Sunday Nature Call, uke 48: Go Outside
I have a feeling that my neighbors’ generosity as bird feeders will also benefit me this winter. I took photos of a Thrushes, I had seen them before the but the light was so good they warranted more exposure. Analyzing the stills I noticed a new bird hidden amongst the Thrushes. Yeah! And then I accidentally deleted the photos in my unnecessary zeal to clear off the camera’s memory. Boo! Still managed one confirmed new feathered friend.
New birds: 1
Dompap (Pyrrhula pyrrhula)
Go outside, I am. So this is all you get for the Sunday Nature Call. I could either write or hike. Hiking wins.
Looking ahead, looking up, and keeping my pencil sharp. -jlh
Lighten Up People
When you are first you face ridicule. Be brave, because if you are going to be first then you are going to stand out. “Seatbelts, in cars? Ridiculous!” “What’s the harm a little lead in gasoline could do, really?” “A safety-bar on my chainsaw? What’ll this nanny state think of next?” pondered Lefty. How often has our society, and we as individuals, trailed the warnings because we dismissed them as silly? “If everybody is still warming up their cars in the garage, then I am too.” The power of conformity…right over the cliff. Be brave, stand out.
I wasn’t shocked but I did notice. All the laborers here were decked in work trousers and shorts with big reflective strips. If their day-glow green or yellow coveralls were bright enough, then the strips guaranteed visibility. Okay, I chalked that up to strong unionization and workplace rules in Norway. Europe, lots of rules.
Then Meghan pointed out all the preschool groups. Flocks of two to five year olds walking here and playing there clad in orange or highlight vests…with reflective strips. Ahh, maybe early childhood socialization to accept the wearing of high visibility work clothes with reflectors? The Scandinavians are clever that way.
I remember my first bike helmet, I was 14. I felt like the only person in Monroe county Wisconsin with a bike helmet, certainly the only kid. I had crashed plenty of times on my bike, why now? I wanted to be a serious biker. I lobbied my parents to drive me all the way to Madison to buy a real road bike from a real shop. Something like all those damn hippies and liberals in Madison would go to – I just channeled my Dad’s inner voice – a store where the workers rode bikes. The opposite of the Shopko or Pamida selection and service for bicycles: Williamson Bicycle Works.
So I bought a real bike, a Schwinn LeTour in red, 21 speeds! To my horror dad tried to haggle the guy for kickstand. I also left with a pair of real biking shorts, you could get them in any color as long as they were black, and a helmet. The helmet has been lost to time, the shorts worn out but I still have the bike-and the receipt. Since that first helmet I have owned many.
If I ride in a car, I use the belt, period. It just wouldn’t feel right if I didn’t. And when I ride a bicycle I wear a helmet. I get the creeps the few times I steal a quick jaunt on two wheels without it. In Norway, I don’t go anywhere without my refleks.
Reflective patches, strips, badges…adorn every person it seems. Refleks are just part of the fashion. Refleks are available in almost any store. Refleks is the right thing to do. Refleks is the law.
On an exploratory run in August I ran past a home with a sign for all the world to see. I took the sign as a distillation of the Norwegian sentiment towards the value of people and how sharply it contrasted with those from America. My translation, “In Norway we have many children, but none to spare.” That is, every child is precious, Norway can’t afford to lose (death) a single one. Given the state of children in America, in my pessimistic moments I envisioned that sign in the States saying, “America has lots of kids, we’ll make more.”
What is the price of human-car collisions? Humans always lose. Refleks are cheap. Refleks don’t need electricity. If “Everybody does it,” then refleks are the thing to do.
My sons have lime vests with refleks, like all the other kids. Ryal came home with schwag from a school presentation – refleks armband. Meghan has her vest. My yellow refleks vest was a treasure I found abandoned in an alley (it was there for 3 days and no one picked it up-fair game).
I brought my original refleks running vest from America, it’s almost 25 years old. The overlay is finally “cool” because no one in Norway has one like it. I bought new straps that I wear at my knees for running. I am going to buy dayglow refleks spats for my running shoes when I get back to Stavanger next week.
I am a nerd, and more (much more) safety conscious than most (I really identified with SNL’s Anal Retentive Chef and Safety Homer). But even I always took an assertive position as a pedestrian or bicyclist in America. I presumed that if I could see your car then you could see me…you better! I rode my bike as if I was a big and visible truck. Of course, when I was driving, I was complaining about walkers and bikers on the road who were too hard to see – you too?
I ran Ironman Wisconsin in 2004; I was skeptical that we really needed to have some reflective pieces on our persons when we were still on the course after sunset. “It’s a closed course for Pete’s sake!” I begrudgingly bought an ankle strap, still have that too despite Lambeau’s attempt to eat it.
In Norway, “Everybody does it.” You wear your refleks for yourself, for motorists, for society…everybody does it. To do otherwise would be to stand out for all the wrong reasons.
I have a challenge for you, to be brave and to stand out: buy and wear reflective garments and accessories. You will be first and passers-by will think you look ridiculous (secretly they will be envious of your courage). Reflective gear practically, “Don’t cost nothing.” Start a trend, encourage your friends, save a life.
I hope to see a surprising proliferation of reflective-wear clad Americans when I return. Please do your part. I have enough crusades that I’m working on. Seriously, lighten up people!
Links to a random assortment of suppliers (I have no financial gain)
Drawn by a night out buoyed by either beer or coffee, about 50 Norwegians attended a polite debate last night about the 2016 Presidential election. Why would Ola and Kari Nordmann surrender their precious Wednesday evening to listen to three men go on about the current crop of candidates? You certainly wouldn’t get half that many people in my hometown to attend such an event – unless the beer was free. I bet the same is true for your hometown.
They were there because the 2016 Presidential election matters-to Norwegians. By extension it matters to the world. That is a point that is too easy to forgot in the States. Familiarity breeds contempt. As an Iowan that sentiment may be more true than for others considering how the Hawkeye State is saturated with political campaigning for over three years prior to the caucus
There are perennial topics for comics like: weather, relationships, drunk uncles, air travel, and politics. No matter the year or audience, you can get use the grist from at least four of these to support a stand-up routine. Politics are especially ripe for ridicule. I think for many it is the only act of participation they feel they have. Additionally, it’s a form of stress relief. Since politics have such life-and-death consequences on your lives, then making jokes about it may seem empowering. Someone ask a psychologist.
Wednesday was a typical damp and cool day. The sun set at 3:29, the fog and mist that was present throughout the day became a backdrop for the glow of the city. I entered the open air when I exited the underground train at National Theatre station. In the distance was a Ferris wheel, towering over Storting, the Norwegian Parliament building and seat of governmental power.
I assume the wheel was there for pleasure, all though it may as well have been an art project. What would it mean? What would be a clever monument to place outside of the American Capital as an art project? New postcard contest: most clever art project explained per building. You have one week, add your ideas as a comment.
My drawn downtown was to rendezvous with a favorite professor of mine from the University of Wisconsin. Unbelievably this was the first date we were able to make. I was really looking forward to hearing about her adventures and telling her about mine. As a bonus she suggested we attend a debate at the locally famous Litteraturhuset (The Literature House). The Fulbright Alumni Association of Norway was hosting a public debate on the 2016 American Presidential Election.
The young and old faces in the crowd sat in attention as three experts with diverging political ideologies added their insights into the fitness of the hopefuls: Jan Arlid Snoen represented the most conservative of the three, Svein Melby literally and figuratively sat in the middle, and Professor Ole Moen voiced the left’s position. Each man spoke in turns and then the moderator, Helene Megaard, took questions from the assemblage and attempted to corral the speaker’s opinions for time.
I wish I had a transcript of the event so I could make a WordCloud. What would be the words and phrases that were the most reoccurring? Likely contenders would be: Tea Party, Trump, Photo ID, Caucus, and Gerrymandering.
The night was conducted in the local language, naturally. But what was unnatural, or at least surprising was the bounty of directly used American phrases and descriptors. I guess some things don’t translate, or at least need to be translated. In the analysis of my notes, most of the Americanisms had negative connotations. That’s too bad, even the Norwegians can notice the sour taste in our politics.
The oldest living Constitution in the world comes from Philadelphia in the late 18th Century. Early in the 19th Century, Norway adopted her Constitution on 17 May, 1814; Synttende Mai. Longevity has made her’s the second oldest living Constitution. Sorry, not France, most everyone-including my Norwegian students-makes that mistake.
The Norwegians borrowed from the US Constitution, of course they did. And of course they added Rights, procedures and structures to suit their time, their culture and their needs. One of the differences that was mentioned last night, in passing, was striking. Professor Moen said that Americans shout about their Separation of Powers, whereas the Norwegians invented a government based on the Sharing of Powers. A subtle difference of words with significant ramifications.
Several topics garnered the most attention, two in particular. One, if a party has a majority in the Senate, then why can’t they get anything? The Supermajority concept even stupefies Americans, the Norwegians seemed incredulous that the US Senate can claim to be the most August body in all of democracy. Ola asks, “Since when is 59 to 41 not enough?”
The other central issue of discussion was the high standing of two inexperienced political outsiders. America’s individual campaigns instead of party campaigns are partial answers. The other answer is who votes. Or, more precisely, who isn’t voting. Voter turnout in the world’s oldest democracy is low. But for the preliminary contests the participation is abysmal. Only the most fervent and dogmatic voters turn out and, accordingly, reward the most fervent and dogmatic politicians.
Low level of voter participation in America makes me sad and embarrassed. I am sad because we need every voice and vote possible to make sure our government speaks for the people, so it has legitimacy. I am embarrassed that billions of people don’t have the vote but want it. Americans have the vote but we seem to squander it. Gaffs and silly candidates are easy to laugh at. Late night monologues will use them until the end of time. No one makes jokes about voter apathy, this is not funny.
Help them “Howl” in high school
The Louvre, the Getty, Tate Modern, Musée d’Orsay, The Sofia…Coco-gey.
I have visited over 15 upper secondary schools in Norway thus far. They have all been similarly memorable for dissimilar reasons: Persbråten was my first, Langhaugen necessitated a flight, Byåsen welcomed me for a week, and the list goes on.
After three months of “Roving” I thought I had seen a representative sample of what Norway had to offer; i.e., no more big surprises. Wrong! Last week I wasn’t surprised, I was shocked with joy and amazement. Last week I taught at Kristiansand Katedralskole Gimle.
Kristiansand is a fascinating town in its own right, meriting its own posting but this post is about a giant sliver of that city, the upper secondary Cathedral School. It seems like the important and historic cities of Norway all have a Cathedral school. As a land where church and state were one, it should come as no surprise. A Cathedral school was the location to prepare elite teenagers for admittance to university and high positions in society.
While church and state have been more or less cleaved in Norway, and public schools operate under a mandate to educate all in a folkelighet paradigm, Cathedral schools still are elite institutions with long histories that make for unique stories. KKG is one such school.
The locals call Kristiansand Katedralskole Gimle, “KKG.” You would pronounce those three letters, “Coco-gey.” Across the road from KKG is a church surrounded by pollard-style trees. The simple form shrouds its history – it dates to the 12th Century. That is the neighborhood.
I arrived early and found my way to the Personal Room, the faculty and staff area. Norwegian Personal Rooms are large, light-filled, and usually bedecked with art. They are places where teachers actually want to gather and talk and practice their collegiality like it has always been done rather than in some prescribed manner. This Personal Room was no exception.
My cooperating teacher found me deep into paperwork scattered across an entire table, acting as if I owned the joint. She asked if I would like a tour of the school. My reaction was to pass because I have had many a tour, but mostly I had a heck of a mess going on. But I did the opposite, I said yes, I would love a tour. She said she was pleased that I said yes, I came to mirror that sentiment.
We ascended the stairs to the newest structure. It was a large and open exposition like area for students to gather and eat as well as perform, a stage with professional rigging and lighting was integrated into the design. Large original paintings overlooked with hall from positions on the walls. This structure united the two former buildings of the bifurcated campus. Both were mid-century modern in brick: efficient, utilitarian, and underwhelming. Little did I know that these books ought not to be judged by their covers.
Up the second level, our first stop was the reason for the school’s fame, Dr. Reidar Wennesland. Wennesland, a local boy and alumnus of the school, spent his adult life in San Francisco and was an important part of the bohemian scene in the Post-War Years. An eclectic man, he was a friend to the artists and vagabonds. And for those who needed medical care or a place to crash, Dr. Wennesland was a harbor.
Given that poverty was the lingua franca of bohemia, gifts of art were the currency. Wennesland’s guests and patients repaid their host in artworks of all manners and born of materials both humble and hasty. The heir for the collection – the world’s largest assemblage of West Coast Beat Art outside the US – was to be KKG and the nearby Agder University College; henceforth the Wennesland Collection.
Wennesland wanted the art to be displayed prominently and with great accessibility in the schools, to be a intimate point of interaction and inspiration to young people. The doctor believed that art should surround people, be part and parcel of daily life rather than reserved for stoic galleries and special occasions.
Frankly, that priceless works of art were hanging on the walls and at arms length of hundreds of teens was thrilling to me, what trust the curators and school put on the students! Some of the pieces did have modest levels of protection owing to their fragile states (penniless Beat artists worked with materials at hand, quality canvas and frames were unthinkable).
The school also had a rare book collection, visible and accessible with permission but behind locked glass. There were several bibles dating back to the 16th Century – some of the earliest years for the press. The curator had even pulled out a couple of especially remarkable works for a presentation, and I got to see up-close-and-personal a first edition of, “The Wild Duck,” by Henrik Ibsen!
KKG had a partner school for business training before the merger about a decade ago. In the lower level was a professionally curated collection of historical business and accounting machines. American made machines dominated the collection. Several of the machines bore tags noting them as gifts under the Marshal Plan. More inspiration and wonderment.
Teens get a bad rap. Too often the adult world thinks of them as hopeless and unfit for fine things and then constructs for them worlds that fit that adult paradigm, the results are predictable. At KKG I saw a vision of a more interesting and trustworthy world for teens to inhabit, to mature in. My home school’s motto is now, “Inspire, Unlock, Empower.” It is an admirable goal. At KKG they have no motto, I don’t think they need one.
Author’s note: The featured image is a picture of a book about the Wennesland Collection.
Forsgren, Frida. (2008). San Francisco Beat Art in Norway. Press Publishing. Oslo, Norway.
Sunday Nature Call, uke 47: In the Meadow Can We Build a Snowman?
I thought it would be another barren week on the birding front, but then on Saturday a gang of vagrants paid a visit. The collection of Rowan trees proved a temporary attractant to these circus performers. Thank you, your song and bursts of group flight were joyous.
New birds: 2
Sidensvan (Bombycilla garrulus)
Toppmeis (Lophophanes cristatus)
In the Meadow Can We Build a Snowman?
On my return home from a week traveling, I saw a rope of lights on the distant mountain. The shape suggested a ski jump. In the morning, an alpine hill was visible. An odd white patch on a gray landscape, that one might, at a glance, mistake for a static plume of smoke. It was my omen for what is to come. A faith in the near-artic future of this land. There will be snow.
As the cradle of sking, Norway is exhuberant about its national sport. The first snow of the season is officially anticipated greatly (unofficially there are plenty of Norwegians who long for an extended trip to the Canary Islands). As autumn wears, the tension of waiting for skiable snow becomes palatable.
I saw men on roller skis, training, the second day I was Norway. A man (I have only noticed men on roller skis…research project?) ploughing the streets of west Oslo in August is a vision of many things: hope, dedication, perseverance, silliness… I was excited. We had dragged our skis across the world to participate in this snow-mad culture, and here was proof that the dream was real (my teenage years were filled with fanatisies of nordic glory)! It would not be a matter of if, but when.
Living in the banana belt of the Midwest, the skiing seems to be either feast or famine. Here, I could have the confidence of those fortunate sons in Grand Marais Minnesota, Hurley Wisconsin, and other locales blessed with consistent snow. It will snow…but when?
We had a tease of snow in Oslo. On Monday, there was a morning of just enough snow to snarl traffic but not enough to accumulate. The ski resort area of Trysil has snow, kind of. They bunkered snow over the summer to springboard the next season. In a couple of shelted patches, snow survived the summer on its own accord. Snow making machines are at work.
The history of Norway is one of snow and skiing (Sondre Norheim helped bring the sport to the world; you can thank him when you meet). But that is history, what is the future? Global warming portends an unpleasant future for winter recreation (a minor detail actaully in the global crisis). My Iowa home will become more like the Ozarks in the winter than Minneapolis. What will happen to Norway?
Technology only goes so far, you can’t resist physics or Mother Naure for long – they never rest. With enough money, you can make snow. Our Sunday family hike took us around and through snow making equipment in use. What a wonder! That equipment though is tactical not strategic. At what point wouldn’t it matter?
If you are a nay-sayer or doubter, then realize the science that is allowing you to read these words over the internet is the same science that is predicting global warming. It is the same science that runs your mobile phone, flies your airplane, and develops your prescription drugs.
As long as there is an earth, there will be nature. I guess the question is, “What kind of nature will it be?” I like to ski. My wife and children like to ski. I want to have a future in which my sons can enjoy the salubriuos pastime like I have. I want that for your sons and daughters too.
Near our apartment is a grassy hill, a meadow. It’s just been a lovely spot of open green in an otherwise developed or forested city. It is reserved for sledding and skiing. My boys are eager to run the hill. But there is no snow making there so we will have to wait for the real thing.
Looking ahead, looking up, and keeping my pencil sharp. -jlh
Their faces and names are everywhere, but you can’t talk to them. The ubiquity of these men makes them seem so close, so present. Of course they are far away, they are in that undiscovered country. To visit them is to never return to the here, the living. They are dead.
Week 47 now finds me in the south, the south of Norway: Sørland. Since Wednesday evening I have been in Grimstad, “The town of poets.” That Sørland is a popular tourist destination is easy to understand, I hope I can return in its glory of the summer sun. This part of Aust-Agder attracted artists, and/or inspired their creativty. I was inspired to run.
But first I had breakfast. The Scandic Hotel in Grimstad is a treat. The interior reflects the neighborhood buildings in design, array of colors, and the feeling of being in a warren. The “old town” of Grimstad is like the “old town” of Stavanger – prepare to get lost, especially with no sun as a reference point.
Breakfast on the road means eating too much. One, ohhh, it’s all so tempting: breakfast buffet. Two, I am so cheap; if I eat a huge breakfast, then skipping lunch is not too much of a challenge. But I also wanted to run. The vote was broken by my growling innards. Eat!
My preference is to run in the woods and on trails…it is Norway after all. But I don’t like getting lost and now that we are in the dimenished daylight season, I am even more sensitive to running within my limits. So a road run it would be and why not run to Fevik, the summer home of Roald Dahl.
Unbelievable but true, I hadn’t heard of Roald Dahl until I came to Norway. Actually, I hadn’t heard of Roald Dahl until my son read to me from a Roald Dahl book he got from the library at his school, in Norway. We are now well aquainted.
The nice woman at the Hotel desk said the run to Fevik was a clear route. She warned me though that it was about 8K, one way! The hint of cigarette smoke helped me appreciate her concern and to carefully grin at the short distance. And we’re off.
In, “Hexene,” (The Witches in english) the boy learns from his grandmother that witches abound in Norway, along with many other mysterious creatures. So many summers of Dahl’s childhood were spent in Fevik that clearly the local lore and landscape left an impression on the author. I set my sights for the Strand Hotel – his summering home – and ran.
One very nice thing about being a pedestrian in Norway is the bounty of paved paths. A second nice thing about being a pedestrian in Norway is the scenery. A bad thing about being a pedestrian in Norway are all the oil-burners (the chuch is tolling 8 PM as I type). Diesel trucks, diesel cars, and the cold engines that put of a stench that just seems to linger too well in this air: a smell I will remember forever.
The road to Arendal, Route 420, was my path and the Strand Hotel Fevik was my destination, it was time to Let it Go. Would I get to see a witch or troll along the way? Unlikely because there is still just too much daylight for those creatures of the shadows to manifest. I kept an eye out nonetheless.
Boulders, meadows, ocean inlets, and the homes of civilization paralled my route. Are mountains and jagged rocks necessary for mystery? I can’t think of too much mystery from Iowa or Illinois, but then I can’t think of much mystery from Colorado or Montana either. It must be Norway.
The Strand Hotel was lovely. Even on a gray day, she sat with dignity on the water’s edge. The timeless waves washed against her beach. I got to hear what Dahl heard, I got to see his vision of the sea, I got to taste the lightness of the saltwater, I got to feel the grains of sand between my fingers as I caressed a shell, and I got to think about what inspired his fantastic tales.
The woman at reception was too kind. She invited me to the pub to see where Dahl would enjoy a beverage and cigarette, pictures of him look back from the walls. Surprisenly there was no Dahl merchandise. Does the hotel not have the rights or do they have too much restraint? My bet is on the latter. I hope I can return in its glory of the summer sun.
I ran back to Grimstad on the same path. It was still cloudy and cool, about 4 degrees centigrade. At the hotel I took the stairs – after running 14k taking the lift seems wrong. The circular stairs (i love circular stairs – we need more of them in america) were a path through an art exhibit on the walls: historical photos, contemporary art, and famous writers: Knut Hamsun, Henrik Ibsen, Vilhelm Krag, and Gabriel Scott.
Knut Hamsun is celebrated and ignored. He is remembered, although some wish to forget (the Grimstand Church bell tolled 9). The man was as interesting as his works. If you are interested first go to the library and read his works, the internet can be a sewer.
Without need for apology, Norwegians celebrate Henrik Ibsen. At the age of 15, Ibsen moved to Grimstad to begin an apprenticeship in chemistry, little could people have imagined that he would actually begin his path towards international stardom. Ibsen is still too famous for me to add anything of value.
The names and images of famous dead men abound here in Sørland. Their quotes are placed here and there, on walkways, walls, and buildings. With the magic of print, their words live on long after they became feasts for worms.
How did this place inspire: the people, the sceneary, the seasons? Was it the dark time, with all the forced contemplation? You’ll have to ask them when you get the chance. Until my time comes, I will continue to wonder and take a little inspiration from this land too.
Epilouge: I did not speak of women writers, correct observation. During my travels, monuments to men are ubiqutous but the same for women are scarce. You will have to look hard to find commemorations for women like Collete or Undset, but you should look.
Sunday Nature Call, uke 46: Black Gold; Or, Wealth that Lasts
Cooler now in Oslo, many mornings the paths greet my feet with a subtle layer of ice. I am learning to walk more purposely here, always be ready to fall. Snow has alluded Norway, much to the disappointment of Ola and Kari Nordmann. Late autumn is a resentful time in Norway: cold, dark, and damp. At least with snow a person can hit the trails. Snow amplifies the light from both sun and stars and make the nights less foreboding. I’m rooting for snow.
Black Gold: Or, Wealth that Lasts
There is a universe beneath our feet. Underfoot is a world unexplored and largely uncharted, our Moon has fewer secrets. The mystery has a simple name: soil. If you eat, then you rely on soil for your life. As typical of human behavior, we disregard or dismiss the truly important things. We have even tied the word soil with a disparaging verb, “you soiled your shirt, now it’s ruined!” How do other languages treat soil?
The oil production that made Norway rich has a date of expiration. Estimates for the cessation of functional hydrocarbon exportation suggest the year 2030, maybe 2040. The specific year or even decade of extinction isn’t important. What is important is that the oil industry will end and likely within the lifetime of many Norwegians. Then what?
Oil fields are supposed to be used up. The word “exploitation” is used purposely and fittingly. And after the oil ends Norwegians will still need to eat. It is impossible for Norway to feed itself, and a pipe dream to think so. But Norway must use the land it does have to feed as many people as it can. The old soils will be tasked with the serious and timeless work to produce food for people and livestock. Will the soil be able?
The settlers who traveled to the prairies of the American Midwest came for the soil, the abundant, fertile, and almost free soil. Scenery was not on their list of wants or needs. And in the course of a couple of generations, those hardworking migrants and immigrants turned an ocean of grass into an ocean of grains. They fed themselves, a region, and a world. That remarkable productivity came from the soil.
In retrospect is it no surprise the settlers, and especially their progeny went beyond using the soil for production to exploiting the soil for production. Industrial tools were handmaidens to the belief that this way of life, this way of farming could go on forever. But Mother Nature teaches harsh lessons to the myopic.
The vast oyster beds in New York Harbor died and threatened to starve a city. The epic White Pineries of the western Great Lake States were leveled in 40 years by hand tools. Passenger Pigeons were an inexhaustible source of meat until they were no more. I could go on.
The droughts of the 1930’s manifest the Dust Bowl, thee example of soil mistreatment. But I think soil is actually about the future. Sure, it is made up of ancient materials by ancient means but what soil does is provide a future…as long as you treat it kindly.
I have seen a lot of the farmland that exists in Norway, much of it reminds me of my western Wisconsin boyhood. I was told by a teacher in Gran (Oppland Fylke) that she has visited almost every American state, but not Wisconsin. I asked her why, it seemed like an impossible statement to me and my question must have come across as hurt and desperate. “Oh,” she replied, I think sensing my surprise, “I do want to visit Wisconsin, but I have seen the pictures and it looks too much like here.”
The fields of Norway that produced potatoes, rye, and oats have transformed. From my arrival in August, the cereal gains were already ripening, they were all teaming with life. Now, those same fields are ugly open sores to my eyes.
An American farmer in the Midwest with any sense of pride or decently would retill his fields following the fall harvest; of course he did, “Everybody does it.” But why, from where was that practice born? In Norway they retill the fields. I suspect they do as well in Sweden, and Germany, and France. I suspect fall field work was just another cultural migrant.
No-till, low-till, and cover crops are some of the practices that have caught on in America to staunch the loss of our topsoil. A harvested cornfield that winks with green before the snow falls is a beautiful thing. Cropland on the prairie that announces spring with fall planted shoots is a triumph of longitudinal thinking. I haven’t seen any such practice here. Of course it’s possible I have missed it, someone tell me where it is.
I used to think a field of well-turned earth was a sign of a job well done. It was a testament to mechanical prowess. It was a monument for the winter that, “man is here, acknowledge his capabilities,” Now I see pain. The integral skin the soil needs is gone, how it must suffer. Imagine if it could scream.
In Iowa people like Senator Rob Hogg and Columnist Todd Dorman have been stalwarts for soil. The Aldo Leopold Institute for Sustainable Agriculture at Iowa State University does research and education on the need to protect the world beneath our feet. To me it seems so clear an imperative.
Yet, in Iowa we are betraying the gift of soil. We are still exploiting the soil, our laws continue to treat soil like dirt. For example, something as simple as requiring developers to put back at least some of the topsoil they scrape away as they prepare sites for home and commercial building has been a political bridge too far. It seems impossible but it’s true.
When will the soil of Iowa lose its viability, 2030, 2040? There will be no oil to turn to for Iowans. When the Norwegians are forced to rely on their soils for survival will they be able?
Looking ahead, looking up, and keeping my pencil sharp. -jlh
A Tale of Two Lodges
It was the best of times, it was the bestest of times. Now and then the english language lets me down. I guess “bestest” will have to do.
In my first week in Stavanger (week 43) I had a busy and rich experience, teaching notwithstanding. I ended up with a remarkably rich social week. For a man that eschews crowds and even most gatherings, I will call this a big deal. I had four events in the first five nights. Three events were planned, two were formal meetings, and one thing I learned was that it is wonderful to meet to new people (but I really like to go to bed by 10 – I can’t have it all I guess).
Monday was a travel day to Stavanger, my first trip to Rogaland. I emailed late Sunday night to the secretary of St. Johanneslogen St. Svithun Lodge of the Norwegian Free Masons that I would like to visit their stated meeting on Monday night. Could I have done that two weeks earlier? Yes. Did I? No. What does that say about my organizational skills? You be the judge.
Tuesday night was the meeting of the Cleng Peerson Lodge of the Sons of Norway. I know what you’re thinking…yes, there are Sons of Norway Lodges in Norway. Many people in American Sons of Norway lodges wonder where their ancestors came from, and a mirror group of people in Norway wonder tom where there distant relatives went. I think both groups are in part looking for something to transcend their everyday existence and make connections across time and space.
I didn’t hear back from the secretary – but I didn’t expect to either. My request was short notice and the probability the secretary being someone young enough to use email on an incessant basis was low. So I went anyway (turns out he was abroad). What was the worst that could happen? Giving myself permission to just do it is infrequent: I like to follow rules, be polite, and be cautious.
This was to by my third visit to a lodge in Norway, I expected rich experiences both aesthetically and fraternally; I was not disappointed. Masonic lodges in the Midwest are humble affairs in contrast to the rich architecture and ritual I have experienced in Norway. I think that is to be understood as a new nation-new traditions versus old nation-old traditions paradigm. At any rate, I introduced myself I was able to prove my legitimacy for attending. After signing the logbook, I was quickly embraced and entrusted into the companionship of Jarle, my convivial guide for the night.
The Cleng Peerson lodge knew I was coming, this I had actually intended to in advance, but I still think I surprised them. After the fact, I learned that many people from the US had “called ahead” over the years but never actually showed. Ha, well it’s nice to score that first! The significance for me first seeking out this Sons of Norway lodge in Norway before others was a connection, a name.
In 1825, Cleng Peerson led the first delegation of migrants from Norway to America. The ship for their travel was called, Restauration, and it left from the port in Stavanger. My lodge in Cedar Rapids is called Restauration in honor of those pioneers. So many people and such a little boat, it is hard to believe.
I took the bus to the community center for the meeting. Ove attended the door where I paid my 70 Kr for the refreshments and then signed my name to the register. It was a friendly and intimate gathering, though the lodge president wielded the gavel like a seasoned parliamentarian. The guest speaker for the night, Engvall Pahr Iversen, regaled the attendees with a gripping tale of the political maneuvering by civic leaders during the early days of Norway’s oil exploration. Following his warmly received talk I was asked to tell a little bit why I had come all this way. I did my best, in my best Norwegian; it was okay, I will accept that.
It was a special night for the lodge of St. Svithun because a young member would be progressing through the ranks of enlightenment, his father was a ranking member and proudly in attendance. The language barrier and details didn’t obscure the general course of the meeting and the significance of the ceremony; they put on quite the show. While enthralling, I don’t see this level of pomp and theatrics being adopted in the states.
An artisanal apple juice in a diminutive glass bridged the meeting and formal dinner. I had the salmon. Norwegians are capable and enthusiastic speech makers and toast givers. This evening was abundant in both categories.
Two lodges. Two late nights. Two full bellies. Two fond memories. Too little sleep. Midwestern troubadour Warren Nelson would quip during his radio show that we will be dead for billions of years – so why not stay up late tonight? Apropos to that. I’ll leave you with this, “Roving in Norway is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it will be a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known.”
“Give me your tired, your poor
your huddled masses yearning to breath free,
the wretched refuse of your teaming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me;
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
from The New Colossus by Emma Lazarus (1883)
No Good Deed Goes Unpunished
There is a refugee crisis in Europe – There is a refugee crisis in Europe – There is a refugee crisis in Europe
Do you believe me there is a refugee crisis in Europe? There is, and it has been thee story on this side of the pond. The refugees, specifically the refugees from Syria, are in crisis. And their desperation and subsequent determination to find shelter in Europe is prompting a crisis of politics and conscious in Europe.
A conservative and high-ranking member of parliament wrote an opinion in the Aftenposten (newspaper of record) last Thursday. The title was, “Fra dugnads retorikk til realiterer.” It was meant to make people think about the bold and generous pronouncements they make in the social, help-thy-neighbor, gatherings and the reality if all that generous talk has to be backed up with action. The Norwegians have a rich history of charity towards refugees around the world. Their magnanimity is now being put to the test.
According to TheLocal.no (9 Nov. 2015) almost 2,500 asylum seekers came to Norway last week. The pace of people seeking refuge in Norway is about 30,000. In a nation of about 5 million that is a significant number. America would have to take in almost 2 million refugees to match that proportion of its population. I can imagine that if 2 million people were coming to America for refuge from crises in their homeland then there would be a powerful political backlash. I don’t have to imagine that backlash happening in Europe in general or Norway in particular.
Conservative movements do well campaigning against immigration. In America the rhetoric is unvarnished and caustic. The words in Norway have been more measured and calculating but unmistakable: there are too many immigrants as it is – no more. The liberals made inroads on the conservatives in the elections earlier this fall, will this foreign crisis be the thing that scuttles their domestic political gains?
Last week I was in Horten. Newspapers around Norway, there are a lot of local newspapers in Norway (a topic for another day) talk about this issue because refugees are settled all over the country. In the local paper, the Gjengangeren, I read that a group of refugees was expected in town, in the same hotel in which I was staying. I stayed Tuesday and Wednesday nights, they were coming on Friday. My room for two nights, theirs for…who knows?
I taught three classes today about minorities groups and movement. The first part of the lesson concerns the Chinese who came to America in the middle of the 19th Century. We start by trying to learn those famous lines from Emma Lazarus by heart and then measure the experiences of those Chinese men against it.
The rhetoric did not match the experience. In fact the Americans became so unnerved about the influx and presence of Chinese in America they passed a law against them. In 1882 The Chinese Exclusion Act banned immigration for 10 years.
How long did the law actually last: 2 years, 10 years, or more?
How much more?
84 years! The American government banned Chinese immigration until 1965, along with most immigration from all ethnic groups since 1923. Now there is a big difference between immigrants seeking better economic opportunities and those fleeing a war zone. But there seems to be a similarity in the reactions such cultural shifts those movements of people provoke.
In Norway I will get a front-row seat to this all-to-real human drama. My countrymen in the States might watch it on TV. I wonder how this will play out in Europe? I wonder if America will really do anything about it?
Sunday Nature Call, uke 45: Daylight Fading
A new friend this week, he honored me by wearing a shirt with images of Haliaeetus leucocephalus. My reputation as the Bird Man of my Alcatraz precedes me even in Norway.
Come and waste another year
All the the anger and the eloquence are bleeding into fear
Moonlight creeping around the corners of our lawn
When we see the early signs that daylight’s fading
We leave just before it’s gone”
-Counting Crows, from the album “Recovering the Satellites” (1996).
“Recovering the Satellites” is one of my favorite albums. I can find a reason, without much effort, to sing songs from that collection in my head. I don’t want to pick a favorite song, I don’t want to have favorites of anything – too confining. But…”Daylight Fading” is one of my favorites.
At the latitude of Oslo, “Daylight Fading” takes on an amplified meaning. I have endured the Midwestern winters and diminished daylight but I can say with a little (just a little) pride that I have not been one to grumble about how dark it is. The M.O. for folks in Wisconsin and Iowa (you know who you are) is to grouse about how it gets dark too early during the winter. If you have a sad outlook on a season, then I bet you’ll have a sad season.
Winter is my favorite season, so many reasons: animal tracks, no misquoitoes, wool sweaters, and the magic of skiing on snow-covered fields reflecting starlight. As a boy I was fortunate to have access to land and equipment that allowed me to spend time alone listening to the zip-zip-zip of my waxless skis and the thump of my heartbeat. I enjoyed the wonder that darkened skies gave my skis; every distance was a long distance, no long gazes, shadows and stumps made for mystical phantasiums, a surprise at every turn, and solitude.
In Oslo, we have already passed the minimum daylight for Cedar Rapids Iowa. The minimum daylight for Cedar Rapids will by 9 hours and 7 minutes on December 22. In Oslo we fell under that mark on October 28. Today the amount of daylight will be 8:08, we did enjoy some sun, albeit low on the horizon. You make the best of what you have, and avoid looking to the south – it’s blinding.
With a sun so low, so weak, everything seems to hold a dampness. The low clouds and fog seems to hold on, the streets have the Hollywood look of being wetted, the benches at bus stops are worthless: nothing gets dried. And life goes on.
The lumens in Oslo will continue to diminish. I will have the privilege of traveling north of the Arctic Circle during this winter – total darkness – I can hardly wait. Winter will be dark, and then the sun will return. It always does.
I knew the daylight would fade but I moved here anyway. I have seen the signs of daylight fading but I’m not leaving. When my ancestors left Norway about 120 years ago, how did they react to the daylight fading in their new home of Wisconsin: “A winter with all this sun?”
Nature has developed a bounty of life that tolerates and even thrives in the dark months. Nature doesn’t actually care, she knows that each spot of the earth gets an average of 12 hours of daylight and 12 hours of darkness over the course of the year. Nature accepts and adjusts. I will too.
Looking ahead, looking up, and keeping my pencil sharp. -jlh