Saturday, September 20, 2014

Gifts and the greatest gift of all....

Last monday and tuesday (15th and 16th) I received a visitor from Norway; a buddy I got into contact with online. A fellow who goes by the name of Skaukraft, but in real life is called Odd Sverre. At first we had planned to take a meetingtrip together to the Rogen-district, a national park on both sides of the border a few 100 km's higher north, but that trip never materialized for me and was cut short for him, too.
So we planned another live-meet at my place. I am not the person who very easily steps up to meet new people, so I was a little nervous when monday morning started to draw close. Odd arrived earlier than anticipated, having spent the night only 35km away from here.
What can I say, after the initial first contact we settled over some coffee and chatted for a while. He then brought out his stuff, including "the goodybag" in which he had several things for me. I started packing my bag in the meantime. We had actually not planned for anything, but I figured he'd like to stay at the coaler cabin for the night. The mentioned goodybag turned out to be quite big. Apart from some items he was able to get me through previous arrangements, he had also added quite a handfull of other things I might like... And boy, did I!!
I knew he would be bringing a Norwegian army sleepingbag, suitable for winter too plus a set of Norwegian army mittens, being a wool liner with shell. He'd also bring a scalemodel, a Tigertank with crew, he had lying around for a while, but instead of 1 box, he turned up with 4! He would also bring along a fishingrod for my son, but that turned out to be a flyfishing rod with carryingcontainer and 2 reels.
Then came the bonuses.... First a Norwegian army shelterpiece. The romboid one, not the triangular and that turned out to be like new. Probably is. Next was a copy of the Swedish army manual "Överlevnad" by Lars Fält and as icing on the cake a Norwegian army wool sweater, which I already love to bits!
But the biggest gift of all was the time we were to spend together in the woods, the knowledge and stories we shared next to a fire and the dinner we had together with my family, where one dish was a mushroomstew, which he prepared. I dare say we now have a friend in Norway, which is an equally large gift.
Tack så hemskt mycket, Odd!!

After lunch we headed out into the woods, so I could show him a few of the places I regularly visit; the coalingsite and the viewpoint. We promissed my wife that we'd hunt for moose too. If we'd catch one I'd have to hold it, while Odd would strangle it...
We hiked up there under a clear blue sky and with much higher temperatures then we had anticipated. Because I also took the scenic route, which involved a substantial increase in height, we ended up losing more than a handful of sweat droplets. The not so topnotch state of physical fitness of both of us might have added to that, too. But I was able to show him our valley, bathing in sunlight and with a clear view. 
After having enjoyed the view, which I can not get enough of either, we headed toward the charcoalkilnsite. During the entire hike we saw numerous mushrooms; large numbers, many species and most of them of a substantial size! 

I just love this picture Odd took of me...

We did not undertake any exiting woodsman kind off things. We mostly sat in the shelter, talking, getting to know one another better, playing with flint and steel and Odd exploring the immediate area around the kilnsite. But we also made some discoveries. The focus did lie with mushrooms, since they were so abundant and we ended up studying one species, a fungusspecies, growing on trees with a red rim; the Formitopsis pinicola or Klibbticka in Swedish.
We started studying them, taking them apart, looking and smelling at what we found and discovering new things. Things like the fact that the fungi are layered and can be peeled apart, that they have a distinct structure and that you can actually see through the (spore?)channels, when held against the light.

Then it was about time to prepare some food and what better way that to do that the old way; cast iron, coals, and typical foods like falukorv and pyttipanna. As a good host I took care of that, while the coffee was simmering.

A sunset in the forest.
Later that night the sky turned bloodred, before becoming inky blue dotted with stars.

After dinner we went off to explore the area off track. We trudged through the forest, seeing more and more mushrooms, but next to no sign of wildlife, except for a single deertrack. The forest was also quite quiet. Not many birds to be heard, except from an occassional passing raven, green woodpecker or magpies. We walked from sunset till almost dark, checking out mushrooms for edibility, but most were big and worminfested, apart from 2 socalled fårticka. Odd explained that they were good food. Mushrooms with a firm flesh, resembling chicken and a good, nutty taste. We picked those and I brought out my foraging bag, which appearantly was approved by Odd, judging by his "The force is strong with this one"-remark...

As we returned to camp we used the gravelroad going around it and just before we made it back, we hit the jackpot! Right next to the road, about 100 meters from the shelter, there was a patch full of these mushrooms; big and uninfested! We picked and filled the foragingbag and I guess it would at least have been between 3 and 4kg.

Fårticka (Albatrellus ovinus)
source; wikipedia
Happy with this lucky find we returned to camp and spent the rest of the evening talking, sharing stories and staring into the fire. Turns out that we share quite a few things, like our belief in socalled otherworldly presences. That did make some interesting conversation. We turned in for the night at around 21:30.

After a reasonably good night's sleep, Odd claiming that he had slept like a baby and better then in months, we made breakfast and broke camp, taking our time doing so. Slowly we headed back to my place, where we arrived shortly before lunch, unfortunately without moose. Those damn animals kept slipping between our fingers.... We spent the rest of the day in a quiet and relaxed manor. I had to admit that the previous week's potatoharvest had left me feeling more tired than I had previously thought.

After a quiet afternoon, Odd was appointed to volunteer to prepare the mushrooms according to a simple recipe he knew; mushrooms cut in cubes, fried with plenty of real butter and then simmered in cream. My wife had planned on a wildstew, being deer and mushrooms with Brussels sprouts.

Dinner was very good and my oldest daughter actually ate and liked mushrooms for the first time in her life! My youngest one had 4 portions of Odd's mushrooms....
The rest of the evening was spent enjoying each other's company and we turned in early again, since he had a long trip ahead of him the next day and I had to be out in the fields again by 07:00. Unfortunately we lack the accommodations to have guests staying over and Odd had to spend the night on a fieldcot/stretcher with wool blankets. That felt like a lack of hospitality on my behalf, but it was the best we could do.

Early morning the next day we said goodbye and off we went, both in different directions.
A Dutch Marine-poncho and 2 large nodules of Danish flint followed Odd home...

Despite the often heard advice it can actually be a good thing to go out into the woods at night with strangers, carrying axes and knives...

Thank you very much Odd.
I truly enjoyed your visit and I really hope we can add more things like this one in the future!

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Mushrooms, potatoes and woodsmoke

Yep, autumn is here!
The weather changed quite dramatically about 2 weeks ago. Not that it turned bad, but it turned from summer to autumn almost overnight and quite literally so. A few days of rain, heavy early morning fogs and dropping temperatures meant that the mushrooms popped out of the ground like... well... mushrooms.

As I said before I have become occupied with this year's charcoalkiln and potatoharvest. This year I took my turn in watching and guarding it, learning more in depth about the process of making coal. I will not be able to attend the dismantling of the kiln, so I figured I might as well show you what I've been up to instead of waiting untill the process is completed.
During those watches I was also able to swing a smith's hammer from time to time, but due to limitations in equipment and raw materials I did
not get much else done but a simple wallhanger for coats. The steel striker I had forged turned out to be the wrong material for that purpose, so useless in that manor.
I took 3 watches; wednesday, thursday and sunday afternoon and -evening, with a overnight stay from saturday to sundaymorning; the by now traditional family sleepover. The watches on wednesday and thursday were very relaxed ones. The kiln behaved itself with only 1 burst of flames during these watches, so plenty of time to just sit, relax, enjoy the weather and the forest and just being out there. The shelter we have been building since last year has been completed a while ago and now it was used properly. My family joined me on thursday for an outdoordiner, prepared over an open fire.

On saturday I was "off duty", so the Mrs. my youngest daughter and I took a walk through the woods, heading for the viewpoint we more often visit. Our Dutch summerguests had left a message in the guestbook there, but we were not allowed to read it then, only on our next visit there. It is not a long walk, but the late afternoon early autumn sun poured its golden light over the forest, giving everything a deep, warm glow which gave the already visible autumncolours a very intense appearance. There were mushrooms everywhere and we hated the fact that we do not have any knowledge on the matter. What a rich harvest that would have yielded, since many of the species are indeed edible. Ahhh, the feast that would have been, savouring those mushrooms together with some moosemeat and some red wine.... But alas.... we'll have to make due with some pictures instead...

the biggest mushroom I ever saw!
On our way towards the viewpoint I saw something very peculiar; a treestump that resembled a deer. The backdrop made the image complete;

I never get tired of this view.....

I just hope I did not ruin my wife's view... ;)

Back at the kilnsite it was time to start making dinner. Equally traditional as the sleepover is the making of a beanstew and I have to say it turned out to be the best stew I ever did make! If only I can remember how exactly I did it!
While I was busy doing so, my wife got her first lessons in mushroom-ology. We so really want to learn this, but running into the woods with a book in our hands and taking our chances..... Those fungi are not to be messed with! 

By now the area was covered in tents. All in all there were some 15 kids + accompanying adults and the place really looked like a camping. I thought it was "slightly" overcrowded and above all noisy. Kids running around, high on a sugarrush, screaming and tossing fireworks around is not my idea of fun. Despite that it did turn out to be a good evening with some drinks, some small talk and a lot of laughs.
And I had the best bed in the house: I was to share the night with my youngest daughter in the coaler's cabin and she thought that was awesome!! By the time she went to bed, the majority of the kids had burned up their carbs, so they quieted down a little, making it possible for her to fall asleep.... which did not take that long. The rest of the kids were then treated to a ghoststory in the shelter, which in itself was not all that spooky. That is until the storyteller, in an unguarded moment, took a piece of firewood and in the middle of a sentence banged hard on the metal chimney in the shelter, scaring the living bejesus out of every one! Our youngest did not even catch that. She slept like a baby and seeing her lying there, lit the the flicker of the flames in the fireplace.... Well, that gave me a special feeling.... I could not help but smile and feel proud of her.

The day after was pretty uneventful. We made breakfast, broke camp and headed home around 11. We unpacked the car, I grabbed some food and headed back. We had to close up the kiln, so it would stop burning. 

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

The grass isn't always greener on the other side...

It just might appear less brown.

Much has happened and at the same time nothing either. It has been a rough summer, full of emotional ups and downs, physical and mental trouble and that ever present issue of economics, becoming more and more pressing.

I more often than not feel as if I am trudging up a huge sand dune, feet sinking deep in the fine sand, making no or very little progress, while the searing sun drains my strength or as if I am caught in quicksand, sinking away deeper, despite or because of my struggles.
The sands of time are running and it feels as if my life/future is slipping away like dry sand between my fingers...... which is a coincidence, since I strongly dislike sand....

I actually tried to hold on to dry sand, while on a beach last summer and no matter how hard I tightened my grip, the sand just kept running....

You may have noticed a near total lack of outdoorsy things I did myself, apart from that short week on the coast and truth be told there just was not anything to write or tell about. I simply lost interest (or heart). I still have no (lasting) job and by now have become convinced that I probably never will either, for the simple reason that a) I am not indigenous, b) to old and thus to expensive and c) am experienced and matured, which means I most likely am not as compliant as my employer would like me to be. These experiences are being shared by other non-natives I have come to speak with btw...

Taken during a trip with our guests.
On the large horse my youngest daughter...
and on the pig.... well... ;)
One of the absolute highlights was the visit of a couple of old friends. We had not seen each other since we left Holland 3 years ago, but when we met it felt as if we had only seen each other last week. The connection was still there and that felt so good after previous, less positive experiences. Sharing time with people like that, talking about real things in life, communicating on a level above the weather and social niceties really lifts the heart and mind. And I even was able to share some of my limited woodcarving knowledge with one of their daughters. This visit however did also made some other things painfully clear. When they left for home, they left behind a sense of  emptiness and loneliness, a void that can not be filled by what we have here.
We have come to the conclusion that Swedish social structures (families, friendships etc), at least in our area, are like loose sand (there's the sand-thing again), lacking cohesion. They are courteous, friendly and will help you if you ask, but will back away afterwards. They shy away from developing real relationships.
It is one of the cultural and social differences from what we are used to and one with which we struggle, ever since we came here. Again, this is confirmed by other non-natives and indeed by some natives as well.

I even caught myself wondering if we should just go back, but looking around, I realized that we can not. We could never adjust to the rushing concrete jungle again, if we ever did.

That means keep going and trying new things, finding new ways, continue probing for a hole in order to break the deadlock.

For now I'll be busy, thank God, with our charcoal kiln and harvesting potatoes again. At least that might yield some things to show for and talk about and give a sense of purpose...

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Smog in Dalarna!

One leaves the city, moves to a very rural area in Sweden to enjoy peace, quiet and fresh air.... and now we have smog!! And not just a little bit....

I wrote about the large forest fire near Sala yesterday and as of yet they are still struggling to get it under control, allthough the circumstances have improved much! The weather is playing along quite nicely, sending rainshowers and holding back on wind and heat. Now the firefightingcrews have gotten reinforcements in the form of firefightingplanes, coming from France and Italy. Good to see some international cooperation, but it did take very long for the planes to get here. Maybe a Nordic cooperation with all its forests might be a better solution.... but that's up to the politicians...
Due to the enormous amounts of smoke the planes appearantly can't get airborne, which brings me to the smoke around here. There still lies a vail of smoke over our region, but last nights rain made things a bit worse.
Around midnight we were awoken by a rolling thunderstorm, but when we looked out the window there was something missing.... There was no wind and no rain! Just huge amounts of lightning and an occasional really, rolling thunder. Looked like a paparazzi photo shoot... It was a strange sensation, but as we were watching the missing elements were added. Unleashed is actually a better word, for they entered the scene as if they had been held back, restrained.... Suddenly the trees almost bend over, gusts of wind whipping through the leaves and the floodgates of the heavens opened up. We looked at it in amazement, thinking we had seen it all, but then the storm stepped up a bit, sending in more wind, more lightning and even more rain! I have never seen anything like that! We could only make out the horse stable across the street, because it had a light on.... It was a hypnotic sight, awesome and a bit frightening too. And then it all went silent at once..... restarting about a minute or 2 afterwards; the eye had passed! The rain lashed against the livingroom window as if someone was using a gardenhose, despite the 1 meter deep overhang right above it. The gravelroad had turned into a waterstream, our roof into a waterfall and the trees were dancing wildly. My thoughts went to the very large birchtrees on both sides of the house. I shuddered thinking what would happen if one of them would came crashing down in the wrong direction... The weather never ceases to amaze and fascinate me...

In the morning I actually expected to see some damage, but apart from some branches on the ground the world was the same as before, only a lot more wet. I had thought that wind and rain would sweep the air clean, but the now very high levels of moisture in the air and the low hanging clouds were actually trapping the smoke at low levels.
Eyes, nose and throat are irritated and I feel as if I have a cold.

Yesterday afternoon

A satellite-image my wife found on FB. We are roughly inside the circle. As soon as the wind changes even slightly to the south we're in the middle of it...

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Sweden's largest forestfire in modern history!

Right now there is a huge forest fire raging in the Swedish province of Västmanland, close to the city of Sala. It has been raging for 5 days now and it still is out of control. It has been classified as the largest forest fire of modern Swedish history and as a matter on national level.
Many have been affected by it, either by being forced to leave their homes or are being about to. Unfortunately there have been casualties too; one dead and one severely injured.
I watched a live-interview of a man, who was about to be evacuated, but could not get himself to leave yet. How miserable must he be, and others like him, to stand there, watching the flames draw nearer, knowing that you can not save your house and possessions and only can wait untill it actually happens...

Our thoughts and prayers are with all those involved....

The fire-area is at this moment, tuesday 2014-08-05 14:45 about 10x15km large and it is heading for larger urban areas, like the town of Norberg, which is directly in the line of fire. Literally. As it looks right now more than 4000 people are awaiting evacuation at any moment now. It is spreading at a pace of 2km an hour with no end in sight. We are shrouded in a thick fog of smoke right now and are staying inside with everything closed. It's hard to breath out there...

Some earlier images from social media;

Sources; etc.

Information by the public media is available, but information from official sources is scarce or hard to locate.

Yesterdayafternoon we were treated with some spectaculair cloud- and colourdisplays, as the smoke was blown across the sun. My son compared it to some scenes in the movie "War of the worlds" and I must admit the atmosphere surely did match that; Surreal, apocalyptic and the woodsmoke smell sure did it part to contribute to that.
The day started sunny and with clear skies. In fact so clear that we could not remain at the lake we went swimming in, because it was way to hot in the sun. When we came home however, things started to change quite rapidly. I guess the wind changed at higher altitudes and large plumes of, what turned out to be smoke were blown into our area. It went dark all of a sudden, but we did not smell anything... yet.

I climbed onto the roof of our house to have a clear view over the trees and I was shocked by the view!!
this is 80 km away!

My son, oldest daughter and I headed out to the lakeside  to watch this spectacle in full view and colour, which neither of both can be transmitted through the images.
The sky was red, orange, light and dark grey, yellow, blue and even a bit greenish. It was creepy. A developping thunderstorm within the smokeclouds made it even worse! No rain, just thunder and horizontal lightning and heavy windgusts all the time

This image does come closest to some of the actual colours...
I have never experienced anything like this. None of us have and it does make us feel a bit uneasy, to say the least. In all honesty I have to admit that the whole BOB-thing (Bug Out Bag) start to make sense to me. I always felt that we had nothing to worry about here. A very calm geological and atmospheric place; no earthquakes, risk of flooding or otherwise threatening stuff around and I felt quite safe. Sage enough to not consider a BOB.
This event makes me think twice. I took a closer look at our area and a forest fire, not even of this magnitude, could quite easily reach our doorstep, making an evacuation (bugging out, hence the term BOB) necessary. There's loads of trees and high grass all around us, both right up next to our house.
The necessary mix of circumstances; extreme drought, extreme warmth, high winds and a densy wooded area, are also applicable to our area and all it takes is one spark, one lightning strike or one (careless or deliberate) idiot to create another inferno.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Slaughtering a rabbit - The complete NOOB-way.

On friday morning we were treated to a very special gift by our red cat. Normally the and his buddy bring home mice, voles or an occasional bird, but not on friday.....
He dragged home one complete young rabbit! Don't know how he did it, but he dragged the animal through the catdoor into the hall. He barely fits through there himself! It looked like he had bitten through the animals throat and suffocated it, since there was the only wound I could find. And, like with the jay a while back, I took the opportunity to teach myself a lessen; how to slaughter a rabbit. Never did it before. Heck, never even witnessed it being done before!
All I had was a handfull of book- and internetwisdom. Time to get a bit of fieldpractice..... Unfortunately I could not get to it right away, due to some pressing "domestic tasks", so I hung the carcass in the (relatively) cool cellar untill the afternoon.

The following images could be described as "graphic"..... 

So..... here it goes.....
The first thing I did, was hang the animal upside down on the facade ladder so the blood could run down. I also removed the head, so the blood could drip away. It had already started to become thick and dark, so I left it like that for a while.
On youtube I saw someone use nails to hang the animal from, but did not see exactly how. I figured some hooks through the legs between sinew and bone would do the trick too. I had to hang it low, because I am not quite capable of reaching over my shoulders right now.

After half an hour I grabbed my knife, put on some whimpy latexgloves and got busy. I have to admit I thought it was no where near as easy as it looks, but I'll put that down to a total and utter lack of experience in this matter.
I saw the guy in the video make circular cuts in the hind legs and pull down the fur, exposing the meat and so did I.... Only I think I cut too deep or something, because when I tried removing the fur, the animal came of the hooks and landed in the below standing bucket with head and blood. What a mess!
I then continued opening the fur on the belly and trying the cut around the anus in order to pull off the skin in its total. The animal was not completely cooperative anymore due to rigor mortis, which had set it in. I was also surprised by the toughness of the membranes.... or I did not do a proper sharpening job on the knife. After some fiddling I was able to remove the skin, pulling it down in one piece. I did not save it this time.... I did study it though.. A funny thing, such a hide. Feels real slippery. I tried scraping off some of the membranes with my knife, but could not. They moved around with the scraping. I guess you'd have to fix it in one place in order to do it properly...

the black one, Eddy, was with me the entire time........
....such an interesting and delicious smell......
Maybe I made some wrong cuts, but while doing so, the intestines already came bulging out. so that was the next thing I did; removing them.
Now that proved to be even more tricky!! I knew I had to keep the intact in order to not spoil the flesh, but how to get them out? I always figured they were.... well... loose in some way. Wrong! It took quite some slicing and cutting and more fiddling to get them out. It was cool to see the organs in place and it was quite easy to identify what's what, but I did not know a (hare's) liver was that big!! I did manage to ruin the heart, though... I was wondering for a while how the get the final piece of in intestine before the anus out, but I figure I might as well pull it. I could easily identify it by the droppings that were in it. I pulled and behold! Out it came with no trouble at all... One thing I was uncertain of was the bladder and I still haven't quite figured that one out, so those with experience... Enlighten me, please! 

After I had cleaned the carcass I rinsed it and all the tools, before starting to cut off the flesh. That was meant for the cats, since they caught it and brought it home. Well, at least one of them. I also felt that they should have decent food, whenever possible (not that horrible, grain filled dry crap you buy at the store) and it appeared they appreciated my way of thinking!!

To them the spoils of "war"....

After my thanks for this lesson I left the remains in a far corner of our little piece of land. I am quite sure there are animals around that will appreciate the offer.

Ohh and a small word of advice; do not wear sandals on bare feet. It is a very uncomfortable feeling having blood dripping between your toes... Or at least I thought so.