Seasons Near The Arctic Circle
( Originally Published 1881 )
FROM the arctic circle southward vegetation increases rap-idly. A great part of the province of Westerbotten is covered with forests of fir and pine trees, the former predominating; these begin on the slopes of the mountains, at a height of ten to thirteen hundred feet, and extend to the sea, a distance of one hundred and fifty miles. The country becomes gradually more thickly settled ; numerous saw-mills convert into planks the immense quantity of logs floated down the lakes and rivers; agriculture is carried on in a more intelligent manner; the farm-buildings are larger and well built, and the dwelling houses are spacious.
Here I have seen at the end of April blinding snow-storms, and have found the little lakes near the sea, such as that of Stocksjo, near Umeâ, frozen till the 15th of May; but, never theless, the people were ploughing.
From the 20th to the 24th of May the farmers are busy sowing their grain, both men and women being in the fields. The contents of the refuse heaps of the year, which have been carefully kept, are by the women thrown with shovels broadcast over the land. On the 28th the first swallows made their appearance, and two days after the singing of a cuckoo announced the approach of sumnmer. Inland the season was later; in the Ume Valley, at the beginning of June, there was much ice on Tafvelsjon, and patches of snow here and there at the foot of hills ; farther up the valley vegetation was still more backward ; but in summer, even farther north, I have seen superb fields of rye.
The buildings of a farm are composed of detached houses, surrounding a sort of yard; all are painted red when the master is thrifty, and, at any rate, the dwelling-house : kitchen or flower-gardens may be said to be unknown among the regular farmers.
In the reception-room, kept scrupulously clean, the floor is more or less covered with home-made rugs, and a porcelain stove, rounded or square, generally white, reaches to the ceiling, a height of about ten feet. The sleeping-rooms have comfort-able beds, and the mattresses and pillows are invariably filled with feathers.
The great room is the kitchen, with its bright open fireplace, which gives light in the evening, and gladdens as well as warms the household; here, of course, the cooking and preparing of the meals takes place, and its furniture is simple and serviceable. Along the walls are sliding beds of plain board, used as seats during the day, and filled with straw or hay for the night; these beds can be opened wide enough to accommodate two or three. The whole household sleep in that same room—brothers and sisters, men and maid-servants; the women always with their skirts on, and the men partly dressed.
In this general living-room poles are secured near the ceiling by the fireplace, upon which in the evening the clothing and stockings are hung to dry. The cellar is under this room, and is accessible through a trap-door in the floor; there the potatoes, beer, butter, cheese, and sundry other articles are kept.
In this living-room the every-day company is received; the men smoke, spitting on the floor, which is washed every Saturday, when a general cleaning takes place. Table-cloths are not used, but the board is kept clean ; forks are unknown, and plates are rarely used, the bread being used instead. A large bowl of potatoes is placed in the centre of the table, from which each one helps himself ; the butter is generally portioned out beforehand, and often the meat or fish; each helps himself also from a large wooden bowl containing soar milk, after shaking it well.
The people, except on extra occasions, change their linen or underclothes once a week, on Saturday evening, after the work is finished. Often the family washing takes place only once in three months, and the amount is then enormous.
On a day in August I landed at Holmsund, at the mouth of the Umeâ River—one of the many hamlets whose wharves are packed with millions of feet of lumber ready for shipment. Nothing can give a better idea of the extent of that trade here than the fact that the firm of D & Co., of Goteborg, employed at that time from three to five thousand persons in the saw-mills, or in drawing, floating, or shipping timber; the firm had the sagacity to foresee the inevitable advance in prices, and, accordingly, years ago purchased vast tracts of woodland from the farmers, when it was worth but little. The senior partner, Herr D, has built a church and a school-house for his workmen, pays the salaries of a clergyman and a teacher, and, in fact, has created a village; his people seem to be well eared for, and by their good behavior do honor to his philanthropy. One of the members of this firm, actuated by a commendable public spirit, has borne the chief burden of Nordenskiold's expedition, which involved a heavy outlay of money.
A few miles higher up is the town of Umea, lat. 63° 49' N., inaccessible to large vessels; it is a bright little town, with a population of about two thousand five hundred.
As in Swedish villages generally, I was struck with Its extreme cleanliness; its streets were somewhat narrow, and paved with cobble-stones; all the houses were of wood, very long, and well painted, most of them having an upper story. A very fine wooden bridge, built on granite piers, crosses the Umeâ, River, near which I once counted over ten thousand barrels of tar waiting for shipment. There were numerous shops, for these little towns are the centre of trade for the surrounding country, and for the valleys and rivers at or near the outlets of which they are built. There was an air of comfort and prosperity among the inhabitants, all of whom were dressed like city people, and it was apparent that education had reached even the humblest. Numerous children, coming out of school, showed by their happy faces that their tasks had not been distasteful to them ; Greek, Latin, German, French, English, drawing, music, astronomy, mathematics, etc., etc., are included in the course of study in the high-school.
The fondness of the Swedes for music and singing, even thus far north, was here well exemplified ; as I walked through the streets I heard the sound of the piano in almost every house—children practising, while their elders were playing. There were at least one hundred pianos in the place, or one for about every twenty-five inhabitants; but many were not in the best order or of the first quality, as is the case every-where in small towns.
My reception by the governor of the province was most friendly, though unpretending, except that a servant in livery ushered me into his presence. A portrait of the king and two other members of the royal family adorned the walls; the furniture was plain; there were no carpets on the floors, and everything was scrupulously neat. I was invited to meet a select party of gentlemen at dinner for the same evening. The table was tastefully decorated ; in the centre was a melon, which had come by steamer from the south--a great luxury so far north : the menu was composed of a magnificent salmon, served whole, delicious corned-beef, chicken, capercailzie (large black grouse), potatoes, green pease and beans, salad, puddings, dessert, and various wines.
The governor proposed two toasts, one being for me, to which I responded in the best way I could. After dinner we descended to a sort of piazza, protected by glass, where cigars and punch were served, and pleasant conversation finished the day; at seven o'clock we said good-bye, my host pressing me to make another visit to Umeâ.
Among the most useful institutions of Sweden are the agricultural schools. There are twenty-seven of these Landtbruks skolor distributed over the country, besides two agricultural colleges. These schools have greatly contributed to the development and improvement of agriculture, and they are looked upon with much favor by the people of the country, which popularity they certainly deserve. The object of these institutions is to elevate the standard of agriculture, and to teach the sons of farmers how to improve their farming. The students are required to remain under instruction for two years : the course of study comprises the principles of agriculture and horticulture, the care of domestic animals, the improvement of breeds, drawing, surveying, drainage, carpenter and smith work, carriage-making, forestry, mathematics, agricultural chemistry, meteorology, veterinary surgery, botany, a little of zoology and geology, butter and cheese making, the art of building and of making fences and walls. Connected with some of the principal schools are dairy- schools for women, where they go through a year of butter and cheese making. The students, after passing their examination, may, if they like, go to an agricultural college for two years more; but most of them return to their parents' farms with a practical knowledge of farming.
In the schools the instruction is free, but the students give their labor ; the expense is borne partly by the province, and partly by the State. The cost at the college, including board and lodging, amounts to about 600 kronor-$175-a year. There is also a forest institute, with six lower schools, for the training of practical foresters. The most northern agricultural school is on the banks of the Lule River; each Ian generally has one, and in the south, where the population is denser, sometimes two.
The price of a cow in that part of the country that year was 80 kronor, and when hay was scarce, sometimes as low as 50 kronor. A good farm-horse was worth from 200 to 250 kronor, and a sheep from 7 to 10 kronor; 20 pounds of mutton were sold for about 4 kronor; 20 pounds of salmon, in the season, from 4i to 5 kronor, and of beef from 4 to 5 kronor for the best quality ; butter, 50 öre per pound. A cord of wood, eight feet long, six feet high, and three broad, was worth from 4 to 6 kronor, and hay 50 öre for 20 pounds. The pay of a laboring man was from 1 to 2 kronor per day, and carpenters and masons received from 2 to 2 kronor. These were the country rates, but the price of labor has since almost doubled.
I had come to Umea with Herr Dannfelt, who was on a tour of inspection of the agricultural schools of the North. He was an excellent English scholar, and also spoke French and German perfectly ; I was indebted to him for many acts of kindness during my sojourn in his country. He was sent by his government as Royal Commissioner for Sweden at the Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia, where many have had occasion to appreciate his courteous manners. In company with him, the governor of the Ian, and other officials, we drove to the agricultural school at Innertafle, a few miles from the town. Though it was morning, all were in evening dress, and wore their decorations.
The director of the school, Herr Dr.U, had received his degree of Doctor of Philosophy from the University of Upsala: that far-famed institution does not confer degrees unless the recipient of the honor has proved his capacity by passing a searching examination, no exception being made in the stringent enforcement of this wise regulation.
The school at Innertafle, which was but a few years old, had under cultivation a little more than one hundred acres of land ; but there were about eighteen hundred of unimproved land and forest which were to be gradually reclaimed for till-age, and the rocky and swampy nature of the soil offered to the students excellent opportunities for learning the art of drainage. Blacksmith and. carpenter shops were in full operation; the barn was large, and all the out-buildings were very fine. The live-stock of the farm consisted of about thirty head of cattle, besides horses, sheep, and swine, of different breeds; and the results of the intermixture of blood were being observed with great care. Experiments were also made with wheat, which did not seem to flourish well so far north : in Norway, as has been before stated, it thrives farther north than in Sweden.
We were warmly welcomed. I was struck by the appearance of home-comfort of the house, where one could easily see that a woman presided. The parlor sofas and chairs were covered with white linen ; the windows were adorned with flow-erpots; the floor was so clean that a stranger might almost have been afraid to walk upon it; there was a piano, with a pile of music near it; an American sewing-machine stood near one of the windows ; engravings hung upon the walls ; little porcelain figures were scattered here and there; on the table were illustrated newspapers and books; in a bookcase were French, English, German, Greek, and Latin works ; and among the practical books in English were essays on " The Art of Taming Horses," and "How to Farm."
From the rear windows there was a view of a garden filled with flowers, strawberries, raspberries, currant- bushes, pease, carrots, and potatoes, with a stretch of green fields beyond. Vegetation was far more advanced here than in Lulea, though the distance was only about seventy miles. The strawberries were quite large, and, with the currants, were ripening; cauli flowers, cabbage, and lettuce had headed ; the pease were bearing fully, and melons were growing under glass.
When the examination of the school was ended, we were entertained with a bountiful repast, the lady of the house doing the honors with a peculiar grace and kindness which made every one feel at home, and the remainder of the day was spent very sociably. We had, among others, a peculiar Scandinavian dish—a fish pudding; in Sweden the pike is commonly used, in Norway the cod. The fish is cut in small pieces, and freed from bones, then chopped very fine with but-ter; after this it is mixed with eggs, milk, flour, and seasoned with pepper and salt, the whole being boiled in a mould for two hours; then it is eaten either with butter, crawfish, or lobster sauce. This dish is very delicious and very light.
There was another, called Kottbullar, very popular, made of the best beef mixed with suet, and chopped very fine ; after which it is mixed with eggs, milk, powdered cracker, spiced to suit taste, then rolled in small balls, and fried in butter.' There was also a dish called Kâldolmar, prepared in the same manner as the one above, but rolled in boiled cabbage leaves, after-wards put in a pot with butter, and cooked on a slow fire till the cabbage has become quite browned. Highly-spiced cold salmon, with its own jelly, is also very much liked.
The weather in Westerbotten and in some of the adjoining provinces is often rainy in the autumn, and in some wet sea-sons it is difficult to dry the grain without its getting mouldy. The traveller notices, as he passes by every farm, a very conspicuous structure, called the hassja, which is used in the provinces of Angermanland and of Jemtland. The hassja is a curiosity in itself, little used in other parts of Scandinavia, and unknown in any other country. It is used by the farmers for the drying of grain before the final storing of the harvest, and is often of great size. It is constructed of the trunks of trees, set vertically in the ground, at distances of from ten to fifteen feet apart, with holes through which cross-beams are passed at intervals of about two feet. The height varies from twenty to thirty feet, and sometimes more, and the length is proportioned to the extent of the average of the crop on the farm. When the harvest is gathered, the sheaves of grain are placed in the hassja, and left to be dried. The sheaves are piled in regular rows, overlapping each other, and in case of rain do not become wet, while there is a constant circulation of air through the whole mass. Each vertical post is supported by braces, formed of trees of smaller size, so that the whole structure is made firm and substantial. When the structure is empty, standing out from the landscape like a skeleton, its singular appearance excites the wonder of the passing stranger. Double hassja are also used, built with two rows of beams, covered by a roof, and strengthened by cross-beams. At the end of this is a house in which the grain is stored ; they are from sixty to one hundred and twenty feet long Near or at the end of this structure is often placed the barn, where grain is also kept. The most common way of threshing rye or barley is by spreading it on the planked floor of the hassja, where a heavy roller with long wooden pins, drawn by a horse, is made to pass over and crush the stalks. In small farms the grain is threshed in the old-fashioned way—by beating with a flail.
It is rarely and only in sparsely-settled districts, where-good land is very scarce; that one sees a solitary farm in Scandinavia. The people live chiefly in hamlets, not built in streets, but composed of a number of farms at various distance apart; they are thus able to enjoy frequent social intercourse and can meet for innocent amusement, rendering their lives more cheerful, their hearts warmer and more charitable, and their habits less morose.
When travelling in the Western and even in some parts of the Eastern States of America, I have often had a feeling of sadness, as I saw the farms so far apart that at some `seasons of the year the inmates of each must remain entirely by them-selves for weeks and even months. Solitude, or practically solitary confinement, often unsettles the mind, and leads to insanity. Man requires a certain amount of social intercourse, ° of work, or exercise, mingled with recreation, in order to be in perfect health ; any excess of one or the other becomes injurious to him in the course of time, and sooner or later he has to pay the penalty of any violation of the laws of nature.
Many times the people are glad of an occasion for a frolic. As I came to a farm, sometimes, I was welcomed by the farmer with the words, "Paul, you have come just in time; I am going to raise a hassja to-morrow, and all the neighbors will be here to help me; won't you come and help us, also? After-wards there will be a kalas (feast)." Of course I consented gladly.
The day appointed we were on hand. The heavy ropes and cords were on the ground, and the hässja was raised after some three hours' hard work. All were then invited into the house, where a bountiful repast had been prepared by the wife, who welcomed us. As an appetizer, a glass of branvin had to be taken, and beer and coffee were not lacking. Gradually the farmers became more lively and sociable, and all were happy and contented.
On a Saturday afternoon many of the farmers dress them-selves in their best, and drive to the towns to buy provisions, not omitting to get a bottle of branvin, with which to treat their friends and themselves during the week.
At a hamlet where I was staying a peddler arrived with his wagon and goods, to remain three or four days. He took up his quarters at one of the farms, spread his goods in one of the rooms, and then was ready for business. He was, besides, a lasare, a pietist, or sensational preacher, and wherever he went he held meetings, and exhorted and prayed with the people. At one of his stated hours I went to hear him, and found among the audience several women under vert great excitement. One was in a violent fit of hysterics, crying loudly, and shouting that she felt that her sins were not forgiven, and that she would go to hell! Two or three of the cooler women were trying to pacify her by telling her that God forgave all sinners who believed, and came to him through the Lord Jesus Christ. In the mean time this maul-text preacher was reading in a loud voice verses of the Bible, always to be found appropriate for such occasions by a forced literal interpretation, to frighten her more and more, now and then putting in a hopeful text about forgiveness of the repentant. The poor creature remained in that dangerous state of excitement more than two hours, until she became, calm from exhaustion, and left, accompanied by some of her friends, satisfied at last that her sins were forgiven.
All the women of the place seemed to be crazy after this preacher; but the men said nothing. Similar scenes, I am told, often occur in these country hamlets, especially in the winter, when people have nothing to do. Such preachers do a great deal of mischief, and no permanent good.
The women had pretty names, and always two—such as Maria, Olivia, Sara, Clara, Josephina, Christina, Carolina, Augusta, Lovisa, Gustafva, Engla, Cathrina (Catherina), Anna, Carin, Erika, Mathilda, Margareta, Albertina, Eugenia, Brita, Evelina, Eva, Magdalena, Ulrika, Kajsa, Sophia, Nina. The men have fewer names, among the most common of which, are Gustaf, Olof, Anders, Carl, Johan, Erik, Nils, Elias, Pehr, Zachris, Thomas, Jonas, Frans.
On my return to Umea I found that my exchequer was very low—a discovery that was far from being agreeable, as I had no letter of credit upon the bank of the place or anybody else, and Stockholm was five hundred miles away. Happily there was a telegraphic station here, and I sent a message to Stock-holm to my bankers to telegraph to some one here to supply me with money. An answer was soon received, complimenting me with unlimited credit.
This establishment was a plain wooden building, without window-shutters; though it sometimes contained a large amount of money: evidently burglars had a bad time in this country, and did not dare to attempt to capture the booty. The president and the officials of the institution received me with that consideration which rises in proportion to the amount you are credited with—not unlike the custom in other countries. Reader, just think of my reception !
Somehow or other the news had spread in limed that I had bought large areas of forest, and my astonishment was great when the director of the bank asked me if I wanted thirty or forty thousand dollars ; and when he told me the reason why he thought I required so much money, we had a good laugh over this idle gossip. A few hundred dollars was all I required.
My voyage up the Ume valley had been a subject of great talk. At that time Scandinavia was scoured in every direction by speculators, rich and poor, from the cities, eager to buy forests, even groves of trees. It had become a perfect mania: if they only could buy the trees without the land, their fort-une, they thought, was made. Happy were they if the farmers were willing to sell their woods. At first many sold them cheaply ; but in course of time the value increased, and the more wide-awake ones who had not sold were now masters of the position, and obtained enormous prices, which kept in-creasing every day. At last the bubble burst ; hard times reached Scandinavia, and the speculators in timber found that there was a limit to the price, at least for the present.
One day, as I entered a dwelling where typhus fever had at-tacked the family, a sad spectacle met my eyes. One of the children, a girl of about ten years, was expiring in her mother's lap, and even as I looked the breath of life departed. The mother caressed her child, and the neck, not yet stiffened by death, allowed the head to sway to and fro, as she passed her hand through the fair silky hair; but gradually the motion became less and less, and then she began to realize that her child was dead, and, though not a tear fell, the pangs of intense sorrow could not be concealed. To make the desolation of that home still greater, on a bed close by was another daughter, sick with the same disease, and looking so pale that it seemed that she was soon to join her departed sister. The smile of merriment had left me as I crossed the threshold.
"Have you seen the doctor ?" said I.
"Yes, and he gave me a prescription, and it has done no good."
" Has he seen the other child?"
" Why have you not sent for him?"
" I am so poor," said she.
I remembered that I had in my luggage some medicine, which my beloved and now departed friend, Dr. F. L. Harris, had given me when he shook hands with me on board the steamer, on my departure from America, with the admonition, "take good care of yourself, my boy !'
"I will come back," said I, "and bring you some medicine for the other child, whose life I hope will be spared to be a comfort to you in your old age."
The medicine I gave was most beneficial, and before I left the province the child had recovered.