Category Archives: The Sunday Nature Call

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)

IMG_3895

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.

IMG_3712

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.

IMG_3904

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.

IMG_4014

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.

IMG_4077

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.

IMG_3841

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.

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)

 

IMG_9019

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.

IMG_9017

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 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.

 

IMG_8916

There’s No Room to Share

 

IMG_8906

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.

IMG_8915

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!

IMG_8910

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 

IMG_2592

Poppies grow among the ruins, The Forum

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

IMG_2908

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.

IMG_2910

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.

IMG_8884

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.

IMG_2916

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.

 

IMG_2294

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.

IMG_2581

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)

 

IMG_0773.jpg

Poetry for high sun and cold water; or, Frivannsliv

IMG_8463

IMG_8468

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

IMG_8470

 

 

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

 

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.

IMG_1546

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)

 

IMG_0635
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.

IMG_1029
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.

IMG_7941

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.

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.

IMG_9945

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.

Lysakerelven

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.

Version 2

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.

norwaysalmonfarmsimpact

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.