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Sweden Journal: Skogs Livet

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


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In Småland, everything seems to revolve around the forest. Dirt roads make their way into a sea of pines, birches and oaks. Only mildly dotted with small villages every several kilometers. Moss and lichen covered boulders give the illusion of an ancient habitat, yet can’t be older than the last ice age, 10,000 years ago, where glaciers rolled Atlas-sized rocks for hundreds of kilometers softening the edges so much that they look like pillows for giants.

The first day in Sweden was relaxing. The second day my father-in-law put us right to work! And we gladly worked with him right up until the day we moved out into our own farm (another post) for our first three weeks there. He told us “wood is money here”. Most of the houses are still run on wood-burning stoves and boilers. In fact, little has changed in hundreds of years in most Swedish countryside estates. While they may have the modern conveniences of electricity and phone lines, power outages occur enough in the winter that no one would dare ever part with a wood burning stove or fireplace.

Indeed, it seems every Swede I meet knows very well the intricacies of several designs of wood stoves. Apparently, the Ankarsrum Smålands Spisen No. 28 in our new place is of top-notch quality. Although, I was very impressed with my in-laws wood boiler. In order to give our kids a bath we had to start the boiler about an hour before and keep feeding the fire until the thermometer got to about 40C. Then we would have enough hot water for a bath. As a Midwest suburbanite transplant, I was amazed that you could live fairly comfortably without electric, oil or gas heating. Wood is good!

Wood is also free, the only cost being the work to get it into manageable sizes for burning, and the population density of the Swedish countryside is low enough to make little impact. The forestry industry is required to replant within three years a tree for a tree and I’m told it is checked by plane regularly to make sure they are complying. My father-in-law already had all of his wood stockpiled last summer for this upcoming winter. He had cut down 12 trees before we arrived to use for winter in 2013. Of course, since part of their home is run on wood burning, they use a little in the warmer months for making hot water when they need it. Thus, they need quite a bit wood. He estimates that wood burning saves them in excess of 6000 kronor of year (~$840) and he gets good exercise too. We gladly helped him move brush into piles and stack the cross-sectioned logs in neat little rows between rocks and trees.

But wood is mostly a source of inspiration for many Swedes, including those who must make the livelihood, or their life, by destroying it. The forest here is the children’s playground, the sportsmen’s gameland, the city dwellers’ place of zen, the country-dwellers’ way of life and all of Sweden appears to have some intimate connection with Skogs Liv, the “forest-life”. Even Peaches, our dog, seems to have come home again for the first time here. She races between trees spaced apart in such a way as to be nearly perfect for walking between. The dense undergrowth of her former North Carolinian home is replaced with grassy bogs and mossy stones.

Peaches ease into Swedish skogs liv was made possible with the help of Elsa, my in-laws loyal hund. They are very similar, about the same size, same temperament (submissive and cuddly), both trained very well and both very loyal to their families. They get along famously. Elsa knows the woods around Dunsjömåla exceptionally well. Since living there, my in-laws spend about 2+ hours walking with her in the forest. My father-in-law has marked probably hundreds of kilometers of paths with red or blue tape through the forest. Elsa will occasionally run off for several minutes in complete and utter freedom and always return to her family on the trail. Naturally, Peaches chases off after her and has gotten lost on more than one occasion, but always seems to find us. The record so far has been about 26 minutes. She came back with a couple scrapes on her face, mud up to her shoulders and completely drenched all over. Must have been a good time. Sometimes I like to think that Elsa tries to play jokes on Peaches and lead her away from the trail to ditch her somewhere in the forest.

Even the forest abides by the Swedish law of lagom. Not too much wildlife, just enough. We’ve seen a charging wild boar, pterodactyl-esque gray herons, swans, several deer, a moose, and a nearly unlimited variety of fascinating insects and birds. It is always just enough to keep you on alert around every corner, or over every ridge. Something just might be hiding there! I know my view of Sweden is skewed because we moved to an area known to be among the most beautiful in northern Europe, with excellent summer weather and far away from the hustle of Stockholm and Malmö, which have typical inner-city type problems. Yet perhaps the Swedish people are engrained with lagom from their youth because their environment seems to be, well… lagom.We here often the phrase “det löser sig“, meaning something along the lines of, “it’ll work out”.

Swedish words of the day: Träd (traed) – tree, Spis (speess)- stove, Fåglar (foh-glarr) – birds

*Note: Sadly, since we don’t have an internet connection yet I am unable to upload pictures. I’m working solely off mobile internet now and we are out in the forest too far from 3G towers, so for now we get generous download speeds on the 2G Edge network of up to 250kbps! For updates and mobile picture uploads of our new life on a swedish farmette, follow me, @kzelnio, and my wife, @SwedeMuses, on twitter!

Kevin Zelnio About the Author: Kevin has a M.Sc. degree in biology from Penn State, a B.Sc. in Evolution and Ecology from University of California, Davis, and has worked at as a researcher at several major marine science institutions. His broad academic research interests have encompassed population genetics, biodiversity, community ecology, food webs and systematics of invertebrates at deep-sea chemosynthetic environments and elsewhere. Kevin has described several new species of anemones and shrimp. He is now a freelance writer, independent scientist and science communications consultant living near the Baltic coast of Sweden in a small, idyllic village.

Kevin is also the assistant editor and webmaster for Deep Sea News, where he contributes articles on marine science. His award-winning writing has been appeared in Seed Magazine, The Open Lab: Best Writing on Science Blogs (2007, 2009, 2010), Discovery Channel, ScienceBlogs, and Environmental Law Review among others. He spends most of his time enjoying the company of his wife and two kids, hiking, supporting local breweries, raising awareness for open access, playing guitar and songwriting. You can read up more about Kevin and listen to his music at his homepage, where you can also view his CV and Résumé, and follow him twitter and Google +.

ResearchBlogging.org Editor's Selection Posts on EvoEcoLab!

Follow on Twitter @kzelnio.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.






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