The Swedish Wild Woods
Each year the milestone I look forwards to more than any other in my work calendar is the Woodland Ways annual Canoe and Campcraft expedition to the Malingsbo-Kloten nature reserve in south-central Sweden.
Mid to late September into early October is something of a strategic time for us to guide clients in this environment – an environment that encircles the entire Northern hemisphere and known as the Boreal biome.
The biting insects of mid to late summer are dissipating rapidly, day light hours are still long and although we have had extremes of weather running this trip over the last five years, in general it is a pleasant temperature and given a full 9 days in the woods we usually get to see at least a little sun!
It is very easy to jump into a canoe and travel for days through a seemingly endless and changeless landscape of lakes and evergreen trees – to the uninitiated it can seem a very lifeless place…until you start to look and listen more closely.
The quiet at this time of year is amplified by the lack of many bird calls we usually associate with being out in the woods as some of the Swedish migrant species have already left ahead of winter’s arrival leaving only those specialised for the short days and frosty nights to come.
Every year we see and hear the beautiful white throated divers giving their unmistakable calls that carry over the water so well and can come at any time of day or night – fishing birds they are a welcome sign that we might stand a chance of a bite if we get a hook into the water.
We have seen or heard many other birds during our time in the canoes; black and white wood pecker, long tailed tits, white tailed sea eagle, capercaillie, peregrine falcon and ravens to name some of them.
Although not the sole purpose of our immersive trip, fishing is a great part of our daily routine either from shore or boat and over the years we have seen successful meals of Pike, Perch and Trout. Hooking a fish for your first time is unforgettable but even if it’s your hundredth fish it takes on a whole new meaning in the context of traversing a wild landscape on expedition.
The mammals of this woodland are far more elusive although their sign is right their every time we step out of the boats. One year we found Wolf tracks in the silt at the lake margin when the water was very low and that following winter I tracked the same pack over the lake when it was frozen under half a metre of ice – getting eyes on the Alpha Wolf of the relatively small Kloten pack was up there with one of my most special outdoors moments!
We daily see sign of the endemic Beaver and have had them swim right under our canoes – getting up early for a paddle is the best way to stealthily survey the shores and stand a chance of seeing these beautiful creatures. We read about them being an ‘architect of nature’, no other mammal after man having such an impact on the landscape – they create quiet backwaters, open up areas of forest floor to the daylight by judicious felling and of course create huge biomass dams and lodges home to many hundreds of other living things beside themselves.
I used to worry that our moving through this landscape and choosing to interact with the natural resources like Birch bark would be difficult to sustain year after year but it has been incredible to see the natural cycle of the Beaver felling Birch into the lake margins to stock up their sub aquatic winter feed bed – thanks to this amazing rodent we always have an easily accessed supply of supple bark to make aesthetic, robust and practical containers lacing them together with some carefully picked spruce roots.
Mikael Nilsson a great friend and owner of Nordic Discovery who outfit our expeditions in this area jokes that there are really just two trees in the Kloten area, ‘Pine and that other one that looks like a Christmas tree.’ – Spruce.
Most of the woodland is indeed made up of these two evergreens and we have to look to the thin bands of trees around any waterways and the lake margins to find resources beyond what these two species can cater for.
We find Willow for its bark cordage, friction fire, pliability for bark basket rims and of course the thin wands for weaving. Alder another great friction wood was used in this region and still can be to smoke fish, Birch for the versatile withy, quick tool handles and beautifully grained carving wood.
The air is crystal clear and the Lichens love it as much as we do – some of it is famous like the Reindeer moss mentioned as a survival food in ‘The Heroes of Telemark’ others are less known but no less useful to woods people who take an interest.
The fungi and the berries of this region are quite simply staggering in their variety and abundance. The size of some of the bolete family found here are incredible and many find their way into our expedition menu.
The berries seem to be an ever-present part of our camps and can be almost continuously grazed; Bilberry, Cow berry or Lingon, Crow berry and Odin’s berry. Whilst picking you might stop and make the connection that back home these species are allied to heathlands and upland areas of moorland and mountain – it’s easy to miss the 300m height gained during your transfer from the airport to Kloten village.
I truly believe that as modern day ‘bushcrafters’ if we take the time to stop and learn a little about the resources in environments like the Swedish wild woods we will become better equipped to safe guard those same resources because where we take too much we will see the effect and can moderate our usage to ensure the same resource is available in future seasons. To travel through any woodland area and not taking the time to interact with some of these natural materials even in a very small way is a much less rich experience in my personal opinion.
Ardent naturalists and ecologists may argue we should not damage, use or consume ANY natural material whilst in an environment like this, that our camp fires and even our very footsteps over slow growing mosses are too impactful. But is using a gas stove any less damaging? All that metal and the energy taken to make it, package it, ship it and all based on an exhaustible fossil fuel.
This is a well-documented and much better articulated argument between naturalists and bush skills enthusiasts than I can get across in this blog and well worth reading into to better establish your own ethos on how you want to interact with and impact on the wild places when you choose to travel there.
Today our equipment may be modern boats of metal and plastic rather than steam bent wood and canvas or bark, our tools may be shop bought rather than modified from old metal files, our clothing may be full of synthetics rather than buckskin and wool but by stopping to engage with this landscape by foraging, fishing, material crafting, creating fire, making tools, sewing nets and cooking we give ourselves time to get dirt under our fingernails and gain a sense of the realities of living outdoors as experienced by our ancestors.
Adam (Senior Instructor)