Friday, September 22, 2017

Norway: Midges, ticks and slugs .. oh my!

 It was my choice, I confess. I picked the west coast of Norway to start my August sojourn.

Why, you might wonder? Well, because the rest of Europe is hotter than blazes in August. So… I assumed that Norway would be comfortably cool. And that the west coast was as good as anywhere to start, considering I knew nothing about Norway. No travel guide, no research, flying by the seat of my pants. (Actually folks, before you judge my non-planning strategy – when you're having a great time in Slovenia it’s really hard to think about the next destination!) Well, in retrospect it might have been a good idea …

To my planning credit, I did get on the Permaculture Europe and Permaculture Norway Face-book. That is a big step for a woman who has never done Face-book! And I came up with a lovely site for a volunteer permaculture position on a very small island on the west coast. Living with a family, working on the land, eating tons of vegetables and shaking the city vibe out of my system.

Sounded perfect. Right?

Well, the boat ride was gorgeous as you can see here. Islands, nestled houses and boats, occasional bridges, rocks and crashing waves… the stuff of travel brochures. Then when I disembarked Rebecca and 16 month old Linden were there to greet me and help me board a bus, over a one-lane bridge, and to get off at their driveway. A perfect welcome for a weary traveler. 

With Linden helping to haul my luggage up the drive-way.

It has been a good week. I feel a part of the family. 

I help walk  Linden in the pram to kindergarten. 

I take the 6 year old Mirrin to play at the beach and admire her mermaid made of seaweed and sand. We pick bilberries together. 

And the generous family introduces me to Norwegian cuisine of pickled herring, codfish casserole, crispbread, rice pudding (a staple Saturday lunch) and open-faced sandwiches of cheese topped with cucumber slices or pepper. Mirin’s favorite is tinned mackerel in tomato sauce!

                                                                A truly cultural experience. And the permaculture? 

Rebecca is extremely well-educated, both initially as an ecologist and then in permaculture design. She has thought out well the set up of the gardens, called Seversgarten on the island of Byrknesoy. See her initial plan. 

It was and will continue to be a challenge! I certainly don’t share these particular planting parameters. Wind from the south, impenetrable granite creating poor drainage, rich boggy soil  that discourages earthworms, a short growing season and pests. Her accomplishments include composting from the toilet, a budding forest garden on the rocky ledge behind the house, wind-breaks and fruit trees in the front, vegetables which struggle in the wet and flourishing plantings of potatoes. Ryan, her husband, is a super father and supportive of the projects. 

As for my part in it? I was more than willing to work for my room and board. 

And I could have contributed mightily, I hoped,  except for … the weather!

What I didn’t know or look up or plan for was the rain! It always rains in Bergen! I had to take a very expensive taxi ride from the  hostel to the boat just to protect my luggage! An old Bergen joke concerns a wet tourist who asks a young man – “Does it always rain in Bergen?” “I don’t know,” he replies. “I’m only 13.”

To my credit, I did help build a duck house, … in the drizzle. I did weed potatoes ... in the drizzle. And the one day it didn’t rain I did help chop branches from felled trees for kindling. But really, not enough for room and board.

And then there were the midges, ticks and slugs, oh my!

As for the midges? Clouds of them! They come out whenever it is damp and the air is still. We pray for a breeze, not to mention sunshine! I even emailed my friend Suzanne for an aromatherapy recipe to deter them. Hand creme and lavender deters their biting for an hour but they still invade the eyes,  ears and lungs. Prams even have midge covers!

Ticks? No deer hosts for deadly ticks here but apparently the wandering sheep host the ticks that carry Lyme disease. So each night Rebecca checks the back of my legs for the freckle-sized demons. Yep – three ticks extracted! In spite of being totally covered and wearing boots!

And slugs? Well, I’m not the struggling gardener here but the fall-out for me is that there are no salad greens. Plenty of potatoes through. And we can’t mulch to keep down the weeds because that attracts the slimy little buggers. Lack of mulch means more weeding of the potatoes. At least I can be glad Florida doesn’t host these greens-munching predators.

(It does sound like I’m anti three whole species of animals. I have to confess that nothing would make me happier on this rainy midgey afternoon than if they would just go extinct! But then maybe the polar bear would wish the same for global-warming humans…)

I know it sounds like I’m moaning, folks. And I guess I am. 

It’s a great place and please come to volunteer. It’s not Rebecca’s fault – I just came in the wrong month!

On the up-side, I’m glad I came—this is a lovely little island. 

Roads are one-lane wide except near the schools where a side-walk is added. I actually saw a stand-off between a bus and car until the bus backed up to the turn-out area. We walk to the kindergarten, neighbors and island store. You could call the latter a very small Walmart that reflects the unique needs of a Norwegian village. 

Sheep fleeces next to the ice-cream freezer. Sewing machine oil in the notions section. (I think they sew and knit a lot during the winter.) And on the gardening shelf? Gum boots for the rain! (That’s rubber boots for us Americans.) Actually,  I had to borrow a too-large pair from Ryan for the duration and found it strengthened my legs while walking the moors.

Ahhh.. the moors… Worth the trip! 

They remind me of Connemara in Ireland. Or Dolly Sods Wilderness in West Virginia. Something about the stone, heather and bog. (Maybe the granite that doesn't drain well?) Beautiful, even desolate in the mist. 

But it makes it difficult to do agriculture here. That and the midges explain to me why the West Coast Norwegian Vikings went to sea! Trade for fruits and vegetables,  plunder for riches to buy midge-masks and abduction of slaves to weed in the rain! 

So, I’m leaving the gardens a few days early because of unforeseen environmental factors. 

Rebecca agrees I'm not able to accomplish much in this rain. Am I a wuss?  Yep! I’ll just spend the money I didn’t save on free room and board on a fjord cruise and some hiking and make up for the cost in Nepal. 

Remind me not to complain of mosquitoes in Florida? As for now, midges—good riddance!

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