18 April 2006

life on a northern farm

For the first part of our trip last week, the four of us (me, J, and my parents) headed about 2 1/2 hours north to a farm owned by the family of one of J's co-workers. The day we drove up was crisp and clear in the south, with an extra flavor of camaraderie that comes from upcoming holidays and people looking forward to nice plans. The service stations along the route north were crowded with families throwing back hamburgers and fries, ice-creams, coffee and soup. It was even clear enough to get a glimpse of the full spine of Snæfellsnes as we passed Borgarnes and made our way towards the lava that surrounds the Bifröst business school. We climbed the spine of Snæfellsnes into the snow, our rented landcruiser navigating the snow and wind easily, and descended to the valley where the road splits off to the West Fjords.

From there, the drive winds along the pointy end of several fjords, climbing the gentler ridges between them. The landscape was freshly covered in snow, so the brightly colored farm buildings stood out clearly in the sparse landscape.

Our destination was just off the main road, tucked among mountains and with a view of a freshwater lake, and then the ocean beyond. It's a working dairy farm with a herd of horses, a sprinkling of chickens, and a companionable Icelandic sheepdog that chases more than she herds. We arrived just in time for afternoon coffee, so we sat down with our hosts, two of the sons of the farmer who runs the place. They were taking care of the milking and feeding while he and his wife were on holiday.

The farmhouse was everything a farmhouse should be, and a little more. The entry was full of cow-scented clothes and tall rubber boots, but inside the door, the house was immaculate, cozy, and full of family photos and memorabilia. The bookshelves were stacked high with books- the best classic Icelandic authors as well as Icelandic translations of Tintin and Asterix, and the windows everywhere looked out on mountains and huge fields in all directions.

After coffee, an elaborate meal that also involved cheese, bread, milk straight from the farm, and cookies, J went to watch milking and I went with my parents to explore. We watched the pregnant mares and yearlings being fed, then walked up behind the house to where the stallions were by themselves, then further on to the glacial till hummocks that give the farm its name ("behind the mounds" in English). The whole time we were accompanied by the farm dog Tina, her straw and cream colored coat blending with the dried grass hummocks and fresh snow patches.

We ate dinner together in the large kitchen, the traditional lamb, caramelized potatoes, and green(ish) peas, accompanied by red cabbage and rhubarb jam. I'd never made the potatoes that way before, but our host showed me how- the trick is basically, wait, wait, wait, now stir like crazy! I think I'll do better next time- my sugar glaze had a few candy lumps in it (on second thought, maybe I'll keep making it that way).

The next day, we all crept out into the silent morning one by one. First J, to help with the morning milking, then I went out when Tina barked outside my window, then my parents. We watched the milk truck on its rural pick-up milk come to pump the latest from the milk house, then I tried to feed apples to the horses. Unlike Vermont horses, these guys hadn't a clue what to do with an apple, since apples have historically been VERY precious here, and not something to feed to the horses. They were also so shy that I left them on a fencepost and stepped away. When I looked back, one was sampling the new flavors cautiously.

We had to get back on the road soon after for our next stop in Akureyri, but we stopped on the way up at the historic Þingeyri church before we left the valley. It was closed, but we peeked in at the carved apostles in the choir loft, and the gold starred ceiling. Like many buildings in the Icelandic country though, no amount of internal decoration can hope to compare to the vast landscape outside. We paid our silent respects to the Icelanders in the graveyard (so many near-centenarians there) while observed by a herd of ponies, then continued our way north.

Ship sighting: This morning as J and I rounded the corner of our building towards the sea, a fully loaded cargo ship was on the way in, perfectly placed in front of Snæfellsjökull. The mountain was covered in snow and absolutely crisp against the blue sky and turquoise morning-sea, so the ship looked all the more dark, hulking, and enormous. I'm not sure what ship it was though, since the boats listed as having arrived today are all either fishing boats or came too early to be that one.

1 comment:

tsduff said...

Oh my gosh - I'm in love! Those stallion photos are priceless - and the mounds of grass underfoot are so cool.

Your descriptive writings are so wonderful to read. Having seen a handful of the places you are talking about it is nice to be able to imagine them. The drive up and over Snaefellsnes amazes me though - there wasn't much snow when we traversed the top, but the road was so narrow, winding and always buffeting wind that it was a little bit scary. We didn't have a landcruiser though.. LOL just one of those tiny things that say DON'T DRIVE ON F ROADS...

I love the way the farm sounds - we shall be going up Flatery I hope, but won't have the snow as much by June. Great travelog!