Tag Archives: Senja

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.