Friday, October 17, 2014

A hunting we will go.... A hunting we will go.....

Yep, it's moosehuntingseason!
That was made pretty clear by the sounds on the shootingrange here, across the lake. Some folks were trying to get their skills up to par and it sounded like some serious firework going off all day!
But the huntingseason for me started on mondaymorning (13th), which was the official start, with hunting birds with my binoculars.
Dozens and dozens had gathered in the trees around our house; koltrast, björktrast, bofink, calling chattering and our "local" blåmes and talgoxe added to the cacophony. Some of the birds were quarreling with one another, while others were seeing off the local bullies; crows. It was like standing in a huge aviary... And while I was standing there, looking at them I saw in my corner of my eye a fast moving shadow coming in. A grey dart dashed between the gathered birds and all of a sudden the skies were empty and the calls became shrieks.

Hunting started in earnest for me on thursdag october 16th. Esbjörn had invited me to join him and his huntingleague in this year's moosehunt. He had explained the basics to me; silent clothes meaning no noise and no flashy colours. We'd be spending the day on location, meaning stationary and we'd start early 06:30.
So thursday morning I was ready. Wrapped myself in my beloved woolies for the first time this season, packed a backpack with foldable tripod seat, food&coffee, poncho, first-aid kit. Binos in one pocket of my huntingcoat, a pair of knitted gloves and a dito turtleneck in the other. Jeepcap on my nogging, knife within reach. I met the whole huntingleague at the greenhouse and introduced myself to each of them in person. Scored good notes with that I learned afterwards. A little later we set out and everyone made for his post.
As we came up to ours, we had to pass another post on foot and as we did I already spotted 3 moose in the distance; a big one and 2 smaller ones! Right in front of the location we were supposed to be at!! Looked promising And I caught myself thinking ;"One of you will be dead very soon." We moved up and as we did the top of a low hill moved in between us and the moose-trio. When we reached our post I could make them out just over the top. Esbjörn set up his stool/backpack and made his rifle ready. I did not get that chance.... The moose seemed alerted by something of to our left. Heads and ears held high.... Then they started to move; slowly at first, but soon speeding up to a trot and they headed our way. And out of nowhere 2 more adult moose showed up right in front of us!
And then 2 more!! Distance less than 75 meters! They ran from our left to our right, suddenly wheeling towards us and then wheeling back to their left, after they spotted us. These 4 passed, followed by the cow and calves. Esbjörn kept his calm and sitting on his stool he took aim and a loud bang tore through the starting day..... I saw what seemed to be the impact of the bullet in the last calf as it made a little jump as if hit by something. yet it ran on, but only about 10 meters or so. Than it started to slow down, started swaying too. It went down, but tried to get up....once. It fell to the ground and never got up again.

At 07:30 we were busy fielddressing the first kill of the day,,,,,

... Of which I will spare you the visual presentation, which I did not get since I hand my hands full....
As we approached the animal the first thing I noticed was the size of the calf. It was big!! Turned out to be a young bull. The shot was a good one, ensuring a clean kill. Went through both the lungs. Looking at it I felt a pang of sadness go through me. It was a fine looking animal. Beautiful fur. Strong too and it might have become a beautiful bull...
Here I made a mistake, not the first one this day, but I will elaborate on that later. I had my knitted gloves on, since the temperatures were just above freezing and the grass was wet. We had to move the calf in order to fielddress it, meaning taking out the intestines and blood and I handled the calf with my gloves still on... and so they got soaking wet, both with blood, but also with the water that was in the fur around the ankles.... Dumb, dumb, dumb.....
I took them off and after I held apart the legs, he cut open the belly of the animal. It felt strange handling the dead, yet still warm animal. The skin was cut and the intestines came bulging out, neatly packed in a strong membrane. That I had not expected! A lot less messy than I anticipated! But hang on... I was quickly being served my portion of messy-ness! One of the stomachs got caught behind a sharp edge of the chestbone, tore open and spilled the peasoup-like contents.... The smell!! And I was hanging over it less than half a meter away. It came steaming up into my face and I felt my stomache protest....
Esbjörn was having his share of messy-ness too. Apart from the torn stomache, he was faced with 2 lungs torn to pieces. One bloody mess in there. As I held open the abdomen he cleaned it up as good as possible and we then turned the animal on it's belly to let the blood run out. As we rolled it over, it made loud squelching sounds.... Esbjörn then asked me if I had an axe with me. Not knowing why he'd need it, I fetched my little forest axe and his foldingsaw. Turns out he need a stick or 2 to keep open the abdomen, so that the carcass could cool down fast.  We rolled the animal back to it's side and propped the abdomen open with 2 sticks, leaving the pile of intestines next to it.
After this lightningstart the rest of the day mostly passed on pretty quiet with a confirmed kill, after a search, of a mature bull coming in over the radio at around 10. By now mistake nr.2 was making itself very well felt. I had put on my old leather army boots and despite the liberal application of shoe polish (unfortunately not the good old one in tins, but the fast and easy version in a tube) and vigorous polishing the night before, the leather got soaking wet. I was left sitting and standing there with wet boots in near freezing temperatures all day.... Luckily I was wearing thick wool socks otherwise my feet would have fallen off. I did feel like walking on iceblocks instead of feet, though. And I noticed that after a few hours you get used to the painful numbness in the area where your feet are supposed to be.
I said mostly, because just before noon we got word from another post behind us that there was movement again and as we turned around I saw an animal move over a ridge to our far right, coming toward us. I warned Esbjörn and as he was preparing a young cow emerged from the treeline, spotted us and dashed off immediately again. We could hear her thumping and crashing away to our left, straight for the posts we passed in the morning. Very soon after that we heard 3 shots echoing through the valley and we waited for the confirmed kill over the radio..... which did not come. Further inquiry made it clear that one of the guys fired 3 shots and saw the cow tumble down, roll over and straggling off afterwards. So another search was in order and that took the rest of the day. With nothing to do we remained in position just in case the cow would wheel around, away from the dog-led searchparty. The only result from that was that I saw 2 pine martens rummaging around in a pinetree right behind me, we saw plenty of crows and deer and a handful of woodpeckers.
Just after 17:15 we got word to call it a day and we packed our gear, headed toward the carcass to load that up onto a trailer and drive to the location, where the moose got slaughtered. I noticed that the intestines had become bloated like a large balloon.
I asked if I could have the hide and brain of the calf and explained what I intended to do with them. I caught some strange looks. One of our neighbours was helping with the slaughtering and learned of my intentions. I looked him in the eye and said to him;" You better be careful. You have got some very strange neighbours, you know." I do not know if he got my sense of humor... I did witness the skinning of "our" calf and learned a few things about skinning too!
Appearantly my presence was being appreciated, because I was asked if I wanted to join the next day as well!
At first I was hesitant, feeling my feet, remembering the boredom and knowing I had things planned, but my wife thought she could handle those by herself and I accepted.

We left for home at about 18:30, carrying a heavy load; the skin, the head and 2 paws of "our" calf...


And today, friday 17th, was the last "day" for me.
I was present at 06:30, but we started off a lot later than yesterday. We sat in the car by the day we were field dressing the moose the previous day. The guys seemed a lot less eager... It was about the same weather as the day before, but with much more humidity in the air. It felt more chilling. We headed for the same place again and we arrived under daylight. There was nothing to be seen and that was to remain for the rest of the "day". This day ended when we received a call just before noon, saying the hunt had been cut short. No reason was given, but I suspect the unsatisfactory appearance of moose was the main cause. None were seen at all....
While we sat there, mainly in silence, I looked at some roe deer. Even their presence was less than before. I also payed more attention to the birds, specifically the ravens I and listened to their calls. We also saw some migrating geese. The last stragglers I guess. One group consisted of Canadian geese, the other I could not determine. They were quiet and flew in a tight v-formation.
The highlight of the day was the presence of a nice, healthy looking fox with a beautiful bushy tail, who greeted us upon our arrival. Today'slows were a stonecold rainshower and a tick I found crawling on my upper leg. I thought these critters were not active under 5C??

much of my view all day.....
In hindsight I feel that this type of hunting really is not for me. Sitting in one spot, waiting for the lucky opportunity for the right type of moose to come within range under the right angle under the right circumstances..... Nah, too much of a chance event for me. The fact that you are completely stationary, while being exposed to the elements all day long doesn't do it for me either. I am however very grateful that I was given the chance to experience it and that I have gotten a bit more experience and some raw materials to work with!
On the other hand I can see myself hunting, absolutely. I know I have the feeling for it. Spotting wildlife before others do showed that. Having interest in and understanding of the animal in question enhances my chances greatly. I know I will pull the trigger on a prey. No doubts there. And these past 2 days I handled a rifle several times and it felt strangely familiar and comfortable in my hands.
The one thing I do drag my feet a little at, is the slaughtering process, but I guess that'll pass with knowledge and hands on experience.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

For the love of the land.......

Once more the harvest season is coming to an end.

The grain has already gone and for us harvesting potatoes the end is in sight as well. The last few acres will be collected next week and then that's done. Our own harvesting has been very modest this year. Next to no berries were to be picked and the apples too were quite small. It has been way to dry and hot for them, I guess. We do have a good handfull of wild rosehips (rosa canina), though and we might get some of the rosa rugosa as well. That would make a serious vitamin C-addition to the morning yoghurt coming winter.

We have been enjoying a wonderfull autumn so far with very good weather, unseasonably high temperatures, but with cold nights and thick morningfogs. We already have had some nights with frost and that leads to great displays of colour. I have the privilege of seeing that each day for prolonged periods of time when working and having some hot coffee and a snack during the (cold morning) breaks only increases the feeling of joy and a deeper sense of happiness! The fact of actually doing this physical work gives a sense of purpose which probably only adds to that and when you get to look at the many small surprises the Great Mother presents one with.....
Some of the more noteworthy I'll try to describe, since having a camera with me was no option....except for the crappy one on my cellphone and by the quality of those pictures you might guess its age.

This I actually did take....

One of the more notable ones was the visit of a buzzard, when harvesting certain fields. It would sit in the trees next to the field and sometimes, when a row had been taken and the soil was upturned, it would land there and walk around, looking for edible morsels. I saw it take of with something looking like a big worm! Never saw a buzzard behaving like that before! And it did that multiple times. It did not seem too worried or scared of that big, noisy, bright red and yellow humanthing, rumbling through the fields.
Neither did a couple of deer, who were feeding right next to us, as we rumbled by. They remained in place, about 15 meters away from us, looking at us when we came by and continuing feeding when we had passed. I could have a good look at the brownish grey and the bright copperbrown one several times! I even did get to see a honeybee a week ago! Buzzing around the harvester, its hind legs heavy with pollen. Many beekeepers, including myself if I can even call myself that, have already made the bees winter ready and yet here still was one, still hard at work. It gives me good hope that my swarm will have sufficient stores to get through the winter and live to see next year's spring. Hopefully as a strong colony, so I can increase the numbers of colonies.
On a particular foggy morning, when I thought I saw clouds drift across the surface, I witnessed the sun all of a sudden break through an opening in the gradually thinning fog and the mist evaporated within 30 minutes, exposing the still damp soil to the sun's rays, leaving it steaming. I just saw the very source of the fog, how it came to be and the sun's rays, striking the wafts of vapour from behind created an almost magical, fairytale-like atmosphere.
Yesterday that feat was recreated in another field, but this time with the backdrop of a dark treeline, giving it a more dark, ominous atmosphere.

My wife and I are also seeing many moose, especially last week, when she takes me to work early in the morning, just before sunrise. On one day we saw a young cow trotting across the road and on another day 2 adult moose without antlers, walking around in the fields, partially hidden by groundfogs, occassionally stopping to look at us as we looked at them. On 2 mornings we saw a
moose cow with 2 calves and on yet another day, when I was alone, I came across a young bull out in the open, close to the road and some houses with nothing but open fields for hundreds of meters around him. With behaviour like that I do not expect him to become too old. Not with the moosehuntingseason closing in. Which will bring another post to this blog soon, because I have been invited to join that hunt as an onlooker and that was approved by the head of the local huntersleague.
Yep, I am going to witness a moosehunt! And to say I am excited is putting it mildly!

The potatoharvest did not just provide me with a way to keep busy, be productive, create some extra income, supply me with loads of fresh air and the sight of scenery and wildlife next to tons and tons of potatoes.
It gave me some tangible samples of years gone by. On several occasions the harvester coughed up more than potatoes, stones and plants or their remains. Sometimes some machineparts or junk, lost during previous years, but also some quite old reminders of the ways these lands have been used by previous generations; horseshoes!
It brought to me the image of farmers, walking behind their horses as the plodded across the fields, plowing, sowing or harvesting. A far cry from today's methods, although the basics remain the same. And maybe I am a hopeless romantic, but I feel that the land was treated with more respect and love back then than it is today. I also do think that the connection of many a farmer to his lands was much more close and intimate, despite the hard, backbreaking work it took to have food on the table.
And for some reason I do believe that the methods used in those days were much less harmful to these lands and more in harmony with their surroundings then they are today.
It also reminded me of a film we received as a gift, right after we moved here. A film about our village and the old farming ways. I must have a look at it again, now that we actually can understand what the narrator is saying, even though the images speak for themselves.
The following clip is the only one I could find online;


And speaking of films; we had a filmingcrew visiting us, while harvesting and they shot a film about a manifestation, called "matspanarna" or food scouts. This is a cooperation between several groundschools/kindergardens, local farmers and the local authorities to show and teach kids where food is actually coming from, learning about the process from soil to plate. A much needed lesson indeed! The children are taken to a farm and, apart from some lectures, get to get some experiences hands on themselves.
The following clip is from the participating broadcastingstation, showing some interviews, including my employer and a bit on potatoeharvesting, including a 1949 vintage tractor, an old potatoharvester and a new one, which unfortunately for you, shows the author of this blog in the blink of an eye...

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.