Sunday, 11 May 2014

Old oak forests and the Oseberg ship

This morning I went hiking in a primeval oak forest. The old, twisted oaks thrive in the hillsides of a narrow valley along with birch, elm and linden trees. At the bottom of the vale a hiking path threads its way along "UrĂ¥a" , which means "the brook under the scree". I Norway spring is now at its most intense with plants blooming, woods turning green, and birds singing like crazy. On my way into the ravine, I past a precipice and heard the hoarse croaks of a pair of ravens, but I saw none of them.

Both oaks and linden trees take on strange shapes in the primeval forest.

Oaks are among the last trees to come into leaves
and this old giant is among the latest of the late.
In the old days large oak forests covered much of Southern Norway before the woods were cut down and the timber exported to the Netherlands and England in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Back in the Viking Age the oak and pine forests were essential to the building and development of the Viking ships. Pine delivered timber for the strakes and masts, and oak, with its variety of forms, gave solid and enduring materials for knees, ribs, curved stems, keels and all the different shapes needed in the construction of a Viking ship, whether they were slender warships - longships - or heavy merchant ships - knorrs.

The Oseberg ship at The Vikingship Museum in Oslo.
The famous Oseberg ship may very well have had timber from the very wood I was visiting this morning. The ship was used in a burial in Eastern Norway, but examinations have shown that the trees used in the Oseberg ship were cut in the southern part of Western Norway.

Building a replica of the Oseberg ship.
Walking in the oak forest and watching the warped and crooked oak branches, I thought of my novels, and I could easily imagine Sigve the Awful's shipwrights walking the woods around Vik, searching for  materials for their shipbuilding. But on my return down the path beside the brook, I passed the precipice once more, and again I heard the ravens caw without seeing them. This time one of them was laughing a very hoarse laughter, and in the car back home I wondered whether it was Huginn, "thought"  or Muninn, "memory" who so overtly had been mocking me.

Friday, 9 May 2014

Viking sheep of many colours

When I look out my windows, I see sheep of many colours grazing in the fields around a replica of a Norwegian Iron Age farm from the centuries before the Viking Age. In my Viking stories the hero Sigve the Awful wears woollen clothes, usually woven from natural wool, which of course doesn't mean that Sigve's cloaks were colourless. If Viking sheep only remotely resembled the sheep that are pastured in my neighbourhood, Sigve's clothes would have been very colourful indeed.