Bark Up, Bark Down? Norway Split Down the Middle

While to some, how you stack your wood may seem a trivial matter.

But to Norwegians as reported by the New York Times and Daily Mail the question can stoke a heated debate. Indeed, in a country where temperatures can drop well below -30C, it can literally be a matter of life and death.

 

We've logged a complaint: Norwegian TV show about a fireplace sparks nationwide debate after furious viewers say wood was stacked with bark facing 'the wrong way'

  • Firewood programme sparks complaints on correct way to stack bark
  • Nearly a million people tuned in to the programme in its prime time slot
  • Show featured eight hour marathon of a live fireplace with little commentary

By MATT BLAKE and JAMES RUSH

 

In most places across the world, the topic of firewood would hardly be expected to set the nation's imagination alight.

But in Norway, a television programme on the subject of wood has become quite the burning issue, after splitting the country straight down the middle on how it should be stacked.

Nearly a million people, 20 per cent of the Norwegian population, tuned in to the programme when it was aired during prime time on Friday night. But the angry responses started almost as soon as it had begun.

news-bark up bark down-man in log store

The show was inspired by the book Solid Wood: All About Chopping, Drying and Stacking Wood - and the Soul of Wood-Burning, by Lars Mytting, which spent more than a year on the Norwegian non-fiction bestseller list.

According to the New York Times, he said: 'We received about 60 text messages from people complaining about the stacking in the programme.

news - bark up bark down-log burner

 

'Fifty per cent complained the bark was facing up, and the rest complained that the bark was facing down. One thing that really divides Norway is bark.'

Rune Moeklebust, head of programmes at state broadcaster NRK, which showed the programme, said firewood was a natural subject for Norwegian television, as 1.2 million households in the country have fireplaces or wood stoves.

He initially wanted to make a whole TV series about firewood, but cut it down to a 12-hour show, featuring eight hours of a live fireplace.

'My first thought was, "Well, why not make a TV series about firewood?"' Mr. Moeklebust said in an interview. 

'And that eventually cut down to a 12-hour show, with four hours of ordinary produced television, and then eight hours of showing a fireplace live.'

The programme on Friday, billed as National Firewood Night, saw host Rebecca Nedregotten Strand promise to 'try to get to the core of Norwegian firewood culture'.

news-bark up bark down-wood pile

After the four hours of programmes, looking at the importance and historical significance of firewood, the action moved to a live fireplace in a farmhouse in Bergen, which was filmed for eight hours.

Wood was added by photographer Ingrid Tangstad Hatlevoll, who never appeared on screen, with viewers advising exactly where to place it. For much of the programme there was no dialogue, only the sound of the fire.

One viewer, niesa36, wrote on the Dagbladet newspaper website: 'I couldn't go to bed because I was so excited.

'When will they add new logs? Just before I managed to tear myself away, they must have opened the flue a little, because just then the flames shot a little higher.

'I’m not being ironic,' the viewer continued. 'For some reason, this broadcast was very calming and very exciting at the same time.'

American Derek Miller, author of the novel 'Norwegian by Night,' said the programme not only demonstrated the importance of firewood to the lives of Norwegians, but also appealed to Norway's nostalgia for a simpler time.

'The sense of creating warmth, both symbolically and literally, to share conversation, to share food, to share silence, is essential to the Norwegian identity,' he added.

While a British audience might find Norway's national interest in a programme about wood stacking somewhat strange, for Norwegians it is a major part of their national identity and culture.

Indeed, the title of Mytting's book, Solid Wood, has two meanings in Norwegian, being used to describe a person with a strong and dependable character.

'What I’ve learned is that you should not ask a Norwegian what he likes about firewood, but how he does it — because that’s the way he reveals himself,' added Mr. Mytting. 'You can tell a lot about a person from his firewood stack.'

In a country where temperatures can drop well below -30C in winter, firewood is seen as a vital tool of survival in parts of the country.

 

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