Tell the air to hold me in the rushing heart of it
And keep its paths straight
Away from home let there be a land that
Flows with fish and flies
And let it taste like it tasted at home
Home take this salty scent of home from my head
Cut away the memory of its last ultraviolet
Flash beautiful beneath me
Don’t turn me to a twist of salt to fall to
Sea’s saltiness if I look back at my home
Let me look back just once let me
The Sunday Nature Call, Uke 8: Old Friends in New Light
I took a last chance walk with Owen to find some new birds. Owen insisted on pitching every stick he found on the trail into the woods, heaving snowballs at imaginary targets, and singing an American song with Norwegian words he was inventing on the spot. I was trying to walk quietly and look for birds.
Still, I will take a noisy walk in the woods any day with my son sans birds than a walk alone in an avian paradise. A father only gets so many walks with a boy, every one is precious. I’d like to think Mother Nature rewarded my patience with a brace of new feathers, but I think I just got lucky to have my cake and eat it too.
New birds: two
Fuglekonge (Regulus regulus)
Flaggspett (Dendrocopos major)
Old Friends in New Light
It was easy to spot the black hair tie on the dark dirt trail at this time in the afternoon. The angle of the sun exaggerated the relief of objects on the ground. Other human debris littered the trail, I plucked the band. I had to walk about another 100 meters on the trail until I can upon the ubiquitous green trashcan, I walked with it on my extended left index finger as if I was a human ring toss target. The bin had a couple of beverage cans, wrappers and assorted filth, in went the hair tie too. I make a point to pick up some trash on every nature walk I take. I have never seen someone do that in Norway, I’ve been looking.
My return to Stavanger was a chance to revisit several cherished spots, including two lakes: Stokkavatnet and Mosvatnet. I have reported previously of how Stavanger weather is remarkably moderated. It may have been the middle of February but greenery abounded and ice was in short supply.
My run around Stokkavatnet was more pleasant than my first in October. One, I knew where I was going, there is comfort in familiarity. Two I didn’t get rained on.
I saw many of the same birds in the same spots, the Golden Eyes were particularly nice to see in greater abundance than my last sighting. In “Happy Duck Corner” I spied a small grebe. My stopping to stare caused it to change direction and swim into the reeds. Clearly accustomed to bodies in motion, it was uncomfortable with bodies at rest especially when accompanied with a stare.
The following day I walked around Mosvatnet with my binoculars with the express purpose of picking out birds, especially hoping to see the sister of that grebe. There were no new birds, but the familiar Tufted ducks in breeding plumage were a treat.
The low light made the drakes absolutely radiant. Oh, that I could ever look so fine in a suit. The hens as well exuded a more comely appearance than one should expect. The golden rays of the sun rebounded from their eyes when they drew near. Their stares caused me to pause.
Time spent in nature is renewing. One reason is that the experience is always new. The trail may be the same; the same trees and birds, you wear the same coat. But it’s also always new. The time of day, the wind, the sounds, and your mood. Each facet makes for a novel experience. I don’t know what makes the difference for you. For me, I pay attention to the angle of the sun, it helps me see old friends in new light.
Looking up, looking ahead, and keeping my pencil sharp.
From King of Prussia with Love
Philadelphia is a city with a Greek name, French architecture, and Puritan roots: what could be more American than that? Ah, a suburb with the regional shopping center named after a Baltic nobleman. Maybe American culture is best expressed in what we “consume,” that is our shopping habits. How Americans spend their money drives the factories and trends of the world, for better or worse. I suspect the suburbs around Philly are interchangable with the suburbs of Boston or Chicago or Sacramento. Little do we appreciate how our time in the mall invents a life for the rest of the world.
Once in a while I have a student approach me after a workshop to ask more questions. Without reservation, I love those moments, especially because they are too few to my liking. This past week in Stavanger a student stayed after to talk, I will refer to her as “Steina.” Regretfully, I could not oblige because of the day’s schedule. I apologized, gave her my card, and then asked her to email me any questions she had. She did.
Steina was writing a paper on the positive and negative influences of American culture in Norway and she wanted my thoughts about the matter since I was the American living in another culture. Steina was kind in that she asked for only short answers, as if my down time was too precious to bother. I suspect what I wrote was a little longer than what she expected. But it is nowhere near of what I could have or wanted to write.
Below is a lightly edited version of my reply. My hands and arms are recovering from a “medical event” that makes typing very difficult for now, so I know there are typos and such in the text. You’ll have to deal with it. Oh, if you want the story then I will tell it to you in full over lunch, you buy.
Steina asked about the depth and breadth of American culture in Norway I observed, my thoughts on it, and perhaps larger global implications I noticed. Ultimately, she wanted to know, was “this influence…good or bad for Norway?” I wrote:
The American influence in Norwegian culture is strong, based on my observations. I see the dominant style of clothes worn by Norwegian teens as American. The brands, images, and messages on most clothing seems to promote or reflect an American bias. English is a heavily promoted language in Norway, it is the default second language taught to children and the additional language on most signs in Norway. I have come to expect to use my english anywhere I go in Norway, even though I do try to use Norwegian out of respect. The growth of private high schools and the policies of Education Minister Isaaksen are very American; the idea that competition, measurement, and “the market” will make education better.
I have traveled throughout Norway this year, in addition I have traveled in England, Germany, and France. In all cases, the influence of America is strong. The French seem to put up the most resistance to being Americanized. As the world’s largest economy, post-war patron, and cultural dynamo, it is not surprising that America is a strong influence in Norway. Norway also has a very strong emigrant connection to America not found in other nations like Spain or France, for example.
One subtle way that American culture may be trouble for Norway is food choice. Americans eat too much “fast food” and drink too much soda and sugary drinks. As a result, America has epidemic levels of diabetes, heart disease, and cancers. I see Norwegian teens drinking a lot of American style sugar drinks at school, that is a bad sign for the future.
Is American culture good or bad for Norway? I don’t know, that is not for me to say. I do think that there is a well of Norwegian culture that does stand apart from American culture and is a source of strength to draw on to meet specific Norwegian needs. For example, the Norwegian commitment to a social democracy in which equality is a powerful force is unique and resists American demands for individualism. Also, Norwegian culture seems to favor long-term projects and solutions to the problems you face. Such as diverting profits from the discovery of oil into a sovereign wealth fund, building tunnels for transportation and then having drivers pay a toll for the tunnels, and taking climate change seriously.
China, India, Brazil, and Nigeria will be major world economic and cultural forces in the coming century. As such their cultural influences will grow. I predict that American culture will be changed more profoundly by these new powers than Norwegian culture. As a polyglot nation, those changes will be neither good nor bad. They will just be change, as America has always changed. Norway, with a more coherent national identity, will change as well but less so and perhaps with more discretion.
Med vennelig hilsen,
John Lawrence Hanson, Ed.D.
The Sunday Nature Call, Uke 7: Near or Far, you’re a star
My spoiling is nearly complete, cross-country skiing back in Iowa just will not ever be able to live up to the wonder, diversity, and quality of trails here. Yesterday was the American Birkebeiner, 54 KM from Cable to Hayward. It’s a big deal. In four week I get to try my luck at the “real” Birkebeiner in Norway. So far, so good with my conditioning. I have conceded that this will be an event for me and not a race: finishing during daylight will make me quite happy.
New birds: zero
Near or Far, you’re a star
“Dad, is our sun a medium size or a big sun?” asked #1 son. I replied that our sun was a medium to small-sized sun. I intended to add some additional unsolicited wisdom but he interjected a fact of his own, albeit wrong, about how many earths could fit into the sun. And then we had a moment, some unanticipated silence where we both marveled about how big our sun was even if it was on the small size.
The power of the sun is returning to the high latitudes. This week I felt the rays of the sun for the first time, warming my face and neck in the cool air. I suspect it was the type of sensation that brings a smile to just about everybody.
The transition from the low and remarkably weak solar rays to the relatively vigorous radiation of this week surprised me. It is ironic that during our winter the sun is actually closer to the northern hemisphere than during the summer. But it’s not the miles that separate us as the angle unto which we are separated. Some poet-scientist has probably already artfully commented on that. Neil deGrasse Tyson anyone?
Yesterday the altitude of the sun in Oslo was almost 20 degrees, the effect is apparent. I had local teachers in Trondheim come within a hair’s breath about complaining about the sun because now it can be painfully bright when driving or skiing. I have seen melting take place on walks and pavement, trust me, that’s a big deal.
Of course back home in the corn kingdom, the sun has already surpassed 20 degrees by 9 AM. At high noon, the altitude of the sun is about double in Linn County. I’m not jealous, the sun’s rays are gaining strength here at a remarkable clip. Everyday I write in my log the sunrise, sunset, and amount of daylight, if I didn’t I think I wouldn’t believe it.
The birds were singing with full throats in the woods this morning, such was the glory of the sun. The trails today were a steady stream of skinny skiers with snazzy tinted glasses. I saw a man riding a mountain bike down the street, with just a dark t-shirt on. Such enthusiasm, all from a free boost in photons.
My moment of inspiration to choose this topic came while waiting in the glass-paneled walkway to board my flight to Trondheim. In that space the greenhouse power of the glass amplified the already stronger rays, I had to take notice. I hope you will too.
Looking up, looking ahead, and keeping my pencil sharp.
You Deserve a Song, but I have only words
He skidded foward to the head of the aisle, unusally close to the audience. I didn’t expect that, I don’t supposed the others did as well. With lips trembling and a stammering voice, he croaked. To be fair it was intentional and a melodiuous croak, but that too was a surprise. But I suppose that if you were tasked to inform the king he was breaking the holy law by whittling on the Sabbath, then you might be a tad nervous.
I only have one year in Norway, that is, I will never get to repeat a week. As such I have found a new motivation for action. Tired from traveling, voice haggered from doing too many workshops in a row, fretting about the price in Norwegian Kroner…? So what, live now! I haven’t become a full subscriber to carpe deim but I am siezing more days this year than I have in a long, long time, like today .
The world’s most northern Gothic cathedral stands in Trondheim. It is a marvel dating back over 900 years. The exterior is impressive, we met in September. The interior was a mystery until today. Since it is Lent, I hoped to find a service in a nearby historic church, so many to choose from. My first search was my last. Nidaros was hosting a choral concert, Passio Olavi, based on the Norwegian King, St. Olav.
I arrived early expecting a big crowd. I hold a stereotype that Norwegians really like their choral events. Passing through the dual set of leather-covered double doors I found that I was proabably guest number 11. Fine with me, I got a good seat up front next to an elderly couple.
Waiting 30 minutes for the show gave me time to look and let my eyes feast on the intricacies of the interior. The faith and resolve to labor over the course of a lifetime knowing you would not see it through to completion is something I find difficult to understand. If we can’t build a new school in less than two years then heads roll. Clearly there is a correlation between time and effort to build something and how beautiful and fussy the details.
The cathedral had signs prohibiting pictures and videos. I did my best to respect them, but I did sneak a couple. Afterwards I lit a candle to ask for forgiveness. The dearth of photographs in this posting is hereby explained.
At the appointed hour a man in a red shirt with a high black vest addressed the audience. His British english accent threw me for a moment but I was grateful to get an introduction to the work I could understand.
With his accent and the distortion from the speakers I managed to understand that he was commissioned to write this choral arrangment based on manuscripts of ancient songs and verse from the Nidaros cathedral about St. Olav that had been looted during the reformation and scattered across Europe. Fragments of the manuscripts in Latin and Old Norse have been slowly recovered to the royal libraries of Denmark and Sweden.
The arrangement celebrates seven miracles attributed to the martyr, King Olav, that propelled him to sainthood. The opening scence from this posting was about the third movement, “The Holy Man’s Hand Could Not Burn.”
An octet from The Edvard Grieg Kor (choir) of Bergen was featured, four women in shades of blue, and three men in dark suits plus the intial speaker. He was filling in for a tenor who unexpectedly deceased. They use chairs of four mimicking an inverted “V” on the raised platform.
But first, in processed the Schola Sanctae Sunnivae, a selective local womens choir that specializes in medieval religious music. They walked in a column of files to the alter area, forming a semi-circle of 14 signers centered on their conductor. All the women wore hodded red robes with the look of crushed satin. The sleve collars featured coppered gold trim, as did their neck and border of the hood. The appearance was like that of a Masters degree collar on an academic robe. At their lumbars were crosslacing in red to drawn in the waist.
Schola Sanctae Sunnivae began the evening and the pattern. They sang a floating introduction and then the Greig choir would rise, perform the movement and then sit. The final movement brought the Greig choir into the alter area with the other choir, it seemed like an attempt at musical solidarity.
The conductors accepted flowers for the performance. Scholar Sanctae Sunnivae recessed and the Greig choir accepted a second round of applause. It was 7:58.
That ancient building was made to host that immutable instrument, the human voice. I wish you could have been there. Even if I had some photos or surreptitious video you would be disappointed. Really good art necessitates live attendance. You deserve a song, but I have only words.
The Sunday Nature Call, Uke 6: Arctic Norway is Alive
A picture is worth a thousand words? Good, then I don’t feel so bad about being late with this installment. Enjoy all the words.
New birds: two
Havelle (Clangula hyemalis)
Gråsisik (Carduelis flammea)
Arctic Norway is Alive
Reindeer, extreme cold is not
Below are fitting closing words (from, http://poetrysociety.org.uk/poems/the-arctic-terns-prayer/)
Tell the air to hold me in the rushing heart of it
We Can be Ready, According to the Law
To my American sensibilities Norwegian classrooms are uninspiring. The students are neither punctual nor serious enough for my standards. Casualness among the teachers is too common. I have seen a lot in my year of travels.
In the modern world, we are all global citizens. The products we consumed were produced halfway around the world, the benefits got realized in another locale, and the social and environmental consequences affected far away others who played no part in the production, consumption, or profit. Satellites see all. Our web of connectedness is as awesome as the array of all the stars visible and invisible on a dark night.
We have Twenty First Century problems, we need Twenty First Century solutions. To wait for the laws of nature to correct our human primate problems would be doom. To expect the laws of God to provide remedies invites greater problems of authority: Whose God? Who sez?
The answer for the problems of mankind is mankind. Specifically, an educated public. All the people steeped in literacy, numeracy, and humanity. All the people capable of answering questions as well as creating their own. All the people steeled to take their place in society, aware of the past and emotionally and intellectually armed to address the future.
Preparation, not training. Preparation for democratic life is difficult, resistant to quantification, and non-linear; it’s strategic. Training is specific, for a task and temporal; it’s tactical. To be educated is to be prepared. To be prepared one must be educated.
This week was the spring seminar for the Fulbright Grantees in Norway. In the auditorium of Helg Engs Hall at the University of Oslo, we gathered to share our work, take some questions, and revel in the presence of so many people who are amazing in their own rights tell about the amazing work they are doing. I told my wife that I got to speak with people who are going to save my life with medical advances, save our planet, and take us to new heights in appreciating the human experience with their art. I got to keep company in some rare air.
I presented my observations of the Norwegian Upper Secondary schools, “Vidergående skoler.” 10 minutes was scant time to wax about the 36 schools I visited, the 109 workshops and lessons I presented, or the 4,138 people to whom I have presented.
No, I had to keep my message succinct, and I think I did: The Kids are Alright! The concerns I mentioned at the start of this post are legion among American visitors. I heard them all before I arrived. Americans in Norway repeated them to me with the air of providing great insight. Some Norwegian parents and teachers have expressed all those concerns to me at some point. While my travels to vidergåendeskoler continue I have seen enough to say, “The kids are alright.”
Norwegian teens have asked deep questions, they expressed true enthusiasm for learning, so many students wanted to hear more, most lessons conclude with some student staying after to share their own insights. The kids are alright.
Norwegian youth also have the law on their side. Education is a Constitutional right. This right guarantees a remarkable similarity in the quality of education regardless of geography. The American trope of bad neighborhoods=bad schools does not apply.
But there is another special way in which Norwegian children and teens are able to make the most of the education they get, they are richly supported outside of school as well. The young people of Norway have health care, they have a stability in home lives, their parents have jobs that earn a living wage.
All of these conditions were decisions in a democracy manifested into Norwegian law. Norway is a small country to be sure but also a beacon from a high latitude to show the possible. By contrast there is no right to healthcare in America, the differences in educational experiences are wide, kids are poorer, families are more at risk from low-pay and unstable work. Worry must be an unwelcome companion for tens of millions of American kids.
The American kids are alright too, it’s just we have voted to make it harder to get to alright, harder to stay at alright. The US constitution doesn’t have one word about education or health or dignified work. If the American youth have to struggle so mightily to get an education, then can enough of them actually get prepared? We need every young person in America able to address our Twenty First Century problems, but will we? I’m not too worried about the children of the northern lights or their problems. In Norway an education and a chance at a dignified life are rights, according to the law.
Pay to Trespass, According to the Law
My bus, with tire chains for obvious reasons, took me away from my last day of teaching at Tromsdalen VgS. The ride took me past Ishavskatedral, you may know it as “The Arctic Cathedral,” one more time. The #42 bus paused to add three passengers, waiting faithfully, from the church’s stop, and then rumbled across the bridge to the city.
Since it was Ash Wednesday I wanted to at least try to go in a church even if there was not time for a service. The walk from the bus stop to my hotel would take me past the historic Domed Church (Domkirke) in the center of town. For five days I got to see both churches. On Saturday I paid to visit Ishavskatedral. Today I wanted some pious and free moments in the Domed Church. But it was not meant to be.
Taped to the front door was a handmade sign bearing the international symbol for “Stop” and Norwegian words that said stay away, there was an active recording session. That was the first time I have ever been turned away from a church. The temple doors were shut and I couldn’t get in: I accepted that would be my meditation for the day.
As the laws of men struggled with the laws of nature, a common marker laid by men to mark the victory was a church. An outpost like Tromsø was not much different from the far settlements of the Spanish Empire.
Obedience to God’s third law required permanence. A dwelling fit for the Lord, perhaps in defiance to the laws of nature, and according to the abilities of men and their laws to levy taxes towards that end. Maybe the harder to build the church the more glorious an expression?
Most tourists see two of Tromsø’s extant houses for God, Domkirke and Ishavskatedral. They are special but for different reasons. The former reflects and the latter suggests. They guide the contemplative in equal yet opposite intellectual rays.
Ishavskatedral still points to the future despite nearing its fifth decade. The sharp and stark white aluminum skin conjures words like sexy and fantastic. Tourists are expressly lured to the church, more to gawk than to pray. The Arctic Cathedral almost yells from its perch, “Look at me!” A sentiment that has only spread in our culture since its birth. The sleekness of the building foreshadowed wealth years before the discovery of oil riches in the North Sea.
Domkirke rests, perhaps satisfied with its place in history, no more future is needed than its persistence. In the center of Tromsø the church is staid and practical. Instead of yelling it quietly reminds. The church reminds people that, “Of course I am here at the center to town. How could I be anywhere else? How could Tromsø exist without me: I am Tromsø, the people, the place.”
In 1861 the laws of nature yielded iron and lumber. The laws of nature adapted by 1965 to make concrete forms and cheap aluminum. The laws of men in 1861 said Norway had an independent Constitution yet not full freedom. By 1965 the rules of men replaced Sweden with NATO as the arbiter of sovereignty. All this time the laws of God were unchanged.
On Ash Wednesday I attempted to enter a house of The Lord to seek temporary respite from the cold and for my soul. Had I actually went through those doors I would have been trespassing and subject to arrest, according to the law.
The Sunday Nature Call, Uke 5: According to the Law
A big week! On Tuesday I flew to Mo i Rana, for business of course. But given the cut of that town’s jib, I would welcome the chance to go back for pleasure. Mo also gave me new records for north and east: 66º 21’, 14º 18’. To top the week as it were, I went to the top of Norway with a Friday night flight to Tromsø. Our weekend activities pushed the records a littler farther: 70º 1’, 19º 35’ New birds were not in the cards but I have hope for Week 6 though.
New birds: zero
According to the Law
I got my first close look in Mosjøen They were one of those things you have seen before but forgot you did, neither unknown but certainly not familiar. When I screwed up my courage enough to ask I got a surprise for answer and then something new to covet: sealskin boots.
Tromsø, I am in the Arctic proper. And if all I had to go by was television and books then my poverty of knowledge could be obscured blissfully by ignorance. Thankfully, I have been here to experience in full as much as my family and I were able…and I still get three more days. Our experiences were bound by three forces, or laws. Laws of God, Man, and Nature.
To experience life at this special place is to bear witness to the intersections of those three laws. In 2016, and for this offering, the Laws of Man and Nature provided the most action. A civilization in the Arctic, it should be an oxymoron but it’s not. Perhaps it’s the most extreme version of the Norwegian normal, to meld the wants of people with the demands of nature. Tromsø, a 4th standard deviation city.
The Laws of Nature preceded people. Here in Troms, the glaciers and arctic extremes worked out physics and the three rules of thermodynamics before hominids ever walked upright. Is arctic Norway a hard place? I don’t think so. Rather, the problem is in the language and presumptions of the question. Wildlife evolved for this place, and flourished. Our modern question is really, “Can we have a civilization here?” The answer is yes, however it is a mighty challenge.
The Laws of Nature hold that the terrestrial growing season here is short. Crops of civilization flounder, trees only grow so much. The marine thriving season is a different story. The riches of the cold water surround Tromsø, winter can be the season of greatest bounty. Much wildlife is migratory because of these extremes. They evolved with the rules and know to take what they can when they can, and then move on.
The Sami mimicked the wildlife, they were a transient people following the reindeer herd and taking what they could when they could. “Civilization” as spread by Europeans and Christianity practiced settlement. As such, they would see life as hard in the Arctic. I suspect the Sami just saw it as life.
This weekend was the Sami Festival in Tromsø. I supposed the Sami have been cooped and made to yield to the larger society of laws like everybody else. Things like defined property rights, driver’s licenses, and rules for commerce are as much a part of Sami life as for anyone. Still, I enjoyed getting an education about traditional and contemporary Sami life and how “the nature,” as our host said is recognized as the true arbiter of fat or lean times.
The products of nature were on display all weekend. Fur coats shimmered on the body of many a lady. A statue remembered whaling. Icons of reindeer were abundant enough to compose their own herd. Nature for sale, but with limits. The limits were not part of the products inasmuch as cultural paradigms from the practitioners-civilization. Just because it’s possible from nature doesn’t mean you can sell it. And just because someone can sell it doesn’t mean you can buy it.
The monochromatic heroes of the Arctic wore sealskin, look up of the old pictures. Seals make for wet conditions what reindeer do for dry, perfect materials for the arctic winter. Modern materials made from petroleum were unknow. Today, faux fur ruffs can appoint your coat. Jackets “proof” of everything including spectral subtlety are ubiquitous. But coming from petroleum I wonder just how “good” they can be?
In Norway, reindeer and sealskin products are varied, aplenty, and legal. The United States holds that seals are at-risk and all skins illegal: Laws of men at odds, laws of nature indifferent. My beautiful boots, grey with dark spots are possible and impossible. The vendor at the street market had a beguiling display. But if I brought those into the country, then I would lose them to Customs. I would never to see them again, according to the law.
Looking up, looking ahead, and keeping my pencil sharp..
The Sunday Nature Call, Uke 4: Trails and Impressions
Another late Nature Call. Well, I could come up with some lame excuses but I’d rather just own it. If only I was clever enough to come up with fascinating excuses…
New birds: zero
Trails and Impressions
Man has not invented a better way to record the passage of a being than snow. As a medium of travel and impression collector, snow is unparalelled. But more than just a medium, snow is a thing unto itself. Snow is a destination, a means to a destination, a dream, and so much more.
Our skiing has been wonderful, I feel so lucky to have the access that Oslo residents have. Of course, no one “gave them” the forest, they fought for it. The trails did not appear by magic, they worked to make public access. The grooming machines don’t run on good feelings and dugnad vibrations, people pay.
I love a freshly groomed trail. In the low sun it can look like futuristic art. In the dark it’s a path that invites wonder and adventure. The trails have been balms for the long nights.
The Nordmarka trails gave me an unexpected gift, a sense of hope. I have been really hoping to see a Norwegian Moose, “Elg” in these parts. The moose have remained as elusive as the Northern Lights. But crossing the trail was the distinctive tracks of a deer. Yet the deer tracks in question were no bambi but the large and splayed impression of the king of the forest, Acles acles.
Bullwinkle had coursed from the forest on a pretty direct route to a pile of cut logs. No doubt looking for some easy and concentrated nibbling. The trackes winded around the pile and then off in a lazy pattern to a distant line of trees. Tracks makes me wonder, they conjure smiles.
Wishing you miles of trails and smiles of impression.
Looking up, looking ahead, and keeping my pencil sharp.