The Sunday Nature Call, Uke 2: I’m Not Sure the Squirrel is Safe
Snow on the ground, days getting longer…living! People are smiling. No, really they are. And if it’s not for their personal pleasure in the snow then it’s the chance to remember the magic and wonder of being six years old with a new sled on a slick hill. Wee!
Svartand (Melanitta nigra)
I’m Not Sure the Squirrel is Safe
The arctic day paired nicely with the commanding view, kind of like a cold beer and a T-bone steak: Epic combos. As I picked my way along the snowy stone walls in the tracks of another intrepid soul I paused frequently to just stop and look, to stare, and to feel the cold. I would get to run back to the hotel for a hot shower, the Norwegians who guarded this gateway on the Oslo Fjord hundreds of years ago had no such luxury.
In the distance is Sweden; now they come for work, not pillaging. In this fresh snow, tracks are so easy to see. My tracks have added to another, but otherwise it’s lonely up here. A blanket of white on all these stones, a blanket that won’t keep them warm.
The Kongesten Fort (the King’s fort) is still and frozen. Aside from slipping, I have nothing to fear here, not the least of which are the Swedes. A squirrel darts along the ground from one tree to the next. It doesn’t fear the Swedes either.
The ramparts are attacked by children as I leave. The nearby school is having a field day and they are quickly coursing down the imposing entrance as a raceway. I am more worried about their safety then they are. Their teacher looks unconcerned, I’ll trust her judgement.
Safety and security are interesting ideas but I am not sure they actually exist. Maybe they are like dragons: we can talk about dragons, write books about dragons…but they aren’t real. To make the most of friluftsliv one must be careful, although I don’t think you can every really be safe. But as my college roommate warned me more than once, “There’s a fine line between tough and stupid, and you don’t know where it is!”
Just walking down a Norwegian sidewalk is an exercise of risk. The amount of snow and ice on the paths here would be unacceptable to any proper Midwesterner. Cities and property owners would risk lawsuits from the disabled – and rightly so – for failure to keep an accessible path. No ADA in Norway I guess.
On my walk into Fredrisktad city center from the train station I was treated to a evening wonderment of large cold flakes falling on the city. The beauty helped make up for the fact that I was literally dragging my luggage through the snow, “sidewalks” in concept only. When to my surprise, ahead of me laid a barren street. No snow, no ice, nothing except clean stone from sidewalk to sidewalk.
The rest of the walk to the hotel was a snap. I asked the receptionist what was the deal with the impeccably clean, almost rebelliously un-Norwegian, street? She said it was heated. Well there you go. If you want people to stroll main street during the dead of winter, then heat the way. Brilliant.
Why don’t we do this in America? Fyi, in America we are going to spend over One TRILLION dollars on upgrading our nuclear arsenal – really without debate. How about 1% of that for heated streets?
The goal for this run was the fortress, my 6th, and maybe to see a new bird along the river. This close to the sea there is always that exciting interplay of fresh and saltwater that attracts so much wildlife.
My run started on the clean streets of Nygaardsgata, but just past city hall I had to strap on my spikes as expected. Truth be told, hard packed snow or ice with spikes is pretty easy running, it’s the soft snow that’ll spin your wheels. A moment for application and I’m off again.
I needed to find my way to the river crossing to the old town. The receptionist at the hotel said running the bridge was unsafe. Betraying my maturity, I took her advice. I found the river, a lovely place for a stroll, or in my case a run. I could imagine the waterfront crowded with tall ships during the summer celebration. One tall ship was anchored and battened down for the winter, that will have to do for now.
Waterbirds coursed the river. Typical mallards, gulls, a solitary Goldeneye, and a flock of basking Skarv. And then I spotted the big guy. Splashing with enthusiasm in the middle of the river this large black duck-looking bird had my attention. I was doing my best to see into the sun to make an ID. A lovely elderly couple walked past and paused, wondering what I was looking at.
In my homemade Norwegian I asked if that was a duck and if so what kind? At least that’s what I thought I asked. The gentleman said it was an “Ender.” “Ender,” I repeated and then repeated the mantra as I ran off. I could look up what that meant when I was done. Past the fine houses and bust of Amundsen I found the ferry.
To promote tourism and minimize traffic, there are free ferries in Fredrikstad. Brilliant, again. The little ferry was just leaving the east landing and heading to me, the crossing took a minute. Down came the gangplank and about five people disembarked. I was the first aboard, feeling pretty proud. Ok, ready to go. We waited. More people strolled aboard, they waited inside. I stood out – no need to get warm if I’m a true hardy runner!
The engine purred to keep the boat pushed up against the dock. I stood in the sun but the low angle meant it was bright but I felt no heat. Finally, and according to schedule, we left for the fortified city. Down went the gangplank and I was the first off, now running to generate some much needed heat.
The air was cold enough that I had to keep my armstrapped phone inside my jacket, lest it die. This made stopping to take pictures extra slow, so I just took fewer photos. The perimeter of the fortified town was a geometric workshop in resistance to black powder weapons. The architecture was frozen in time as much as the landscape was froze in snow.
I knew the fortified city would be an easy target for me, I really wanted the Kings Fort. Running to the golf course and camping area I could see the fort looming on a small but obviously significant promontory, the only problem was no clear path. Thank you Allemannsrett and gaiters, I made my own trail through the snow.
My freedom was rewarded with a frocked hunk of rock and oh-so-old structures. Confidence in my legs, heart, and wool, I made it safely here. I will make it safely back, if I am careful. The squirrel is watching me. Given the abundance of roaming cats, I’m not sure the squirrel is safe.
Looking up, looking ahead, and keeping my pencil sharp.
The Sunday Nature Call, Uke 1: Hello Snow
2016, game on! Sorry for the late post. My excuse, the need for extended contemplation. 😉
Zero (Vulgaris incognito)
2016 is here, enjoy. The denizens of the Oslo Fjord area are finally breathing easier, because many are breathing harder. Oh, not breathing harder because of air pollution or carrying the extra weight from extended holiday merrymaking, but because so many are finally able to hit the local trails and get in some k’s.
My number one son is fond of telling me that Norwegians invented skiing and, “They’re born with skis on!” I’m glad he believes that, he and number two son start cross-country ski lessons after school on Thursdays. The technique of number one is, well, ah, how should I say it…”unique.” I no longer have the cache to give suggestions let alone lessons. Hopefully the authentic experts from Norway will have better luck.
On Saturday we boarded the bus, with skis, to hit the trails. We were not alone. Our bus was well represented by skiers as was the parking lot at trails end. Near Skansebakken I was treated to a sight of wonder, hundreds of little kids in ski school. The various groups were spread amongst a rare piece of level ground and making the most of their birthright and weather.
If you have cold and snow, then you should ski. What a great way to commune with your fellow human (or kid) and nature. Norwegians seem to have a determination to commune with nature that is unmatched in America. The reasons why could fill a book. Many of the reasons I would cite would surprise you.
At any rate, at a young age, children here are outside, “Everybody does it.” The positive feedback loop of exposure and opportunity (Allemannsrett) is enviable. The Sunday Nature Call aims to inspire, but does it? Writing about the authentic world of life out-of-doors makes me appreciate more my time with the heavens above my head. I hope it does for you. Go. And if your climate allows, say, “Hello snow.”
Looking up, looking ahead, and keeping my pencil sharp.
Off the schneid! Leave it to Lister to give me another surprise. I came to the Lister area to teach. But I also got to see a couple of new birds. The Lister area is one of the top birding areas in Norway – lucky me. However it’s off season, Lister has it magic during migration season. Perhaps I’ll find a reason to return.
New birds: 2*
*Sothøne, seen 20 October in Stavanger, finally got around to reviewing the picture
We Go Up, We Go Down, Very Nice!
“Jesus!” my mind screamed and I felt like I lept five feet into the air. What was that? That sound, it tore the peace of the misty forest apart. “There, ghosts!” my eyes gathered in all the intell. No, wooly sheep. “Oh,” and my focus returned to the soggy trail and my guide, stay with my guide because I am somewhere in Norway but exactly where?
I was running in the Lister area, Farsund was my base for the week; consult the map and then return to this blog. Good.
Norway has two envious paradigms. One, a person is able to walk-hike-run just about anywhere the heart desires, Allemannsrett (“Everyman’s Right” in english). Two, personal health is a national imperative, that is, eat well, exercise, and don’t become a burden.
Following my Tuesday lesson at Lister VgS – Eilert Sundt, there was the important time to socialize with the other teachers in the Personal Room (teachers’ lounge…in Norway they really know how to do the teachers’ lounge. Note, must be part of the social connections at school, it is just expected. Plus Norwegian teachers don’t have their own classrooms so the lounge really is an important home base).
I was introduced to Vidar (psydonemn) while having a cup of coffee, from their custom dinner service #pride. My host for the day told him that I liked to run on my travel. She told me that Vidar was a local running guide. At first glance you may not think that he was a gonzo athlete but you’d be wrong, very wrong. He reminded me of a favorite teacher from days of high school past.
“Can you be ready by 12:20?” he asked. “Yes,” was my immediate response, I didn’t want to even bother to consider having a conflict. Now I just had to get to my hotel ASAP and change.
I was late but he was forgiving. I’ve alway appreciated the kindness of strangers. With a hairy black dog in the back of the van we had a quick drive to the coast. I planned on running the length of the beach and back – my tactic to avoid getting lost – he was going to run with the dog to the top of a local promontory.
I have right to traverse the beach, throw shells back into the sea, watch for birds, and to dream. This community has some of the better beaches in Norway. They will create a trail, most with handicap accessibility, some 40 kilometers long up the coast. Room for anyone to wander, a destination for the wellness of body and soul, a place not for sale.
Any thoughts I had about running in a steady manner ground to a halt as soon as I got the beach: the gentle lap of waves, the force of the wind, and the vision out into the abyss stopped me. Pictures, an attempt to do a Periscope (live-streaming app) and a quick video for my family turned the run into an intermittent stroll.
It was late December but the Gulf Stream gives this coast a gift of warmth, it was about 5 degrees centigrade. Overcast skies were a leaden dome but they couldn’t dampen my enthusiasm. After enough pics I needed to get running or I’d would run out of daylight. The sunset was at 3:42.
And just when I got a good pace, my run was stopped again; birds on the water. Several dark and large duck-like birds, and a couple of petite and light grey feathered swimmers. The low light, my eyeballs, and little iPhone thwarted any definitive observations. Okay, keep running.
Another good pace, an even rhythm on the firm sand, righteous running. The shoreline here has lovely stones and rocky outcroppings like most of Norway, but also sandy dunes with swaying grasses. The roots fight with the waves for the sand, they have for 10,000 years.
Here comes Vidar and the dog. He said the path was hard to follow because of all of the rain so he came back to guide me, stout fellow! Farewell shoreline safety, good. Vidar and the dog alternated being the leader, I followed.
We passed through a gate to control the sheep. A long dark bird was on water like before, but this one was close. Vidar said something was amiss, it didn’t try to flee. I got a good picture and then spotted a corpse of a recently deceased of the species. Maybe they were companions?
Now we’re through the dunes and marshes. Just off the beach the wind disappeared and all sorts of new sounds invaded. During the occupation, the Germans fortified this part of the Norwegian coast with an intensity. We ran past numerous ruins of bunkers, pillboxes, and fortifications. I was reminded of my visit to Normandy. Sheep grazed a distant hill, they are used as natural vegetation management. The dog pulled, Vidar pulled back, victory to the biped.
Across a road we scrambled up Skjolnesveten. This was adventure running: novel, a little risky, imperfect weather, camaraderie, and a goal. A bird exploded away to our left. I asked if it was a grouse, Vidar said it was a Rugde, he made a motion with his fingers about his nose to explain that it had a long thin bill. At 15:18 we reached the summit. The view was thoroughly modern: reclaimed natural areas, the timeless sea, and a massive Aloca smelting plant. And down we went.
The route down was the hard part, caution being the better part of valor. Returning via a different route we spooked a Roe deer, and got our feet good and wet. At the car they drove off, I opted to run back to the hotel. It was a chance to extend the run and to see more of the industrial harbor where two ships were docked.
A couple of weeks ago a Norwegian friend related a story about some hill climbers. They were friends of his who were on holiday. The country in question had certain hills that were off limits or required a local guide, a concept not well accepted by the travels. The pair had bagged the peak and were on their way down when they were confronted by an officer demanding their papers and interrogating them about their poached climb. The duo played dumb and just kept repeating in a pigeon english, “We go up, we go down, very nice!” with toothy grins for added effect. The officer finally gave up and they all went on their way.
What rights do you have to enjoy God’s earth by your own power? In Iowa you are limited. On a few rivers you have the right to float but the shoreline is private. Wisconsinites are free to course any body of water, even if it’s only seasonal. Ola and Kari Nordmann enjoy almost total access to rivers, the exceptions are exceptional. Because of Allemannsrett they can walk the fields and forests, camp most anywhere they please, and not stress about fencerows or property lines. I am jealous.
Thursday was my second date with Vidar. He had shown me on Wednesday an internet map of the destination. “This is a special place,” he pointed to a part of the route. I have heard that a lot in Norway. Seems in every locale there is a hill, rivulet, or forested grove that is special. But the labels have been always pronounced with sincerity, bordering on reverence.
The fog and mist that greeted the sunrise Thursday decided to make a day of it. We ran anyways. Like Tuesday, it was a melange of modernity. We parked next to a new auto tunnel that ran 3 kilometers under the mountain, we ran next to the century old canal that linked the sea to Framvaren and then up the ancient Fossekleiven to the saturated meadows and forests of Raufjellt.
“Over there a German airplane crashed,” pointed Vidar. He said some people died. “Germans,” he added as almost an afterthought for clarity. It was a detail that only added to the contemplativeness of the place.
We were near the point of beginning our descent. We went down through a surprisingly all deciduous forest by way of a switchback trail. I got a lesson from Vidar about how the oak and good wood here was taken by the Danes, and then English to built their fleets. The Dutch built Amsterdam on oak pilings.
The surf, forests, and mountains are for play and pleasure but also history lessons. These sweeps of nature, in all their steep glory, are here to impart health and happiness. They are open to you and me to explore, enjoy, and embrace. And if you are really lucky, you can get an education and a new friend.
Looking ahead, looking up, and keeping my pencil sharp. -jlh
author’s note: landscape photos filtered “mono”, running photos filtered “chrome”
Americas is so big
How big is America? Yes, the land mass of America is knowable, approximately 9.1 million square kilometers (CIA World Factbook, 2015), uff. Subtract Alaska and Hawaii and you still have an impressive land of depth and breadth. America is also so varied: from the sub-tropical wetlands and reefs of Florida, boreal forests of Vermont and Minnesota, high and low deserts of the Southwest, to the alpine tundra of the northern Rockies. How can such an array of geographies and biomes be one place?
In my lessons Monday and Tuesday at Langhaugsveien Vidergående Skole in Bergen, the students were exposed to the idea of different Americas. The topic was childhood poverty and my intention was, in part, for them to understand some of the regionalism that exists and persists. There are a lot of poor children in the South, but more dispersed in that rural land. In the North you have poverty too, but the large cities and their suburbs distort the wealth of the region and the very concentrated levels of poverty, particularly in non-white areas.
America is a such a large and diverse place, geographically and socially, that I posed the question to the students that perhaps there are actually many Americas. Yes, of course, there is one Constitution and one currency. Beyond that there is a centrally produced culture that is transmitted from Hollywood, Manhattan office suites, and the satellites of Clear Channel in Texas.
Yet despite the efforts of capitalists, America is still a richly diverse land, for better or worse. Visit communities in region X and you will see fences in front yards, in the Midwest, that would be taboo. Watch people walk and use public transportation in some Northeastern cities, while we drive most everywhere else. Accents, habits, and local customs are still wide ranging. Why is that so many house in St. Louis are brick? How come chili on spaghetti noodles is a thing in Cincinnati?
Is anyone aware how large America is? Maybe. But flying across the county gives you zero authentic, on-the-ground knowledge. A road trip by interstate highway is too fast and sanitized to interact with all that is America. We actually live and travel in such small circles.
Norway is big. Yes, it actually is, to me at least. My experience of Norway has been largely by foot. Walking, running, wandering while just a little lost… The pace of life at less than 5 kilometers per hour increases the scope of a place. Treading the land brings one into a greater intimacy with a place, its sights, sounds, and smells. I want to believe all the walking we are doing is engendering a greater authenticity with life in Norway.
From my car-driving world, distance are more appreciated when you walk. There is no quick trip across town when you are by foot. Since this life in Norway is a temporary arrangement, I am trying to revel in my shoe leather. From time to time I feel like I should be recording my foot travels with video. Narcissistic and intriguing but impossible. Where would it end and how could it be used? It couldn’t and it wouldn’t.
I don’t know how big Oslo is, but by foot it’s huge. Norway is a lifetime of terrestrial travels to understand. Who knows America? Has anyone known America in its present state? I submit a traveler named John Muir as the most likely candidate.
Muir was born and raised in coastal Scotland. At age 11 his father moved the family to a homestead in Wisconsin, there he wandered the prairies, lakes, and woods. As a man Muir walked through southern Ontario. He walked from Indiana to Florida. Muir rambled over the Sierra, he toured the Alaska. Maybe given his outsider, immigrant perspective, Muir was uniquely positioned to understand and contextualize what he was seeing.
I think John Muir had an idea of how big was his America. With actual shoe leather, and human skin, he walked over the land. Muir smelled the land, felt the various earths beneath his nightly sleeps. The grime of the trail found its way into his mouth and pores. John Muir intimately traveled America in a way that would be almost impossible today.
If you wanted to walk over America today you would have to stick to legal trails and paths, someone else’s idea of where you should go and what you should and should not see. A significant sojourn is possible but it’s bound by fences and interstate highways. Allemannsrett codifies wandering in Norway. It is a right in Norway to wander, to cross paths, to follow instincts and interests, provided you essentially leave no trace.
I don’t think I’ll ever get to understand how big America is. My efforts in Norway will fall short because of time. But I don’t think the point is completion, the journey is the victory, the effort. Calvin Rutstrum told of an exchange between a fishing businessman on vacation and a Cree. The businessman asked the Cree how long it took by canoe and portage to reach a particular spot in the wilderness. The Cree replied it took three days. Proudly the businessman replied that he was able to travel that distance in one hour by chartered float plan. Nonplussed, the Cree asked, “Buy why?”