After watching endless hours of fishing videos on Youtube, and having tasted raw Mackerel at Sushi Gen on a trip to Los Angeles, I developed an obsession with the thought of catching these beautiful rainbow silvery fish. One of my #lifegoals for my 2018 month-long exploration of Norway was to find a fishing tour and get out onto a fjord to experience the thrill of the catch. How this actually happened was beyond magical...
I am a heartless hunter, striking fear into the hearts of all creatures.... okay, so maybe not all creatures... I'll admit I don't eat duck or goose because I had them as pets... and the thought of personally going out to hunt down a deer or something large sounds emotionally and physically difficult... but I am a mighty hunter nonetheless! Fish BEWARE! (except my little tetras in their cute little violin studio fish tank...I suppose they are too small to be good eating.)
One of my strongest memories of Montana childhood was hopping into my Uncle Tom's beat-up truck with Odie the dog, my Dad, a cup of dirt and earthworms, a disorganized tackle box, my little neon green kid's rod and reel, and a bag of sunflower seeds. Being a Montana kid meant that I was also a fisher-girl. I loved every step of the process, from pushing the boat away from shore, hearing the scratch and scrape of rocks on the bottom before the boat lifted away and floated gently out into the lake, to the sound of our feet creating echoed bumps on the boat floor. We would spit sunflower seeds and Uncle Tom showed me how to put a worm on the hook and sit quietly while watching the red and white bobber. I was always hyper-focused on that thing, the smallest ripple would make my heart leap as my 6 year old self would tap into the primal instincts of a hunter. It is hard to say if it is the moment of fish-on-line, that electric jerk that shoots through the pole into your hands, or if it is the moment of the catch itself that is the most thrilling. I'm not a catch-and-release type beyond the necessity of having to put a small fish back, or a protected fish back...my aim is to catch fish and eat it. My Dad and Uncle Tom taught me how to stun a fish first, so it doesn't suffer, and to make a cut to sever the spinal cord to end its life quickly and humanely. It's not that I like their death, but I do feel that I appreciate the fish on my dinner table a heck of a lot more knowing that I caught it, I killed it, I took the care and time to gut and clean it, dress it with spices and oils and then I'm eating something that I procured for myself from nature. Local, sustainable, and not without its own sense of spirituality.
Norway, a fisherwoman's heaven
In June of 2018 I took a solo vacation to visit one of my dearest friends, Haakon and his family, in Norway. Haakon lives in Stavanger and is studying music at the university. I flew to Stavanger first and spent five lovely days laughing constantly at his antics and meeting his friends. I'll write more about this part of my trip in a future post, as I have many photos from that week that will become silk paintings. From Stavanger, I set out north on my own with an outline of locations I wanted to see along the way up to Andalsnes, before turning south and meeting back up with Haakon and his dad Jon in Horten.
My first destination on this adventure was the beautiful town of Rosendal on the Hardangerfjord. A few months before my trip to Norway I reached out to a fascinating Norwegian woman, Elisa Helland-Hansen, with whom I had a mutual artist friend, Steve Miller (a ceramicist in Walla Walla, Washington). Elisa is a world-reknowned potter and her Instagram is the stuff that dreams are made of. My friend Steve suggested that I follow her account to get inspired about places to see in Norway. That settled it, I had to see Rosendal and see the stunning Hardangerfjord, where the tradition of Norwegian Hardanger fiddling originated. Elisa and her wonderful husband Svein invited me to join them for a weekend of Rosendal activities. I felt like I had landed in heaven.
In one day, we drove into the high mountains to see the Folgefonna glacier, climbed on heart-shaped rocks overlooking the glacial lake, were obstructed by sheep leisurely strolling along the roads, then dropped to sea level and went out onto the Hardanger fjord in Elisa and Svein's fantastic fishing boat, WENT FISHING!!!!!, then upon docking the boat immediately rushed off to see a live folk music concert set in an old sawmill building, overhanging a rushing river and with the tall mountains looming in the background. I think that night was the one topped off with a dinner of fresh Icelandic shrimp. When I die, I want this place to be where I go and spend all eternity.
We chugged out into the calm mirror of water, trolling our lines behind the boat. When Svein caught a pollock I was amazed at the size of it, but he laughed and tossed it back as it was "too small". I was used to my little Montana lake trout. This was a whole new ball game. The week had been one of pure rain and downpours but on our fishing day the sun came out in its finest form, allowing us the rare privilege of wearing just our tank tops and t-shirts as we felt the warm breeze on our faces. We had little luck at first but after a few location changes, Svein positioned us right over a school of fish near the shore. Here there be "Makrel"!
Elisa handed me a primitive looking fishing contraption. Actually it was less of a contraption and more of just a large stone with a string of thick fishing line tied to it, with six simple large hooks attached. There wasn't any bait on the hooks. She instructed me to drop the stone in the water and slowly lower it down by hand, down and down, until it touched the bottom of the fjord. We were just offshore but I was surprised how deep the rock kept sinking. When it finally touched bottom, I began to pull it back up, hand over hand, grabbing the slippery wet fishing line and feeling callouses and blisters already threatening to bruise my sheltered violin hands. I was enamored with the simplicity of it and could hardly believe it when suddenly I felt the line jump and pull. Elisa and Svein cheered me on as I kept steadily pulling up and up and up. In the clear water I could see there were multiple fish on the line! We raised them into the boat and it became clear the fish gods were with me that day, as there were 6 out of 6 fish on the line. Dancing sparkling radiant mackerel!
I don't think I've ever smiled so hard in my life! I couldn't stop exclaiming how beautiful they were! I am certain that I remarked, "I HAVE GOT TO PAINT THESE FISH!" at least a few times. I knew that their silky shiny skin would translate well to satin. I'm so glad I was able to capture some of the pinks and purples and vivid blues in their marbled skin with my camera so that when I returned home I had a few good reference shots.
We drove the boat back and after letting the fish rest for a day, Svein fileted them with one of his handmade knives, because of course he is not only a master fisherman but he is an accomplished artist and woodworker too. I got to relive my ecstasy moment of eating raw mackerel, but this time was far better. It nearly brought tears to my eyes, tasting the oily flavorful meat just melting in my mouth, with a squeeze of lemon and soy sauce on top. Elisa even had some with me, although Svein looked a bit skeptical. He did gently let me know not to fill up on the raw mackerel because he had another few fillets on the stove bubbling away in a cream and soy sauce. They served the cooked fish with fingerling potatoes and home pickled cucumbers and a salad... and life was good.
Leaving their home was one of the saddest things. I cried for about a half hour on my drive, because my heart was so full of love and the kind of deep connection that happens when kindred spirits meet. They adopted me as their own and shared their love of Rosendal as only two artist-adventurers could. Upon returning home to Missoula, I was swept immediately into my musical routine and teaching, and into the magic of a new relationship with the man who has turned out to be my one true love. I knew I needed to find a way to send Elisa and Svein a token of my gratitude for everything they had given me, sustenance, laughter, exploration, a home. By Christmas of 2018 I got my act together and made each of them an ADVENTURE SILK scarf. Elisa's scarf is a representation of the houses on the hills and mountains surrounding Rosendal, and Svein's bandana is of course, the Mackerel.
Every moment with Elisa and Svein was an adventure.
I'll slowly write accounts of the other hours spent in Rosendal, from hiking ridge lines, kissing goats, and playing music with their friends. But that is for another time.
Thank you for reading!