After days of discouragement sourced from this neighboring forest's relentless hostility, I have serendipitously been offered a spectacular new mode of alternative transport! Red, white, and retro; she's one of the most beautiful bicycles in all the land. Temporarily she will be all mine. So my evening wooded walks have as of late transformed into evening bicycle jaunts. There will surely be less possibility to connect with nature in the slow, quiet way I was able to in Denmark, but it's just as well as these forests seem to also lack the tiny wild life I so loved to discover if you don't count the ants. So instead I will be riding aimlessly around on the surrounding dirt paths and tiny roads, past the ubiquitous Swedish red houses, peeping in on these farmers and how they like to live, jumping into the lakes I find, etc.
This report comes through the haze of Midsummer aftermath.
The Swedes like to celebrate on the Friday after the solstice and we festively obliged. A lunch of pickled herring, new potatoes, strawberry cake, and light beer was shared with all at the farm owners' house. I then whisked off with the Belgians to the maypole and watched some pretty awkward (and remarkably subdued) singing and dancing. We drank some coffees, bought some old books, and listened to The Smiths on the drive back to the farm. An evening feast was prepared, more pickled herring consumed, a vodka toast somewhere in there, and many, many bottles of wine and beer were drained. Today was not an official day off at the farm but as of nearly 10:30 this morning, we have not done much.
Happy Midsummer to me!
So here's what you do:
First, milk a cow. Next, heat the warm, fresh milk to 45 degrees Celsius. Pour the milk into a glass container, ideally with a lid that seals. You'll need some previous yoghurt culture. The most efficient way to have this at the ready is to not clean the jar from when you just finished it that morning. But not too much, elst it become too sour. Otherwise you're going to put just a small spoonful in the bottom of the jar. Pour the heated milk in, put it to sleep for the night. Here we like to wrap it in the skin of a slaughtered lamb treated with its brain fat to become a warm pelt for the dining room bench... but wool blankets will also suffice. The next morning, enjoy with oats and honey or jam or whatever is leftover from the previous night's dessert.
Breakfast of champions.
My summer solstice ended up not the witch burning shabang I had envisioned for myself but I was pleased with the festivities nonetheless. I mentioned the notion of festive bonfire a few days ago and to my surprise the idea actually took hold. Maxime made a very respectable fire at the site of their recently purchased farm, both for the solstice and also in celebration of recently acquiring its keys. His friend from France arrived and brought cider, we ate lots of assorted snacks, and as one does on the solstice, wished away bad spirits. If you can bear with my mystical side for a moment, I will tell you that my own bad spirits feel somewhat scared away on this night. I am feeling a renewed faith in the power of positive thinking and confidence in my own ability to adapt to anything I set my mind towards.
Everyone, I have once again found my dream home!
While walking through the forest, I discovered yet another caravan just waiting for me...
... err JUST KIDDING.
Sadly this otherwise adorable trailer has a lock on its door and nary an owner to be found or ever known of. Upon peeking through the broken window, one could deduce that perhaps a deer or other large wild creature may have taken temporary residence recently but has also unfortunately ransacked the place in what I'd like to imagine as a drunken rage.
The real issue with my would be humble abode however would actually be the harsh conditions of this crazy forest. Of course I was initially thrilled to be biking past acres and acres (or should I say hectares and hectares!) of densely wooded land on my way to the farm for the first time, but alas, it's perhaps the least welcoming place I have ever set foot in.
Stop for a moment and the mosquitos land on you by the hundreds, huge anthills everywhere that are up to your knees or even higher, rumors of black bears, undetermined hunting schedules, trees so high and dense you lose sight of the sun and all sense of direction...
I haven't given up all together just yet. I have still tried to maintain an evening walk most nights and it remains quite beautiful and mysterious. But sadly it is surely not my beloved Danish wooded wonderland of yore. I have heard word of a lake nestled in some trees nearby and one would assume if those woods are welcoming enough to the bikini-clad, there might be hope for me yet? The search shall continue!
This day turned out to be the crash course in beekeeping that I have been dreaming of. I am so fortunate to be at this farm with a woman who has been at this for years and willing to impart her knowledge. It also happened to be on a day that an insane amount of work needed to be done while I acted as humble assistant.
Tasks included but not limited to: adding supers, taking away and combining old ones to make way for the ones we just built, sawing and adding reinforcements to the hive stands, dumping male frames, checking for viruses, trading in new and repaired frames for those deemed ready for harvest, checking on queens, attempting to aid in offering queen cells to recently divided hives, the extraction of kilos and kilos of extraordinarily sweet honey (which we have already enjoyed with Swedish pancakes, bread, and homemade cream cheese). Not to mention the early morning painting of the afore mentioned boxes with paint we made from scratch from pigment, oil, and eggs!
After nine plus hours of nearly non stop bee knowledge my brain feels full to the point that I will happily go to sleep extremely early tonight and dream of these strange and marvelous creatures. Until Monday when we will hopefully need to continue to do most of it again for the remaining hives. If I'm lucky, that is.
Today brought rain and small joys to my heart: bee box making, bee frame repairing, delicious food, and a surprise nest of chicken eggs in the barn which were almost immediately used in a cake for dessert. Top it all off with a pleasant walk in the company of two of the women here (one visiting from elsewhere in Sweden, one volunteering for a month from Belgium with her husband and baby and I am feeling as though I shall never complain about inclement weather again.
Honestly I was just glad that he didn't say it should be done before dinner.
It wasn't actually as mortifying as my mind's recollection (maybe), but it was not exactly my shining moment either. For the record, no onions were injured; only my pride.
In other news: working horses! That's how the big stuff is done around here. I am fascinated but attempting to keep a safe distance. There are three females; they are massive but gentle and slow. Both of the farmers that share this place are experienced, wise and commanding and have confidently adopted this as an efficient way of doing things.
Today I played a miniscule role in helping clean an otherwise antiquated hay cutting device for these ladies to pull once the weather is nice for a minimum of four days in a row. Know that I am both excited for and dreading this (literal) hay day. Apparently it is very satisfying, and muscle building, and a team effort... But I am also starting to get the distinct impression that it's possibly the hottest, sweatiest, dirtiest, most grueling work known to man, woman, or child.
Lord hear my prayer.
You guessed it: weeding!
When all else fails in the midst of my feeling less than settled, it turns out weeding can offer me some solace. Luckily there is plenty of it to do around here and it seems like everyone else has had their fill.
My first morning, I was introduced to a horrible motorized device to be potentially used for the purposes of efficient weeding. You simply start the disturbingly loud engine, put on some protective headphones, lay on it face down, and control all movement with you feet. Err... no thanks?! Apparently this is meant to speed things along and allows you to weed two handed minus back pain. The racket of the motor alone was enough to turn me off completely, nevermind the rest of it. I politely declined and suggested I tackle it the old fashioned way. This idea seemed to be fine enough for the farmers and I have been on my hands and knees with the carrots and onions since... happily and quietly, left to my thoughts, trying to get as comfortable as I can in this foreign land.
I have also since employed a clever little plastic weeding tool which has turned out to be quite useful and appreciated in this mind bogglingly dry and rocky soil. So dry, in fact, that my nail beds are all cracking and callouses looking gnarlier than ever. But, as with everything here at the moment, I will hopefully adjust in due time.
The eagle has landed.
My journey ended up being much more epic than anticipated due to some early morning electrical issues on my train which resulted in all manner of bus and train alternatives but... I made it. Eventually. Upon arrival to my supposed destination, there was no promised bicycle to be found. Luckily my kind, English speaking bus driver somewhat happily gave me a ride to where I needed to be after interpreting my poor excuse for a map. Sure enough, a bicycle with trailor awaited. Inside I found maps, kind notes, cashews for the road, and rain gear should I find it necessary. It wasn't thankfully and the sun would prove to be my only guide as there was no indication otherwise that I was headed the right direction. I will be told later that I took "the other way" to get here, but my otherwise dormant scount sense and another kind Swedish neighbor nearby showed me the way. My (new) farmer greeted me and provided me with a warm, vegetarian meal. He then proceeded to make yoghurt before my very eyes, covered it in fur pelts (!), and put it to sleep for the night.
This morning I woke to the rooster, the birds, and surprise roof access directly from my room. The afore mentioned yoghurt was extremely delicious and enjoyed with oats and mysteriously wonderful jam.
I am once again completely out of my comfort zone, have yet to adapt to or decipher the routines here, will have cooking duty one of these days, don't know anything about anything, etc. etc. etc. But the people are already proving to be quite friendly and if I have learned anything from my time in Denmark it's to be patient and let the experience take me where it's going to.
So here goes, Sweden... I'm ready. Sort of.
I am (officially) leaving this morning for Sweden.
It's unclear what my internet situation will be there so please be patient if these updates of mine become delayed or after the fact.
I would now like to take this opportunity to share with you that upon arrival I will seek out a bicycle with a trailor attached at a bus stop in Middle of Nowhere, Sweden and then use a map with nary a street name to seek my way westward to the next farm.
On this holy day in Denmark we are all taking it easy.
A good friend to the farm (Wilhelm) arrived last night for a visit and to my delight, this resulted in my being treated to another fire and my dreams of an overnight in the forest's camping structure becoming a reality. Endless conversation and many a beer later and we accidentally found ourselves seeing the return of the sun's glow on the horizon. Wilhelm and I decided a 4am journey through the woods was in order and we managed to see the sun creep up over the wheat fields. I can't remember the last time I've managed to actually see the sun rise or been able to simply sit in the grass and watch it happen.
Thus far today there have been many outdoor coffees, a bike ride with Wilhelm and the latest volunteer from Canada, and maybe soon a nap. Yet another fire and continued merriment are planned tonight for my final night in Denmark.
Warm and fuzzy doesn't even begin to describe these last hours for me...
So I have decided to stay one more day.
Tomorrow is (another!) holiday in Denmark which means we're considering today a full work day. Tomorrow will offer me more time to sort my possessions, clean the caravan, eat another delicious meal, take another walk, another bike ride with Agi, maybe one last fire if the weather cooperates.
And then it is officially off to Sweden. For real this time.
In the meantime, my hands will stay as dirty as they look even if I tried to washed them as of late. Just how I like it.
This fellow here is seeing his final days. He's one of a few cows here reaching their grass-fed prime and soon it will be Tony Time.
As I understand it, when their numbers are up - typically a year for the calves bred for slaughter (it's closer to ten for the cows used to breed) - they get taken to Tony ...the butcher. Tony does the dirty work for a few reasons, including regulations if one has a restaurant, the facilities necessary for slaughtering massive animals, and so forth. When his job is finished, the farmers can retrieve and package their meat and it will for the most part be frozen and then eaten throughout the year. It's a similar process for the pigs.
The farmers here also have relationships with a few other people, for example a guy who makes mind blowing beef salami. I have tasted many parts and formations of these beasts, many pointed out on a Danish meat chart, most of which I suspect I have never had before. This meat is off the charts, people. So much so that in spite of my fully embracing my inner carnivore two times or more a day, I could almost see walking out of here a vegetarian once more as I find it hard to believe meat this good will ever come my way again.