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…

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?

Sourdoughbread-faced

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.