I am sure David Attenborough would agree with me that to truly understand a species, you need to look beyond the facts in black and white and look at the behaviours. You need to observe the species in its natural habitat, and there is no greater time of the year to understand the Norwegian species than now, at Easter, and no better location, than at the hytte.
Most Norwegians I know either own, share or have access to a hytte – maybe a summer one by the coast or a winter one in the mountains. Easter time is all about the mountain hytte.
Whether mountain or coast, hytter are located away from the big towns. The further, the better and preferably right up in the middle of nature. Easter time sees a mass exodus of people out of the cities to the hytte with cars rammed full of kids, dogs and sports equipment sitting in long queues of traffic. All with the same goal of seeking isolation in wilderness, something deeply embedded in the Norwegian DNA. The ironic thing is that this quest is so popular that very few hytter are actually isolated anymore. People sit in cars for hours to drive out to nature, only to be surrounded by lots of other people doing exactly the same thing.
Regardless of how many people are around, the essential thing is that a trip to the hytte is centred around spending time in nature, because nature brings joy. If for some reason you are Norwegian and nature does not bring you joy, you never, EVER admit it. You suck it up, smile and just wait for the joy to come to you.
Hytter nowadays come in all shapes and sizes. Something that is at odds with the concept of isolation and proximity to nature. The original hytte is an eco-tourist heaven. It is no running water, no electricity and, of course, an outdoor loo, because indoor loos are for wimps. I have experienced all manners of hytte loos: a good old fashioned outdoor long drop, a compost toilet with a polystyrene seat (excellent for cold weather) and even an incinerator toilet called – I kid you not – Cinderella.
Why, do you ask, if you can afford to have a cabin that you spend your holidays at, would you not have electricity or a flushing loo? It has very little to do with the money. A hytte, you see, is all about nature but also about living the simple life. This notion goes way back. There are Norwegian classics written about it, like Growth of the Soil by Knut Hamsun– a story about a man that makes a home in the Norwegian wilderness with his bare hands. THIS, is what the simple, beautiful life is all about.
Norwegian baby boomers subscribe to this. They will happily tell you stories from the good old days about having to drill a hole in the ice to get water from the lake or eating dinner by candlelight. Generation X, however, are pimping up the hytter with crazy modern concepts such as flushing loos, electricity and- wait for it -wifi. Hytte life is not as much about the simple life these days. Just pick up a copy of the magazine HytteLiv (hytte life) to see what I mean.
There are some things, though, that will remain hytte constants – skiing, forest rambles, berry picking, boat trips, jumping off piers, board games, fireplaces, bonfires, fishing for crabs, fishing for fish…just to name a few – because, a trip to the hytte has actually very little to do with the hytte itself.