Orange: Colours of the Forest

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Nature creates itself.  A large animal used this pine tree as a toothpick creating a beautiful layered effect in the bark.

August, Transfarelv forest, Arctic Norway.

Berry Pick’n Nature

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If you asked me why I live in Norway I’d say because of days like today.

The thing about Norway is that its nature gets into your soul.  You can’t just walk through it, observing it from a man-made track.  The nature embraces you as much as you want to embrace it.  It is a look, touch, eat experience – the original interactive space, providing nourishment for the body, mind and soul.

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On days like today, in late summer in the Arctic, the sun is shining, nature is calling and the berries are aching to be picked.  Our family takes a hike to our secret berry picking spot in the forest.  Every family has one.  It is a place of memories, a place of learning and discovery, and a place that you care about.

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When we go we always take our dogs.  They have the opportunity to run free but they have a purpose.  They keep us safe and warn us to be careful.  Norwegian nature is filled with lots of wildlife.  Some animals are very small and don’t bother us.  Others are much larger, such as moose, and we’d prefer to keep our distance.  The dogs running around and the kids making noises warn the big animals that we are near so they can divert to another area.

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Bear, our Saint Bernard, spotted some fresh moose droppings which let us know that moose were in the area so we needed to be a little more observant of our surroundings.  Moose droppings are called ‘berries’ but they certainly weren’t the ones we were there for.

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Berries grow everywhere in our forest.  The whole forest bed is covered with three different types depending on the terrain, but a lot of times they grow together, for our very own “pick ‘n’ mix”.

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We have tyttebær, known as cowberries in English.  They grow in sunny areas with no tree cover where the soil is a little more dry.  Tyttebær are similar to cranberries, though more tart and are used for jams and sauces, and are especially good with venison and pork.  It is often coupled with meatballs.  It is used at Christmas dinner with pork ribs.  When they are a rich red colour they are ready to pick.  This year the open forest floor was dressed with so many red berries that you couldn’t help stepping on them to pick some.

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The little black berries are crowberries, krekling in Norwegian.  They are good for juicing or making wine from but they aren’t very good for just eating.  You often get a few mixed in with the blueberries but you don’t bother picking them out.

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Blåbær, or Arctic blueberry, are know as bilberries in English.  These berries have as many calories as beef per gram, but of course, are jam-packed full of fibre and nutrients.  Blueberries are why we make our annual picking trip.  We gather enough to last the whole year.  They are an important source of nutrients for us during the dark winter months as they are high in antioxidants and vitamin C, which fortifies the function of your blood to help prevent colds and flues.  Nordic peoples are fully aware of the goodness of blueberries and in Finland blueberry is a popular soup/drink for those who feel under the weather.

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This year the blue berries were huge.  We had a really good summer, some say the best in 20 years, and so the berries have had a lot of sun to get fat and juicy.

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As we are getting familiar with our berry picking forest, we are learning how it grows and changes.  Now, instead of just picking anywhere, we do taste testing first.  We have found that the berries that are closer to the track, in open spaces, tend to be a little more sour.  However, the berries that grow near pine trees on a mound are sweeter.  Sweeter berries are good for straight eating and the sour berries are better for sauces and cooking.

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Over the years Bear has come to like blueberries too.  He chomps away at the berries, and he only picks the blue ones.  It means we need to keep an eye out for which piles he has been attacking as Saints are not scared to dribble over everything.

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There were so many berries that it didn’t take us long to pick a tub full, especially when we are dual-welding pickers.

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Though a lot doesn’t make it to the tub.

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Berry picking isn’t all that we do in the forest.  It is a time we get to exercise and play, see and touch the beauty around us, and teach our kids about nature and natural science.

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One new thing that I learnt today is how the blueberry mounds are created.  It is amazing how nature works, decay and life sit side-by-side, nothing is useless.  When I looked at the mounds, around the bases, I discovered through the overgrowth that the mounds were like little caves, hollow inside with only a few structural stumps.  It was the perfect place for little forest animals to take shelter, especially in the winter.  Then I discovered the tree stump in the picture above.  I realised that the blueberry mounds all over the forest were created by a process of old trees falling over, the stump decaying and the berry plants growing over it, using it for nutrients until it is basically consumed by the blueberry plant and therefore creating the hollow mounds.  Huh!  I can do science, me!

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Though, this crowberry plant above is getting a little ambitious growing up through the bark of a living tree.

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The beauty of Norway astounds me.  It can be grand and overwhelming or delicate and intimate.  The forest stops you from looking at the bigger picture.  Blocking the view of yonder, it commands you to take in the little things – the mosses, the bark, grass cover, the seed shells, the decay and new growth.

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Standing in an Arctic forest is calming and enlightening.  It gives you an understand of the power of life.

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For six months of the year the forest sleeps under a thick bed of snow.  No sunlight.

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But every year, without fail, after the snow has melted away and the sun has returned, the forest renews with diverse plant and wildlife.

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It thrives as if there were no such thing as snow and darkness.  The life and beauty in the Arctic is quick and efficient.  It makes the most of what it has before it has to go to sleep again, all too soon.

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Even though the plant-life slumbers during winter, Norway’s beauty doesn’t sleep.  While the forest-green hibernates, another beauty possesses the scape – a white fluffy winter-land.  Norway is the best of summer and winter. blueberry-picking-day-2014-5

When berry picking there is no need to pack food or water; we have everything we need from the forest!  Berries galor and a salmon river for thirst.

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It was hard to leave the forest this time as we didn’t even make a dent in the abundance of berries.  It felt like a crime leaving them all there, so much food that is healthy and yummy at the same time.  But the food won’t go to waste.  It will fall off and be taken up into the soil again to fertilize next years berry crop.

At the end of an industrious day we always celebrate with a berry featured treat.  This year was blueberry waffles – the berries melt perfectly in the waffle machine.

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To top the blueberry waffles… more blueberries, of course!

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We took so many lovely pictures on this little two hour trip that we have put them into a series called ‘Colours of the Forest’.  Over the next week we’ll post one a day!

The New Nordic Diet Fad

This is a response to an article I read about the new ‘Nordic Diet’ fad that will likely hits stores near you.

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http://www.news.com.au/lifestyle/health/say-hello-to-the-nordic-diet-a-traditional-scandinavian-style-of-eating/story-fneuzkvr-1227012485627

Nordic Diet? Yeah, right. They’ve just picked out some things Nordic people eat, and say that’s how to get skinny.  Pick and mixing is not a proper diet.

The meats

The article doesn’t mention that seal, whale and horse meat have always been a vital part of the Nordic diet and is highly nutritious. Why didn’t they add them in? PC.  When they mention ‘high quality meat’ readers likely thought of expensive cuts of cow, not wild meat that feed freely from the land and waters, that aren’t kept in a pen, and are not forced into abusive breeding practices.

The article uses the word ‘elk’, by which they mean moose (an entirely different animal from the American elk), a meat that is solely obtained through hunting.  The article does not clarify this because hunting would offend a lot of their readers and the new Nordic Diet would become PinC.

Processed cold meats full of fat and salt have been part of the staple diet for centuries.  However, the processing methods of today have known cancer causing agents.  Smoked meats are now gassed instead of being left to hang in a smoker.

The fishes

The article doesn’t mention that the bulk of oily fish nowadays comes from poop infested fish farms that are destroying the natural environment and wild salmon populations.  The escaped farmed salmon are now breeding with the wild salmon spreading disease and weakening the salmon gene pool.  They don’t mention that in the dark season Nordic peoples eat large amounts of processed fish (frozen, souped, crumbed, salted, pickled or smoked), therefore the nutrition value is compromised.  The main wild fish available natively in winter is halibut, cod, herring and occasionally sea trout.  These are only occasionally eaten fresh.

The Fruits and Vegetables

Nordic people eat natural berries that they pick themselves in the wilderness only from July to September. These berries are much higher in nutrients than berries elsewhere in the world because of the colder summer conditions slowing the growth and increasing the nutritional density.  Eating factory-farmed berries, as suggested by the article, does not compare in nutrition. You can’t just say ‘well, Nordics eat berries and are healthy so we should eat berries too.’ Nordics eat Nordic berries. There is a big difference.

For six months of the year the Nordic countries are covered in darkness and ice. Fresh food has to be imported from places like Africa and South America – basically everything fruit and veg, even berries, rake up a bucket load of footprint miles, are old or stored in cold for months to a year and have lost a lot of their freshness and nutrients.

The Grains

Rye bread was a feature grain in the article and I think they are confusing bread with the cracker.  The ‘rye bread’ contains a very low amount of rye – it is basically used as a colouring.  However, rye cracker bread is very popular as it is made from pure rye and can keep for years!  The article also mentions wholegrains, which Nordics do choose over refined flours, however, modern wheat has no relation to the traditional Nordic grains.  White rice is a staple food, and unhealthy.  In fact, in Norway it has been a tradition to have white rice pudding as a Saturday lunchtime meal.

Dairy and Oils

Nordic people do not use canola oil which is Canadian as mentioned in the article.  They use rapeseed oil.  Canola oil is highly processed, boiled and bleached, and a modified plant stuff.  Rapeseed oil isn’t.  There was no mention of the heavy dairy in the Nordic diet from all the milk rice puddings (which is a weekly tradition), cream cakes, and hard cheeses (a daily tradition).  Dairy is an essential part of a health Nordic diet, it is not about the calcium but the protein and the iron.  Especially in the cold dark months the body needs iron to help with oxygen intake and for cells to more efficiently convert energy.  If native animals were scarce in winter, milk and butter from cows, goats and sheep provided the nutrients to last the dark and cold.

 The Sweets

Sugar has been essential from the 1800s, a preservative, providing energy for the cold, not to mention the heavy alcohol intake since the Viking Age. Also, today, Norwegians are the biggest coffee drinkers in the world – check the stats!

The Processed

Today an everyday Nordic diet is based on processed foods – foods that can be stored on the shelf or in the freezer, especially during the 6 months of darkness and winter when there are no fresh plant foods naturally available.

Naturally, Nordic peoples survived on large quantities of red meat for winter (including sea mammals) and winter fish, breads (because grain stored well) and maybe a few root veg.  They processed their foods with more natural methods like cooking, freezing, drying, salting, pickling and caustic sodaing.  No chemicals or artificial ingredients.  They would still be eating that today if nutritionists and activists hadn’t persuade them to change their diet to be as trendy as the rest of the western world.  (Norwegians have been embracing the Mediterranean diet for decades!)

Claims of Health

Really, any diet that is natural, based on a large variety of fresh clean food is healthy.  The new ‘Nordic Diet’ is just a trend word loosely based off a handful of foods that one population eats only occasionally. This is how naive ‘nutrition’ and ‘nutrition experts’ have become.

One of the points in the article, which gives a good idea of how researchers and media can sensationalize info, is at the bottom with the “only ’5.8 percent’ of Norwegian women are ‘significantly overweight’”.  Ha, where did they get that from?  Picking out an obscure slice of info to support health claims is bad science and deceptive.

Stats Norway reveals 27% of the population is overweight and 10% of these are obese. 17% of the adult pop. have cardiovascular disease and up to 38% of the pop. are basically alcoholics, drinking two or more times a week.  Check out the links below for more info on things like lifestyle and exercise, etc.

Only providing little bits of information distorts the full truth.  Basically, there is a reason the article only took stats from a selection of the population – women – and I wonder what age group of women they chose from, coz I can’t seem to find it.  In the survey form (provided link below), I selected overweight and obese women 16+ as from the latest 2012 national survey. It turns out that a BMI of 27-30 (overweight) is 13% and BMI >30 (obese) is 9%.  The article’s ’5.8% of women’ is hogwash.

What is StatsNorway? It is the Norwegian authority on national surveys for every aspect of the country, where WHO gets their information from.

From someone living and eating in the Arctic north. ;)

Lifestyle and Health Article
http://www.ssb.no/en/helse/statistikker/helseforhold/hvert-3-aar

Survey Form
https://www.ssb.no/statistikkbanken/SelectVarVal/Define.asp?MainTable=LevevanerX&KortNavnWeb=helseforhold&PLanguage=1&checked=true

World Heritage Lille Raipas

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Lille Raipas is a World Heritage listed mountain in our home town, Alta.  It was one of the points used to calculate the circumference of the earth, and how flat the North and South Poles are.  It is about a 2km casual walk to the top with diverse scenery.

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To start we walked through Englandskogen, (England Forest).  We are not sure exactly how the name came about but we guess it might have something to do with all the English men mining for copper in the mountain.

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Norway is a very wet country.  Not that it rains all the time, unless you live in Bergen, but the soil is filled with water, there are many little creeks and waterfalls that run down from the snowy mountains even during the peak of summer.  Along public walking tracks it is usual to have planks to skip over the extra muddy patches.

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Below is a picture of an ant hill.  You might be thinking ‘why?’, but this is the first ant hill I have ever seen in Norway, with my first ants.

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About a third of the way up is a lovely (big) pond, something that I would call a Billabong, being from Australia – secluded with marshes and a small waterfall keeping the water fresh.  It’s perfect for a break up the mountain.

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The mountain contains Europe’s oldest fossils, 1.8 billion year old algae.

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Cabins in Norway are the norm but this little one on the side of the hill was unusually placed.  Powered by solar panels, it sat lonely by the public track half way up the mountain.

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Many different wild flowers and vegetation grow along the track.  Each corner turn gives a new perspective of the Finnmark landscape.

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Near the top of the mountain is a desolate rocky area.  It is all the leftovers from the copper mine, which was worked from 1835-1869, dragged out of the mountain and left.

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The copper mine is fenced off for safety but the entrance can still be seen from the ridge.

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Around the top we were delighted to see cloudberry plants growing in the marshes, although it doesn’t seem like it will be a good season this year because it was quite cold at the beginning of June.  Early summer cold tends to stunt the growth of the season.

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Near the top of the mountain we were using more planks to walk on.  The soil is wetter near the top because the snow melts later.  In a corner pocket of a shady ridge there was even a crevice of white snow still left from winter.

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Over the last climb the views started opening up.  There were a number of high spots on the top of large rocks which we could conquer with ease giving us spectacular panoramic views of the city.

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Just a little further and we reached the summit, marked with a post.

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Off to the side was the totem cairn, to which we added our own rock.  The pile of rocks is actually the meridian marker they used for the geo-scientific survey of the earths circumference.  It was just one of the points in many that crossed 10 countries from the Black Sea to Hammerfest, 2 hours drive north of Alta, the highest city in the world.  On the rock underneath is a plaque in three languages to commemorate the point.

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As part of the trail walking tradition in Norway, there is always a book to sign, marking your achievement of the climb.

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Every Norwegian city (with a mountain) has a trail walking program.  Ti for toppen, is a journey to ten peaks.  It is always a race, and last year two Norwegian men raced with their mountain bikes, climbing all the peaks in just one day!  During Environmental week in June, Alta at least, has a family activity of hiking three of the smaller mountains around the area.  Lille Raipas was one of them this year, along with Komsa and Hjemmeluft mountains.  Our family climbed to the peak of each and punched a special card to receive a commemorative t-shirt at the end.

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We had a picnic at the top of Lille Raipas and while we sat we picked out landmarks and areas of Alta – the sand quarry, the salmon river, Haldde – where the first Northern Lights observatory in the world was built, the fjord, the ski jump, the city, Komsa mountain – an old Sami spiritual ground, the airport and landing planes – yep, the whole city.  It would definitely be the perfect place to watch the Midnight Sun over the northern mountains (if you can survive the monster mosquitoes that come out in the cool afternoon).

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Lille Raipas is a fully marked trail and is an easy climb.  Alta kommune tourist information has maps of trails in the area.  If you have the time when you’re visiting Alta and really love the outdoors and scenery, I recommend a trip up Lille Raipas for a half day activity.  You’d want to take the trip during a sunny day so the mosquitoes won’t want to come out an play!

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