Say It With Firewood This Father's Day

Posted on 17th June 2016 by Sally Campbell
Lars Mytting, author of the runaway publishing hit Norwegian Wood, discusses what being a father means to him. A public display of affection is one way to demonstrate your love, providing firewood is another.

Lars Mytting's surprise bestseller Norwegian Wood: Chopping, Stacking and Drying Wood the Scandinavian Way is a simple yet elegant read. The book is part hymn to the great outdoors, part celebration of good old-fashion manual labour and self-sufficiency, and part practical guide to chopping wood and maintaining your wood store.

This seemingly niche title went on to be translated into ten languages, it remained on the bestseller list in Norway for over a year and it was reprinted four times in one month in Britain. It has been named the Non-fiction Book of the Year 2016 by the British Book Industry Awards.

We’ve had quite a mild winter. Two weeks of 28 below. In Norway people get sad if they are denied a proper winter, especially a white Christmas. The first day of wood-chopping this year came quite late. It was tough getting started, and I hadn’t been much looking forward to it. It was a big shift because I was deeply into writing. But it felt good.

I spend most days writing. I have a small office away from home, so I take my children to school and then work for exactly as long as they are at school, and we go home together. It’s the perfect situation, really. Much the way I’ve always wanted to have it. I have two girls, twins, thirteen years old now. Most of the day revolves around their needs and the needs of the family. It’s the perfect life for writing. 

Twins often force themselves in different directions. So one is very good at drawing and the other is more into writing. When they were younger it was easier for me to involve them in all the strange things daddy did, and they found it exciting. I used to bring them to the garage to work on cars, and they loved it. I even gave them each a tool kit with their names on. Now, though, their lives revolve around other activities where I’m not so relevant. These things change, so it’s all about just hanging on and hoping for the best.
Firewood is relevant here. I have always wanted to be the supplier of our firewood. It’s a daily confirmation that I’m doing something good for them. We have a very cold house in a rural area northeast of Oslo. Our nearest neighbour is a small forest. During the winter we start a fire both mornings and evenings. And we gather around it. It’s a very fundamental satisfaction, to be able to provide. It may seem small or even childish, but it’s about the same as cooking a meal in terms of necessity. And it has to be renewed every day. You are always grateful for that most essential thing: a woodpile. 

I always try to bring them to the woods on the first day of felling trees and making firewood. Apparently one of the reasons that Norwegian Wood is become so popular has to do with the handing down of knowledge from generation to generation. This desire to learn skills is deeply rooted in us, but nowadays we are experts in one job, and often quite hopeless at others. I am proud that I can hand down this set of fundamental skills for my daughters to use every day, and they can say “My dad taught me this.” 

The finest moment is when the wood changes from being part of a tree to becoming a log for the fire. It all happens in that tiny moment. You can’t see it, it’s so immediate. The work has different qualities wherever you are. Working with a chainsaw and the fight with a big tree, that’s one kind of work. But to me the purest form is the work with an axe. It’s not noisy; it is silent. Just me and this old tool.

In this digital age we rely so much on expressing ourselves on Facebook. No anniversary is complete until you have publicly congratulated your wife for “15 wonderful years”. You have to make a public performance of your personal emotions, and not all of us are like that. For many men it’s quite a threshold to cross. And for those of us who don’t handle it very well – and Scandinavians are notoriously restrained ‒ it can become very awkward. If a public expression of emotion is the greatest gesture you can make, where does that leave the rest of us? I come back to the value of actually providing something for your family. In Norway we don’t say it with flowers, we say it with firewood. 

It shows that you take your role of protector for your family very seriously. In Norwegian Wood I write that a man may be stubborn, or not want to spend much money, but if he lets his family freeze it’s unforgivable. It’s what we call in Norway “karakterbrist”, which means that there is a big crack in your character. 

Another valuable skill that you can teach your children is how to start a fire; everyone will need that at some time or other during their lifetime. I have taught both my girls to do it, and they are always successful. There’s a wonderful technique I describe in Norwegian Wood, the Valley and Bridge method. You lie two big logs side by side with a gap in the middle, and then you place the smaller sticks across the top. You put your starter material in the middle, under the bridge, and light it. It’s the most failsafe method. Handing down skills to survive, this touches the deepest core of being a father. 

Images (c) McLeohose Press


Sign In To Respond

There are currently no comments.