Norway - On the picturesque Telemarken road
( Originally Published 1907 )
Direction—We are facing north. Surroundings—Other wooded, rocky hills of the same character as the one which looms up ahead cutting off our view. Kongsberg and Christiania are away off at our right. Hardanger Fjord is still a long way off at the left. Far ahead over beyond that hill lie vast reaches of lonely heights where nobody lives, in the central part of the country.
Stolkjaerres and kariols are not very comfortable vehicles, and, even with all the intervals of getting out and walking up-hill to spare the horses, a traveler is likely to hail with relief this opportunity for a change and perhaps a substantial meal. At just this moment several travelers seem to have arrived almost simultaneously, and maybe not everybody can have fresh horses at once. The safest way, if one is really in haste, is to write or telephone ahead about the time when the horses will be needed. (See those familiar wires over beyond the bridge. The telephone goes everywhere in this part of the country.) Mail is brought by a carrier in a pony cart, or, in winter, on skis. It is not certain that one will find the people at a little station like this speaking English, still it is always possible, so many country people have either been in America themselves or have had opportunities to pick up at least a few useful phrases. If we wish to experiment with the Norwegian tongue, we might say:
God Morgen! Jeg vil saa snart sore muligt have en Stolk joerre og en Hest. Hvad koster Skydsen til noeste Station?
(Good morning ! I wish as soon as possible to have a stolkjaerre and one horse. What is the cost of driving to the next station?)
If we wish merely to rest the horse and then go on with the same animal, we may perhaps take dinner here. We could even spend the night, for a small chamber or two under that sod covered roof can always be spared for guests. The partition walls in-side a country house of this sort are usually of thin boards, and the floor is only partially covered with rugs or pieces of carpeting. The furniture and tableware are plain, but neatly kept. A substantial meal can be had for less than a quarter of a dollar. Potatoes are pretty sure to be obtainable, with fresh eggs and ham or salt pork, if we like—possibly sausages. There will probably be fresh berries of some sort served with cream, and well-made coffee. The bread will be of rye or barley or a mixture of the two, and cheese is sure to be in evidence—mysost, most likely, that is, a sweetish brown stuff made from goat's milk. It is not bad when one is familiar with it, but many foreigners have amusing experiences learning to like it. Norwegian housewives make it in bars or oblong cakes, which look like soap, and the color of the stuff is really so like old "Brown Windsor" that a stranger might easily misunderstand its nature. They tell in Christiania of a Norwegian who sent some mysost as a present to a German friend, and received in due time a letter saying "the soap is very nice indeed, though somehow we have great difficulty in making it lather!" Special instructions followed.
Before these travelers proceed on their way they will register in the station Dagbog (day-book), stating how many persons were in the party and what was required in the way of horses and vehicles. The posting service is all subject to government supervision, and its details are supposed to be kept continuously on record.
Seeing the place to-day, a traveler from New England might be reminded of Vermont. It is like the Green Mountain region, "only more so !" Just such rocky hillside fields are in Vermont, just such stone-wall fences with planks to bar the gate spaces, just such mountain brooks and winding little rivers. If emigrating Norwegians went to settle in northern New England instead of on the vast, fertile prairies of Illinois, Minnesota and Nebraska, they would find themselves much more at home.
A lonely place this must be when the midsummer tourist season is over and the road little traveled save on neighborhood errands. The winter lasts so long it takes every bit of hay that can possibly be gathered to feed horses, cows and goats through the cold sea-son. The house is modern and well-built, and roaring wood fires keep things comfortable even when the shrill squeaking of the snow under sledge-runners outside tells of a temperature far below zero.
As we go on, with a stolkjaerre and post-boy, we pass waterfalls innumerable. They say that in some parts of Norway one might see a hundred, big and little, in the course of a single day's drive. Streams are continually running down from mountain springs and melting snow banks ; the ponds that they form in the hollows spill their liquid surplus and send new streams racing to find still lower hollows, and so on, till the country is well-nigh covered with irregular water-chains set with ponds for beads. Map 5, to which we should turn now, shows a district a little farther west than our last position. Near the lower right corner of Map 5 a red 26 marks a spot beside the highway where we can see one beautiful knot in such a water-chain.