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?