Monthly Archives: January, 2016

The Sunday Nature Call, Uke 3: No Postcard Available

The Sunday Nature Call, Uke 3: No Postcard Available

The ski trailed beckoned and we obliged, the forest in white was a soft sell. Tuesday gave Meghan and I a chance for a mid-day ski in the sun, I think that qualifies as a “date.” A raptor glided across the trail, I got a look but just not good enough. I suspect it was either Accipiter nisus or Falco rusticolus, but I can only suspect. Again, the hawks and falcons of Norway elude me.

New birds: zero

(Avian incognito)

No Postcard Available

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“How about just not driving today?” I guess in Oslo that can be a real question for the commuting public, I can’t imagine that passive-aggressive line having much effect in Denver or Los Angeles. But therein lies the stereotypical difference between American and Norwegian culture. America: look out for number one; Norway: look out for each other.

Norway is a postcard perfect country, almost all the time. But the last months there have been days in the largest two cities that will never make a postcard save some insufferable hipster store that specializing in irony. There have been bad air days in Bergen and Oslo.
Last the week Aftenposten ran a page two story on suggestions for doing your part to reduce the bad air “dårlig luft” in Oslo. My comments in italics are the interpretation.

1. Let your car sit really why not? are you that important? no, didn’t think so.
2. Don’t use spiked tires (responsible for 12% of pollution in Oslo) get regular snow tires like everybody else, they’re good enough, shees!
3. Don’t burn wood of course you like to burn wood, but how about try candles for a while.
4. Carpool you know you should be doing this anyway. now’s your chance to ask that quiet man down at the end of the street, you work in the same building for pete’s sakes.
5. Walk or bicycle think of the free exercise, everybody’s doing it.
6. Avoid rush hour it wouldn’t be too hard to do now would it.
7. Work from home you know you want to, here’s your in.
8. Take public transportation as if this even needs to be said, it’s a shame you don’t.
9. Burn dry wood cripes, if you just have to burn at least get some good dry oak.
10. Spend some time in the woods just please don’t drive there by yourself, that would defeat the purpose, goodness sakes.
Maybe the air isn’t too bad where you live, but these are some nice suggestions anyways.

Why the bad air in paradise? Like anywhere, modern living plus a little geography is to blame. The geography can’t be change. The mountains and valleys are perfect winter hosts for inversions that trap air at group level. That is not the problem per se, but when combined with hydrocarbon emissions, exhaust, construction dust…you get the idea.

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An orange haze blankets the west of Oslo at 2pm, week 3

The prevalence of diesel passenger vehicles is a surprise to American visitors. The evidence that those clean engines are actually dirty is a bitter pill for so many who bought those cars because they were supposed to make a positive difference.

Bergen and Oslo also have ship traffic. Massive ocean going vessels idling away at port are monsters for air pollution and barely regulated in comparison with land-based exhaust systems. Long Beach developed a clever “plug-in” system for running ships while docked – check it out.

Air pollution kills people, it demonstrably kills more Americans than fanatics could ever dream of. America has come a long way in reducing air pollution, thankyou Clean Air Act and EPA. Between 1900 and 2000, air pollution was reduced 97% in America. Wow! Still, 44% of Americans live where the air is often dangerous to breath (State of the Air, 2015). A 2013 MIT study held that air pollution led to the early deaths of 200,000 Americans, that always unnerves me.

I will be in Bergen for the coming week. No inversions are forecasted, just rain and wind. Something else for which there is no postcard available.

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

There is a High Price to Living By the Roads

There is a High Price to Living By the Roads

8:28 Resistance to motion sickness nearly exhausted, I feel like I should apologize ahead of time to the girl next to me in case I have to make a dash for the door. But trapped against this window in a moving bus my options are limited. Hold on.

The bus ride from Fredrikstad to Moss was only 60 Crowns, less than $8 dollars, pretty cheap. But like so much of our modern roads and highway culture, the costs are really high. No one really likes the bus, but I don’t see how we can afford our cars. The thought of society without them makes me as unsettled as this umteenth speedbump does another number on my belly.

I rode into Fredrikstad on the train. Trains, even slow trains, I think are probably the only truly sustainable way to move about on land. Railroads and the Industrial Revolution are two heads of the same coin. They were born and grew together, often with speed and change like a matastisizing cancer.

Trains were energy suppliers of people and goods into our town and city centers. Cinders and smoke be damned – the train needs to stop downtown! I romantize that trains helped stitch together provincial settlements and regional cities into a greater national tapestry and respected the distinctions of each town to their neighbors. Not too far from the central station, the city stopped and a clear transition to rural, maybe discivilized, lands occured. Then nothing, until the next town.

Paved roads, then highway culture upset the order. The car meant the more power you had the farther you could live from the center. Free of the stations, one could get on and off the road at will. And developments of a house here and a subdivision there blurred the lines between communties, blurring their distinctions, robbing some people of their identities, and freeing others from any responsibility to any one place. Everyone who was anyone could be anywhere and nowhere at the same time. Our car culture’s genesis coinsided neatly with Heisenberg’s Nobel winning uncertainty principle.

7:30 I decided to ask for help. Google Maps had me waiting at a stop across the street from the hotel, but it just didn’t feel right. The man at the desk didn’t know for certain either but he said when in doubt go to the main stop at the shopping center. I walked a couple of icy blocks for certainty.

7:39 I expected to wait about 10 minutes for the bus to come. To my horror, there it was, waiting. If I had waited at the stop near the hotel I would have frozen to death for nothing.

7:50 We roll on schedule. The bus is almost full. Norwegian full that is, which means there is one person to every pair of seats. The next sad sack aboard the bus is going to have to ruin someone’s solitude. Radial roulette.
7:53 Another stop, more frosty passengers. This is an intercity bus but with stops liberally sprinkled along the route. By car this would be about a 30 minute drive, I’m planning on an hour.
There’s a reason to pay more for a train, LOTS of stops on this route, will have to fight the motion sick, like riding a camel.
Traffic flowing into Fredrikstad, looks like any US city, we love our cars, we can’t afford them. We hate busses, but MAYBE we can afford them.
7:55 A large backhoe digging a hole. Artificial lights frames the scene. The earth is giving up its heat, the pile of spoils is steaming like a fresh dog dropping in the snow.
In the east there is a suggestion of the approaching dawn, mostly clear skies again.
The bus is 2/3 full.

7:58 Out of town, cultivated flats covered in snow, wrapping around the woody hills gives me a double-take of the Coulee region; maybe Viroqua or Decorah will be the next stop?

I had stowed my bags out of respect, people who set their bags and kit in the seat next to them on what they know is going to be a crowded bus is a universal yet boorish move. Buy a second ticket! A young woman took the seat next to me, she’s since moved, that’s okay.

I’m reminded a little of my trip to Farsund, lot’s of highway stops.

A gaggle of kids just got on, rosy checked and about 10-12 years, they were waiting for a while.

8:03 Trying to read the papers online while riding, but it makes my head spin and stomach queazy, need to take breaks to look out the window.

Sunrise comes slowly.

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8:12 Råde. Now this route rides the break between the hills to the east and the lowlands west towards the sea.

Råde, your speed bumbs are numerous and really quite the experience on a long bus, once will be enough.

Homes lines this road, a half acre here an acre plot there, not in town but clearly not farming either. A problem with paved roads is ironically the open access and freedom, gives to “takings,” something elese we can’t afford. “Takings,” is what I call the conditions when an individual leverages the public in such a way as to drain, rather than add, to the society. I choose to believe it is mostly an innocent action but the consequences last and compound beyond the original actor or intent.

I think I just got a glimpse of an inlet from the sea off to my left.

The consequence of building homes is that one person’s temporary dream and ambition becomes a permement obligation for society, think institutional raced-based housing patterns in American cities, or demands to support an expensive road for a small number of people who live there.
8:22 6 board: mother and toddler, some kids and a woman.

8:27 Full pre-dawn. A low current of clouds parallel the road to the left, maybe an indicator of the fjord?

8:28 Resistance to motion sickness nearly exhausted, I feel like I should apologize ahead of time to the girl next to me in case I have to make a dash for the door. But trapped against this window in a moving bus my options are limited. Hold on.
8:36 Stamaad car dealship, there are snow covered cars on the lot. It snowed two day ago and they are still not cleared off. I’m not in Kansas anymore.
8:39 I asked the girl next to me if she’s getting off at the Malakoff school stop? I think she said yes but then she said a school name I didn’t recognize. I’m confused, which mixed a standard dose of anxiety, and stirred by motion sickness has got me on the total edge.

8:40 A stop, I think we must be close. Lots of teens pile off. I go for it. Of course I’m the last off the bus with all my luggage. No jacket on, I just drag everything off in a huff because I don’t want to delay the bus and draw anymore attention to myself that I already feel. Plus, the frigid temps will hopefully be a balm.

Where’d all the kids go? By the time I got all my gear together and dressed, they had disappeared across the street and into the neighborhoods. Here goes nothing. I cross the street and disappear too. There is a high price to living by the roads.

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I’m Not Sure the Squirrel is Safe

The Sunday Nature Call, Uke 2: I’m Not Sure the Squirrel is Safe

Snow on the ground, days getting longer…living! People are smiling. No, really they are. And if it’s not for their personal pleasure in the snow then it’s the chance to remember the magic and wonder of being six years old with a new sled on a slick hill. Wee!

New bird:

Svartand (Melanitta nigra)

I’m Not Sure the Squirrel is Safe

The arctic day paired nicely with the commanding view, kind of like a cold beer and a T-IMG_5262bone steak: Epic combos. As I picked my way along the snowy stone walls in the tracks of another intrepid soul I paused frequently to just stop and look, to stare, and to feel the cold. I would get to run back to the hotel for a hot shower, the Norwegians who guarded this gateway on the Oslo Fjord hundreds of years ago had no such luxury.
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In the distance is Sweden; now they come for work, not pillaging. In this fresh snow, tracks are so easy to see. My tracks have added to another, but otherwise it’s lonely up here. A blanket of white on all these stones, a blanket that won’t keep them warm.

The Kongesten Fort (the King’s fort) is still and frozen. Aside from slipping, I have nothing to fear here, not the least of which are the Swedes. A squirrel darts along the ground from one tree to the next. It doesn’t fear the Swedes either.

IMG_5268The ramparts are attacked by children as I leave. The nearby school is having a field day and they are quickly coursing down the imposing entrance as a raceway. I am more worried about their safety then they are. Their teacher looks unconcerned, I’ll trust her judgement.

Safety and security are interesting ideas but I am not sure they actually exist. Maybe they are like dragons: we can talk about dragons, write books about dragons…but they aren’t real. To make the most of friluftsliv one must be careful, although I don’t think you can every really be safe. But as my college roommate warned me more than once, “There’s a fine line between tough and stupid, and you don’t know where it is!”

Just walking down a Norwegian sidewalk is an exercise of risk. The amount of snow and ice on the paths here would be unacceptable to any proper Midwesterner. Cities and property IMG_5223owners would risk lawsuits from the disabled – and rightly so – for failure to keep an accessible path. No ADA in Norway I guess.

 

On my walk into Fredrisktad city center from the train station I was treated to a evening wonderment of large cold flakes falling on the city. The beauty helped make up for the fact that I was literally dragging my luggage through the snow, “sidewalks” in concept only. When to my surprise, ahead of me laid a barren street. No snow, no ice, nothing except clean stone from sidewalk to sidewalk.

The rest of the walk to the hotel was a snap. I asked the receptionist what was the deal with the impeccably clean, almost rebelliously un-Norwegian, street? She said it was heated. Well there you go. If you want people to stroll main street during the dead of winter, then heat the way. Brilliant.

Why don’t we do this in America? Fyi, in America we are going to spend over One TRILLION dollars on upgrading our nuclear arsenal – really without debate. How about 1% of that for heated streets?

The goal for this run was the fortress, my 6th, and maybe to see a new bird along the river. This close to the sea there is always that exciting interplay of fresh and saltwater that attracts so much wildlife.

My run started on the clean streets of Nygaardsgata, but just past city hall I had to strap on my spikes as expected. Truth be told, hard packed snow or ice with spikes is pretty easy running, it’s the soft snow that’ll spin your wheels. A moment for application and I’m off again.

I needed to find my way to the river crossing to the old town. The receptionist at the hotel said running the bridge was unsafe. Betraying my maturity, I took her advice. I found the river, a lovely place for a stroll, or in my case a run. I could imagine the waterfront crowded with tall ships during the summer celebration. One tall ship was anchored and battened down for the winter, that will have to do for now.

Waterbirds coursed the river. Typical mallards, gulls, a solitary Goldeneye, and a flock of basking Skarv. And then I spotted the big guy. Splashing with enthusiasm in the middle of the river this large black duck-looking bird had my attention. I was doing my best to see into the sun to make an ID. A lovely elderly couple walked past and paused, wondering what I was looking at.

IMG_5241In my homemade Norwegian I asked if that was a duck and if so what kind? At least that’s what I thought I asked. The gentleman said it was an “Ender.” “Ender,” I repeated and then repeated the mantra as I ran off. I could look up what that meant when I was done. Past the fine houses and bust of Amundsen I found the ferry.

To promote tourism and minimize traffic, there are free ferries in Fredrikstad. Brilliant, again. The little ferry was just leaving the east landing and heading to me, the crossing took a minute.IMG_5271 Down came the gangplank and about five people disembarked. I was the first aboard, feeling pretty proud. Ok, ready to go. We waited. More people strolled aboard, they waited inside. I stood out – no need to get warm if I’m a true hardy runner!

The engine purred to keep the boat pushed up against the dock. I stood in the sun but the low angle meant it was bright but I felt no heat. Finally, and according to schedule, we left for the fortified city. Down went the gangplank and I was the first off, now running to generate some much needed heat.

The air was cold enough that I had to keep my armstrapped phone inside my jacket, lest it die. This made stopping to take pictures extra slow, so I just took fewer photos. The perimeter of the fortified town was a geometric workshop in resistance to black powder weapons. The architecture was frozen in time as much as the landscape was froze in snow.

I knew the fortified city would be an easy target for me, I really wanted the Kings Fort. IMG_5270Running to the golf course and camping area I could see the fort looming on a small but obviously significant promontory, the only problem was no clear path. Thank you Allemannsrett and gaiters, I made my own trail through the snow.

My freedom was rewarded with a frocked hunk of rock and oh-so-old structures. Confidence in my legs, heart, and wool, I made it safely here. I will make it safely back, if I am careful. The squirrel is watching me. Given the abundance of roaming cats, I’m not sure the squirrel is safe.

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

 

The Sunday Nature Call, Uke 1: Hello Snow

The Sunday Nature Call, Uke 1: Hello Snow

2016, game on! Sorry for the late post. My excuse, the need for extended contemplation. 😉

New birds:

Zero (Vulgaris incognito)

Hello Snow

2016 is here, enjoy. The denizens of the Oslo Fjord area are finally breathing easier, because many are breathing harder. Oh, not breathing harder because of air pollution or carrying the extra weight from extended holiday merrymaking, but because so many are finally able to hit the local trails and get in some k’s.

My number one son is fond of telling me that Norwegians invented skiing and, “They’re born with skis on!” I’m glad he believes that, he and number two son start cross-country ski lessons after school on Thursdays. The technique of number one is, well, ah, how should I say it…”unique.” I no longer have the cache to give suggestions let alone lessons. Hopefully the authentic experts from Norway will have better luck.

imageOn Saturday we boarded the bus, with skis, to hit the trails. We were not alone. Our bus was well represented by skiers as was the parking lot at trails end. Near Skansebakken I was treated to a sight of wonder, hundreds of little kids in ski school. The various groups were spread amongst a rare piece of level ground and making the most of their birthright and weather.

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If you have cold and snow, then you should ski. What a great way to commune with your fellow human (or kid) and nature. Norwegians seem to have a determination to commune with nature that is unmatched in America. The reasons why could fill a book. Many of the reasons I would cite would surprise you.

imageAt any rate, at a young age, children here are outside, “Everybody does it.” The positive feedback loop of exposure and opportunity (Allemannsrett) is enviable. The Sunday Nature Call aims to inspire, but does it? Writing about the authentic world of life out-of-doors makes me appreciate more my time with the heavens above my head. I hope it does for you. Go. And if your climate allows, say, “Hello snow.”

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

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The Sunday Nature Call, Uke 53: Fuzzy Math

The Sunday Nature Call, Uke 53: Fuzzy Math

Yes, Virginia, there is a Week 53. If you allow yourself to use your imagination, then you can invent all manner of things.

One of the “things” I like in Norway is the use of organizing the year by weeks. In Norway, the week begins on Monday. For examples, in 2015, Week (Uke) 1 began on Monday, 5 January; we arrived to Oslo on the first  day of Week 32, Monday, 3 August. That pattern through the year means that the week of Monday, 28 December is Week 53. It seems like every organization uses the week numbering system to organize their calendars, there is little need for fretting about calendars dates. Neat!

New bird:

Pilfink (Passer montanus)

Fuzzy Math

I had a “Big Year” in 2015. I endeavored to be more exacting in recording my new bird observations in America, a habit I then brought to Norway, with great success and pleasure. One of my heroes is Aldo Leopold. I will never be able to hold a candle to his remarkable notetaking and documented wild observations, but I’m going to do my best.

Do I have a favorite bird sighting of the year? No, the most memorable sightings were important for different reasons and to priviledge one would also be to favor the company in which I saw the bird in question.

My noteworthy sightings in America were (in chronological order):

  • Grus canadensis canadensis
  • Tympanuchus cupido
  • Grus americana

Norway has been generous to this lazy birder. I haven’t tried too hard to see birds, it’s been mostly catch-as-catch-can. My spreadsheet has 39 entries for Weeks 32-53. Maybe it should be 42? I had one bird misidentified and two lines for birds that I just could not make a totally positive call. Shucks.

I am confident I would have had at least 50% more if I would have been more dedicated to birding the mountains than running them. Oh well, my conscience is clean.

Because I favor certain types of birds, many species have escaped my count because I’m just not looking for what Is likely close by in plain sight. Sparrows, finches, most of the song birds…I don’t put any effort into finding them; the same goes for most marine birds like Gulls.

I know my way around the Oslo area so much better now than autumn. Come the spring migration, I will do a better job about preparing for likely migrants in likely locations – at least I can’t do worse.

 

 

 

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There are some birds I would really like to see and a couple to see again. My wish list includes:

  • Polysticta stelleri
  • Tetrao urogallus
  • Somateria spectabilis
  • Fratercula artica

For 2016 I have high hopes and low expectations, It is going to be a great year. I think if I saw my four wish list birds then that would be a bigger score than the 39 I have claimed in Norway. How can 4 > 39? Fuzzy math.

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

Only Handle it Once

Only Handle it Once

 

IMG_1411Soft rays of light, so low, at odds with dust.

A tomb, a shrine, it’s here they rest sublime.

Without it’s cool, in here cool too – combust.

So still I’m hushed, the room, me thinks is me.

 

 

IMG_1400Old oak, old nails, your sails are gone alas.

But precious shoes, the earth you walked, it waits.

Some gold, a pot, no grandeur to surpass.

Now eons ashore, dry, how you must hate.

 

 

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The temple sleeps three, Oseberg so frail.

My soul, though stirred by muscle, seafoam, pain:

Who Gokstad, tough skin and panges did sail?

The Tune timbers’ ancient tale refrain.

 

 

Not quite perfect? A plan is set. Please halt!

This shrine lies right. Want New – mindless gestalt.

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Author’s statement:

What if something is just right? In our development-centric world “just right” seemingly cannot be accepted by the powers that be.

I was moved by my visit to the Viking Ship Museum in September; I knew I had to write a poem. This is my first serious attempt a sonnet-styled poem.

Especially surprising to me was the intimate scale of the museum. The building seemed to just about perfectly compliment the ships. The spartan architecture dignified the burial artifacts and promoted contemplation. Shortly after my visit I learned that plans were afoot to create a new museum. I am unconvinced that it needs improvement.

Photo notes: Feature image filtered in “Chrome” all other photos filtered in “Noir.”