Norway – Leaving Odde for an excursion

Norwegian poets have always shown a special affection for this part of Hardanger. Henrik Wergeland’s great poem The English Pilot, contains a particularly vivid description of this charming region. Here is a fragment of it in English :—*

“Where in pale blue ranks arise Alps that rim the mountain valley ; Where above the crystal spring Blooms the snow-white apple-tree, And in tracks of snow you see Wild white roses blossoming; Where a stream begins its song Like a wind-harp low and muffled, Murmuring through the moss and stones ; Then among the alders moans, Rushes out, involved and ruffled, By a youthful impulse driven, Foaming, till it reach the vale, And, like David with his harp, From a shepherd made a king By the songs that it can sing, Triumphs through the listening dale.”

And Andreas Munch has written a beautiful poem on this region. It has a magnificent melody and is popular in all of the Scandinavian countries. Here is the first stanza of it:

“There quivers a glittering summer air Warm over Hardanger fjord’s fountains, Where high ‘gainst the heavens, so blue and so bare, Are towering the mighty mountains. The glacier shines bright, The hillside is green, The people are clad In their Sunday clothes clean,”

It is for all the world as if he had written it about this very day and these very people!

That larger vessel off shore is the same French excursion steamer which we saw when we were up on the hill behind the village. Some of these people on the wharf are foreign tourists, some are country people. A great many middle-aged and elderly men shave the upper lip, but wear a full, bushy beard under and around the chin. The favorite hand-baggage of the women ought to be in evidence, but someway nobody seems to have her tine in sight at just this moment. A tine corresponds to a lunch-basket, a shopping or traveling hag, a market-basket, a “suit-case” or valise, in short, to almost every sort of receptable for hand-baggage. It may be of any size from a mere toy a few inches long to one or two feet. It is an elliptical wooden box with a flat cover ; the cover has a deep notch at each end and is sprung into place by fitting each notch around a sort of stave which projects above the end of the box. The nicest tines are painted in gay colors or finished with a burning iron, and decorated with conventional flowers and leaves. Sometimes a tine has a wooden partition inside, dividing the space so that clothing and luncheon may be neatly packed under the one cover. There is a handle in the cover by which to carry it.

Nearly all the supplies used at Odde and the scattered farms in this vicinity are brought on steamers of this sort from the coast towns. It is a twelve-hour voyage from Bergen, off ahead of us at the left, or a twenty-four-hour voyage from Stavanger, behind us at the left. Local fares on a steamer like this are trifling in amount, and people patronize the boat quite freely. Money is, of course, comparatively scanty, even where people live very comfortably in-deed. Many a prosperous farmer hereabout handles in the course of a year less actual cash than a single month’s wages of an American factory operative, for almost every commonplace daily need is supplied from his own few acres of field, pasture and woodland or from the water of the fjord.

We can guess for ourselves somewhere near the time of day by noticing those shadows on the wharf and remembering that we are now facing almost due north. The western sunshine tells its own story. If we were to ask one of these people the exact hour, the answer might mislead us, even if we understood Norwegian, for they have a different way of describing certain intervals. Halv lem (“half five”) means not 5 :30, but 4:30; it signifies literally “half-way to-ward five.” Tre Kvarter til et (“three-quarters to one”) means what Americans call “a quarter to one,” i. e., 12:45; but the Norwegian expression is really more exact, for the hands of the clock do stand three-quarters of the way toward one !

Far ahead on the east side of the fjord we can see farm-buildings occupying little hollows in the mountain-side—-such homes will be seen many times as we continue our way through the country. The snow-field, of which we see one corner drooping over the high cliffs beyond that mast, is part of the same one which we saw in the distance when we were up in the mountains near Seljestad. In several places along the side of that big, high tableland, masses of snow, compacted by their own weight into the form of glacial ice, slide downward, filling the steep valleys which form their channels. One such glacier (the Buar) is farther southwest, off behind us and out of range. There is a tradition that its enormous weight of ice, perpetually wasting and perpetually renewed, covers the place where once upon a time used to be a little hamlet. They say the people there had committed some awful sin and as a punishment the Lord sent a terrible snowstorm which lasted seventy days, burying the entire settlement as a solemn warning to ungodly communities. If you doubt, they tell you how years and years ago remnants of old dairy furniture, milk buckets or bowls or something of that sort, were found under the glacier, freed by the midsummer melting of its lower edge. Perhaps that proves the story. Again, perhaps the fragments may have come from some long-abandoned s ter. Perhaps they had never been milk buckets at all. In any case the story is impressive.

One of the most interesting local excursions made from Odde is to a certain valley high up on the mountains at the east (right) of the fjord. It takes a whole day to go up there and return. The custom is to go in a row-boat or a little launch from here to a point about four miles down the fjord, then land on the east bank and climb up through woods and steep, rocky pastures to a point 1850 feet higher than the fjord. Beyond that height is a hollow with two lakes, one of them about four miles long. One rows the length of that lake ; then another half hour’s climb takes the tourist to the spot which our map marks 42. It is worth while to identify the spot (on Map 5) ; the knowledge that it takes six hours to get there from Odde will make the spaces on paper mean more !