Sunday Nature Call, uke 44:
At two different schools last week in Rogaland, I jokingly teased the students about how they could get anything done at school. At Katedralskole in Stavanger they had a little lake outside their windows full of ducks. In Sauda, the mountains loomed in all directions. To me it’s all so stimulating, they are numb. And I suppose it should be like that, you have to normalize your everyday surroundings or you’d go mad – or at least appear so. The Eiffel Tower is part of the background for Parisians. “Parliament, Big Ben,” entreats the motorists through London; I hope they can get left.
Nature is all around, all we have to do is step outside. Stepping outside into downtown Cedar Rapids Iowa may not seem like a journey into nature, but it is. Any of our cities or suburbs has nature right there for the taking.
It is easy, too easy to think that Norway is especially surrounded by nature. Norwegians aren’t anymore surrounded by nature than the rest of the world. Ah, but their nature is exceptional in the way it can inspire dreams or just stop you in your tracks to stare.
Last week in Stavanger I was invited to attend their Næringsforeningen meeting (like Chamber of Commerce). The meeting was in the afternoon in a historical building on the harbor, just behind the modern fishmarket, Rosenkildetorget 1. I love old buildlings that are lovingly cared for. Even more so when they are full of oil painting and vintage black-and-white photos of stoic people. What I’m saying it that I really liked this building.
The meeting coinsidede with a outreach event in Stavanger from the US Embassy in Oslo. Stavanger has a heavy American presence. At the meeting the Charge D’Affairs and his key officers were going to briefly speak. The topic was business relations and accessing America. I ended up at the front table.
The diplomats all wore dark suits. I had heard some of the same canned quips before at a previous engagment…this is one reason I tell my students they aren’t allowed to fail – they would have to hear the same jokes again. Terrorism, market access, security, commerce, and terrorism were common themes.
Petroleum framed every part of the conversation. The price of oil, the protection of oil supplies, the “Special Relationship” the Americans had with the Norwegians (because of oil) coated all the words. The mood of the room floated on a slick of oil. Oil, along with other hydrocarbons have made contemporary Norway possible ($$$). Norwegians know this but I haven’t found many who will discuss it is mixed company. I have had many great conversations with Norwegians about the future of Norwary and oil dependency as long as it was one to three people.
We don’t really talk about racism and inequality in America, the Norwegians don’t discuss oil. Are those topics too big to discuss? The weather, sports, and petty scandals are something people can manage to dicuss becuase they don’t require any resolution.
In one of the lessons I have with students the issues of geography and people comes up. I have the sudents work with the standard US map; but it is a trick. After they have worked on the map, we talk about how the map could be wrong. A standard map shows land, not people. But people made the map, people consider the world, and people are the world.
There is a vast interior to America, nobody lives there. The beating hearts of America, the hopes and dreams of America are in CA, TX, FL, and NE. Likewise, in the world most of the map is least of the people. When adjusted for human beings, Canada, and Russia almost dissapear; Denmark is larger than Norway. This is important to comprehend.
I have told students that the standard maps mostly represent dirt and swamps and mountains but not people. People vote. Following that lecture I quip that, “Moutains don’t vote, well, maybe in Norway…” That always gets a laugh.
But what if mountains could vote? Nick Bulter wrote in the Eau Claire Leder-Telegram that Wisconsin has permanently sacrificed some its land, like mountaintop “removal” in West Virginia, for temporary dollars. Do they yield willingly? What if they could vote?
Wisconsin (and Iowa, and American, and World) legend Aldo Leopold impored people to, “think like a mountain.” If we consider the whole, then we have to treat the parts better, more thoughtfully. He is still ahead of his time.
The greatest mountains in the world are hidden. The most magnificent mountains in the world have never been climbed. Do you believe me?
Oil in America comes from many places: the Bakken, Eagle Ford, offshore Lousiana, Okalahoma, the North Slope, and many other locals. Do you live next to an oil rig? Do you want to? Would you vote against a processing facility in your community if you could?
The greatest mountains in the world lay at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean. We have never seen them but they are there. So much of modern oil exploitation is sub-surface, but it does exist. What would happend if we saw it?
Mountains don’t vote in America, neither do wetlands, tundra, prairie, or children. But if we thought like a mountain, then I wonder how we would change our behavior. How couldn’t we?
Looking ahead, looking up, and keeping my pencil sharp. -jlh
The Sunday Nature Call, uke 34
Twice I’ve seen a hawk this week but the views were too fleeting to make positive identifications. Patience and persistence will win the day, plus a dollop of luck never hurts. Sunday was generous, I made my new bird score today as well as a surprise.
Spettmeis (Sitta europaea)
This guy was easy to identify, he was acting like a nuthatch. Maybe I’ll get my hawk this week.
Where are all the squirrels? It’s been several weeks without a sighting – so odd. I was tempted to offer a doubloon to whomever could spot one for me – they were becoming my white whales. But today, the sun shined on not one but three different squirrels in different parts of the forest. They (Sciurus vulgaris) had lovely chestnut coats with a light underbelly. Sighting one didn’t give me the feeling of inflamed attention like Captain Ahab, my reaction was more in-line with Clark Griswold.
Another inferential sighting was made: Moose! Here they (Acles acles) are called Elg, it can be confusing. Elk are called Hjort. Back to the moose, er Elg. We were on a trip to “the beach” at Bogstad lake. On the walk to the lake, there they laid, on the middle of the trail, big poop. My first thought was a dog, but uff, that would be one scary big dog. We weren’t sure at the time and I didn’t bring the camera, but after consulting the wisdom of the internet I’m confident. Now I can have a new obsession.
The focus of this week’s Sunday Nature Call is less about the wildlife than on how people here seem to interact with it. We have noticed differences on several fronts. One front is the time children spent out-of-doors. Two, there’s a bias for making the most of the weather you have. And three, the structure of society makes accessing the out-of-doors more convenient.
Kids spend a lot of time outside. The other day was gorgeous and Meghan noticed the nearby daycare was in the park the whole day: they played, they rested, they sang songs, they ate, they played…all day outside. I suspect they peed outside if the urge called.
They boys’ school lets out at 1 Pm, typical. Then there is “Activity School,” pronounced “Aks, (like Ox) and according to everyone, “everybody does it.” You have to pay though…tell me something new about Norway, but I digress. The first 90 minutes or so they are outside – just having chaos as is totally normalized here. My boys are getting killed. They just aren’t used to spending hours outside without structure. Probably suggests a bigger problem (mine).
My dad has a favorite phrase, “Make hay when the sun shines.” I bet there’s an expression here that goes something like, “Spiller når solen skinner.” It’s probably so obvious they don’t but they should, trademark John Hanson 2015. In my post about Halden I noted the reveling in the outside lunch (but really, who wouldn’t?). On Wednesday we did something I feel like the Norwegians would do: we took advantage of glorious day.
I had found out that there was a new beach/swimming area constructed in the harbor and that it was pretty neat. My first thought was “that’s nice, but I’ll wait.” Once I told Meghan, we were packing. Sørenga was a happening scene. Very cool on a hot afternoon. Bodies were strewn about the decking, soaking in the rays, while many others were swimming gayly. Well, when in Rome.
Owen and I hauled ourselves to the top of the diving platform. I jumped – OMG it was cold. I yelled back at Owen it was great. He jumped, and then nearly jumped back out of the water onto the deck. We were refreshed. Ryal took some cajoling but he jumped too. His reaction was priceless. I felt like I was getting away with a little bit of child abuse that we could all laugh about later. Meghan took the plunge, once. The thing was, I got used to the water pretty quickly. And in the water, but under that broiling sun, it was actually pretty nice.
And maybe that’s the one of the big mental shifts. Who cares if the water is cold, you get in and enjoy. I read a report, empirical research, that people in northern Norway feel better about the winter (there it’s total darkness), than do people in the south of Norway (who actually get some sunshine). In other words, life is short – get out there.
The last point it is the most abstract, potentially stereotyping, but key feature. In this Constitutional democracy, Norwegians have voted to make health and the outdoors a priority. For example, we have come across two outdoor “gymnasium” parks without trying. High taxes on alcohol and chocolate are others – living longer and better does sound like a nice exchange.
Here you are essentially guaranteed some vacation. You own it, not your employer. The standard of living and labor laws are such that running between multiple jobs or juggling will-call employment are unusual. Most people have employment conditions that give them enough certainty and knowledge of one’s schedule that leisure time is possible to be a planned and consistent experience. They voted for that, why haven’t we?
My challenge for you is to take stock of your relationship with fresh air. One, do something pointless in nature despite the weather. If you regret it, I will send you a personal apology through the post. Two, think about how little it would take for you to get yourself and family/friends/dogs…outside – unplugged – and unfettered. Just think about it.
I’ll be keeping a look out for hawks carefully this week. Also, I be keeping a good attitude about the weather. We’ve had an exceptional run of stellar weather that is forecast to end. I will do my best to choose joy.
Looking ahead, looking up, and keeping my pencil sharp. -jlh
The Sunday Nature Call, uke 32
[Publishers note, The Sunday Nature Call will be a weekly effort to relate the author’s observations, insights, and musings. The following submission is the first of the series. “Uke” means “week,” 32 refers to the week of the calendar year as is the Norwegian custom.]
This will be my Big Year. My domestic log already noted some cherished entries, roving over Norway should really plump up my list. And I’m off to a great start.
The following are new birds for me listed in the order of confirmation:
- Kai (Corvus monedula)
- Skjære (Pica pica)
- Svarttrost (Turdus merula)
- Tårnsvale (Apus apus)
- Linerle (Motacilla alba)
- Kjøttmeis (Parus major)
- Ringdue (Columba palumbus)
- Blåmeis (Parus caeruleus)
- Hettemåke (Chroicocephalus ridibundus)
- Bergand (Aytha marila)
- Toppand (Aytha fuligula)
- Grågås (Anser anser)
- Svartbak (Larus marinus)
The Sjære are the most charismatic residents of the neighborhood. You know they are clever birds. I have a nagging feeling there are merely tolerating people.
Aside from the birds, it’s been a joy to see all the bumblebees. I have a feeling there is little use of American-style pesticides here on an industrial scale like in Iowa. So far I’ve noticed two types of bumblebees, one with a yellow color distal to the abdomen and another with red. The flowers here are a mystery to me and I’ll leave it at that – only so many biological obsessions are allowed! Let’s just say there are many different kinds, the blooms are rich, and they make me smile.
The smell of this place has eluded adequate description. In the air there’s a little Midwest lushness, Colorado pine and rock, and I know the fjord must be making a contribution. This issue too will necessitate further research and contemplation.
Where are all the squirrels? Any rabbits are also mysteries to me. My initial suspicion is to blame a rich population of domesticated pussy cats. The judge will require more evidence.
Looking ahead, looking up, and keeping my pencil sharp. -jlh