National Geographic : 1957 Jan
Norway's Fjords Pit Men Against Mountains Proud and Steadfast People Cherish Hard-won Living Space Where the Sea Thrusts Arms Deep into a Rugged Land 96 BY ANDREW H. BROWN Senior Editorial Staff, National Geographic Magazine With Illustrations from Photographs by the Author ONLY the gurgle of water and swish of dripping oars broke the morning still ness as we glided across Geiranger Fjord in southwest Norway. Sverre Mjelva, hotel manager playing hooky from all his guests but me, trailed a fishing line and idly inspected the almost perpendicular scenery. "Se opp!" he exclaimed-and instinctively I ducked, for I had been long enough in fjordland to know that those words meaning "Look up!" often carry an urgent warning. People who live in this vertical world must keep one eye on the heights above, alert for the thundering fury of avalanche or rockslide. Gravity Helps with the Haying But this time there was no sign of fjord land's sword of Damocles, fare ovenfra "danger from above." My friend was point ing up to distant figures on the mountainside. "They are bringing in the high-field hay," he said. As we drew closer I saw that from posts in the lower fields eight or ten cables fanned out skyward. Their upper ends were secured to posts in hay patches so far above that people working there seemed mere black slivers moving through the golden grass. Down these wires, as we watched, big bun dles of hay came shooting (page 115). "You see, gravity can be a friend as well as an enemy," said Sverre in his careful word-by word English. "It helps the farmer get in his hay, and it also makes our country rich in water power." Suddenly he gave his line a tug, pulled it in, hand over hand, lifted aboard a flapping mackerel, held it up for my approval, then continued as if there had been no interruption. "But gravity means danger too. Some times there comes tragedy." All around us towering cliffs gave emphasis to his words. Pull as I might on the thick shafted oars, we seemed not to move through that colossal landscape (pages 99, 100). In inner Nord Fjord I already had come upon the scars of twice-repeated tragedy (page 114). From the face of Ravnefjell Mountain of the Raven-on January 14, 1905, huge masses of rock fell into Loen Lake. Displaced water swept in a monstrous wave over the farms of Nesdal and B0dal. The flood killed 61 people, mostly by drowning, crushed buildings like paper cups, and threw a lake steamer 500 yards inland. Families cleared debris and rebuilt homes and barns. Then, on September 13, 1936, the face of Ravnefjell collapsed again, and 74 people died-two-thirds of the population of the upper valley. A third rockfall in 1950 fortunately caused no loss of life. The experience of centuries, of course, has taught the fjord people which sites are sub stantially immune from snowslide and rock fall. Yet on many a farm in southwest Nor way living will always be a bit precarious. Glacier-gouged Fjords Set Life's Tempo Roving through fjordland, I slid effortlessly into cadence with the way of life of a friendly, resolute, ingenious people. Fjords, the frame and theme of life in west ern Norway, are mighty grooves clawed out by glaciers and invaded by the sea when the ice withdrew. They slash the whole length of Norway's Atlantic shores. Those of great est majesty and fame indent the southwest coast (map, page 106).* Ponderous glaciers ground down the native rock not just to sea level but far below it. For coastal waters, the fjords are prodigiously deep: To plumb one spot in Sogne Fjord takes 3,966 feet of cable. Sogne Fjord, Norway's longest, probes 120 miles inland. Narrowing walls of others squeeze them to nothing within a dozen miles. Temperate ocean waters sideswipe Norway en route to arctic Europe. This relatively (Continued on page 105) * See "Stop-and-Go Sail Around South Norway," by Rear Adm. Edmond J. Moran, USNR, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE, August, 1954.