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)
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.
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.
A happy mistake, thank you Bob Ross. In reviewing my bird list I noticed an absence, the ubiquitous Kråke. The Kråke could be mistaken for the official bird of Norway, he’s everywhere and pretty darn smart. After my revelation, I first re-noticed him on the grounds at Constitution Hall in Eidsvoll. It must have been a sign.
New birds:2, Journey to date: 70
Steinskvett (Oenanthe oenanthe)
The auburn hair was gorgeous on the green backdrop. Alas, I was too slow to steal the vision with a click of my camera, that is a sight I will commit to memory. As my subject tried to hide behind a screen of spruce branches I waited. Which means I started thinking. And I thought about the pretty white flowers I had just passed. I tried to console myself for not taking pictures of the flowers. “Maybe I’ll see some more further on,” I thought.
And then it hit me, I could just do that now. So, I backtracked up the hill to the flowering bushes, I gave myself permission. That’s a common issue for me, it always has been: permission to deviate from the path, literally or figuratively. Something tells me that you have also struggled with that a time or too. Human, aren’t we all.
The distances of the walls in the apartment were shrinking and the ceiling was dropping. I was feeling pressure, distress, and a swelling anxiety. My mind was flipping between topics and emotions. In our house we use “Squirrel!” as an expression for when someone is jumping between topics, perseverating, or explosively distracted. I was under attack.
The internet wasn’t helping, it never does. In fact, I think the internet just makes my feelings of dread worse. It’s not even all the bad news I consume in my steady diet of journalism from around the world. I think a key source of anxiety from using the internet is that the internet has no end. There’s always one more link to click or site to visit. The refresh button dangles the lure of an update. For me to escape it’s best to go to the woods.
The woods on this day were dampened and lush. The uncharacteristic dry spell finally ended, I really was missing the rain. Drops from the sky and drops from the trees helped to muffle the noise of a capital city. I was getting wet but I wouldn’t call it rain. No, after all this time in Norway, I limit my descriptions of rain to firehose events.
Of course I was looking for a new bird but this jaunt was more about just getting out and clearing my mind than tracking down a new feathered friend. To just walk, slowly and quietly, and see what I could see, that was the goal.
And what did I see? Many old friends, birds and trees that have become part of my landscape. I saw signs of beavers, rather ambitious gnawing on large trees at the Lysaker river near Røa. I saw Spanish Slugs oozing across the trails and paths. And when I didn’t see them I heard and felt them from under my shoe. Ick is right!
The auburn beauty was a squirrel. They were so hard to come by last summer and fall, now every walk in the woods is graced with their presence. It’s true, they are cute little buggers. In Iowa I would try to eat them, here they are fun to look at. Context matters.
Besides the rich color, these squirrels have tufted ears. The prominent ears suggest a greater intellect than I know they have when they are watching me with those black eyes. I stared back, they don’t like that.
Across the river and out of the woods at the Røa soccer pitch, more light, more flowers. Two species I see in Oslo are dreaded invaders in Iowa: dandelion and garlic mustard. I am so well trained to hate them it’s hard to accept the plants even in their native spaces. More context.
I got home to an empty apartment, just before boy number two. I felt better. Better is good, I’ll always take better as I’ve surrendered to ever being cured. This is where I should add a pithy quote from Calvin Rutstrum. Instead, I’ll let you read him and find one for yourself.
Looking up, looking ahead, and keeping my pencil sharp.
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)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 considering 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.