>Well, I’ll be boogered! Drove to Strömsund yesterday afternoon/evening and clear skies all the way there, over in the neighbouring province of Jämtland. Not only was there no falling snow but, more significantly – and astonishingly – the booze palace, Systemet, has changed its colours. Still useless hours and limited range with totally insane classificatory system in place, but a new, open-plan, brightly lit, floorplan. No longer is everything hidden behind fastened glass cases and catalogue numbers. No, now I can walk the aisles, like a normal shopper almost, and choose my poison! Extraordinary transformation. It’s been like this for about two months apparently, according to the guy I asked. You could have knocked me over with a feather, or a bottle of Corbieres – a wine they never stock nationally, for some reason or other! I’m annoyed that I hadn’t previously taken a pic of its original interior lunacy! Alas, it’s now too late!
And, as if that was not enough for one day, the threatened snowfall we expected never materialised. Well….you can imagine my chagrin, I’m sure.
This morning I was prodded into wakeful-mode at just after 05:00 by Charlie’s affectionate purring, padding on my pillow and head/nosebutting. This continued for about ten persistent minutes before he sloped off – bored, presumably by my lethargic and unenthusiastic response – to let Jack know it was almost morning and to simply bug him. Jack gets a tad weary of Charlie’s approaches. Especially in the pitch black wee hours of the morning. And who can blame him?! But Charlie will insist.
There’s no rest for the sleepy spaniel:
The window, bottom left, is Charlie’s ‘virtual hunting’ haunt:
The other great – and much welcome – change is the temperature today. Still in the sub-zeros but only -9 when I surfaced at around 08:00, rising quickly to -6, where it has remained so far. In fact, it was so mild (everything being relative, of course) that I didn’t bother lighting the kitchen stove that powers the central-heating until about 10:30.
The stove itself is an elderly – but wonderfully efficient thing – called a ‘Norah’: It is a bit like a very trimmed down ‘Rayburn’ or ‘Aga’, I suppose, but with only a small firebox and single hotplate. They can be plumbed in for hot-water, although ours is not. Nevertheless, it still manages to heat the 14 radiators around the house, keeping the place warm and toasty even when temps are in the seriously cold zone, edging towards, say, the -41 we had one day just after Xmas 2010. Here is a shot of it in situ in the kitchen alongside the dishwasher:
Hopefully the scale of the thing is apparent from the standard-sized dishwasher next to it. It really is one of the most efficient stoves we have ever come across. Indeed, it’s tempting to look for one to take down to France. Although it will, no doubt, be somewhat hernia-inducing in anyone endeavouring to move one. Best ensure they have adequate health insurance, or sign a waiver beforehand, I guess! We would recommend them to anybody who needs winter warmth. They would be perfect for those living in the Scottish Highlands & Islands, or the hills of Wales, for sure. They are no longer particularly popular up here, as everyone wants new-style heating systems and boilers. So they are often ripped out and left to rustily rot outdoors; behind barns seems to be a favoured spot. Our Kraut friend and neighbour, Roger, has his plumbed into the hot water system too, and it is remarkably efficient and inexpensive to run.
One of the first tasks this morning was refilling the bird-feeders. I normally do this each evening so there is nosh available for the birdies first thing on these intensely cold mornings, when they must surely need it most. We don’t do ‘topping-up’ here, it’s full blown refills that are generally needed each day. We usually have three feeders going at any one time. And because it’s so cold here, the Tits, Redpolls and Bullfinches – aided by the regular visits of a couple of Greater Spotted Woodpeckers and a pair of Grey-Headed Woodpeckers – generally manage to easily empty them. It did take the Bullfinches a while to figure out how to do it – they’re just not the right shape to perch on the small metal perchy bits at the sides, and they’re too portly to boot. But most of them seem to now have the hang of it; those that don’t pick up the debris that drops to the ground below, a position particularly popular with the Grey-Headed Woodpeckers.
I’m particularly pleased with the Grey Headers: they are few, far between and rarely seen here in Sweden. My own main reference book – ‘The Birds of the Western Palearctic’ – suggests only about 400 pairs are likely to be found in the entire country. So to have a pair visiting regularly is a great treat and a privilege.
They largely resemble the more common Green Woodpecker – save for the eponymous grey head/nape!
We also have the largest European woodpecker, the Black Woodpecker, in the area, though these are only usually seen in summer, when they come flying round the house on odd evenings. They are quite funny; they usually appear sudddenly, flying fast, come around the corner of the house, spot us sitting in the garden and almost literally freeze with surprise, lock themselves onto the nearest tree and watch us warily with the most striking gold-coloured eyes, then fly off cackling loudly in alarm.
Today, as I approached the trees to rehang the full feeders, two regular visitors, a pair of Willow Tits – tiny, perky little things – were hopping around my feet. I held the feeders out on my hands, at about arm’s length, and they hopped up for seeds. They often do this. I’ve no doubt they could be hand-fed but would rather not start down that path with them. Especially as I’m about to leave the area and they might become just too trusting in humans, which could cost the lively little things dearly. I warn Charlie each day that he is not to eat or injure them, but remain unconvinced that he is taking my appeal to his better nature fully onboard.
And, of course, it’s impossible not to think of the Mikado; and I often sing to the fluffy flighty little blighters:
There are some youngish people out today playing on their snow-scooters, so the peace is shattered from time to time by the drone of the highly revving engines as they slalom through the fields of snow. They do this from time to time, and even race across and sometimes pirouette on the surfaces of the frozen lakes surrounding the village. Madness, for my money, though I have once done it myself. Well sort of – minus the balletic performance!
A few years ago we visited a friend’s stuga (cabin) over in Jämtland, close to the Norwegian border, where we spent a pleasant weekend which included ice-fishing on a 30 metre deep, frozen lake. We went out onto the lake on snow-scooters – a slightly worrying experience, I felt at the time. Once out on the ice, we drilled holes to fish through and spent much of the day sitting on the scooters dangling short rods and hoping for a bite. I think we caught about 20 small trout-family fish, Arctic Char. They were absolutely delicious and are now one of my personal favourite fish types. A strikingly red hued, lean meat, spectacularly good smoked!
Here we are, scooting around on the ice and snow:
By the end of the afternoon, when it was time to head back to the cabin for warmth, drink and food, I was a trifle concerned (horrified) to note that the slush-mush around me was about ankle deep and the scooter reluctant to take-off through the resulting sloppy mess. Full revs were needed just to get it to move, and I fishtailed for a bit before gaining a relieved grip on the icy surface below. On returning to Björn’s stuga, he beamed broadly and beckoned me into his study/ office, where he switched on a radio. It must have been a Saturday, I think, because it was broadcasting and clearly receiving live football from…… Radio Scotland! Whodathunkit?!