Tag Archives: Arctic Circle

Sound and Salmonella

Sunrise/sunset: 05:47/ 18:06. Daylength: 12hr 19mins

For the first time this winter I have seen ice in Gisundet, the sound that runs between the island of Senja and the mainland. I had wondered whether it would freeze in winter, but this year it hasn’t been cold enough. I could ask someone local, of course, but it’s not the kind of thing that has come up in conversation so far.

Rather than being a sign of impending freezing, this ice appears to be what I have discovered is called brash ice. Brash ice is an accumulation of floating ice made up of smallish fragments, not more than two meters across. It appeared after a long warm day, when the sun was up for twelve hours and the temperature reached five degrees. The heat must have broken up some of the areas of ice that had formed in the bays around the edges of the sound, where the water moves less. Later in the day there was also wind, which was moving the ice along. You can see the the ice in these photographs, some caught along the shoreline in the first picture, and in the second, the flow right along the middle as it passes under the bridge.

Moving back to the topic of work, I have always had a weird fascination with infectious diseases and outbreaks. I confess that last year, when the pandemic began, that I spent far too much time searching the internet for the latest news from Wuhan, then later watching the spread across the world. I had always wondered what it would feel like to live through a pandemic, and though this one has been way less deadly than bubonic plague or Spanish flu, I would now say that living through one is periodically terrifying, with long periods of boredom and frustration. If I survive this one (and I realise my chances are relatively good) then I will be happy if there isn’t another in my lifetime.

That said, my interest remains and I have been watching the news recently as there has been an outbreak of salmonella in Norway. As Mattilsynet is Norway’s food safety authority, it has been involved in trying to trace the source of the infection. When it is a localised outbreak, it is often easy to trace the source. If all the affected people ate at the same hotel or restaurant, or bought food from the same shop, then the situation is generally clear.

This outbreak however, seemed to be spread across Norway and some other countries in Europe. This was confirmed by serotyping the bacteria – assessing the outside surface to check for distinctive structures that allow us to separate them into different groups.

When an outbreak is so widespread, it can be difficult to work out what food it was that caused it. The assessment is made more difficult with a bacterial infection such as salmonella as the time from eating the food to the time when infection causes illness can vary from six hours to six days. Trying to find out what a very sick patient ate almost a week ago can be nigh on impossible, however there can be some indication from examining which groups of people were affected. For example in another recent outbreak, most of the patients were children and that one was eventually narrowed down to chicken nuggets. Earlier outbreaks in Norway have related to chocolate bars, salad and black pepper so you can’t even concentrate only on meat products.

In this case, the infection has been found to come from a batch of beef imported from Germany and processed as mince. Now follows a process of trying to track down any remaining packs. Though they will by now be out of date, a few people might have taken them home and frozen them. Freezing will not kill the bacteria, though thorough heating would. As with any other outbreak, Mattilsynet must now also try to assess whether its internal procedures can be improved from the information collected. We will never stop all outbreaks of illness, but it is part of our job to try to ensure they occur as rarely as possible.

I will end on a more cheery note. It was lovely and sunny this week and I walked down to the little harbour on the edge of Gisundet below where we live. The water was wonderfully still and clear, as was the light and so I took a few photographs. I hope you enjoy them.

The Log Cabin

Sunrise/sunset: 07:20/ 16:42. Daylength: 9hr 22mins

One of the things I liked about living in Scotland was the good condition of the major roads and its relatively small size. Sure, if you drove from Jedburgh to Dunnet Head, it took about six and a half hours, but living in central Scotland, as we did for a while, it was easy to explore other cities on weekend trips. When the children were young, we may have spent more time running around castles than city centres, but the point remains; it was easy to find budget hotels in all kinds of different places within a three to four hour drive.

On the first weekend we arrived in Norway, our friendly landlord invited us to his cabin. He had a beautiful house in Stavanger, but had kept his mother’s house on an island in Flekkefjord after she had died. Though Flekkefjord was no city, the idea seemed similar, if not better. This was the chance to escape to a different area, weekend life on an island with a boat and as many crabs as you could eat. We learned that it was common in Norway to have a second home. Sometimes they were inherited, but not always. It offered the chance to escape to the sea or the mountains. Not that those were particularly lacking in or near the cities I’ve visited in Norway, but the idea of travelling to somewhere distant and different resonated with me. Cheap hotels like Premier Inn or Travel Lodge, where you can comfortably fit a family of four in a room are definitely not a feature in Norway.

But as I lived in Norway longer, I began to find out that it was quite common to have a cabin much closer to home. People would have a weekend home only half an hour from where they lived. I confess this seemed bizarre to me. Surely the idea of a weekend break is to explore somewhere different? Perhaps eat out in a restaurant you haven’t tried before or go to a museum you haven’t visited two or three times already? But with time, I began to understand it better. Eating out in Norway is becoming more common, but it’s still an expensive treat and not a weekly event. Your cabin is somewhere you go to relax, probably enjoy the outdoors, and simply to have a change of scene. Unless you specifically want it near a ski resort or in a particular area, why not have it only half an hour’s drive from home? Better still, if you have it fully stocked with clothes, there isn’t even a need to pack.

For now, having my own cabin is only a dream, but with coronavirus still at the forefront of every travel opportunity, we decided that a weekend away would be a change of scene. Andrew was away, so John, Anna and I made our preparations. Rather than choosing a city to explore, with a long drive, we decided that comfort was key. What could be better than spending some time in a cosy cabin with a wood stove, Norwegian curios on the walls and sheepskin rugs on deep cushioned sofas?

And so last weekend, we drove about an hour from home to spend the weekend in a log cabin on a husky farm.

The husky enclosure

Our arrival at the farm was wonderful. We stopped the car and climbed out into the silence of a Norwegian winter in the middle of nowhere. There were snow filled fields all around and the log cabin with its warm yellow wooden walls looked just as inviting as it had in the pictures on the website.

We had brought Triar along and so we rushed round to the boot of the car to let him out of his travel cage. Though the sight of a car and humans had been greeted with silence, on Triar’s appearance, the huskies began to raise their voices. And what a wonderful sound it was, howling and yodelling, a wonderful crescendo rising in the crisp still air.

We felt even more at home as we explored inside. The range in the kitchen had been lit and it was wonderfully cosy. There were pans on the walls and a huge table. The range was complemented by a modern cooker, coffee machine, toaster and kettle. John and Anna were with me and I couldn’t resist starting to cook on the range. It reminded me of a friends farms back in Scotland, where the kitchen was the heart of the home. There was always a huge kettle on the Aga on the edge of boiling so family and guests alike could grab a hot drink at any time of the day or night.

There were loads of quirky features. As you can see, there is silver birch trunk holding up one of the beams in the kitchen. The little twisted staircase in the corner leads up to the living room where there is another wood stove and wonderful couches with animal themed cushions. Off that room there was a bedroom that Anna and I shared.

It truly was a wonderful place. It was minus ten outside and Espen, who runs the farm with his wife Delphine, had advised us to light the stove in the kitchen as soon as we rose each morning. The house was built upwards, so heat rose from the kitchen, up those rickety stairs to the living room and from there into a quirky loft bedroom under the rafters. Life somehow slows down when you have to feed a wood stove all day.

Our only trip was a visit to Bardufoss to buy John some warmer trousers. John and Anna humoured me as I stopped on the way back to take some photographs of a rural church with its snow-covered graveyard. You can see it was cold. The halo of light around the sun here, and in the pictures of the house, is formed by tiny ice crystals in the air.

It was good to have some time away. Easy in these winter months and lockdown times to stay at home more and more. Lovely though the view is from the windows of the apartment, it was great to have a change of scene. And perhaps in future, it might provide a wonderful backdrop for a new novel.

The weather changed over the weekend. The wind began to rise and the snow began to drift, but we stayed cosy and warm inside. As I lay in bed on Sunday morning, listening to the wind gusting against the thick wooden walls, I contemplated calling to see whether we could stay another night.

But I was due to work on Monday, and even if I didn’t have to put in an appearance in the office, it wouldn’t be possible to combine work with packing up and going home. And so reluctantly, I pulled myself out from under the covers and began to get ready to depart. But I hope to return in future. The farm runs dogsledding trips, traditional food in a Sami lavvo (similar to a wigwam) and tours to meet and make friends with the huskies. We will definitely be going back one day.

Dog in the Snow

Sunrise/sunset: 08:23/ 15:42. Daylength: 7hr 18min

I started the week in Bardufoss. John was here last weekend and I took him back on Monday night and stayed over until Wednesday. The temperature is much lower inland and it was -24°C when I parked the car.

You really find out how good your vehicle is in those conditions. After a few short journeys, my lovely BMW started to tell me that its battery was not very happy (it’s a very chatty car and likes to forewarn me before things get out of hand – though sometimes I wish it wasn’t quite so fussy about seatbelts when I want to shuffle the car on the driveway). A quick check on the internet told me there was probably no real problem, but for the last twenty four hours of my stay, I was worried that I might not make it back without complications. When I returned home (where it was a balmy -4°C) the warning light was still on, so I decided to get it checked out. It was snowing hard and the weather forecast was warning me that it wasn’t going to stop any time soon. The garage Hilde recommended was busy, but they kindly arranged for me to go to the petrol station next door. After a quick trip home to remove the dog cage from the boot (because that’s where the battery is apparently) the mechanic very kindly checked that the battery was indeed fully functional and then waved me on my way without charging anything. He’s definitely gained a new client!

When I’m not in the abattoir, I’m still working from home and for now, I’m concentrating hard on trying to qualify as the Norwegian equivalent of an Official Veterinary Surgeon. This will allow me to work in the abattoir without another (already qualified) vet. The course really does cover a lot of material, mostly to do with welfare, but some of it is very technical. On Friday I found myself learning about stunning chickens with electricity, which actually isn’t a method used here in Norway. Nonetheless, I found myself back at school learning all about Ohm’s Law, current, resistance and voltage, only this time it was all in Norwegian. Life here does sometimes throw up unexpected challenges!

I was, as you can imagine, quite relieved to arrive home safely on Wednesday and I decided that having got there, going back out again should be kept to a minimum. Here’s a summary of the weather forecast from Thursday lunchtime.

By Thursday morning, it looked like this.

It soon clouded over again though. Wave after wave of snow has passed. They come in from the North, slipping in over Gisundet, the sound between the mainland and Senja.

There has been quite some digging of the driveway to be done, though happily my landlord keeps popping over with his snow blower to remove some of it. It’s getting harder to dig out though as the snow at the sides gets higher.

Though of course my driveway has nothing on the public car parks down in the town itself. For reference, the zebra-crossing sign is a good deal taller than me.

But one of the best things about the snow is watching Triar playing. He loves going outside and flolloping through the deep snow, burying his face and emerging cheerfully covered. He will happily play outside for ages and doesn’t seem to feel the cold.

And of course, after all that play, it’s time for Triar to go to bed. Sleep well Triar!

Not Going Out

Sunrise/sunset: 10:07/ 13:53. Daylength: 3hr 45min

Another week working from home. It was only to be expected as the coronavirus figures, though steady, hadn’t begun to drop. The Norwegian government announcement was made on Monday, but they have promised to review it again next week. Numbers are now falling, so I’m hoping that next week I will be able to join some of my colleagues in the office.

That said, working from home has its advantages. The drive to work is shorter and the coffee is better. Aside from that, for the past two days, Storm Frank has been battering the Norway coast and going out hasn’t been so appealing. Luckily our apartment was protected from the worst of the wind by the steep slope that rises up behind it, but minus ten gusting up to sixty miles an hour is really quite chilly!

The company at home is furrier, though the conversation is less varied. Triar looks wistfully out of the window as Frank’s chilly blast keeps us sitting inside for another day.

There is now ice on everything. There is ice on this football field on Senja.

Ice on the pitch. Football… or curling?

There is ice in the ditches and escaping from rocks.

Frozen waterfall.

Even the snow is covered in ice. It cracks as you step on it, the deep sound echoing through the air trapped in the underlying snow: very satisfying to jump into!

All this is treacherous of course, but going out is still sometimes necessary. As well as boots with spikes on the soles, we have a bucket of stones in the porch that we strew on the driveway. These are not like the mealy, red grit-mixed-with-salt that they use in the south. These are serious stones and at minus ten, salt has no benefits. With excellent foreplanning, Anna and I covered the driveway when there was something of a melt last week and now they are well embedded in the minus ten ice.

I had my five month assessment at work this week. It went well. In spite of coronavirus, Hilde is satisfied that I am picking things up quickly enough and working well. My ongoing aims are to start to take the lead when I go out on visits with colleagues and to put forward my opinions more in meetings. I am definitely guilty of not speaking up in meetings. This quotation from verse 27 of an old Norse poem, Hávamál, the Sayings of the High One is pertinent here:

Ósnotr maðr
er með aldir kømr
þat er bazt at hann þegi
engi þat veit
at hann ekki kann
name hann mæli til mart
veita maðr
hinn er vætki veit
þótt hann mæli til mart

Translation by Olive Bray

For the unwise man
who comes among men,
it is best that be he silent.
None know
that he knows nothing,
unless he should speak too much. *
The man does not know it,
he who knows nothing,
whether he speaks too much.

Not that I am especially unwise, of course, but until I have a full understanding of what is going on, I always tend to listen more than speak. Silence among crowds comes naturally to me. But given that a few days back, I heard in a meeting that Anja would be conducting the visits to hens and chickens, and rather than speaking up at the time to say I was interested in chickens, I stayed silent and e-mailed her afterwards to ask if I could accompany her, there are definitely some changes I can make that shouldn’t be too difficult.

And I will leave you with two more pictures I took in the tail end of the storm (the first being at the top of this post). Removing my gloves to take them was painful, but definitely worth it.

Uneasy water in the fjord as back-lit clouds race across the sky.
The bridge to Senja.

New Day Dawning

Sunrise/sunset: 10:53/ 13:03. Daylength: 2hr 10min

This week has seen the return of the sun. I had hoped to take a photograph, but with the surrounding mountains and varying cloud cover, I haven’t actually seen it. The increasing daylight is cheering though. Anna and I made the most of the light that we had last weekend, taking Triar out for some wonderful walks on Senja.

This was also the second week of working from home. While there are some advantages to it, there are also frustrations. A large part of my job will be carrying out visits to farms and animal holdings, but for now all non-essential trips are cancelled. The best way for me to learn a new job is getting out there and doing it. I have a jigsaw puzzle brain. Individual facts or pieces have little meaning and are hard to remember. Understand how they fit together and I can build a comprehensive picture. Much easier to remember laws when I can apply them to cases, rather than trying to learn about them in isolation.

That said, I have spent each day this week reading around a different topic. The animal health day was probably the most interesting. I looked through the visits and checks we have been set for this year as part of the OK program and read around the different topics. As regular readers will know, the OK program is set up by Mattilsynet to monitor animal health and food safety in Norway and on my trawl through this years tasks, I discovered we have a few visits scheduled to herds of camelids (llama and alpacas) to check for mite infestations. I have never been to a llama farm before, so that is something to look forward to.

I will leave you with some aurora borealis pictures. We drove to Bardufoss on Monday evening to drop John off for work and on the way, we noticed that the sky was streaked with green. We pulled off the road and for the first time watched the northern lights from a place where there was very little light pollution. It was a show worth watching and we stood for a long time in the darkness, faces lifted to the sky, oblivious to the snow underfoot and the chill in the air.

Ann’s Place

Sunrise/sunset: Down all day.

Anna came home last week. In line with Norwegian quarantine rules, she has been avoiding areas where she would come into contact with people. She could however, go for walks, so on Wednesday I took a day off and she, Triar and I headed out to Ånderdalen National Park.

It has been overcast for most of the week and under the polar skies, the light is grey-blue, but has a rare clarity that I love. With the snow, it looks very different from my last trip, when everything was green. I was fascinated, as before, by the ghost trees – dead but still holding strong on the sturdy roots that have seen them through many arctic winters. These two trees, entwined in death, but giving protection to a few smaller fir trees growing in their shelter were perhaps the most beautiful.

Of course I was busy with my camera throughout.

Yesterday was another of those amazing work days that lift an enjoyable job into something even more special. Way back in September, if you’re a regular reader, you might recall the Finnsnes staff taking a trip out to cook hot dogs at Sørreisa. Back then, the season (the busiest time of year at the abattoir) was just getting started and between then and now, the Mattilsynet staff there have been working every day. But now, with the season past and Christmas fast approaching, there are days when there are no animals coming in and the line is still and silent.

Ann had invited me last week on a day out. I felt quite honoured. Most of the staff who would be hiking together have been working exclusively in the abattoir and for the past couple of weeks I have barely been there. In some ways it’s a rather sad time. While Ann is a permanent member of staff, Konstantin and Vaidotas came for the season and both of them are heading home for Christmas. Vaidotas is going first – driving home all the way to Lithuania this weekend. Konstantin will be there on Monday, but I will only see him for a short time as I will mostly be working at Hjerttind on my long delayed training day in the reindeer abattoir. He will be heading back to Latvia early next week. I feel that both of them have become friends. There’s no doubt I will miss them very much.

Anyway, back to yesterday. Ann and her boyfriend have begun an amazing project to build a smallholding where they will raise Norsk Villsau – an ancient breed of small but hardy Norwegian sheep – all wild eyes, wool and horns. They have bought a plot out in the wilds and the plan was to go out and have a hike around her land.

It truly was a beautiful place, though at the moment it’s too cold to do much work there. We tramped through fluffy snow down to the river, then headed back up to where they are going to build their house. The picture at the top of the page shows Ann in the centre as she explains where the rooms in their new house will be.

Trude, Ann, Vaidotas
Konstantin kindly modelled one of Ann’s all-terrain vehicles

And after that, we lit a fire and had warm drinks to heat ourselves up before we drove back to the office to eat together one last time.

A Road Trip… and a Walk

Sunrise/sunset: Down all day.

A lot to get through this week, but come with me first on a road trip. Thomas and I took off into the darkness on Tuesday morning on a three day mission. With coronavirus, the Mattilsynet team that covers Troms and Svalbard was a little behind on one of the annual campaigns that had been set at the end of last year. The plan was to roll up unannounced at a number of farms to check whether the animals had their full complement of ear tags . In Norway, farm animals are closely tracked from the time they are born until the time they die. All of them should have two tags, one in each ear, and that was what we were going to check.

Being efficient, Thomas had added other parameters onto the list. If we were lucky enough to find some sheep or goat farmers in, we were to check whether the farmer knew the symptoms of scrapie (a disease like BSE that causes neurological problems) and what systems they used to monitor the movements of animals on and off the farm.

It’s a bit of a hit and miss affair rocking up at farms unannounced. Farming is a job with irregular hours and it’s common here, where farms tend to be much smaller than those in the UK, for farmers to have other jobs in addition to their animals. Nonetheless, by the end of a fairly long day, we had managed to get round two herds of cattle and three flocks of sheep. I hadn’t reckoned on it being quite so exhausting. When I worked in the UK, we travelled round farms pulling on the same pair of waterproof trousers and wellington boots at each place. A quick wash at the end and good to go. Here, before entering each barn or byre, we have to enter what’s called the sluse, step over a bench or line of some sort in your stockinged feet, then pull on a papery jumpsuit, big white boot covers and a face mask. For all those who wear glasses and have worn a mask in cold weather, you will appreciate how hard it is to check anything once your glasses are well and truly steamed up. What with that and the freezing air and rough snowy roads, I was very tired by the time we arrived at the hotel where we were to meet Birgit who had been on a similar expedition of her own.

It may have been the best shower I’ve ever had. By the end of it, I could feel my toes again and the aroma of animals had been washed out of my hair. Birgit had retired early, so it was just Thomas and I that met in the hotel restaurant for dinner. After that, we retired as well, having arranged to meet for breakfast to plan the next day’s manoeuvres.

We set out in darkness again on day two. When the light did come it was lacklustre and overcast with the kind of distant, undefined sky that often heralds snow. Though the countryside was beautiful, it was close to monochrome with only the occasional splash of colour of the traditional red-painted barns.

One of the farms we visited was very impressive. As well as some 250 well-kept Norwegian white sheep, there was a brand new barn where they are building a glassed in warm room with leather armchairs for watching the sheep overnight at lambing. You can see the window of it here on the right of the picture.

I had been intrigued on the drive north to see a layby that was designed for lorry drivers to stop and put chains on their lorries, but I was even more fascinated to see that even tractors need them here.

Back at the hotel, more of Mattilsynet’s staff were arriving. There was a departmental meeting in the morning where the work would be planned for next year, but tonight the plan was to enjoy some food together.

Everyone was very cheery as we sat down and enjoyed a fairly traditional Norwegian Christmas feast: two different kinds of fish pate, a selection of meats including ribbe (a cut of pork from the flank) pinnekjøtt (salted lamb cutlets and ribs) mutton sausage and various vegetable accompaniments, then rice pudding with raspberry sauce.

Social distancing with Anya, Astrid, Ann, Birgit, Ammar and Thomas

It was great to meet up with other staff from the offices in Tromsø and Storslett and I returned after all the visits and the meetings feeling I had a better understanding of how everything works.

And to finish off, let me invite you for a walk on Senja with John, Triar and me. Imagine the still, frosty air and the crunch of snow underfoot. The sky in one direction is a cool duck-egg blue. The other way there’s a wonderful sunrise that melts into sunset without the sun ever making it over the horizon. There is hoar frost on the trees and animal and bird tracks in the snow. And after that, I’ll let the photos speak for themselves.

Depth

Sunrise/sunset: 10:00/ 13:06. Daylength: 3hr 5min

Less that ten days now until the Polar Night (or Mørketid as it’s called here) arrives and the snow has properly arrived. Hilde said on Monday that it looked like the early part of the week would end the mild spell we’d been having (all relative, obviously – it was around 7°C) and the winter would start in earnest and my neighbour said something similar this morning. He has very kindly cleared my driveway twice in the past two days, using his snow-blower. I’ve also cleared it using the more traditional scraper method… which will tell you just how much snow there has been. “Ah yes,” he said when I met him as I took Triar out for a morning walk, “It’s no longer a case of whether there’s snow, but how many metres.” I gulped a little, but smiled and thanked him for his help. He also advised me not to leave my car right at the top of the driveway as it might get damaged by chunks of ice when the road clearers come through at night. So my cunning plan for not having to clear the entire driveway has already gone out of the window.

Driving over to Bardufoss has been interesting too, over the past couple of days. Though the roads are regularly cleared, they don’t seem to use any grit. Perhaps when it’s properly cold, it doesn’t make much difference, but right now the road is treacherous. As I drove past the flashing light on the snow-obliterated “Elk crossing – great danger” sign, I could see the light reflecting off the ice that was lurking underneath the tiny swirling snowflakes. Like the southern wuss I am, I didn’t get much over 70km per hour (about 45mph). The locals, however, confident in their spiked winter tyres, were whizzing past me at the normal speed limit of 80.

Though I’ve bought lots of things, including two ice-scrapers (one with a long handle and one attached to a mitten) I realised this week that I was going to have to invest in one of these:

As well as scraping off ice, there’s a brush for taking off the fluffier snow on top. I am very pleased as well, with my purchase of a pair of leather driving gloves with a soft, knitted lining. When your steering wheel is minus ten, it does take a while to heat up.

While we’re on the topic of excellent purchases, I must quickly give a shout out to the rather wonderful Vinmonopolet here in Finnsnes. Though beer and lower alcohol drinks can be bought in the supermarket, anything stronger than 4.7% has to be bought from the state-owned Vinmonopolet shop. Last year I tried to get chocolate Baileys and was disappointed to find they had none in my local store, but this morning, I thought I’d see what they had here. To my delight, I managed not only to buy the original, but also Salted Caramel and Strawberries and Cream varieties. So it looks like, whatever else befalls us, I am now officially ready for Christmas!

Of course it wouldn’t be complete if I didn’t spam you with some snow photos. First up is the view from the garden this morning. When I take a cup of coffee out with the dog first thing before work, it’s very much still dark, but as it’s the weekend, I could wait until the sun was up.

And from a walk with Triar last night, when I felt as if I was strolling through Narnia. It doesn’t get much more magical than that.

Ghost Trees

Sunrise/sunset: 08:41/ 14:21. Daylength: 5hr 40min

It’s been an eventful week. As Donald Trump and Joe Biden totter towards a final result in the US presidential election, coronavirus is surging worldwide. On a more personal level, the abattoir season has ended (hooray!) and I had my 2-3 month review.

The review went well. I knew I had done all the online coursework I had been set, but there were one or two tasks I hadn’t really had a chance to get my teeth into. One of my tasks is to find out what my colleagues do. Some of them are involved with aquaculture, others with quality control of drinking water and those in my own small section are involved with animal health and welfare. But with many of us working at the slaughterhouse, there has been limited time for other tasks.

Before my review, therefore, I had a quick look at what my colleagues were up to. Øivind (who works with drinking water) had a trip next Thursday to Husøy, and so I decided I would ask Hilde whether it might be a suitable trip for me. I was unsure where Husøy was. Øy means island and I know that there are some far flung places in our region. If it involved an overnight trip, it was unlikely I could join at this late stage. But Husøy, I discovered, is a small island off the coast of Senja. No ferries required – there’s a bridge across. Hilde told me that Husøy had been the subject of a Norwegian documentary, “Da Damene Dro” back in 2008. All the women on the island were taken off for a ten day holiday in the sun, while the menfolk were left to fend for themselves and their children.

This seemed like the kind of social experiment I could get behind, so a taking a trip there would be fascinating… but it wasn’t to be. When I caught up with Øivind at lunch time, he told me that the trip had been cancelled. With the surge in coronavirus cases, nobody wanted to take any chances and the trip was not urgent.

I left after lunch as Charlie had texted me to let me know he was arriving soon. Charlie is John, Anna and Andrew’s dad and he is here for the weekend. He came up to watch Andrew in a school concert. Andrew has been learning the piano and the music group had put together some songs, which were to be performed in a local café. But that too was disrupted by coronavirus. The venue changed from the café to the school and then the message came through that it would be broadcast online. So Charlie flew all the way up here from Stavanger to sit in the living room and watch the concert on TV. There were advantages though. Charlie and I were going to support Andrew, but with the change in the agenda, both Anna and my parents were able to watch from the UK and Wytske, a friend from the Netherlands also joined us.

The weather this week has been stormy, but despite the forecast, Charlie, Triar and I took a walk this morning in Ånderdalen National Park. It was a wonderful place to explore. There is a trail up into the park which has been made suitable for wheelchairs and pushchairs, and beyond that, the tracks are well marked, so even if the weather had taken a turn for the worse, it would have been possible to get back safely.

The park is stunning, even at this time of year, when everything is lowering into winter. Fir trees dominate the landscape and in the distance, snow covered mountain peaks, but the trees are sparse, the landscape shaped by the long winters. There are many dead trees amongst the living, their trunks and branches still rooted deep against the winter winds. The weather was changeable, one moment bright and clear, the next darkening as snow or hail began to descend.

I love trees and found myself as fascinated with these beautiful ghost trees as I am with the living trees that stood alongside them. Lichen caught my eye, and wonderful shapes on the trunks of the bigger trees.

And so, tired and damp we returned home. It was Charlie’s birthday yesterday and there was leftover carrot cake to go with our coffee. And now, I’m going to sit back and enjoy the rest of the day. I’ve taken Monday and Tuesday off and I am looking forward to going back to work fully refreshed.

Many happy returns Charlie.

Dreaming of a White … Halloween!

Sunrise/sunset: 08:07/ 14:54. Daylength: 6hr 47min

The days are getting very short now and in only one month, the sun will go down for the last time on 2020. It won’t come over the horizon again until almost the middle of January.

Monday started well with another elk sighting. This time, since the snow hadn’t yet arrived, I pulled in quickly and managed to take a photograph, though it’s not the clearest. Difficult to capture a moving target in the pre-dawn twilight.

In other news, the snow arrived properly on Thursday. For the past two days, I’ve had to factor in scraping it from the car before I set off in the morning, though so far I haven’t had to clear the driveway. . Even in those two days, I feel I’ve learned a lot. For example, it’s clear that you should never rent or buy a house in the Arctic Circle that doesn’t have a garage. Equally, if you apply for a job where you are expected to use cars daily from a car pool… make sure you don’t choose a workplace without some kind of covered parking. I expect I will get very efficient shortly, doing it at least twice a day. More if it snows while I’m at work!

Today has been rather lovely. Andrew and I set out this afternoon to go to Silsand on Senja Island. We go there some evenings and there’s a pleasant enough walk up to a lake, but to our surprise, the car park, which is usually empty, was full. Rather ominously, there was a sign up which said “Testing Senter”.

Recalling that I had read somewhere that a specialised centre for COVID was being set up in Silsand, we beat a hasty retreat, then drove north for a short way. A sign directed us towards “Woodland Lodge” and we drove down a little track, which to my delight led to a tiny pavilion and a stretch of woodland.

Andrew found some animal tracks. At first I assumed they were a dog’s, but if they were, it had gone for a walk alone. So we began to follow them. When we got down to the waterline, we found the lovely little jetty pictured at the top of the page. And though we never found the Halloween wolf… or whatever it was, all three of us very much enjoyed roaming around in the snow.