There have been several stories in the media (NT Times: Bark Up or Down? Firewood Splits Norwegians) recently about a cultural phenomenon that may strike outsiders as very foreign, the importance of how firewood should be stacked. The stories were inspired by the enormous popularity in Norway of a book about firewood (Solid Wood by Lars Mytting) and also of a prime-time TV show on the same topic. The TV show focused on chopping and stacking wood and was watched by over a million viewers (out of a total population of 5 million), but it also caused considerable controversy – a number of viewers contacted the station complaining that how the wood was being stacked was all wrong. It turns out that there are strong feelings in Norway about how the stacked firewood should be oriented in reference to its bark, whether the bark should face up or down, so as to aid in faster drying.
The TV special was actually 12 hours long, with the first 4 hours showing and discussing wood cutting and stacking, with the final 8 hours showing live a fire in a fireplace in a Bergen farmhouse. Through the hours, one could see wood being added and sausages being roasted on sticks, but no sounds were heard other than the burning of the fire. One comment reported by NY Times article: “’I couldn’t go to bed because I was so excited’, a viewer called niesa36 said on the Dagbladet newspaper Web site. ‘When will they add new logs? Just before I managed to tear myself away, they must have opened the flue a little, because just then the flames shot a little higher…I’m not being ironic,’ the viewer continued. ‘For some reason, this broadcast was very calming and very exciting at the same time.’” Such sentiments were not universal, however, as the article reports: “On Twitter, a viewer named Andre Ulveseter said: ‘Went to throw a log on the fire, got mixed up, and smashed it right into the TV.’”
The last time Norway was in the news was for something diametrically opposed to the program’s images of peace, calm and simplicity, namely the deadly rampage by Anders Brevik in Oslo in 2011, resulting in 77 deaths. The popularity of the firewood book and TV special may be related to the aftermath of this event, which caused considerable soul-searching in Norway. Wood burning stoves and the cultural practices that surround their use have a long tradition in a country with long and severe winters. Firewood culture harkens back to a traditional Norwegian way of life, free from the violence and political strife of the world today.