Monthly Archives: June, 2016

The Sunday Nature Call, Uke 25: The Sun Always Rises ; or, When Smoke Gets in Your Eyes

The Sunday Nature Call, Uke 25: The Sun Always Rises; or, When Smoke Gets in Your Eyes

New birds:1, Journey to date: 74, and a correction

Svarthvit fluesnapper (Ficedula hypoleuca)

The Uke 23 entry noted the Varsler, I was mistaken. I did my due diligence uncovered the true identity, the habitat and warning call were the keys to the mystery.

Møller (Sylvia curruca)

Varsler (Lanius excubitor)

 

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A “No Fishing” sign at Lysaker Brygge, always a lure

The Sun Always Rises; or, When Smoke Gets in Your Eyes

As I held out my hand a tiny gray flake alighted. Even for Oslo, a snowflake in June is a rarity. Ah, but this was no snowflake. This was Sankthansaften – Saint John the Baptist’s Eve.

My time in Norway was getting shorter, just like the nights. Sunset at this latitude and month is so slow, the angle so oblique, that the transition from direct sun to twilight is unnoticeable. The light of the just hiding sun lingers, as if the sun feels there is too much living to be done. I go to bed late, with visible light and wake to a sun that has been up for many hours. The analogy to my time in Norway has been obvious.

I have no personal tradition of celebrating Sankthansaften. My Midwestern summers accepted earlier and complete darkness in comparison to the high latitudes, perhaps in exchange for unrelenting heat. But when in Norway…

Sankthansaften also marks the end of the school and anticipation of summer holiday, the 5-6 weeks in Norway when EVERYBODY is on vacation, preferably at a coastal or mountain cabin. Side trips to America are allowed. For Scandinavians, the evening is properly observed with sea-side bonfires, maybe a speech, and revelry. I went fishing.

My catch in Norway has been zero although my satisfaction has been great. Remember, it’s called fishing and not catching for a reason. Tonight seemed like a fitting reason to whet a line – it’s nice to invent a special reason – and give it one last go.

The species of interest now in Norway is Atlantic Salmon. The mighty swimmers are coursing from near shore feasts to natal rivers. Their transformation from saltwater creatures to freshwater fish is nothing short of amazing. Their transition back to saltwater following the spawn squares the wonder.

I would not be fishing for salmon. To fish for salmon would require a car and a special fishing license, and probably a trespass fee. I fished the sea, a free right to all in Norway.

I expected nothing in terms of a piscine catch based on previous attempts, this was no different. Contemporary fishing is about the effort, the experience; I was really trying to catch a future memory. For that that there is no daily quota.

There is nothing odd about riding the bus in Oslo with fishing gear. I like Oslo. My ride on the trusty #32 Kværnerbyen dropped me adjacent to Lysaker Brygge, it was a short walk.

Merrymakers were visible in their preparation throughout the day. I saw an unusual abundance of shopping bags marked with the distinct logo of the state liquor store, the night demanded provisions. Others disembarked the bus with me, much better dressed and destined for an overtly social occasion. I headed for the docks.

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Brethren with rods in action preceded me. Long rods were their symbols of legitimacy and purpose. My kit revealed my status as an interloper, but also as no threat to their efforts.

These anglers favored floats and live bait. They seemed to me like non-native Norwegians and truly interested in catching supper. A family left with a bag of fish. I found a solitary spot and cast.

Two days earlier was the Summer Solstice. I marked the low sun of the evening with a last photoshoot of the new US Embassy and birdwalk along Lysaker River. The meteorological differences between the Iowa home and Oslo were more striking than simple statistics suggested.

Daylight in Linn County was 15 hours, 15 minutes; Oslo logged 18:50.

Sunrise CR, 5: 31 am     Sunset CR, 8:46 pm

Sunrise Oslo, 3:54 am   Sunset Oslo, 10:45 pm

 

But the truer measure went beyond the gross metrix of sunrise and sunset. Dawn awakened at 2:10 AM in Oslo and dusk at 12:29 AM. If there were stars over Røa, then I missed them.

With the abundant light it was difficult to make out all the fires that I knew ringed the fjord. The ubiquitous smell of smoke confirmed to my nose what I eyes couldn’t see. Clearly, Ola Nordmann across the bay from me was no master of a healthy flame. That “bonfire” finally smoked me out and caused my retreat.

A new location, closer to the hungry anglers and a couple of last casts for good measure. A man hauled in mackerel, scrappy and lean they were soon brained and in the bucket. I took down my pole and pit stopped at the corner market on my way to the bus. Instead of fish, I would be headed home with mineral water and candy. I was sure Meghan would be happy with my catch.

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

The Gates of Rome; or, Walls are for the fearful

The Gates of Rome; or, Walls are for the fearful

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Hello? A view from Lungotevere Farnesina

“Now Jericho was straitly shut up because of the children of Israel: none went out, and none came in.”

My upbringing was in an open society. The Midwest of America is home to grid-pattern cities and small towns. Highways and byways meander along rivers and ancient bison traces to connect them all. The streets have sidewalks, I could walk in front of the homes of the poor and affluent. Material wealth or lack-there-of was easily evident from the street. Some homes had fences, usually short and decorative. A high fence aroused suspicion, a compound suggested deviance.

My first contemplative exposure to gates, fences, and cordoned communities was near Atlanta, as a man. I was the guest of a wedding party at a guarded and gated community, home to the local rich and famous as well as a PGA hosting golf-course. With our permission slip we drove into the suspiciously normal looking streets but we were now inside the wall. Further, there was another, secondarily walled neighborhood. The manicured lawns and flowers did little to make me feel welcome.

I have since seen and read about walled and gated communities across America. I find they are a phenomena of the South and the Desert Southwest. My analysis is that the walls are manifestations of fear, mostly perceived of “others.” The “others” of course being fellow American citizens. The South and Desert Southwest have the highest rates of social inequality, that is, the gap between “the haves” and “have nots” in America. I don’t like gated communities. From my Midwestern, Yankee, Union, and Scandinavian background they seem un-America. They exist in opposition to our motto, “E pluribus unum.”

IMG_2609The monuments of Rome tell a fraction of the city’s ancient history. The lavish villas, monuments, and art are the remnants of the most upper levels of society. For the remaining 99% of society their traces are harder to find, even harder to celebrate. The normal residents and citizens of Rome get remembered in their frozen horror at Pompeii but seldom elsewhere.

For all the glories of Rome, Republic and Empire, it was a society founded on inequality. Rome relied on inequality to feed its growth and to build up the wealth of the most powerful of the powerful. Limited franchisement, slavery, colonization, hereditary privilege, normalized violence, and a fetish for “order” combined to make what must have been a rather fearful existence for all persons, free or otherwise encumbered.

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I noticed the remnants of that fear in Rome with so many walls and so many hardened entrances. Our first hotel was like a mini-compound. A massive steel door slid open on tracks to allow our driver entrance, four small apartments opened to a courtyard. Louvered shutters and doors of steel covered our openings, locked in I felt like we were impenetrable.

In the city center we stayed in the Trastevere neighborhood. The pattern was narrow streets mixed with apartments and small shops. Barred windows were the norm for the street level apartments. We needed a key to gain entry to the outer door to use a different key for our inner apartment door. The double key was not so strange, its how we live in Norway, but the bars were.

The Vatican has famous walls. For that matter so does Paris, Dresden, Beijing, and countless other cities around the world. Do walls come with time for civilizations? Like a long-lived home that gets decorated, remodeled, and embellished to the hilt, are walls just something we always wanted but couldn’t afford at the time of construction. Is America still that young?

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Inside the walls of Rome there are additional gates. A few are monumental and for celebratory use only. Most gates guard an entrance, some with famous guards. The conspicuous Swiss Guard man the gates to the Bishop of Rome. A polished soldier protects the president. Less polished soldiers guard parliament. Armed or not, polished or plain, guards are not welcome mats.

There have always been walls, even in the equitable Midwest, but they took other forms. Most commonly was the form of a detached suburb, the lack of sidewalk or distance from town substituting for the wall. I have to look no further than the greater Hunter’s Ridge et al. developments of north Marion for an example.

I regret that in the last generation, actual gated communities and “private” developments have proliferated in the Midwest. Are they benign indicators of changing tastes or troubling signs of growing inequality?

IMG_2467“And it came to pass, when the people heard the sound of the horn, that the people shouted with a great shout, and the wall fell down flat, so that the people went up into the city, every man straight before him, and they took the city.”

“When the walls come tumblin’ down
When the walls come crumblin’ crumblin’
When the walls come tumblin’ tumblin’ down
Yeah yeah yeah” (John Mellencamp, “Crumblin’ Down)

 

 

Note: all photos filtered through “Instant”

The Sunday Nature Call, Uke 23, #2: There’s No Room to Share

The Sunday Nature Call, Uke 23, #2: There’s No Room to Share

Bonus Sunday Nature Call this week. My walk just got me inspired, I had to write.

 

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There’s No Room to Share

 

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Marisdalsvannet, Stay Out! And have a nice day.

A hen Goldeneye flew low and fast upstream, I was now on the downhill part of my walk on the upper reach of Akerselv, the river that flows from Maridalsvannet. Marisdalsvannet is a special lake and off-limits because it is a source of drinking water for Oslo. I volunteered to take #2 son to a nearby birthday party. One, maybe I could passively-aggressively use it as leverage at a later date. Two, I could walk the river in hopes of seeing some new birds. The latter point being more important than the former.

Moments later the duck had reversed course and landed with a unusually loud splash about 50 meters ahead. I would expect a female duck to be far more furtive. It took until the next bend in the river for me to understand the cause for such a scene.

Akerselv is a thoroughly modern river. I say that because it was used by early Oslo citizens for water and simple economic uses. During the Industrial Revolution, the river was put to task in a form of wage slavery that surly matched the working conditions of the laborers. As the factories took in raw products they created finished goods for profit, and waste. The profits went up to the villas and corporate offices, the waste was left to stew in the river.

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A birthday party on the banks of Akerselv

As the factories were ultimately abandoned it seemed like the Akerselv was as well. A tired and worn relic from an older time. Yet today, the river is a prized public possession and in quite good health.

Thankfully the Akerselv had one thing going for it, it was in Norway. In particular it was in Oslo where there was an existing movement and mindset for conservation and public use. The banks, once denuded, are vegetated. The water, formally filthy and devoid of most life, is vibrant. The people, historically exhausted, now walk its lengths for salubrious effects.

The river source is 149 meters above sea level, the length is 8.2 kilometers. Walking to the fjord on the additionally meandering paths will take you longer. If you only measure your life in quantifiable distances, then you’ll have know idea how far you’ve gone.

As a modern river this river is neither wild nor enslaved. The water volume is managed to prevent flooding. The streams sides are naturalized, landscaped, and hardscaped. Its lower watershed is urban run-off. But there are wild creatures, some of which are local and other migratory. Some of the migratory beasts come from the fjord, others from West Africa. They are people from all corners of the earth enjoying its riparian charms.

All this use means sharing. There are beaches for people, and turtles if they’re reckless. There are pools for fishing but with limits. Most of the banks have paths, but not all. Some sharing is difficult if not intolerable. Beavers are present but only with the overt toleration of the management. Moose, as amazing as they are, are not welcome.

Despite the lifetime of lessons in Kindergarten, sharing is a tough thing to practice. To share is to trust, to empathize, and to take a risk. I think I need to go back to my little country schoolhouse and get some more lessons from Mrs. Fritz.

Aldo Leopold wrote that our time of an Abrahamic view of the world must end. That own-consume-destroy-relocate zeitgeist must be replaced with an acknowledgement of the permanent damage that people can do to the world. Instead of owning the world we need to share it, with the living and the unborn. His words came in the afterglow of the atomic flash. I can think of no more profound genesis.

Extant American conservation champion E.O. Wilson recently published words calling for a radical idea that will not be considered that radical in the future. Wilson believes that we need to set aside half the earth for nature. The half that remains needs to be shared with other life as well. For Wilson, like Leopold, sharing is necessary, hard, and probably an unachievable goal in full but one that must be pursued.

Reserving space for wild creatures is an easily appreciated sentiment and a difficult practice, consider the moose of the Upper Midwest. PreColumbian Wisconsin had moose, pre-settlement Wisconsin had moose. For a period in the 20th century moose were absent. Today a handful inhabit the state. Unlike Whitetail Deer, moose do poorly around people and disturbance.

Sure, the climate of the last generation is now warmer than the past 500 year, the heat is hard on moose. Of course there is far less unbroken cover in the Great Northwoods, everybody wants a cabin and a couple of acres, moose don’t like neighbors. The Fish and Wildlife Service just accepted a petition to initiate a study for the moose of the Upper Midwest (Acles access anderson) to see if they qualify for protection under the Endangered Species Act.

The moose are strong candidates for protection, how hard could it be? Here is where it gets really hard really fast. I thought about what habitat is most endangered and vital for the moose, especially in a warming world: water. Moose need unmolested access to shallow lakes and bays on larger lakes to feed and especially to lounge and “beat the heat.” But the lakes of Badger state are developed, unfettered recreation is a god. Would people be willing  to share access to the lakes with moose? Could society tolerate retarding the develop of remaining tracts? Moose are cool, but if you don’t know them, then it’s hard to share.

The duck took a long and low position on the water, fairly mimicking an alligator. It was a sight I’d never seen. Slowly and then with a burst of speed she rushed towards the bank and the shadows. I heard the commotion but still didn’t see the object of her ire.

Large fluffy balls scattered on the water. A hen mallard gave kurt quacks to her chicks. The Goldeneye approached again and snapped. I’ll be a monkey’s uncle if it wasn’t like an alligator attack!

IMG_8907She returned to the center of the river. Victorious and proud she dipped and flailed her wet wings. It was a display of authority, and in the low light a luscious sight. Topping off the exercise were fits of aggressive calling, something like a rolled “R” three times capped with short and hard “R!” “Rrrr, Rrrr, Rrrr, R!”

The Mallard made a beeline for me on the opposite shore and hauled out at my feet. I never imagined that a duck would ever see a safe harbor in me. I guess your enemy’s enemy is you friend, genus and species be damned.

I was perplexed. All this work, all this flying for a hen Goldeneye without young. Was she angry for loosing her clutch? A gull flew overheard. The Goldeney called with rage and display her wings. The gull flew back and the hen gave a stunted chase. And then I finally saw a small fluffy ball swim from the shadow of the bank to the hen, she was a mother.

I was heartened and saddened. The little guy was really cute, the marking with white and dark feathers were surprisingly conspicuous. Yet, she would have laid about 12 eggs. To think that only one survived to this point, maybe less than a week old: nature seems too cruel at times.

Her loud calling continued, though the tone was a little different. And then I saw a second chick, near the first. Ah, two, good. A chick needs a sibling. Wait, there’s number three!

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Hen, foreground right. Chick, upper left, under shrub (iPhone)

Three is a reasonable number for survival in the city. With all the house cats on the prowl it’s a wonder she has any survivors. Happy, I left my vigil to continue downstream. But wait, here comes number four to the call, it was all the way on the other side. What an unexpected dispersement. And then I saw number five also swim out of its hiding spot on the far bank. Five, five is a good number, a prime number, I’m sure she can keep track of five.

The Goldeneye didn’t want to share the river with the Mallard, the Mallard didn’t mind me. I can’t help but think that maybe out of that 8.2 kilometers of river we couldn’t find a way to make a little more safe space for a duck. I think that in this relationship we’re the only ones who know how to share.

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

Sunday Nature Call, Uke 23: What the Romans Left Us

Sunday Nature Call, Uke 23: What the Romans Left Us; or, The Emperor’s New Clothes

Rescued by a Søndags tur one more time, thank you Norway. I was certain that I would have scored some new birds with a week in Rome but no such luck. My last day in Italy held out for a morning stroll through a sea-side grassland reserve: hopes were high. Alas, my epicurean adventures the day before kept me prostrate and near the lavatory Friday morning. When in Rome?
New birds:2, Journey to date: 73 (I double-checked the spreadsheet, 73 is correct)

Rødvingetrost (Turdus iliacus)

Varsler (Lanius excubitor)

 
What the Romas Left Us; or, The Emperor’s New Clothes 

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Poppies grow among the ruins, The Forum

It is easy for people to ask what was the neatest-most impressive-coolest-

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Street cleaner truck passing, seen through the bars of our window

significant…thing you saw in Rome, or name the major city of your choosing. Around the dinner table after our Latin holiday I asked the gang what was something unsual or unexpected that really would stick with you. My better half noted that everywhere you walked there was some amazing old building or church, that you just couldn’t get away from the history. The boys noted in turn that observations commensurate to their ages. I said I will always remember the street cleaners that didn’t clean. The little machines prowled the cobble block streets regularly but appeared to move around more trash than they picked up.

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Street scene, Trastevere. Rome

The Romans left a civilization in full. Rome was cluttered with the detritus of ancient urban life. The streets were bathed in horse urine. The alleys had the sick, rats, and other discards of life. Walls were adorned with paint but also graffiti. Leather sandals protected feet, canvas awnings protected heads, and wool tunics protected the rest.

A day’s worth of weather over the course of 1,500 years has left us with the lithic bones of the Romans. Thunderstorms erased the equine traces. Rats, roaches, and deluges cleared the old squatters to make way for the new. The paint that laid claim to a vibrancy of life weathered away, limestone, marble and bare brick remain. Leather, canvas, and wool turned to dust and became soil that became new life that died and continued the cycle.

What the Romas left us was enough of the civilization to appreciate it but not much that condemns our temporal existence. In that respect they really are dead. Will our posterity think so neutrally of us? I regret not.

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Flowers and litter, all wait at the bus stop. Fiumicino

It would be a rich problem to complain of a trip to Rome. There’s an expression in Norwegian to that affect but I can’t recall it (hint-hint faithful readers for a helpful comment :). I enjoyed my time in the Eternal City, the Colosseum was spectacular. But as an environmentalist and non-recovering litter-picker-upper, Rome made my head spin.

IMG_2911While Meghan looked up and marveled at the buildings and architecture that spanned two millennia, my eyes kept returning to the un-mortared joints of the cobbled streets, in place of the cement was a seemingly permanent array of cigarette butts, small plastic spoons from gelato sales, and other plastic waste ground into the gaps. Yes, Trevi Fountain was nice.

 

IMG_2763I was ready to be amazed by the ruins and monuments of Rome, and I was. The guided Vatican Tour was a 4+ hours and grueling but incredible. Walking the Forum grounds was surreal and a privilege. And resting in the easy morning light of the Pantheon with my family was the best. Yes, I was impressed as predicted.

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Ubiquitous mopeds, sans catalytic converters, Trastevere

However, I was not ready to see what the current residents and guests have done to the place. The smell of engine exhaust was a constant an unwelcome companion. The roar or din of traffic was the soundtrack for the journey. My eyes were scarred from the sight of garbage strewn about and a green Tiber River. The environment made me feel uneasy and left a bad taste in my mouth.

 

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Tiber River from Ponte Sisto

I shutter to think about how they will speak of us in another thousand years. I have visited beaches in the lovely Oslo Fjord where the sand and gravel appear equally mixed with plastic particles, some large, some small, all on their way to becoming smaller but never going away.

Near my Iowa home is a nuclear power plant. Its deadly waste may outlive humanity, “temporary” storage on the grounds is common. People complain about nuclear waste and wonder why there is no permanent storage. Seems like logic should have necessitated building the storage before creating the predictable waste. A moot point.

Short-term and long-term futures are at hand. Too many of our modern day emperors and their democratic shadows have robbed themselves in ideologies that defy science or even their own rhetoric. Donald Trump claims that Global Warming is nonsense yet tried to build a seawall to protect his golf course from just that effect. Norwegians bemoan the fouling of the ocean with trash and yet continue to pump petroleum that gets turned into little gelato spoons and all things plastic. Governor Branstad says Iowa water quality is a source of pride, his Secretary of Agriculture (and land stewardship) claims voluntary efforts are working and the water is getting better. The Iowa Department of Natural Resources issued a warning to boaters and swimmers: expect a record year for toxic bluegreen algae.

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Quotes of beatitudes abound, “‘Leave no trace,’ ‘First, do no harm,’ ‘Treat your Mother well,'” etc. We need expressions that dig more sharply at our modern ego-centrism. My submission: Do you want to visit this place in 1,500 years to be impressed?

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

The Sunday Nature Call, Uke 22: Frivannsliv

A brief entry for the week. I have been hosting company so my time for long narrative was unavailable. Not a strong excuse but that’s the one I’m going with.  A friend helped me with this week’s non-bird, tusen takk Andy.

New birds:0, Journey to date: 70

Kjempemessig Norske Rødnebb (Norske rubrumphalus rex)

 

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Poetry for high sun and cold water; or, Frivannsliv

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A haiku

What makes a Viking?

rain, cod, pines, sheep, fjords, and rye

Swim the cold water

 

A limerick

Strømsdammen so fresh so cold

From the shore, it’s easy to be bold

One foot, two foot, start to go numb

Then plunge right in, ain’t it fun

I went for a swim, you have been told

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

 

Even After Dovre Falls

Even After Dovre Falls
Really, it’s not the “middle finger,” even though it looks like that in the picture. The boys and I were just mimicking the pose of Peder Anker at the Constitution Hall grounds in Eidsvoll. The picture will not be available, though I like it because I know that we were sincere.
Confession: I have never been to Philadelphia. Most Americans haven’t been to Philly but that doesn’t mean anyone of us is less a citizen. How many Norwegians have visited Eidsvoll?
I had my education of the Norwegian Constitution in reverse. First I did the parade, then I visited the signing site. In retrospect I suppose that is how most Americans who’ve visited Constitutional Hall in Philidelphia have done it too.
In know Philadelphia is a major American city and the Constitution Hall area is a major tourist destination. I can imagine all the selling and schlock in the neighborhood, entrepreneurs eager to separate the faithful from their money. The Constitution Hall site in Norway is the opposite, it is probably the photo negative. I’ll have to make a journey to Pennsylvania to confirm.
A trip to the Constitutional Hall site has been on my “must do” list in Norway. I have done them all save two: visit every fylke – I looking at you Sogn og Fjordane – and see a moose. Iallfall, fornøyd.
We took the train from Lysaker to Eidsvoll Verk. It was a familiar and unassuming ride. Just north of Oslo Airport, the way to Eidsvoll was old hat for me. Several times I have traversed the spot for other journeys.
The day was fair and mostly sunny. Fields were freshly tilled and in want of rain. A dry Norway is a strange Norway. From the platform we had a walk of about two kilometers to the sight. Truthfully, the walk was welcome. After about an hour on the train, I was grateful to stretch my legs. Also, the walk made it more like a secular pilgrimage, something I could appreciate as a American. I wonder how they arrive in Philly?

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The walk took us off the main highway and onto a side road mostly for people powered traffic but you had to look out for the occasional car. On the side of the main road the police were conducting sobriety checks. Well done! No drinking, then driving is allowed in Norway. I wonder wonder how many lives we surrender to the “freedom” of drinking and then driving in America each year? In Norway I don’t wonder constantly if the car coming down the road has an impaired driver, in Iowa I do.
The walk to the Constitutional Hall grounds cleared my head and helped me to focus on the gravity of the place I was about to visit. The boys wanted to know when we were going to eat.
And then we were there. A well manicured grounds of tidy buildings arising from the country-side, there you have it.

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Eidsvollsbygningen, home of the Constituent Assembly of 1814

We had a packed lunch on a picnic table along the river, typisk norsk. One little boat coursed up and back from the bridge. People walked about, but no crowds. The sign of civilization was the regular approach of planes to Oslo airport.
Dining completed we bought tickets for the tour of the special residence in which the delegates met and agreed to the Constitution. The building itself was a fascinating study in multipurposing, culture, and preservation. The tour was in Norwegian, of course. Meghan and I were counting on the boys to translate as necessary. We did our best to nod and say, “Ja,” at the right times so as to fit in and hid our foreign identifies. I’d like to think we pulled off a pretty good counterfeit.
The guide, in all black, welcomed us and led us into the building. We put on slippers over our shoes and commenced the journey back in time.
I have professionally studied and practiced history. I use historical recreations in my lessons. But truly, the past is a mystery. I wonder about the lives, the smells, the ambitions, the diets of the historic and I lament that I just can’t fully appreciate their full lives.
Even a tour in a such a lovely cared for historic home cannot recreate the past. Our first stop was the dining room. While the colors were correct and the wood was original, I don’t know what it smelled like. I don’t know how hungry the men were, how little sugar they consumed, the working condition of the women who served them…
IMG_8088Each room was like that for me. Yes, I’m a little weird like that. Okay, a lot weird, but the point being that I felt more like a ghost haunting a building than a participant in the grand achievement.
A tight and narrow room, thankfully with a very high ceiling, packed in over 100 men that spring, 212 years ago. To think of of smells, the sounds, not to mention the sights, and then here we were. My family stroad the floors of consequences, we rested on the benches of decision. The angle of the sun that streamed through the old panes were not much different than that of the now ancient lawgivers.
I wanted to linger, I bet many fans of history do. Alas, the tour continued, and I with it. The tour guide had a schedule. How many of the delegates had a timepiece in 1814? How did “time” work?
The tour ended. We retrieved our bags from storage and then bought what we needed from the giftshop. The return walk was less eventful than the entrance. There was no time to be contemplative at the platform.
Courage. The signers of the Philadelphia constitution were puting their lives on the line vis-a-vis honoring the revolution. The men at Eidsvoll were signing their death warrants to a debilitated King of Sweden. In contrast, I’ve signed my name to a mortgage.
As we left, workers were lowering and removing flags. Visiting hours were over. We left with some memories and photos. Meghan got a Christmas ornament for us, I bought a copy of the Constitution, Grunnlov. The boys got lollypops.
When the men of the assembly parted on 20 May, 1814, they were reported to hold hands and profess their loyalty to this new Constitution, “until the mountain of Dovre falls.” That is, forever. Benjamin Franklin responded to an eager follower of the constitutional proceeding in Philly that the Americans now have a republic, “if you can keep it.”
Historical sites don’t make for a present. They help inform the present but they are only ideas of the past. As for my republic, I want to keep it, until even after Dovre falls.

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Yes, We Love This Land

Yes, We Love This Land

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I waved at the King and the Royal family. I smiled for the NRK cameras. And I kept reminding myself that I was here to supervise and chaperon. After all, this was a children’s parade.

Norwegian Constitution Day is a big deal, and rightly so. Syttende Mai (17th of May) is a celebration of Norway’s constitutional independence, never mind that full sovereignty didn’t come for almost 90 years – that’s another story. 17 Mai not only commemorates a significant event in the people of Norway as a political entity but also marks the passing of winter to summer, snow to blooms, and school to holiday. May in Norway is special.
My children’s school marched in the big parade on Karl Johans gate. Their school was one of over 100. The parade had a record attendance of over 60,000 children. That is an accomplishment in our modern era of fear.
The day started earlier than I anticipated, 4:32 if I recall. The rays of daylight streaming into the bedroom didn’t wake me but the Boom-Boom-Boom of a stereo did. Ah, the last day of Russ. Live it up while you can, I guess.
The forecast was for a blessing of wonderful weather. In mid-May, the weather in Oslo can range from windy storms with sleet to sunshine and warm weather. Odin treated us to the latter.

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At 8 AM was the flag raising ceremony at the school with the our music korps, every proper school has a music korps. The children worked their way through a couple verses of, “Ja, Vi Elsker,” and another tune as the flag rose. Then they marched off. “Oh, they’re done,” I thought. Wrong. They wound their way through our extended apartment complex residential area, like pied pipers drawing people out of their homes to the all-school ceremony at 9.
IMG_8551So many people in Bunads, that really is a sight to see in person. I understand the allure and I empathise with the envious. But at the price of a nice used car, I will settle with my old black suit.
The school ceremony commenced on time. There were songs from children’s choirs, speeches from the Rektor, speeches from three top students, and a multitude of parents snapping photos. And now off to the buses.
Did I mention this was a big deal? Please allow me to iterate, it was a big deal. Please think of the logistics of getting about 62,000 pupils, marching band equipment, and chaperones to Western Gateway Park in Des Moines so they can march in-turn up Locust Avenue to the State Capitol. Uff!
They dropped us off somewhere and then we had to walk, and stick together, to designated waiting spot. Our spot was near the Arbeidierpariet building. And then we waited.
Last year Lysejordet Skole was near the front. This year we were number 102 of 119 marching groups. We waited some more. The kiddos protested as much as you would expect, the teachers gave them license to do so. Thank God for shade, and to think how tough these kids are to do it in the rain.


After two hours of finding ways to entertain the boys and girls we moved. Well, then we stopped. And then we moved a little bit more and then we stopped again. You get the drill, the accordion of marchers needed space to smooth out.
At a party later that night I was asked by several people to compare Syttende Mai to July 4th. I stammered a lot when I tried to answer because I couldn’t. One wasn’t better than the other, they were just different. But one way in which Syttende Mai differed importantly was the emphasis on the children, and I loved it.
The parades are children’s parades, organized through the local schools. The adults are there, dressed nicely, to support and cheer on the children, the future. In the parades there are no martial displays or floats advertising the great deals you can get at Bob’s RV Round-up. Refreshing.
IMG_8640We crested the highpoint of Karl Johan gate and saw the throngs to the west, marching towards the palace. Parliament was on the left, a grand hotel was on our right, and a current of flag-waving children held the attention of a city.
Up the red gravel to the castle, visible litter on the grounds let me know that many early watchers had left after their children passed. Karl Johan astride his horse was to our left, “A penny for your thoughts.”
Turning left, our group passed by the reviewing balcony of the royals. I was on the right so I got a good look. Waving for three hours is a tough job but then they could take the rest of the day off. I was satisfied.

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To our left I spied Meghan and my Mother. Lysejordet marched on and out of the palace grounds. Now our pace quickened and the teachers were less vigilant in policing behavior or the quality of the lines. Rådhuset marched our journey’s end. I signed the boys out and then were were off to a lunch date.
We all had tired feet and sweaty shirts but no matter. We had marched together and celebrated a small country’s commitment to democracy and each other. And I for one was grateful.

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