Entrance To Laerdal
( Originally Published 1881 )
A Superb Highway,—Entrance to Laerdal.—The Lysne Portal.—The Defile of Galderne.—Abundance of Salmon.—The Farm of Husum.—Old Roar Halvorsen.—How Family Names are Inherited.—Independence of the People.—How a Farm passes from Father to Son —A Touching Family Scene.—The Food of Rural Districts. The Ancient Church of Borgund,—Farewell to Husum, and Liardal.
AT Laerdalsoren (entrance to Laerdal) begins the superb highway which connects the Sogne fjord with the city of Christiania and other parts of the country. There is no other road in Norway, traversing such a long stretch of country, which passes in the midst of such glorious and diversified scenery. One branch goes over the Filefjelds, and then descends into Valders, the other into Hallingdal.
Laerdalsoren seems to be the rendezvous for the good-for-nothing fellows of the neighborhood, who in summer are watching for tourists, and who practise upon them all kinds of extortion.. Besides, there are several stores licensed to sell spirits, which attract a large class of drunkards. Lærdal oren and Gjovik, on the Mjosen, are perhaps the worst places in Norway ; not that they are very bad, but they contrast so much with other quiet hamlets.
Majestic mountains flank the Lærdal Valley at its entrance. A few farms are seen here and there, and some stone huts in the midst of a barren soil. At the Lysne portal the terraces attain a height of five hundred feet.
Beyond Lysne the valley becomes narrow and the scenery wilder. Straggling farms are passed, whose dark buildings, with their earth-covered covered roofs, are in unison with the sombre landscape. Farther up, the Lærdal seems to. be closed by mountains, and one reaches the narrow defile of Galderne. Here the old road, by far the more picturesque, ascends a
very steep hill, from which is a fine view of the lower part of the gorge. The new one, blasted in many places out of the rocks, runs at the base of the hills by the river-side. On the right bank of the stream are remains of a still older high-way.. How difficult it is in winter to descend the hills by the narrow paths that lead from them, when ice covers the rocks and bars the way in many places, I know from experience. For safety, one must attach to the shoe a special heel called isbrodder, with peculiar nails, which grip into the ice.
The river here foams in its rocky bed, and a fall prevents the salmon from ascending higher. In the deep pool at its base I counted twenty-three lying motionless on the gravelly and sandy bottom.
The salmon make their appearance in the rivers of South-ern Norway in May, and in the north in June. They commence breeding in the latter part of September and up to November, and remain in the streams till December. They spawn in the beds of the pools, the eggs being hatched in sixty to ninety days. When four months old they are four or five inches long; they do not attain their full size until the age of six years. The greatest enemies Of the full-grown fish are the seal and otter; of the young ones, the duck and gull, and, in the Baltic, the pike.
Beyond this pass the valley widens, containing several farms. I alighted at one called Husum, and was welcomed by old Roar Halvorsen and his' family, which consisted of Roar Roarsen, his eldest son, Haagen, Iver, Halvor, and Pehr, and two daughters, Sonneva, married to the owner,of a neighboring farm, and Sigrid, who was single. The way of keeping family names is very peculiar among the bonder of Nor-way and Sweden. For instance, the head of the family' of Hu-sum is Roar Halvorsen "(Roar, the son of Halvor); the eldest son, as we have seen, is called Roar Roarsen; and all the other children, whatever their. first names may behave added the naine of Hoarsen or Roar's datter; then the eldest grandson's name goes back to that of the grandfather, and by this-method the family name is preserved for generations. Good-hearted, indeed, was old Rear, and many a pleasant chat and many a warm welcome have I had in his house. My acquaintance with Husum began curiously: Approaching the farm, 1-noticed numerous vehicles in the yard, people were busy packing bedding, crockery, etc,; .others were carrying away chairs and benches. A begravelse (a kind of wake) had taken place, for the wife of the owner had been buried three days before. I mistook it for a wedding-feast.
Husum is a comfortable farm,. and also a post-station, having a white-painted house for guests, and two other dwellings for the family. It is a good place, but expensive to work, for much of the grass has to be collected on the abrupt and rugged sides of the hills overhanging the valley. During harvest time the people wear soft shoes without soles, in which their feet can better accommodate themselves to the inequalities of the ground.
The rural population is very independent. If girls accept situations, it is because the farms of their parents are too small to support a large family, and some of them desire to make a little money; it is quite common for them to take service-for a season, and then return to the homestead. One reason why servants are treated with such kindness is. that they generally belong to the same district or parish, where all the people know each other, and where all the children, go to school together. Nothing is put under lock and key, and any indication of distrust of the integrity of the dependents would be resented at once; indelible disgrace is attached to any dishonest att. This conscientiousness of servants impressed me during my travels in the country; it is probably due to the patriarchal customs under which they live. They are often the friends or relatives of the family in which they serve, and every member of the household performs a share of the work.
The wonder at the independent and manly character of ,the rural population of Scandinavia ceases when we consider the large number of owners of the soil. The Swedish law recognizes no limit for the division of the land, except that no farm must exist that does not support at least three able-bodied persons.
The number of farms in Sweden amount to 258,650.
Under 5 acres 65,000
The number of domestic animals are—horses, 455,900;. cattle, 2,181,400; sheep, 1,695,400; goats, 121,800 ; swine, 421,800.
We' see, therefore, that there is a farm for every seventeen inhabitants; a head of cattle for every two, and one horse for every ten persons.
The number of farms in Norway in 1865 was 147,000, of which 131,800 were cultivated by their owners, while the remainder were rented ; being one for every twelve persons. Of domestic animals there were kept, in the above year—horses, 149,167; cattle, 953,036; sheep, 1,705,394; goats, 290,985; swine, 96,166.
In Laerdal and Voss, and in some parts of Norway, the young people often prefer to sleep in winter in the cow-house, in which, upon a platform raised a few feet above the floor, and accessible by a ladder, may be found one or more beds.
Generally the place is kept scrupulously clean, and looks al most like a bedroom. There is usually-a window or two to allow a circulation of air during the day, and prevent dampness. I must confess that sometimes I was fond of spending a night in such a room, in which the temperature is even, and not unhealthy.
On my visit to Husum an important event took place, when, according to immemorial custom, the farm was to come into the possession of the eldest son. The dinner being ready, all the members of the family came in and seated themselves around the board, the father taking, as is customary, the= head of the table. I noticed an unusual air of soberness on the faces of those present, though the people are generally sedate at meals. All at once Roar, who was not seated, came to his father and said ," Father, you are getting old; let me take your place." " Oh no, my sou," was the answer, " I am not too old to work; it is not yet time; wait awhile." Then, with an entreating look, Roar said, " Oh, father, all your children and myself are often sorry to see you look so tired when the day's labor is over; the work of the farm is too much for you; it is time for you to rest, and do nothing. Rest in your old age. Oh, let me take your place at the head of the table."
All the faces were now extremely sober, and tears were seen in many eyes. "Not yet, my son." "Oh yes, father." Then said the whole family, " Now it is time for you to rest.".
It was hard for the sturdy old bonde, who had been chief so long, to give up; but he rose, and Roar took his place, and was then the master. His father henceforth would have nothing to do, was to live in a comfortable house, and to receive yearly. a stipulated amount of grain or flour, potatoes, milk, cheese, butter, meat, etc.
Roar, the eldest son, is a good friend of mine ; intelligent, a subscriber to several newspapers, kind-hearted, and an excellent husband. Sigrid, his wife, is industrious, always busy at-tending to her numerous household duties; these in summer, when many travellers stop, either for the night or for a meal, are by no means light.
Almost every large Norwegian or Swedish farm has a number of plads or torp,small places, with houses and some good land attached, which are rented on certain conditions. The Norwegians call the men who have these husmaend, the Swedes torpare. They have to pay a stipulated sum yearly, or most generally have to work a number of days in the year, as payment for lodgings and the land cultivated, the products of which belong to them.
With the month of October comes the slaughtering time. The housewife then has a great deal to do in preparing sari-sages and bacon to last until the following autumn. Meat has to-be salted, dried; or 'smoked. Molja, made of blood mixed with flour, is put up in large quantities, preserved either in bladders or in cakes; when used, it is either boiled or fried:
The Norwegians have several kinds of bread. Fladbrod is made from an unfermented dough of barley' and oat-meal, often mixed with pea-flour. The dough is rolled into large circular loaves, having a diameter of two to three feet,and of a thickness of heavy paper or thin pasteboard, and is-then baked over a slow fire on an iron plate. In the dough are often kneaded boiled potatoes. This bread keep for a year or more. It much thinner than the Swedish bread, and is brittle. Lefse is made in the same manner as ' the fladbrod, but is only half baked, and is then folded together, generally four times. The fladbrod is kept in the larder in large cylindrical heaps, often for half a year and longer, the lefse, with its convenient form, is used on journeys.
Grud (a porridge) is the daily dish of the Norwegian peasant It is made from barley-meal, although oatmeal and sometimes also rye-meal are used. After the grod has been taken from the fire and has ceased boiling, more meal is sometimes added to give it greater consistency ; it is then called noevergraut, and is used on journeys, or when the peasants are at work at some distance from the farm. The grüd is generally eaten with skimmed milk, which is preferred after it has become sour. Potatoes are a great staple of food; they thrive well, and are of good quality; the people well know how to cook them. Fish is used extensively; salt herring is eaten with potatoes, as also is dried codfish, soaked the night before it is cooked. On the coast fresh fish is largely consumed.
Butter and cheese are much used as food. There are three peculiar kinds of cheese : 1. The mysost is made from the whey remaining from the common cheese, boiled till the water is evaporated ; then it is shaped into square cakes, weighing from two to five pounds; the color is dark brown. It must stand at least a day before it is fit to be eaten. It is made only at the saeters, where wood is plentiful, for it requires a great deal of fuel. It is eaten In thin slices, and with bread and butter; women and children are especially fond of it.
The best is from goat's milk. It can hardly be called cheese, as it consists chiefly of sugar of milk. 2. The gam melost, made from sour skimmed milk, is a fermented, round cheese, which is kept for months in the cellar. 3. Pultost is also a fermented cheese, mixed with caraway-seeds, not formed into cakes, but preserved in wooden tubs.
A short distance above Husum is another fine defile, Vindhellen. The new road here also follows the river, and is blasted in several places from the rocks. Beyond Vindhellen the valley widens again, and one comes in sight of several farms and the old stave church of Borgund, one of the most interesting in Norway. This curious church, and that of Hitterdal, belong to the oldest style of ecclesiastical architecture in the country; that of Borgund dates probably from the time of St. Olaf or his son,-Magnus. Its dark color and peculiar shape attract at once the attention of the stranger. Its steeple is surmounted by a cock, and the shingled roofs are ornamented with dragons' heads and crosses. A low, open gallery on the ground protects one part of the edifice, and its entrances are covered by porches. The small interior, with its curious carvings and arrangements, is almost as odd as the exterior. A space of about twenty-four feet square forms the main area, and is surrounded by ten pillars, behind which are benches for the congregation. The only stone object is the ancient baptismal font. The new church, built for the accommodation of the people—for the congregation has become too large to worship in the old ;one--is so near that it spoils the effect of the latter.
The days passed pleasantly in Lærdal with its kindly inhabitant, among whom were a number of good friends who were always glad ,to see me, and with whom I sometimes correspond. Before leaving Husum, Roar's wife presented me with some underclothing, woven at home,of white vadmal, saying, "Paul, the weather is cold in Norway in winter, and I have made these for you to wear ;" at the same time giving me a photograph in which herself, her husband, and the children were represented. After a cheering good-bye, and promises that we would write to each other, I left Husum, and continued my joûrney.