STORY 9 FROM ‘FURUKOLLEN’
This is STORY NO 9, written one month after the first eight stories were written. The other stories are copied below, but they do not need to be read in the order presented. Each story is a stand-alone story. All the photos are my own.
STORY 9 – 31 JULY – 2017
SOMETHING IS ROTTEN
Fifty years ago, when Lesjaverk was slightly larger than the 174 people now living permanently in this small community along the highway running through the valley of Gudbrandsdalen, I remember that there was a petrol station next to the general store. Leaded petrol for the cars stopping on their long and slow drive on winding roads through the mountains from or to the capital down south. Diesel for the tractors of the local farms. While the goods sold in the general store owned by the Doseth family were necessary for the daily life of the villagers, the petrol station was not only a practical necessity, but as much a sign of Lesjaverk as an important member of the larger community. Back then most of the cars stopping to fuel had Norwegian plates (I know because we used to write the numbers down in a small book), but we also witnessed cars from Germany, Italy, France and Spain – in addition to the cars from neighboring Sweden and Denmark. Lesjaverk was important, no doubt about it.
One summer the petrol station was no longer there. The seemingly never ending process of companies rationalizing operations and cutting down on ‘redundant’ elements to allow profits to be maximized had finally reached Lesjaverk. Villagers are practical people, so they understood the logic behind the decision. However, they were shaken in their self-understanding. They were also deeply worried that the only other visible link to the greater outside world, the railroad station, would be next in line for rationalization – resulting in further marginalization of the community. They were right. Some years later, the station manager left. There would no longer be a person selling tickets in the wooden building next to the rails, nor a person with a green flag greeting incoming and departing trains. Tickets could be purchased on the website of Norwegian Railroads. Trains would still stop, but without flags being waved.
All of the above as a background to understand why my heart started beating violently with joy a few days ago, when I returned to Lesjaverk and saw a new ‘station’ next to the general store. No petrol. No diesel. ONLY ELECTRICITY. Once again Lesjaverk was visibly part of the larger world, and the villagers could once again walk along the road with heads high and a sense of pride. Being part Norwegian and a long-time member of the Lesjaverk community, I happily share the sense of being part of something important and necessary. Being a Danish citizen, I also feel betrayed by inward-looking and ignorant Danish politicians, who continue to believe that petrol and diesel is the future.
I asked the young couple on the photo above where they were coming from, where they were going to, how practical it was to own a car running on electricity only, how costly and time-consuming it was to fill up the tank. For this generation of motorists it all seemed entirely natural and straightforward. The government had introduced a number of measures that made it advantageous to buy a car running on electricity. Of course, they agreed that as individuals and as a nation, we had to contribute to making Norway sustainable for all the reasons we now know so well. They also felt that whether you voted red or blue politically, the transformation had to be helped along by pro-active and agressive legislation. Norway had moved from being a modestly wealhty country to one of the richest in the world measured by per capita income thanks to the enormous amounts of oil hidden in the fields under the seabed along the western coast. The oil would be finished one day in the not so distant future. Some of the oil also had to stay in the fields for environmental reasons, and to help stop the dangerous forces of climate change.
Denmark and Norway are admittedly similar in many ways, which should not come as a surprise, considering our shared history. However, in this particular area of preparing the nation for the future, the two countries have taken very different directions, and I will not hesitate to characterize the situation in Denmark as we know it from Shakespeare’s Hamlet– something is definitely rotten. Let me explain how I see things as they are presently unfolding in my home country in this area. If some readers get the sense that I feel emotional about this area, they are entirely correct!
We need to move back around 25 years or more. I was part of the Danish NGO community working with the preparations for the global UN conference on environment and development in Rio de Janeiro in Brazil in 1992. The major background document for this conference was the report titled Our Common Future, also known as the Brundtland Commission Report, published in 1987. Together with others, I made the publication in Denmark possible, and I also helped translate the report into Danish. I still consider this report to be one of the most important reports published by the UN system in that decade. Most of what we discuss today as necessary changes to the way we presently produce, consume, trade and invest was presented in the Brundtland report.
From January 1993 until November 2001, the Social Democrat Svend Auken was Minister for the Environment and for Energy. I did not know him well personally, but I met him on several occasions when I was part of organizing delegations from developing countries coming to Denmark to learn about how we tried to deal with the challenges facing Denmark as part of the follow-up to the agreements made at the conference in Rio. I vividly remember one occasion, when I was standing with a delegation on the steps leading up to the entrance to the Danish parliament, waiting for the Minister to arrive for our meeting. This was planned, because I knew that Svend Auken would arrive on his old bicycle, and I wanted our friends from the global south to see the difference between how a Danish minister behaved compared to what they were used to at home. This was good old Danish democracy in practice, with little distance between people and politicians. The delegates were confused of course. How could this happen? Because ‘minister’ means ‘servant of the people’, the minister explained, before he led our way into parliament with his youthful smile.
Svend Auken was unquestionably a very bright politician, one of the smartest of his generation. For reasons that are outside the framework of this article, he never reached the pinnacle of politics and became Prime Minister of Denmark, despite being the Chairman of the Social Democrats. Still, he is one of the few Danish politicians that have managed to put Denmark effectively and convincingly on the global map on how nations must and can deal with environmental and climatic issues. He strongly believed in the need for a small country like Denmark to take the lead. Danish CO2 emissions may not amount to a lot in a global perspective, but we can still lead by showing others what is possible. When Denmark today is being hailed as an example, it is first of all because of what Svend Auken and the governments he was a part of decided to do in the 90s.
Right wing (we call the parties ‘blue’) governments have been in power most of the time since 2001 – including the present coalition government of three parties, and they have never seen the environment and the climate change agenda as important. Full stop! They have never seen them as equally important as making sure that the private sector could make money and compete in the global market. They have not seen them as areas for Denmark to show global leadership, certainly not decades back when others argued that this would be an area for future profit making. The rhetoric only turned more positive when it became apparent to even the most ignorant cynics on the right that a strong global consensus to do something was emerging, with CEOs, heads of government, academics, politicians, church leaders, NGOs and yes, ordinary citizens. They all backed the call for action – NOW! When Danish CEOs across the board called for political leadership, the politicians on the right only reluctantly and without heart took action.
Seen from the outside, it has been like an ideological crusade of almost religious proportions, focused on destroying the legacy of Svend Auken. Similar to the religious fervor seemingly driving President Trump in his effort to destroy Obamacare. In both cases, knowledge is seen as an inconvenient obstacle; facts are at best ‘massaged’ to fit the political situation, or at worst manipulated; experts are by definition considered to be ‘progressive’ or ‘leftist’, and consequently they are not objective. A very sad situation.
Before the young couple left the Lesjaverk Loading Station to continue the jouney towards Oslo, I told them that I was actually Danish. They threw up their arms in despair, smiled loudly, and then stated: “The Danes are in trouble, you have to get your act together, sooner rather than later.” They are so right. The future of the planet as well as both present and future generations depend on all political parties coming together to take responsibility and make decisions, based on the available evidence agreed upon by the large majority of scentists. This also includes the transition to cars powered by electricity rather than petrol and diesel. It generally requires leadership based on genuine conviction rather than political expediency. It needs a show of heart that rises above crude calculation.
True, Denmark is still at the top, thanks to the investments made in the 90s. The present government is happy to take credit for that. Now we need to see that the parties in the coalition government are able and willing to provide real leadership. Lesjaverk shows the way!
STORY 8 – 21 JUNE – 2017
the art of fishing TROUT
I am not a great fisherman. If we rank the family members according to objective criteria like time spent in the boat, number of trout caught, size of the fish pulled out of the water, number of fish jumping off the hook right outside the boat, technical skills in throwing the line straight and far, or ability to decide which flies will be effective, well, then I believe a realistic assessment would place me as a weak number four, with my younger brother as the undisputed first, and my nephew and my son sharing second and third place.
This used to bother me a bit [well, actually a lot], but after lengthy and conscious efforts [which did not involve any form of psychological counseling], I have accepted my fate. I have concluded that fishing trout is not about being first or best. The art of fishing trout is first and last a question about establishing a fragile relationship with nature, and then about being serious about your responsibility as a ‘socializer’. Let me explain each of the two dimensions.
First the RELATIONSHIP, and I understand that some of you might find it slightly religious to talk about ‘establishing a fragile relationship with nature’. This is not the intention or the case. The statement has to be taken rather literally. However magnificent a fisherman you think you are technically, nature always has the upper hand. It decides the amount of light or darkness – influencing your ability to move around on the lake; the direction and strength of the wind – determining where to throw the line; the temperature of the air and the water – indicating if the fish will go high or low. All of this also impacts on the size, nastiness and number of mosquitos swarming around your face, and thus your ability to concentrate. Mother nature [with some help from human beings I should add] also decides on the number of beavers in the water, elk cruising along the shore of the lake, herons flying low over the lake. Fishing trout is consequently also about enjoying and appreciating all of this. If you catch some, great – and I am proud of the trout you see on the photo!
Then there is the aspect of SOCIALIZING, which should probably be called ‘socialization’. My grandfather was teacher number one, followed by my father. They made sure I learned to squeeze the unruly worm on to the sharp hook without hooking into my fingers, and then throw the line gently into the water, right into the mouth of the fat trout. When my son reached the age when he was big and strong enough to hold the fishing rod in one hand, I became his teacher in the art of managing worms and flies. Second generation teaching then starts when your grandson is forced to repeat the rituals your son had to endure, like you yourself had to decades earlier. Of course, in principle, the ‘son’ could also be a ‘daughter’, and this has also been the case, but for reasons I am not able to explain in this story, definitely at a lower level of intensity.
Today, I never fish at home, and I never ever have. I have never felt an urge to find a lake in Denmark where I can throw out a line. I only fish when I am in Norway and stay at ‘Furukollen’. I am really not sure why, and I do not really see any reason to worry about it.
STORY 7 – 20 JUNE – 2017
travelling the world WITH ROOTS
In my recent publication about “Engaging with democracy globally”, published in December 2016, I confess that I consider myself to be a ‘globalist’. I understand this to be different from being in favor of everything we generally associate with ‘globalization’. To me, being a ‘globalist’, or simply having a ‘global’ perspective or outlook, is about actively and positively embracing and confronting the realities of interdependence among the people living on the planet we share today, and the future we need to manage together. It is also about taking care of the interesting and beautiful diversities of people and cultures of different colors and beliefs, living in around 200 small and large countries.
To avoid the type of misunderstanding that often make debates on globalisation less interesting and more confusing than they need to be, I should emphasize that ’embracing’ does not mean ‘agreeing’ with. Having travelled to many countries and lived in a few, I know from experience that I generally agree with as much and as many outside my country of origin as inside, which means that I have lots of honest disagreements with people and positions all over the world; but certainly not more with people outside than inside my territory of birth. This should not really be necessary to state, but unfortunately if you do not, you risk beinge categorized as an idealistic, unrealistic and dreamy relic from the hippie-like 60’ies (a period I also hurry to confess having been part of, although most people I associated with would probably say that I was very much political activist and really not hippie at all).
My parents could hardly be called ‘globetrotters’. They never took me anywhere else than to Norway. My first ‘globetrotting’ trip was to West Germany in 1964, when I spent a summer studying German language and history in high school, living with a German family. I left European soil for the first time in 1966, when I sailed across the Atlantic from Rotterdam to New York [ten fantastic days on M/S Seven Seas] together with 500 other European students on an American Field Service programme, studying for a year at upper class Tatnall High School in Wilmington, Delware, at a time when the war in Vietnam was raging, with the United States being on the wrong side of history. Then came the 70’ies, when I started a series of low-budget backpacking trips, first to countries like Mexico, Peru, Bolivia and Chile in Latin America, later visiting countries like Indonesia, India, Sri Lanka and Thailand in Asia. Africa started to dominate my globetrotting life when we entered the 1980’ies, and Zimbabwe and Botswana later became my second or third home.
My Norwegian grandfather started to teach me how to fish, when I was a few years old. Later he also enlightened me about the world. He was an employee of the Norwegian Railroads [NSB], and before being appointed Station Master of of a station north of Oslo, he headed the NSB Travel Agency. As far as I know, he did not travel much himself, but his story-telling abilities were well developed, and listening to his fantastic and colorful stories about countries like Italy and Spain made me think that one day, when I was myself a grown up person, I would travel just like him, with an open mind and appetite for knowing more about the world. I am sure he would have loved to hear my fantastic stories from around the world.
STORY 6 – 19 JUNE – 2017
FROM AVDEMSBUE TO RESTAURANT NOMA
I would guess that few of my readers have heard about AVDEMSBUE, a small general store next to the E6 road running through the valley of Gudbrandsdalen, close to the village of Lesja, less than 20 kilometers from Furukollen. Many more people have undoubtedly heard about the Danish restaurant called NOMA, which in recent years has been rated among the best restaurants in the world. Personally, I have never eaten at NOMA, but I have often eaten the delicious cheese and meat products sold at AVDEMSBUE. I am delighted now to tell you about how this modest general store in Gudbrandsdalen is connected with the world famous restaurant in Copenhagen.
But allow me first to share a secret with you, one which my wife and children are fully aware of and also accept, although I sometimes sense that they find it a bit embarrassing. It has to do with my preference for a special type of Norwegian cheese called BROWN CHEESE, also known as GUDBRANDSDAL CHEESE or GOAT CHEESE, which I eat on a daily basis, at least once a day in the morning or evening, on white bread or dark bread or crisp bread. To be fair to friends who argue that this particular cheese should be categorized as a ‘sweet’ rather than a ‘cheese’, I admit that they have a case. Brown cheese is defintely on the sweet side, but I like sweets, so whether it is one or the other does not really bother me.
And now the connection to the world famous restaurant! The farm producing many of the products sold at AVDEMSBUE general store have developed a very speciel brown cheese called HULDREOST. This is traditional brown cheese with juniper, spicy seeds from the mountains of the area as well as schnapps added to it, producing an almost seductive taste, which is indeed unique. You can enjoy it with a biscuit and a glass of wine or dark beer, and you can also add it to dishes of wildlife meat or use it in a dessert. No wonder a restaurant like NOMA decided to include this particular cheese in their list of strange and different products. For me personally, I consider the Noma-connection to be the ultimate vindication of brown cheese as a highly developed, sophisticated and healthy food product.
The same is true for many other products sold in the store, which opened in July 2015 and is founded and managed by a young woman, Anna Haugstad Avdem [it is Anna in the photo at the top]. The general store building dates back to 1878. Avdemsbue sells all the products produced by Avdem Gardsysteri, owned by Anna’s parents. In addition to that, there are quality cheeses from other Norwegian cheese factories in stock. The beer selection represents more than 25 breweries. You will also find cured meats, smoked fish, coffee, tea, flour, jam and other delicacies. All of it ecological. Take a look at the website www.avdem.no and learn more about the resources available in the mountains and valleys of Norway.
STORY 5 – 13 JUNE – 2017
NORWAY IS RULED FROM THE VALLEYS
In recent years, a heated debate has taken place in Denmark about what you could call Outskirts Denmark. This is a bad translation of the Danish word, but essentially it is about the center versus the periphery; about Copenhagen and a few other large cities versus the smaller villages; about an elite embracing the rewards of globalisation, while dictating the ignorant and anti-globalised villagers how the country should develop. It is certainly not a new debate. The process of strengthening the centre and weakening the periphery is global in nature, and the process has been active for many decades. People just did not see it. When some of us wrote about and argued for a new economic world order in the 70’ies, we were met with deafening silence.
What is new is that political parties have now understood and experienced how this ‘unequal pattern of growth’ impacts on voting patterns, with many in the periphery tending to vote for populist and nationalist parties, rejecting traditional parties that have ruled in past decades, preferring ‘America First’ like approaches, critisizing the perceived dominant role of international cooperation. This is true in Denmark, and it is true in Norway. In fact, at the moment, Norway is ruled by a coalition of the Conservative Party and the Progress Party (and beware of the definition of ‘progress’ to avoid getting confused). Aspects of religion, ethnicity, refugees and migrants probably need to be thrown into the melting pot to make the confusion possible to comprehend.
Norway is a much larger country than Denmark, almost exactly nine times larger in area, and the distance from south to north is five times longer. This clearly indicates that being in the periphery is not only a question about size. Interestingly, up here, I have always been told that legislation passed by the parliament tends to favor the periphery, which could have something to do with size. A huge country definitely needs active communities all over its territory. It is really perceived as a question of national security. In practical terms, you need to make it attractive for people to stay in the villages, fall in love in the villages, get married in the villages, produce children in the villages, get old and die in the villages.
Not all the farms I visited with my mother when I was a child, high up on the soft-sloping mountainside, have survived. This is not surprising. What is surprising is that so many farms are actually active. Sheep enjoy the green fields with grass, and trees for timber is plentifull. Here and there you will run into cattle. It would not work without subsidies, and lower taxes is an incentive. It is also a necessity for keeping the only shop in the village alive, which also benefits tourism, and it probably ensures that the train stops when people ask for it.
Balanced development comes at a cost, in Norway and Denmark, in Nepal and Djibouti. Like so much else in a society, it is not possible to objectively set a fair price on everything. In Norway, it seems like people in general, irrespective of political color, accept that it is worth the cost to keep expensive village communities in mountains and valleys alive. Fortunately for Norway (and Denmark I should add), it can afford it!
STORY 4 – 11 JUNE – 2017
REFLECTIONS FROM A VILLAGER
The rain fell gently and silently, while I was standing at the shore of the lake, looking across to a small group of birch trees decorated with fresh green leaves on the opposite side of the lake. Suddenly I heard soft steps coming up from behind, and when the person stopped next to me, I saw that it was one of the slightly more than 200 villagers living in Lesjaverk. He probably knew this spot, and for one reason or another he had decided to join me on this bright and beautiful evening.
I knew him. In fact, he is my own age, and while we never played together as children when I visited during the summers, at least not as far as I remember or has been told, I do remember him very well, and we have been superficially in touch regularly over the years, actually more and more so as we have grown older. My mother knew his mother. He never married and always lived with his mother in the white house with the beautiful flower garden down the road. When his mother died, he took over the house. He is retired now.
Local people like to socialize, but my experience is that they do not talk a lot when there are ‘strangers’ around, and since I am not born here, I am by definition a ‘stranger’. When they do talk, you should listen carefully. “Have you been to the ironworks at the end of the lake?” he asked me. I told him I had, and found it very interesting. “Yes, it is,” he continued, “and it is both interesting and a bit strange and unbelievable to know that our little place on the planet was once an important part of the economic development of our country as well as the rest of the world. The ovens of the ironworks were closed around 200 years ago, but before that happened, the high quality iron produced here was used for building ships in Norway and abroad. Workers would come from as far away as Germany.”
Many years ago, when I started writing educational books about development issues, I was inspired by the Swedish writer Sven Lindquist and his book called “Dig where you stand”. The philosophy was simple: once you start looking into the history of the place where you live now, you will find all kinds of connections with the world around you, both the parts close to you, and even those far away. I adopted this approach in a series of books for children and youth, trying to explain in a straightforward manner how we depend on and are in reality inderdependent with others, although we may not be aware of it, or we don’t want to know about it.
Pointing towards the group of birch on the other side, he stated: “They are mirrored in the lake, but you need to dig much deeper to find the whole story about how globalisation has impacted upon Lesjaverk, and how Lesjaverk impacted the larger world.” He then left as quietly as he had arrived a few minutes earlier.
STORY 3 – 9 JUNE – 2017
THE HOUSE ON THE LAKE
This summer 50 years ago, my parents bought a two storey wooden guesthouse called ‘Furukollen’, located close to the railroad line and the main road running through the valley, For half a century, this house has been my beloved summer home. Nevertheless, the House on the Lake – also called ‘Lesjabo’ – is still the cottage I associate with vacationing in Norway. Walking down to the lake and looking out over the water from exactly the place where the stump of the huge pine tree used to be, and where you see me sitting in 1951, two years old, is the first thing I do after arriving, irrespectiove of time and weather conditions.
The house has since been renovated and modernised, and it has been painted black. I loved the natural style of the thick wooden planks, and I tease my relatives that changing the color amounts to treason against family and tradition, The house now belongs to my Norwegian cousins and their children. Emotionally, I consider myself a co-owner, because this is where I acquired most of my Norwegian genes. Language by playing with my counsins in the forest and at the lake during the summers. Respect for the mountains from listening to my grandfather and uncle explain how you behave when trekking through forests and valleys. Understanding of the diversity of the country by interacting with families in the village. Showing off with my brother on the beach, where we performed [well, brother Stig did in particular and with style indeed] gymnastics of all kinds, just to let the villagers know [and they had to buy a ticket to get to see us] that the two Danes were capable of things Norwegians could not even dream about.
My grandfather’s house ‘Lesjabo’ and our present house ‘Furukollen’ were among the few houses along the lake in the 1950’ies. While different in style, both are traditional and Norwegian in architecture. This is unfortunately not the case with many of the cottages, houses and mansions built in the area over the last 15 years. Norwegian oil money has infected both tradition and the environment. A summer house or mountain cottage used to be a construction smaller than what you had available at home. It should also be a bit more simple, if not outright ‘primitive’, No more! The new cottages are extensions of the house at home, and with a click on the iPhone, you turn on the heat and get the jacuzzi ready for your arrival hours later.
STORY 2 – JUNE 8 – 2017
TOO MUCH OR TOO LITTLE SNOW?
Having absorbed the well-known information about distances and sea levels, standing with my back to the lake and the mountains on the other side of the lake, I would turn around and quickly register and calculate the amount and areas of snow on the top of the mountains, investigating how the situation compared with last year and the month of the year. Of course, even as a small boy, I knew instinctively that there would be more snow in June than in July, and much more in June than in August.
Back in the 50’ies and 60’ies, this knowledge about too much or too little snow did not reflect an understanding of the perils of climate change, which I believe not even my well educated parents had a clue about. My interest was first of all how much water there would be in the lake [covering the whole of the sandy beach or not], and how cold the water would be [over or below 12 degrees Celcius]. This had profound consequences for my wish to swim [I hated swimming in cold water and still do], and it gave us a hunch about the fishing situation [if it was very cold the trout would tend to move towards the surface, which is nice when fishing with flies].
The weather is the source of much speculation and debate all over the world, including here in Lesjaverk. I believe I can honestly state that up here, people spend much more time talking about the weather than about politics, despite the founder and former leader of the Norwegian right-wing Progress Party [and there is nothing progressive about the party] being married to a girl from this village. Increasingly the speculation and debate includes the impact from climate change dynamics, because the reality of too little or too much snow is also about money and livelihoods.
This can be observed around 20 kilometers further up the vally, at the skiing resort called Bjorli. The place offers great alpine options, as well as different colors [indicating levels of length and steepness] of cross country slopes [the only type I indulge in]. The area has several hotels and hundreds of wooden cabins, some private and some for rent. All the investments are based on a simple assumption: snow will fall in reasonable amounts, preferably around Easter vacation in particular. This no longer seems to be as safe a bet as it used to be.
STORY 1 – JUNE 7 – 2017
living ABOVE SEA LEVEL
Decades ago, the wooden building at Lesjaverk Train Station was actually a functioning train station building, with a Station Master who would stand on the platform when the train came to a halt, waiting for the doors to be opened, and helping passengers with a firm arm when they jumped off with all their luggage. With his red flag in the left hand and a black whistle in his mouth, the station master was undoubtedly a person of impressive stature, at least seen through the eyes of a smal boy, whose Norwegian grandfather was the station master in a larger town further south. When the whistle sounded, the train would slowly get moving, heading further up through the vally.
As soon as I learned to read, the information on the sign on the front side of the station building was something I could remember, and something I was more than willing to brag about to friends back home, telling them that this monumentally large village called Lesjaverk was situated exactly 379.89 kilometers from the capital of Oslo, and equally precisely 77,39 kilometers from the city at the end of the vally of Gudbrandsdalen, called Åndalsnes. And most terrifying to a young boy, who was used to live about 2 meters above sea level, the sign stated that you were now standing 633.15 meters above sea level. This was higher than the highest hill in Denmark. Terryfying!
I have since those days been standing at much higher altitudes, like in La Paz, the capital of Bolivia, at 5.000 meters; or at the cliff-hanging monastary Tigers Nest in Bhutan, at more than 2.000 meters. Still, every time I come to Lesjaverk and see the sign on the train station building, now painted a different color than when I first saw it, and with the name sign renovated several times, I have a feeling that 633.15 meters above sea level is without question the most astonishing and miraculous feature of nature I have ever experienced. Of course I know that this is not the case, but this does not really matter.