Deborah Whitaker tells us all about her weekend dusting the snow for wolf tracks, learning how to start fires in the wild without matches and listening to the symphony of the frozen lakes on a three-day weekend in Sweden's Bergslagen forest.
What were the highlights of your trip?
I’ll never forget the magical melody of the lake ice contracting. It sounded like a whale under the ice. Just to be in the middle of this vast quiet forest, and hear a deep groaning from the lake ice was magical.
I'm going to add another highlight. All my life, I've wanted to learn how to start a fire in the wild. I'm now confident that if I was in the forest and needed to start a fire, I actually could do it. We were able to practice throughout the weekend, and I even started one in the middle of a frozen lake, so I'm pretty confident!
Can you remember the moment you started your first fire?
Oh yes, that was on the very first night after we each got our Swedish hunting knives, which had firesteels in the handles. We all were able to start a fire that Friday night. The bushcraft instructor was very patient and worked with each of us to make sure we knew how to do it. The first time my tinder caught fire, I thought “Wow!” I can actually do this!"
What did you think of the accommodations?
Our forest huts were great fun. They were surprisingly warm and snug. It was especially interesting when we were told about the history of the huts. Charcoal makers stayed in these huts while they tended their fires when this part of Sweden was a charcoal producing region. We have hiked through the charcoal-making regions in Virginia many times, so it was nice to have that personal connection.
Although we were too tired to try it, many of the guests went to a sauna floating on the nearby lake the second night. Our hosts had done a lot to set everything up for us. They had wood ready to get the sauna going, a basket of food and drinks waiting, and had even cut a hole in the lake ice for anyone who wanted to hop in after the sauna.
So how would you say your mood differed from when you arrived and when you left?
I was very relaxed when I left. It was everything I had hoped for. I have been encouraging other people in my office to try it out.
And, I have to say the soup we had was delicious. Everybody raved about the soup. We all wanted the recipe for the thick, creamy chicken soup we had for lunch on Saturday afternoon. Of course, sitting in the middle of a beautiful Scandinavian forest on a bright, sunny day probably made the soup taste even better.
What would you say was the most memorable moment?
There were so many memorable moments. Our guide, Jan, paced the tour very well. Saturday was magical. In the morning, we hiked through deep snow into the forest looking for wolf tracks, although we never saw a wolf. After lunch, Jan took us for a walk on a frozen lake, and showed us how to look for beaver activity.
Later, he put us to work starting a fire to heat water for our tea and coffee. Then, we just sat there, sipping our hot drinks, watching the sun go down across the lake, and just relaxing. Jan talked to us a little bit about what we were hearing. As it got darker, we heard owls hooting.
What we heard next was my magic moment. We heard the sound of the ice expanding on the lake. Just to be in the middle of this quiet, and to hear groaning all around us was absolutely amazing.
We saw a lot of wolf tracks and the tracks of deer, moose, and beaver. Jan did a great job of teaching us how to photograph the tracks. We also learned how to identify various types of plants, including one called Posh that smelled like a spa.
After the sun went down, we followed some wolf tracks across a lake. Then, we just stopped in the middle of the lake, turned off our lights, and looked up at the stars. Perfect.