Saturday, 31 December 2011

Postcards from the Boreal Forest Canopy

Tree Top HutStretching from Alaska, through Canada, across the Nordic countries and into Russia, is the taiga: the world's largest terrestrial biome. I didn’t realize that boreal forest is another term for taiga. In Canada, we seem to use the boreal forest term to refer to the more southern, more wooded part of the taiga rather than the more northern, more sparsely treed part. In Europe, the term taiga seems to be used for the whole thing.

I was able to spend some time up near the top of the boreal forest (taiga) canopy when I stayed in a tretopphytte (tree top hut) while in Norway.

I arrived at the hut late in the afternoon, which in December meant it was dark and cold. The owner of the hut had kindly started to warm up the hut, so much of the chill was already out of the hut when I got there. After dealing with the freezing insides of Bridaro, up in the Arctic Circle, I really appreciated this hospitable touch. He also had lit up some lovely red candles, which cast a warm glow over everything.

Tree Top Hut


Outside the hut was a balcony, which was almost as large as the hut itself. It had several bird feeders, a fire pit, and benches to sit on. The owner provided reindeer skins to cover the benches so you wouldn't freeze your ass off while sitting outside.

Tree Top Hut

Tree Top Hut


I didn’t dilly-dally outside, as it was too cold and too dark to do or see anything. Inside, the wood conspired with the yellow light from the candles to make the whole place seem warmer than it really was. After getting a nice roaring fire going, I took off my jacket and made a self-portrait.

Tree Top Hut


As you can see, it is not very big. But it is well thought out, and resembles a boat's cabin or a camping trailer in that it makes the best use of the available space. For example the eating area is a simple table hung from a ladder. This means there are no table legs to bang your knees off of when sitting at the table.

The ladder leads to a small sleeping alcove. Here is a shot of the alcove taken from the top of the ladder during the day, when there is more light. The space is split in two, with a sleeping area on either side of the ladder.

Tree Top Hut


Each side can sleep two people; 4 people in total could sleep up there, but only if they knew each other very well.

Tree Top Hut


Back down the ladder to main level, looking from the table back the other way you can see the door to the loo (on the left), a glimpse of the main sleeping room (through the open door), and the heat source (the wood stove on the right).

Tree Top Hut


After a good night’s sleep (or perhaps it was a frost-induced coma because I left the window above my head open) I went outside in the daylight to take some more illustrative shots of the hut. In this shot, you can see how well the builder was able to nestle the structure into the trees.

Tree Top Hut

The whole thing is quite solid. There are a lot of beams and posts in place to provide support. In this shot you can see the relative area of the hut (the solid wood) compared to the deck (the planking).

Tree Top Hut


The support beams are well anchored, too. The construction is certified to resist winds up to 22 m/s, which is about 80 km/h. I doubt that would fly in Canada, as it is not even hurricane strength. But then I wouldn't expect to see a hurricane hit a forest valley in Norway.

Tree Top Hut


The curved tree trunks used as support posts are partly decorative and partly functional.


Tree Top Hut


To go up the 8 metres to reach the hut you have to take a long staircase.

Tree Top Hut


I arrived after dark, but thankfully there was a bright red candle burning to mark the bottom of the staircase.

PTree Top Hut


With a mind to safety, there is a wire mesh all along the staircase (and all around the balcony, too). More curved tree trunks provide both a decorative touch and functional purpose.

Tree Top Hut


The hut is not that well insulated. You can see how the snowmelt off the roof results in some very large icicles.

Tree Top Hut


The hut is located north-east of Brumunddal, up off of a small, narrow forest road. The attraction of the hut, aside from the novelty of staying up in the tree canopy, is the outdoors. In the summertime, there are a couple of canoes and bikes that you can use to explore the surrounding area. Of course in the winter they are not of much use.

Tree Top Hut

Tree Top Hut


In the winter, you can ski right from the hut. Not thinking there would be much snow, I left my skis in Oslo. So of course there had to be a lot of snow! Worse for me, the snow was the fat, flat flake variety of snow powder that is so wonderful to ski in. Most of it had fallen quite recently and was still hanging on the tree branches, dragging them down to the ground.

Tree Top Hut


Instead of gorgeous ski shots, I bring you a ski lesson: I learned recently that the origin of the English word ski is the Old Norwegian word skíð, which means “plank”. The planks had a lot of uses, including building roofs. You can see the skíð in this cabin. They are the yellow planks on the side of the roof.

Tree Top Hut

It doesn't take a lot of imagination to see how someone would adapt a couple of short skíð to get around in deep snow, thus inventing a new means of transportation that would eventually become a competitive sport dominated by the very descendants of the Vikings who invented the whole thing in the beginning. That's a little too cosy for me; I think the fix is in.

In the above photo, you can also see how well the eves protect the side of the wall. Notice how both the wood and the paint are nowhere near as faded under the eve as they are further down the wall.

Moving around the the front, you can see that this cabin had some lovely, muted colours peaking out through the foggy mist.

Tree Top Hut


Since it was winter and I didn’t bring my skis, there wasn’t a lot to do here other than park my butt in the middle of the reindeer skin-covered bench up on the balcony.

Tree Top Hut

From this position I shot birds and squirrels as they fed at the feeders. As in, I shot with my camera (of course). During this shoot, I learned that the photogs who take wildlife pictures are a special breed. They have incredible patience and a knack for timing. I seem to lack both, for out of several hundred photographs, these are the only ones I would bother keeping.

Tree Top Hut

Tree Top Hut

Tree Top Hut

Tree Top Hut


The birds were very cautious and I found it hard to get close enough to them to shoot, even with a long lens. I tried to figure out why by taking a shot from their view point, to see what they see.

Tree Top Hut

Now in the middle of all that put a guy with two cameras hung around his neck and a Newfoundlander's fleece "squid" hat on his head, and I would be scared to get close, too.

The squirrels, however, allowed me to get quite close.

I suspect they have been photographed quite a bit, because I accidentally slipped into fashion photographer mode and blurted out: "Work it baby, work it. That's it, now give me sexy", and they totally responded.

They would not sign a model release, though. Something about there was supposed to be only blue Smarties in the feeders. What a bunch of frickin' divas.

Tree Top Hut

Tree Top Hut

Tree Top Hut

Tree Top Hut


Looking for a different take on a squirrel composition, I switched to a wider-angle lens. This enabled a novel composition of the car below (lower left in the photo) and a squirrel feeding at the birdhouse(upper right in the photo).

Tree Top Hut


If you are ever in Norway and are looking for something unique to do while exploring the outside, I’d recommend these tree house huts. You can go here to learn more about renting them.


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Here is a quick index of my Postcard blog articles for this trip:

My post about some Accidental Abstracts I made during this trip is here.

My post about skiing in Oslo and some Postcards taken with my phone's camera is here.

My post about a side trip I made to Uppsala, Sweden and some early morning streetscapes I made is here.

My post about a fabulous stay I had at Brumma, a cabin above the tree line in Brummastølen, is here.

My post about the wonderful Norwegian Christmas Eve tradition of lighting a candle at the grave of family is here.

My post about my adventure in a hut up in the boreal forest canopy is here.

My post about a wonderful little church I discovered while up above the Arctic Circle is here.

My post about the commonality of fishing between Norway and Newfoundland is here.

My post about being above the Arctic Circle during the polar night is here.

My post about the Nobel Peace Prize fakkeltog is here.


Read more...

Monday, 26 December 2011

Postcards from a Little Church on the Fjord

Bo KirkeI followed up my Hovden excursion by driving the Highway 820 loop from Straume. It goes south past Fjærvoll, along the coast, and then loops around to return to Straume from the east.

Based on the success of the previous day’s outing, I had high hopes for this drive. Unfortunately, I didn’t find this part of the countryside very inspiring. I only managed to take a few snaps. Or rather, I only managed to take a few snaps until I discovered Bø Kirke.

I don’t know why I wasn’t inspired at the start of this outing. I do know that I found the day to be dark and dreary. After a short while in this claustrophobic environment, I saw Bø Kirke.

It stood out like a comforting beacon in the foreboding countryside. Perched up on a small hill, it was lit on the outside with floodlights, which made its red and yellow exterior stand out against the sky. The lights were on inside, too, so the windows were bright and warm, adding to the general cheeriness of the building.

Bo Kirke


This one is worth seeing here in a larger size.

After taking a series of landscape shots with Bø Kirke as the subject, I got back in the car and I drove along for a few more kilometres. Again, I didn’t really see much to shoot and I didn’t bother to complete the loop to Straume. Instead, I turned around and retreated to Bø Kirke. It was still calling to me to take its picture, so I drove directly up to the church thinking I would shoot close-ups of the outside.

Bo Kirke


After taking the above shot, I looked through one of the windows and saw three people inside. So I went in, seeking permission to shoot inside the church. One of the people there was Vivi Hanssen, the Church Warden.

Bo Kirke


She explained that they were putting up and decorating the Christmas tree. Despite fretting that the church wasn’t suitable for having its picture taken because she hadn’t yet vacuumed, she said I was welcome to go ahead and take whatever photos I wanted. As I shot, she related a bit of the church’s history and gave me a pamphlet, which revealed even more of its story.

The earliest written record of churches on this site is from 1381, so it is likely that there was a church here even earlier than that. This particular church was finished in 1824. Many of the items in the church are from preceding churches, so they are even older than the church itself.

Bø Kirke is unusual for its size. It was many features normally found in much larger churches. I suspect that this are was quite wealthy, so the parishioners were able to afford to add some nice little touches to their place of worship.

For example, it was built in the shape of the cross. Smaller churches tend to be built as simple rectangles and are often just one-room affairs, not large, cross-shaped affairs. To say Bø Kirke is cross-shaped is a bit of a stretch, although I am sure that's what its builders intended. Instead, maybe I should say that its shape is more of a “plus sign”, with all four sections equal in length.

Bo Kirke


The interior is all wood, which when illuminated with tungsten light, makes for a very warm feeling. Even the blue paint feels warm, despite blue being a “cold” colour.

Bo Kirke


The paint was in the same flat colours I have seen in historic properties in Nova Scotia and Newfoundland. I suspect that the paint-making technology was the same worldwide. The mural behind the altar, which dates from 1762, uses all of the basic colours: red, blue, green, and yellow.

Bo Kirke


The mural is interesting because the picture is of a vision that King Christian 4 had one morning in Rosenborg Castle. This is the same dude I wrote about here in my "Game of Thrones" post.

There are four chairs next to the altar, two on either side. The two on the left of the image are fancy, embossed leather, baroque style bridal chairs. The bride and groom would sit on these chairs for the mass that immediately followed the wedding ceremony. I don't know how old the chairs are. The information pamphlet only says that someone gave the to the church in 1949.

On the wall on the extreme left and right are two painted oak carvings. They date back to medieval times and represent Mary with Child (in the left of the photo) and St Barbara (photo right).

The pulpit and the sounding board over it (which I just learned is sometimes called a “preacher-snuffer” in some churches), also came from preceding churches. The sounding board is from 1792 and the pulpit is from 1762. I can't imagine why a church this small needs a sounding board, other than for decoration.

Bo Kirke


In the above two photographs, you can also see there are galleries in this church. This is yet another unusual feature in a church so small. The galleries were reserved for high society and the common people sat below. The galleries wrap all the way around the church. Even those above the altar and pulpit were used this way, and were not set aside for the choir.

Getting to the galleries was quite a chore. The stairs, in the corners of the church, are very steep.

Bo Kirke


If this doesn’t look steep, try looking down from the top. I had a hard enough time lugging my camera gear up and down them; I couldn’t imagine how the women managed this with large skirts and high-heeled boots.

Bo Kirke


From the balconies, I was able to get close to the pipe organ. This is another odd feature in a small church. The organ didn't appear to be that old, perhaps from the 1970's. The older organ was moved to make way for this new organ and resides in a different church.

The older organ has an interesting story, though. In the 1800’s, there was a tradition for fishermen to raise money for the church by casting a net and donating the proceeds from that cast to the church. It was from this type of fundraiser that the old organ came to be in Bø Kirke.

Bo Kirke

I was also able to get top-side view of the ship model attached to the wall. It was made in 1860 and donated to the church in 1958. While it sounds plausible, I couldn't determine if hanging a ship's model inside a church is a traditional thing or not.

Bo Kirke


Not wanting to abuse Vivi’s wonderful hospitality, I only stayed for an hour. It was hard to leave and I could easily have spent several more hours learning about this wonderful little church. Nonetheless, I bid her “God Jul” (which is Merry Christmas in Norwegian) and left her to finish decorating the Christmas tree.

Bo Kirke



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Here is a quick index of my Postcard blog articles for this trip:

My post about some Accidental Abstracts I made during this trip is here.

My post about skiing in Oslo and some Postcards taken with my phone's camera is here.

My post about a side trip I made to Uppsala, Sweden and some early morning streetscapes I made is here.

My post about a fabulous stay I had at Brumma, a cabin above the tree line in Brummastølen, is here.

My post about the wonderful Norwegian Christmas Eve tradition of lighting a candle at the grave of family is here.

My post about my adventure in a hut up in the boreal forest canopy is here.

My post about a wonderful little church I discovered while up above the Arctic Circle is here.

My post about the commonality of fishing between Norway and Newfoundland is here.

My post about being above the Arctic Circle during the polar night is here.

My post about the Nobel Peace Prize fakkeltog is here.


Read more...

Sunday, 25 December 2011

Postcards from the Water’s Edge

Norway FishingNorway has a lot in common with Newfoundland: a history of being ruled from afar, an endemically poor economy lifted by the discovery of offshore oil, and a wealth of hydroelectric power. It is also the 2nd largest exporter of fish (Canada is 6th). It was this commonality of a culture related to the sea and to fishing that stood out as I explored the coast around Fjærvoll.

As in Newfoundland, there are many fishing stores. Of course their location is not odd to the fishermen, who would put them close to the water so as to minimize the distance they had to walk to get to their boats.

Norway Fishing


Most stores and barns in both Norway and Newfoundland are painted red. This is a traditional colour because red was the cheapest paint.

Norway Fishing


I could see that fishing communities in both countries were located with one thing in mind: to be close to the fish. For both Norway and Newfoundland, this drive to be close to the fish has led to some very remote and very isolated communities. The location of these communities makes sense when you think that in the days before gasoline engines, fishermen would have to row out in their boats to tend to their traps, nets, and lines. This would not only have taken a lot more time if they were further away, but would also have required a lot more energy. In subsistence living, energy is a thing to be conserved.

With the advent of the internal combustion engine, governments built roads to many of the larger isolated communities. To reach these places, the roads had to cross some pretty harsh terrain and are often nothing more than narrow, winding paths that hug the shoreline.

Norway Fishing


As I drove along one such road, I turned a corner and the community of Nykvåg suddenly appeared. Like many Newfoundland fishing communities, the houses were sparsely spread across the land with hardly a tree in sight. There wasn’t much shelter from the harsh wind that can whip in off the ocean.

Norway Fishing 1

You may want to see a larger sized photo here.

On the other side of Nykvåg, the road continued along the coast to the tiny hamlet of Hovden. The spectacle of houses located right next to the beach and under the protective shelter of a nearby hill could easily have been seen in any number of Newfoundland locations.

Norway Fishing


I came across an unusual flake in Hovden. A flake, for those of you not in the know, is a wooden structure used for drying fish. This one was much higher off the ground than what I am used to seeing, and there were tracks underneath it, so the height must have been to allow vehicles to pass below. This sounds like it would provide an advantage, but I couldn’t see how it would be practical. However, I don’t think there is a patent on the best fish flake design. In Newfoundland, there are many styles of flakes. Even how to spell the name took centuries to be agreed upon, having gone by flek, fleyke, fleake, flaik and fleack. While these contraptions go by a different name - they are called hjell by the Norwegians - they serve the same purpose.

Norway Fishing


The last similarity that struck me between rural Newfoundland and rural Norway was the occasional abandoned building. It’s not a strong connection, as Norway is a pretty clean and tidy country, but this old building wouldn’t be out of place in any Newfoundland community.

Norway Fishing


There was even some old equipment still inside.

Norway Fishing



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Here is a quick index of my Postcard blog articles for this trip:

My post about some Accidental Abstracts I made during this trip is here.

My post about skiing in Oslo and some Postcards taken with my phone's camera is here.

My post about a side trip I made to Uppsala, Sweden and some early morning streetscapes I made is here.

My post about a fabulous stay I had at Brumma, a cabin above the tree line in Brummastølen, is here.

My post about the wonderful Norwegian Christmas Eve tradition of lighting a candle at the grave of family is here.

My post about my adventure in a hut up in the boreal forest canopy is here.

My post about a wonderful little church I discovered while up above the Arctic Circle is here.

My post about the commonality of fishing between Norway and Newfoundland is here.

My post about being above the Arctic Circle during the polar night is here.

My post about the Nobel Peace Prize fakkeltog is here.

Read more...