August 14, 2016. Since I’ve written about Ullevålseter in winter and spring, I thought I’d take some time to praise its summer splendors. (Every season brings surprises.) The trek to this old-farmstead-now-hiker’s-haven is one of our favorite jaunts. Not only because of the gorgeous forests, wetlands, and pastures we pass through along the way, but also because we always start at Frognerseteren, an incredibly picturesque and yummy restaurant that offers a heart-stopping view of the Oslo fjord.
As a launch point for trekking into the Nordmarka forest, Frognerseteren is easy and quick to get to; it’s the last stop on the T-bane metro Line #1 and is only a 35-minute ride west from Sentral Stasjon. If you’re visiting Oslo and have a half-day for a hike, this is the one to take. It gives you the perfect smattering of typical Nordic habitats, vistas, and rustic log cabins, plus you’ll feel like a native rather than a tourist, as you’ll be rubbing shoulders mostly with other Norwegians.
From Frognerseteren, you can choose from several different paths (biking, skiing, or hiking routes) that all lead to Ullevålseter. But be sure to make time for a brief stop at this old farmstead’s café to re-fuel — food being a motivating factor for every hike — before continuing on to Sognsvann Lake, your endpoint. From there, you’ll catch the T-bane Line #6 back into town, easy-peasy.
The entire Frognerseteren – Ullevålseter – Sognsvann loop is only about seven miles, not counting any off-trail explorations. And the total hiking time will be around three hours, unless you dawdle a lot for photos and food like we do. Check out the trail here, and zoom in to see Ullevålseter and other features of the hike. Or to learn more about Frognerseteren and the lake, take a look at my post, A Walk at Sognsvann.
I’ll admit that when we first started off on the trek, we were experiencing a fit of the dismals, due to some rough stuff life has tossed at us lately. But by the end of the trail, nature had done its job, restoring our joy and making us realize what a wonderful place the world can be. So with this in mind, rather than giving you the play-by-play as I’ve done in previous posts, I’ll focus on what really stood out during the hike: the sensory experience.
Take a look at some photo galleries and my stream-of-consciousness ramblings on what your eyes, ears, nose, tongue, feet and fingertips will enjoy along the trail.
Larger-than-life bumble bees drunkenly nuzzling wildflowers that are dressed in pink and yellow, clearly the most fashionable colors this season. Butterflies dancing a mad fandango in the rare sunshine. Masses of mosses waving huge, banana-pepper-shaped pods in the breeze; they remind me of South African soccer fans with their vuvuzelas. Granite boulders surfacing like whales from the rippling green forest floor. Blueberry bushes with blazing red, frost-burnt leaves due to the recent cold snap. Giant black slugs munching sleepily on toxic red-n-white Christmas mushrooms; they leave their slime trails as testaments to their bravery.
The bumble bees in Norway are absolutely colossal and have incredible coloring. There are 35 species in all, 6 of which are endangered due to the hive collapse issue that seems to be plaguing all bees right now. This big boy (Bombus pascuorum sparreanus) is feeding on a Melancholy Thistle (Cirsium heterophyllum).
The “Comma” butterfly (Polygonia c-album) belongs to the “Angelwing” family, so called for their frilly airfoils. A splotchy, backwards “C” splattered across the dull underside of its wings resembles bird droppings, which helps camouflage the butterfly from predators and gives it the name “Comma.” (Sorry, I don’t have a pic of this — these little suckers are fast and super fluttery!)
A male Common Brimstone (Gonepteryx rhamni) feeds on an Alpine Hawkweed (Hieracium alpinum L). This species is one of the longest lived butterflies, surviving for up to 13 months!
Pink and yellow are all the rage this season for wildflowers. This beauty is called Moth Mullein (Verbascum blattaria) because its pink centers have fuzzy orange stamens that look like moths’ antennae.
Wonder if slugs get high from eating the hallucinogenic Amanita muscaria mushroom?
Check out the big, furry, seed pods from this mountain lupine! Some of these fronds reach almost to my shoulders.
Thar he blows! Looks like Matthew is about to become lunch for Moby Dick, a whale of a piece of granite.
Not sure what kind of moss this is, but I love the yellow spore pods they’re waving. Don’t they look like vuvuzela-sporting spectators at a South African soccer match? (Their team jerseys are green and gold.)
The chirping and chattering of a stream keeps us company along the trailside. I’m startled by the kerplunk of equally surprised frogs as they cannonball into forest ponds for safety. A thrumming rat-a-tat-tat tells us that a tommy-gunned woodpecker has targeted his victims, hidden in nearby deadwood. The buzzing of tiny mosquitoes in my ear, “ooh, pardon me, so sorry to bump into you.” They’re plentiful but puny; not large enough to break the skin. Trilling songbirds on their way south sing the Stark’s family motto: “winter is coming.” The thunk of our heels tells me the earth is hollow here. The ground is nothing but a spongy, shallow layer of peat moss and pine needles. It clings for dear life to an enormous hunk of black stone that slumbers just below the surface — when this rocky giant awakens and sloughs off such a poor excuse for soil, I expect to hear the sound a dog makes when it shakes water off its back.
Burbling brooks make the dark forests seem more cheerful. Their copper color comes from all the tannic acids leaching out of birch leaves, pine needles, and decaying mosses.
The Nordmarka forest north of Oslo is laced with incredibly picturesque lakes, ponds, and streams dug by glaciers and glacial runoff. The water is quite dark and tannic from all the leaf litter and sphagnum accumulation. Only the occasional splash of jumping fish or frogs disturbs the almost eerie stillness of forest pools.
Most of Norway seems to be built on a thick layer of granite, upon which sits a thin layer of silty, peaty soil. I’m surprised that such tall trees can find enough soil to stay upright. Walking on the shallow ground sounds like beating on a bass drum muffled with a wet towel.
A Common Chaffinch (Fringilla coelebs) sings from his perch in the late summer sun. Not much longer and he’ll be on his way south to warmer climes. He teaches his distinctive song (there are regional dialects, just like in Norwegian) to the boys in his brood each spring. Males use the tune to lure the ladies.
Drying hay, pollen-laden wildflowers, pine sap in the Arizona sunshine, and blowing trail dirt — the scents of late summer. Beneath the trees I smell dank basement, my grandma’s root cellar, the blue clay we used in my high-school pottery class. My nose twitches as the tang of wild dill drifts by; I search but never find it. Bending low, the acrid odor of soggy sphagnum explains why I keep thinking of the Hoh Rainforest in Washington State. Granite, both wet and dry, gives off the citified smell of concrete. A weird whiff of urine wafts up from three-foot-tall stacks of pine needles — condos for colonies of wood ants — and I’m reminded why they’re sometimes called “piss ants.”
Nothing like the smell of summer sunshine heating up pine needles and ripe blueberries. The forest floor is covered with these bushes, which glisten red from a recent cold snap.
Look closely, and you’ll see lots of sphagnum moss and other bog plants coating the ground. Bogs form when glaciers dig potholes that fill with rainwater. Clay deposits leftover by the glaciers often line these potholes and keep them watertight. These undrained puddles provide prime conditions for growing sphagnum and duckweed, which actually help filter the water and keep it so acidic that it’s exceptionally clean (despite what the dank odor suggests).
I love the smell of hot rock baking in the sun. The path here is so well trod by mountain bikers, hikers and skiers that the granite just a foot below the soil’s surface has been exposed.
Wood ants (formica rufa group) form huge colonies made of piled-up pine needles. They’re one of many ant species whose bodies contain large amounts of formic acid, which smells like a cross between formaldehyde, Pine Sol, urine, and vinegar. That ammonia odor is why they’re sometimes called “piss ants.” And you’ll smell it especially when you squish an ant — or if they decide to spray it at you from glands in their abdomen — a defense tactic when their nest is disturbed.
Wringing out five ounces of water from one handful of moss. Bouncing up and down on marsh boardwalks. Running my fingertips along the stems of pond plants, feeling for that tell-tale, triangular shape of a sedge. Tripping for the 500th time on giant tree roots that splay outward rather than downward and look like my grandpa’s gnarled hands. A twiggy prick and squish between my thumb and forefinger reminds me that I’ve got to get one of those blueberry combs the Norwegians carry. The sting of a splinter as I push the old Ullevålseter farmstead’s turnstile. Sitting on a lakeside rock — are my pants damp, or just cold? The prickling of the pores on my face as they respond tentatively to the sun’s heat makes me wonder if tonight, I can skip taking my vitamin-D tab.
Remember the old saying, “Sedges have edges, rushes are round, grasses have nodes right down to the ground?” I did the touch test — these are sedges.
The soil is so shallow that a conifer’s roots must crawl far across the ground to anchor the tree adequately. The roots sure make great tripping hazards.
The old turnstile and fenceline still stand at Ullevålseter.
Looks like we’ve committed a murder in the woods. Just juice from all the raspberries and blueberries we picked.
This Norwegian lady models how to use a blueberry comb and avoid the unsightly staining.
The pop and gush of raspberries in my mouth, smaller but sweeter than last year’s. Same for the blueberries, smaller although tarter. Are these signs of a snowier season to come? Or just that somebody has gotten here before us and picked all the biggest ones? The plasticky taste of water stored in a bottle warmed by sunshine and body heat. The alkaline dryness of a green crabapple picked from an abandoned orchard. Tomatoey goulash topped off with cream-covered apple crisp and a nutty cup of caffeine at Ullevålseter. And finally, tasting the fruits of our berry-picking labor, mixed in some good ol’ homemade dishes.
Okay, so it looks a little like blackened fish, but it’s actually salmon coated with blueberry-lemon sauce. I also made some homemade lemon-mint tea with herbs from my garden.
I had enough blueberries left over to make blueberry-oatmeal muffins.
We also got a sizable stash of raspberries, which I made into lemon-raspberry soufflé.
No better place for some sunshine and a cuppa … or a beer.