Guardians of the birds

Close to the Arctic Circle in Norway lies the UNESCO-protected archipelago of Vega, consisting of more than 6000 small islands. On one of these, the isolated Lånan, the eider ducks and their guardians reign.

I hope you have your sea legs on today! shouts Erik Nordum over the roar of the small boat’s engine and the waves against the bow.

We have just left a tiny harbour on the main island of the Vega archipelago and set course for the island of Lånan, some 1.5 hours out in the Norwegian Sea – the largest down station in the municipality. The winds are vicious today, and though the sky is still showing plenty of blue, the clouds are racing inland towards the mountain ranges with almost dizzying speed.

Erik, who each year spends the summer months with his wife Hildegunn out on Lånan, is clearly used to seeing his foreign passengers turn greenish on the sea on days such as this, but I refuse to buckle. Until – smack! The boat, which seemed airborne a second ago, crashes down onto the surface of the water after tackling a particularly tall wave. I keep my eyes glued to the dancing horizon, begging that my stomach will return to its original physiological location.

The rollercoaster-like sailing trip to Lånan is scenic. We pass numerous tiny islands on our way, and the impressive mountain range of Norway’s Helgeland coast looks nothing short of majestic viewed from out here. Finally, Lånan becomes visible in the distance, a small, flat strip of an island dotted with seven colourful houses, some made from Siberian driftwood and planks from wrecked ships. If those walls could talk, indeed.

Feet firmly on land, I meet with Hildegunn Nordum, an ice-blond woman with ever-smiling eyes. She is the daily leader of the local company Utværet Lånan, which produces and sells eiderdown products. Hildegunn has kindly agreed to show me around the island and give me an introduction to the century-long relationship between woman and eider duck that has made tiny Lånan world famous and earned it a well-deserved spot on UNESCO’s World Heritage List in 2004.

We start off with a cup of black coffee at Margit’s cosy wooden house, where we are soon joined by her fellow bird guardians, Evelyn and Erna. In total there are five women (usually with their husbands in tow) living on the island from May to August, sometimes visited by their kids, grandkids, and the occasional boat of tourists or local school children.

Continue reading in Oak volume Two