Norway - Old log houses down in the Bratlandsdal
( Originally Published 1907 )
Direction—We are facing south, down stream. Surroundings—High, gloomy mountain walls like the one just ahead.
We can hardly find to-day in Norway anything more primitive than these old structures, rudely fastened together by hewing out matched notches near the timber ends, fitting the logs together at right angles, and pounding them into place with heavy mallets. A few big iron nails would be sufficient to make the walls stand secure as need be around corner posts well driven into the ground. Evidently this nearer structure is not used for a dwelling (more likely it is a shelter for the cow and goats), but in old times, with that gable tightly boarded and the cracks stuffed with moss and hay, it would have been a shelter not to be despised on a cold, wet night. True, there is no sign of a chimney, but even that does not prove much. A few generations ago many farmers in the remotest corners of the country built the household fire on a big stone hearth in one corner of the living room and let the smoke find its way out of a hole in the roof above.
This ancient roof, covered with heavy sod, was made on the same plan as the smooth, tidy one we saw at Grundeshro (Position 25), only here the roof blanket is so thick and so old that not only grass, but young trees actually grow out of its soil. A good many weeds were naturally started in the soil when the first layer of sod was put on there years ago, and every time the roof has been mended with a patch of sod or a handful of dirt, more seeds have sown them-selves or even been thrown tip there in order to en-courage the growth of a tough mat of interlacing roots. It is not at all extraordinary to see a goat up on such a roof—the little beasts have sharp eyes for the discovery of every toothsome bit of green.
Boys and girls like these young folks here expect to have some tasks every day—watching the goat, drawing water, fetching wood to boil the porridge-kettle, and things of that sort, but they have a good deal of fun besides. Every boy enjoys fishing and hunting foxes and squirrels. Little girls here, as in other lands, treasure gay bits of decorated crockery and play at housekeeping. Wild berries are abundant in sunny clearings in the edge of the woods. To be dressed in Sunday best clothes and go up to Roldal to church is a great occasion, and quite exciting on account of the number of other people to be met there. In winter, when the sun does not rise over the mountains till after the middle of the forenoon and then sleepily goes down behind other mountains before the middle of the afternoon, the long hours by fire-light or candle-light serve a boy for learning to whittle and fit together farm tools or to carve wooden trays and bowls. The small maiden has a chance to become early expert with her knitting needles. And, if they are as fortunate as the children in Norse stories, there is probably some older person willing to tell long, rambling tales of adventure, of ghosts and of goblins. These children may never have heard of "Little Red Riding-hood," but most likely they have heard eerie tales of "the Hulder"—a siren-like witch whose delight it is to cast a spell on some human being and keep him wandering, wandering, wandering through the woods and over the barren moors, unable to get back home. The Hulder, it is told, sometimes comes to farmhouses, even to village festivals, in search of victims. She looks like a pretty young woman with fair hair, but she has a long tail like a cow and that often betrays her by showing beneath the border of her petticoats. Gunnar's grandmother told him all about the Hulder and how one youth in old times was saved by hearing the church-bell ring just as he was being lured away.
"Then saw I the form of the Hulder fair
0, young lads and maidens, beware, beware,
Children like these almost never beg for money. No matter how scanty may be the means of the family, a rigid tradition of self-respect forbids everything of that sort. However, most little Norwegians are human and like as well as anybody else to get a few ore by selling berries or opening gates or per-forming similar services. The customary form of acknowledgment is a shy Mange tak ("many thanks") and an offer to shake hands. There is hardly a place in the world where everyday etiquette involves so much handshaking as here in Norway.
The remarkable part of the valley road is a little farther down, where the ravine narrows sharply, its walls holding very little soil—mostly just bare rock. If you read Goodman's Best Tour in Norway, you will find it all described, but better than reading is the chance to see it with your own eyes at the point marked 35 on the map. There is no outlook to any considerable distance; the "lay of the land" forbids.