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.
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.
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.
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.
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”.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
There were so many berries that it didn’t take us long to pick a tub full, especially when we are dual-welding pickers.
Though a lot doesn’t make it to the tub.
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.
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!
Though, this crowberry plant above is getting a little ambitious growing up through the bark of a living tree.
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.
Standing in an Arctic forest is calming and enlightening. It gives you an understand of the power of life.
For six months of the year the forest sleeps under a thick bed of snow. No sunlight.
But every year, without fail, after the snow has melted away and the sun has returned, the forest renews with diverse plant and wildlife.
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.
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.
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.
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.
To top the blueberry waffles… more blueberries, of course!
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!