Monthly Archives: May, 2016

The Sunday Nature Call, Uke 20; Squirrel!

A happy mistake, thank you Bob Ross. In reviewing my bird list I noticed an absence, the ubiquitous Kråke. The Kråke could be mistaken for the official bird of Norway, he’s everywhere and pretty darn smart. After my revelation, I first re-noticed him on the grounds at Constitution Hall in Eidsvoll. It must have been a sign.

New birds:2, Journey to date: 70

Steinskvett (Oenanthe oenanthe)

Kråke (Corvus corone cornix)

 

Squirrel!

The auburn hair was gorgeous on the green backdrop. Alas, I was too slow to steal the vision with a click of my camera, that is a sight I will commit to memory. As my subject tried to hide behind a screen of spruce branches I waited. Which means I started thinking. And I thought about the pretty white flowers I had just passed. I tried to console myself for not taking pictures of the flowers. “Maybe I’ll see some more further on,” I thought.IMG_1543

And then it hit me, I could just do that now. So, I backtracked up the hill to the flowering bushes, I gave myself permission. That’s a common issue for me, it always has been: permission to deviate from the path, literally or figuratively. Something tells me that you have also struggled with that a time or too. Human, aren’t we all.

The distances of the walls in the apartment were shrinking and the ceiling was dropping. I was feeling pressure, distress, and a swelling anxiety. My mind was flipping between topics and emotions. In our house we use “Squirrel!” as an expression for when someone is jumping between topics, perseverating, or explosively distracted. I was under attack.

The internet wasn’t helping, it never does. In fact, I think the internet just makes my feelings of dread worse. It’s not even all the bad news I consume in my steady diet of journalism from around the world. I think a key source of anxiety from using the internet is that the internet has no end. There’s always one more link to click or site to visit. The refresh button dangles the lure of an update. For me to escape it’s best to go to the woods.

The woods on this day were dampened and lush. The uncharacteristic dry spell finally ended, I really was missing the rain. Drops from the sky and drops from the trees helped to muffle the noise of a capital city. I was getting wet but I wouldn’t call it rain. No, after all this time in Norway, I limit my descriptions of rain to firehose events.

Of course I was looking for a new bird but this jaunt was more about just getting out and clearing my mind than tracking down a new feathered friend. To just walk, slowly and quietly, and see what I could see, that was the goal.

And what did I see? Many old friends, birds and trees that have become part of my landscape. I saw signs of beavers, rather ambitious gnawing on large trees at the Lysaker river near Røa. I saw Spanish Slugs oozing across the trails and paths. And when I didn’t see them I heard and felt them from under my shoe. Ick is right!

The auburn beauty was a squirrel. They were so hard to come by last summer and fall, now IMG_1553every walk in the woods is graced with their presence. It’s true, they are cute little buggers. In Iowa I would try to eat them, here they are fun to look at. Context matters.

Besides the rich color, these squirrels have tufted ears. The prominent ears suggest a greater intellect than I know they have when they are watching me with those black eyes. I stared back, they don’t like that.

IMG_1561Across the river and out of the woods at the Røa soccer pitch, more light, more flowers. Two species I see in Oslo are dreaded invaders in Iowa: dandelion and garlic mustard. I am so well trained to hate them it’s hard to accept the plants even in their native spaces. More context.

I got home to an empty apartment, just before boy number two. I felt better. Better is good, I’ll always take better as I’ve surrendered to ever being cured. This is where I should add a pithy quote from Calvin Rutstrum. Instead, I’ll let you read him and find one for yourself.

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

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Go With a Smile!

 

Early Friday morning before a holiday should be quiet. The string of warm and sunny weather has kept many Norwegians out-of-doors and active late. I thought the walk from the bus stop across the Aker river to Foss Vidergåendeskole would literally and figuratively be a walk in the park. Well, it started that way. The trees were in blossom, early morning people were on the trails, walking dogs, running, and heading to appointments.
But after I crossed the historic bridge at the falls a new sound crowded out the rush of water, bass. A throbbing bass, the war cry of teens staking out their assault on everything that adults hate. It’s an old story. It was exciting, I scurried up the hill toward the commotion.
In the front yard of the historic school was a large bus blasting out music. A group of red suited teens loitered in the grass. some danced, others chatted but “grab-ass” seemed to be the M.O. I tried to take a couple of pictures but too quickly the partygoers were mugging for my camera with gusto. Even at this early hour these Russ were wound for sound.

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I was warned of the Russ. Actually I was warned about many things Norway before I traveled. I was warned of weather, the food, the prices, and the unsociability of the citizens: It’s going to be bad! False, false, false, and false. The cautions I heard about the Russ were false too, I think some people like to scare the uninitiated.
IMG_0042Teens graduating from upper secondary school are called Russ (sounds like “roos”). Specifically, they have a Russetid during first two weeks of May when they become The Russ. The teens, aged 18-19, don red bibs or coveralls for the duration – no washing – and engage in a bacchanal.
They party, they drink, they play loud music…all the things that you’d expect of unrestricted teens and more. Some make a royal nuisance of themselves, most just revel without endangering themselves or others.

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organizing Russ cards

The Russ carry personalized business cards with sophomoric slogans and images, younger kids beg for them-mine included. Several times I’ve had to take away cards from the boys due to the swear words or sexual images. I’m an American prude, the Norwegians don’t seem to care.
But the most interesting facet of the Russ experience is the timing. My American pupils party after their exams, after graduation. Well, they try. American society foists early adulthood on teens with marketing, movies, and bad examples from adults at the same time American society say no to all things that are markers of adulthood: beer, sex, and freedom of decisions.
In Norway, the free-for-all is before the exam period, curious if not downright silly. As I have traveled the country and spoken with teachers, I’ve never gotten a good answer about the timing. Instead, most teachers complain that they hate the ritual and cannot understand why the foolishness comes before rather than after exams and graduation.

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Extant societal rituals often have little to do with their origins, for example, ancient solstice worship vis-a-vis evergreen trees and American Christmas celebrations. Like young children from a divorce, there may be a connection by name but little knowledge of the original relationship. How did the Russ get to the modern day outrageous spending and debauchery from a humble origin? I don’t know.
The tradition has evolved: time, oil wealth, MTV… all factors to be sure. But why such

madness before the tests? I finally have a response to fill the void: student cultivation.
Ah, it’s not what you think, I’m having a little fun with words. One, in Norway “Student” is a title reserved for those at university. Teens and younger learners are called “pupils.” Two, cultivation here means removal, think about weeding a garden.
What I am suggesting is that part a function of the Russ activities is to excise teens from choice university ranks. The cumulative effects are a lifetime of reduced opportunities. Say what?

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The end of school tests are high stakes for Norwegian teens. They have spent three years in focused preparation for the exams. I don’t think of tests as exit exams from vidergåendeskoler, rather as entrance exams for entrance to university. That is, do well and you get your choice of schools and programs. Or, do poorly and suffer lifelong consequences.
Here’s where the fortnight long party comes into play. Education is a strategic and longitudinal enterprise. Success in academics is built on years of study, layers of news lessons on old learnings, and family support. In America, this reality tips the balance of educational beneficiaries to the affluent. I suspect Norway may be now following that example.
IMG_0030Less prepared pupils, less supported pupils, worse test-taking pupils are at risk. In America, as well as Norway, I have met and worked with many a teen who could do a crash preparation for an exam with surprising success. But what if you interrupt their final and focused studying with two weeks of raising hell? I think you have sown the seeds of academic disappointment.
Do I have an peer-reviewed studies on which to support my ideas? No. Have I collected any data to prove my point? No, So, this is just a parlor game? No, but this is a blog and I have experience and a lot of education.

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The musicians were hard to hear, maybe musicians was stretch, I’ll go with entertainers. A small group of red jumper clad teens were performing as a kazoo band in a little park near city hall. The larger scene was a frenzy of people enjoying the sights and sun of a weekend afternoon. They were having innocent fun, not a crushed beer can in sight. The kids looked clean and happily handed out their cards to all askers, including my little pair of groupies. I am going to predict those teens will be just fine. Like most of the teens in Norway, or the States for that matter, they will be just fine. Seems like that a small group of outrageous partiers suck up all the attention. When the Joker told Batman (Tim Burton, 1989), “If you gotta go, then go with a smile!” his comment was a nihilistic statement on life itself. I wonder if the Russ have an equivalent sentiment?

The Sunday Nature Call, Uke 19: The ides of may

Off the schneid, feels good. I was worried enough that I even put some effort into looking. I had a first, a new bird verified “by ear” only. A friendly woman on the trail in the Oslo forest saw me looking into the woods and used an app on her mobile phone  to make the ID, “Welcome to the 21st Century, John.”

New birds:2, Journey to date: 68

Nøttestrike (Garrulus glandarius)

Måltrost (Turdus philomelos)

 

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Enjoy the Ides of May

 

There is a fevered activity to life. Spring on the Iowa prairie is magic, spring on the lakes of Wisconsin is a joy. But the exuberance of spring is much more pronounced in Norway. By comparison, springs flows gently from winter in the Midwest. My experience of the Norwegian spring has been more like a gush of water from a burst dam.
IMG_1216At this latitude life is more extreme, at this latitude it should be. At this latitude the sun has defeated the night during this seasonal battle. This morning in Røa, the sun broke the horizon at 4:39 AM. Tonight in Trondheim, the sun will finally yield at 10:21 PM, and even then it remains suspiciously close to the horizon. For the seamen of Trøndelag there will be neither nautical nor astronomical twilight. All the light demands action, from flora and fauna to the human primates.

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IMG_1218Better scribes can help you taste or smell a season. Capable authors let you hear a place through the printed word. Gifted chroniclers show you the scene, in the full palate of colors and shades. I manage to tap out a couple of words in hopes that they will sufficiently jog my memory when my grey matter matches the vigor of my grey beard.
IMG_1169We have enjoyed a warm streak in Norway, but Norway is not a warm land. The warmth of spring comes from within, the feeling in your heart. The blooms and bees make me warm. Children playing free of coats on a brisk day is warming. A lingering sun makes me warm.
The Ides of March earned a fierce reputation. 60 days later let us embrace a reputation of joy for the Ides of May.

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

The Sunday Nature Call, Uke 18: Measured in memories

I had a new bird in my sights at Mosvatnet in Stavanger. My mother and Meghan saw it, I tried to get them to remember its song because I’m worthless at that. My plan was to use the song and Youtube to make the ID. Ah, memories are so fleeting, by the time we returned from the walk and were able to get situated no one could be sure anymore against the choices. A mystery in Rogaland.

No photos for this post. All the good pics are on the good camera. That is, I can’t get them downloaded for another couple of days. Maybe I’ll add some pictures later, maybe.

New birds: 0, Journey to date: 66

Nitten (Bupkis cribbage)

 

Measured in Memories

The parade of humanity was unbroken, but I had my doubts that all the paraders would be. As far as I could see up trail and down trail, the marchers plodded. Most were ebullient, a few determined, and many pained. Pilgrim routes criss-cross Europe, many wind to Rome and some to shrines. In Norway there are two pilgrams’ paths that lead to Nidaros Cathedral. This path led to a special site predating any Christian God. The path led to Preikestolen.

Eight kilometers, big deal. Sure, 8K in the city or level country path is a piece of cake. But in the wilds of Rogaland, 8K is a four hour journey up and down rocks and boulders.  You could do it faster but at a cost: the scenery, the smells, and all the memories. And in the end, that is what you really want, the memories, not the kilometers.

I thought it would be easy, but I also knew that was a foolish assumption. Coupled with the family in tow, I had not only resolved to take a leisurly pace but I found the unusual space in my hurried mind to welcome it. Meghan was the one on the mission.

Preikestolen, “The Pulpit Rock” is thee iconic nature image of Norway. My first fortnight in Rogaland was October, the rock loomed larged in my mind. My free time was too tight to risk a trip to run up and back before nightfall. To hurry and “bag” a peak seemed to diminish the importance of the place. Plus, since I couldn’t, I used that excuse as my justification.

Our journey to the summit was multi-model. We walked about 2K to the harbor. The large car ferry took 30 minutes to traverse the outer fjord to Tau. A bus in Tau took us up and up switchbacks. 12K later, we reached the visitor center and start of the hike.

The scene could have been mistaken for the trails in Colorado or the Sierra’s of California. An azure sky was baking the evergreens, the smell of needles rose ever so gently in the still morning air. The dusty trail crunched and ground beneath our feet.

People carried backpacks, large and small. Some sported Camelbacks, others a belted canteen. Many older hikers had poles or a staff, a few younger hikers did too. Some men and women carried babies, a couple of men carried toddlers.

One man carried the flag of a foreign land, others had plastic shopping bags with unknown contents. Too many people wore headphones, some groups talked too loudly. All carried the goal of Preikestolen.

At the first bench it was time to shed layers. The boys stripped. At first they balked, we repeated to them our familiar line, “It’s Norway, nobody cares.” They were cooler and happier. Onward.

Since 2013 men from Nepal have been working the trial. By hand they have broken, cut, and stacked rocks to make a more consist walking surface. Their handiwork was impressive. The renovated sections looked like semi-uniform steps through the mountain but they blended in so well to the terrain and surroundings the work didn’t detract from the natural beauty. The sherpas complimented the mountain.

We crossed a mountain bench, a boardwalk traversed the wetland. I thought we were just about there. I came to a sign, no, only halfway. But what care I? For once I was taking a real stroll. The goal provoked no haste, the journey fed no anxiety. Is this how John Muir traveled?

I met people from the bus already descending. They were in a hurry, a pity. I supposed they scurried up the mountain, took a quick selfie on top and then skeedadled back. I aimed to linger, what a luxury. Is this how John Muir felt?

The tabletop summit matched the advertised grandeur. The view and experience was better than I expected, richer. Selfishly I would have loved to have made a solo climb to be the sole lord and master of the realm. But with my family and under blue skies, I couldn’t have dreamed of a better view.

A women carried her weight. She was fleshly, her husband and sons pulled at her slow pace down the mountain. I imagined her ankles screaming in protest under the natural hide of her Ugg boots. With complaining thighs, I am sure there was quite a corus of pain in her body.

We were near the end. The end is not the summit, that is only halfway. To think of how many montane greenhorns forgot that truth of every mountain journey; the journey down is more dangerous than the journey up. She would make it to the end, but no further.

As we neared the end, others continued up. It’s May, the sun loiters in the sky so late that afternoon can stretch into the hours when you should be in bed. A man about thirty pounded up the trail. The mobile phone in his pocket belched out music. I didn’t share his taste, I don’t think the mountain did either.

We both paused at the first bench, where the boys shed clothes about four hours earlier. I paused to watch people hook up to the zipline. He paused to gasp for breath. I took in the alpine air, he inhaled a fresh cigarette. Groaning to his companions in a Slavic language, he sucked hard on the cancer stick. His shorn head was beat red, sweat oozed from every pore. He had only started. I wondered if he’d make it, my mother knowingly intimated the same question from afar.

Down the mountain steps. Up came a women carrying a small dog. My thighs were complaining. The noise caused me to miss a turn on the trail. I led my family on an ad hoc forest path. Two young Asian men followed. No bother, a happy mistake, we found the road and the end of trail.

I carried a backpack. I carried binoculars, an emply bottle, and a wool sweater. I carried that pack for eight kilometers. The journey took four hours. But I don’t remember the distance or time as much as I remember the people. It was a journey measured in memories.

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

Everyday

Everyday

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A bead of sweat rolled down my chest. I touched my right hand to my forehead, wet too. It was only a degree or two above freezing out here and I hadn’t done any work. There was no good reason to be sweating, but then again I had never been to sea before on a small commercial fishing boat.

The waves were really rolling the boat on this second haul. The horizon bounced in my field of vision from full sky to full sea. I tried not to look, yet focusing on the deck didn’t help much. Even if I were blind, the movement, the swells, the smells, and the sounds, would have let the rest of my senses know this was not terra firma.

I had gone looking for trouble. In other travels I have been open to try offerings from the local teachers: a road trip and hike, a burial mound tour, a part in the Christmas pageant… “Sporty,” is the word they use here. In Vardø I asked to go fishing. It was a lark of a question because I expected no offer; be careful what you wish for.

The last of the second haul came aboard. The crew got the anchors detached and the rest of the line stowed into the aft large hopper. The lining bay got tidied up a bit and then the men retreated into the cabin. Time for smoke break number two. I had to stay out in the lining bay. The cold air and slipperiness of the bay was the lesser of two evils.

My time alone in the bay gave me time to think. One, what the hell was I thinking? Two, can I make it through another haul without puking? Three, can I get this radio station in Iowa because the neo-classic rock selection was awesome?

Time and the large volume of water on the deck won the battle with my boots. My old pack boot had large cracks in the soles, the Rocky’s had served me well over almost a decade of service but this time at sea was going to be their last outing. As I stood in my own squish I tried to tap out a beat along with song to distract my spinning head and swirling belly; save me Brian Johnson, you’re my only hope.

IMG_7866Cod swim the Barent Sea near Vardø year round. The standard method is hook and line, cod are gluttons and easily caught. During the breeding season the number of cod is much greater as the open-ocean species migrate closer to shore. During this period the fishermen use nets. My captain said we were near the end of netting time.

The population of cod in the Barents is managed in cooperation with the Russians. The captain said the stocks were pretty good and the rules seemed to be working. I wondered what the effect of the worsening economies in Russia and Norway will have on the cod. Will the temptation for more money be too great?

The cabin hatch opened and the crew return to the bay; line three, ho! For a moment there was a powerful smell of cigarette smoke and then the arctic wind took it away. They retrieved the third buoy and began to haul the line.

Like most things, this was more complicated than I thought. The rigging system for the net had to be disassembled, a chore with the arctic water in the frigid air. The mechanical line retrieval system spun and the green line eventually brought up the bright yellow net, the material looked like polypropylene. A couple of small cod and King crab came aboard. Gloves protected the men’s hands which were now working with an autonomous furry learnt from thousands of fish. They pulled, grabbed, plucked, cut, and threw with nary a pause. When the line is coming in there is no time to pause.

The crabs were a problem today. The season on this exotic species was closed and any crabs caught had to be tossed overboard. They were unmarketable anyway because the crabs were undergoing a molt, the captain said they were inedible now. Unfortunately for the men and the crabs it was such a waste. The crabs were almost always entwined in the net, removal broke the crabs, removal also took too much time to keep the line moving.

IMG_7854The captain joined the crew at his place at the front of the line, an extra pair of hands and in-person voice of instructions. Like, “The Deadliest Catch” in miniature, from the cabin the captain could observe the crew via closed circuit TV, and issue instructions over the intercom. The technology also facilitated the captain to join the line and still control the ship. GPS and a guidance system that looked like something from a modern jet airplane kept our boat on a steady course. The end was near.

The night before, my vector for this adventure took me to recon the boat. She was a beauty, new and well colored. As a new ship, I anticipated she would have better creature comforts. Yet the romantic in me who reads too many adventure books must have looked disappointed. The boat had a sheltered work bay unlike most of the older vessels in harbor. He asked I wanted to try a different boat. I said no, it would be rude and if I wanted extra hardships, then I could get them vicariously through Hemmingway.

Northern lights put me to bed, I knew they would likely be my last in Norway, a good omen. By 5:15 I was out the door on a crisp morning. The gulls had been in full throat for hours, sunrise was 4:02 AM.

I was the first man to the ship. On this blind date I needed to be on my best behavior. Dress right, don’t complain, and keep my mouth shut. I met the crew first. They were from the Baltic, trying their hand at fishing. A job but not a career, there would always be fortune seekers and the desperate to take their places. They boarded and began their duties, I waited on the dock for the captain. While a causal scene, I knew enough to ask for permission to come aboard.

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Cabin, round one

 

The captain was a young and friendly fellow. He invited me to the cabin while the men prepped for departure. Through the hatch and I noticed two things. First, this was a very modern and comfy looking cabin. Second, the smell of cigarette smoke was overpowering. Anxiety pricked at my neck.

I took a seat at the small table. It was littered with a never washed coffee cup, candy bar wrappers, butts, and assorted detritus of working men. The captain sat at his throne, and chatted on his mobile while pressing buttons on the display screen. We were off sans fanfare.

The crew joined us as we neared the sea wall. Before pleasantries were exchanged there was a flurry of fingers, they made home rolled cigarettes. I don’t know if they are cheaper or deliver a more powerful nicotine hit but these muzzleloader cigarettes had an extra acrid aroma that watered my eyes and worried my belly. The taller of the pair fetched the coffee pot.

The shorter man was the most verbose of all three. His english was pretty good, he said he worked at a bar for years. He had what I call “rock-n-roll” english, a command of the language born of long nights working a tavern to the beat of gritty music. I passed on the coffee.

The boat pitched when we crossed the breakwater. The wind was normal today, that is windy. Perhaps the Norwegian fisherman who tried to make a life farming the Northern Plains found a bit of familiar comfort in the unceasing wind. Varanger isn’t that different from North Dakota.

The boat made deliberate speed towards the first buoy, about 8 knots. The captain said we had three lines of net to haul, a typical day. There were a couple of other local boats in the vicinity. The navigational screen showed all their positions, everyone is connected.

I was chomping at the bit to get out of the cabin, I needed some fresh air, STAT. My telepathic plea was heard and answered. I found a corner spot to lean against while the the pair pulled in the buoy and line rigging. Now we’re fishing!

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The fish came in and I was amazed. I saw big cod and then I saw bigger cod, uff. The men clutched technical knives in their strong hands. The hook end dug at the netting to free the fish. For tightly wound fish the blade would cut them out. I was surprised by the net cutting. When I think of fishermen and their nets I think about all the time they had to take to mend them on a regular basis. Here, the men seemed to be casually ripping wider the holes. Later I figured out that the net, made of plastic, was thoroughly modern, i.e. disposable.

 

Freed from the net, and before the bin, the cod got one last handling, a coup grâce across the throat to exsanguinate and lay quietly. Before supper they will be eviscerated, skinned, filleted and on their way to your plate. Before breakfast they were wild and free. End of line one.

Break number one: more coffee, more cigarettes, more rock-n-roll. This was supposed to be about a four hour event, barely one hour in I was doubting my ability to hold it all together. I was very glad I skipped breakfast.

 

IMG_8601A large fishing vessel lurked on the northeast horizon. The captain thought it was a Russian fishing boat. The Barents Sea is dangerous water. On a clear day I could see Russia. On any day or night the Globus II listens to Russia from its perch on Vardø’s highpoint. Another fishing boat cruised nearby, but it looked atypical to me. Before I asked, the captain said it was a whaler, he heard they caught one yesterday. “Caught” isn’t the right word, fish you catch, mammals you kill. The Barents Sea is deadly water.

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a whaler off Vardø, note the harpoon cannon on the bow

The catch today was disappointing. The captain told the crew they will reset the nets in another location. I was back in the cabin, smoke be damned. The boat headed for port and I was too cold and sweaty to stand outside. I made it this far, I knew I could make it the rest.

In port we queued along the factory. The crew wordlessly went about their work to ready for unloading. I went topside into the snowsquall, fresh air and still water made me happier but certainly no real Norwegian fisherman. The overhead crane extricated the hold containers to dockside. A forklift emptied the contents into poly tubs. The fish were weighed and the captain was paid.

Later the men would return to sea and reset the nets. Tomorrow they would repeat the process, and then the day after that. Everyday.

The Sunday Nature Call, Uke 17: Exceptional Fish

Meghan’s keen eyes found this week’s new bird. This guy has a really neat look. This is when I covet a big lens and a tripod.

New birds: 1, Journey to date: 66

Horndykker (Podiceps auritus)

 

I’m not a strong swimmer”

Exceptional fish

Afraid, alone, and easily killed, a recipe for a life of horrors. If it was natural, then I could chalk it up to the vagaries of nature. But if such a life wasn’t natural, instead invented, then I would have to recheck my moral compass. Because if I played a part in that terror, then I would need a new direction. The life I speak of is real; my compass is spinning.

I have been experimenting with the creative setting on my digital SLR. We have owned the camera for years, at least seven, but I have never taken a class: hubris. The standard setting has been good enough but since I’m finally interested in upping my game I have started to play with aperture and shutter speeds. Thank goodness this is a game of one because I don’t know the rules very well. I feel that a 6-year-old with little experience would beat me soundly.

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Photographs of flowing water that make the movement look so silky are just cool. Every image I have ever captured of waterfalls or rivers has frozen the action, not cool. Point-and-shoot cameras are like automatic transmission cars. Real enthusiasts need to jam the gears.

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My devotion to rivers is well documented. Aldo Leopold said that he loved trees but that he was in love with pines. I love water but I think I am in love with rivers. My photographic volume of river images is evidence enough, maybe I need counseling?

I live a stone’s throw from a river. A short walk from the apartment brings me to the water’s edge, an even shorter walk puts me in earshot of the rushing water.

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Bogstad Lake

The Lysaker River is cold, swift, and short; a typical Norwegian river. The river starts at Bogstad Lake, a lovely park area and then courses to the fjord. It divides Oslo county from Akershus. The river was formerly dammed and worked along its 8 kilometer journey. Today, only remnants of its industrial life remain.

Lysaker River’s job today is to be a refuge for people, plants, and animals. It has certainly fulfilled that role for me and my family. That everyone should have a river to walk on a regular basis, the world would be a kinder place.

Atlantic Salmon seek refuge in the river, a refuge for their progeny. Salmon hold a special place in the culture here. They are a beloved animal, a symbol of the wilds, and a revered food. And they are just cool!

From the fjord the salmon hit their first dam on the Lysaker within 500 meters. The muscular fish have no chance against the vertical concrete cascade. To atone for the barrier, years ago the people installed a fish ladder. Alas, I will be gone by the time the salmon give it a go.

Wild salmon can climb the ladder. Nature invested millions of years of evolution in the gymnastic talents of this anadromous fish. Mankind has invested millions of dollars to unwittingly destroy it.

Farmed salmon are big business in Norway. I have written about the negative consequences of the caged fish, such as water pollution, and disease transmission. Regretfully I have learned about another dysfunction: genetic pollution.

Cage salmon escaped, some prisoners in every confinement do. The escapees however are not like their wild relatives, they are almost like a different and invasive species. Their genes and subsequent fitness have been comprised by industrial propagation. Fugitive survivors spawn with free-born fish. The amount of truly free-born fish are diminished and the hybrids lack the vigor to succeed as adults. The spread of this pollution threatens to infect all the rivers of Norway to the point of no return.

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Red and Black colors means few truly wild salmon

In the postmodern world philosophers hold that no one is fully guilty or innocent, all are products of the environment and the time, all are connected to and influenced by a myriad of others. The diversity of the connections are unknowable. The criminals are also victims; the saints are also sinners…

The farmed salmon may be monsters to the wild salmon, but they also live in a tortured state not of their making. Recent research discovered that propagated salmon are mostly deaf. Something in the captive raising process impedes the development of an ear bone and hearing. Their key sense for survival is absent, denied.

The report made me wonder about hatchery raised fish in America. In Iowa, the DNR raises trout as well as walleye in prodigious quantities to augment the deplorable natural reproduction. Are they releasing millions of Frankenstein’s monsters every year? If this is true, is there an obligation to stop?

In Norway I have enjoyed the easy accessibility of seafood. But now I have to rethink again my consumption of salmon. I assume the salmon in stores are farmed. On top of IMG_4303considering the environmental impacts of eating easy salmon, now I have to think about the tortured lives of the fish. Swimming frantically, probably panicked due to their inexplicable handicapped state; I think about that when I see the packages in the refrigerated section.

Aristotle is supposed to have said that, “The unimagined life is not worth living.” That is, we have a duty to examine our life and how we live. How is it that we impact others? That is a heavy burden.

Will I still eat store-bought salmon? Yes, but I will also do it less because I cannot ignore the responsibility. Caged, diseased, and now deafened, I never realized that farmed salmon were such exceptional fish.

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