Tag Archives: Iowa

And I was called John the Lucky

And I was called John the Lucky

Eiríks saga rauða

  1. kafli (http://sagadb.org/eiriks_saga_rauda)

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Saga of Erik the Red

Chapter 5, an excerpt (http://sagadb.org/eiriks_saga_rauda.en)

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

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

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

The Sunday Nature Call, Uke 28: The Stars Return

The Sunday Nature Call, Uke 28: The Stars Return

New birds, journey total: 82

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

 

The Stars Return

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Svarthvit fluesnapper (Ficedula hypoleuca)

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

Møller (Sylvia curruca)

Varsler (Lanius excubitor)

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Hello? A view from Lungotevere Farnesina

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Note: all photos filtered through “Instant”

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

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

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

Rødvingetrost (Turdus iliacus)

Varsler (Lanius excubitor)

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

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Poppies grow among the ruins, The Forum

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

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

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

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Street scene, Trastevere. Rome

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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Ubiquitous mopeds, sans catalytic converters, Trastevere

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

 

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Tiber River from Ponte Sisto

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

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

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

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

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

The Sunday Nature Call, Uke 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)

 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Obedience:Resistance

Obedience: Resistance

The Dowager Countess was adamant in fighting for control of the local hospital. She had a good reason, her blue blood carried a genetic marker for territorialism. The wounds from the battle were severe, she even had to take flight to another country to convalesce. She was lucky, most of us just have to fight to the death.

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There have been battles in Norway that never make the news abroad. Yet, they are as deep and hard fought as any you will find in a civil nation. The battles are over the will of the people, the dictates of a distant capital, and the struggle to maintain a sense of place in a dynamic world. There is an obligation to follow the law in a constitutional democracy. But some laws hurt or threaten, is there is an equal mandate to resist?

If you think Norway is a rich counry with no problems, then you are mistaken. Does the Kingdom of Norway have wealth? Yes, of course. But the pressures of modern governance, that is the dual thrusts of neoliberalism disruption and conservative parsimony, have assulted the small towns of Norway. As an Iowan, so many of struggles and fears I hear from people around Norway sound uncomfortably similar to those I know in the Hawkeye State.

In the south of Norway, Agder, I commiserated with teachers about the pressures of school consolidation. Theirs was a small school but proud, with a rich history and an intimacy between faculty, staff, students, and the community for which I’m envious. “But according to the numbers…,” starts the explanation, the per pupil costs were too high (I personally find it galling when we attribute agency to inanimate things like numbers. Numbers never say anything, only people do. Someone used judgement and claimed the per pupil costs were too high. But if you have been convinced that numbers speak then it is difficult to resist, no one has ever won a debate against a number). So their cozy school is doomed. Can policy makers account for per pupil happiness?

In north-central Norway I experienced more distressed conversations. Here the battles were two. One was a change in airport priorities, one town would get the upgrade and another town’s airport would be closed. Additionally, the medical facilities were facing back-biting economic strangulation to force a change. In the arrangement, the medical specialties were purposely divided between three communities instead of being housed in an “efficient” single location. The small towns rightly understood that hosting a medical specialty was a statement about their right to exist in a world where efficiency was a new god that directly challenged their ancient god of community.

IMG_7961Recently in the Arctic I got to experience the outpost of Vardø, please take a moment to find it on map. Vardø is hard to get to but it has a remarkably long and important history in a nation full of towns with long and important histories. In some ways Vardø reminded me of so many towns in the Midwest and Great Lake States. Maybe you’ve heard the slur, “Rustbelt?”
On the edge of Norway, on the edge of western civilizaton stands Vardø. Outposts naturally hold perilous positions. In Vardø the weather is mercilessness. The Russians are next door. And the updowns and downs of the fishing industry have left their marks on a town that is a shell of its glory days, think Fort Dodge, Iowa, 1978 and today.

Vardø weathers literal and figurative existential storms. Like so many other small communities in Norway, or Iowa for that matter, Vardø resists. They resist having more of their administrative duties and positions reallocated to central locations. They resist going quietly, in Vardø the Norwegian flag flew longer in defiance in than anywhere else in occupied Norway. They also resist through art.

The art of Vardø is compelling and surprising. The handiwork of God and man is evident, the latter being more sublime than the former. Vardø resists through declarative street art, most sanctioned, some guerrilla, none kitsch.

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When the Hurtigruten makes a port of call, the passengers have one hour to cross the gangplank to see what they can. The most northern fortress in Europe is a predicable stop. While it certainly is a meritorious visit, solitary tree notwithstanding, there is so much more that cannot be seen in an hour. In fact it would be an insult to try.

The memorial to the witch burning is best visited alone. You need to hear and feel the wind, not the voices and footfalls of others to appreciate the magnitude of despair. The street art too necessitates serendipitous viewings. To walk with no plan in mind other then to be confronted with a work that is familiar but strange at the same time. Do I know that face? Have I heard that phrase before? Those were typical questions that came to my mind.

The small communities of Iowa and Norway are homes. Of course they are home to people but also potential. In our plethora of small towns exists infrastructure, utilities, housing…present but underutilized. We spend tax dollars to subsidize the building up of infrastructe in larger cities where it seems like they don’t need it while we wring our hands that our small towns are dying.

In a democracy you get a vote and a voice in the process. But even in peerless democracies like Norway, there are many who feel like they are ignored or worse exploited. There are options: vote, lobby, organize…or fight. In defending her attempt to vote, Susan B. Anthony testified that she would not pay the fine, she would fight. She enligsted a Quaker maxim to her defense and said, “Resistance to tyranny is obedience to God.” Many small towns complain. in Vardø, their obedience is to their centuries old community. Putting up a fight might be common, but in art, their resistance is special.

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The Sunday Nature Call, Uke 7: Near or Far, you’re a star

The Sunday Nature Call, Uke 7: Near or Far, you’re a star

My spoiling is nearly complete, cross-country skiing back in Iowa just will not ever be able to live up to the wonder, diversity, and quality of trails here. Yesterday was the American Birkebeiner, 54 KM from Cable to Hayward. It’s a big deal. In four week I get to try my luck at the “real” Birkebeiner in Norway. So far, so good with my conditioning. I have conceded that this will be an event for me and not a race: finishing during daylight will make me quite happy.

New birds: zero

(Avian incognito)

Near or Far, you’re a star
“Dad, is our sun a medium size or a big sun?” asked #1 son. I replied that our sun was a medium to small-sized sun. I intended to add some additional unsolicited wisdom but he interjected a fact of his own, albeit wrong, about how many earths could fit into the sun. And then we had a moment, some unanticipated silence where we both marveled about how big our sun was even if it was on the small size.
The power of the sun is returning to the high latitudes. This week I felt the rays of the sun for the first time, warming my face and neck in the cool air. I suspect it was the type of sensation that brings a smile to just about everybody.
imageThe transition from the low and remarkably weak solar rays to the relatively vigorous radiation of this week surprised me. It is ironic that during our winter the sun is actually closer to the northern hemisphere than during the summer. But it’s not the miles that separate us as the angle unto which we are separated. Some poet-scientist has probably already artfully commented on that. Neil deGrasse Tyson anyone?
Yesterday the altitude of the sun in Oslo was almost 20 degrees, the effect is apparent. I had local teachers in Trondheim come within a hair’s breath about complaining about the sun because now it can be painfully bright when driving or skiing. I have seen melting take place on walks and pavement, trust me, that’s a big deal.

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Of course back home in the corn kingdom, the sun has already surpassed 20 degrees by 9 AM. At high noon, the altitude of the sun is about double in Linn County. I’m not jealous, the sun’s rays are gaining strength here at a remarkable clip. Everyday I write in my log the sunrise, sunset, and amount of daylight, if I didn’t I think I wouldn’t believe it.
The birds were singing with full throats in the woods this morning, such was the glory of the sun. The trails today were a steady stream of skinny skiers with snazzy tinted glasses. I saw a man riding a mountain bike down the street, with just a dark t-shirt on. Such enthusiasm, all from a free boost in photons.

Indigenous Beauty - Western Arctic Sunglasses Historical Photo

My moment of inspiration to choose this topic came while waiting in the glass-paneled walkway to board my flight to Trondheim. In that space the greenhouse power of the glass amplified the already stronger rays, I had to take notice. I hope you will too.
Looking up, looking ahead, and keeping my pencil sharp.

That was it?

That was it?

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The predictions of gloom from my countrymen about the diminished daylight at this high latitude were greatly exaggerated. The winter solstice has came and went, and I feel none the worse. In fact, I’m probably in some of the best shape I’ve been in years.

On the solstice, there were 5:53 of daylight in Oslo, latitude 60º. I actually welcomed the day of little sun in Berlin. Berlin rests at 53º North; we enjoyed a full 7:39 of daylight. For reference, my Iowa home at 42º had 9:07 of sunlight.

Did the days seem shorter in Oslo than in Iowa? Yes, of course they did, what a silly question. But short days felt more like an exaggeration of my normal winter world. What was the noticeably strange element was the altitude of the sun.

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29 November 2015, 2:56 PM, Bygdøy

Solar altitude is just a fancy way of saying how high the sun gets in the sky. During summer the sun seems to hang up high in the sky, broiling everything in Iowa: high altitude. In the winter, even short buildings can blot out the sun: low altitude.

The greater the latitude the more extreme the altitude of the sun. That was the change I most noticed. My Norwegian neighbors had to search for a  sun that struggled to climb 7º above the horizon. I saw an altitude of double that in Berlin. The solstice low for Iowa was a towering 25º.

The good news is that at such a low angle, the sun baths all that it touches with a rich light. The trees, rocks, and even some people, just look so much better in that low light. In southern Norway, this has meant my waking daylight hours have been especially beautiful when the sky has been clear, and not just the golden hours at dawn and dusk.

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26 December 2015, 1:27 PM, Oslo

The bad news is that the sun is so weak that it cannot melt ice. The walkways, the roads, seemingly everything gets a coat of frost for the season. Pedestrian beware. Today we “basked” in the sunlight at a local ice rink. It was a lovely scene. Yet facing the sun to take in its effect only got me temporary blindness, no warmth for my checks. I did feel our black duffle bag and noticed a touch of absorbed warmth, but it could not get hot.

Since 3 August, my Oslo daylight has diminished by 10:49. I refuse to say “lost” because the days are still just as long, there is just less light. The days still need to be lived; think of yourself more as a wolf than a bear.

I didn’t predict having a problem with minimal daylight, and I’m glad I was right. What I am worried about is the coming disappearance of darkness. The perpetual daylight of the Norwegian summer is something I think I will find very unsettling.