mainly due to the costs involved with staying in a hotel in the airport/Stockholm-area for a day.
Damn I felt stupid..... and pissed off...... and even more stressed! An entire day lost and double the stress of travelling!!
The day after we once again got up at 05:00, did the whole good-bye-thing again and once more headed toward the airport. Now everything went smoothely and at lunchtime we touched down at Eindhoven airport. We were amazed at the landscape before landing; every field neatly divided into squares, marked off by roads and rows of trees. And the urban areas, seas of brickred tiles and grey ribbon streets. So very different from what we had become used to....
Our friends Vinca and Manfred were there to pick us up and I choked up when we met again, but as always that strange sensation of falling back into our old behaviour settled in very quickly. It always feels as if we had seen each other only yesterday or last week, despite it having been more then a year. We enjoyed a cup of coffee before heading further south; another hours drive over Dutch highways. Both my wife and I were real glad we did not have to do the driving! We are in no way prepared for or used to this kind of traffic!!
Manfred had prepared one of our favorite dishes and afterwards we spent a while digesting that, drinking coffee and talking before heading out to another place manfred had planned; a ice parlor, just across the German border. I still was to stuffed, but the rest indulged in huge sorbets or portions of icecream in all sorts of flavours and covered in chocolate or liquer. I settled for coffee, but ended up with all the cookies!

Day 1; Maastricht
The night had been a troublesome one. We had to reinflate the airmatrass every 2 hours due to a minute leak, we were not used to the sounds of the city and streetlight were shining into our window.

We had set 2 goals for our trip; a daytrip to Maastricht and spending a day in Heerlen, both the cities we called home once. We wanted to go to the traditional friday openair market and just look at all the changes the city had gone through during our absence. For me there was 1 other goal; visiting an old church, converted to bookstore!
The market was an overwhelming experience of people, smells, sounds and colours and after about an hour or so, I had had enough. I just had to get out and away from it. So we sought the tranquility of a church......
I really liked what they had done with the place, but apparently that had come at a cost. A cost that had to be taken in again through sales. I had hoped to find some bargains here, but the bookprices were high, exorbitant for the secondhand ones actually!
Yet I did not leave empty handed. Manfred let me pick one book, had that wrapped and gave it to me as a christmaspresent to be put under the tree and opened on christmas. We also did some shopping for the kids and it quickly became apparent that we needed to book a suitcase for the returntrip, just to get that stuff home.

And when in Maastricht, one can not leave without at least having had a break and something to drink on one of the many terraces, many of which serve excellent food as well. Given the time of year and the excellent weather I ordered something for us all. Hot chocolate. We had had plenty of coffee so far and it was still a bit early to endulge in.... stronger beverages. Despite it well being lunchtime, Manfred "forbade" us to have lunch. He had planned for that in another location.

He told us they had discovered a restaurant in Margraten, a village nearby and another place with a lot of history for the mrs. and me, since it was here that we became a couple in '88. On our way from maastricht to margraten we were treated with the glorious rolling, woodcovered hills of the area we once called home and yet I felt surprisingly little. The restaurant itself is called Loods 81 and it is an former potatostorage facility, now reworked as restaurant. The interior is very tastefull in every sense of the word! An interior full of old and antique everyday objects, typical for the region, alongside smoked sausages and hams, loafs of freshly baked bread, pies and a very well stocked buffet, alongside an equally well stocked counter!
However it was the dish I chose for lunch that made this place really stand out. I chose a traditional dish; baked bloodsausage with baked appleslices and darkbread with applesyrup as spread. It was this very dish that propelled me back to my early youth the moment I sank my teeth into it. In an instant I was back in my grandma's kitchen, seeing her bustling about the furnace, smelling the smells of those days; the food, the furnace as it heated up, the house in its pre-central heating time.... A very powerfull memory that brought tears to my eyes.

The dish I chose? 

And of course a visit to Limburg has to be celebrated by having an exquisite local beer... Chateau Neubourg by Gulpener.

Later that night we went out and visited our hosts' go-to bar, had a few beers, played cards, had long talks and ended the evening by devouring a few bites to eat.

Day 2; Heerlen

Today we stayed in our "hometown", the city of Heerlen. Part of the centre had been heavily altered by the construction of a whole new neighbourhood, where the old trainstation used to be. The new part is called "Maankwartier". We had to have a look at that. But first my wife went to the hairdresser. They are better and cheaper there. I (ab)used the opportunity to visit a local, secondhand bookshop.... and as usual I did not leave empty handed.
Our shoppingspree did not end there and we ended up with quite a few bags of stuff that needed to be shippied home. We got all sorts of good stuff like candy and pastries, flanel pyama's for our youngest one amongst other things. All in all we ended up with 23kg of extra luggage!!
That night we went out again and last night's "routine" repeated itself.

Sunday was the return home-day and that caused double feelings; sadness of leaving our friends again, but also because we had really enjoyed the leisures of old; wandering the old cities, shopping, having good coffee in cosy café's or on terrasses, the good food and the long talks and meaningfull discussions. On the other hand did we long for the silence and peacefullness of home, away from the constant presence of people, noise, bustle and lights.
Manfred drove us back to the airport and once more we were astounded by the amount of traffic. We had a cup of coffee there, before saying goodbye once more, trying to keep it short and as painless as possible. The rest of the journey was uneventfull untill we were almost home.
Upon arriving in our homeprovince of Dalarna we were greeted by a stunning display of the northern lights! Large bands of bright green light waved across the pitchblack skies, welcoming us home....

A familiar and much loved landscape...

And after being pissed and having ignored me the entire previous evening, she forgave me the next day....

Sunday, October 28, 2018

The dorment homestead received a burst of new life

Homesteading has been all but dead this season, so a new addition of life certainly was welcomed!
Meet Esther, Elsa and Edith,the resembles of names with my wife and youngest daughter resp. are strictly coincidental. They are Swedish finull (finewool) sheep.
Julia, where Elsa had horseriding lessons and now takes thosehorses out for a ride from time to time, was the previous owner, but had to relocate these sheep on a short notice. She was no longer able to take care of them  in a decent manor, due to timerestraints. So if we were interested in having them? Sure, why not? But where to house them?
Our choice fell on our vegetablegarden. It had barely been used last season, so t got kond of overgrown. Next year we will hopefully be able to use one of our neighbour's pieces of land.
To create a makeshift stable, I cut out a piece of one of the walls of our garden shed, erected an inner wall and that was that...

The difference between the pictures is one week and a shift in winddirection......

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Picking up where I left off.....

Photo by Olli
Slowly the grey mists and dark hours of my mental discomfort seem to lift, only to be replaced by their meteorological counterparts. As I wrote before, summer has not been easy and as I often tend to do during prolonged periods of descending the mental staircase of doom, I fall back onto and into myself and forget and disconnect from that ever lifegiving source; the outdoors.
Fortunate for me there is this group we call "Järngänget", being the core group of people, left over from the days of the Swedish bushcraft community's local groups. Most of this grou have since taken a step back, or even completely away, from said community, feeling that said community no longer tends to our needs and this local group does.
So I got a message, saying we were going to meet up and, dragging myself out of the selfcreated cesspool of abject, mental misery (God, I'm on a roll here.. ), I collected my stuff and headed out, meeting Olli at the trainstation. He had a, until then unknown to me, person accompanying him; Martin. Turns out he fits right into our little gang. We headed out to a long ago abandonned "fäbod", a remote shelter, used for housing cattlefarmers, when attending their freeroaming cattle. Arriving on the scene we were greeted by Marcus, Jonathan and Johan, who already had a fire going and coffee brewing.
Since the rest of the gang were planning on spending the night there, we roamed the area for a suitable spot and afterwards they went mushroom hunting as well. I spent my time there pretty much stationary, just enjoyig the company, surroundings and the coffee. It truly was balm for the soul. But, how could it not be otherwise, wherever a group of people such as us gathers, there is bound to be some firemaking and geartalk. And this occassion was no different. ;)
The area itself has been pretty much left to its own for about a century and it shows. Moss covers everything, dead trees standing and lying aplenty.

And then last weekend Olli, Martin and I were to meet again, but in different circumstances. Olli has his own company, SweTrek, and as such he had organised a forest introduction gathering for a group of international students, currently residing and studying in the area. We had people attending from the Netherlands, Austria, Uruguay, India, Syria and Korea.
We took them for a walk through the woods near campus and it turned out I did not do too bad as a guide myself. We talked about preparing and behaving in the woods; allemansrätten, what to do when lost, some tracking and looking at plants and trees. As a final they got to try a socalled firesteel, making a small fire. All of them succeeded, especially after I showed them a bit of cheating, using a tampon.
It was another good afternoon spent outside.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Things have fallen silent again

As I said in the previous post all good things come to an end. Nothing lasts forever and some things do not last long at all. 
The joy of having fluffy balls running around, chirping, was short lived. Last week we had visitors. At first I was alerted by a lot of commotion in the garden, noisy hens and agitated dogs. I ran out to discover a young western marsh harrier or brun kärrhök (Circus aeruginosushad landed smack in the middle of the maternal group. The markings were unmistakble and my eart skipped a beat. I could not see the hatchlings.
I found this image on the net, but can't remember where.

I could however come very close to the harrier and I could have touched it if I wanted to, but looking at the size of its talons and its half opened beak made me decide otherwise. It was not scared of me at all and I had some difficulty is scaring it away, actually. When it finally did lift off, it made a tired, almost exhausted impression. It moved slowly, uncertain and a bit wobbly. It landed in a tree quite close by, but as I approached it to take a photo it finally flew off. I could not see the hatchlings, but hoped they would have gotten to safety by hiding in the underbrush somewhere and that they'd pop up if I let them be. Mother hen would rally them by calling. I went back inside, only to be alerted by a cacophony of alarmcalls within 15 minutes. I flew out, only this time to witness a fox dash off!! I chased it, but could not see if there were chickens missing. Mother hen however was sitting on a birchlog, calling excitedly. She would not move and kept calling as I checked the area. It did not take long to find the first casualties; 3 of the 10 hatchlings were dead and 7 were missing...... Later on I saw 4 of them clambering (falling) down from the lower branches of the large juniper, next to the coop. We had lost 6 of the hatchlings, including my favorite, the sandybrown one that was named Mocca.
So Mother Hen was down to 4 young ones. The day before yesterday our youngest daughter was ones again alerted by a lot of noise and excited dogs and she witnessed the fox, again, attack our chickens. This time Mother hen was taken, dying defending her remaining young ones. So now we had 4 orphans in the coop, huddled together at night in a corner of the separate area. Yesterday morning the ordeal was over for 3 of them, as they too had gone. Mice had made a hole in the bottom of the coop during winter and something must have gotten in and taken those 3. That left us with only 1 hatchling, because that one had apparently made it onto the sticks, among the roosting chickens. This morning however this one too had gone.......
Total damage this year; 4 hens and 10 hatchlings. Having livestock isn't always fun.
On the other hand we did get an addition to the family once more; meet Kayla. Actualy intended to be a Kalle, but it turned ot the (s)he was missing some vital parts to be male, instead having other parts that males usually don't. But these days one can no longer be sure, really.... And for reasons yet unknown she seems to have developped a specia liking for me. Can't go and sit in my chair without her jumping on my lap and she likes to cuddle up REAL close at night in bed. As in half on my pillow and in my face. preferably under my beard.

And the dogrunning business suddenly got a whole lot more serious and real after I was given an old, but still functional cart. It needs a new tube on one of the wheels and a dash of paint, along some minor repairs, but otherwise it is good to go.

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

All good things come to an end

.... as the saying goes.
But that applies for the bad things as well. One of which was the summer. All of a sudden its seemingly everlasting drought and crippling heat just ended and with did the summervacation. Within a week or 2 autumn has been naking its entrance and every year I am surprised and shocked to find that at the end of the summerbreak it really is the end of summer. Quite abruptly.
However this year's end of summer was greated with mixed feelings, since not only did the drought and heat leave us, so did our oldest daughter. She has moved to Uppsala, a universitycity a 2hrs drive away from here and yesterday I did the hardest thing I ever had to do as a dad. I had to let her go. She said her goodbye's to her mum in the morning as she went to work after which I drove my daughter to her new appartment. After having spent a large part of the morning and afternoon with her, taking care of the last things, I had to hug and kiss her, say goodbye, drive home and leave her behind. In a city where she does not know anyone and where she is all on her own. 15 years old, turning 16 in 2 months. That drive home was the longest one I ever did make and I had to stop one or two times to clear my misty eyes. Oh, she will come home during the weekends and holidays.... for now, but she's already starting to renegotiate the deal that she'd come home every weekend for the first half year. And I am quite sure she will make it. She's smart and stubborn enough for that. But she is not used to citylife and Swedish cities are not as safe as they used to be anymore either.
For us as parents a new era has made itself known and with the kids starting to leave home, I feel that in some way autumn has also starting making its way into our lives. We'll probably be repeating the same routine next year with our son.
At the end of summer we were also visited by former colleagues/friends from the Mrs. It felt real good to have proper conversations and discussions again, but they too had to leave. We were able to take a short hike, so I finally got out into the woods again.

Of course not all is doom and gloom. We had plenty of other pleasant things happening too, like the birth of 10 hatchlings! At one point we started missing hens, 3 in total. One we found, she was sitting on eggs under the brambles, one we had a suspicion regarding her location (big droppings, common for hatching hens) and one simply vanished. However one night we heard how the hen in the brambles was being taken by (presumably) a fox and the next morning the nest was abandonned. We loaned a broodingmachine and were able to hatch 10 out of 14 eggs and successfully found a new "mommy", another hen sitting on eggs in the henhouse.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Sweden is burning!

Älvdalen earlier
Months of heat and above all drought have caused serious problems in the country I now call home. The most acute one are forestfires. They blossom up all over the country and firefighters and associated personel are being kept real busy nationwide. Many are relatively small fires and are under control or put out fairly rapidly, but right now there are 3 major fires (that I follow) raging in the region of central Sweden, in the provinces of Dalarna, Gävleborg and Jämtland.
Our province, Dalarna, has seen its share of fires, but our area has been spared so far, luckily, apart from a minor one, some 7 km to our north, which was taken care of quickly and effectively.
I can only hope that this situation will maintain that way, but looking at the weather forecast I can only see very high temperatures (for our area), blazing sun and even some rising wind. Firefighting crews and material are being worn down and out, so I do fear the problems are not over just yet.

Situation 2018-07-17
Thankfully Sweden was able to hire waterdropping helicopters and planes from Norway and Italy, but these can not remain operational idefinitely either. Personally I feel that it is madness that a country with such large wooded areas does not have such equipment of its own, especially after the disastrous events in 2014, where both lack of heavy equipment and blundering local and national authorities allowed for a massive area being laid to waste.

But once again authorities are not stepping up adequately and decisively. Our own municipally has no information on its website whatsoever, a lot of confusion and unclearity in regard to firebans is plaging communications and the national government is nowhere to be seen or heard. I feel that if there was a time for them to act, it would be now. An absolute and nationwide ban on all sorts of open fire should be declared. This is a national issue right now and it would with one stroke remove any and all uncertainties. But that is just my opinion.
What equally pisses me off is that there are still people out there, who simply disregard warnings and danger. People still bring out their barbecues, put them on the grass or near vegetation and happily grill away, thinking a bucket of water will take care of any events. Similar within the outdoor community, where folks still insist on the use of portable means of fire, like gascookers and such, claiming they know what they do, that it still is allowed and that they apparantly MUST have the coffee or lunch made on the spot.

Meanwhile current meteorological conditions are causing massive other problems too. The farmers are getting into trouble. Not only do I fear a complete disaster for many or most crops, but especially those with livestock are in trouble. The first cut of grass for winterfodder yielded less than 50% in many places and a second cut simply will not happen. The grass does not grow.
In and around our village every conceivable piece of grassland has been cut and harvested, some for the first or second time since we moved here 6 years ago, apart for a large field, which appears to be publically owned. I also read reports of farmers already having to slaughter their livestock, because there is no food for the animals, which will have longterm ramifications for the farmers and Sweden's homegrown foodsupply. Here too is the absence of governmentaction painfully obvious and any helpinitiatives come from private sources for as far as I know.
People growing their own fruit and vegetables at home or gather that in the woods, also see their crops go to waste,  if there even are any. Plants wither or fail to fruit. Foodprices will soar coming winter, I'm sure.

Either way I will volunteer to help as soon as my wife's car comes back from the workshop. It broke down a 2,5hr drive away from home last weekend and I will not leave them stranded at home, in a wooded area, when current risks are still so high. Because of the distance to the current hotsports (painfully literally) it is not an option to just drive back in an instant in case of an emergency. And such an emergency can pop up at any one time.

Stay safe out there!

Saturday, July 14, 2018

A Swiss man's dream

Last friday, the 13th, saw me heading out into the woods again. It had been a long time, but now there was a special occassion; I was about to show a visitor from Switzerland "some Swedish woods". I figure it should be worthwhile, so I looked for some suitable woods, not your average pineplantation. I ended up finding Fermansbo urskog, a natural reserve about 1,5 hrs drive from here. It is an old forest, protected from logging and with minimal interfering. It is also the on the southern edge of the area where that great forestfire raged 4 years ago, which should also make for some interesting scenery. Little did I know we got more then we bargained for....
Arriving at the right spot caused some confusion, as apparently the accessroad had been changed, but eventually we both found our way in; Pascal coming in from the south and me from the north. Pascal and I initially "met" through the Swedish bushcraftgroup on facebook and now that he visited Sweden we figure it might be a good opportunity to meet face to face..... And so we did at 08:30. It was forecast to be a hot day, so an early start was no excessive luxury.

After the initial introduction we set out to follow a marked track through the reserve, which would take us through both old and firedamaged forest resp. to doubleback toward the parking; all in all about 3km. Figured that would be sufficient in this heat and terrain.
The first part as said went through the old forest. And it was a sight for sore eyes. This is the way forest should be, very unlike the tidy pine-, spruce- or birchplantations one usually finds. Old trees, fallen over ones and a wide variety of undergrowth. The fallen over trees would gradually come to dominate the scene, but for now we enjoy the vibes of old trees. Such a forest has a very different feel to it. We enjoyed ourselves and after having crossed a now almost dry marshland we decided to take a break. Temperatures were rising fast and keeping hydrated was a keyissue!

Picture; Pascal Streit

Picture; Pascal Streit

Picture; Pascal Streit
It was at this point that we came to exchange gifts, after the promised Swiss chocolate bars had already changed hands, and ended up in my cooler box, in the car. I had brought some rather modest ones; a patch and a pair of moose antlers. After Pascal told me he had seen moose, I stuck a pewter moose pin onto his veshmeshok (Russian rucksack) as well.
Picture; Pascal Streit
He had brought me a pair of swiss army pouches, which I hoped would fit my Swedish army cookset. It was then he showed me another item he used and liked, a Russian-style ponch; a plash palatka. His demonstration apparantly made my mouth water and my eyes glisten and he talked me into owning one..... His! A follow up post on those items will come soon. But the best gift was a small item. A small pouch, handmade by him from an old Swiss army wool blanket. I immediately fell in love with it. You probably know how I love wool and the quality and softness of this wool really is Swiss. I love the colour and design too, especially after it turned out that my old army compass fits perfectly!!
We ended up having an early lunch as well and talked about all sorts of things for quite some time too. Really was too bad that there was a complete fireban, since a freshly brewed coffee would have capped the otherwise perfect moment.
But we were to see for ourselves that any form of fire really would be a very bad idea indeed.
On our way we already had come across a substiantal section of the old forest, where the trees clearly had died, but were still standing. many of the trees had been marked with tape and
even more were losing their dark, mainly around the base or first meter up. It was quite a sight seeing all these light patches of wood, but we had not yet made the connection. We figured some disease or infestation at first. But then we came to the part that clearly had been affected by the fire. It was very clear that the fire had caused the damage low to, but mostly under ground. We saw many trees with clear burnmarks, but even more unsettling we found many trees with their roots burnt off. Even the plantmaterial around the roots had gone, exposing the burnt rootstumps, loosely clinging onto the rock underground. It was an ominous sight. Aweinspiring, humbling, sobering and apocalyptic.
The marked path was reestablished after the fire, but many strong winds had since toppled over the dead trees, deprived of their roots. Knowing what I know now I would strongly advise against entering this area under such conditions, since many more trees are clearly just waiting to be blown over.

Picture; Pascal Streit

Picture; Pascal Streit

Picture; Pascal Streit

Picture; Pascal Streit
We kept on following the orange marked path and gradually we made our way out of this scene of carnage, all of a sudden finding ourselves surrounded by green once again. Here the track became different. it looked much older, less well kept and often hard to follow, forcing us to backtrack. However the track became more and more narrow and overgrown and we had to cross a bridge that clearly was in serious disrepair. I had a real sense that we were heading wrong, but the track was still marked orange and we were still roughly heading in the right direction.... generally.
Eventually the track come to a gravelroad and simply ended there. We turned southward, knowing (more hoping) that we would head toward a road that would lead to the gravelroad that would lead us to our parked cars. The sun was still out in force and the temperature out on that gravel road easily exceeded the forecast 26C. We had little option but to keep going, following the road. Going back through where we had come from was a lot less appealling.
We eventually made it back to our cars indeed, after having spent roughly 1,5 hours out in the sun on a course gravel road. However we did take breaks, drank enough and kept an easy pace. Still my feet were quite sore, when we reached our destination. I had been wearing my old, thin soled army boots and these perform good enough on soft forest underground. They are far less comfortable on underground such as mentioned.
Back at the cars, we sat down on a log and talked about this and that for more then an hour. Just sitting there and being there was as good as anything, but all good things come to an end eventually and we had to make our way back home. Mine was 1,5 hour drive northward.

On my way in I had come across a vaste area where next to nothing was standing anymore and I got a feeling of desolation, just driving through it. On my way home I stopped to look and take pictures.
All around me the trees had gone and bare rock had become exposed. Everything had burnt away. There were next to no stumps or tress on the ground left. All gone. Imagine a fire hot and strong enough to completely burn up fully grown trees, pine, spruce and birch. Gone.
A fire consuming the layer of peat and forestsoil, leaving only rock.....
Such force, such devastation.... Despite the heat I felt a shudder.
Yet the vegetation is returning after 4 years. Many trees are sprouting again. Mostly birch, but the occassional pine too and lots of (I think) rallarros/mjölkört (Epilobium angustifolium.
These vast expanses will have erased the scras of fire sooner then the place we visited today.where the trees will lie and decay for many a decade to come. here there hardly is such debris.

This most certainly was a day well spent. Meeting a new friend always makes it worthwhile, but also  otherwise it will be a memorable one.

Thank you Pascal! Thank you for the gifts, but more so for this time well spent.
And I sure do hope we will meet more often! You're always welcome at my place at any rate.