My grandfather was from a small place on the west coast of northern Norway called Tengelfjord, part of the Lofoten Island archipelago. We made a red X on the globe so we could easily find it if our dad wasn’t home to show us. Each time I looked I shivvered thinking of more than 8 feet of snow all winter and tunneling out of the house to get to the loo, or to ski to the nearest neighbor.
His memory’s visions of reindeer scraping their antlers on his father’s blacksmith shop’s doors, gorging himself on moltebaer ( Molter-the prized golden cloudberries all Norwegians carve into their food and family conscience,) the mountain’s slope pink with ling heather, red fox running along the shoreline at sunset and cod fish fairly leaping from the water of the Raftsundet into your boat were almost lost on me because my mind was fixated on what seemed like total deprivation and 6 months of winter and darkness. The images stayed theoretical until I took a trip to his old house. Our cousins maintain it as a holiday cottage and I spent many summer evenings there, picking heather, pumping water, gathering berries, fishing and bathing in streams, and foraging for mushrooms.
The best breakfast I’ve ever had was at 5 in the morning, after a long twilight-filled night seeking those mushrooms, fishing for trout, stumbling into watery sinkholes in the spongy moss, watching for meteors, drinking too much Aquavit and singing Hank Williams songs in Norwegian. Fried trout, the perfumed mushrooms I swear were chanterelles (which in Norwegian are called sopp,) eggs and black coffee. Does it get much better than that? Perhaps only if you add the warm vafler waiting for you once you arrive back home.