Time is going by, and the harvest season is almost upon us, here in the far north. Not that there are many crops, but there are berries and fungi now on the forest floors and already there are hints of yellow and red on some of the trees. As you can see at the top of the page, there are flowers in the garden of the apartment we’ve been living in for two years now. I am going to miss the view, even though I can’t wait to move into our own house. It already feels more of a home than the apartment ever has. Today or tomorrow, my bedroom will be fully decorated and I can start to move my clothes into the cupboard and drawers, though my new bed still hasn’t arrived. The boys and I are going to camp out in the new house tonight though. I want Triar to get used to the idea as Andrew will be back at school next week, so when we do move in Triar will be home alone after only a couple of days.
The main harvest here isn’t wheat. Coming from the UK, harvest still brings to mind combine harvesters ploughing through fields of golden cereal crops, but I don’t think I’ve seen a field for growing any kind of vegetable or corn up here, other than grass for silage. The local autumn crop is seasonal lamb. Odd as it seems, I am looking forward to what is referred to at the abattoir as “sesongen” – the season.
For most of the year, the abattoir is fairly quiet. It’s only open three days a week and there are only two or three staff in the Mattilsynet office on any given day. In the season, staff are drafted in to work on the line, many of them from traditionally Eastern European countries. Mattilsynet fields seven people on any given day, and the whole place comes fully alive.
When I moved here first, I was thrown into the season and mostly on the sheep and goat line and I quickly grew to enjoy it. It’s the only time when two Mattilsynet staff work on the line in tandem. I was on the line alone this week (the line speed is much slower until all the extra staff arrive) and was thinking that shortly I will be standing instead with Vaidotas (who has worked the season for the past two years) and Ernestas (who is coming back after a couple of years off). I haven’t met Ernestas yet, but I’m looking forward to it. He keeps popping up on my Facebook page as someone who knows a lot of people I do, so hopefully I will be able to add him shortly. Working with Vaidotas has always been a pleasure. Soon we will be competing to see who can open the door for the other first and he will be picking up things I’ve missed and correcting them with quiet gravitas, while still treating me as if I’ve never put a foot wrong in my life.
I haven’t had the results of my MRI back yet. When I lived in the UK, there were generally good systems in place for doctors to follow up test results, but here it’s much less reliable. I hope they would contact me if they’d found anything serious, but the lack of contact doesn’t absolutely rule anything in or out. I’ve been mostly feeling quite good recently and it crosses my mind often that they may not find anything. Hopefully, by next week there will be an update. In the meantime, I should probably go and pack more boxes. Soon we will have to be out of the flat, beds or no beds, and everything will have to be spotlessly clean. It’s going to be a busy time. Have a pleasant week, all of you.
Time seems to be rushing by again. Last year, when everything was new, it seemed to move a little more slowly, but I feel I am beginning to feel the rhythm of the place and the seasons, if not yet well, at least with a degree of awareness. We are losing an hour of light each week now. At the end of next month, the Polar Night will be with us again. In the meantime, the progression through autumn continues to be so beautiful that I find myself sighing out loud at just how wonderful it is.
My work is seasonal, as all who work (or have worked) with large animals will understand. This years lambs are being brought in to the abattoir and then their meat is beginning to appear in the shops. That sounds very blunt, I guess, but on some level it feels right that I witness the whole cycle. I have seen a few people on social media express the opinion that all who work in abattoirs (and indeed farming) must be sadistic or macabre, but that isn’t my experience at all. Most of the people I encounter are both down to earth and resilient.
As well as the slaughter season (as it’s called here) I am waiting for the sheep and cattle to be brought in from their summer pastures. Part of our job is to check all aspects of the chain that goes ” frå jord og fjord til bord” (from the land and fjords to the table) and one component of that is traceability. All farm animals must be tagged (or tattoo’d for pigs) shortly after birth, and the tags maintained until they die. All the births and deaths and numbers have to be recorded in the “husdyrregisteret” or livestock register. The vets at Mattilsynet have to go out and check that the farmers are carrying this through, so we will go out and do checks on a number of cattle and sheep farms in the autumn and winter.
As well as looking to see whether all the animals have ear tags, we check the farmers are keeping medical records for all the animals. Medication (and specifically antibiotic/antibacterial use) are much more tightly controlled here than in the UK. We also check that they are entering the details of their herd or flock into the livestock register. Failure to do any of these things results initially in warnings, then fines and (where there is a severe breach of the law) in restrictions on the movement of animals on and off the farm until the traceability requirements are fulfilled. Though we ideally check every farm on our patch over the course of a few years, we also try to integrate these visits with our welfare program. So if we receive a concern message from the general public, or for example one from the electricity suppliers (who give us advance notice if any farmer is at risk of being cut off) and we feel the situation does not sound serious enough to require immediate attendance, then we will try to call them to assess the situation, then add that farm to our list of places where we will carry out “routine checks”.
Life at Mattilsynet can be unpredictable at times, perhaps predictably so! During the season, there are seven members of staff working in the abattoir on any given day. I’m not due there every day, but as well as having the crew of seven, there is always someone listed as back-up. It was me on Monday this week, and so I was not entirely surprised when a colleague called me on Sunday night to explain that one of their children was sick, and therefore they needed me to go in. Because there are so many staff, engaged in different tasks, and we have to cover the whole day (which can often be longer than the standard seven and three quarter hour working day) the start times are staggered. The first vet there, who has to carry out the live animal checks, comes in at 05:45 in the morning. The next wave comes at 06:45, another at 07.45 and the last at 08:15.
I was due to be in with the second wave, starting at 06:45. It takes me about half an hour to get up, and then close to an hour to drive my car to work, grab the keys to one of the work cars from the office (if I haven’t done it the night before) then finish my journey to the abattoir. Rather than starting work at 08:00 locally, I was now going to have to head out at 05:45 and so I had to head to bed almost immediately after receiving the call. I am always worried that I will forget to set the alarm clock on my phone, which of course has a whole range of times to choose from, and so I quickly set it while I remembered, then went to sleep.
It’s always lovely and cool, first thing in the morning, and I enjoy driving in general, and so as I drove in, I was quite happy. As I said earlier, it’s getting dark very quickly, and I found myself musing on the way on just how much darker it was this week. Only a week earlier, on the same shift, I had seen the moose and the detail of its white breath on the air, and I thought that if the same moose was standing there this week, I would barely be able to see it. I even thought that this would be something to tell you in my blog.
It was only when I arrived at the abattoir, that my mind came up against something I thought was odd. When arriving at 06:45, the car park is perhaps half full. But as I drew in on Monday, it was all but empty. It took only a moment to dawn on me that, in my hurry to get to bed the night before, I had selected the 04:15 alarm, rather than 05:15. In fact, I had even arrived before Thomas, who was working that day in Vet 1 position, doing the live animal checks. Thomas was quite surprised when he did arrive, but at least I had already had time to make coffee, which was gratefully received.
Anyway, given that I have raved at the top about how beautiful it is here at the moment, I’d better share some photographs. Seeing the sun out in a perfectly blue sky on Wednesday morning, I decided to use some of my precious flexitime and take Triar out for a walk. We headed up to the ski-slope area and took a walk there. The view was truly dazzling.
Triar seemed to be enjoying himself, rushing through the undergrowth and up and down the rocky outcrops, walking (as ever) four or five times further than me.
As you can see, higher on the mountainside, the trees are already bare, but looking down into the valley, there is still a riot of autumn colour in amongst the huddle of houses.
I awoke to another beautiful day on Thursday, and felt suddenly that I might as well use some more of those hours to take time off while it was still wonderfully light outside. Though I didn’t go on any significant walks, I decided I should make the house look a little better. Triar goes on the sofas in the house, and we do quite often eat while sitting on them, and therefore I try to keep them lined with fleecy blankets. The old ones were rather grubby and still look grey now after washing, so I bought some new ones. I had also accumulated some autumn candles, but was in danger of not getting round to deploying them. So now, as I go into winter, the inside of the house is looking as well as I can make it look. As the evenings are drawing in, and I will shortly be spending a lot of time indoors, it’s important that I have a space that lifts me up when I am there.
Setting out for work on Friday morning, I noted it was five degrees Celsius as I drove through Finnsnes. We live close to the sea, and even this far north, the Gulf Stream stops the temperature from going down as far as it does inland. So as I drove east, I was unsurprised to see the temperature dropping, quickly to three degrees and then further, down below zero and I could see there was frost on the undergrowth on the edges of the forest.
The sun was also rising slowly behind the mountains, giving them the most incredible molten gold edges and so I stopped to try and capture it. Unfortunately, by the time I found somewhere I could pull off the road, where there wasn’t forest in the way, the gold had mellowed into a normal sunrise, but it was still beautiful.
I took a couple of photos of the frost as well, not because it was anything out of the ordinary, but simply because it was the first of the year for me and a reminder that winter will very soon be here.