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..