Upper Thelemarken

Is rich in the sombre and weird landscape of its deep valleys, and its mountains are dotted with numerous lakes. The hunter roams over its forests in search of game and wild reindeer; the angler finds in its streams and lakes trout which send joy to his heart.

A few miles from Rjukandfoss is Lake Mjos Vand. A mountain-path from the plateau above the fall passes through a grassy region, over which are scattered many saeters. Mjos Vand is 2830 feet above the sea, and has a length of 27 miles. Its shores are very irregular, its southern end dividing into two long narrow branches, while on the north it terminates in .the midst of wilder scenery. A short distance from Aamotsdal Church the good road gives place to a rough one, over which, however, a cart can pass, leading to the lower end of the lake called Kromviken, a route which I have often taken. The shores in many places are covered with large tracts called myr (moor) ; these are dangerous, being covered often only with a thin coat of grassy soil not strong enough to support the weight of a man.

Here and there is a farm dating back almost to prehistoric ages. A new chapel, where service is held several times a year, and a school, stand close to the farm of Hovden. The saeters are mostly owned by the neighboring farmers, who derive a modest revenue by letting them. Many a pleasant day have I spent among the people of this lonely region.

The amusements here are few, chiefly dances at the farms.

Occasionally they have a bränvin frolic. When one of them goes to the town each farmer contributes a certain sum of money for buying the liquor, all of which when bought in town is put in one keg ; the division is made at the farm. I remember once, on arriving at a house, the farmer said, ” Paul, Dr. Dunk has come I” This is the name they sometimes give to the keg. Not knowing what he meant, I said, “I am very glad. Has he gone hunting in the mountains?” He perceived my mistake, but said nothing. In the evening I said, ” Where is Dr. Dunk? it is strange that he has not returned.” In a confidential way he replied, ” The doctor is here ;” and, taking me into a small room, whispered, “here he is; look at him.” I looked in the direction indicated, and saw the keg; laughing, he added, ” This is Dr. Dunk ; when he comes to us who live in the mountains he is always welcome, for he makes our hearts merry.” Then the frolic began ; the farmers assembled, and did not leave the place till the keg was empty, and each had drank his share. On the morrow they had the usual violent headache, and the farmer said, “Paul, Dr. Dunk is never so nice the day after his arrival as the day he comes to us.”

One of the great charms of travelling in the country is that enjoyed by the pedestrian, who, leaving the highway, follows the bridle or foot paths leading to the mountain passes, from which he obtains views of which the roads can give him no idea,

There are few lakes where-trout are so abundant as in Mjos Vand. There is hardly any clear river or lake in Norway where this fish is not found. There are really only two varieties, the Salmo eriox and the so-called Alpine trout (Salmo alpinus). In certain lakes, especially in those of Upper Thelemarken, the first attains a very large size; I have seen many weighing from six to twelve pounds, and in rare cases they reach twenty pounds. Both frequent the rivers and lakes; the latter, however, being found only in the north. In September and beginning of October they ascend the rivers to spawn, and large numbers of them are caught with nets, and salted for winter use. The flavor of this fish is most agreeable, and the flesh of a rose color ; the farmers often cook the roe in cream—a delicious dish.

The huntsman and fisherman must know where to go. There are lakes and rivers in the mountains which swarm with trout. I have seen hundreds, even thousands, of wild reindeer together, and much skill is required in order to approach them. One may be weeks without seeing a single one, and success depends on the direction of the wind. The deer always march against it, and with a change in its course will quickly disappear. Nothing afforded me greater pleasure than to go alone, with my Remington, a splendid light weapon, in search of these animals. This rifle is very popular among the Norwegians, who seem to prefer it to any other.

From Mjos Vaud a bridle-path leads to Totak Lake, 2170 feet above the sea; it is about 17 miles in length, and widest at the south-easterly extremity. Its deep fjords penetrate like bays into the dark mountains, several of which rise 3000 feet above the sea; the contrast of deep-green water with the rocks produces a very striking and sombre effect. The costume of Upper Thelemarken is also less grotesque than that of the lower part of the province. The men dress in dark blue or black jacket, waistcoat with silver buttons, and pantaloons of the same woollen material. The women wear a kerchief in a peculiar way over their head, and a dark homespun skirt.

Many of the farm buildings are very old, some being occupied by the descendants of families who lived there long before the time of the plague (1350), and who were spared in that pestilence, which swept over the land like the shadow of death. Touching legends are told of that dreadful time, when the population of whole districts was destroyed.

By this plague, which desolated Europe, whole districts of Sweden and Norway were depopulated; and there is a tradition that in the province of Vermland only one man and one woman were left. The scourge also appeared in Iceland and Greenland : as no record of the flourishing colonies of the latter is known to’ exist, the supposition is that -the entire population was at that time destroyed.

The church of Raudland is very old. As I left its churchyard I came to a hollow which seemed peculiar. It was the spot which tradition points out as the grave of ‘den brune Fornaes hest (the brown horse of Fornæs), the subject of a legend of the days of the Sorte’, dod (black death), called usually by English-speaking people the “black plague.” The mountaineer who was with me became very sober as he told Me the story of the noble animal, as follows :

The black plague reached Norway in 1349 and 1350, visited its wildest mountain regions, and penetrated the remotest districts. In many places all the inhabitants of the hamlets and the farms perished, no one being left to tell the tale. The scourge came also to Thelemarken, and swept like an avalanche over Raudland and MjOs Vand. On the bank of the latter opposite Hovden was the farm of Fornaes, to which the famous horse belonged. At that time there was no church at Hovden, and no church-yard, and the people had to worship and be buried at Raudland. Day after day, while the pestilence raged, the horse came to the church-yard bearing the bodies of the dead ; and after awhile he began to know the way so well that he needed no guidance. Soon there was no one with strength enough to follow him; but, when the sleigh had been loaded with the bodies, he would go by himself to Raudland, and, after the people in charge of the graveyard had performed the burial rites, the intelligent animal retraced his steps homeward alone. The faithful creature had no rest, for as soon as he had returned to Mjüs Vand it was time to go again with others of the dead; very often he was so weary that he staggered through the deep snow, sinking into it, and hardly having strength to extricate himself. When the snow was hard, he would go and come quickly; if it was soft, he had to travel very slowly. The time finally arrived when the people of Mjos Vand were all dead except one man. The plague attacked him ; and, knowing that it -was fatal, he placed the snow-shoes on the horse’s feet, harnessed the animal, tied himself with a cord upon the sleigh, and then died. The horse went slowly along with the last inhabitant of Mjös Vand to-wards the church-yard of Raudland ; but on his way, when he had reached Falkeriset, 3040 feet above the sea, the highest hill between Mjôs Vand and Raudland strand, he lost one of his snow-shoes. Finding that he could go no farther, as he kept sinking deeper and deeper into the snow at every step, he gave a powerful neigh, as if to call for help. The people of Raudland hearing him, came with other snow-shoes, and lie continued his way. After the body had been buried the horse entered the church-yard, went to the grave of every one he had brought from Mjös Vand, and stopped a little while before each. His work was now done; the people he had known were all buried there; nobody needed his services any more. Slowly he went away, with his head down, towards one of the hollows between the moraines, a little east of the church ; and there, breaking his snow-shoes, he rolled himself into the hollow, put his head upon his breast, gave a sigh, and expired.

” This place,” said the peasant, pointing to the hollow, “is still called heste dokken (horse hole), and Fornaes brun is still remembered by us; he was a noble horse, and we love to tell the story to our children as our fathers told it to us, so that his name may go down to future generations. Yes,” lie added, “it was a sad time for Norway; at Ôdefjeld, at the other extremity of the lake, only one married woman was left.”

The parsonage was at no great distance; the pastor had two other churches under his charge, one of which was that of Mjos Vand, where he held services six times a year. He was some-what of a poet, and had published some hymns ; he was frank in his manner, liberal in his views, and truly hospitable.

The Lutheran Church is the national church of Norway and Sweden, and it is only within recent times that other sects have been allowed to build houses of worship ; but even to this day certain offices cannot be held except by Lutherans.

Not far from the church is the ancient farm of Raudland, with a stabbur, said to have been built about A.D. 1000. Near the shore is the farm of Berge, embracing eight buildings–the dwelling-house being a type of Thelemarken architecture. On the left of the entrance was a room about 20 feet square, with the usual open fireplace in the corner—furnished with a large table, painted red, a wooden bench, and a few oddly shaped chairs, each made of the trunk of a tree ; the windows consisted of small panes of glass. In two of the corners of the room beds had been constructed which resembled the bunks on shipboard. These bunks were gaudily painted, and the frame made fast to the ceiling, which was not more than 8 feet high. A bright-colored sideboard, as tall as the room, and fastened to the wall, contained plates, glass, spoons, etc. Three windows, in two of which were pots of flowers, gave sufficient light. The floor was dirty, for it was only washed every Saturday, and people were continually going in and out with muddy shoes. Facing the dwelling-house was the stab-bur, probably over five hundred years old ; but I saw much older wooden buildings in various parts of Norway. The picture (page 419) gives a good idea of a stabbur. I ascended a steep ladder to the upper story, to which entrance was gained by the use of an enormous key ; the door turned upon strange looking hinges, and the only light came through the fanciful open wood-work of the piazza.; There was an aspect of the Middle Ages in the dark room, for everything in it was old and odd ; the principal objects were huge chests, upon which were written the names of the owners; each of the three daughters of Rickard, the owner of the place, had her own chest marked with her name, whose contents would form an important part of her dowry, in the shape of wearing apparel and trinkets. Upon cross-poles hung fourteen sheep-skins as white as snow; women’s skirts and dresses embroidered in silver ; several table-cloths, with fanciful crochet-work at each end, and blankets of bright colors from Vossevangen, were disposed about the room. There was a bed where formerly the husband and wife slept; but since the girls had grown up all had chambers in the house previously described. The room below contained on one side large grain-bins placed closely together; also stores of mutton, salted bacon, bags of flour, and baskets containing wool, some of which had been carded. Rickard and his wife Sigrid were exceedingly hospitable; and Torbjor, Sigrid, and Ingeborg—their daughters—were models of thrift. The many pleasant days I have spent at Berge will long be remembered:

Among the ancient customs of the rural population that still prevail in many parts of the country is that of “bundling,” called here frieri, which really means “courtship.” I have occasionally witnessed it, and it has afforded me at times much amusement.

On Saturday it is usual for the parents, who wish to have a good night’s rest, and do not want to be kept awake by constant knockings, to leave the doors open ; for, if they are blessed with many daughters, they may be sure that there will be no end of visitors. The damsels often live far away; consequently the lovers may have to walk miles, perhaps, on very dark nights, over snow and frozen lakes, or through winding and dangerous mountain-paths, when the weather is intensely cold; but nothing seems to check their determination except a drenching rain-storm. It is generally arranged that the hour of arrival shall be after the old folks have retired.

This absence of guile in many districts can hardly be believed or conceived by a stranger. When returning tired and wet from the hunt, or some mountain excursion, to a friend’s farm, I have been put to bed by some female member of the family as if I had been a child, and tucked up with the admonition to sleep quietly, with a pleasant “good-night.” Early the next morning a cup of coffee is brought to you in bed, either by mother or daughter.