Redemption

There is redemption to be found on the farm, atonement from civilized life. No plastic, no preservatives, no veneer of authenticity but a true form of life. It exists in the dirt, and the great stones that rest quietly in the woods. It is a place to wear no shoes, to bathe in a frigid torrent with quartz running underfoot, to be silent in a room full of people, to enjoy the simple things and to laugh. Frugality replaces excess, hard work ousts boredom and laughter supplants loneliness. Met with life as soon as you wake, the farm is a binding force that I will miss as I move on, to continue my travels elsewhere.

In a tribute to the farm, this is what I will miss most about the old place, in no particular order:

  • The people, volunteers come and go and they are all spectacular people, but Dan and Hanna remain to be two of the most peaceful and wonderful people I have yet to meet – it was a perfect first experience on the farm.
  • The viking baths, the jaunt down to the great pool down below the farm and the heart-stopping cold that greets my body as I plunge under the water to wash off the sweat and dirt from the day’s work – a true Norse treat.
  • The food, the simple oat porridge in the morning and the bread at lunch with the multitude of condiments – the wonderful peer pressure to “try it before you knock it,” which is part of the reason I now love mackerel – yum!
  • The stones, mysterious and ubiquitous their presence is both massive and complacent. Covered in moss and stubborn with gravity, their giant bulks dot the landscape around the farm and tickle the imagination as homes of gnomes and fairies alike.
  • The mornings and their peaceful silences with the shadows in the valley rubbing across the hills below, until the screech of the rooster breaks through of course.
  • The animals, the rabbits with their oblivious demeanors, the chickens and their spunky attitudes and that gloriously pompous cockerel who I actually have come to like (until he attacks me and then all I want is fried chicken).
  • The work, yes the work. The reason I am there in the first place. From thinning vegetables, to mulching the garden, making tool handles and drying hay – all has made me a better man and a healthier human – hurrah!
  • The weather, a beating sun can quickly change to a torrential rain. This quick reversal makes me appreciate all forms of weather, and their incredible power, on the top of the mountain.
  • The nature, and its perplexing beauty. From the dense woods to the open meadows, nature is Norway’s greatest entity and I have faith that it will remain this way in the hands of people like Dan and Hanna.

The list, like making hay, could go on for a long time but for the sake your sanity and mine I will let the pictures do the rest of the talking as they so often do. For the moment, the fields are being cleared as hay season has come into full tilt. With an intensity that is only made greater by the beating Norwegian sun, all able hands flock to the fields to make hay out of grass.

With practiced skill and callused hands, grass is sliced under the roaring hum of the antique tractor and scooped up with pitchforks, their handles worn smooth by decades of heavy use. Hay racks constructed from spruce saplings and wire, we often work in silence, only the sound of pitchfork tines scraping the tough stalks of grass and the occasional sneeze from the hay dust drifting in the air.

My travels are taking me next to Croatia – the land of my ancestors – and to a much warmer, Mediterranean climate. As much as I cannot wait to see this new place and gain new knowledge and experience, it is the farm that I must enjoy to the fullest now.

As always, be mindful, live in the moment and travel well.

~BF.

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Duck!

Whack!

Muttering a stream of curses under my breath, as my forehead makes contact with the solid doorway frame above, I stumble out of the barn in a daze. Bucket in hand, I set out to find some fresh greens for the animals that eagerly await my return.

Such is the typical morning at the farm, open my eyes and fumble around for my glasses whilst knocking over a candlestick and the book beside it. Smeared and dusty, I huff and I puff to rub them clean and then haphazardly place them on my head. The scene that lays before me in perfect detail, is my room. Spartan in nature. there is a hand-crafted bed, a hastily constructed set of shelving, a table and chair and a Jotul wood stove. The walls are barren except for a small mirror for shaving my near beardless face, and a sun-drenched picture of a young girl in a garden.

I get up with a groan and look at my phone, its 0730 and time to feed the animals. I hastily throw on some clothes, bringing them to my nose in order to test their cleanliness.

Sniff. What is that, horse? Dirty bin.

Sniff. Ehh, wood sap? That will do. With a shrug I throw them on and turn towards the door, my mind still in a daze from the strange dreams I continue to have in the night.

Thwack! 

Ahhh! Owwww! I bellow in the morning stillness, I am sure the farm on the opposing side of the valley can here my cries of surprised pain. I shake my head, my cerebrum throbbing and leer angrily at the top of the door frame. With a deep breath, I set off to work.

Living in the moment is an important part of life in the farm, from stepping around the moss draped stones to throwing split wood in the shed – it is important to be mindful of all your actions – a lesson I am quickly learning as each and every day yields a different bruise, cut, or welt. It also doesn’t help to be a tall figure on a farm that presumably was built for dwarves, I digress.

I realize how reckless I have allowed myself to become, still having that naive sense of invincibility that often exists in youth. The tasks I set out to perform are varied and relatively precarious and my ability to heal has slowed down as I collect more days in my life. Climbing steep hills with jagged stone to harvest moss, kicking off my boots and stepping into the ice-cold stream slippery with algae to wash up, or just simply walking out of doors – a skill that apparently is learned the hard way.

And yet, I am making improvements. Stepping lighter and not allowing my heels to slam back with habitual laziness, an action which makes all the loose instruments hanging from the walls in the two-hundred year old farmhouse, tremble under my tread. Also, there is stepping gingerly through the fields, my eyes scanning the undergrowth for the tell-tale sign of Stinging Nettle, and circling their spiky bunches if spotted.

The most recent lesson is one that entails a much sharper edge. The farm, at this moment is gearing up for hay season, which will most likely see me out for the rest of my tenure here at Nordre Stuksrud. The crafting of tools to use in the field is priority, rake handles, axe handles, and scythe handles to name a few. So it was carving another axe-handle that I learned an important lesson.

Shaving, chipping, shaping, carving. I sat on a stump, tooling my newest creation when I had the misfortune to slip with my knife, I’ll spare the gritty details but I nicked myself pretty good.

Don’t worry! All digits are good, it was a clean and very sharp knife so it was a clean cut. The wound is healing rather rapidly after being cleaned and wrapped several times a day by our resident first aid tech, Kim. I am in good hands. But after that moment, as I was sitting on the floor my room with my first aid kit in strewn across my legs (I was sure glad I checked it before my trip!) and my hand in the air above my heart, I knew I had to quit being such a damn troll and change my ways.

Defeat is not in my vocabulary. Despite this setback, the next day I finished the axe-handle and made another rake handle to top it off. I look at the healing, scabbing wound I caused myself, and realize that perhaps this scar will be a constant reminder to live in the moment from now on.

That and those damn low-hanging doorways…

All else is well at the farm, wounds heal and life goes on. As for now, I may pick up another cup of black coffee and read Timeline in the shade of that big maple here at the park in Lillehammer.

Safe Travels and Be Mindful!

BF.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Calypso Effect

The farm is a seductively intelligent creature, a living and breathing entity that draws you in each day. First impressions were shock, awe, isolation, and later independence. Then as each sun sets, and each morning awakens, you find yourself drawn ever more deeper to the earth, the endless sky, and that crisp mountain wind. It sinks into your dreams and eventually you forget the outside world, the Calypso effect. This is until you have a dizzying moment of clarity and realize that you are in fact farming in fabled Norway.

That has been my life for the past ten days. I have only been in Norway for ten days, and yet I feel like it has been so much longer. The daily routine is typically wake up, care for the animals which include a motley assortment of piglets (norwegian and hampshire breeds), norwegian rabbits (adorable until you pick them up, they’re strength is incredible), and chickens.

The chickens are perhaps my least favorite, and the one animal that admittedly I need the most practice on. Their Alpha is a large, pompous Icelandic rooster, full of furious testosterone that is ever engaged in attack mode while I am feeding. Just yesterday, as I left them a loaf of bread and apples to munch on, he sprung at me as I turned my back, pecking furiously at my ankles. With a yelp, I jumped out of the coop and slammed the door. Rooster 1: Sean 0.

I was a little annoyed that he got the better of me, but it is in his nature and truth be told perhaps he is just trying to play. He is after all the only male in the coop, and I can’t imagine chicken conversation is very riveting. It was a good lesson learned, perhaps tonight I will begin a manly conversation about wood splitting, grilling, or beer with him – see how he reacts – Cock-a-doodle-doooo!!!

From the farm, one can see the town of Lillehammer and I am often struck by the temptation to just go back to civilization, to society and cleanliness. And then I look back at what I am doing and realize with a sense of pure satisfaction that I am really making a difference with my actions. I make something every day, whether it is thinning vegetables in the field, or making wooden shingles to shelter the silo from moisture, or tending to the animals. It is the small things that make my time worth it these days.

Observations and impressions from the farm and Norway thus far:

– My sister was right, I should have brought a smaller pair of pants with me because both pairs are falling off me and I am eating so much!

– Bathing is tough, the water is fit for a polar bear and I feel like an ice cube when I emerge from it, although on a hot day it is the most refreshing experience around.

– The days pass quickly, as the schedule at the farm is so structured. The work is honest and worthwhile, the food is plentiful and healthy, and the company is great – my hosts are awesome and the new volunteer, Kim from the Netherlands, is a refreshingly pure spirit and a great exploration partner.

– The price for alcohol, along with coffee is exorbitant, so its been a rather dry ten days but my body is thanking me constantly with new springy energy.

– Norwegian folk are best described in the words of my friend Quinn from the farm, shy at first but once you engage them they are curious and always interested in what you have to say. Also, they look you in the eye when they speak to you, a trait I hope to adopt.

– Nutella is expensive, Nugatti (its knock-off) is not. It has since become an addiction on bread for all meals of day.

– Lamb ribs are delicious, Kaviar in a toothpaste tube is not.

– Reading and writing by candlelight is a guilty pleasure, the flame emits a warm glow to the log-built walls of my lodgings – a 200 year old farmhouse.

– The farm is so isolated, and I admit that I feel a bit stir-crazy but this is only a month of my life and I plan on wandering afterwards.

– The sun never actually sets. I took at walk in the morning stillness at 0300. The clouds were intermingled with the tall spruces and it looked like a magical forest.

Life is good, working in the soil and standing among old stones. For now, I think I’ll have a beer to celebrate my remaining hours in civilization but look forward to my return to the wilderness and the tantalizing dreams that come with it.

Travel Well,

BF.

Mountain Farm

Three days at the farm and I am coming to terms with “self-sustained” living. There is no trash bin only a compost heap, there is no fridge only a root cellar, there is no bathtub just a majestic waterfall from a mountain spring and water that will stop your heart its so cold! Coming from modern society with modern amenities, it has been a bit of a shock to suddenly be completely immersed in a life so different from my own. But every day that I wake up, I feel more at home upon this mountain ridge, the farm itself steeped in history and Norse myth.

After nearly 17 hours of constant travel I stepped foot on the mountain farm of Nordre Stuksrud – pronounced “Nor-dray-stook-srood”- ‘ya gotta’ roll that rrrrr! It is a spectacular sight, these century-old buildings built on dry-stacked stones the size of small cars up on top of a mountain! Actually, a large hill – but when does a large hill become a mountain? I digress.

I got out of the car, an avenue beaten up by the rocky road to the farm, where several parts I thought I was either going to have to push or bail out, but somehow we made it. Looking exactly like its my first time doing any of this ever, I shouldered my 40 pound backpack with a big “HUFF!” and walked on to meet the crew. Good folks all, Dan the proprietor is an interesting individual with a extensive schooling in the old Norse culture (Masters in Archaeology), he is living his dream farming and living the old way. Hanna, his partner, came here in October fell in love with the place and ended up staying. Quinn is a volunteer like myself, although he has traveled extensively and is full of helpful information and great stories.

The farm is situated just below the summit of the Western face of the Gudbrandsdalen Valley, this location is famous for its folklore traditions and is home to the famous Olympic town of Lillehammer, where I am currently sitting writing this entry. The farm’s internet is down at the moment so the only connection to the outside world lies 20 minutes away by car. But I reckon that is the point of this farming experience, to live traditionally and learn the old way.

The first day was rather difficult, as I was having these completely outrageous thoughts such as why the heck did I leave my perfectly good life in the states? These continued through dinner and when I finally collapsed after a whole day of travel and farm work, I forgot about my worries and let sleep consume me.

I woke up exactly at 0730 the next morning rested and energized, and from then on its been amazing here at the farm, no more thoughts of mutiny of self-betrayal. I have been much too busy for any of that. They put me right to work harvesting moss, which will be dried and eventually used for livestock bedding in the winter months. Quinn and myself traveled down the road, past old summer cottages with slate roofs and dragon-head peaks to a large stream where overhanging moss grew in great clumps, ripe for the taking. We collected nearly 500 lbs of moss in one day, hard work amidst verdant hills and raging rivers – totally worth the sweat.

Next day, Dan had me carve an axe shaft out of a fine piece of stunted spruce. Typically a soft and weak wood, this spruce had grown slowly in the shade of older trees thus giving it tight growth rings and a much a more rigid grain. I used a hatchet to first rough it down, a drawknife to shape it, and then a carving knife to finish it. Took me all day, but at the end, we have a working axe – sure beats the heck out of those fancy store-bought ones!

But that’s my life for the past few days and for several after I am sure. I already feel better and stronger too. The food is simple but good and healthy – exactly what is needed after a long days work. I miss home, my family and friends and comfort of a beer with Dad or a conversation with Mom, but I still have a long way yet to go before I come home and few more stories to put down. Internet is difficult to get at the farm, so these entries may be few and far between, but I cannot wait to see what this next week will yield.

Happy Harvesting!

BF.

Straight Shave

I was on my way home, driving back from the Farmer’s Market in Hamburg, NY, and I almost came straight home. But, in one moment of pure cognizance, it struck me that I am no longer an employee, I don’t have a schedule or a steady paying job – I am the Beardless Farmer, and I absolutely must play the part. So I turned around, parked my car, walked into the barber shop and into the hands of fate.

When speaking of coincidence, my dear Mother loves to remind me that no such thing exists, and that people cross our paths every day for reasons known and unknown. The moment that I made clear to myself that I would go learn to farm organically throughout Europe, this parallelism came into affect. And it was in this barber shop today, that I intercepted yet another extraordinary individual that I can easily call my friend. He sat me down, and we started talking. It was my first time getting a straight shave.

First, comes the prep. The neatly folded towels, bleached and cleaned. The pre-shave tonic and then the piping hot wet towel that smelled vaguely of orange zest, draped neatly and kindly upon the face to draw out the toxins and tickle the hairs soon to be trimmed. Then comes the warm, billowing sensation of the porcelain-smooth shave cream on my newly warmed skin, rubbed gently and thoroughly to cover my rigid scruff. The razor comes next, held in a steady hand tensed before a flourish like a maestro conducting an orchestra. With practiced skill, the razor sharp blade held at an angle neatly skims the surface of my epidermis and after, a clean slate. Shave it off, all of it. The dust, the dirt, the grime. Slice it all away and you are left with a blank slate, a new start.

In three days time, I will be flying across the Atlantic Ocean with the objective to farm organically in foreign zones. I will be learning permaculture (permanent agriculture) and biodynamics from a varied assortment of individuals whilst experiencing unfamiliar cultures, savoring local culinary delights and living a pure and fulfilling existence. It is to Norway that I begin my endeavors abroad, and from there to other territories in the European region, and on.

A blank slate, a straight shave, and new experiences to come. That is what I have coming in three days. I am both excited and nervous, the planning has been three months in advance and I am able to admit that I am truly confident in the weeks to follow. I am five and twenty years young and wish to shape a future with my own wit and wisdom, whatever that may be.

This is the first time in my life that I have decided and more importantly committed myself to something so bold, and I can only think that this is the right path – the one I am supposed to take. Ever since I made the final and impermeable decision to travel across the vast Atlantic to Norway, I have come in to contact with so many interesting and exceptional individuals – and I haven’t even begun my travels yet!

So before I post my first entry in a blog that I believe will bring me great joy and adventure, I want to say thank you to my Mom and Dad, who have been putting up with my overgrown self these past few years as our home turned from two adults and one child to three adults living in a beautiful form of harmony. To my dear sister Leah, who has been the driving and inspirational force behind me pursuing my dream of farming, since she herself is on the same path. To Tom, who provided me with a safe haven to have a beer and talk about life. Charles and Tiffany, the two friends who sparked my love of traveling and whom I will see on the other side of the pond. I am not the sort of guy to make broad sweeping gestures of thanks to a vague assortment of people, my thanks to you will come in time – I plan on writing for a long while yet!

As I close this up, crack a beer and go join my folks around the fire, I want to make a toast to freedom, unchained at last from the bindings of society and released into the vastness of the world, I am becoming my own man and carving my name into the scrolls of history.

Sincerely,

BF.