120 days of summer

Summer in Norway is no time for idle contemplation. The days are endless, the entirety of the season is short, however, and there is no time to lose. You do not sit down to reflect in summer, especially on a farm. Summer is the time of growth. All the small plants need to go into the ground. Everything needs to be watered. The tomatoes and cucumbers demand pruning, the elder flower trees blossom, radishes, salads and spring onions want to be harvested. Then there is hey making, and all of a sudden the raspberries and black currants and blueberries are ripe and the tomatoes rotten away faster than you can blink. The orders of restaurants for produce grow ever longer and you try to make something of the two tons of squash that no one wants to buy: pickle it, ferment it, cook sauce, until everyone hates squash passionately and blames it for everything that has ever gone wrong in this world. Exhaustive amounts of work stretch ahead. Summer is the time of moving the water sprinkler over the fields until late at night, of going all in and tiring yourself out.

To me this summer felt like one constant stream of experiences, of encounters, of days melting into each other like a chocolate bar in the sun. The never-disappearing light added to the sense of continuity, combined with a feeling of having crazy amounts of energy and not needing to sleep much.

Summer is to blame

I appreciate this experience of flow, of just being in the moment and of intense communal effort. However, it is more in my nature to be taking time to stop and observe, to tune in into my thoughts and feelings, to perform an internal Checks and Balances every now and then. Reflecting on what is happening feels vital to my wellbeing and I did not get to do it over the summer months. There is no one to blame for this but summer itself.

We did, of course, have some fun despite all the work and I can never get enough of swimming in the ocean. Picture: Hannes Soltau

Now that summer is on its last legs the harvesting season will still be going on for weeks. But I decided that it was time to partly snap out of the farm funk, to be taking more time off. With this decision also came the realization that I took over a lot of responsibility on the farm. I can see this as both a good and a challenging personality trait of mine. Being trusted with things is a boost for your self-esteem but it can become overwhelming.

I invested a lot of time and energy in learning about farm life, and on top of normal farm business I had my own project going on, a café I ran by myself on the weekends. Running Café Koselig meant prepping every Friday, baking numerous cakes and quiches, getting up very early on Saturdays to prepare some more, then serving guests all day and washing an endless amount of dishes. If I was lucky I had enough cake left for the usually slower Sundays, often I had to bake on Saturday nights after closing the café. On Sunday nights I would clean everything up and put away all the dish wear until next Friday, then crawling into bed, forgetting to take off my clothes. Monday mornings I went back to farm work. For all of summer I worked seven days a week. I had no desire and energy to read books or the news, although reading usually is a vital part of my life. I could have asked for a day off on the farm and somehow I didn’t. Self care is not my strong suit.

You can not get burned-out by volunteer work, can you?

There is something wicked about a group consciousness and the dynamics that arise in places where you work and live with a small group of people that you care about a lot. You know that there is an endless amount of work and that you have to divide it evenly. It never quite works out though. I had both a strong feeling of being able to power through a seven-week-day and letting people down if I took time off while everyone else had to work more because of that. In retrospective it is hard to say how consciously I made this decision, really. I did everything by choice, farm work just as much as the café. But by August I felt drained. A dear friend voiced concerns about me getting burned-out. I laughed it off. You can not get a burn-out from volunteer work, I remember saying. That is obviously wrong, as many people have experienced. Thankfully I hit the breaks before things went south.

The café was always thought as a summer pop up and I decided to close it down at the end of August. At the same time I feel an urge to come back to writing, partly. It is, after all, my preferred way of communicating, my mode of expression. I have been missing it a lot, it is a good feeling to be writing again. With writing comes thinking, reflecting and understanding.

Marveling at something, I can not recall, what. Picture: Hannes Soltau

I also realized that everyone on the farm felt drained of energy and of motivation and that we were all experiencing very similar emotions. We talked about it and now it feels good that I can say I am tired and it is being understood.

This is all I have to share for now but I promise it will be more busy on this site again soon.

I hope you’ve all had a good summer, that you swam in lakes and the sea and that the books you read collected some sand in between the pages. That you ate ice cream and got tan lines. I hope that you slept outside at least once and that you lay under a tree and watched the leaves. That you ate good food and nurtured your self in all kinds of ways.

So long from Norway…

Tales of Dandelion Spaghetti, Seagull Serenading and Cake Wizardry

It has been quiet on this blog for the last couple of weeks. So either “quiet is the new loud” as the Kings of Convenience stated – and they are Norwegian, so they must know. Or I got something cooking, something that is so completely and utterly occupying that no time could be found to even spill the beans about it. Well, it is a little bit of both. Since arriving on Bergsmyrene I feel much less the need to tell and share a lot. I am having trouble keeping up with phoning friends and family, I work long hours and love every bit of it. It’s been many moons since I watched any series or movie and I do not get anywhere with my books. I do force myself to some news every now and then, but I feel weirdly detached from what is going on in the rest of the world. It has so little to do with my life right now, and admitting to this is an emotional mixed bag. How can I be so idle when there is a global health crisis going on? Not to forget about all the other preexisting crises.

Whenever I get ashamed and anxious about this shift of perspective and priorities I do try to remember that this is exactly the place and the state of mind I wanted to end up in. Doing something good for the people around me and my community, on a scale that is actually within my circle of influence. And letting go the overwhelming thought that trying to put out fires in all the hot spots at once is the goal.

I was dreaming of getting away from the buzz of the city, away from spending too much money on rent, from buying food that I didn’t know anything about. I did not want to be caught up in an unsustainable lifestyle and not being able to alter it anymore. And I certainly did not want to work in offices and watch the sky through the window. All together, it did make me feel quite miserable.

Playing violin to the seagulls

Instead, I wanted to live a life based on simplicity, love and care for the people around me and the place I ended up in. I wished to sit in a tree, sleep in a hammock and play my violin for the seagulls down at the fjord. I wanted to learn about growing vegetables, about seeding, planting and about harvesting. I wanted to go foraging in the woods and learn about all the edible plants and flowers. I wanted to taste dandelion spaghetti, nettle pesto, spruce shoot sirup and chervil blossom popsicles. I dreamed of living in a place where there was no need to lock doors and where even me, a light sleeper, would found ear plugs ridiculous. Where it was okay to have some staying black muck under the nails, not shower every day and let ones hair grow wild. I didn’t know how much pleasure I would find in cooking and baking, in learning about braiding hair, in slack-lining to the sound of birds, in going off-track running to the woods on endless summer nights. The sun rises at 4.21 and sets after ten o’clock now, and I have to force myself to bed.

Now, if you’re starting to think that this all sounds way too good to be real, and that life could not possibly be that idle, you’re not alone. About five times a day I feel like I have to pinch myself. It all feels surreal these days.

Weeding 100 meters of carrots by hand

What else is going on? I find way too much joy in pranking the people on the farm, at least to the taste of my boss. So far, I filled beds with straw and lunch packages with chicken food. I gave new color and meaning to clothing items and told some quite believable stories about magic mushrooms. When you sit in a 100 square meter carrot field and pull out weeds by hand, you have some time to come up with ideas. We play a lot of games while working (my favorite so far: “If I ran a cult”, that was about coming up with ways of setting up a cult that people would actually like to join.). We teach each other about things, sometimes we end up in heated discussions, we laugh a lot. It is great fun to hang out and work with the Bergsmyrene squad, with Doro, Severin, with Abby, Raphael and Toon. We could need more helping hands on the farm, and hopefully some people will find their way to Bergsmyrene. The intimacy of a small group is nice though. Departures are tough and it pains me to let people go, like Abigael last week. It feels like a break-up.

Café Koselig, your supplier of good coffee and delicious vegan cakes

As for the spilling of beans I did start a little project on the farm that has been occupying me in addition to everything else. I opened a little pop up café that is part of our farm shop. It is called Café Koselig (a Norwegian word with quite a few meanings and layers, “cozy“ is just one) and is open on weekends during the summer. I bake vegan cakes and try to use as much of our own produce as possible. And I serve good organic and fair trade coffee. I didn’t want to make a big investment, so I just bought the bare minimum of equipment: high-quality coffee beans and organic ingredients, a coffee grinder and a milk foamer to make a decent caffe latte. We got a sofa and nice chairs for free from people in the area and some granny-style porcelain service.

We opened last weekend and so far it has been very nice. A lot of people who come to the farm shop end up staying a bit longer for a coffee and some cake, a lemonade or a popsicles. The nicest thing is not having to worry about money, not having to pay rent, or paying off debt from an investment, and making the project profitable as fast as possible. I just hitched my café wagon to the Bergsmyrene farm and if all goes well, this will be a wonderful summer occupation. I do love serving good food, so why not in a small café setting? So far, the feedback has been very kind and generous. People seem to be generally appreciative and open to new things, comments on Koselig being a vegan café have been only positive so far. All together, I am quite busy these days. Yet, I still find the time to watch the clouds, lie in the meadows or stray through the woods, almost every day. How did I ever consider life fulfilled without?

On watering lettuce and letting go

There is nothing I find more soothing than to observe someone do work chores. The type of task that someone can do in their sleep, because they have done it for a long time, because they are good at it, or because it is a rather monotone type of work. When I am sick and I go to the doctors office I start feeling better as soon as the receptionist is typing in my information. The clicking of the keyboard, the routine questions…I don’t know exactly what it is – it might be a ASMR thing (Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response) – that gives me a sense of calm and sometimes even sends shivers of wellbeing down my spine.

The work on my farm entails a lot of tasks that fall in that category: seeding 300 pots of onions, sowing oats on a field by hand, watering 200 meters of lettuce, planting long rows of pak choi, harvesting, weeding and packaging, flattening a field with a tractor, feeding animals. Many of those tasks require you to focus only gradually and give you time to think or daydream or have a conversation (I am talking about the executive side of farm work, like watering lettuce). I am both watching people perform these tasks and doing them myself. While the first – observing someone do their job – often gives me this wonderful soothing, the latter is a bit different.

Learning heaps of new things that you don’t know anything about can be quite intimidating, and here I don’t mean watering lettuce. I come from a family of bookworms and garden enthusiasts, I have read “The One-Straw-Revolution”, and I have always wanted to learn and understand. But when it comes to farming I don’t know anything. This feeling is especially intimidating now, that I have left other stabilizers behind at the same time. Like coming to a foreign country, neither speaking the language nor having friends, and stopping to work in my old profession. Leaving a place also means leaving a part of yourself. It is the part that needs no explanations, that knows what it is, that is about identifying. I used to identify in a certain way, and I had people around me, friends, colleagues, acquaintances, who backed me up on this self-identification. This „I am“ had a lot of dreams and ambitions, ways of life, seeing the world and seeing others. Some things were settled, like me voting left, being a feminist, trying to live as sustainable as possible, protesting against racism, and so forth. Others were more in fluctuation. Now, almost everything is in a state of flux. What holds a sense of self together then?

I can confidently say I have never eaten better than on Bergsmyrene farm.

I am not shy when it comes to admiration towards other people and have always been curious, wanting to learn and understand and gain new perspectives. So, these days my sense of self is held together through these familiar traits: sympathy, enthusiasm and curiosity. The enthusiasm and sympathy I feel for the people around me and the place I ended up in. And the special combination of being nervous about not knowing shit (or dritt, as Norwegians say) about so many things, but also really wanting to learn and understand, and do a good job.

Honestly, how much do you know about life if you have no idea how your food is grown and being produced? The people who live on Bergsmyrene bring together a huge body of knowledge, all hidden from me until now. It makes me humble.

I realize that praising the people on Bergsmyrene and not putting any pictures of them in this post is not ideal. I will come to that, while for now you just have to put up with me driving a tractor the first time. Ah, chills…

How wonderful it is to know all these facts about how to build healthy soil, like Severin, the young farmer does. To be experimenting with different sorts of manure and compost, to be dreaming of a vegan farm, one without using animals in any conventional ways. How impressive to be just as much focused on making your farm as sustainable and profitable as possible. To be maneuvering taking over more and more responsibilities from your parents, while improving old ways or finding your own ones. And on top of it, to be slaying it on slack lines and trampolines – flick-flacking, saltoing, backflipping – as if gravity was just a mental construct.

How amazing to be knowing so much already, like Doro does, my young co-worker from Germany. She is only 22 years old, warm-hearted and funny, and hops on the tractor as if it was nothing. She is in a 3-year training program in biodynamic farming, knits beautiful sweaters, speaks Norwegian, is handy with a lot of things and can lose herself in books about plants.

Edona used to work at Maaemo, the three-star big shot in Oslo. She is a machine, getting things done and being kind, funny and always helpful at the same time. Her experience with working in restaurants, whether in service or managing the place, has given her the most impressive organizational talent. She knows tons of stuff about farming, about making restaurants more sustainable, and about cooking and baking. She is equally gifted at fixing a roof as at cracking numbers or drawing beautiful signs for our farm shop. And she has endless patience for me and the many questions I shoot at her.

Toon from the Netherlands is staying one year at Bergsmyrene and knows heaps about permaculture design and alternative agriculture. Just like Doro he is in a 3 year long apprenticeship program for biodynamic agriculture called Bingn.

Then there is Finn, Severins father, who turned 70 but is still very much involved in everything that is happening on the farm. There is nothing he doesn’t know about germination, about the right condition for every plant to thrive, about any kind of seed type and how to cultivate it. Finn even has his own chilly plant named after him, because he cultivated the variety.

Also part of the Bergsmyrene family: Her name is Virus, cause, well…

Severins mom is a strong and beautiful farmer, originally from Switzerland. She is amazing with horses and all animals, can pull off bell-bottoms like no other, and knows everything about medicinal plants and herbs.

All together, Bergsmyrene farm is an ocean of knowledge, and the people who swim and dive in it teach me to be 32 years old and, in a fundamental way, to be nothing still. I mean this nothingness in a positive sense, in a zen sense, if you will. To be nothing, to me, means to be empty and open, a vessel, something yet to be filled.

And if observing someone perform work tasks and then learning them myself sends some ASMR chills down my spine – even better. Learning means equally creating space and therefore letting go of some parts of your self-identification, if only temporary. The last newspaper I read was three days old. I browsed through it with pleasure, but it had already collected some farm dirt and was helplessly outdated. Letting go, in a nutshell.

I am exactly where I need to be

When I set out on this adventure I called a personal climate strike, I thought I knew exactly what I was doing. Family, friends, colleagues kept asking about the plan – it’s a reasonable question and my answer was ready-made. I was on a mission and I used the big guns: the spiraling ecological crisis, the climate crisis, the crisis of injustice due to our consumption habits – all the crises in the whole world.

While gun-firing crises at the poor people who dared to ask what I was planning on doing in freakin’ Norway I could see them growing more uncomfortable with the minute. My attack went somewhat like this:

We need to change our lifestyle, our consumption patterns, our mode of travel, our economic system, our everything. Did you know that there is plastic in your poop?! That permafrost is no longer permanent? Don’t you care about the fact that half of the insect population in Europe has vanished, that Australia is on fire? Don’t you?


I should have worn a safety hazard sign on me. Save yourself if you can. With a gasp of air I ended my sweeping swipe, confessing that I was feeling increasingly depressed about the state of the world and that I needed to find a way of contributing something meaningful without going coo-coo. Hence, dropping out, heading to the Norwegian woods, working on farms for a while, or for ever. Any questions?

And all for some random #farmlife in Norway

It wasn’t only for my mode of delivery that people thought I had lost it. It is no small deal to leave your circle of friends and relatives behind, a city that took you long to feel at home in, a career that was going okay’ish, in total a good and privileged life – and all for some random #farmlife in Norway.

It’s been three months of this #farmlife, and so far I can say it is both nothing like I imagined it to be and all I could wish for. Coming to Norway feels and has felt not only like a mission but also like throwing in the towel; the towel called being a freelance journalist in Berlin. I had been putting a lot of pressure onto myself, pressure to come up with new ideas, to be more creative, to get better assignments, to make money. It was exhausting and there was a growing feeling of not getting anywhere. Yes, there were good assignments, among many mediocre ones, and yes, after some years of struggling there was some financial stability. But as soon as I took the foot off the gas the machine staggered, work oportunities and calls for assignments decreased. I feel it is about time to come to terms with the fact that I am just not as exceptional a journalist, as gifted a story teller as I wish to be. Admitting to your own mediocrity, to average, is not easy. Neither is it a good motivator. I think my climate strike, brought forth by the very real climate crisis, served a good deal as a cover-up for an internal crisis too.

Her name is Mascara, look at her.

Ironically enough, a third crisis, the corona shutdown, to some extend brought both these crises to a halt. Needless to say, the permafrost will keep melting, regardless of some dolphins now jumping in lagoons in Venice again, or me seeding carrots and mucking out cows instead of working as a writer. Still, the full stop corona has brought to us (except to the people working in hospitals, health departments, to policy makers and of course to those fearing for their loved ones in critical conditions) makes me feel slightly optimistic. People seem to be reflecting quite a lot what is valuable in their lives right now. Being unable to shop, consume, travel, be over-productive, distract yourself with keeping the wheel spinning seems to be giving us some much-needed time to think and feel. Sure, most of us are longing for things to get back to normal as soon as possible. And all the postponed consumption might result in an increasing need for gratification, once that happens. But maybe this pause has some longer-lasting effects as well, like taking pleasure in things that are not for sale and that, by chance, are also less harmful for the world we are living in. It’s for sure the more mundane pleasures: checking in with friends, enjoying nature, going for walks, runs or hikes, caring for someone who might need a little help, taking pleasure in preparing food yourself, DIY-ing things that you might have bought before.

This is what I am doing now

As for me, this virus has – after some nervous days where I was contemplating what to do – brought some peace of mind to my adventure. It has brought me to the here and now, to the place where I am, physically and mentally. The feeling of missing out, of having made an unfortunate mistake, of having taken a bad turn, diminished. Instead, I feel more like I have arrived. This is what I am doing now. I keep thinking that while working in the green house where it smells of humid soil and I can see countless healthy earthworms and insects inhabiting the space. This is where I am now, I think while learning to differentiate tiny lemongrass seedlings from weeds, while dozing off in the shy spring sun. This is what I am doing here and now, I think while taking immense pleasure in cooking vegan meals for the farmers and the volunteers on Bergsmyrene Gård, the new farm I am working on. The Bergsmyrene family makes it easy to feel cheerful, being so appreciative, and providing a wonderful community, while equally being considerate of everyones private space. Farm life doesn’t feel particularly political, like I was really being on a climate strike. Other than spending and earning no money, providing people with good biodynamic vegetables, treating soil, flora and fauna in a sustainable way and nourishing myself well. Well I guess that is already something.

Sundowner behind the salad tunnel

I don’t write much these days and currently I don’t brainstorm about new assignments. The ones that were in planning are all cancelled due to corona. I am ok with that. Instead, I work together with a small and wonderful group of people. We are outdoors most of the day, we eat good food, we take immense pleasure in baking bread together, I go for long walks, do yoga, go for a quick dip in the fjord. I read books and sleep tight. It feels like I am exactly where I need to be.