Monthly Archives: October, 2015

Kong Harald Hårfagres Jord

My first real ferry travel in Norway, the one-hour harbor tour in Oslo doesn’t count. To Sauda and the northern edge of my fylke this rove, Rogaland. My time in Rogaland has been like a siege. I have been in one hotel in Stavanger for 10 nights. Now I have made a quick strike to a town almost three hours north for a day of teaching on Friday and same day retreat.

The FjorddrottThe 510 ferry, “the Fjorddrott,” was scheduled to leave the port dock of the ferry terminal in Stavanger at 15:30; it did. There was an anxious que to board a locals’ only boat, no pushing and shoving but plenty of aggressive bumping and abrading. Exaggerated sighs added to the tension.

At 15:32, the Fjorddrott passed under the Bybrua (large cable bridge between Stavanger and Hundvåg island). The powerful motors quickly pushed the craft from idle to cruising speed. A catamaran hull soaked up the waves. We were insulated from the waves and spray just out the window, the wind was of no concern.

Rogaland is the home to the Viking king who is given credit for unifying Norway. The monument of three swords attests to that past. To think that 1,144 years later, as a descendent of those hardy seafarers, like the rest of the passengers, we cruised in such comfort. We were dry, tapping away on our little screens or chatting. This was no longboat. The romance is for the museuems, today’s vikings cruise boats burning dinosaur bones.

Aboard the FjorddrottThe ship was full. I sat along the window, amidships and starboard. Two women sat next to me, senior citizens. They paid cash when the agent came. The way to pay is with a debit card at the terminal desk or by smartphone. Cash socialized seniors pay a penalty of 25%, they trust what they can feel.Ferry agent with money bag

The Fjorddrott cruised north. I looked out the windows or at the other passengers. The other passengers were on their phones and computers, free Wifi aboard – a necessity in Norway, or chatted with companions, immune to the beauty of the bay and mountains on a gray day after work.

On the Fjorddrott, looking starboard

The sea temperature was 12 degrees Celsius, plenty cold to kill. At this latitude the sea should freeze but it doesn’t; the miracle of the Gulf Stream washes the coast of the Norway with temperate water. For Stavanger the low temperature for the water is about 5 degrees, the high is 15. Never warm, never frozen, and never safe.

This cruise will take me into the fjords, the dramatic fjords. I want to take pictures, good pictures. But the odds are stacked against me. The cabin windows are tinted and streaked with grime and sea-spray. I need to be on the deck, but I am trapped by my row-mates. It would be selfish to bother them. And with my light jacket, I don’t think I would last too long outside.

Four fish-farm pens are to the starboard, there is a boat in attendance, 15:48. We are just east of Brimse island. A bright gray catches my eye, the Nosefo Tau quarry. In a jagged landscape, the sharp unnatural edges and lines of the quarry clash. Both the mountains and quarry are jagged, it’s close but not the same; navy slacks and a black blazer, 15:51.

Unintelligible Norwegian garbles through the intercom, it is brief and perfunctory. Nobody on board needs to be told where we are, except me. I wonder (and worry a little – it’s what I do). My wondering stops as soon as the Fjorddrott makes a sharp turn to the port-side and slows. First stop: Talgje, 15:54: bump and go.

Tires of all sizes line the concrete pier. The Fjorddrott did not stop to let off passengers as much make contact with the pier while four people crossed the gangplank that was already down while we were yet to make contact. Three men walked away together on the pier, a woman on a bicycle gathered steam for her push up the hill. The Fjorddrott was already backed away and turning, she has no sentimentality.

I am now officially antsy to take pictures outside. It’s something I can’t do, therefore it’s what I really want to do. The ladies begin to put on their coats. Joy! The Fjorddrott is doing a serpentine approach to the dock at Fogn. 16:01, bump and hold. The thrusters of the boat push and hold the boat against the pier. There are about 20 disembarking, the ship sways in her own wake. We are away, 16:02

Friends on the FjorddrottThe cabin still has quite the crowd. There is a couple in the family area. They have an infant. The mother is nursing, the father has a beard, and they are all dressed in black. No women were knitting, I looked. Two young women – girls talk excitedly. They look like they are from Southeast Asia, their dialects say they are from here: modern Norway. To my left are some tables. Friends chat, this is their normal. On the table nearest to me there is a chocolate bar broken up for sharing, a tin of snuff and two coffee cups. One cup is for spit.

Wild fish cruise these water too. The wild fish sustained and then supported a florish in archaic Norwegian society. The Vikings are gone, the fish remain. Some of the fish are Torsk (cod), Sei (pollock), Makrell and trout. Some are iconic, and some are mundane. Wild fish were the identify and economic engine of southwestern Norway, until the oil began to flow. The wild fish are fewer now, more are cultivated, harvested, like the oil. That’s not so romantic, but people need to eat.

I’m still trapped. While one woman left, her friend slid next to me so a middle-aged man could sit next to her. I feel trapped – I don’t like feeling trapped, do you?

Another message crackles on the intercom. The TV monitor also displays the current dock, it reads “Unspecified.” We are at Judaberg. A crowds departs, this is a regular stop; how can it be “unspecified?” Maybe it’s an inside joke? Six came aboard, the Fjorddrott was away at 16:11

Little, er, tiny, farms climbed the hills on Finnøy. It was a view typical of the journey. There’s no reason they should exist other than the Norwegian people have decided they want to keep their tiny farms and instructed the government to craft policies towards that end. Norway is not in the E.U.

The voice of the engines are as loud as ever but my mind has let them fade into background noise. Clouds covered the sky, Stratocumulus opacus. I can still see well, I know my camera cannot. It is early afternoon. What is this journey like in December, in June?

From about 200 million years ago until yesterday, that is about 13,000 years ago, ice covered Norway. Norway had to wait. Sheets of ice in depths and breadths that are incomprehensible covered the land. The glaciers carved at mountains through brute force and patience. When exhausted, the glaciers retreated and the new valleys flooded with seawater. Glaciers have no sentimentality either.

“Standby for Helgøy,” ha, I got that message, I was ready. 16:19, bump and go. A knot of people left, one woman had a bouquet. The agent closed the gangway door and returned to my area, I caught her Attention.Ferry agent epaulette Her uniform was dark, like the NSB (railway) agents. On the epaulettes where a star or chevron would go, she had an anchor. Egalitarianism is omnipresent.

I showed her a google map on my iPad, where do I get off for Sauda? She pointed and said Ropeid. I asked her how long, and then in a nervous reaction added a number, “20 minutes?” “Kvart på seks,” she replied. I had 90 minutes to go, I already knew that. Nervous chatter, why do I do that?

Nesheim: 16:21. Two away, one aboard. Thrusters make the craft pirouette. The water boils. Cruising speed.

Distance ships have turned on their lights. Homes twinkle in the distance. I have lost my chance for pictures of merit, he who hesitates is lost. Or, do good things come to those who wait?

A postcard village appears. A modern arrangement of slips and boats is set against a cozy knot of homes hugging the harbor and climbing the hill. 16:39, we’re already away from Nedstrand. I see three cars taking on riders at the pier. There can’t be too many cars on this island.

Zero to cruising speed is a quick transition, like a Widerøe DeHaviland, this must be fun to pilot. Off the starboard we pass a raft of ducks, (Somateria mollissima). Jelsa at 16:54, bump and go. The guy in the back row is working on his fourth beer.

17:01, Foldøy

17:04, BUMP and go at Hebnes. No one aboard seemed surprised. Maybe that’s another inside joke.

510 Ferry 29 Oct 2015I am checking my Google map a lot. I should just leave the screen open and watch it like an international flight. I think we’ve entered the tight squeeze to Sand. There are lights ahead on the starboard, a town? No, another quarry, Norsk Stein.

God, it feels so late, I just caught myself yawning: it’s only 17:14. Marvik, 1718. Now the walls of the mountains are higher and closer, they compound the darkness.

Approximately 200 million years ago, Norway was part of super continent, Laurasia. The Maritimes, the British Isles, and Scandinavia were conjoined in that distant epoch. They split and the the fracture was filled by the sea, ultimately the Atlantic Ocean. And from the equatorial warmth, a conveyor belt of water began to flow north. The harvest of the tropical sun made Norway a habitable land.

A bridge and tunnel? Where are we? The Google map doesn’t show them, new construction maybe? It’s 17:22 as well pass under, and slowly for some reason. Respect? The Fjorddrott is near Aasarødholmen. How much do these bridges and tunnels cost? How many cars will ever use them?

I claim full darkness outside, although I know the windows are tinted. The lights of Sand are glowing brightly on the starboard. I bet this village is really cute. 17:38, reverse thrusters and roar! Many people board, they say, “Stavanger,” to the agent as they pass the hatch. I think I am next.

I’m at the front of the cabin now. Holding onto a chrome rail and peering against the window to see the approach. In the distance are three greater lights and three lesser lights, the docking area for Ropeid: where I get off and the Fjorddrott turns around.

510 Ferry, end - returnGangway at Ropeid, 17:43. Maybe 12 of us disembark, the tattooed lady with the Pomeranian and the woman carrying a sleeve of 2 meter poles that look like something intended for interior decoration join me. Two buses await, most of us board the bus bound for Sauda. 17:45 the bus rolls, the Fjorddrott is already away, she doesn’t care.

The road hugs and winds along the fjord through granite cuts and forest, new and old tunnels. 18:13 is the first stop, the bus equivilent of a bump and go. A beacon appears, a towering blue flame. It is magnificent, what a welcome to Sauda. It looks like an industrial flare but it has a great off-the-books jobs as a signature welcome. 18:17, everybody off.

Flare in Sauda

Sunday Nature Call, uke 43: Run Clockwise, water on both side

Sunday Nature Call, uke 43: Run Clockwise, water on both sides

Run clockwise, water on my left. Run clockwise, water on my right. At some point I ought to get wet.

The end of October nears in Norway. This weekend the clocks returned to Standard Time. I’m in Stavanger, the oil capitol of Norway, their Houston. A local told me they haven’t had snow in two years. Another said, “well, there was a little on one day last year but it melted quickly.” There are still green leaves on some trees here. There are planters with flowers in bloom, I don’t know what they are called but they are pretty.

I would expect everything to be dead and bare by now. Ah, but the magic of the Gulf Stream distorts the latitude and seems to hold time. The autumn is attenuated: daylight fades but the leaves don’t. I am disorientated.

New birds:

X (?? ?)

New animals:

Rådyr (Capreolus capreolus)

In Stavanger I was able to run clockwise, keep water to my right, and water to my left and never have to go for a swim. Well, I’m talking about two different runs, physics and geography can’t be so easily manipulated.

After a day of teaching at Bergeland Vidergående Skole I was ready for a challenge and change to stretch my legs. A couple of teachers at the school suggested I run around Stokkavatnet, a local lake. I got a recommendation for a bus that could take me to the lake for the run, I expressed my gratitude. I had no intension of taking a bus.

A typical day in Rogaland, cool with a hint of moisture: perfect for running. According to the internet I could probably complete the run before the rain arrived. “Probably” was a chance I had to take. Grey skies, little wind, and plenty of energy to burn, it was time to go.

The run to Stokkavatnet from central Stavanger was to travel through several worlds: old construction, oil soaked dreams, nature, nurture, and then back. I mostly missed the rain, which in Rogaland means that you might have gotten a little wet but not drenched. There is a big difference. Tuesday.

Up the hill and west from the city center. So much of Stavanger reminds me of Bergen, the locals would disagree, I’m sure. The first neighborhoods are historic construction, I would say pre-WWII, the defining line with which I am familiar in America. These home were wood-sided, looked like they fit the mold of authentic Norwegian construction, and mostly in white paint.

I was told by a local professor that this is a desirable and expensive part of town. As an American, I would expect more bling and sparkle, these were subdued, almost staid. I guess the local and historic qualities made up the for glamour. Keep running west, quiet streets, a woman is pushing a pram, the grass is green, the cars parked along the road are ordinary.

Oil has made Stavanger. My run further west reaches newer construction. Homes still in the style of the dominant architecture but larger, more polished, more glass. There is less peeling paint and fewer old cars.

These are homes built on oil. Are they better? I don’t know, but they are different. The lawns are bigger and I see a couple of basketball hoops. Ex-pats?

Past the boom-time homes lies Stokkavatnet. I am trusting it is a natural lake, corrections are welcome. Grey skies hampered my ability to have a sense of direction – where was the sun? I ran down an access road to a path ringing the lake, a couple was finishing a walk. I decided to run clockwis because I expected most people to go counter-clockwise.

The path skirts the lakes, it runs in and out of trees. Some are hulking shafts, somehow spared by industry. Many ducks are on the lake, a strong showing of Bluebills but the mostly Mallards, the namesake. As I ran past an area of grasses in the water I saw that it was full of duck plying about and having about as good a time as ducks could.

Stavanger Golf KlubbDrops being to fall. I pass the golf course and am reunited with memory of college of the early 1990s. My college roommate gave me a golf bag tag of the Stavanger Golf Course all those years ago, he’s a mensch. I reunited with the sign, the symbol is the same. I feel comforted.

Drops are now a shower. In the distance a SAS jet climbs in the sky, in the background is blue sky. Here, I’m getting wet. Still running.

I pass a women I passed before, she is walking counter-clockwise. We have nothing to say. A fork in the trial. My gut says hug to the right, the sign points left. Screw u gut!

Bambi catches my eye. Well, Bambi’s mother caught my eye and then I saw the fawn. It’s okay to stop and just look. My phone camera is almost pointless but I’ll try nonetheless, everybody does it. I run again and connect with my route back to town, back through time.

Many bridges’ road. My new friend lives on Hundvåg island. The geography of Stavanger is titillating, so many peninsulas, islands, hills, roads, and bridges to connect them all. I see them all as challenges, invitations for exploration rather than burdens. Oh, to be a tourist. Thursday.

I run with my smartphone but that can only do so much. I think I use it as a security device, it’s more important than having a credit card in my pocket. The web map said run east, I don’t like putting my life in to the hands of a web-based map, but I do it anyways.

I find the bridge and after a brief argument with the voices in my head I follow the signs to cross the bridge on foot and not what my gut it telling me. My gut also likes to eat all manner of awful food before bed, then the rest of the body has to suffer. My gut is a real jerk!

The bridge is big, a suspension style bridge without artistic merit. It’s practical and that is okay. Gray concrete and cables against a gray sky reflecting the gray water. The wind isn’t too bad. Over the water and then down to do a set of push-ups to failure. This is a failure bridge run: cross a bridge, do push-ups until you can’t do any more.

A couple of now weary steps and I’m stopped in my tracks by big ducks in the water. Awe man, I want a camera with a big lens on a tripod. My second look at eiders, magnificent. I immediately cross another bridge on a slippery steel sidewalk, Run. I think passing motorists are staring. Run.

Clockwise takes me past road construction, which in Norway seems almost comically hard. All that hard, cold and wet granite to fight through. The Vikings were tough but even they didn’t try to break through that. I run past a gang of soldiers or sailors walking back to post from the market. To my USMC upbringing they look sloppy, disheveled, and unorganized. In the Marines, walking to a store in uniform meant formation and someone singing a jody. Of course, when was the last time Norway invaded another country, maybe that’s the answer.

The wind has increased, is that a harbinger of rain? Run. Homes, some old and some new. Some fields that still are cultivated though I don’t know how – legacies of an isolated time. A time before oil money brought this island into the bosom of Stavanger and the lust of developers. The bridge was built, the rest is history.

imageFurther I reach a natural area, a place reserved for the sun and wind, the grass and grazers. More sea ducks, more pastures. There is a point extending into the bay, dump trucks are creating new land, load by load: spoils from the new tunnel under the island. Who will own it?

The nature is augmented by trails, by a paddock reserved for horses and sheep to practice their trade and for people to watch, just for pleasure. A small art feature claims a clearing, why not? The trees and grounds are still so green. What time of year is it?

Tunnel work; HundvågEvidence of civilization appears, a fenced off area. Workers are battling the earth to make a hole, I later learn it is an access shaft for the tunnel. A play area, a grassy amphitheater, a statuesque piece of art, the pit: so many things that don’t go together.

Stavanger City Bridge

My paths winds, retraces and works back towards the beacon of the big bridge. I’m getting wet, I tuck my finger-griped phone into my sleeve. I run past a pair of women, they look like mother and adult daughter. They are walking a pack of dogs, there are two pups wandering amongst the adult dogs who seem to know the route and routine. Bridges: more push-ups, more push-ups. The wind is strong. Thursday.

To have somewhere to run or walk is critical, not just for individual health but for humanity. We need destinations that are more than asphalt roads and more than shoulders on the sides of highways. My home needs Stokkavatnet. I bet yours does too.

Latitude and Attitude

Valøya

At a certain point, trees will not grow. It’s not that trees are lazy or have opinions, but they have limits. To the contrary, they are aggressive growers: think of any vacant lot. But that point where tress stop growing, the treeline, is a combination of latitude and altitude. A mountain at 2,000 meters in the Blue Ridge Mountains will be richly forested over the top. At the same latitude you need to travel to Arizona to be able to hike above a treeline. At Humphreyes Peak Arizona you would reach barren land at 3,500 meters on your way to its summit of 3,852 meters (that’s another 1,000 feet pilgrim). Norway adjusts those numbers by extremes. Last week I got a small taste of those latitude and altitude contrasts that make Norway such a geographically dynamic land

My new friend offered one of two “short hikes” to local vistas. I have massive wind turbines in Iowa, so I opted to go to the coast, the open sea. She was a local, and seasoned by years in the tourism promotion biz, I was in for a treat. Little did I know that the drive itself was part of the adventure.

After my presentations to trade-school tracked students at Ytre Namdal Vidergående in Rørvik (Norwegian for, “The Real Deal”) a couple of teachers guided through the lunch line. As we walked towards the teacher room to eat, one of them suggested that I eat in the cafeteria, to make myself available to students after class, like I promised. Yes, yes I did say that, so she and I sat.

A home in Oker, Rørvik

It was mostly us chatting, but eventually one precocious student from an earlier workshop joined us following some encouragement. He was interested in being a carpenter for old houses; he didn’t like new-builds or new designs. The teacher was suggesting, with kind emphasis, that he should consider university, he was that clever. She tried to sell him on the idea of combining his interest in old construction and design with engineering and architecture. I chimed in that it is nice to have options in life, a college degree helps.

There’s nothing wrong with having an ambition to be a carpenter, Jesus was a carpenter. But our societies’, Norway and America, biases for higher learning slants our view that ambition for the trades isn’t much ambition at all. That’s wrong and if I every pull that jaundiced statement on a student, then I hope I get called out. I bet the teacher in Nazareth felt like a real jerk eventually after he had chided Jesus for just wanting to be a carpenter. “Really, what could you possibly build?” But I digress.

She told me that I would get to see an eagle, they’re everywhere here and huge, “you can’t miss ’em.” I warned her that if I saw an eagle or a moose (Vikna is moose central), then expect a vocal expression that one might mistake for a scream – I just didn’t want to scare her. But she has young children, so nothing scares her.

Hayward, Wisconsin is in my heart even though I’ve never spent a night there. The pines, the logging history, the promise of good fishing, ski trails, and the escape of everything “back there” makes Hayward endearing. I met her twin in Norway, Trysil.

Wednesday morning I flew south from Rørvik to Trondheim and then to Oslo, so I could catch a bus back to the north and northeast. Yes, a long day but worth it, every new day in Norway is worth it. The coach had maybe six passengers. Even with the pick of seats I couldn’t seem to find one that didn’t batter my lumber with a metal crossmember. Maybe that’s the price of a bus that will take only six passengers?

We traveled north, along a large and long lake and through the ubiquitous tunnels until Elvrum. At Elvrum we pointed NE towards Sweden and added elevation as we plowed through the forests and wetlands on a two-lane road. The sad homes of unrealized dreams dotted the route, just like Highway 63 to Hayward.

Hwy 63 revisited

Hwy 63 revisited

There was a river, low, swift, and with boulders. It was the kind of river that begs for fly fishing. Was it the Nemakagon? No, I’m in Norway, remember? Off to the side of the road was an open expanse in the pine forest, a wet and grassy meadow. A perfect place for a moose. None were present, maybe they were just off in the wood line waiting for dark? Picking the week after moose season is the worst timing I could have but here I am.

Still following the river north and east, the quality of development improves and intensifies. There’s a plume of vapor, probably from a wood pulp factory, I should arrive in Hayward soon. Sorry, I mean Trysil. Travel this route and you’ll understand my confusion.

Farm, ViknaShe piloted her car past lakes and little farms so numerous I lost track. We crossed a special spit of land that was a natural divide on the island. No more than 10 meters across and one could portage from seawater west to seawater east. She told me the name, I don’t remember. An ancient obelisk, found from the Viking Age and reset to its vertical glory, glowed in the sun. If you didn’t know it was there you would miss it. And then a little knot of homes along the sea, her family’s ancestral home, they go back at least 450 years; we had arrived.

Beyond this stretch of Ytre Vikna Island (Outer Vikna Island) lies thousands of skerries and small islands and then the Norwegian Sea. The climb to the promontory overlooking the hamlet and ocean looked short and direct. By now I should know better. We did not, could not, scramble directly up to the peak. Instead we traversed and gained elevation along a path seemingly as old as the hill itself. The tundra was a sponge, it reminded me of the upper reaches of Ulriken in Bergen. But that mountain was 643 meters, this was a fraction.

Trysil VgSWhat to do in Trysil? There wasn’t open skiing yet, although the students carted bunkered snow from the mountain to the school to practice their “twin tip” stunts during free time (many of the students have dreams of winter athletic glory). Pocketbook pursuits were positively pointless. Run.

Trysil is dominated by two things. One is the legend of Trysil Knut. Two is Trysilfjell (fjell = mountain). I took on number two. A teacher at the school told me there is a summer footrace to the top and the winner summits in about 40 minutes, uff! From my homey digs at Trysil-Knut Hotel I ran under the highway and up the hill. Despite the freezing temps I wore shorts (I was later told that Trysil is full of crazy outdoor enthusiasts so I didn’t embarrass America, which is nice).

Trysilfjell and Trysil Knut

Trysilfjell and Trysil Knut

Up to the fancy, all to typical “village” at the base of the mountain, there I found a Radisson Blu and an architecturally disneyworld of bars and shops. Up to the slop and a trail, a narrow trail and into the shadows. Up. Forgive me for repeating myself but running uphill is always the easy part. Up I went.

Having a guide up to the overlook on Ytre Vikna was nice, so often I’m alone on these adventures. As much as I could be a pretty good hermit, I do like company. Around and up, and down and then back up and around some more. We encountered one woman coming down, otherwise the mountain, the sky, the wind, and the sea were ours alone. Utrolig!

hut on ValøyaWe climbed past the legendary hole into which the captain disappeared. A little shelter gave momentary relief for our feet and the opportunity to write our names in the log book for the climb on Valøy, one person had ascended before us.

Around and up and into the clear. No trees, just tundra, and evidence of hardscrabble Norwegians who had dug peat only to carry it down the mountain for heating – all the trees were gone in the old days. More climbing.

And then the sea. But first, the islets and rocks wrestled the waves for ownership of a spot on earth.  Beyond the surf was a great saline galaxy. And to see the dome of the heavens was a reminder of my home on the America prairie. Here, an ocean of salt water, there a sea of grasses and grain. The bald top supported views of distance islands of scientific importance.Vega? Ytre Vikna

At this latitude, almost the polar circle, trees don’t make it very high above sea leve. Less than halfway up the granite the trees yielded, about 60 meters over the sea. I didn’t feel bad for the trees, they had plenty of ground to colonize. But for a person to get the opportunity to have a long and penetrating gaze, it is convenient here to only take a little hike.

Straight up the big ski hill, run #10 I think. All alone, maybe that makes it a bad idea? Unlike my run up Ulriken, I was able to keep my feet pretty dry. Still going up, still trees: stillness. Rune from the hotel said to veer left towards the mid-mountain lifts and warming huts. Since I thought I had a path that was pretty direct I decided to stick with it.

Trysilfjell cairn and author's contribution

Trysilfjell cairn and author’s contribution

Higher and now close to the tree line, from here I know I can see Sweden. The going is more of a jumble of rocks than a path, and I’m above the trees. With added ambition guided by the blue paint marking the path I reach the top, the cairn onto which I make my deposit, as well as some other artifacts of humanity in a place where humanity has no place.

A home in oker, Rørvik

A home in oker, Rørvik

The highest point on earth is the promontory on which you are standing, everything else falls away. Alone, with another, or a group, highpoints in our lives require effort and often circuitous routes. But aren’t they worth it?

author on Valøya

author on Valøy

Sunday Nature Call, uke 42: Love Thy Neighborhood

The Sunday Nature Call, uke 42: Love Thy Neighborhood

My brother says it’s better to be lucky than good, tru dat, especially if you like to see new birds. Week 42 gave me a surprising bounty after my scores of Week 41. I’ll take all the luck, and help, I can get. Maybe I was lucky, but I also got some help from a new friend in Rørvik; mange tusen takk R.S.

There always seems to be a bird that I just can’t quite identify. Both were on the coast at the islands of Vikna. The first was a large brown hawk – ohhh, hawks are just giving me a hard time this year.

The others were very interesting and conspicuous in behavior – I’m sure a seasoned birder would name them with ease. There were like ducks, grouped in a shallow salt-water bay. The birds were dark on top, white underneath but the behavior is what will give them away: they flew away with the slightest approach, running on the water and with a low outstretched neck and head – very unique. What were they?

New birds:

Storskarv (Phalacrocorax carbo)

X (X x)

Havørn (Haliaeetus albicilla)

Toppskarv (Phalacrocorax aristotelis)

Fossekall (Cinclus cinclus)

Sangsvane (Cygnus cygnus)

3 men dragging brush, Dugnad

3 men dragging brush, Dugnad

We had been advised that there would be at least one community-wide cleanup/workday in our area and that you are obliged to help. Plus it would a good chance to meet people since at this event, the Norwegians expect to run into one another. At 10 AM Team Hanson was ready. Actually only the senior partners were ready, the junior partners didn’t make a quorum so I can’t say how they really were

We found our way to the registration area, fumbled through Norwegian, and got assigned an area. “Oh, that job seems easy,” I thought. Another addition to my list of completely misunderstood exchanges in Norway. In five years it will be really funny.

Author rests on his laurels, dugnadThe appointed hillside was covered with cut tress, saplings, and brush. The task was to drag it up off the hillside and then on to the community pile, I threw myself in the work with gusto. Man, I haven’t done any yard work since July, it felt good to do something familiar like this. In no time at all I was in my t-shirt despite the air temperature below freezing – sun and stillness: with hard work who needs clothes?

I met a neighbor, an elderly gentleman surprised an American was pulling sapling up some obscure hill in Oslo. He approved, plus his granddaughter was studying to be a math teacher, so I was okay in his book.

Meghan’s english attracted a friend. A hitherto unknown neighbor from the midwest, now over a generation in Norway, overheard Meghan talking to the boys. I think he was eager to re-familiarize himself with english.

Ola Nordmann hauls logs at dugnad

Ola Nordmann hauls logs at dugnad

Others were in my sector as well. A woman who wielded the loppers with abandon. A big guy with no hair he-maned the logs up the hill. I was leaving those for the tractor, maybe he needed an excuse to do something manly. A woman came around from the organizing committee with a basket of snacks. All so koselig.

We cleared the hill about 12:30 and called it good. “Rest!” called the sawyer. A lunch of whatever available and then some chill time in the apartment. I announced that I was going to take a 20 minute rest, i.e. if I sleep longer than wake me.

I woke myself several time with a choking snore only to drift away again. With a little courage and curiosity I peaked at the clock: “Holy Smokes, it’s after 4!” I’m not missing a grilled hotdog for all that work. And we all breezed out of the flat and to the gathering.

Dugnad "Tailgate"

Dugnad “Tailgate”

In a parallel universe there were Hawkeye tailgate parties taking place. The crisp of the air, smell of roasting meat, the feel of a cold aluminum can in my hand, and the idle but happy chit-chat with others reminded me of a fall football game. But instead of celebrating ritualized violence, we had gathered on a glorious autumn day, to smell the air, bask in the sun, and tidy the unmanicured elements of the natural world.

In Norway nature is celebrated, maybe venerated more than the scriptures. But there were more than two gathered, setting to work their hands. We made something better of our community and ourselves. For a great output of labor, no money traded hands. To be in league with your fellowman to make life better, inside our out-of-doors needs no defense. Is “dugnad,” one of those Norwegian words that just doesn’t translate?

Looking ahead, looking up, and keeping my pencil sharp. -jlh

My Kingdom for a Flag; or, Your Kingdom, my State

My Kingdom for a Flag; or, Your Kingdom, my State

[No laws were broken, no ethics were compromised. Yet, I’m not at liberty to divulge the details. Like Dick Cheney said in 2001, it was time to work through the dark side, with sources and methods that can’t be discussed.]

“Dessverre,” replied the nice lady behind the counter. I didn’t need any help translating that word, her body language and commiserating expression were really all I needed. I gave her a polite smile, shrugged my shoulders and retreated to the door. Back into the Norwegian air empty-handed and without any leads.

Your state matters in America, a lot. Norwegian students don’t understand that political geography has so much identify and meaningfulness in America. Norway doesn’t have states, it is a largely centrally-administered nation – like most of the world. There are 19 “Fylker” in Norway, political divisions but they are more similar to counties in America than states.

I thought this would be easy, doesn’t the internet find everything you need? It seems to find plenty I don’t need. My plan was to use the internet to save my shoe leather in a strange land. I was looking for tokens of my time in Norway, markers of places I visited. I thought a collection of the flags from every “Fylke” I visited would make a tasteful and thematic display. I still think that.

One of my lessons/workshops for Norwegian students is on childhood poverty in America. In this lesson we explore the paradox that America, the richest country on earth, has some of the poorest children of any developed country. The American childhood poverty rate is 300% greater than in Norway. The students are nonplussed. The second surprise for them is the geography of poverty.

The internet was worthless for my search. Do you want one of 147 variations of the Norwegian flag? You can find that, but nothing else. I sent emails to flag companies in Norway, “Dessverre,” was the standard response. “How can this be?” thinks my American mind. Norway is a modern Nation and a technological pace-setter. Don’t they want my money?

In the workshop the students get a random sample of 21 American states (including D.C.). The poverty rate for each is listed, so the students need to pick out the states that are above average poor, and above average not-poor for children. Lastly the students shade in the special states with a color code onto an outline map of America. You already guessed what the maps look like; they are surprised.

Exceptional states for children: very high and very low poverty

Exceptional states for children: very high and very low poverty

While on the road, “Roving,” I was sure I would find what I was looking for. Certainly the tourist mecca of Bergen would be amenable. They try so hard to sell Norway there, certainly they are trying to sell of little of themselves too. While on an exploratory run through Bergen I hit the stands selling trolls, every manner of knitted garment bearing the Norwegian flag, and meat of curious provenance. No flags of Hordaland, the “Fylke” of the Bergen area. The nice Portuguese women running the stand had no suggestions. The tourist center was a bust. “Am I on ‘Candid Camera?'” I wondered.

To confuse the students even more I give them a second map, a map of America where the states are represented proportionally by population. With the same states and the same data, they draw again. Can you guess what it looks like now?

Population proportional states and childhood poverty rates

Population proportional states and childhood poverty rates

Dear aether, “CAN’T SOMEBODY FIND ME A CRUMMY LITTLE FLAG OF THIS PLACE?” Perplexidly John, from the state of Confusion.

Now, the above average poor states for children are still in the South. The better than average states of children are still in the West and Northeast. But now the tiny areas of the Northeast swell and the magnanimity of the West shrivels. Where’s Wyoming? I prefer the proportional map when teaching just about anything about America because the proportional map best shows where the beating hearts Americans actually live.

My routine for asking about a flag has developed its own ritual: hit up local stores already selling tourist stuff, ask the students in my workshops for help, beg at city hall. I started challenging the students to go into business making dumb flags for dumb tourists: think like an American, take my money.

Norwegian children don’t need to care about their political division, their “Fylke.” They are Norwegians, and the adults have decided politically that a child’s exposure to poverty shouldn’t matter on where they live, especially since children don’t get to make a choice about that. In America it matters, your state, especially if you are a child. And that seems morally wrong since children don’t get to pick their state. The geography of growing up poor matters more in the future of your life than you would imagine. For a child, the state is a bigger deal than the nation.

I got a flag! No, not a “Fylke” flag but a “Kommune” flag. A “Kommune” can be translated as “community,” and it lies politically between the city and the “Fylke.” Mine “Kommune” uses three salmon in a circle on a field of blue the symbol, a fitting tribute to the local engine of the economy and culture. It will have a special place on the mantel.

To contemplate the feeling of childhood poverty, I have students work with a poem several ways to internalize it. The poem is, I guess, the slogan for the Children’s Defense Fund. The students transpose it to feel the english, and then they discuss it. Next, they translate the poem into their Norwegian.

CDF initial translations

Flags are fun. Usually we think of them as novelties or accessories for an occasion  At military funerals or government facilities flags are used to project a greater gravity of the situation or place. But as Americans our reverence of “the flag” means the Stars and Stripes. Maybe we should pay more attention to the shadow our state flags casts on children?

After the maps are drawn and shared, and the other activities are done, I have the students translate the poem one more time. This last time into their own understanding of english. Given the very low rate of childhood poverty in Norway, maybe this is as close as they will ever feel to being hungry and scared.

CDF final translation

Running Rørvik

‌Running Rørvik

Now I’m getting greedy. I feel strong enough that I could make a dash for it, to take it. The conditions are too good not to. It’s just asking for it. Go!

The internet is handy, such an incredible tool, it has become indispensable. No Wifi-no deal. But the internet is a thin experience, so thin anything done through the internet maybe shouldn’t be called an experience at all. Can a member of the Professional Organization of English Majors coin a new word for this please?

I looked at the northwest coast of Nord-Trøndelag on the internet and in a guidebook. It looked nice, interesting, and different from what I have seen in the cities. But the media sources didn’t prepare me to receive all that was wonderful about the Vikna Kommune (the Vikna area).

The drive in on the taxi was a thrill. I shared a cab with a local, it was a white Volvo wagon driven by a young woman. Of the 7 kilometers to town, the first 5 have no pavement markings on a twisting road. “Straight’n the curves, the only way they know how…” The opening song to the Dukes of Hazard was in my head, over the actual techno music from the radio, as we cut corners and hugged the curves of the opposite lane. I guess in Vikna, “Everybody does it.”

Speeding to town we meet a tractor in that unmistakable John Deere green towing a ship; swerve right. A massive suspension bridge rises, hulking gray towers and cables brightened by the low angle sun against an azure sky. Past the little harbor, and there, that. I finally smell the sea, the life of the ocean, here.

I’ve been on a ferry in the Oslo harbor, ran over, and along salt water in Trondeim and Bergen but I never smelled the sea. Here I did. It was the smell of life and death, change and permanence. Finally #lynyrdskynyrd.

Kysthotellet room 337I was dropped off at the hotel. Rørvik is the kind of town that has just one hotel, but the energy it saves in competition must be redirected to friendliness. The Kysthotellet had plenty of neat old stuff in their clean and modernized facility. Rich ochre paint, the color I have come to love as the quintessential look for a cozy home in Norway, covered the exterior. They even have real keys.

Well stacked Norwegian Wood

Well stacked Norwegian Wood

The room is big enough and the Wifi works, but this is no the time to check my Twitter feed. It is sunny outside: Run! Okay, first check Googlemaps so you don’t get lost in the middle of nowhere; Rørvik is nowhere adjacent.

Out the door and up the main road. All typical Norwegian wood-sided homes in the vertical style. Few homes have garages, those that do seem to have them packed with the detritus of life not cars. If anything they have carports. Remember, even this far north the ocean current keeps the land from freezing.

The pedestrian path takes me away from the sun, past the sports hall and up the hill to the school I would be teaching at, Ytre Namdal. My translation is “Outer Namdal,” it looks nice. I ran with my eyes scanning for a path to the right. Opps, ran too far, back and now left and down a new road to where I wanted to go. Like many wealthy countries, it is the cities that are swelling the small towns that shrink, drive through rural Iowa, Alabama, Michigan… In this small town, seeing new construction is encouraging and offers contemplative contrasts.

Ancient mountain, new flats

Ancient mountain, new flats

Maybe 50-some odd degrees fahrenheit today and sunny. There goes the ice cream man, he whips a right into an apartment complex and hits the music. I imagined a Bizarro World episode of Cops. Squeals of children erupted, I smiled. Run.

Fishing nets, RørvikLooking to run along the water, sea water, and towards the big docks of town, I kept getting drawn down paths to the ocean only to have them dead-end at people’s houses or personal slips. If this was Oslo, there would be a path (he said with a hint of indignation), well it’s not and I’ll manage. Keep running.image

imageI pick my way along the rim of the harbor. Past new row-houses that echo the landmark Brygge of Bergen, the coastal museum, and some old large building in shambles that appears to be being razed, just not with much enthusiasm. Maybe the men who are demolishing it used to work there, maybe it’s hard for their hearts and souls?

An elderly couple is at the dock, with bicyles. The man is taking pictures, the woman is waiting in the shade. How can you not stand in the sun and soak up all the rays you can? The latitude and longitude of Rørvik hangs above us, I feel like I’m intruding, run on.

I curve around the harbor to where I got my first sniff of the Norwegian sea and I had to make a choice: go back or go on. Ahead the bridge was soaking in the sun, from the bridge I could get a picture of Rørvik bathing in daylight. Go.

Still running. A bridge that big is farther away than it seems. I pad the road underneath to find a place from the west to get a good photo. I run down a new private road with a barrier, a future exclusive development. If they put up Norwegian versions of McMansions to dot this hillside overlooking the channel, then we have made another bad cultural export.

Nærøysund Bridge

Picture taken, now let’s take the bridge by foot. My phone battery has been on the red-line and warning me of death for a while. Will I have enough juice in the phone, because I have enough juice in the legs.

Up the curving road that is the approach, I first notice the prominent sign noting the wind speed. Infer that it must get awfully windy on a regular basis to need a fancy digital sign to warn motorists. Currently the wind was one meter per second. The second observation is that people don’t run on this road. There are no footprints, there is barely a shoulder, and the oncoming drivers seem surprised by my appearance.

Before a questionable idea became a bad idea the bridge decking came into view along with a merciful sidewalk on the west side. To the middle and at the crest I take my photos. For a little cell phone, I think they will do.

Rørvik

And now to cross the bridge. I reach the south abutment and stop to take one photo of the welcome sign for the next community. Nothing. Dead battery. Unfazed, I reached down to touch the dirt and then it’s back across and to the welcoming arms of the Kysthotellet.

Wow, I’ve got to call my wife!

Kysthotellet Rorvik, hotel's photo

Kysthotellet Rorvik, hotel’s photo

Trysil Caption Contest

Trysil Caption Contest

I’m staying at the Trysil-Knut Hotel. It reminds me of Telemark Lodge in its day, a lot of mementoes and pictures, and history of skiing. In the dining hall I snapped these three historic photos that were blow-up large in frames. 48 hour Contest for the best captions, leave a comment. Winner gets a postcard from Trysil.

#1 “Boy Jumping”

Boy Jumping: Trysil-Knut Hotel

#2 “Advice”

Advice: Trysil-Knut Hotel

#3 Tuck

Tuck: Trysil-Knut Hotel

Good luck

The Sunday Nature Call, uke 41: A walk with my wild side-kick

The Sunday Nature Call, uke 41: A walk with my wild side-kick

“Good things come to those who wait.” That expression must have been created by a cheese maker, certainly not a birder. For birders the opposite is true: get up early, change locations, do something. You need to have a bias for action if you want to be a birder. On Saturday I took my own advice and was rewarded, but not just with new birds.

New birds:

Knoppsvane (Cygnus olor)

Brunnakke (Anas penelope)

Siland (Mergus stellata)

Kvinand (Bucephala clangula)

Smålom (Gavia stellata)

The upcoming week was going to be a long one, I needed to maximize my time with the family in preparation for my absence. But you know how it is when you have an obsession, a drive, an itch that just has to be scratched. I got up when I woke up before the sun came up. The harbor, I needed to get to the harbor at Fornebu and maybe catch sight of some birds at rest while on migration.

If I caught the first bus down the hill, I thought, then I could make a quick dash to high probability areas and get back before everyone else got rolling for the day. #2 son padded into the kitchen, “Where are you going?” he asked while rubbing the sleep from his eyes. I told him. With a groggy voice but brightening eyes he asked to come along. Of course, that would make me happy I said, and it was the truth.

Now, getting greedy, he asked if this could be something,”just the two of us do,” you know, exclude #1 son. No, we need to ask your brother, I said. But my mind was a couple of steps ahead of my words because I knew it was an easy bet #1 son would pass.

We got ready. Brother asked what was going on. Before I could speak #2 excitedly informed him. I asked brother if he also wanted to come along? “No,” was his vacant reply and he slipped down the hall to craw in bed with his mother.

Off. #32 Bus, switch at Lysaker. Snarøya bus to Fornebu: quick, quick. Feet. Down the asphalt path, past the curling club building and to the bay.

It was a gay walk with #2 son, or as we call him, “Little Bear,” or just “Bear.” Though I would prefer to walk in silence, my heart isn’t hard enough to repress the joy that babels out of the mouth of babes. Choose to smile and enjoy.

The birding bounty was immediate. Charismatic white birds were across the bay, two of them. Certainly they were Knoppsvaner, and with four young.

imageMany mallards swam about, aimlessly. A puddle duck that wasn’t a mallard made a bee-line to my shore, to hide in the tall grass. A female, and cryptically marked, but my suspicion was confirmed by picture and text, a Brunnakke.

Bear was enjoying his turns at the binoculars. It was cool out but not cold, and no wind to speak of, such luck. A small flock of odd long-necked birds passed. Dark against the gray sky, there was no way I could make an identification. It bet they were cormorants, next time.

image

Fornebu was the airport for Oslo. Since the opening of Gardermoen lufthavn in 1998, the sprawling peninsula has been repurposed with planned communities, corporate office parks, sporting venues, and oh so many trails. Like Stapleton in Denver, they retained the control tower as an homage to the area’s past.

We walked a little further east on the path. New two-story apartment blocks unostentatiously overlooked the bay. A boy played with a golf club and a handball, alone. The surprising noise of laborers working on a new block punctuated the stillness. And they say Norwegians don’t work on Saturdays! Well, I do think I overheard the workers speaking something like Polish.

A small tongue of land jutted into the bay as if it was added for the enjoyment of people. I snapped and held Little Bear back. A small black and white duck was now quickly swimming in the opposite direction. Too conspicuous for its own good, just bagged a Kvinand. I released the hound.

Running to the tip of the tongue, Little Bear pointed across the bay. A knoppsvane was closing the distance, first it was exciting, then I got a little worried. Knoppsvaner have a reputation for aggression. How could we be too close to the babies?

The answer became apparent as the babies came across the bay too, in a hurry. They expected to be fed. The babies, whined. Bear and I enjoyed their closeness. Then, not receiving their expected treats, the babies would take turns making threatening hisses. The first time it happened, Bear’s eyes became as big as saucers with anxiety, betraying the bravery of his nickname.

We idled a bit. A strange diving bird was just a tickle too far for my zoom lens. I was hoping it might work closer for a better look. A grebe maybe? Uh, well not a duck, and not a goose. Its diving movements were so quick, so furtive that I was perplexed (with books and the internet, mystery solved).

I suggested that we walk on, Bear gave no complaint. He offered to carry the binos. We reached a neighborhood, we would clearly have to walk about another 10 minutes to hit the other bay. In my improvement as a father I knew it was better to leave early than risk a rebellion or disenchantment. I asked the Little Bear if he wanted to press on or go back.

Clearly he thought the correct answer was to press on. But his heart and his stomach where pining for a return home. I offered that I was getting a little chilled, an out; we turned about.

Path marking, FornebuLike the walk in, Bear asked to hold my hand. Oh, melt my heart. “Dad, can I hold you hand?” is one of the sweetest and best questions I ever get asked. “Yes, please.” Little does the Little Bear know that this practice will atrophy all too soon. He won’t miss it, but I will.

We walked, further than anticipated, to catch the bus. There was time to talk, and silence, and hand holding, and rock throwing. There was time to hear, “Dad, I really like bird watching with you.” There was time to look, really look at my beautiful little boy and try to memorize every feature of his fresh face.

I left early to capture some birds. I returned with memories, sure, of birds. But the better memories were of time with my Little Bear.

Looking ahead, looking up, and keeping my pencil sharp. -jlh

Beaujolais, moonshine, and cod…and blogs

Beaujolais, moonshine, and cod…and blogs

A very tired and exasperated Jefferson Smith urged his fellow Senators that, “I’m doing the best I can” as he struggled to stay standing during his filibuster in, “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.” But he was just one man trying to convey the sentiments of thousands and thousands in his western state. But how could one man organize so much and then produce the quality and clarity needed to make sense, to be understood?

Having shown that movie more times than I care to remember in my government classes, I know it well. I empathize with the junior Senator, those Boy Ranger legs can only stand so long. These Boy Ranger fingers are doing their best, but they are so tired. How can I convey all that I am seeing and doing? How do I balance writing and experience? I don’t know, honestly, but I’m doing my best.

I am behind in my posts. A post delayed is a post spoiled. There are some foods that just must be enjoyed fresh, like beaujolais, moonshine and cod. Old blog posts are like old cod, well, you know where this goes. I promise to include all my drafts waiting for publication but not before they are ready. Sadly, I will end up with some strange deviations in the calendar narrative. Please be kind.

A longer journey today meant an earlier start. By 10:45 AM I was out the door to drag my luggage up the hill to wait for good ole #32. As typical, I left in a rush. Thankfully Meghan had me squared away the night before but the last moments/hours before leaving always keep me on edge. I got a meaningful farewell from my better half, less than enthusiastic goodbyes from the twins.

Since there were people already at the stop I knew I didn’t miss the bus. Shortly I was done the hill, off the bus, up the hill to Lysaker Station to wait again. This time for a train. I was expecting a standard commuter train at about 11:20. But the video screen said the L12 train to Eidsvoll on track 4 was coming after 11:30. Damnit, what happened? I checked my app, “On time.” Huh? This is why I’m never relaxed until I am at the terminal gate.

The Flytog (airport only train) was approaching on track 3. If I got on, then I would get to the airport on time for the uncharacteristically tight schedule I had challenged myself with. So tempting…but the Flytog costs double and I would most likely have to eat half the bill. Stay strong, believe in yourself. I waited.

The monitor now said the next train, R10 to Lillehammer was coming on track 3 at 11:21. Hey, that’s my train! All that worry for naught! Maybe by April I will have the trains and times down pat. In the meantime I will work on my ulcer. 11:21 the R10 arrived, 11:23 we departed, I relaxed, a little.

11:57, Oslo Lufthavn, get off. 12:03 print boarding pass at self-serve kiosk. 12:04 baggage check at self-serve belt. 12:13 passed through security control. Land speed record and O.J. Simpson didn’t have to hurdle any luggage!

SAS courtesy mirrorsFirst time on SAS, same Boeing 300 that Norwegian Air flies, what’s the difference? Ah, SAS is more Norwegian than Norwegian Air. SAS has little mirrors in the overhead luggage bins so you can see you are holding up the aisle. Now you can get a sense of urgency without listening to Ola Nordmann passively-aggressively exhale.

OSL to TRD, clockwork. In fact, even better because we were early. Now I could stew longer for my wait to fly on the twin-prop DeHavilland of Widerøe; no good deed goes unpunished. Man, that’s a little plane.

WF 740Open seating on this flight, unescorted kids get boarded first, and in the best seats. Good idea. Without trying too hard I was the first adult onto the tarmac. Great, blind leading the, uhm, the…passive. No, not passive, too stereotypical. Ah, “curious.” I obviously “wasn’t from around here.” Maybe they just wanted to see what the fool would do. I sat at the window, starboard, towards the back.

Fudge, the low-hanging engines are blocking my view. Too late to change, here comes the herd. A full flight, 43 passengers by my count. Next time I’m sitting in the back row.

The taxi speed must be the same as the jets, but this low to ground and with a prop it feel faster. There is a nimble feeling to the plane. More like a sports cars than a bus.

14:16 we’re away (there was no gate). 14:19 runway, and with no pause we’re off. 14:21 the seatbelt sign is extinguished. To my surprise this flight is not direct. First we fly to Namsos, then on to Rørvik. Reminded me of the old ‘ism from Marine infantry school, “I’m up, he sees me, I’m down.”

Sky islands, Nord TrondelagA young guy is seated to my left. Below is a deck of fog from the ocean contrasted with the brilliant blue skies inland, they clashed. In the fog bank little islands of hills poke through. Are they suggesting the greater array of islands in the archipelago just offshore? This area has a universe of islands, skerries, and rocks challenging the sea for permanence. We are headed for one of them, Inner Vikna. Please, go to a map and check out this area, let you mind wander, I won’t be offended, the blog will be here when you return. Go!

Right? I told you it would be worth it.

Below, the inland lakes and inlets of the sea mix and twist. Sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference. In a prop plane on a short flight, we fly low, an intimate flight with the geography. I see the blooms of sediments and enriched water flowing into lakes, tiny deltas. In the calmed salt water there are ribbons of color, streaking through blue-green: nutrients, different water temps, mystery.

Descending to Namsos. In this plane you can clearly see you are tilted at the runway, you are pointed down and flying towards the earth. And you always thought you were gliding, coasting to terra firma; no. 14:44 we land.

On the tarmac I have a real conversation with a real Norwegian, so proud. Thank you Øyvind. Coincidently, I think he is either a student or teacher at the school I am visiting. When does the Crown Prince offer me a “you’re a real Norwegian” card?

Flight WF740 caught in shadow

Flight WF740 caught in shadow

14:59 we taxi. A momentary pause, for suspense, and then full throttle. It’s like we bounce into the air. More trees and bald granite hilltops; a kingdom for a red squirrel. There are buoy markers in the water, red and white, like a skiene. Probably the markers of fisherman traps. More of the same, then giant wind turbines.

We dip a wing and descend, 15:07. Øyvind points out a town, I’m trying to take a picture. It’s Rørvik, I got one shot, it will have to do. The runway is on a rare flat stretch outside of town. The landing zone starts at the water’s edge. Clear green water greets the approaching plane. Ducks skitter, gulls rest, unfazed.

Rørvik on approach

15:09 we land. Full stop at 15:10. The sun is out and I know enough that I will need to take as many pictures as I can. A sunny day with fall colors is not to be wasted anywhere, but especially here.

I hear what you’re saying, but I’m not listening

I hear what you’re saying, but I’m not listening.

Sour man grotesque BergenMark Twain:America as Henrik Ibsen:Norway Both men are legends of literature, home and abroad. They wrote meaningful works that addressed contemporary social issues that transcended their times. Ibsen, like so many famous, and infamous, writers penned his greatest works away from home. Italy and Germany hosted Ibsen’s works from Brand to Hedda Gabbler. 

Seems like a thing that if you are a serious writer you need some exotic location to practice the craft. I had always chalked that up to the eccentricities of writers and the need to have some space from others. While I still think those issues are relevant, this time in Norway has given me a new idea: Foreign languages are background noise.

Bergen LibraryIn Bergen, Week 40, I tried out the historic library to catch up on my personal journal. It seemed like an artsy thing to do in an artsy town. The library was old but not archaic, functional. Sadly, it had suffered the indignity of new additions and wiring for modernity. The place was pushed into being a “media center” unwillingly.

Like pushing water uphill, it can be done, but the water doesn’t like it. Please leave my old stone buildings with books made of paper, chairs made of wood, and librarians who aren’t interested in catering to your need to tote a locally roasted coffee every waking moment. But I digress.

I found a table for two against the railing and overlooking the atrium. To my left were shelves of graphic novels, mostly in english. Ahead of me was a door with a special label overhead done in that appliqué that women put on walls, “Fantasy – Horror – Science Fiction.” At a nearby table over homework “Non-native” Norwegian women chatted.

I have been writing a lot in Norway. I have written more in these two months than, well, I don’t know when? I wrote copiously while working on my research and dissertation. But that got to be a burden quickly; I just had to endure it to the end. Here I have been writing because I want to, because feel obliged to, actually because I have to. I am seeing and thinking and experiencing so many new things I feel compelled to record them. Additionally, I am rethinking much of my life in America, rethinking America itself.

Old man grotesque BergenWhy? Why here? Okay, Norway is stimulating, seriously. But I think the bigger reason is that I don’t know what is going on around me. People are talking and I don’t know what they are saying. I am not interested in overhearing your conversation, it’s just background noise. The TV has gone unused. I don’t have friends to play with…(ha, I knew that one would make you laugh – just checking to see if you’re actually reading). My engagement in everyday life is low.

On the bus, or train, or plane, I am left to my own internal dialogue. I hear my own thoughts more clearly, consequently they are louder. It’s not that I need to be away from people. On the contrary, people are stimulating. The sweep and flow of others, the acknowledgement that life is still happening are important supports for one’s own humanity. But as a stranger, I just don’t have to care about the minutia of the lives of everyone around me.

Grosteque BergenIbsen and his ilk lived in vibrant communities on purpose. I suspect they needed to feel alive by being surrounded by the lives of others. But maybe they also needed the distance of language (and culture) to not notice all the trivia of life that overwhelms our daily lives. Maybe as my Norwegian improves I will get more distracted and write less? Maybe, but that is a risk I am willing to take. Shutting myself into a cloistered place will only make this Jack a dull boy.

Moving also affords me perspective. Imagine a large tapestry. Now imagine standing against that tapestry, your nose one inch from the fabric. What do you see?

Too close, huh? The whole is impossible to know. Perhaps you can suss out a detail or two but you really have no chance of explaining the work as a whole. Living in a culture is like that. Moving back from the tapestry, like moving away from your home culture, provides prospective.

Two Grotesque BergenCould Ibsen have written A Doll’s House or Hedda Gabbler from the shores of the Oslo Fjord? Yes, he could have but he didn’t. Twain could have written Huckleberry Finn along the banks of the Mississippi, there were so many beautiful and inspiring promontories and towns for him. Instead he wrote the book in New England. Members of the Professional Organization of English Majors are invited to comment.

I wrote what I needed to at the library and called it a night. Plus the DJ prepping the speakers in the adjacent room confirmed that shortly there would be no pretense of this not being a media center/media circus. The grey skies did not reflect off the grey streets as I walked the short distance to the hotel. Maybe I’ll write about that?

Post script: I showed you five of the six Grotesque at the doors of the Bergen library. First correct comment with #6 wins a personal postcard.