We woke up early, bundled up, and first headed to a classroom to properly meet our teacher for the day, Kjell Westerdahl. Today we were having a fieldtrip of sorts. Kjell is the Folkhogskolan’s ecology, math, science, and whatever-else-they-need-him-for teacher. Our focus for the day, and what appeared to be Kjell’s passion, was ecology. We began in the classroom learning a bit about Kjell’s background before getting into a bit of the academic material. He spoke in Swedish for the majority of the time, so I and a few other students caught a decent amount of it while the students who have had more Swedish probably caught most of it. As an aside, I think we could all agree that our Swedish skills have improved quite a bit since arriving, especially our listening skills. He handed around some animal tracks in plaster that he had made in the forests surrounding Mora and explained a bit about each animal. For the most part, the wildlife of the area seemed pretty similar to northern climates in North America. They have moose, lynxes (not sure on the plural on that one), and plenty of birds and squirrels.
After this short introduction to Kjell and some basic information on the animals we might find evidence of, we piled into a van and headed out. We stopped by Kjell’s place to get a map he wanted to show us. He lives in a quaint village just outside of Mora, the kind with roads you can tell were built long before urban planning existed. He told us a bit about the history of the village, and told us that some of the barns and cottages here were from the 11th or 12th century. This is one thing that continues to amaze me about being here, and probably would most places besides America. We simply don’t have as much really really old stuff, to put it simply. I thought about what it would be like to have a barn from the 11th century in some small town in America. I would think that it would be some sort of national site of history or heritage. Here, they were just barns being used as barns, their age only worth a brief mention to people here. Growing up in a country that isn’t even 250 years old really changes your concept of what becomes significant just for being old. In Sweden, these buildings were apparently not too big of a deal.
We continued on our scenic drive through wooded areas before Kjell pulled the van over by a small structure with a picnic bench and fire pit. We began walking along the road now, with Kjell pointing out tracks and unique things about the buildings as we went. We stopped by a bush at one point, and by looking at the height of the branches that had been eaten off of, the tracks around the bush, and the condition of the branches, he could tell what animal had been there, and how many. The most interesting part was that the current condition of the branches were determined by the animal’s teeth and preferred method of getting the leaves off. He said some animals stripped the leaves, and some just gnawed on the branch. Kjell also pointed out how to tell how old the buildings were. He said that different ways of cutting the wood were indicative of different time periods. He showed us certain barns or storage structures that had been cut to have 6 sides. This meant that they were from the 14th or 15th centuries. Again, it’s amazing to think how old these things were, and how they had survived through all that had happened in the last 600 years. These buildings were more than twice as old as our country. Kjell told us that the wood could pretty much survive indefinitely because of the climate, and that you only needed to replace the roofs. As we trekked further into the woods, he told us about the birds, bugs, small critters, other plants, and even the bears that called this forest home. He was extremely knowledgeable, and it was great having an expert out there being able to point out tracks and identify different plants, while giving us extra information on the history of the area.
We made it back to our little picnic site and Kjell got a fire going. He started to make that famously strong Swedish coffee, which by this time many of us are starting to love (we’re wondering what coffee will taste like to us when we get back). While we waited for the fire to get going and the coffee to get hot, we played a bit of 4 v 4 football in the snow. What do you use as a football in the Swedish countryside, where a real football is probably dozens of miles away? Why, a small piece of wood of course! After avoiding concussions or other injuries from accidents involving thrown blocks of wood, we went back to the fire to warm up, drink some kaffe, and grill hot dogs. This is all starting to sound like a very American get-together as I write this. As our hotdogs cooked, we got to talk to Kjell about all kinds of things. I got to try to explain to him the American system of loans, scholarships, and grants, that help someone pay to attend a school like Gustavus. It really forces you to examine something when you’ve got to explain it to someone from a different country with a different system. The negative or nonsensical things become amplified as you see the furrowed brow of a Swede with totally free education trying to understand our way of doing things. As with all of the “free” things in Sweden, they pay for it in taxes, but it does really make you question if the only reason you think a system or way of doing things makes sense is because you’re a participant in it.
After we ate our hot dogs and downed our coffee, we piled back into the van, for one last trip around the country roads to see if we could find more tracks. Kjell found lynx tracks and we got out to examine them as he told us more about the animal. After that, we headed back to the folk highschool to enjoy our heated rooms. I should say though, Mora is a much nice climate than Jokkmokk. Being in the Arctic seriously messes with your conception of what “cold” is. It’s in the 30s here? Well, let’s go out in a sweater and enjoy the balmy weather! Overall, we learned a great deal about Swedish wildlife, and wildlife in general.