National Geographic : 1939 Apr
COUNTRY LIFE IN NORWAY The Beneficent Gulf Stream Enables One-third of the People in a Far-north, Mountainous Land to Prosper on Farms By AXEL H. OXHOLM FTER 20 years of absence, I went back to visit a valley in Norway where my father had practiced medicine when I was a boy. Nobody would know me, I thought. To my sur prise the bus driver refused my fare, the innkeeper politely returned my money, and for a week I had to accept free board, room, and fishing privilege. "Your father treated the poor people here for nothing," explained the local coun cilman, "and no man in this valley will accept your money." That is the spirit of rural Norway. Hordes of visitors swarm each year to see the fjords and glaciers, and the cities in which life differs little from that in other cities of northern Europe; but it is the back country, with its farm, forest, and village life, that reveals the real Norway. NORTHERNMOST CIVILIZED COUNTRY Mountainous Norway, stretching for 1,100 miles between 58 and 71 degrees of north latitude, is the northernmost civi lized country. But for the Gulf Stream, a branch of which washes its west coast, it would be an arctic waste (map, page 496). In such a mountainous land it is hard to see how agriculture can be the main occupation, and yet about one-third of the population of 2,907,000 people live on farms. The farmers have toiled for gener ations, clearing the forests, pulling stumps, removing millions of tons of stone, draining swamps, and utilizing every square inch of ground suitable for pasture or cultiva tion. Today, despite the natural handi caps under which they labor, about 94 per cent of them own their land.* The thrifty, stubborn character of the country people has been formed by this means. Through centuries Norwegians have worked to create stable living condi tions and gain economic security, a fair distribution of wealth, and respect for law *See "Norway, a Land of Stern Reality," by Alfred Pearce Dennis, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE, July, 1930. and order. They cling to their soil with a tenacity at times almost fanatical, many a farm having remained in the same family for several hundred years. An old friend of mine, born 75 years ago not far from the Swedish border, is a good example of the Norway farmer. At an early age he had to shift for himself. He married a capable girl from another valley, and the two broke new land far up on the mountainside where few could have made farming pay. After 50 years of toil he is the richest man in his neighborhood. He has brought up a family of eight children, sent them to school, and given every one a technical education. The old farmstead is still his home, but for each son and daughter he has purchased a farm in the valley. His success lies in his thrift and the strong family tie which made every mem ber of the household co-operate, as in the Swiss Family Robinson. Most self-suffi cient group I have ever met, they produce on the farm all their food, with the excep tion of coffee, sugar, and salt. The fishing rights they own in a lake bring in annually a thousand dollars or more, and a few head of cattle provide but ter, milk, and cheese. In winter, boats, fishing tackle, nets, etc., are made at home, as are clothing, shoes, and farm implements. One son is an expert carpenter, one an electrician, and another a blacksmith. Together these boys installed a complete hydroelectric power plant for the commu nity. The mother and daughters weave in their spare moments; the boys add to their income by hunting and trapping. A POOR MAN'S KINGDOM In the statement, "Norway has houses and cottages, but no castles," lies the key to the social and economic structure of the country. The average size of the farms is only nine and a half acres, and all Nor way has barely a score that exceed 250 acres. There are few rich people and every body shares the tax burden.