FAMILY LIFE BY A FJORD with Emma Midthjell
In June, the Nordfjord region of Norway gets almost 24 hours of sunlight a day. “There’s only a few hours of dusk during the night…If we climb the mountain behind our house we can watch the sun go down over the ocean around midnight,” Emma Midthjell tells us.
Emma lives with her husband Bjørn and their three daughters (aged 1, 3 and 5) on a small farm in this remote part of Norway. As well as managing their day jobs, the couple have five Norwegian Fjord horses. They grow and harvest their own crops. They cultivate a little vegetable garden. And they live a life entwined with the nature that surrounds them.
The Nordfjord region is centred round a 106km fjord in Western Norway. Small villages cluster along the banks of the fjord and cling to the mountainsides that rise from it. It’s a place of green farmland, forests and snow-capped peaks. Once only accessible by boat, there are now tunnels, ferries and bridges that make travelling around the region that bit easier. But it’s still incredibly remote.
Emma grew up in a nearby village and, after spending a few years in Norwegian cities to study at university, quickly made her way back to Nordfjord. It’s in her bones, she tells us. “I am strongly connected to this place in a way that is hard to describe. It feels like the salt water, the mountain air and the rain are somehow essential for my well-being and quality of life…as if I can't breathe properly if I don’t see the fjord every day…as if the wild and moody weather gives me inner peace and calm.”
When it came to starting a family, Emma and Bjørn knew they wanted this rural lifestyle for their children. This is the kind of place where you never have to worry about locking your doors. Their girls are able to roam and explore in the natural playground they have right on their doorstep. They have an “overwhelming sense of freedom,” says Emma. “They’re growing up surrounded by nature, caring for animals and getting strong and independent from running around outdoors.”
And there’s no shortage of activities to enjoy as a family too. “If the weather is good we cook on an open fire in our garden…We fish, watch eagles fly over our rooftop, go horseback riding, pick wildflowers or go to the beach. We’re also hiking more and more often now, as the girls get older and are eager to climb and explore by themselves.”
Being surrounded by such spectacular natural beauty makes you humble, Emma tells us. “Living close to nature and all it has to offer also encourages you to care for it and give something in return.” She’s keen to teach these lessons to her children and the family try to live as sustainably as they can.
During the winter, the pace of life slows down. With very few hours of daylight, the family spend more time at home. Emma knits and sews. The girls get their fill of books and TV. The family stay close to the fireplace. Adapting to the seasons, the weather and the amount of daylight is part and parcel of living in this rural region. It’s certainly not for everyone. “The storms and hurricanes around here can be really tough and there are sometimes avalanches caused by heavy rain,” says Emma.
But for now, the family are enjoying the delights of long summer days. “Hiking, swimming in the fjord, picking fruit from the garden, camping at the beach and attending a couple of local music festivals” are all on the agenda. Even now, though, conditions are unpredictable and woollen sweaters still get plenty of use.
But that’s what Emma loves about her home. “The constantly changing light and colours make the landscape different each day. I love the dramatic views. They still take my breath away...Living here, you never know what the next day brings.”