Tag Archives: everybody does it

The Sunday Nature Call, Uke 1: Hello Snow

The Sunday Nature Call, Uke 1: Hello Snow

2016, game on! Sorry for the late post. My excuse, the need for extended contemplation. 😉

New birds:

Zero (Vulgaris incognito)

Hello Snow

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.

imageOn 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.

imageAt 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.


Lighten Up People

Lighten Up People

When you are first you face ridicule. Be brave, because if you are going to be first then you are going to stand out. “Seatbelts, in cars? Ridiculous!” “What’s the harm a little lead in gasoline could do, really?” “A safety-bar on my chainsaw? What’ll this nanny state think of next?” pondered Lefty. How often has our society, and we as individuals, trailed the warnings because we dismissed them as silly? “If everybody is still warming up their cars in the garage, then I am too.” The power of conformity…right over the cliff. Be brave, stand out.

I wasn’t shocked but I did notice. All the laborers here were decked in work trousers and shorts with big reflective strips. If their day-glow green or yellow coveralls were bright enough, then the strips guaranteed visibility. Okay, I chalked that up to strong unionization and workplace rules in Norway. Europe, lots of rules.


Then Meghan pointed out all the preschool groups. Flocks of two to five year olds walking here and playing there clad in orange or highlight vests…with reflective strips. Ahh, maybe early childhood socialization to accept the wearing of high visibility work clothes with reflectors? The Scandinavians are clever that way.

I remember my first bike helmet, I was 14. I felt like the only person in Monroe county Wisconsin with a bike helmet, certainly the only kid. I had crashed plenty of times on my bike, why now? I wanted to be a serious biker. I lobbied my parents to drive me all the way to Madison to buy a real road bike from a real shop. Something like all those damn hippies and liberals in Madison would go to – I just channeled my Dad’s inner voice – a store where the workers rode bikes. The opposite of the Shopko or Pamida selection and service for bicycles: Williamson Bicycle Works.

So I bought a real bike, a Schwinn LeTour in red, 21 speeds! To my horror dad tried to haggle the guy for kickstand. I also left with a pair of real biking shorts, you could get them in any color as long as they were black, and a helmet. The helmet has been lost to time, the shorts worn out but I still have the bike-and the receipt. Since that first helmet I have owned many.

If I ride in a car, I use the belt, period. It just wouldn’t feel right if I didn’t. And when I ride a bicycle I wear a helmet. I get the creeps the few times I steal a quick jaunt on two wheels without it. In Norway, I don’t go anywhere without my refleks.IMG_3690 (1)

Reflective patches, strips, badges…adorn every person it seems. Refleks are just part of the fashion. Refleks are available in almost any store. Refleks is the right thing to do. Refleks is the law.

IMG_3351On an exploratory run in August I ran past a home with a sign for all the world to see. I took the sign as a distillation of the Norwegian sentiment towards the value of people and how sharply it contrasted with those from America. My translation, “In Norway we have many children, but none to spare.” That is, every child is precious, Norway can’t afford to lose (death) a single one. Given the state of children in America, in my pessimistic moments I envisioned that sign in the States saying, “America has lots of kids, we’ll make more.”

What is the price of human-car collisions? Humans always lose. Refleks are cheap. Refleks don’t need electricity. If “Everybody does it,” then refleks are the thing to do.

My sons have lime vests with refleks, like all the other kids. Ryal came home with schwag from a school presentation – refleks armband. Meghan has her vest. My yellow refleks vest was a treasure I found abandoned in an alley (it was there for 3 days and no one picked it up-fair game).

I brought my original refleks running vest from America, it’s almost 25 years old. The overlay is finally “cool” because no one in Norway has one like it. I bought new straps that I wear at my knees for running. I am going to buy dayglow refleks spats for my running shoes when I get back to Stavanger next week.

I am a nerd, and more (much more) safety conscious than most (I really identified with SNL’s Anal Retentive Chef and Safety Homer). But even I always took an assertive position as a pedestrian or bicyclist in America. I presumed that if I could see your car then you could see me…you better! I rode my bike as if I was a big and visible truck. Of course, when I was driving, I was complaining about walkers and bikers on the road who were too hard to see – you too?

I ran Ironman Wisconsin in 2004; I was skeptical that we really needed to have some reflective pieces on our persons when we were still on the course after sunset. “It’s a closed course for Pete’s sake!” I begrudgingly bought an ankle strap, still have that too despite Lambeau’s attempt to eat it.

In Norway, “Everybody does it.” You wear your refleks for yourself, for motorists, for society…everybody does it. To do otherwise would be to stand out for all the wrong reasons.

I have a challenge for you, to be brave and to stand out: buy and wear reflective garments and accessories. You will be first and passers-by will think you look ridiculous (secretly they will be envious of your courage). Reflective gear practically, “Don’t cost nothing.” Start a trend, encourage your friends, save a life.


#32 Bus “KvĂŚrnerbyen” multi-species morning commuters with reflex

I hope to see a surprising proliferation of reflective-wear clad Americans when I return. Please do your part. I have enough crusades that I’m working on. Seriously, lighten up people!


Links to a random assortment of suppliers (I have no financial gain)

Hivis Supply


Night Gear

refleks for pets

Sunday Nature Call, uke 46: Black Gold

Sunday Nature Call, uke 46: Black Gold; Or, Wealth that Lasts

Cooler now in Oslo, many mornings the paths greet my feet with a subtle layer of ice. I am learning to walk more purposely here, always be ready to fall. Snow has alluded Norway, much to the disappointment of Ola and Kari Nordmann. Late autumn is a resentful time in Norway: cold, dark, and damp. At least with snow a person can hit the trails. Snow amplifies the light from both sun and stars and make the nights less foreboding. I’m rooting for snow.

New birds:

none (19)

Black Gold: Or, Wealth that Lasts

There is a universe beneath our feet. Underfoot is a world unexplored and largely uncharted, our Moon has fewer secrets. The mystery has a simple name: soil. If you eat, then you rely on soil for your life. As typical of human behavior, we disregard or dismiss the truly important things. We have even tied the word soil with a disparaging verb, “you soiled your shirt, now it’s ruined!” How do other languages treat soil?

The oil production that made Norway rich has a date of expiration. Estimates for the cessation of functional hydrocarbon exportation suggest the year 2030, maybe 2040. The specific year or even decade of extinction isn’t important. What is important is that the oil industry will end and likely within the lifetime of many Norwegians. Then what?

Oil fields are supposed to be used up. The word “exploitation” is used purposely and fittingly. And after the oil ends Norwegians will still need to eat. It is impossible for Norway to feed itself, and a pipe dream to think so. But Norway must use the land it does have to feed as many people as it can. The old soils will be tasked with the serious and timeless work to produce food for people and livestock. Will the soil be able?

Iowa Topsoil monuments: Depths 1850-2000. Photo, Christopher Gannon

Iowa Topsoil monuments: Depths 1850-2000. Photo, Christopher Gannon

The settlers who traveled to the prairies of the American Midwest came for the soil, the abundant, fertile, and almost free soil. Scenery was not on their list of wants or needs. And in the course of a couple of generations, those hardworking migrants and immigrants turned an ocean of grass into an ocean of grains. They fed themselves, a region, and a world. That remarkable productivity came from the soil.

In retrospect is it no surprise the settlers, and especially their progeny went beyond using the soil for production to exploiting the soil for production. Industrial tools were handmaidens to the belief that this way of life, this way of farming could go on forever. But Mother Nature teaches harsh lessons to the myopic.

The vast oyster beds in New York Harbor died and threatened to starve a city. The epic White Pineries of the western Great Lake States were leveled in 40 years by hand tools. Passenger Pigeons were an inexhaustible source of meat until they were no more. I could go on.

The droughts of the 1930’s manifest the Dust Bowl, thee example of soil mistreatment. But I think soil is actually about the future. Sure, it is made up of ancient materials by ancient means but what soil does is provide a future…as long as you treat it kindly.

Farms near Lunner, Oppland

Farmland near Lunner, Oppland

I have seen a lot of the farmland that exists in Norway, much of it reminds me of my western Wisconsin boyhood. I was told by a teacher in Gran (Oppland Fylke) that she has visited almost every American state, but not Wisconsin. I asked her why, it seemed like an impossible statement to me and my question must have come across as hurt and desperate. “Oh,” she replied, I think sensing my surprise, “I do want to visit Wisconsin, but I have seen the pictures and it looks too much like here.”

The fields of Norway that produced potatoes, rye, and oats have transformed. From my arrival in August, the cereal gains were already ripening, they were all teaming with life. Now, those same fields are ugly open sores to my eyes.

fields near Vestby, Østfold

fields near Vestby, Østfold

An American farmer in the Midwest with any sense of pride or decently would retill his fields following the fall harvest; of course he did, “Everybody does it.” But why, from where was that practice born? In Norway they retill the fields. I suspect they do as well in Sweden, and Germany, and France. I suspect fall field work was just another cultural migrant.

No-till, low-till, and cover crops are some of the practices that have caught on in America to staunch the loss of our topsoil. A harvested cornfield that winks with green before the snow falls is a beautiful thing. Cropland on the prairie that announces spring with fall planted shoots is a triumph of longitudinal thinking. I haven’t seen any such practice here. Of course it’s possible I have missed it, someone tell me where it is.

I used to think a field of well-turned earth was a sign of a job well done. It was a testament to mechanical prowess. It was a monument for the winter that, “man is here, acknowledge his capabilities,” Now I see pain. The integral skin the soil needs is gone, how it must suffer. Imagine if it could scream.

Rob Hogg TweetIn Iowa people like Senator Rob Hogg and Columnist Todd Dorman have been stalwarts for soil. The Aldo Leopold Institute for Sustainable Agriculture at Iowa State University does research and education on the need to protect the world beneath our feet. To me it seems so clear an imperative.

Dorman columnYet, in Iowa we are betraying the gift of soil. We are still exploiting the soil, our laws continue to treat soil like dirt. For example, something as simple as requiring developers to put back at least some of the topsoil they scrape away as they prepare sites for home and commercial building has been a political bridge too far. It seems impossible but it’s true.

When will the soil of Iowa lose its viability, 2030, 2040? There will be no oil to turn to for Iowans. When the Norwegians are forced to rely on their soils for survival will they be able?

Vapor tries to rise from a Royal field at Bygdøy (Filtered photograph).

Vapor tries to rise from a Royal field at Bygdøy (Filtered photograph).

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

Sunday Nature Call, uke 42: Love Thy Neighborhood

The Sunday Nature Call, uke 42: Love Thy Neighborhood

My brother says it’s better to be lucky than good, tru dat, especially if you like to see new birds. Week 42 gave me a surprising bounty after my scores of Week 41. I’ll take all the luck, and help, I can get. Maybe I was lucky, but I also got some help from a new friend in Rørvik; mange tusen takk R.S.

There always seems to be a bird that I just can’t quite identify. Both were on the coast at the islands of Vikna. The first was a large brown hawk – ohhh, hawks are just giving me a hard time this year.

The others were very interesting and conspicuous in behavior – I’m sure a seasoned birder would name them with ease. There were like ducks, grouped in a shallow salt-water bay. The birds were dark on top, white underneath but the behavior is what will give them away: they flew away with the slightest approach, running on the water and with a low outstretched neck and head – very unique. What were they?

New birds:

Storskarv (Phalacrocorax carbo)

X (X x)

Havørn (Haliaeetus albicilla)

Toppskarv (Phalacrocorax aristotelis)

Fossekall (Cinclus cinclus)

Sangsvane (Cygnus cygnus)

3 men dragging brush, Dugnad

3 men dragging brush, Dugnad

We had been advised that there would be at least one community-wide cleanup/workday in our area and that you are obliged to help. Plus it would a good chance to meet people since at this event, the Norwegians expect to run into one another. At 10 AM Team Hanson was ready. Actually only the senior partners were ready, the junior partners didn’t make a quorum so I can’t say how they really were

We found our way to the registration area, fumbled through Norwegian, and got assigned an area. “Oh, that job seems easy,” I thought. Another addition to my list of completely misunderstood exchanges in Norway. In five years it will be really funny.

Author rests on his laurels, dugnadThe appointed hillside was covered with cut tress, saplings, and brush. The task was to drag it up off the hillside and then on to the community pile, I threw myself in the work with gusto. Man, I haven’t done any yard work since July, it felt good to do something familiar like this. In no time at all I was in my t-shirt despite the air temperature below freezing – sun and stillness: with hard work who needs clothes?

I met a neighbor, an elderly gentleman surprised an American was pulling sapling up some obscure hill in Oslo. He approved, plus his granddaughter was studying to be a math teacher, so I was okay in his book.

Meghan’s english attracted a friend. A hitherto unknown neighbor from the midwest, now over a generation in Norway, overheard Meghan talking to the boys. I think he was eager to re-familiarize himself with english.

Ola Nordmann hauls logs at dugnad

Ola Nordmann hauls logs at dugnad

Others were in my sector as well. A woman who wielded the loppers with abandon. A big guy with no hair he-maned the logs up the hill. I was leaving those for the tractor, maybe he needed an excuse to do something manly. A woman came around from the organizing committee with a basket of snacks. All so koselig.

We cleared the hill about 12:30 and called it good. “Rest!” called the sawyer. A lunch of whatever available and then some chill time in the apartment. I announced that I was going to take a 20 minute rest, i.e. if I sleep longer than wake me.

I woke myself several time with a choking snore only to drift away again. With a little courage and curiosity I peaked at the clock: “Holy Smokes, it’s after 4!” I’m not missing a grilled hotdog for all that work. And we all breezed out of the flat and to the gathering.

Dugnad "Tailgate"

Dugnad “Tailgate”

In a parallel universe there were Hawkeye tailgate parties taking place. The crisp of the air, smell of roasting meat, the feel of a cold aluminum can in my hand, and the idle but happy chit-chat with others reminded me of a fall football game. But instead of celebrating ritualized violence, we had gathered on a glorious autumn day, to smell the air, bask in the sun, and tidy the unmanicured elements of the natural world.

In Norway nature is celebrated, maybe venerated more than the scriptures. But there were more than two gathered, setting to work their hands. We made something better of our community and ourselves. For a great output of labor, no money traded hands. To be in league with your fellowman to make life better, inside our out-of-doors needs no defense. Is “dugnad,” one of those Norwegian words that just doesn’t translate?

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

Running Rørvik

‌Running Rørvik

Now I’m getting greedy. I feel strong enough that I could make a dash for it, to take it. The conditions are too good not to. It’s just asking for it. Go!

The internet is handy, such an incredible tool, it has become indispensable. No Wifi-no deal. But the internet is a thin experience, so thin anything done through the internet maybe shouldn’t be called an experience at all. Can a member of the Professional Organization of English Majors coin a new word for this please?

I looked at the northwest coast of Nord-Trøndelag on the internet and in a guidebook. It looked nice, interesting, and different from what I have seen in the cities. But the media sources didn’t prepare me to receive all that was wonderful about the Vikna Kommune (the Vikna area).

The drive in on the taxi was a thrill. I shared a cab with a local, it was a white Volvo wagon driven by a young woman. Of the 7 kilometers to town, the first 5 have no pavement markings on a twisting road. “Straight’n the curves, the only way they know how…” The opening song to the Dukes of Hazard was in my head, over the actual techno music from the radio, as we cut corners and hugged the curves of the opposite lane. I guess in Vikna, “Everybody does it.”

Speeding to town we meet a tractor in that unmistakable John Deere green towing a ship; swerve right. A massive suspension bridge rises, hulking gray towers and cables brightened by the low angle sun against an azure sky. Past the little harbor, and there, that. I finally smell the sea, the life of the ocean, here.

I’ve been on a ferry in the Oslo harbor, ran over, and along salt water in Trondeim and Bergen but I never smelled the sea. Here I did. It was the smell of life and death, change and permanence. Finally #lynyrdskynyrd.

Kysthotellet room 337I was dropped off at the hotel. Rørvik is the kind of town that has just one hotel, but the energy it saves in competition must be redirected to friendliness. The Kysthotellet had plenty of neat old stuff in their clean and modernized facility. Rich ochre paint, the color I have come to love as the quintessential look for a cozy home in Norway, covered the exterior. They even have real keys.

Well stacked Norwegian Wood

Well stacked Norwegian Wood

The room is big enough and the Wifi works, but this is no the time to check my Twitter feed. It is sunny outside: Run! Okay, first check Googlemaps so you don’t get lost in the middle of nowhere; Rørvik is nowhere adjacent.

Out the door and up the main road. All typical Norwegian wood-sided homes in the vertical style. Few homes have garages, those that do seem to have them packed with the detritus of life not cars. If anything they have carports. Remember, even this far north the ocean current keeps the land from freezing.

The pedestrian path takes me away from the sun, past the sports hall and up the hill to the school I would be teaching at, Ytre Namdal. My translation is “Outer Namdal,” it looks nice. I ran with my eyes scanning for a path to the right. Opps, ran too far, back and now left and down a new road to where I wanted to go. Like many wealthy countries, it is the cities that are swelling the small towns that shrink, drive through rural Iowa, Alabama, Michigan… In this small town, seeing new construction is encouraging and offers contemplative contrasts.

Ancient mountain, new flats

Ancient mountain, new flats

Maybe 50-some odd degrees fahrenheit today and sunny. There goes the ice cream man, he whips a right into an apartment complex and hits the music. I imagined a Bizarro World episode of Cops. Squeals of children erupted, I smiled. Run.

Fishing nets, RørvikLooking to run along the water, sea water, and towards the big docks of town, I kept getting drawn down paths to the ocean only to have them dead-end at people’s houses or personal slips. If this was Oslo, there would be a path (he said with a hint of indignation), well it’s not and I’ll manage. Keep running.image

imageI pick my way along the rim of the harbor. Past new row-houses that echo the landmark Brygge of Bergen, the coastal museum, and some old large building in shambles that appears to be being razed, just not with much enthusiasm. Maybe the men who are demolishing it used to work there, maybe it’s hard for their hearts and souls?

An elderly couple is at the dock, with bicyles. The man is taking pictures, the woman is waiting in the shade. How can you not stand in the sun and soak up all the rays you can? The latitude and longitude of Rørvik hangs above us, I feel like I’m intruding, run on.

I curve around the harbor to where I got my first sniff of the Norwegian sea and I had to make a choice: go back or go on. Ahead the bridge was soaking in the sun, from the bridge I could get a picture of Rørvik bathing in daylight. Go.

Still running. A bridge that big is farther away than it seems. I pad the road underneath to find a place from the west to get a good photo. I run down a new private road with a barrier, a future exclusive development. If they put up Norwegian versions of McMansions to dot this hillside overlooking the channel, then we have made another bad cultural export.

NÌrøysund Bridge

Picture taken, now let’s take the bridge by foot. My phone battery has been on the red-line and warning me of death for a while. Will I have enough juice in the phone, because I have enough juice in the legs.

Up the curving road that is the approach, I first notice the prominent sign noting the wind speed. Infer that it must get awfully windy on a regular basis to need a fancy digital sign to warn motorists. Currently the wind was one meter per second. The second observation is that people don’t run on this road. There are no footprints, there is barely a shoulder, and the oncoming drivers seem surprised by my appearance.

Before a questionable idea became a bad idea the bridge decking came into view along with a merciful sidewalk on the west side. To the middle and at the crest I take my photos. For a little cell phone, I think they will do.


And now to cross the bridge. I reach the south abutment and stop to take one photo of the welcome sign for the next community. Nothing. Dead battery. Unfazed, I reached down to touch the dirt and then it’s back across and to the welcoming arms of the Kysthotellet.

Wow, I’ve got to call my wife!

Kysthotellet Rorvik, hotel's photo

Kysthotellet Rorvik, hotel’s photo

The Sunday Nature Call, uke 36

The Sunday Nature Call, uke 36

The slickers were donned, Meghan made a hasty trip to buy rain pants for the boys, and life went on in Oslo like nothing happened. “It rains, get used to it.” Children play in the trees and grassy area between our flat and the school (because that’s how close we are, literally there is only trees and grass between the flat and the school). With all the recesses, we get to hear and see plenty of excitement during the day. And on a rainy day, we still here and see plenty of excitement because they are outside. In Iowa, it would be an indoor recess; here it is just not even a question, “everybody does it.”

We attended the parent open house earlier this week. One of the reminders was to send your child with a change of clothes. One, the teachers expect students to have full rain gear because they will be going outside. Two, even with all that kit, the teachers also predict that enough students will be so active and enthusiastic playing in the rain that they’ll get soaked anyway.

R & O walk to school in full rain kit

R & O walk to school in full rain kit

Ask someone where they are from vis-a-vis the weather and you will get some sort of bragging about how tough the locals are: Georgians handle the humidity like no one else, Minnesotians brave the cold, in Maine they laugh at Nor’easters, and so it goes. I used to think that Iowans were pretty hardy and had cause to be humble but proud about their ability to deal with the weather.

Maybe we are. But you’d think our kids were made out of sugar the way we keep them inside when it rains. Kids learn a lot of things in school. Here, I think they learn that rain is just “liquid sunshine” to quote a Boy Scout leader I had. In Iowa, I wonder if kids equate rain with legos and bored games?

Week 36 Tally:

Rødstrupe (Erithacus rubecula)

Bofink (Fingilla coelebs)

Toppmeis (Lophophanes cristatus)

Names, what do they mean? What is a Robin? Says who? The delightful reference book i’m using from the apartment’s collection had the Toppmeis genus as Parus, Ornothologists have since changed it due to DNA. Last Sunday I sat under Linneaus’ tree, I think he would be pleased that the advance of science has displaced some of his claims.

The Lenneaus Linden at the Oslo Botanical Garden

The Lenneaus Linden at the Oslo Botanical Garden

I heard from the fly-over people that it was hot and humid in the Midwest. The heat got so bad that many schools let out early or canceled the day. We’ve worn some wool off and on this week in Oslo. I feel your pain.

The rainy streak has broken. Clearing skies yesterday afternoon promised a perfect day today, and the promise was delivered. What a cap to the week. And to physically cap the week, we capped Olso by going up the mountain for a hike. The forest was pulsing with people. Old people with trekking poles, ladies dressed remarkably well for strolling in the woods, families pushing prams and little kids riding scooters that you woudn’t think could get back so far.

I thought we would hike to inspect Oslo Vinterparken as a preview for the snow season, but our wanderings took us down another path. The path we strode will be groomed and illuminated for cross-county skiiers when the time arrives. The boys kept diving for the blueberry bushes for just one more taste of summer. I was there to hike. The compromise became a stroll instead of a forced march. I need to relax.

Just about when there was becomming the rumblings of disent and a desire to return, I was able to lure the little walkers on with the possibility of hot chocolate. I just had a feeling we were close to a back area ski hill cafe. I thought about all the very causal looking walkers in this area and that there must be some drawn, some destination with something to eat. Oh course that’s a dangerous stereotype to make in Oslo.

My hunch paid off and we arrived at Tryvannstua; a sod-roofed collection of alpine buildings set on a little lake at a ski lift. If I imagined a cool little place to get a coca back in the mountains, I would have fallen short of this reality. Coca for the boys and to share, a roll and traditional waffle with strawberry jam. The walk out was mostly up but bouyed by our refreshments. There were no complaints.

The hike out did get me thinking more about walking and being. There is a sense of a place you capture on foot that cannot be equaled by other means. The awareness is more ancient and abiding. I will devote a future Sunday Nature Call to this topic, John Muir will be our guide.

I now can see the sunset from our terrace, last night I recorded it at 293Âş magnetic, where will it fall in December? Our first day in Norway had 16:36 of daylight, today will be 13:43. This has been a dramatic change that will only continue. I am ready for the Blue Time.

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

Just Becuse I’m Looking and Nodding; or, Words, So Many, What?

Just Becuse I’m Looking and Nodding; or, Words, So Many, What?

This will require the consultation of my notes. Yes, I took notes but in my cheapskate way (yes, come now, you know it’s true) my small notebook is already full. So I ended up writing my notes in a disjuncted manner: some on this page, a couple of lines here, and the balance somewhere deeper in the spiral. I’ll find them all by the time I get to writing about it.

The capstone to a day of cold rain was an open house at Lysejordet Skole for 3. Trinn (parents of Third graders). Of course we had to go, but really what did we expect to get out of it? Truly the setting and participants could have been switched for most any school I have been familiar with in my life. A host of white parents sitting patiently in half circles of chairs in a multipurpose room while white teachers went over the year’s issues of the school in general and grade three in particular.

Except, neither Meghan nor I speak Norwegian. I last took Norwegian when Kurt Cobain and Dick Nixon were still alive. I was so young I didn’t have to get up at all during the night. It was so long ago only bigtime business players and drug dealers had cell phones; you know, crack-collar and white-collar criminals.

I thought my ancient prepartion would help here. It does, a little. I can make out written works, especially those written at the newspaper level of literature. Spoken words, by native speakers? Forget it, I yield. Tonight was another exercise in straining to understand.

We sat is the back row after we walked through the reception line and exchanged pleasantries. I felt like I was wearing a bright lime-colored top with squeecky shoes and noisey jewelerly, “Hey look, yup, I’m the American.” Of course no one batted an eye that I could tell. But when you feel you stick out, you probably do. And since we were new into an established parent scene, I’m sure we did, just like we would have back home.

The schedule was:

Foreldremøte Høsten 3. Trinn

  1. Info fra AKS with Martin
  2. Info ved ledelsen
  3. Felles infor fra lĂŚrere pĂĽ trinnet
  4. Til Klasserrommet

The evening was planned from 18:00 to 20:00 (24 hour time people, really; it’s better – just like metric). At 18:03 we began with the seven school staffers giving a brief introducation and welcome. And then item 1, AKS. I think I’ve written about AKS (Activity School) before, if not, then see Meghan’s blog for information.

Martin is the very nice young man charged with a difficult job: to control/wrangle all the kids after school lets out into the after-school program. He has to herd cats. He went through his presentation well but my limited interpretation skills picked up that the parents’ questions, of which there were many, were actually criticisms about how unruly and disorganized the program appeared. Remember, parents have to pay for AKS, but it’s Norway, so “Everybody does it.”

Fake interpreter at Mandela funeral

Fake interpreter at Mandela funeral


18:33 marked the lead teacher’s remarks. I feel she intervened to get Martin off the hook and redirect the meeting. She spoke very quickly, that was an intellectual blur for me. Meghan was getting ashen as the talk went on. I did what I could to keep Meghan involved. I’d lean over and explain the words on the electronic slide show or give my impression of what was being discussed. I was closer to an interpreter of jibberish than fact. “Nottingham: hva er mĂĽlet?” The first blog commenter who can write what that means wins a postcard.

The classroom teachers took over at 18:47. The room was stuffy, that wasn’t helping. Ulrike talked about the reading curriculum. Cecilie spoke about math instruction.

Laughs all around, Cecilie told the same joke I heard at the Indian Creek PTA meeting about how parents are confused about the new way of teaching math, different process – same answer. Marit explained the Ukens Elver program (another chance for someone to win a card!). Caroline had the big subject for last, the “Trivselsleder” program. That really got the parents animated. I thought I had it figured out. Ha! So smug, I gave Meghan my interpretation of the discourse. Nope, totally wrong. 19:25 freed us from the chairs. Next stop, classrooms

Big people in little, but not too little, chairs with cool platforms for feet. I took Ryals’s class, Meghan took Owen’s. Such kind people. Many parents introduced themselves and gave me their best english. Theirs is across-the-board good, well done Norway (In Norway, English is no longer considered a foreign lanaguage but rather an additional language, so “Everybody does it.”).

In this smaller setting I felt like I grasped just about everyting that was going on. Still, I took notes so I could ask after class. Proudly I understood there was a class kitty for expenses, please contribute 150 Crowns if you can. I picked up on the birthday and gift conversation – 100 Crown limit for presents. Nice!

After the meeting ended, about 20:12, Cecilie was so kind as to speak with Meghan and I about the boys, their progress and her impressions of the trajectory of the class. She handled that like a veteran teacher belying her years. Where did she go to college and who was here mentor?

Meghan and I left the school at 20:27, totally drained. For Meghan, being pumeled with foreign words for over two hours and, for me trying to sift through the conversations for a word or two I could grab onto, we were at our limits. Our boys, our sweet boys and this experiment we’re subjecting them to. I worry.

Adults are too quick to say, “Oh, kids pick up new langues so easily, they adjust so quickly…” Maybe, but they also have little life experince to put what is happening to them in context. Additionally, what is a year for an adult is a fraction of their life. When you’re eight, a year is a massive chunk of your lived experience. I am so proud of my boys for how they are handling this awesome change.

Parting thoughts:

  1. For parent-school open houses, all handouts and lectures should be available to those who want/need a printed copy to follow along and in the native language of the parent.
  2. Parents with language and cultural hurdles need to be explicity invited and supported.
  3. When in doubt, be kind.

The Teacher is the Student, or Learning You Don’t Understand

The Teacher is the Student, or Learning You Don’t Understand

I was following along pretty well, I got the key spoken words. That, coupled with the highlighted text on the screen and the body langauge, I could tell the principal was telling this class of new students about key school policies. In particular she gave emphasis to the attendance regime and its consequences. But as soon as I looked down to write some notes her voice disappeared, at least the intelligible part. At best I heard a Scandinavian version of Charlie Brown’s teacher. I retrained my eyes to her and then I was back in the lecture. Huh, a distraction to my right – “what did she say?” I thought, it was only a moment but I was totally lost. Back to her, focus. And so it went.

When the 10 minute address was over, I was spent. And then came a flood of guilt and humility. Oh my God, how many of my students felt like that on a regular basis? My poor English Language Learner (ELL) students, how they must have suffered.

Like me, most teachers were really good at school and frankly enjoyed their time as students. Yet, most students aren’t good at doing school, they work to muddle through it. They can succeed but it’s hard, a heavy lift. Do I help ease that burden enough?

PersbrĂĽten VideregĂĽendeskole (VGS) was my first visit to a Norwegian secondary school. Pupils (not students – that term is reserved for University) are aged 16-19. Essentially American high school grades 11-12, with a 13. VGS is optional, “but everybody does it.” The hitch is that students choose a VGS, and in Oslo that means competition. Some school are winners and some are not winners in the enrollment scheme.

The walk into PersbrĂĽten made me think of a small community college. It was a newer building, about 7 years old with a clean and purposeful design. The languid pace of the atrium in the morning reminded me more of a college than the frantic bustle of my home school. But the students there could have been mistaken for most any teens in an American high school.

Student cell phones stored at the whiteboard to preempt distraction

Student cell phones stored at the whiteboard to preempt distraction

I was pleasantly surprised about all I learned about VGS programming and issues. The principal and teachers were informative and gracious. As my travels take me across Norway I’m certain I will enrich and broaden those insights. But what I must remember, what I will remember was how it felt to not fully understand. It is a short path from not understanding to not caring and then to not attending…

Was today a gift? Yes. Isn’t it funny that some of the best gifts are surprises.