A rust brown start of Scandinavian spring
Nature’s colors arrange for renewal at the beginning of a Scandinavian spring. The grayish green of the reindeer moss, the vivid green of the young spruces, the rust brown of grass. And the birch trees are shown as a haze of purple, stretched out along the hills. Small, tiny spruces are fighting over territory, feverishly throwing in more bright yellow tones scattered across the young green, in an attempt to attract attention.
Scandinavian spring gets on with change in its own peculiar way
It will hurry up but without being obtrusive, it has a confident attitude. All praise the gentle, polite behaviour that is virtually unknown to its companions, summer and winter and, to a lesser extent, autumn as well. Rust brown, yellow green, purple haze. The white of the snow and the glacier blue of the frozen lakes disappear. Autumn colors? This is what your puzzled mind tells you in the first instance. Most people do associate spring with green, not brown and yet the calendar shows this is the beginning of May. Nature in a Scandinavian landscape is preparing for take-off, adding some ambiguities in the overall appearance. Everywhere, this season is one of new life. Here, winter’s harsh conditions are gradually replaced by increasing daylight hours, bringing the warmth of the sun. Snow and ice are melting, by degrees giving way to trees, plants and smaller organisms to bring their life cycle into action.
Living with a sense of urgency
Grass, berry, heather: snow covered as the plants have been for six months at least, nature’s defrost timer has ruled that it is all for now. The moment has come to thaw and to melt, to dry, to grow, to flower. And it has to be done without delay, the programmed time schedule provide for, let’s say, four months that will offer enough sunlight and warmth to ensure the life cycle’s rhythm. Every sunbeam counts and it is with each and every day that plants, trees and mosses through a process of photosynthesis are transforming the sunlight energy into growth. Softly murmuring their ballads, in eager anticipation of warmer temperatures. Then again, it is only bad luck when such joyful spring season pleasures abruptly come to a halt, meaning that animals came along and had a happy meal on the fresh green sprouts. Elks in particular are interested in the young twigs and leaves, their grazing pattern may tell that the animals are around somewhere.
Marshes and bogs, in winter months transformed to accessible areas with trails for snow scooters and cross-country skiing, start to thaw again. Quite a funny view it is because the vegetation and especially the grasses are looking now like a rust brown lawn of troll heads. The disorderly sight of a recent rummaging through the area, that is what one sees, without the apprehensiveness that may occur on foggy days…. It is only logical that in Scandinavian folklore such imaginary creatures allied with nature, were formed into this appearance.
On the ground, there is a battle zone
Shifting focus, from the colors of this spring to another perspective, it is there and ready to observe: the forceful growing power that is exhibited right here where you stand. The impressive performance of every single species, claiming space so it will survive. The coexistence of various plants, grasses, mosses and fungi on one square meter is like a living Impressionists painting. Vital activity set in a variety of clusters, colors and texture. They approach every life ensuring task with a boundless zest, a vitality that is in contrast with the age of stones and rocks.
Contrary to a museum where one admires the works of art, meaning being part of the shuffling crowd, nature offers an unlimited and undisturbed experience. A few film documentaries have been made though, offering an insight in for instance The Hermitage in St Petersburg (Alexander Sokoerov – Russian Ark) or The National Gallery (Frederick Wiseman – The National Gallery). And only recently, The Impressionists (Phil Grabsby), giving the opportunity to watch the masterpieces on the white screen. It gives way to one’s own thoughts.
Light green lichen: Cladonia rangiferina
Lichen is a symbiotic organism, it is a combination of a fungus and an algae, making this composite organism a success story. Moisture and minerals are provided by the mycobiont fungus while photosynthetic nutrition comes from the photobiont alga. A mature clump of this reindeer moss is one of old age, it could easily be 100 years old! High humidity and cool temperatures are the best conditions for growth, these prevail in spring and autumn. Tundra, bogs, among open vegetation in forests, in all those cold places the lichen is found in abundance. It throws an almost fluorescent carpet on the lower hills and plains, while in forested areas it looks like a randomly arranged illuminated route.
Edible or not?
The reindeer and caribou feed on it, they even smell it through the snow. Can we eat it? Yes. Will we like it? Definitively not. For humans lichen does not contain any nutritional value although eating it won’t kill you. Lichen is acidic and therefore a proper preparation (cooking) is needed to make it edible or at least a little consumer friendly, considering the human digestive system. Fortunately we are in no need of a lichen meal, that was what crossed my mind when I watched The Heavy Water War, a 2015 epic Norwegian series (original title: Kampen om tungtvannet). It tells the story of the WW II German nuclear weapon project and the heavy water sabotage in Rjukan, Norway, to disturb it. The saboteur group, named Grouse, has to wait for reinforcement now that the two planes with British commando forces have crashed. Their location is the Hardangervidda, it is winter, no food around. A few shots fired at a reindeer miss their target. Nonetheless, where reindeer are, there is lichen, so out of sheer necessity they eat cooked reindeer moss, not liking it at all. These facts are history. It is a strange feeling, touching the soft and moist lichen in the here and now, realizing that we are very fortunate to know freedom. The before mentioned movie is a vivid reminder of how brave men have ensured that our values were respected.
In the meantime
Nature’s wake-up call is heard by others too. Sleepy bumblebees, pleased as Punch, slowly make their first rounds while ants leave their underground cover, restarting organized activity. Encouraged, the first mosquito lands on my arm, driven by ambition to be the earliest in order. A braggart it will never be though. A bit of patience, a quick hit is all that it takes. Premature success is cancelled by one slap.
More reading on reindeer moss and its useful purpose: ‘Reindeer Moss – Eat the weeds and other things, too’.