Monthly Archives: July, 2016

And I was called John the Lucky

And I was called John the Lucky

Eiríks saga rauða

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Leifur svarar: “Það ætla eg ef sá er yðvar vilji.”

Konungur svarar: “Eg get að svo muni vel vera. Skaltu fara með erindum mínum að boða kristni á Grænlandi.”

Leifur kvað hann ráða mundu en kveðst hyggja að það erindi mundi torflutt á Grænlandi en konungur kveðst eigi þann mann sjá er betur væri til þess fallinn en hann “og muntu giftu til bera.”

“Það mun því að eins,” kvað Leifur, “að eg njóti yðvar við.”

Leifur lét í haf þegar hann var búinn. Leif velkti lengi úti og hitti hann á lönd þau er hann vissi áður öngva von í. Voru þar hveitiakrar sjálfsánir og vínviður vaxinn. Þar voru og þau tré er mösur hétu og höfðu þeir af öllu þessu nokkur merki, sum tré svo mikil að í hús voru lögð.

Leifur fann menn á skipflaki og flutti heim með sér og fékk öllum vist um veturinn. Sýndi hann svo mikla stórmennsku og gæsku af sér. Hann kom kristni á landið og hann bjargaði mönnunum. Var hann kallaður Leifur hinn heppni.


My brother has a favored quip, “it’s better to be lucky than good.” Apropos to that. Good is a pretty high standard to cross, but just about anybody can trip forward over a low bar. In a perfect world I would be lucky and good, in the real world I ought to be satisfied with the former rather than the latter.

The Roving is over. The wool is packed away. My bug bites have bug bites, sweat is no repellent. I guess now is the time to think, to reflect. Perhaps, yet the time to savor will come later. It’s too hot to savor anything now.

Did I learn anything Roving over Norway? You bet! But the problem is to articulate it in a way that dignifies the magnitude of the experience for me and my family without bloviating. Last night I heard Terry Tempest Williams speak, I know she could do it. My self confidence isn’t quite there yet.

So many of the lessons from Norway are already in this blog, I would rather re-read than re-write. The contrasts are what’s new now that I am in Iowa. To be knee deep in a Middle Border summer from a year in Norway is to crave a respite from the worst of America and revel in its best.

I have been driving a lot and I don’t like it. I don’t like it how the default is to drive. I don’t like it that our collective memory has been erased; roads were once the kingdom of walkers and bicyclists. The cars drove us to the ditches where we remain. The cult of cars is unsustainable, understandable, and unavoidable until the next crisis. Father Time is undefeated.

Where are the people? The heat keeps us in, the cars keep us apart. I have felt quite isolated in the short time we’ve been back even though I’m in my home culture with my home people. Summer break exacerbates this problem, but the remedy approaches.

I had fast food for lunch, it was glorious. I have had a lot of fast food lately. America is food. Food in giant portions. Food in cosmic variety. Food in endless quantity. The thing I most craved was food. Now that I’m in the breadbasket all I want to do is eat. Food is America.

The presidential race will start in earnest Friday. The battles between the champions, the skirmishes amongst the auxiliaries, the participation in the world’s greatest ongoing political experiment, it is a spectacle and a thrill.

Fulbright challenged me to travel to Norway and teach about America. The journey was long. There was wind and rain. Snow and ice both stimied my plans and stimulated my body. Dark days and then light-filled nights confused my mind. It was an adventure. The new birds and new people captivated me. My crew survived with nary a scratch. I taught my lessons and took in some too. I don’t know if the natives will say that I was good, but I sure was lucky.


Saga of Erik the Red

Chapter 5, an excerpt (

Leif answered, “I should wish so to do, if it is your will.” The king replied, “I think it may well be so; thou shalt go my errand, and preach Christianity in Greenland.”

Leif said that he was willing to undertake it, but that, for himself, he considered that message a difficult one to proclaim in Greenland. But the king said that he knew no man who was better fitted for the work than he. “And thou shalt carry,” said he, “good luck with thee in it.” “That can only be,” said Leif, “if I carry yours with me.”

Leif set sail as soon as he was ready. He was tossed about a long time out at sea, and lighted upon lands of which before he had no expectation. There were fields of wild wheat, and the vine-tree in full growth. There were also the trees which were called maples; and they gathered of all this certain tokens; some trunks so large that they were used in house-building. Leif came upon men who had been shipwrecked, and took them home with him, and gave them sustenance during the winter. Thus did he show his great munificence and his graciousness when he brought Christianity to the land, and saved the shipwrecked crew. He was called Leif the Lucky.

The Sunday Nature Call, Uke 28: The Stars Return

The Sunday Nature Call, Uke 28: The Stars Return

New birds, journey total: 82

My bird count is corrected and closed. I had a Big Year. Highlights? I think Polysticta stelleri was the top score because I had so hoped and then anticipated that duck. Birding can be quite a sickness at times. Other important gets were Grus grus and Cinclus cinclus. For some birds it was the company and setting that made the sighting important, as was the case for Haliaeetus albicilla. Every bird on my list evokes a memory, enriching my life everyday thereafter. The birding will continue, just without the language barrier.


The Stars Return


The low of a powerful yet distant train approached. As it passed it tore the trees and homes and whomever was unlucky enough to be outside. At 5 am, only the paper boys and campers had to worry. I shut the windows to keep out the wind-driven rain and went back to bed to await the day. It was dark, and I was no longer in Norway.

Well, it is the heat and the humidity. The continental summer of Iowa is in full effect with a  forecast for truly scorching temps by the end of the week. What planet am I on? So recently my life was ensconced in cool daylight, wool undershirts, and midnight sunsets. My shift from the moderate climate of Norway to the Midwest was speed by intercontinental air travel. There was no time to acclimate. I wonder how my ancestors took in the difference?

I am typing these words shirtless in a warm house – air conditioning is the necessary evil I hope to avoid for as much as possible. If I need a taste of the high latitudes, then I’ll retreat to the basement.

Meteorologists in The Gazette wrote this week about the warming effects of corn and soybean crops. Their “evapotranspiration” measurably adds to the dew point and humidity of Iowa, making it hotter. That is, it’s costing you money because everybody has to run their AC more. Where’s my tax break for that!

My preferred reacquainting with the community has been by foot and bicycle.  I was accosted by Red-wing blackbirds while jogging along a doomed gravel road. That’s my type of welcoming committee.

The nature of the Iowa is sublime to Norway’s drama. I do miss my long views with distant mountains and forests. I can close my eyes and still relive the excitement of fjord and ocean as dynamic natural generators. Where is the raucous chatter of the Skyære?

But don’t fret that the roses have thorns, rejoice that the thorns have roses. Driving west of Dubuque last night I was treated to that awesome show that is sunset on the prairie. The fields were lush and thick with crops, the light gave them a pride missing from noon-time ilumination. The star of the show was our star in fact, dissolving onto the broad horizon in a splash of true pink.

The Ringdue and Gråtrost calls have been replaced by the Robin and Goldfinch. Currently, the chorus of the cicadas are drowning out everything save some distant lawnmower. Tis the season.

Daylight is shrinking both here in the Midwest as well as in Norway. Come September we will briefly share a resolution. The first natural phenomenon that made me pause was the return of the heavenly bodies. I ascended the stairs from the basement and caught the door window framing a celestial scene of the early evening. Looking up and south I saw a crescent moon above a single bright point – probably a planet. I stopped mid-trip to look, to stare, and to wonder. And slowly but surly, like the changing length of days, the scene changed and one-by-one faint stars appeared.

Oh course, they had always been there but the daylight kept them hidden. The Norwegians will have to wait a while longer to get reconnected to their constellations. Iowa noted my return with stars.

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

The Sunday Nature Call, Uke 26: A Badge of Honor

The Sunday Nature Call, Uke 26: A Badge of Honor

New birds:9, Journey to date: 83

Heiðlóa (Pluvialis apricaria)

Stelkur (Tringa totanus)

Kría (Sterna paradisea)

Hrossagaukur (Gallinago gallinago)

Sandlóa (Charadrius hiaticula)

Spói (Numenius phaeopus)

Duggönd (Aythya marila)

Súla (Sula bassana)

Skúmur (Stercorarius skua)


Ponies graze west of Reykjavik

A Badge of Honor


Audie Murphy, Chesty Puller…John Hanson? I have no business being in the same sentence with those men. Their tally of medals could have been used to plate a car. My time in the Marines earned me two medals. Well, I think I really only earned one. My first medal was the National Defense Medal. On the heels of the the first Gulf War, anybody in service earned it. If you get a medal for just being present, a medal everybody gets, then maybe the standard is too low. My second medal was for several years of “good conduct,” that is, I didn’t get in any egregious trouble. I guess being on your best behavior was a matter of historical significance in the Marines. This week, in the act of birding and plain ole happenstance I earned a new commodation, a badge of honor.

My lexicon was tested this week. We have now left Norway on our way back to the prairie home. Our flight hubbed through Iceland. As a strategy to improve tourism, Icelandair allows you to break up your trip with an extended stay in this extraordinary land at no extra charge to your flight – Sold!

I heard many descriptions of Iceland before we traveled, two that stood out were, “other worldly,” and “bonkers!” I have a preference, you’ll have to read on to learn which.


Reykjavik from Alftanes

A powerful memory I will always carry from Iceland was the free-of-charge stroll I took on the first night in search of new birds and images of the landscapes in the rich, low light. Selfishly, those two-and-a-half hours made my whole trip. I tried my best to be the amenable dad in repayment to my family for the duration of the stay, they deserved it.

Earlier we walked the beach, it was a nice chance to stretch our airliner legs and take in the fresh ocean air. I thought our area of lodging would be rich with shore birds, and I was right. Within the hour I added two entries to my log. My plan was hatched for a solo sojourn after the gang went to bed. With sunset at midnight that was both an easy and hard task.

Iceland resists categories, typologies, and superlatives. Maybe you need to speak Icelandic to fully explain this place. But then again, how do fish describe water?

Day Two was behind the wheel our rental to take in the “Golden Circle.” Three stops were planned as was the willingness to follow our whims to seek additional sights. Iceland didn’t disappoint.


Approaching the National Park from the west

Stop One, Þingvellir National Park. The drive foreshadowed the epic vistas to come. Gems abounded in the park: Iceland’s largest lake, the sight of the original lawmaking and legislative assemblies, a sacred river, and the boundary between two continental plates. Pre Reading about the specialness of the place would have helped me to better enjoy the park. As a professional student I rather enjoy homework, perhaps I should retake the class?

I overheard a local guide comment apologetically to his group that the site was so busy with tourists. I’ve been to Rome and Disneyworld – this was not crowded. But when you are a country the size of Virginia with the population of the Denver suburb Aurora, you might think that a small group of people is quite the gathering.

I made my way out the house about 9:30 pm with a bright sun suspiciously high in the sky, lingering. I thought the walk would take an hour, I should have known better. Oh, you don’t care about birds, well you’re in luck because Iceland is bursting with wildflowers and plants. Then there are the mountain, and glaciers, and geothermal features. Huh, still not impressed. How about tracing over a thousand years of history from the Vikings? Nothing? Well, too bad for you.

The flowers and the skyline turned my walk immediately into a wander. What luck! While I like to make plans, serendipity is a treasured companion.

Along the sea path and next to a farm pond in a marshy meadow, the locals squaked and bathed, and carried on. Despite the commotion I noticed a new presence, and by ear, not

Version 2

Circling for another run

by sight. I knew that “winnowing” sound because it was cool. I wonder if it’s been used in sci-fi movies – it would be a neat effect.

The aerial performance by the testosterone charged male was right up there with Maverick’s ariel showboating in “Top Gun.” He climbed in large spirals only to strafe the meadow with his sonic swoon for the unseen female below. Over and over, had that been the entertainment for the evening I would have been quite pleased. But there was more trail to explore and I was greedy.

Our small rental was part of a greater pilgrimage of tourists taking their turns on the route considered de rigueur. Stop Two was “Geysir,” but I had my doubts. I have been to Yellowstone so my bar was pretty high. Thankfully, as a father I can look through the eyes of children to see the geothermic oddities and appreciate the wonderment as it was for the first time. It was a cute and compact area and the geyser flared with great regularity, much appreciated by the short attention span crowd.

Pied-faced shore birds flocked ahead of my on the trail. Rather than fly off at my approach they scurried farther ahead. I supposed a little game of cat-and-mouse can be fun. Little did I expect they would lead me to my favorite score of the evening.


Gullfoss and canyon

The third stop made us successful pilgrims. The “Gullfoss” waterfalls have stunning views with an equally impressive origin story. The cascades were destined by a foreigner to host a hydroelectric dam a century ago. But a local woman was a juggernaut of protection, even threatening to martyr herself in the waterfall less it be killed with a dam. She was crazy but she was right. Today the falls are the most visited site in Iceland and she is viewed with admiration. Dams are just a damn shame!

There was a fence and stile at the end of the causeway and a welcoming party waited on the other side. I had no inclination that a war party also waited, just beyond. Next to a new friend from earlier was a Whimbrel, unmistakable and awesome. Birds like this used to nest in Iowa by the tens of thousands, today not a one. That bird had my full attention.

I crossed the red steps and entered a peaceful meadow bordered by a brackish lake and the sea. It was a serene scene with the shelf life of about five more steps. The first squadrons to attack totally caught me off-guard. The opening salvos were unnerving, but retreat wasn’t an option; the battle was joined.

Big waterfall checked off the list, all that remained was the drive home and extemporaneous stops. A historical marker sign gave us a 500 meter warning. I slowed, we passed, and then agreed if not now than never. A u-turn and stop gave us waterfall number three, “Fraxi.” If this cataract was in Iowa, then it would be the show stopper and absolute must see. In Iceland a handful of people enjoyed the view. Such poverty, such wealth.


Crater and lake

The procedure was repeated for the next historical marker. This visit demanded a trespass fee. Yielding to our original mantra we paid the Crowns and approached Kerið, think Crater Lake, Oregon on a much smaller scale. It was here that I was reminded that treeless Iceland had a lot more trees than you would think. A man-made forest swept the backside of the old volcanoes. These hand planted labors of love confounded. My reaction was that they were just counterfeits in this austere landscape. But then I had to accept that the sheep, horses, and people were just as phony to the authenticity of the island. Mankind loves to tend a garden.

The stretch of low grass was a nursery of Arctic Terns. Their precious nests, although unseen, were everywhere. Birds boiled out of grassy patches to take part in the harassment and attack of the audacious bipedal intruder. I had on my beaver skin fedora that Meghan hates. The protection of that hate from the swooping birds earned it a permanent place in my wardrobe. I walked quickly, to run would show fear, only emboldening their campaign.


Fighter and Bomber, Tern and Whimbrel

The journey back to Reykjavik on Highway One was a fine way to conclude the journey. It was a road that invited contemplation. West of Selfoss the road climbed and climbed to a plateau. Here was nothing. I got the sense of space travel and uncomfortable remoteness. There was a familiarity in driving a car and the look of the road but to the right and left were old lava fields, barren hills, some vegetation but not too much. The scene did not welcome me, I felt a sense of hostility from the land. It was almost like the place was accepting my rubbernecking but would not tolerate a stop and visit.

A tern hovered in the air in front of me, a little to the right, chastising, taunting, and deceiving. It worked because I didn’t even realize that the real attack was coming from my left. The bomb was dropped from 11 o’clock and score a direct hit on my shoulder. The splat surprised my ears as much as my skin. I was hit, but the only chance you have in an ambush is to press on.

By the time I crossed the meadow the contents of the liquid ordnance began to dry, freezing the pattern in stark contrast to my black jacket. IMG_3877I stopped to take of picture for posterity, little did I know I did so in front of the President’s home. Did I have psychic idea that he would come out to fete my deed?

The balance of the walk back was uneventful and mostly through a suburban development. I carried a camera full of new images. I carried a mind rich with new memories. And I carried a white emblem on my chest, a badge of honor.

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