Glories of hytte life

Trips to the cabin are mandatory in Norway—but not always a respite from life’s stress

Photo: Liv Marit Haakenstad
The author’s cabin in the woods is on the rustic side of the scale.

Liv Marit Haakenstad
Hamar, Norway

Every Norwegian has a hytte. At least, that’s the rumor about Norwegians. I am in that category—my husband and I have a small mountain cabin that we inherited from my in-laws.

But there are cabins and then there are cabins; the amenities of these vacation homes can vary greatly. Our cabin has no electricity. We have an old solar panel. There is a wood stove for heating. We use bottled gas for cooking. The fridge also runs on bottled gas. There is a basic outhouse and a shower that pumps out of a bucket. Our cabin is on the lower end of the luxury scale. My husband and I had been talking about upgrading some of these prehistoric and outdated amenities because it has been 10 years since my in-laws died.

My family consists of five adult people, so when we visit the cabin we need to take two vehicles. My boys often drive together in our oldest car. Two brothers, three hours, unsupervised, need I say more? My husband, my daughter, and I, toting our pet rabbit and other staples, travel in another car. It is an adventure just to get us all to the cabin.

Just before Easter last spring, I was visiting a friend in Elverum. As I was waiting for her, I walked into a store just to kill some time. The store sold bicycles, motorcycles and, luckily for me, cabin equipment. I ran across a good deal on a new stove that was nearly half price! After a quick call to my husband, we decided to buy it. A little bit later, I found a good deal on a grill in Lillestrøm.

Easter came, and because it is difficult to drive all the way to the cabin between October and May, we had to wait to transport the stove. The grill was easier to handle, so my idea was to use the grill as a stove. The weather at Easter was so cold that I had as many clothes on inside the cabin as outside. We constantly put wood on the fire, but I was still cold. We decided that the grill would be helpful if we could get it going, but when I opened the box I understood that this was not a job to be undertaken during our terrible Easter weather: the grill came in many pieces.

After only 24 hours of freezing at the cabin, we went home.

June came, and my oldest son and husband hauled the new stove to the cabin and installed it. In July, when I finally got there, I was eager to get the grill going, too. As soon as we arrived, I took the box and all the pieces with me to the deck. I started putting the grill together, but after Picture 2 on the instructions, I discovered I was missing several screws and nuts. A call to the manufacturer the next morning solved the mystery. Nuts marked G were actually D, so I kept going by making that substitution.

Norwegian hytte

Photo: Liv Marit Haakenstad
The shower with pump for solar panels. You have to heat up water, mix it with cold water in a bucket, and put the pump in. And that’s when you can find all the parts!

After a while, it looked like the first part of the assembly was properly completed so I decided to take a break and get cleaned up. I’m used to having a shower every day, but I couldn’t find the shower, except for a small piece of the pump. After some phone calls, I located a store with a new pump and got in the car to drive an hour and 15 minutes to the outskirts of Oslo to get what I needed.

Since I wasn’t absolutely sure about the grill, I took it with me, too, and drove to the store. My craftsman skills on the grill were correct, and the salesman found all the parts I needed for my shower, so as soon as I was back to the cabin, I installed everything. Success! The grill and the shower were both soon in working order.

The next problem we encountered is that sleeping at the cabin isn’t always easy. The two boys took the newest bunk beds, my husband and I the old ones in the second bedroom, and my daughter made herself comfortable on a couch in the corner of the living room. The first night was fine, because we were all exhausted, but the second night I couldn’t fall sleep. Reading a book usually solves the problem, but when my husband prematurely started complaining about my lamp light, I had to turn it off. After a few minutes, he started snoring. No way could I sleep in that noise, so after two hours of turning and twisting in the bed, I decided to go sleep on the second couch in the living room area. A few minutes later, I registered an angry voice from the other side of the room because I woke my daughter as I tried to settle myself. We both finally fell asleep, but my back wasn’t happy on the couch so I decided to go back to my bed. I dragged my pillow and comforter across the floor to find out that my bed was already taken by my daughter, who had traded my loud snoring for her father’s. I woke her, demanded my bed back, and after some words, she dragged her pillow and comforter back to her place on the couch.

The next morning we questioned how we would ever survive as a family spending time at the cabin. Without the comforts of home, how would we ever survive the discomforts of a remodeling project?

Liv Marit Haakenstad has been doing genealogy research for more than 30 years. She is now working on her master’s thesis in non-fiction writing. She has published several books on Norwegian emigration and genealogy, and dozens of articles. She is a frequent contributor to the research staff of the Who Do You Think You Are? television show. Many of her distant relatives immigrated to the United States and Canada, including several who settled in Wisconsin and Minnesota.

This article originally appeared in the Jan. 26, 2018, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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