Tag Archives: Norway

Boxes

Sunrise/sunset: 05:12/ 20:29. Daylength: 15hr 17mins

Anyone else love hotels? For me there are few things more pleasurable than travelling somewhere and checking in to a hotel with a comfortable bed with clean white sheets. Better still is waking up in the morning to a lovely breakfast someone else has cooked. I will add that if you have spent a long day working out on farms in cold weather, then stepping under a powerful shower with sweet-scented soap to wash away the chill and the farmyard smells is blissful.

The only imperfection for me, was that I had forgotten to take my book. I am trying to cut down my internet time and take up reading again. There is something about escaping into the world of a book that can never be simulated by online conversation.

Things are, of course, slightly odd at the moment. I spent Thursday night at Vollan Gjestestua (pictured above) with five colleagues from the DyreGo Team, which covers animal health and welfare. Business travel in Norway is limited at the moment, but there is a certain amount of work we have to carry out over the course of the year. The area we cover between us is too large to do it easily and then drive home afterwards. In addition, lockdown and working from home is increasingly wearing, so although we had to all sit at separate tables in the restaurant and communicate by lip reading and sign language, it was good for my mental health to see my working colleagues in the flesh and not just on a screen. Yesterday we had a similarly distanced meeting.

Birgit, Thomas and Anja. Astrid was to my left and I couldn’t fit her into the photo – socially distanced pictures are hard to take!

I read a blog entry earlier in the week by Iceland Penny. It draws attention to some of the contradictions in life, things she came across that held both good and bad/beauty and ugliness. Both/And by Iceland Penny. I was reminded of the post by a discussion in the meeting we had about technology.

I have come to Mattilsynet at a time of upheaval. Some of it is driven by the drive to use less paper and more technology, but the process has been speeded up by coronavirus. If you hand over a pen and paper for a signature, you increase the risk of infection.

When we carry out a visit, whatever the reason for it, we summarise our observations on a Tilsynskvittering. This is an outline of the visit and what was checked, split into different sections related to Norwegian law, stating whether the things we saw fulfilled the legal requirements. This receipt, until very recently, was written on paper, which you then photographed before handing it over to the owner. But since December, we have moved over to using an App.

Astrid pointed out that the new technology could be rendered useless if, for example, you were in an area with no phone signal. I would add that with the small screen on a mobile phone, it is hard to do a lot of typing. In theory you could take along your laptop and connect it to the phone, but then you are still reliant on being connected and anyway, there comes a point when you have to remember to take so many things that the entire process becomes unwieldy. “There’s a lot to be said,” she commented, “for pencil and paper.”

I guess this might be partly influenced by age. I mentioned escaping into a book upthread, and said I never managed to escape into another world online, but I know there are immersive games where my children manage to do just that. But most of the DyreGo team, like me are upwards of fifty.

While I can see that all this new technology has benefits, I also see that it’s challenging when change is brought in so fast. There was an older farmer we visited last year who had been asked to make a number of improvements and Thomas had asked him to send photos once he had done so. Having not received any, Thomas arranged a revisit, assuming the work had not been carried out. When we arrived, Thomas was delighted to find out that it had. When he asked the elderly farmer why he hadn’t sent the proof along, the farmer told us he didn’t have a phone with a camera. I think when we are so connected ourselves, sometimes it’s easy to forget that others are not.

Personally I am on the fence. There is increasing connectedness that I feel ought make us more free, but instead sometimes ties us down. In the meeting, I found myself thinking about the issue of traceability in farming and food production. When an outbreak of food-borne illness breaks out, it’s an advantage that we can find out more easily where it came from. But there is an enormous amount of work in ensuring all the information is put into the system within a very short timeframe. To me that seems like a lot of pressure on farmers who grew up in a time when most of the connections were with family, local farmers and the vet, and the only technology was your machinery and the weather forecast on the radio.

There are periods when I find myself hankering after pre-internet, pre-mobile phone times. It was way easier to go “off-grid”. Anyone else remember those announcements on the wireless (BBC Radio 4) appealing to people on holiday to get in touch as their relative was seriously ill?

I worked in large animal practice, and once you were out on your calls, there was a kind of freedom, though of course that could be inconvenient if you went all the way back and then found there was another visit in the same direction. I think there was less pressure in practice to be right all the time and to know everything. You built up knowledge through experience, through speaking to colleagues, through reading books that were probably already out of date as they had been sitting on the shelf in the practice for several years.

Nowadays, if you know where to look online, there are answers to be found and groups you can join. Anaesthetists discuss the intricacies of different protocols, breed and species differences and how to achieve perfect pain relief. There’s good and bad in that. Better specialisation, increased cost. Some things are lost as well, in this new world. A safe path can be equally well achieved with long familiarity with drugs and techniques, built up over a lifetime of experience. Sometimes I feel everything is now moving too fast.

That said, I can’t put aside the positives. I wrote six books while living in Norway with a co-author in Somerset for a company based in London. Victoria Holmes and I batted ideas across the ether in e-mails in a way that allowed thinking time without excessive delays. We couldn’t have done that over a traditional telephone line or in letters. I am also connected to friends I went to school with and teachers who would otherwise only be a pleasant memory (hello Mr Gorski!). I would never have heard from them again without it.

Even so, despite the positives, I find myself wishing that we could insert a grandfather clause into modern life. A grandfather clause, for those who don’t know, is an exemption from following new laws if doing so would be too costly or difficult. The most obvious example would be with building regulations that require new business premises to follow certain rules with regards to toilet provision, but don’t require that older buildings are brought up to the same standard.

I can’t help feeling that if staff who have worked adequately for years with a pen and paper are retiring within the next ten years or so, they could be allowed to continue without it doing a great deal of harm. It would save them a lot of grief. There is an aspiration that wherever you are in Norway and whatever your business, Mattilsynet will assess and deal with your case in the same way. I can see the value in that when it comes to assessing whether legal requirements are fulfilled.

But whether the report is sent online or on paper? When it really comes down to it, that doesn’t make a whole lot of difference, in the grand scheme of things.

Big Red Barn

Sunrise/sunset: 06:18/ 17:38. Daylength: 11hr 20mins

If you were raised in the United Kingdom, as I was, you might occasionally have found yourself wondering why all the barns in picture books and on those alphabet pictures on the wall of your classroom were painted red. Barns in the UK tend to fall into two types. Traditional farmhouses often have a yard surrounded by byres or a steading where the animals were kept before farming was industrialised. They are often constructed of brick or stone, depending on the area.

Those traditional buildings are often now used for stock which require a lot of close attention, for example calves that need to be fed twice a day, cows that are about to calve, or which have recently done so, and animals which are sick.

The newer barns, which have been built to house the main herd or flock, tend to be huge affairs, built high, with solid walls at the base to reduce draughts and open spaces or slats higher up to allow good air circulation. Red paint doesn’t feature in either the old or the new.

I had concluded, when I thought about it, that the red barn picture-book phenomenon was probably a US import. But why were so many barns painted red? They certainly look attractive, but how did the tradition begin?

When I moved to Norway, one of the very obvious differences from the UK was the way houses are built. Here, most houses are made of wood. Nowadays, they are painted many different colours, but in contrast with that, most barns are painted red. One of my neighbours in south-west Norway explained to me that traditionally houses had also been painted mostly in two different colours: red and white.

A white house was a sign of wealth. White paint was more expensive, red was cheaper, both because the paint was less expensive and also because it was less obvious if it became dirty or discoloured. Quite often, the houses of well-to-do farmers would be painted white, but the barn continued to be decorated with the cheaper red paint.

And so it seems likely that the reason barns in the United States are red is because the tradition (and the methods of making paint or stains) were taken over from Scandinavia. Presumably red barns in children’s picture books will remain that way, even if the tradition stops. They are, after all, much more distinctive and picturesque than modern barns in the UK.

Anyway, I have been meaning for a while to get photographs of some of the barns I see as I am driving around as I work and yesterday I took the afternoon off to do it. They are a very distinctive part of the landscape. Some of them are old, some look newer. Unlike most British barns, they are built on different levels and as you will see, many have a kind of bridge through which you can enter the upper levels. Building to fit the steep, mountainous landscape is definitely a feature.

I have been saddened to find that quite a number of these barns are no longer in use. I hope that they will not gradually disappear, although I confess I have seen a few which are falling down and in a state of decay, they still hold onto their romance and beauty. I didn’t get any photographs yesterday of those, but hopefully at some point, I will.

Anna was with me on my trip and she couldn’t resist taking a snap of this buried van with its tiny house and the wonderful backdrop.

And though today it is snowing again, this was the sunset behind the gathering clouds as we drove home from our trip yesterday. The mountains of Senja taken from Sørreisa.

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.

Sunlight

Sunrise/sunset: 08:56/ 15:09. Daylength: 6hr 12min

It’s getting lighter very fast now. We have an hour more daylight today than we had last Saturday. We took Triar for a run on the beach last week, and these pictures were taken at around four in the afternoon.

We finally have some snow. It’s been falling on and off throughout the week and it makes the world seem much brighter as well. Back in Scotland, growing up, it generally snowed a couple of times each winter. It was usually around zero when it happened and often the flakes were huge. They landed on the ground and stayed there.

Snow at minus ten is quite different. I have occasionally seen bigger flakes, but they’re mostly much smaller. If there’s any wind at all, it carries them effortlessly. Sometimes they move so fast horizontally that I wonder if they’ll ever hit the ground. Driving at night, the snow skitters and dances across the road in the headlights. When lorries pass, they create clouds of it that seem to go on for miles. Of course, if there’s a lot of snow and some wind, you can get dangerous drifts, but so far it isn’t deep and nor is it windy. It has, though, covered over all that ice, and to enough depth that it is no longer treacherously slippery.

There is, as yet, no obvious heat in the sun. It finally made it over the hill to hit the house on Tuesday. Odd how heartening it was to see it, though it was gone a moment later.

It was rather misty as well that day. I was fascinated to see the bridge to Senja had become a bridge to nowhere. I took two pictures. The first is at the top of the page, when the sun was turning the fog a wonderful pink colour. Moments later, the sun was diminished as the cloud thickened, and then it stopped looking warm and colourful, but was beautiful nonetheless.

And now it’s Saturday morning and John is home for the weekend and wants to take Triar out. It’s half past nine and already light, so who am I to say no! I will leave you with a picture of the cloudberry liqueur I picked up yesterday at the Vinmonopol. We tried it last night and it tastes of honey and late summer warmth. Cheers!

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.

Icy New Year

Sunrise/sunset: Down all day.

We had a quiet start to 2021. Anna and Andrew flew off very early on the morning of the 31st to visit Charlie, so John and I saw in the new year with Triar and the guinea pigs. New year in Norway is celebrated with fireworks, so as midnight approached, John and I donned our hats and gloves and took our celebration outside. There was a satisfying throwback to summer and our trip to the north. We bought a folding gas ring back then: one of those neat purchases that are small enough to throw in the car. Now we found a new use for it as a table-top cooker to heat our gløg.

The fireworks over Senja were spectacular. Ten minutes of intense light and sound punctuating the winter darkness.

Other than the fireworks, the last week has been quiet. Though there is still no snow, there is plenty of ice. Though it has been above zero quite frequently, the pond in the middle of Finnsnes is frozen enough for the local children to use it as a skating rink.

Unfortunately, the same thing is true of some of our usual walks.

And so there has been a tendency to huddle indoors. I hope the snow returns soon. When it is so dark outside, having snow on the ground makes everything much brighter.

I will leave you with a couple of pictures of the moon over Senja. Though I haven’t been out much, my life is still filled with beauty.

Happy New Year to you all!

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.

Out and About

Sunrise/sunset: 09:12/ 13:51. Daylength: 4hr 38min

I’m sitting in my living room at three in the afternoon and it’s already dark outside, save for the streetlights on the bridge and along the shoreline across the water. The days are fast fading, but for now I am making the most of what daylight there is. It was wonderful to have a couple of days off at the beginning of the week and Charlie and I continued our exploration of local beaches and of Senja, the island that lies over the bridge from Finnsnes. The snow is coming and going, as you will see from the photos. Lots to see this week!

These photographs were taken on Sunday. This is one of our more regular haunts, though once the snow begins to lie, the track will become a ski-track. We won’t be able to walk along it until spring comes.

By Monday the snow was gone, and on Monday and Tuesday, we took Triar to different beaches, the first at Sørreisa (the site where you can light fires under shelter that I have written about before) and the next day on Senja near Vangsvik.

There were more fir trees as we walked down to the tiny beach at the southern end of Senja and it struck me that, twisted and stunted as they are, they remind me of bonsai trees. Not that they are anywhere near so small, but their growth is surely limited by the shallowness of the soil and the long, long winters.

I returned to work on Wednesday and was delighted to be invited out on a farm visit. Both Ammar and Thomas had compiled lists of possible farms to collect samples for the OK Program. The OK Program is an official project, carried out annually, where various samples are taken from different animals or herds to check for contamination. This can be in the form of heavy metals, which can be present in the soil in certain areas, antibiotics which might have entered the food chain, radioactivity, or infections such as MRSA or salmonella. Some of the materials are collected at the slaughterhouse, but we were looking for urine and milk samples. In the end, we visited four farms. One had no milk because the tanker had already collected it (and a herd sample was needed, rather than one from a single animal) and on another, there was no farmer to be found. But the other two were more productive. One had milk in the tank still. The other was the best for me. We had to collect a urine sample, and for that, we had to go and stand behind a row of cows in a byre and wait until one of the cows obliged. They were lovely cows – a little herd of Aberdeen Angus cattle that would have been equally at home in Scotland. They looked healthy and well fed and the farmer very generously let me take a couple of photos (including the sweet little cat at the top of the page).

And so I carried out my first farm visit in the north of Norway. Here’s hoping there will be many, many more!

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.