Text Erik Eriksson Photo Karl Erik Törner
Translation Lena Ekman
(This is a magazine article translated from Swedish about our family island in Sweden. My mother’s family came from here and my daughter Katie and I visited the family in June 2016. Access to the island runs through another island, Musko, which is the site of a “secret” deactivated underground Swedish Navy Base, which may soon reopen. My cousins Sven Lindstrom and Britta Haglund still live on the island during the summer. There are some gaps in the translation)
Jan-Erik is busy repairing his wooden fence, now he stretches his back and walks once more along the fence to ensure that all the flaws are repaired. It’s the end of April, spring is early this year. The ice has melted and it’s warm, you might even let the two cows out to graze in just a couple of weeks, and this is why Jan-Erik has hastened to get the fence ready in time.
Walking back home he crosses the hill, stops for a while at the top of Månsholmen and lets his eyes wander round the little island in the beautiful spring evening. Beneath him is the little cow-house, connected to the barn and threshing-place. Close to the shore of the lake sits the cabin, where there is smoke from the chimney. Mother Anna is cooking their evening meal. By the Stone bridge beneath the cottege the two row-boats lie on land. North of the cottage the wooded North point stretches like a long arm. Jan-Erik calls the wood ‘Månsholms Storskogen’ (the big wood, or forest, of Månsholmen). His eyes wander further to the East; there in the North Cove his grandchild Nils, a sturdy youth, is taking down some fishing nets from the wooden racks. Nils swears at the ‘albrommen’ ̶ the alder cones ̶ that have got stuck in the yarn. From the North Cove there is a path eastwards past the well to the ‘Östra Läggningen’, a field that is to be sown with oats in the spring. Close to the ‘Östra Läggningen’ there is a small bog, which Jan-Erik calls ‘Månsholms Mossen’ (the Månsholmen bog). His eyes go to the south, over the big field ‘Södra Läggningen’, that stretches along the west side of Månsholmen down to the South point. Outside it, in the Södra Fladen, a couple of mergansers draw two dark lines on the calm surface of the water.
Jan-Erik lingers for a while on the hill, looking out over his domains. This is his world, a miniature world, to be sure, but in possession of all that the big world owns, and he is the master of it all. He gets up and walks slowly down to the cottage and the evenening meal that is waiting for him.
Today Mother Anna has cooked a more substantial meal than usual, she is serving boiled roach and boiled potatoes. It is customary in the archipelago, when the ice is broken and the waters are again open, to lay out a couple of nets and catch ‘ismört’ (ice roach) as it is called. Especially the yellow roe is delicious, but otherwise roach is not valued a lot as food, but ‘ice roach’ is always eaten a few times every spring. Now the three people are sitting round the table enjoying the meal with an appetite. It is generally Nils who is doing the fishing, he is a fisherman and a hunter ̶ on the wall he has his two guns, one modern double-barreled gun and one oldfashioned shotgun with one pipe, a so-called ‘enskottare’. They go to bed early after the meal, tomorrow they have to rise at dawn to sow the ‘Östra Läggningen’.
The cultivated area at Månsholmen is too small for them to afford a draft animal like a horse or an oxe. For plowing and harrowing they have to hire a man with a horse. This morning the neighour Ersholmarn (which means ‘a man living at Ersholm’) will come with a horse and a harrow on the Arbottna ferry which has been borrowed for the transport. Ersholmarn harrows all morning and by midday the field is ready to be sown. But first you go inside the cottage to eat. Mother Anna serves a dinner of sea-fowl, she has fried two mergansers ̶ she is a master of cooking sea-fowl. The mergansers have of course been shot by Nils, the hunter.
After the meal they all head for the field again, now Jan-Erik and Nils have a bushel each with them for sowing. They fill the bushels with oats and hang them over their shoulders so that the bushel is resting on their breast. They walk beside each other with a little distance between them, looking in front of them so that they can go as straight across the field as possible. They walk in step, left foot forward and the right hand swinging to the side in a wide sweep, right foot forward and the left hand making the same movement. It requires a certain skill to sow by hand, to be able to spread the seed as evenly as possible.
When the field is sown, Ersholmarn takes a little harrow that he has brought with him, runs through the field a couple of times to put the seed down and cover it with earth. When all is done they head for the cottage again, to Mother Anna and a cup of coffee. Then they help Ersholmarn to get horse and harrow onto the ferry to row back to Ersholmen.
A few days after the sowing, the field is rolled. They use a roller made from a thick log. Jan-Erik and Nils pulls it by hand to and fro across the field until the earth is thoroughly packed.
After the sowing it is time to plant potatoes. The potato field is dug and loosened up by hand. The furrows are laid with a simple little hand plow. Nils, who is strong, has to be the ‘horse’, Jan-Erik is steering the plow and Mother Anna puts potatoes in the furrows. Then they cover the furrows and can only hope for the Lord to give them enough rain to gain a good harvest.
Now the two cows are grazing in the pasture, a new little piglet it grunting in the sty and Mother Annas hens have started to lay eggs again. The animals are tended by Anna. Apart from the chores of the little farm they fish constantly, setting out traps among the reeds for pike. The fish that they don’t use in the household, is sold. Jan-Erik will row ‘to shore’ as they call it, that is, he sells fish on Muskö (an island), at the manors Ludvigsberg and Arbottna, but also to others who live on Muskö, and who don’t have access to waters to fish themselves. Sometimes when Mother Anna’s hens have laid a lot of eggs, he sells eggs as well.
Time passes quickly during the spring and early summer weeks, and soon it is time for hay-making. One evening Jan-Erik and Nils whet their scythes, and the next morning at dawn, when the dew is still on the land, they set about mowing the ‘Södra Läggningen’. The two men work with their scythes in straight lines, and Mother Anna goes after them with her rake, making a string out of the cut grass. At the end of the day they have mowed the whole field, a good day’s work. They leave the hay in the field for a couple of days to dry. Then they ‘cock’ the hay, they make little pointed heaps of it, ‘volmar’ or cocks, while the people on Muskö mostly pile their hay on drying racks.
When the cocks have dried, the hay must be carried to the barn. As they don’t have a horse they carry the hay on a kind of litter. One morning when the weather is fine they spread some of the cocks, as many as they think they will manage to carry inside during the day. Then Jan-Erik and Nils start to carry the hay, one at each end of the litter. If they are lucky as far as the weather is concerned they manage to carry the hay into the barn in two or three days.
After the hay-harvest Nils begins to watch for ‘bad-idea’ (the ‘bathing idea’) – an idea that each year at the end of July comes from the sea outside and from the bay Mysingen, through Fårfjärden (the ‘Sheep bay’) and further on into all the coves. They swim in great schools near to the surface, and sometimes leap above the water, it ‘bathes’ as they say in the archipelago – thence the name ‘bad-id’.
Nils is on the lookout every day, he brings his binoculars. One day he catches sight of the ides splashing in the waters of Södra Fladen. He runs home to tell Jan-Erik and they both make for the southern point of Månsholmen. There is a cove there, where the bathing ide always go in. Nils has already placed a boat at the mouth of the cove. Nils and Jan-Erik sit down on the shore to wait for the ide. Suddenly they come swimming into the cove, which is soon filled with fish. Carefully they shove the boat, the oarlocks wound with shreds of fabric so that there will be no sound during the rowing. In the boat they already have the wide-meshed net. They lay the net across the mouth of the cove, silently and carefully. Then they go ashore, following the shore to the innermost point of the cove, and there they start to shout and scream and throw stones into the water. The school of fish is frightened off and goes headway towards the net. Jan-Erik and Nils go into the boat and take the net up. Now it is full of fish – 30 to 40 ides of one or two kilos each. A good catch. Then they row speedily to the North Cove, where they have a big corf. There they can keep the fish alive for some time. Once more they manage to get some bathing ides into the net, then the ide fishing is over for this year. Now Jan-Erik sells bathing ides on the island, and he also sends a couple of cases with the Vaxholm boat to Stockholm.
The hay-harvest at Månsholmen is seldom enough for the cows through the winter, their fodder has to be eked out with reeds. The first week of August is the time to cut reeds; Jan-Erik and Nils then take a row-boat each and go out on the water. They cut the reeds with small handwrought sickles, reed sickles. They bind the cut reeds to sheaves with a band, twined from a couple of reeds. When the boat is full of sheaves they row them ashore and place them to dry somewhere where the cows can’t reach them. When the reeds are dry, the sheaves are carried on the hay litter to the barn.
In August they also begin fishing for pike with a ledger-line. First they lay a fine-meshed net they use to catch small roaches used for baiting. Round Månsholmen there are poles for the ledger-lines stuck into the bottom outside the reeds. Nils rows around hanging the lines on the hooks and baits them. When Jan-Erik or Nils row round the little island emptying the hooks they always row clockwise, for luck with the fishing – you never row counterclock-wise, you even avoid turning a boat counterclockwise. The pike they catch are put into the corves, and when there is enough they pack them in cases and send them to Stockholm. The ledger-line fishing continues more or less till the water freezes over.
This month they fish for flounder as well. They use one of the two row-boats, which is built on Aspö, by ‘aspöarn’ (a man living on the island Aspö) – it is the best one for rowing far, easy to maneuvre. Jan-Erik and Nils row, with a pair of oars each, out into the Fårfjärden (the Sheep bay) and lay the flounder nets outside Grytudden at Elvsnabbslandet. The flounder is considered one of the finest fish for food by the inhabitants of Månsholmen.
During the sunwarmed days of late summer, the oats have ripened. Jan-Erik and Nils whet their scythes once more, now to cut, not to mow, which makes a considerable difference. Cutting means that using the scythe and its handle in a swift movement, you gather the straws to a bunch, or ‘lock’ (curl) as it is called. They are laid on the earth in a neat row. Jan-Erik and Nils walk with a little distance between them, cutting row after row of ‘curls’. After the men Mother Anna comes ‘taking up’, that is, binding the curls together to sheaves, or ‘bands’ as they say on Muskö. She takes two or three curls, moves them together to an even heap, takes a small bunch of oat straws and twists them together to a band that she uses to tie them together, a work that demands a certain skill, wraps the band around the ‘oat curls’ and ties them up with a particular knot and throws the completed band in the field.
Harvesting is strictly gender bound ̶ the men cut, the women bind. A woman is fully busy taking up the straws after one cutter, and as Mother Anna is the only woman, Nils sometimes interrupts his work and does some binding, too. Cutting and binding is a skill and as all small farmers in the archipelago, the Månsholmers master this skill completely.
When all of the ‘Östra Läggningen’ is cut, the oats are stooked. One of the bands is placed on end on the ground, four others are raised around it, a so called ‘fembandsskyl’ (five band stook). The top of the stook is bound together with a twined band. The stooks have to stand there until they are dry and ready to be carried on the litter to the barn.
Besides working in the fields they fish pike with a ledger-line; every day Jan-Erik or Nils, or sometimes both of them, row round the little island – clockwise – to empty and bait the nets. Autumn is a rewarding time for ledger-line fishing.
Toward the first of October the potatoes are dug up, and a few days later ‘Ersholmarn’ is back on the ferry, this time bringing a horse and a plow. He is coming to do the autumn plowing in the estern field ‘Östra Läggningen’, where they are to sow oats next year as well. The potato-field is dug by hand. Then they thresh the oats with a flail, the oats are spread on the floor in the threshing-barn and Jan-Erik and Nils beat the grains out with their flails. Jan-Erik does one beat, then Nils, then Jan-Erik again, in a certain steady beat which is very important to keep. Threshing at Månsholmen is heard far and wide, even to Muskö. Nils is strong, his beats are more powerful than Jan-Erik’s, people listen and when they hear the more powerful beat they say: ‘That was Nils beating!’
When they have threshed a certain number of bands, the straw is raked together and removed and the grains are shoveled into a heap in one corner. They have a little hand-driven machine with which they separate the oats from the chaff.
One early morning when the weather is fine, before dawn, they load sacks of oats in the row-boat to row to the mill. The mill is on the mainland at Vitså, and it is a long way to row, they row with two pairs of oars all the way roung Snappudd (a tongue of land), from where the way to Vitså is almost straight. The mill-rowing takes a whole day.
(This was the translation of the first four pages. The remaining three pages don’t seem to be connected to each other, but it may be that only one line is missing at the end of a page, that is impossible to say. I will try to translate these three pages separately.)
In November, Nils is busy fishing small roaches which he keeps in a special corf. The roaches are meant to be bait for the winter’s ice fishing for pike and burbot. In the winter it is impossible to catch roaches, if you don’t have a seine, which they do not at Månsholmen. Sometimes Nils spreads a few bread crumbs or groats in the corf so that the little fish get something to eat. Then they will keep alive and alert.
The darkness of late Autumn comes earlier in the afternoon for each day, it is getting colder and a thin crisp ice appears around Månsholmen, but still you can break the thin ice with a row-boat. Now is the beginning of a troublesome time för the Månsholmers. One morning when they are on the big island Muskö the waters are frozen over. Jan-Erik and Nils take out their ice club and ice hook from the boat-house. They climb aboard, with the club they smash the ice to pieces in front of the stem of the boat and then they take the long ice hook, fix it into the ice and pull the boat ahead while at the same time rocking it, and this way they coax the boat through the ice step by step. The next day the ice is too thick to pull the boat through it but all the same too weak to walk on. Nils takes the otter pike (a weapon, somewhat like a spear, for hunting otters) and tests the ice over to Näsängen, but here also the ice is too thin. The ice doesn’t break nor bear, now they are isolated, they are ‘fox’ on the little island, as the saying goes in the archipelago.
The cold lingers and after a couple of days they can get over the ice to Näsängen. In the Ersholmssund (name of a strait), where there is always a current, you still can’t walk over the ice. By Christmas there is a change of weather and it is again mild but with a strong south-western wind. The ice in the Ersholm strait breaks up and again it is possible to go by boat. The weather is changing, a couple of cold days, then mild weather, and the Månsholmers have to spend Christmas and New Year more or less in isolation. But on the island all their earthly needs can be filled, they have even had time to kill the pig for Christmas.
Then, in January, comes the severe cold, which in a few days throws bridges in all directions, and they can walk on the ice around the whole island. Jan-Erik and Nils get out the big alderwood crotches, as well as cutting some new ones, for now the ledger-lines are to be put out. The big crotches are loaded to a sledge, which also carries a 50 litre milk bottle of the kind that the farmers use for delivering milk to Stockholm. Nils has got it at Arbottna, it is a discarded milk bottle, a little rusty yet not leaking, and it is good enough to keep bait in. It is half-filled with water, because the bait fish have to be kept alive. And so they are on their way round the little island – clockwise, of course – Nils ‘wakes’ holes in the ice with the ice-pick, Jan-Erik places the little crotch with the fishing-line and the hook with the bait in the lower part of the big crotch, and then they place it all into the water through a hole. There is room for a lot of crotches round the island. The big pike corf is dragged out onto the ice, they saw a hole and ‘wake’ it, and place the corf in the hole.
Twice a day they empty the hooks, in the morning and just before sunset. There is time to spare for other chores: they go to the woods to find firewood for next winter. Some is gathered on the island, but most of it is found at Ekersgarn. They are never idle, in the evenings they all sit mending fishing-nets, Nils is even making a couple of new nets.
… from the wall, cleans and polishes it. Hopefully the weather will be clear. It is, and in the bitter cold of the moonlit night, Nils muffles himself up well with warm sweaters and jacket, takes his gun, puts the ammunition in his pocket and walks in the glimmering night across to Strömsund. There is a place there where the foxes pass. As a lure Nils has brought with him a hen, one of Mother Anna’s which has died, a ‘carrion’. Nils seldom has such a fine lure as a hen, usually he must be content with a pike that has died in the corf and won’t do as food for humans. Nils places the carrion in a place where a fox can easily find it, and then he stands there as hidden as possible. He has his gun ready, he has ‘chalked’ the barrel to make aiming easier. ‘If the fox only passes by, I will get him’, Nils thinks, ‘ there is good light for shooting.’
Nils must wait, time passes and the cold bites, but he is well dressed and manages all right. Suddenly there is a fox standing by the carrion. Nils hasn’t even seen him coming, he aims, a shot rolls in the quiet night and the fox lies there, dead. Fully content Nils trots home again, throws the fox on the landing. Tomorrow he will skin the fox, stretch the skin and hang it up. By spring he will get fifty kronor for the skin from the pedlar who buys skins and who always comes by in springtime.
Nils goes fox-hunting a couple of times during winter, always when the moon is out. But he doesn’t always get lucky, most of the time he goes home without a catch.
In spite of the snow and the cold, winter is a good season for the people on Månsholmen. The ice makes it easier for them to travel. They visit neighbours and also have visitors.
Spring makes a thrush with a thaw and a south-western breeze. In Mysingen and Fårfjärden the ice breaks, after a couple of days the waters are open even in Ersholmssund. Suddenly the Månsholmers have two ways of communication with the outer world, over the ice to Näsängen or over the water to Ersholmen.
All the ledger-line crotches have already been taken up, any day now the ice will break and the winter pike fishing will be over. Nils is getting ready for the spring hunt for sea-fowl, which he likes a lot. He takes out the decoys from the little sea house, checks that they are whole and look good, applies strings where needed.
One morning when the weather is fine, Nils loads his row-boat with decoys and clothes, gun, ammunition and food for one week and rows to the Elvsnabben. There he joins up with two men from Elvsnabben and they all row out in one boat all the way to Grän. They row over the bay Mysingen, through the long and narrow straits between Rånö and Utö, past Ålö and out on the open sea. They have one pair of oars and they row quite fast. They go ashore on Österskär, carry their things to the little cottage there in a cleft in the mountain.
The first day they lay out the decoy for a few hours in the afternoon, and they catch a few birds. At dusk, they pull the boat safely on the island for the night. They have brought firewood in a sack, they make a fire and cook … [ – – – ]
… was or is (perhaps ‘were or are’?) owner(s) of the island, the owner is the landowner at Arbottna since long ago.
Jan-Erik and Mother Anna have a leasing contract for Månsholmen, set up a long time ago by one of the owners, a contract which gives them the right to live there and cultivate the soil and the right to take firewood in the Arbottna woods for the sum of seventy-five kronor a year. The contract was to be valid as long as one of the couple was alive. The landowner at Arbottna, the one who drew up the contract, was succeeded by new owners in a long succession: they all took over the contract and fulfilled its conditions.
Now when Mother Anna and Nils are left on the island, Nils takes care of the payment of the lease, which is to be paid once every third month, as is defined in the old contract. Four times a year Nils strides into the office at the Arbottna farm and pays eighteen kronor and seventy-five öre in lease to the new landowner, in his eyes a young ‘whippersnapper’ (? – perhaps ‘brat’ is a better word…), who has inherited the farm from his father and who at every payment complains of the ridiculously low sum, to which Nils answers: ‘You can’t do anything about that, this contract is older than you and you father.’ Which the young landowner knows fully well, but the same phrases are exchanged every time that Nils comes to pay the lease.
Nils devotes himself wholly to fishing herring, Mother Anna takes care of the home, and in her spare time she likes reading. Nils keeps a daily newspaper. which he goes to collect a couple of times a week, Mother Anna reads and thoroughly follows all the new events in the world. She also reads books, that Nils borrows at the little library in the school. Even at the age of eighty, she reads without glasses.
Mother Anna passed away in 1946, at the age of ninety-two. She had lived on Månsholmen for more than seventy years.
Nils died in 1963 and thus the old life on Månsholmen is finally over. But still the wind whispers in the pines of the Norra Storskogen (the North Forest) and the view from the Hill is just as enchanting and, best of all: Månsholmen today is owned, sometimes lived on and reverentially cared for by grandchildren, great grandchildren and great great grandchildren of the old inhabitants of Månsholmen.