When the first Norwegians came to Trøndelag in search of food, they found life in the sea, fjords, lakes, forests and mountains.
Foto: Kathrine Sørgård / trondelag.com
A flock of sheep is grazing on a hilly headland on the coast of Trøndelag. The lambing season has just finished and a few dozen small, grey lambs have joined the flock of wild sheep. They stay close to their mothers and bask in the sun as they get some food.
A huge golden eagle watches on from a rocky outpost just a stone’s throw away from the flock. The king of the air sails toward the flock and hones in on the nearest lamb. It hangs there, floating on the air currents just a few metres above the defenceless animal. It assesses the size and weight, decides and soars towards the next lamb, before pausing to reconsider.
“That freaked me out,” says the wild sheep farmer Eskil Sandvik from Frøya. He saw the entire chase unfold. “My stomach dropped. This was a young eagle. There are two types; they are either sceptical or a daring buffoon. A buffoon can go berserk among the young lambs and eradicate an entire litter within a short time, without getting any food. Consequently, it’s hard to keep one’s cool and not try to chase the eagle away. Nature will also take its course,”
Foto: jarle hagen
Sandvik is not alone in letting nature take its course, as Norwegians have done for thousands of years. No less than 3,800 wild sheep graze on the rugged island of Frøya on the coast of Trøndelag, summer and winter. These reclusive sheep are of an ancient lineage, which has survived world wars and industrial agriculture. Sandvik guides us across the overgrazed pasture on the way to one of his flocks.
As we approach the sheep, we soon realise that these are not ordinary clads of wool. “If we walk with the wind behind us, we won’t get close to them,” explains the sheep farmer. “They will run away.” Sheep can certainly run. Even without getting wind of people, the flock keeps its distance. The sheep run around us, before stopping to glance in our direction and then running past us at full speed. The photographer also moves quickly, as the term
photo chase takes on a new meaning. “Wild sheep prefer to be left alone in peace. If we interfere with them, they are unable to eat, give birth and feed their lambs. If the ewes feel threatened, they are willing to leave their lambs to fend for themselves,” explains Sandvik.
He explains how the wild sheep help to maintain the natural vegetation on the relatively treeless island. “The Sitka spruce that grows here was introduced, and the tree planting has threatened to displace the original vegetation. The flocks of sheep help to battle the spruce
trees by eating the budding trees and allowing the island to preserve its the unique bare and windswept landscape.”
“We have a legacy that cannot be described or taken from us, even though throughout history many have tried.”
This is a place you will want to return to again and again!
Hosts Tom and Evelyn refine the island’s herbs and wild plants. Specialties include raw juice made from rosebay willowherb, mead wort or crowberries and pesto made from nettles, ground elder and lovage.
You could also try health drinks made from stinging nettle, rose root or ginger, water kefir and kombucha, or sourdough bread made from organic flour baked in clay pots. Join us on a guided herb walk on Sula – the outermost island in the Frøya archipelago.
“We have traced records from relatives right back to the oldest church register for Røros, dating from 1540,” says Eva Nordfjell.
Eva is a Sami reindeer herder, with her own processing facility in Røros. “But my relatives have lived off reindeer since time immemorial,” she says. Archaeological finds show that the Sami have lived in Norway for 2000-2500 years. The earliest written records of the people were made in 98 A.D.
by theRoman historian Tacitus. The Sami originally hunted reindeer, and it was not until the 17th century that they began to tame large herds and follow them many hundreds of kilometres from summer pastures to winter pastures then back again. They practiced a semi-nomadic existence, moving their place of residence when the food source moved. Today, most of the Sami live in the same houses year-round and use modern means of transport to herd their reindeer. “We have a legacy that cannot be described or taken from us,” says Eva Nordfjell.
As with all traditional production of food, the ancient methods of preserving and storing food have played an important role in the Sami culture. Drying, salting, curing and smoking of meat all take place in the production and retail building of Nordfjell’s company, Rørosrein. People come here from afar to buy fresh and preserved reindeer meat.
The concept of eating reindeer meat is quite natural to most Norwegians, but can often pose challenges for Americans. The key word is “Rudolf”. “Reindeer are not for decoration, but for food. People get an a-ha experience when they realize they can eat something they have a close relationship with – that we ‘know’ the food.”
Foto: jarle hagen
Visit the coast
SUPPLEMENTING ONE’S INCOME
On the other hand, Americans love reindeer. Eva was once visited by a top general from across the Atlantic. He was accompanied by a large entourage including security guards. He was extremely keen to experience reindeer up close, and changed the official itinerary for his visit to Norway so he could travel to Røros. Eva harnessed the reindeer to the sled, and took him on a sled ride from right outside the gamma (turf hut) set up to receive visitors. Midway into the trip, a cross-country skier approached at full speed in the adjacent ski trail. “This frightened the buck, who raced up to the icy ski trail at a wild pace! I thought to myself ‘This won’t go well and I will end up being sued’. The buck suddenly stopped and turned around. The herd instinct kicked in and he wanted to return to the herd. He raced straight back towards the herd at 50 kilometres per hour and crashed straight into the gate, causing the general to fly off the sled,” says Eva.
But the general shone like a star and described it as a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Instead of being sued, Eva received a hand-written thank you card from the general in the post.
Like many others who live by animal husbandry, Eva cannot support herself solely by selling food. Most people buy affordable food at the supermarket. This explains why Eva supplements her income by offering Sami cultural experiences.
Foto: jarle hagen
Foto: jarle hagen
It’s worth noting that “domesticated reindeer” are not particularly tame. Each autumn the reindeer are domesticated, but as soon as they return to their summer pastures their natural instincts take over and the reindeer become wild again. “Building trust takes time and patience, so we take our coffee down to the enclosure and sit there with the reindeer who are about to be domesticated,” says Eva. Although she is the first to admit that her chosen occupation requires work from morning to night all year round, she says the lifestyle is worth the toil. “We can convey the experience of the sounds of nature, the sound of the hooves in the snow the calm – and almost wild – animal; the tranquillity of nature.”