Norway - Village roofs and sunny fields of Oddenorth
( Originally Published 1907 )
Direction—We are facing now toward several of the most beautiful of the western fjords. For more than two hundred miles straight ahead the coast line is so cut up by long, irregular inlets that it would measure probably three times the straight distance. Surroundings—Behind us the land rises to form the long, sloping, crooked valley through which we have come from Seljestad.
This is a good-sized village for Norway. The fertile land here at the end of the valley is sufficient for several excellent farms. That white church calls together the country people from long distances, both up in the valley through which we have come and from various spots along the fjord, so the village is naturally regarded as an important center. There are shops here supplying people with the few things they have to buy—coffee and sugar, pretty kerchiefs, leather shoes, clocks, etc.—such articles as they can-not produce by home industry. The largest buildings down there near the edge of the fjord are summer hotels, all doing a thriving business for two or three months each year when swarms of tourists land here from excursion steamers, like that big French vessel which now lies off-shore. The tourist season is short, but busy.
Almost every book of Norwegian travel tells about coming here. The open ocean is, of course, off at our left, but, in order for that steamer to reach it on her return voyage, she will have to steam ahead, northward, twenty-five miles before the mountains part; then she will turn southwestward and have a further voyage of nearly fifty miles among picturesque headlands and islands before fairly reaching the open Atlantic.
The lad in the cloth cap is a post-boy in charge of a horse which waits not far away. Down beyond his right shoulder, behind that sod-roofed cottage, we can see one of the tall hay-racks ready for its load ; similar racks, stuffed full of drying grass are dotted all over the valley fields. Fine, fertile land like this may easily be worth as much as three or four hundred dollars an acre, but, of course, it is almost never in the market—as a rule the title to such real estate is inherited, though sometimes a gaardmand (land owner) may suffer reverses of fortune and a husmand (tenant) succeed in accumulating money by dint of special thrift, good luck, or prudent marriage ; then a good bit of land may change owners. Such farms are often rather heavily mortgaged, in order to settle estates where several children have inherited equal titles to the land.
That little river which opens into the fjord down there at the right is practically the same stream which we saw racing along below the Espelandsfos (Position 37), though it has meanwhile poured into a pretty little lake an hour's walk up behind us, and then reappeared as the lake's outlet. The highway follows its course.
At the left of the river's mouth, between there and the church, we can see the gleam of tombstones in the parish churchyard. The Norse people hold pretty closely to certain traditions in regard to funerals and burials; it would be thought a great misfortune not to have one's body laid away in consecrated ground. Readers who remember Professor Boyesen's Falconberg—a story of Norse emigrant life out in Minnesota, U. S. A., will recall the dramatic punishment meted out by an autocratic pastor to an offending parishioner, by the stern refusal to give a certain protege the prayers of the church and a bed in hallowed earth. That Minnesota settlement, by the way, was called "Hardanger" after this very district where we are now. Every person in the story may be sup-posed to have known by heart the popular verses of Wergeland praising this charming corner of old Norway. Poets have eternal license to ignore small discords and immortalize the harmonious.
"If there be a place so blest,
But now let us go down into the village itself. Our next position will be at a window in the Hardanger Hotel at the left of the church.