Living North : My Nordic ‘To Read’ List

I haven’t been able to read much recently. Depression made the thing I enjoy doing most in the world an agonizing challenge. But now my concentration is slowly returning to some sort of normality and I’ve been spending massive amounts of time on Amazon, hunting down literature about the Nordics that I haven’t read yet. I thought you might like to see what I’ve found!

The Path To Odin’s Lake By Jason Heppenstall

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“Ex-newspaper editor Jason Heppenstall, worn down by the constant drumbeat of dire news in the world, decides to set out on a journey in search of some answers. With not much more than some walking boots, a notebook and a wooden staff, he sets off from his old home in Copenhagen with a vague idea to “head north”. It isn’t long before a series of bizarre coincidences leads him to believe that his journey is being guided towards an ancient lake in Sweden where the Norse god Odin was once worshipped.

Along the way he falls foul of the authorities, endures the wettest weather in living memory and meets a peculiar man of the forest who gives him a special gift. He discovers a modern day Sweden caught between a desire to do good in the world and one struggling to come to terms with the refugees from war-torn Syria and beyond.” – Amazon

Buy it here.

Blond Roots: A Cross-Cultural Journey of Identity By Marilyn E Fowler

“The Western world insists on following rational dictates, but there is freedom in allowing our deeper intuition to show the way forward. By surrendering to the heart, we can navigate the unknown world to come to a new understanding of ourselves.

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Author Marilyn E. Fowler, PhD, begins her journey with very little information about her cultural heritage. A family search uncovers an old picture of her great-grandmother Karoline, who was born somewhere in the northern reaches of Scandinavia among the indigenous Sámi people.

Fowler’s inner compass and a sequence of powerful, metaphysical events push her to venture alone to this distant territory. On this journey she has the honor of meeting Elina, a Sámi elder, who provides more clues to Fowler’s ancestral heritage.

Slowly, guided by intuition, she begins putting the pieces together, discovering the identity of her ancestors. She wants to understand them, and what she finds is a completely fresh perspective on life. As Fowler slowly learns about Sámi culture, she allows herself to let go of conventional reasoning and discover a new understanding of who she is and a new sense of connection with the earth. When she finally returns home, she finds that her perspectives on life have forever changed.” – Amazon

Buy it here.

On Time And Water By Andri Snær Magnason

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“Icelandic author and activist Andri Snær Magnason’s ‘Letter to the Future’, an extraordinary and moving eulogy for the lost Okjökull glacier, made global news and was shared by millions. Now he attempts to come to terms with the issues we all face in his new book On Time and Water. Magnason writes of the melting glaciers, the rising seas and acidity changes that haven’t been seen for 50 million years. These are changes that will affect all life on earth.

Taking a path to climate science through ancient myths about sacred cows, stories of ancestors and relatives and interviews with the Dalai Lama, Magnason allows himself to be both personal and scientific. The result is an absorbing mixture of travel, history, science and philosophy.” – Amazon

Buy it here.

Wild Horses of the Summer Sun: A Memoir of Iceland By Tory Bilski

“Each June, Tory Bilski meets up with fellow women travelers in Reykjavik where they head to northern Iceland, near the Greenland Sea. They escape their ordinary lives to live an extraordinary one at a horse farm perched at the edge of the world. If only for a short while.51mCiBg78jL

When they first came to Thingeyrar, these women were strangers to one another.  The only thing they had in common was their passion for Icelandic horses. However, over the years, their relationships with each other deepens, growing older together and keeping each other young. Combining the self-discovery Eat, Pray, Love, the sense of place of Under the Tuscan Sun, and the danger of Wild, Wild Horses of the Summer Sun revels in Tory’s quest for the “wild” inside her.

These women leave behind the usual troubles at home: illnesses, aging parents, troubled teenagers, financial worries–and embrace their desire for adventure.

Buoyed by their friendships with each other and their growing attachments and bonds with the otherworldly horses they ride, the warmth of Thingeyrar’s midnight sun carries these women through the rest of the year’s trials and travails.” – Amazon.

Buy it here.

Curious North : 5 Narwhal Facts

Narwhals Are Descended From An Evil Woman

In Inuit folklore, there’s a tale about an evil woman who kept her daughter well fed but starved her blind son. The mother and daughter feasted in secret on the meat of a polar bear the son had shot with a bow and arrow. The son didn’t know he’d killed it, what with him being blind, and his mother insisted it had fled. (For the record, his sister helped him get the shot. In some versions of the tale, she’s sympathetic to his cause.)

Eventually, the son’s sight returned and he found the bear’s skin outside their hut. One day, there was a pod of white whales which the mother intended to harvest, but the son had other ideas. He lashed a rope attached to a harpoon around his mother’s middle and harpooned a whale. The whale dragged the boy’s mother from the ice floe she was standing on and out into the sea. Her transformation into a narwhal began when she twisted her long hair into what we know as the narwhal’s distinctive spiraling tusk.

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Paul Nicklen

There Are None In Captivity

The last narwhal in captivity was in 1969/1970. It was an orphaned calf that had been caught at Grise Fiord in Canada (one of the coldest inhabited places on earth) and was airlifted to the New York aquarium. A month later and it was dead. At around the same time, the Vancouver aquarium captured six narwhals. Unable to handle the stress of captivity, they all died within months.

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Paul Nicklen

They Change Colour With Age

Newborn narwhals are mottled -blue-grey, juveniles are blue-black, adults are spotted grey and old narwhals are almost completely white. James Mead, the curator of marine mammals at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History says the speckles complexion of the narwhal is ‘weird’ as whales are usually a more uniform colour.

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Paul Nicklen

It’s Tusk Is Actually A Tooth

The narwhal’s tusk is actually an exaggerated front left tooth. (Its right tooth is smaller and remains inside its mouth.) While most teeth, humans included, have a hard exterior and a sort interior, it’s the opposite in the case of the narwhal. Covered in thousands of nerve endings, this tooth can grow up to ten feet long and is able to bend about a foot before breaking off.

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Paul Nicklen

Narwhal Tastes Nutty…To Some

Muktuk is the name for the Inuit staple of whale skin and blubber. Apparently, when it’s eaten raw, muktuk becomes quite chewy and tastes nutty.  However, ‘nutty’ isn’t how one writer describes it. When Abigail Tucker when to Greenland she sampled some muktuk and this is her experience: “With the tips of my fingers I seized a tiny, half-frozen piece of raw blubber, dunked it soy sauce and put it in my mouth. That first bite was exactly like chomping down on a thick vein of gristle in a great aunt’s holiday roast. It was tough as rubber, with a taste like congealed gravy.

Sources

Smithsonian Mag

Mental Floss

 

North Of Instagram : CVLT FVCK

Antti Kertsi Keränen is the Finnish photographer behind CVLT FVCK, one of the few Instagram accounts which I retreat to when everything just gets too much. You’ll understand why in just a moment…

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Among the Giants..

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Can you hear me, Major Tom? 📡

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Surnia ulula. #Northernhawkowl

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Oblivion. #CVLTFVCK

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Sleeping giants.

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What Is Skyr?

I spent three months in Iceland back in 2011 and I ate my body weight in Skyr. I tried every flavour I could and had Skyr withdrawal symptoms when I came home. I remember when Skyr first arrived in Tesco a few years later. I squealed and stashed a couple of tubs in my basket, ignoring the hefty Icelandic-esque price tag attached to them.

Once home, I promptly posted a photo of my Skyr to Facebook. My family, meanwhile, thought it bizarre me getting so excited about some dairy.

Pronounced skeer (with a slight trill on the r if you’re really going in for authenticity) Skyr is a cultured dairy product that’s been sustaining Icelanders since it was brought over from Norway in the 9th Century. Today, Skyr is probably Iceland’s most valuable contribution to the world’s culinary culture.

Uber, uber thick (yes, those two ubers are necessary) creamy and stacked with protein, Skyr has a tart taste to it. Icelanders traditionally eat it whipped with cream and topped with sugar. Though the most popular flavours among locals today are vanilla and blueberries. (I can vouch for vanilla. It’s awesome.) 

While most people think of Skyr are being a yogurt, its technically a soft cheese. After the whey has been removed, it goes through a process of ultra-filtration, and that’s how it gets to be so thick you can stand your spoon up in it.

 

5.3oz_Vanilla_IcelandicSkyr-400x400Although Skyr was hardly known about beyond the shores of Iceland for a thousand years, the word of this ‘superfood’ has spread worldwide, and it’s made some folks their fortune, including Siggi Hilmarsson. A native Icelander living in the US, Siggi found himself homesick for what had been a part of his staple diet back home – Skyr.

Using a recipe that his mother found (I think in some magazine from the 1960’s), Siggi started to make Skyr in his little New York kitchen. And it tasted like home. Within a few months, Siggi quit his day job, bought a bunch of dairy making equipment and boom, his Skyr making empire – Siggi’s Dairy – was born.

If, like me, you find yourself becoming just that bit obsessed with Skyr, get yourself to Iceland and visit the National Museum where you’ll find three Viking-era jars that contain Skyr residue. Now if that’s not cool, I don’t know what is.