Sunday Nature Call, uke 44:
At two different schools last week in Rogaland, I jokingly teased the students about how they could get anything done at school. At Katedralskole in Stavanger they had a little lake outside their windows full of ducks. In Sauda, the mountains loomed in all directions. To me it’s all so stimulating, they are numb. And I suppose it should be like that, you have to normalize your everyday surroundings or you’d go mad – or at least appear so. The Eiffel Tower is part of the background for Parisians. “Parliament, Big Ben,” entreats the motorists through London; I hope they can get left.
Nature is all around, all we have to do is step outside. Stepping outside into downtown Cedar Rapids Iowa may not seem like a journey into nature, but it is. Any of our cities or suburbs has nature right there for the taking.
It is easy, too easy to think that Norway is especially surrounded by nature. Norwegians aren’t anymore surrounded by nature than the rest of the world. Ah, but their nature is exceptional in the way it can inspire dreams or just stop you in your tracks to stare.
Last week in Stavanger I was invited to attend their Næringsforeningen meeting (like Chamber of Commerce). The meeting was in the afternoon in a historical building on the harbor, just behind the modern fishmarket, Rosenkildetorget 1. I love old buildlings that are lovingly cared for. Even more so when they are full of oil painting and vintage black-and-white photos of stoic people. What I’m saying it that I really liked this building.
The meeting coinsidede with a outreach event in Stavanger from the US Embassy in Oslo. Stavanger has a heavy American presence. At the meeting the Charge D’Affairs and his key officers were going to briefly speak. The topic was business relations and accessing America. I ended up at the front table.
The diplomats all wore dark suits. I had heard some of the same canned quips before at a previous engagment…this is one reason I tell my students they aren’t allowed to fail – they would have to hear the same jokes again. Terrorism, market access, security, commerce, and terrorism were common themes.
Petroleum framed every part of the conversation. The price of oil, the protection of oil supplies, the “Special Relationship” the Americans had with the Norwegians (because of oil) coated all the words. The mood of the room floated on a slick of oil. Oil, along with other hydrocarbons have made contemporary Norway possible ($$$). Norwegians know this but I haven’t found many who will discuss it is mixed company. I have had many great conversations with Norwegians about the future of Norwary and oil dependency as long as it was one to three people.
We don’t really talk about racism and inequality in America, the Norwegians don’t discuss oil. Are those topics too big to discuss? The weather, sports, and petty scandals are something people can manage to dicuss becuase they don’t require any resolution.
In one of the lessons I have with students the issues of geography and people comes up. I have the sudents work with the standard US map; but it is a trick. After they have worked on the map, we talk about how the map could be wrong. A standard map shows land, not people. But people made the map, people consider the world, and people are the world.
There is a vast interior to America, nobody lives there. The beating hearts of America, the hopes and dreams of America are in CA, TX, FL, and NE. Likewise, in the world most of the map is least of the people. When adjusted for human beings, Canada, and Russia almost dissapear; Denmark is larger than Norway. This is important to comprehend.
I have told students that the standard maps mostly represent dirt and swamps and mountains but not people. People vote. Following that lecture I quip that, “Moutains don’t vote, well, maybe in Norway…” That always gets a laugh.
But what if mountains could vote? Nick Bulter wrote in the Eau Claire Leder-Telegram that Wisconsin has permanently sacrificed some its land, like mountaintop “removal” in West Virginia, for temporary dollars. Do they yield willingly? What if they could vote?
Wisconsin (and Iowa, and American, and World) legend Aldo Leopold impored people to, “think like a mountain.” If we consider the whole, then we have to treat the parts better, more thoughtfully. He is still ahead of his time.
The greatest mountains in the world are hidden. The most magnificent mountains in the world have never been climbed. Do you believe me?
Oil in America comes from many places: the Bakken, Eagle Ford, offshore Lousiana, Okalahoma, the North Slope, and many other locals. Do you live next to an oil rig? Do you want to? Would you vote against a processing facility in your community if you could?
The greatest mountains in the world lay at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean. We have never seen them but they are there. So much of modern oil exploitation is sub-surface, but it does exist. What would happend if we saw it?
Mountains don’t vote in America, neither do wetlands, tundra, prairie, or children. But if we thought like a mountain, then I wonder how we would change our behavior. How couldn’t we?
Looking ahead, looking up, and keeping my pencil sharp. -jlh