A BOAT VOYAGE
I had heard of a wonderful gorge in the mountains to the west of us, through which no man had ever passed, and George wanted to go "reeper" shooting on the mountain slopes in that direction. (A "reeper" is a Norwegian grouse.) So one fine morning found us starting in a boat to row down the great lake, which would bring us to the foot of the mountains.
This lake is about eight miles long, and one mile wide. Steep, forest-clad hillsides run down to the lake on both sides, and there are not half a dozen farms in sight of it, so we felt that we were getting into wilder parts as soon as we had started on our voyage.
The boats here are only made for one pair of sculls to be used at a time, so it came heavy on each of us in turn to have to row our well-loaded ship with its cargo of two men, two dogs (Bruce and Gordon), and all our luggage, guns, and ammunition.
[Illustration: "I Rigged up my oilskin coat as a sail, with George to act as mast and rigging."]
Luckily for me, before it came to my turn to row, a good breeze sprang up from behind us, so in a very short time I had rigged up my oilskin coat as a sail, with George to act as mast and rigging, and I took an oar to steer with.
In a very short time we found ourselves running along at double the pace that we could have got by rowing.
On these lakes, though there are plenty of boats, you never see one fitted with mast and sails for sailing. It is too dangerous; sudden squalls come down from the hills and catch the sails the wrong way or too violently, and so capsize the boat before the crew can do anything to save her.
Even on ordinary water, no one but a tenderfoot would sail a small boat with the "sheets" made fast; the men sailing the boat hold these in their hands ready to ease them up at any moment should a squall strike them. But the danger is much greater on a lake among mountains.
So you see a Scout needs to know something about sea scouting if he wants to get about successfully in a country where he has to make use of boats or canoes.
By using an oar as a rudder--which is also understood by Sea Scouts--we found we could sail to some extent across the wind as well as before it, and so we were able to get round headlands which came in our way without having to lower sail and take to rowing.
Another thing to look out for on these mountain lakes is that a bit of wind very quickly makes quite fair-sized waves, which, with a heavily loaded boat, may lop in over the side, if your helmsman is not very careful, and swamp the boat. So it is foolishness for any Scout to go on this sort of expedition unless he can swim.
In fact, every Scout ought to be able to swim; he is no use till he can, and he will always find it useful to know something of sea scouting.
The oars of Norwegian boats are worked not in rowlocks, or crutches, or between thole pins, as at home, but on a single thole pin, to which they are attached by a "strop" or loop.
This is a useful dodge to know of in case one of your thole pins breaks, as sometimes happens.
[Illustration: How the oars in Norwegian boats are worked.]
In Norway, the strop is made of a stick of birchwood (hazel does equally well), which is first twisted and twisted round to such an extent that it is as flexible and as strong as a length of rope, and is tied by twisting its ends round itself, as shown in _Scouting for Boys_.
A Scout should be able at any time to twist a stick into rope, but to do it successfully he must know which kind of wood to pick out for it. That is one reason for knowing the different kinds of trees by sight.
While we sailed along we trailed a line astern of us with some tempting-looking flies on it in the hope that we might get a trout for dinner.
Suddenly, just when we were in the middle of a busy time over a squall of wind, there came a tug, tug, and a pull at our line. All was at once excitement.
"Down mast and sail!" "Reel in the line!" "Hold the boat with the oars!" "Don't let him break away!"
Steadily he is hauled, kicking and rolling over in the water, and at last he is safely lifted into the boat--a fine, silvery, speckled trout.
"What a dinner he will make!"
"How would you like him, grilled, fried, or boiled?"
Alas! we thought a good deal about what sort of dinner he would make. And he did make a dinner, too--but not for us!
We presently heard Bruce crunching and munching something. He had not waited for the fish to be fried, or grilled, or boiled. He just ate him as he was. We only had bread and butter and coffee for dinner that day--without any trout. We didn't even mention trout during the meal. We didn't seem to want any, or we pretended we didn't.
Still, we had a very jolly dinner at a beautiful spot where we landed on the shore of the lake. Then after a further bit of sailing and rowing we reached the end of the lake.
Here we hauled up our boat high and dry, leaving all her gear in her, for nobody steals things in Norway. We "humped our packs" on to our backs, and, with rod and gun in hand and the dogs trotting alongside, we started up the hills through the forest, bogs, and rocks, to get to the farm three miles away, where we were to spend the night at the foot of the mountains.
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THE JASJVOLD SAETER.
That means the name of the farm where we stopped, and we made it our headquarters for several days.
"Saeter" means "summer farm." The Norwegian farmers are mostly dairy and cattle farmers, and in the summer they take their herds up on to the high ground for the grazing, and bring them back into the lower and warmer valleys in winter.
Our farmer at Jasjvold was named Slackman; and he was a slack man to look at--very wild and unkempt, with a tousled head of hair, and a rough beard; clothed in a blue jumper, and breeches and rough stockings, and carrying a big knife in his belt, he looked as if he could and would willingly slit your throat while you were asleep; but on Sundays he was a very different character.
[Illustration: THE JASJVOLD SAETER.]
Even away up here in the mountains, far away from any neighbours, he did not forget to keep the Sabbath, and he appeared very clean and smart, neatly dressed, with white collar and tie, hair and beard trimmed, and altogether so different that at first glance I did not recognise him on Sunday morning.
But, in spite of his wild week-day appearance, he was a most cheery, kind-hearted man, always anxious to do good turns for us, and to help us in every way. In the evenings he would come and sit with us, eager to teach us Norwegian, and equally anxious himself to learn English. So we got along splendidly together.
The saeter is a group of farm buildings; each one is a separate single-storied log house. There is the farmer's house, the house for guests (in which we lived), the men's house, the dairy, the bakehouse, and the "staboor," which is a kind of hayloft, stable, and manure shed all in one. Being built on the side of a hill, it has three storeys on one side, and only one or two on the uphill side.
The hay is put into the top storey, and can be dropped down through a trapdoor into the stable, which is on the second floor. Then the stable is cleaned out through trapdoors, which let all the dirt fall into the lower storey, from which it can be carted away to manure the fields.
A curious thing about most of the Norwegian farms is that there are no muddy cart tracks to be seen, the grass is green right up to the doors. Then there are no chickens about the place, as a rule; nor are there beehives, nor any garden. The carts are very small and low, sometimes on wheels, sometimes on runners, as sledges. The harness is very light, and yet strong; the driver walks behind the cart and drives the horse with a long pair of rope reins.
[Illustration: THE CARTS ARE SMALL AND LOW.]
Our house in the saeter was, like all the others, a single-storied log house, with a roof of planks covered with birchbark, over which is spread a thick layer of earth, which soon becomes grass-grown, so that it looks as if the roof were made of turf.
There were three or four rooms in the house, nice, clean rooms, with comfortable beds, and a great big open fire hearth in the corner, in which you light up your log fire whenever you like to have it--and we liked it pretty nearly always, for at this height, nearly 4000 feet, close to snow-clad mountains, the evenings and early mornings were very cold.
On our door was a big lock, and a lock in this country is not boxed up inside iron casing but is left open to view, so that you can see how it works, and get your fingers pinched in it if you like to be careless.
The farmer's wife, a kind, cheery, clean, motherly woman, was always cooking up good things for us, and feeding us to such an extent that if we had stopped there much longer we should have grown too fat to carry out our expedition.
She didn't understand a word of English, but she used to stop her work every now and then to come and hear us having our Norwegian lessons, and she used simply to howl with laughing at our attempts to pronounce the words the right way.
The food she used to give us is much the same as you get everywhere in Norway. For breakfast, which is generally about nine or ten o'clock (we persuaded her to give it to us much earlier), you have a cup of coffee and two or three glasses of milk, home-made bread, and a kind of thin oatmeal cake, butter, and goats'-milk cheese.
[Illustration: THE LOCK ON OUR DOOR.]
Dinner is usually about three in the afternoon, but we never had any, as we were out all day, and took bread and coffee with us. Supper, at nine o'clock, was much the same as breakfast, with the addition of trout, or soup, and stewed fruit and cream, again with milk to drink.
There was one girl, who waited on us and did all the work of the house. I never saw any servant do half as much as she did, and yet she was always neat and clean and smiling.
She chopped our firewood, made our beds, greased our boots, waited at table, scrubbed the floors, tables, and chairs every day. You never saw a place so clean, If I were sitting at a table writing when she was on the scrub, I was politely requested to lift my feet up while she did the floor beneath them!
Then there was a boy at the saeter, who, though he could not speak a word of English, was a very nice English-looking lad.
He was in charge of the pony and cart, and his two ponies were the cheekiest, tamest things I have seen. They would follow you about like dogs, and seemed to understand what you said to them. That was all due to kind treatment by their young master.
This boy used to be sent off on long journeys over very rough country in charge of the cart. Then sometimes he would milk the cows and goats. Whenever he had any spare time he would take down his great 18-foot rod, and go fishing for trout, and generally he brought back some good ones, too. Then he was a handy carpenter, and understood mending a boat and sharpening tools on a grindstone. All these are things which a Scout should be able to do, but I wonder how many of them an ordinary boy in England can do.
Then, sharpening your tools is a very useful thing to practise for putting an edge on to your axe or knife.
There is a saying among Sikh soldiers in India, when speaking of any bad act, that it is "as disgraceful as having a blunt sword." A Sikh always keeps his as sharp as a razor. It is a disgrace to him if it is blunt.
So, too, a woodman would never be seen with a blunt axe or knife in camp. He would never get through his work if he had them. Yet I often see Boy Scouts go into camp with axes so blunt that they will cut nothing, and their knives very little better. You don't know the pleasure of handling an axe till you have used a really sharp one.
And then every Scout ought to know how to sharpen his own axe on a grindstone. You must wet the stone first, and then get someone to turn it, running the wheel away from you, while you lay the blade with its back towards you, and its edge in the same direction as the wheel is moving, and pass it gently on to the stone, doing each side of the blade in turn a little at a time until the whole blade becomes bright, especially at the cutting edge.
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EXPLORING THE GORGE.
You remember that George and I went to Jasjvold Saeter in order to get some "reeper," and also to explore the gorge of which we had heard.
As you get higher up above the level of the sea, the nature of the country and of the plants changes. In the lower level you get trees and bushes and flowers very much like those in England, but as you rise higher nothing but fir trees, pines, and birch trees seem to grow. Then as you get up a bit the fir trees come to an end, and you find only small birch trees, after which there are no trees.
You come out on the open moorland where there is heather, like that in Scotland, and other small shrubs, one of which would interest boys because it grows a very nice little fruit called "blue-berries." Above the heather, that is, at a height of over 4000 feet, you get what is called moss. This is really a kind of lichen like you see growing on trees at home, a pale, yellowish-white, spongy kind of plant, which seems to thrive on barren, rocky mountain sides, and forms feed for the reindeer which run wild in these parts.
Well, George and I used to go out from the Saeter directly after breakfast each day, carrying our ruksacks on our backs, and one of us a gun and the other a fishing rod in his hand. And the dogs went with us. In our ruksacks we carried a kettle, some bread, butter, and coffee, and a change of shoes and stockings, for what with wading through streams and stepping into bogs we were pretty wet about the feet before the day was ended.
On the first day we went and discovered the head of the gorge, high up on the mountain side, and each day after that we explored a new bit of it till we had followed it down to where it opened on to the valley at its foot.
The gorge was a deep cleft in the mountain-side of dark, frowning cliffs, with a bright, clear mountain stream running along among the rocks and stones at its bottom.
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THE TROUT STREAM.
The farmer had told us there were no fish in this stream, and nobody ever fished there. However, I thought I might as well use my rod, having brought it all the way there, so, pretending to myself that there was a fish in a swirling little pool behind a great rock, I crept and crawled to a spot from which I could, unseen by the fish, throw my fly so that it could float quietly in the current and be carried round the corner.
The first attempt from my crouching position was not a good one; the line did not go out far enough, and merely got into a backwater and drifted in close to me so I shortened it up by pulling in a handful or two, and then shot it out again over the water.
This time it fell well out, the thin gut cast falling lightly as a cobweb on the surface, and then sliding off with the current close round the edge of the rock; and just as it went out of sight there was a sudden tug and a steady hold on it! A rock 1 No. The next moment there was a rush and a strain, the rod bending over and showing that a really nice fish was on.
[Illustration: OUR DAILY EXCURSION.]
I won't tell you all the joy that followed in playing the fish till he was exhausted, and then leading him to a smooth shallow, where, having no landing-net, I could draw him steadily and quickly from the water and up the shelving rock without breaking the delicate line. But I got him! And after him we got many more, enough for all our meals. It was a delightful trout stream, and I could only wish that every Scout in the world were there to enjoy it, too.
One particular run of water pleased me particularly. The stream rushed through an opening between some rocks, and then gradually opened over a gravelly bed in a long, rippling current. The "tail of the run," as they call it, is the place to expect fish, so I fished quickly over the rapid part of the run, and went more gingerly when I got nearer to the "tail," making my fly visit every inch of the water, and I was quickly rewarded.
A sudden ting like an electric shock on my rod, and a heavy rushing and jerking hither and thither, till gradually the fish exhausted himself, and I was able to hold him and gradually tow him up on the shelving beach. Out of that one pool we got no fewer than fourteen trout that day! Of course, we only kept those we wanted for food, and slid the others back into the water, alarmed, but not hurt.
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After a few miles the gorge got deeper and deeper and more and more narrow, until it ran between high cliffs which could not be climbed, and the stream became a torrent running between the high rocks, so that progress was impossible along the bottom.
We were, therefore, obliged to keep up on the mountainside above the cliffs and make our way along in the same direction as the gorge, occasionally looking down into it to see its wonderful scenery.
On steep parts of the mountain we had to clamber along as best we could, and sometimes it was jumpy work, where, if you kicked aside a loose stone, you could see it go bounding away down into the gloomy gorge below. At other times we were walking on beautifully soft moss, into which our feet sank for several inches; in fact, after a time, with a good load on our backs we began to wish it was not quite so soft! But it made our going very quiet and silent, and we kept a sharp look-out for game.
At one time George was leading the way when we came to a slight rise in front. Like a good scout, he never came to a rise without checking his pace and peeping very carefully over it before going on. This he did more from habit than from any expectation of seeing anything the other side, but it is a most valuable habit, and one which every good scout has. On this occasion it proved its value.
George dropped flat on the ground, and, taking the warning from him, I, too, "squatted" at once, and made the dogs lie down. I did not know whether we had an elk or rabbit in front of us, but presently George crept back to me and reported that there were some duck on a pool a short distance ahead.
He, being the gun-bearer, then started to stalk these duck by going a long way round, keeping behind hillocks and rocks until he could get near enough to be within shot of them. It took him a long time.
[Illustration: "George dropped flat on the ground, and, taking the warning from Him, I, too, squatted at once, and made the dogs lie down."]
He had a good look at the ground first from our hiding-place, and he noted any peculiar rocks or bushes which would serve as guides to him while he was carrying out his stalk, and off he went, creeping and crawling from one landmark to the next, until at last he wriggled up to the bush which he had guessed would bring him within shot of the birds.
When he got there, he peeped through the stems of the bush, and found that it was not so close as he had hoped--it was scarcely within gunshot; but the duck had already some suspicion that all was not well. They are the cleverest birds alive; they had all stopped feeding, were looking anxiously about, and were beginning to swim away.
George saw that his only chance was to risk a long shot if we were going to have any dinner that day, so, pushing his gun through the bush, he fired at the nearest duck, and, immediately jumping to his feet, he fired again at another, which by this time was on the wing--and he killed both.
Of course the dogs and I both hurried down to him in great jubilation. There were two good fat ducks floating on the little lake. But how were we to get them? Neither of the dogs was a water dog, and the lake was really a wet bog, in which a man could neither swim nor wade.
Luckily, there was a breeze blowing, so we went round to the lee side and sat down to wait for the birds to drift to us. Slowly they came nearer and nearer, but it was very slow work. It became slower and slower as the breeze dropped and at last died away when they were not twenty yards away.
[Illustration: "FISHING" FOR DUCK.]
Then George--again as a good scout would--invented a plan. He took my rod and began to fly-fish for the ducks! That is, he threw the line over a duck, and then gently drew it in so that the hook caught in the bird's feathers. In this way he "caught" both of them in turn and dragged them ashore.
From the open high ground we gradually descended to lower heights. First we came among scattered birch trees, and below these we entered pine and fir woods, and through them we came steadily down to the level of the valley in which lay the great lake.
Just before getting to the valley we dipped once more into our gorge where it finally left the mountains, and it was a grand sight. The cliffs rose sheer up a hundred feet on either side, even overhanging in some places, and the opening between the cliffs was quite narrow, where the stream in a dense body of water rushed its way through in a roaring cascade. It was a magnificent scene.
Just below the cascade the gorge opened out, and the stream spread itself over a shallow, stony bed, in many courses, till it joined the main river in the valley.
George and I clambered down the last cliff, and close to the cascade I made the fire while he went and caught a couple of trout for lunch (we were going to keep those duck for supper at the saeter), and we were very glad of the lunch and a rest.
Then we turned for home by a new road, walking round the foot of the mountain over whose back we had come. But we turned for home in another sense, for that was the turning point of my trip in Norway; I had to go back home to England from there.
On our way back we passed great swamps where there were duck, but we had had enough of them to last us for the present.
In one part of the swamp we came upon the spoor of elk. The elk, you know, is a great big stag--the same as a moose in Canada; a very lanky animal, as big as a horse, with a very blobby nose, and heavy, flat-spread antlers.
It was, of course, very good to learn that there really were elk in the neighbourhood, but it only made me the more unhappy at having to leave the country. George, who had no Boy Scouts demanding his presence, was going to stay on there, so everything that made me more sad made him all the happier--the unfeeling brute!
Still, I can't complain. I think in the few weeks that I was in Norway I had had as good a time as anyone could possibly have. There is no better fun on earth than living in the open and catching and cooking your own grub, in doing mutual good turns with a good comrade in camp, and in recognising God's handiwork in the mountains and forests around you.
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