In our modern society, the desire for facility and material comfort is getting largely overwhelming to the sense of reason and the sacred. Our way of life is, most of the time, disconnected with essential and primary values, and we seldom think about the consequences and the sustainability of this way of living. Some students and professors choose to deny the classical accommodation for another way of life, a choice pushed by deeper values than the prices of the real estate market.
Text: Pierre Fagard // Photography: Rasmus W. Olsen
My wooden stove against hydro-power and gas companies
I have now been living in a little wooden boat for over two years while completing my master degree in biology. I now have the opportunity to share my knowledge with students by working as a Teacher Assistant in GIS and ecology. In this floating house, my little wooden stove is my only luxury and is truly my most reliable friend. I just give him some wood, preferably collected by the sea-side, because it is well dried by the salt, and it cooks my food, my coffee in the morning, gives me a decent temperature in the winter, and it crackles with a reassuring sound deeply anchored in the earliest background of humanity. I truly love this wooden stove because, compared to my previous electric heater, it does not depend upon the energy delivered by hydro-power companies.
Most of you might think of hydro-power as a green energy, but after I worked with wild fish conservation and the restoration of their habitat, I have seen the consequences. In some circumstances, by temperature changes, gas super saturation, habitat modifications, migration barriers – it can basically kill a river or wipe out an entire salmon population. I do not like to see my rivers destroyed by dams. So, after realizing that my electric heater was working for the hydro-power companies, I just threw it away and replaced it with a wooden stove. I have dreamt for several years about a long expedition in Siberia, and I do not want to see my dream of pure wilderness crushed down by gas drilling or pipeline expansion, so I did the same with my gas cooker.
My pirate fellows
Another nice aspect, is that my wooden stove gives me all these services for free, so what should I do with my ridiculous leftover money? I thought about telling the university that I could work for free, but I would rather use this money to support the local beer brewery and convince my pirate fellows to fill the bars with constructive and interesting conversations. Apropos my pirate fellows, you may think that living in a boat or a tent only concerns hippies or laidback junkies, but some of these alternative fellows are professors or brilliant students. Utropia gave me the opportunity to share some of these pirate tales, so, here we go.
Eira and her dream of Atlantic crossing.
Eira, my Catalan neighbor, is starting her Masters in Geology at UiT. After some time of searching, she found the perfect little and cheap sailing ship down in Narvik. She sailed it through a storm up to Tromsø, with me and Torgeir as crew. At some point, both of us did not look very manly, the boat was listing 40 degrees, but we felt rapidly secured after Eira demonstrated great sailing skills by climbing up the mast at 6 knot speed to fix the broken sail with a piece of duct tape. After five months living in her boat, Eira told me:
- “Even if I had to pay the same price for expensive student housing to live in this boat, I still would prefer to live here; looking at my house floating gives me so much perspective. If tomorrow I decide to get to another place, I can just drag the sail up, this boat can cross the Atlantic, you know!”
Torgeir does not want to stand for the real estate market situation
Torgeir is a biology student at UiT, he also owns and lives in a sail boat. The reasons why he made this choice when searching for housing were led by childhood experiences, and also by an involvement against the real estate market in Tromsø.
- “During my childhood, I spent every summer at my grandmother’s place. She lives right by the sea on the west coast of Norway. I truly loved exploring this universe, either by boat from small island to small island, or by collecting shells and observing wild life at low tide. Living in a boat sends me back to this universe, I can spend hours looking through the surface at all the life swimming just below my hull.”
- “Economically speaking; of course it is cheaper to live in a boat, but isn’t it one of the main freedoms one can get by not being dependent on money while living a good life?
- Thinking, for example, about a young couple with children, I think the housing situation in Tromsø is not acceptable at all, as a student one should feel responsible for that, I am glad not to contribute to this market.”
Professor Alun, and his tales from the sea
Alun, Professor and renowned researcher in Glaciology, actually works at CAGE in the Geology Department at UiT, he also decided to launch his house:
- I’m not sure that ‘living’ on a boat was ever a philosophical or ethical choice – basically I’m not much good at being ‘domesticated’ and coupled with some deeply rooted nomadic tendencies, it became a very obvious life-style choice to acquire a boat as soon I could afford one and live and sail it around the world. I bought Gambo’ almost 20 years ago in Vancouver, Canada with a fellow PhD student – Dave Hildes. We bought it for less than the price of a small car and between us – we’d never sailed anything much bigger than a wind-surfer, yet we’d shared many icy adventures – climbing, back-country skiing, research, etc., and had a natural affinity for doing quite nutty things outdoors. Gambo became a kind of mobile/floating mountain hut/gypsy camp to access (cheaply!) all those wonderful unclimbed peaks that lie on the border between Canada & Alaska. The day we signed the registration papers, we set off on one such two month trip and ended up climbing and skiing a bunch of 5,000m high virgin peaks in the St Elias Mountains. It was an epic adventure, but one which set the scene for the next decade or so. Since then I’ve lived, worked, and played off Gambo in Hawaii, New Zealand, Antarctica, Patagonia, Argentina, Brazil, Greenland and now Tromsø. I guess it’s quite odd to think of the miles we’ve logged. Of course, I haven’t spent my entire life living on the boat – my PhD students took it over for some long stretches, too – like over-wintering next to a large calving glacier in Greenland – but when I do – like now that I’m working part time at CAGE in the Geology Department at UiT – then it is an ideal base that keeps me generally sane, happy, and provides an outward looking perspective. Boats are not everyone’s cup of tea. My boss makes the odd remark about the interesting ‘boaty’ smells emanating from my office (always hard to get rid of diesel fumes – especially when it runs the heating) but the community of people who live and cruise on boats is unique and very tightly knit… people who tend to have interesting backgrounds, and quite alternative views of the world and these people also look out for each other. It’s also (once you’ve got the boat) quite cheap and, of course, when you are bored – you can always up anchor and head off into the sunset – or at least Sommarøy or Rekvika – to escape the bustle.
Bård and the concept of deep ecology
Bård, a biology student, also denied to use any mainstream accommodation , but due to sea-sickness and traumatizing experiences during a halibut fishing trip, he chose to live in a tent in the forest rather than on the sea. He is better known as “Wild Bård” or “Boris” when touring as a Siberian trapper.
- “During the exam period my classmates often asked me how difficult it was, but for me there is nothing more natural than to sleep in the forest. My willingness was to get as free as I could over any material dependency. There were many sources of enjoyment that went away with the so called ‘welfare society’, most people cannot experience the happiness and satisfaction of waking up under a nice sunrise after three days of rain. Simple things, such as water, gets much more value when they are a bit harder to get”
Norway has a deep cultural heritage, closely connected to the surrounding natural resources. Both Norwegian and Sami people across the ages developed a sustainable way of living by being directly dependent on these resources. This is still the case, for example, across the fishing communities along the coastline and sheep or reindeer herding in the mountains, on plateaus, and along the sea.
Globalization and the welfare state have progressively turned this cultural heritage into folklore. People today are getting disconnected from a direct dependency on the surrounding natural resources and seldom ask themselves about the origins and the consequences of what they consume and the way they live. Following the idea of deep ecology, developed by the philosopher Arne Næss, the control of environmental problems through the use of technology has failed, and the focus should be set on the underlying socio-cultural causes. Being concerned with the cost of our life style, but also estimating the joy of “living wild” should be a main priority.