At the height of the annual fall hiking and hunting season, doubts are suddenly emerging about Norwegians’ alleged attachment to the great outdoors. A new book is getting rave reviews for portraying an honest and funny aversion to hiking, skiing or spending time at Norway’s iconic cabins called hytter. Proud residents of Northern Norway, meanwhile, decry southerners’ emphasis on the pure sporting aspects of hunting and fishing, and want to preserve what they still view as an important source of food.
Are Kalvø, best known for his satire programs and books that poke fun at various aspects of Norwegian society, has ventured outside his preferred urban environment. Even though he grew up in the middle of what his publisher, Kagge Forlag, calls “a postcard” in Norway’s western fjord and mountain country, Kalvø has never been a nature lover.
In an effort to examine and understand other Norwegians’ passion for spending their days outdoors and their nights in sometimes primitive huts, he set off on three of Norway’s most popular treks: over the mountain ridge called Besseggen, up to the top of Norway’s highest peak called Galdhøpiggen, and up and out to the rocky and rather treacherous if flat summit called Preikestolen. All are considered “musts” for locals and tourists alike, for better or worse.
The result is a new book entitled Hyttebok fra Helvete (The Hytte Book from Hell), a reference to the handwritten journals kept in both private and public hytter where owners and visitors chronicle everything from their outdoor experiences to the weather and the state of their shelter. Reviewers are finding it hilarious, with an honesty that’s as refreshing as the cold autumn air.
Kalvø ends his account with a spring skiing trek from hytte to hytte over the broad mountain plateau called Hardangervidda during the Easter holidays. He both discovers and reveals a series of betrayals on the part of avid hikers and skiers. They lie, he claims, about how long, steep or even scary the hikes actually are. “To say that Besseggen isn’t especially steep is an outright lie,” Kalvø writes “That’s like saying a circle isn’t especially round.”
At least one reviewer, writing in newspaper Aftenposten, was clearly gratified to read that. “Besseggen is frightening!” she wrote earlier this week. “Finally someone has actually written that!” She called Kalvø’s book “the most liberating and funny book I’ve read in a long time.”
Kalvø also discovers that, in his opinion, experiencing Norwegian nature can be quite expensive, given all the recommended clothing and equipment, and it requires lots of planning, logistics and careful packing. “Experienced mountaineers often make jaunty claims that it’s just a matter of heading outdoors,” Kalvø observes. “That’s not true either. It’s maybe a little bit true if you actually live right next to a mountain and already own everything considered necessary to hike in the mountains in all types of weather.” For a city boy like him, it’s not true at all.
Reviewers have also praised how the book is also full of both statistics and historic facts about Norwegians’ hiking habits, observations by sociologists and, according to Hilde Østby in Aftenposten, “quite poetic descriptions of the urban life Kalvø loves.”
Another more serious view
Østby notes how another book is also being released this fall that chronicles one Norwegian’s decision to move from the city back to his family’s small farm outside Kragerø, a coastal community in southern Telemark that’s become a summer paradise for Norwegians wealthy enough to afford hytter close to the sea. Many were paying a few million kroner for old wooden cottages lacking indoor plumbing 30 years ago. Now the pricetags can easily be three- to four times that, more if you want to be able to take a shower or have a washing machine.
Simen Tveitereid, a journalist and author, wrote Et fritt liv (A free life) to explore the desire “for something else in the world’s richest country.” He may well be one of the friends whom Kalvø jokingly “lost to the nature,” but Tveitereid touches on some of the same themes in a more serious manner: Norwegians’ relation to nature, identity, welfare, work and time off. He chronicles how his own family underwent great change in the course of just a few generations, as they moved from relying on the land to live, to living and working in cities for money and relying on the land for recreation.
This was also the theme in a lengthy article this past weekend in the magazine D2. It highlights new tensions in the wide-open spaces of Finnmark, Norway’s northernmost county that covers an area equivalent to the entire country of Denmark. Residents of Finnmark have already been in an uproar for months over the state’s plans to force them to merge with the neighbouring county of Troms.
Another uproar has been brewing over hunting and fishing rights in Finnmark. Its native, often wandering, Sami population lived off the land for centuries, before being forced from the 1800s until late in the 1900s to communicate in Norwegian and live like Norwegians in permanent settlements. The state had seized control of their lands but ultimately apologized and passed Finnmarksloven (The Finnmark Law), which gave Finnmark’s own residents the rights to use and manage their land through Finnmarkseiendommen (Fefo), since 2005 the official owner and administrator of 95 percent of Finnmark’s land area. It also administers 5,400 kilometers of coastline in Finnmark.
Culture more important than sport
For years, hunters and fishing enthusiasts traveled to Finnmark to engage in what they view as sport as they shot grouse and fished for trout and salmon. D2 reported how the Sami population, along with other locals, often hate the word “sport.” For them, hunting is still rooted in what Norwegians call the matauk culture, which involves hunting and fishing and harvesting the wild cloudberries known as molte for the sake of finding food and filling their freezers for the winter. They don’t stride over the tundra for fun.
Local residents can freely hunt and fish and pick wild berries as much as they like. Various local authorities in Finnmark, however, have started issuing only a limited number of hunting or fishing licenses for those living outside their areas. Sports hunters from Oslo or anywhere else outside Finnmark, for example, can no longer fly into Lakselv, Alta or Kirkenes and simply head into the wild with their dogs and guns. They need permission, and, note D2, a daily license for hunting grouse, for example, that costs NOK 300 (USD 37). It’s not the modest cost, but the availability of the licenses that can close off what used to be public state lands to folks who aren’t Finnmarkinger.
“Something is happening,” D2 wrote. “120 years after the state took away the land and lakes from the Sami, they’re in the process of taking it back, in a quiet battle over Europe’s largest wilderness area.”
That’s led to tension between the northerners and southerners, with some of the latter responding in kind. D2 reported that residents of Finnmark can no longer fish in a popular of Vestfold County unless they buy a license that costs triple what it costs locals. Other outdoor enthusiasts from Southern Norway who had fished freely in Finnmark for year are simply disappointed. “It has nothing to do with the people here, they’re incredibly hospitable,” Grunde Løvoll, a researcher living in Drammen, told D2. “It’s about the signals that are steadily being sent and the new rules that only limit access for everyone who isn’t local. They want the resources for themselves.”
Jon Olli, a director of Fefo, doesn’t understand the criticism: “We try as best we can to take care of local rights, while managing the wilderness in the best manner. I completely disagree that it’s become difficult for those traveling to the North.” Residents of Finnmark, and not least the Sami, simply want to preserve their rights and their traditional hunting and fishing culture that has little to do with sport or simply enjoying the great outdoors, and everything to do with their history of survival.