Sprout Lands by William Bryant Logan

Sprout Lands by William Bryant Logan

Author:William Bryant Logan
Language: eng
Format: epub
Tags: Epub3
Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company
Published: 2018-11-12T00:00:00+00:00


From the Bronze Age until the end of the twentieth century, Norwegian farming depended upon pollards, but as the turboprop came in to land at Sogndal Airport in the western fjord country, I wondered how anyone could farm there at all. From the air, the landscape appeared to be composed of blunt-topped mountains whose steep sides plunged straight into sapphire blue water. Most of the mountains had patches of autumn snow on the high couloirs, remnants of the previous winter. There were still several active glaciers, caused not only by the cold climate but also by the short winter days and the quantity of snow on the heights. There were houses and barns in places that looked impossible to reach without rock climbing. Only a third of Norway is below 1000 feet above sea level, and almost a fifth is higher than 2500. As the pilot made his approach, he descended to a level where a fjord was several thousand feet below. The airport’s mountainside rose up suddenly to meet him, so in the end, he did not descend to the tarmac at all. He simply pointed in the right direction and pulled in, like a city dweller finding a parking place. Who could farm such a place?

The Gulf Stream and the prevailing west winds off the water make the Sognefjord a much less unwelcoming land than it seems from the air. It is almost as warm as coastal New York in the winter, as long as you are in the narrow zone on the hillside between the water and the heights. Up high and down low are colder, sometime dramatically so. Near its western end, where it joins the Atlantic Ocean, the 127-mile-long Sognefjord is the wettest place in Europe, though at the eastern end only a quarter as much rain falls. Microclimate is not an adequate word to describe the way the weather changes from one place to another in western Norway. “Picoclimate”—the prefix means “one-trillionth”—might be better. A few hundred yards from where you stand, the temperature may be 5 degrees colder. Yet in this unlikely and churningly changing landscape, people who in the main could neither read nor write created the most intelligent way of farming that the West has ever known.

The Psalmist sang, “Truth will spring out of the earth, and righteousness look down from heaven.” It does not at first blush look like a description of farming. Perhaps in scholar and clergyman Eugene Peterson’s colloquial translation of the Bible, called The Message, it is a little more understandable. He makes it, “Truth sprouts green from the ground, right living pours down from the skies.” When I asked Ingvild Austad, the great student of traditional farming in western Norway, why a few farmers still insisted upon the old pollard-farming ways, she had several clean, precise-scientist answers. One was the brother and sister farm. It was often the oldest son who took over the farm from his parents and the oldest daughter who cared for the parents as they grew older.


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