Norway – Mindresunde farm in the valley near Olden

This is an excellent farm, belonging to a prosperous family. Those numerous barns and outbuildings make it look almost like a tiny hamlet. The grist-mill just over the head of that stooping man is the very one at which we have just been looking. Most of the thrifty farmers have them unless a neighbor’s mill is particularly easy of access. The other buildings include barns, cow stables, winter shelters for goats, pigs and hens, a granary, a storehouse for all sorts of household belongings packed in chests or hung from the rafters, a wash-house and various other annexes to the establishment. Bacon and ham are often cured in a smoke-house belonging to such a farm ; sometimes the master even has a forge of his own—life here has great possibilities of independence.

The barley which they are cutting now will be tied in large handfuls, and then the bunches will be stuck on poles to dry after the manner in which we have already seen it. Over there in the distant field are stacks of some kind of grain already drying, probably barley, oats or rye. They say Norway barley has been known to grow two inches in twenty-four hours, so powerful is the effect of twenty hours’ continuous sunshine such as they get here in clear July weather. Rye planted about the tenth of June sometimes grows taller than this man’s head before the end of August. There is a wonderful generosity about Norway’s scanty acres when Mother Earth does make up her mind to give ! Naturally enough the primitive country folk, before they had heard any preaching of Christianity, cherished the belief that among the many warring gods there was one whose mission was all kindness and goodness. Balder the Beautiful, the Sun God, brought the birds and the flowers and the warm sunshine ; thanks to his beneficent smile, the earth gave them food for themselves and for their cows and goats and sheep. No wonder that Midsummer Day was the happiest festival of the year, a time of public rejoicing.

Taking the country as a whole, almost every other man in the kingdom today still gets his bread and butter directly from the soil, as these people do here (48 per cent. is the official published figure.) In this part of Norway the population averages less than fifteen persons to a square mile—we shall presently see parts of one immense glacier that covers 500 square miles, thus helping to bring the average down. Almost everywhere, as here, women are in the majority—that is to be expected, when emigration figures reach, as they do, 25,000 in a single year, for, of course, men are most numerous among the emigrants, though Norwegian women face with admirable courage the problems of life in a new land.

Modern agricultural machinery is practically unknown. It is not needed on these small, rocky farms, even if the workers were not conservative by instinct; but many of the people hereabouts know from letters and from hearsay about the marvelous doings that take place on the great wheat ranches of America and western Canada. Indeed, some of their own relatives and old friends over in Minnesota and Manitoba do harvesting with a huge horse-power machine, cutting, binding, threshing and sacking, as it moves along over a field, and doing as much work in one day as all the able-bodied people in this parish could do together in a week.

A home like this is almost invariably hospitable; that has for centuries been the tradition of the country. In the Elder Edda there is a delightful picture of a visit at a rich farmer’s house:

“He came to a hall, The door was to the south And it was shut. A ring was in the door-post. Then he went in. The floor was strewn with rushes. The husband sat And twisted strings, Bent an elm, Shafted arrows.

“The momo took A broidered cloth, A white one of flax, Covered the table; Then she took Thin loaves, Laid them on the cloth. Forth she set Full trenchers, Silver covered, On the table- Shining pork And roasted birds; Wine was in a jug. They drank and talked, The day was passing away.”

Now let us see Lake Olden itself. The map shows how long and narrow it is, so we shall not be surprised to find that, when we look across it from the spot marked 67 on the east bank, it looks almost like a river—not like a Norwegian river, though, for Norse streams seldom have a chance to lie so quietly in their beds !