Norway – The Land And The Sky

The Scandinavian peninsula, of which Norway is the outer or western half, consists largely of granite, gneiss and other very ancient rocks, comparatively little changed since they were first formed by the cooling of the earth’s molten stuff aeons ago. Especially in the Romsdal (valley of the Rauma river) the ancient gneiss takes magnificently picturesque forms, towering a mile high above the river. (See e. g., Position 89.) Sedimentary rocks belonging to the Silurian period cover a large area around Christiania Fjord in southeastern Norway. In the interior of the country, sparagmite, quartzite, schists, sand-stones and limestones often appear overlying the more ancient formations.

Southern Norway is comparatively low, though almost everywhere broken by hills. (See Kongsberg, at Position 14.) From the south and east the land rises more and more, until along the west and north-west coast it forms a- vast, elevated plateau, broken into innumerable ragged remnants, where it comes to a precipitous end, facing the North Atlantic. (See the Folgefond, Position 36; the mountains behind Marok, Position 86; the walls above Lyngenfjord, Position 98; the North Cape, Position 99.) This being the case, of course the only room for long river valleys is toward the eastern part of Norway, the valleys dipping southward. Engineers have taken ad-vantage of Norway’s one really long valley—that of the Glommen river, 400 miles, utilizing it as the route for the kingdom’s principal railway. (Refer to Transportation, page 301.)

Geological authorities are agreed that there has been a decided change of the coast-lines in Norway during the period of human habitation. In a recent work (1905) Professor W. C. Brogger of the University of Christiania has shown that at the close of the older stone age in Norway (about 7,000 years ago) the coastline at Christiania was about 225 feet lower than it is at present. In other words, the land has been rising at the rate of about three feet per century. These investigations are of great interest, for it is the careful observations in the change of the coast-lines in connection with the finds of stone implements along the various levels that has made it possible to estimate the antiquity of man in Norway.

In a prehistoric age the whole of Norway was covered by glaciers. It has been stated on good authority that the extraordinary ploughing and rending of the western coast was the work of almost inconceivably heavy masses of glacial ice, grinding and tearing their way to the sea. Other authorities disbelieve that glacial ice alone was responsible for the deep-cut fjords and the chopped-up fringe of islands that make Norway’s sea-coast so extraordinarily disproportionate to her main area. (See map 2.) Of Norway’s 123,000 square miles, 8,600 miles are in those fringing “skerries” or outlying islands, which act now like breakwaters to protect the coast proper from the greatest force of Atlantic storms. One fact certainly difficult of explanation according to the theory of glacial cutting is that the great, torn inlets known as fjords are in several cases deeper than the ocean just off-shore. The Sognefjord, for example, whose long, crooked cleft reaches away up one hundred miles into the heart of the country, is in some places over 4,000 feet deep. Some Norwegian geologists have, how-ever, a plausible explanation of the great depth of the fjords. They believe that before the Great Ice Age the beds of the fjords were canon-like river beds, made so by erosion, and that later the glacial ice broadened rather than deepened these beds. The sinking of the land at this early time, of which there is geological evidence, permitted the sea to fill these broadened cafions, thus making fjords.

One particularly interesting thing about Norway is the fact that certain of her high table-lands are still covered with glacial ice, its masses continually sliding down to lower levels as the lowermost portions melt. (See, for instance, the Hardanger glacier, Position 47.) And, of course, in a land where great ice masses are melting every summer, and where the rainfall is heavy besides, vast volumes of water are continually descending to run off into the sea. This means that the mountain regions of Norway show the traveler an amazing number of superb waterfalls. (Rjukan Fos, Position 20, and others.)

The fact that glaciers and mountain torrents are so much in evidence in Norway, makes the country especially interesting to travelers, who like to see with their own eyes the way our habitable earth was made. The very process of creation may still be watched in Norway. One can see for himself how the accumulating snows get compacted into solid ice (Brigsdal, at Position 74)—how the ice rasps and grinds its way downward, tearing fragments off the rocks and carrying the debris down into the valleys (Brigsdal, at Positions 72-73). One can see how the mountain streams work like water-mills, wearing the broken rocks smaller and smaller and grinding them against each other (Skarsfos, Position 38, and also Skjeggedalsfos at Position 42). The contributory work of avalanches or landslides can be noted, too, scraping accumulations of loose rocks from mountainsides and throwing them down into the valleys. (See Espelandsfos at Position 37, and the road above Gudvangen, in the Naerodal, at Position 58.) One finds over and over again those marvellous primitive organisms, the lichens and mosses, eating at the surface of the rocks, dissolving and digesting their mineral substance and making it ready for the food of higher orders of plants and of animals (e. g., at Botten, Position 27; along the Bratlandsdal road, Position 35; or beside the Naerofjord below Gudvangen, Position 60). And in all sorts of places on the lower levels one finds spread out be-fore his eyes the slowly accumulated gravel and sediment from centuries and ages of ice-and-water action, forming fields, fertile under the long summer day’s sunshine. (Roldal, Position 32; Odde, Position 39; Hogrenning farm, Position 79.)

The actual area of such cultivable land is after all only about 3 per cent. of the total area of the country, 3,500 square miles in all. Twenty-two per cent. of the country is forest-covered, 75 per cent. consists of high, barren heaths in the interior (e. g., the Hardanger Vidda, Position 45), or lofty, bare cliffs (see North Cape, Position 99), or sheets of glacial ice (see Grytereids glacier, Position 67).

The southernmost land in Norway is in latitude 58°. The northernmost land—indeed the most far-north point in all Europe—is the North Cape, latitude 71° 6′ 45″ (Position 99). Yet, for all that, the harbors on the west coast are not ice-bound. Warm ocean currents sweep so near the shore that even away up at Trondhjem, 63° 30′, the river Nid seldom freezes, and the harbor never freezes at all.

The west coast is a district of heavy and long-continued rains; fogs are also common. But when the sun does get a chance to shine, it does its good work with a persistence surprising to people accustomed to lower latitudes. In the latter part of June the sun rises about 2:30 A. M. on the market gardens around Christiania, and does not set till about half-past nine in the evening. The same is true at Bergen, where the longest day lasts nineteen hours ; but Bergen is famous for its rainy weather, so the fields do not get all the good they might out of the long-continued daylight. Of course, as one goes farther and farther north in midsummer, while the earth’s northern pole is tilted toward the sun, the longer the time the sun stays above the horizon each day. At Trondhjem the longest summer day has twenty-one hours. At Tromso in clear weather the sun does not go entirely out of sight below the horizon for two whole months; i. e., from the 18th of May to the 25th of July. At Hammerfest, it stays in sight from May 13th to July 29th. At the North Cape, provided the weather were clear (it seldom is so!) the sun would be in sight day and night, from the 11th of May to the 1st of August. Highest in the south at noon and lowest in the north at midnight, it does not actually swing below the horizon at all, but circles obliquely around and around the heavens. (See Position 100.)

The effect of the extreme length of the summer days in Norway is noticeable in forcing rapid and luxuriant growth of grains and field vegetables, as well as profuse leafage on the deciduous trees. Three months of nearly continuous sunlight seem to be almost equivalent to a lower latitude. Wheat and rye have sometimes been found to grow two inches in a single day. We ourselves can see a good crop of barley being harvested (at Position 66), in Olden Valley, almost as far north as Iceland. As a matter of fact it can be successfully raised for up within the Arctic circle. Potatoes are not uncommon beyond Trondhjem.

Pines, spruces and kindred cone-bearing trees are most common on the Norwegian hills (see Position 1), but oaks, elms, beeches and birches are also plentiful. See the bouquets of thick foliage in the valley alongside the Rauma river (at Position 89), in latitude 62° 30′; beautiful tree hedges at Trondhjem (see Position 91) in latitude 63° 30′, notice also trees in a pretty little public park away beyond the Arctic Circle (Position 95) at Tromso, in latitude 69° 38′. We shall find thrifty looking shrubs even farther still toward the Pole (at Position 98), as we sail through the Lyngenfjord on our trip to the North Cape.

Apples, cherries and a variety of small-fruits are raised as far north as Trondhjem. Wild strawberries, raspberries and bilberries are often found still farther north than that. In the vicinity of Bergen the flower-gardens are famous for their luxuriance, and roses flourish beside the hotel at Odde.

The length of Norway’s midsummer days is, of course, balanced astronomically by the length of her winter nights. At Christmas time in Christiania, the sun is above the horizon only about five hours. In Tromso on a winter’s day the sun may not rise until ten in the forenoon, setting again by two in the after-noon. At Hammerfest the sun omits to look over the horizon for three months at a stretch. That used to be a more serious hardship than it is now. Electric lights have recently been introduced into the town to mitigate the depressing effect of the continuous darkness.

The conditions of the country as regards winter temperature are rather unusual. For reasons not entirely understood even by scientists, the average January temperature is about 23° in Christiania and Hammerfest alike, though the latter town is more than seven hundred miles farther north. A winter in the Lofoten Islands would not be likely to be any colder than a winter in southern Denmark, Farther in from the coast, on the high table-lands of the interior, it is naturally very much colder.

The animal inhabitants of the kingdom are, in general, such as are found in other parts of northern Europe—foxes, wolves and bears are still found ; a peculiar little creature, the lemming, which looks like a rat, is numerous in certain districts. Elk and deer are becoming rare. The most interesting of Nor-way’s wild creatures is, by all odds, the reindeer. Tourists making the trip to the North Cape nearly always visit certain Lapp settlements (at Position 96), near Tromso, where the animals are semi-domesticated and kept like cattle for their milk, hides and flesh, as well as being used for draught-animals. It is, however, very seldom that travelers go so far enough off the beaten routes to see herds of wild reindeer, that have never been touched by a human hand (Position 45).

The Norse wild-fowl most interesting to hunters are the capercailzie (Tiur in Norwegian), ptarmigan and grouse. Eider-ducks—furnishing the valuable “down” of commerce—are numerous in very high latitudes, chiefly within the Arctic Circle. The islands and fjord-shores along the northwest coast abound in wild-geese and ducks, petrels, pelicans, swans, grabes, auks, gulls, curlews, and other fowl of the same orders.