The Sunday Nature Call, Uke 23, #2: There’s No Room to Share
Bonus Sunday Nature Call this week. My walk just got me inspired, I had to write.
There’s No Room to Share
A hen Goldeneye flew low and fast upstream, I was now on the downhill part of my walk on the upper reach of Akerselv, the river that flows from Maridalsvannet. Marisdalsvannet is a special lake and off-limits because it is a source of drinking water for Oslo. I volunteered to take #2 son to a nearby birthday party. One, maybe I could passively-aggressively use it as leverage at a later date. Two, I could walk the river in hopes of seeing some new birds. The latter point being more important than the former.
Moments later the duck had reversed course and landed with a unusually loud splash about 50 meters ahead. I would expect a female duck to be far more furtive. It took until the next bend in the river for me to understand the cause for such a scene.
Akerselv is a thoroughly modern river. I say that because it was used by early Oslo citizens for water and simple economic uses. During the Industrial Revolution, the river was put to task in a form of wage slavery that surly matched the working conditions of the laborers. As the factories took in raw products they created finished goods for profit, and waste. The profits went up to the villas and corporate offices, the waste was left to stew in the river.
As the factories were ultimately abandoned it seemed like the Akerselv was as well. A tired and worn relic from an older time. Yet today, the river is a prized public possession and in quite good health.
Thankfully the Akerselv had one thing going for it, it was in Norway. In particular it was in Oslo where there was an existing movement and mindset for conservation and public use. The banks, once denuded, are vegetated. The water, formally filthy and devoid of most life, is vibrant. The people, historically exhausted, now walk its lengths for salubrious effects.
The river source is 149 meters above sea level, the length is 8.2 kilometers. Walking to the fjord on the additionally meandering paths will take you longer. If you only measure your life in quantifiable distances, then you’ll have know idea how far you’ve gone.
As a modern river this river is neither wild nor enslaved. The water volume is managed to prevent flooding. The streams sides are naturalized, landscaped, and hardscaped. Its lower watershed is urban run-off. But there are wild creatures, some of which are local and other migratory. Some of the migratory beasts come from the fjord, others from West Africa. They are people from all corners of the earth enjoying its riparian charms.
All this use means sharing. There are beaches for people, and turtles if they’re reckless. There are pools for fishing but with limits. Most of the banks have paths, but not all. Some sharing is difficult if not intolerable. Beavers are present but only with the overt toleration of the management. Moose, as amazing as they are, are not welcome.
Despite the lifetime of lessons in Kindergarten, sharing is a tough thing to practice. To share is to trust, to empathize, and to take a risk. I think I need to go back to my little country schoolhouse and get some more lessons from Mrs. Fritz.
Aldo Leopold wrote that our time of an Abrahamic view of the world must end. That own-consume-destroy-relocate zeitgeist must be replaced with an acknowledgement of the permanent damage that people can do to the world. Instead of owning the world we need to share it, with the living and the unborn. His words came in the afterglow of the atomic flash. I can think of no more profound genesis.
Extant American conservation champion E.O. Wilson recently published words calling for a radical idea that will not be considered that radical in the future. Wilson believes that we need to set aside half the earth for nature. The half that remains needs to be shared with other life as well. For Wilson, like Leopold, sharing is necessary, hard, and probably an unachievable goal in full but one that must be pursued.
Reserving space for wild creatures is an easily appreciated sentiment and a difficult practice, consider the moose of the Upper Midwest. PreColumbian Wisconsin had moose, pre-settlement Wisconsin had moose. For a period in the 20th century moose were absent. Today a handful inhabit the state. Unlike Whitetail Deer, moose do poorly around people and disturbance.
Sure, the climate of the last generation is now warmer than the past 500 year, the heat is hard on moose. Of course there is far less unbroken cover in the Great Northwoods, everybody wants a cabin and a couple of acres, moose don’t like neighbors. The Fish and Wildlife Service just accepted a petition to initiate a study for the moose of the Upper Midwest (Acles access anderson) to see if they qualify for protection under the Endangered Species Act.
The moose are strong candidates for protection, how hard could it be? Here is where it gets really hard really fast. I thought about what habitat is most endangered and vital for the moose, especially in a warming world: water. Moose need unmolested access to shallow lakes and bays on larger lakes to feed and especially to lounge and “beat the heat.” But the lakes of Badger state are developed, unfettered recreation is a god. Would people be willing to share access to the lakes with moose? Could society tolerate retarding the develop of remaining tracts? Moose are cool, but if you don’t know them, then it’s hard to share.
The duck took a long and low position on the water, fairly mimicking an alligator. It was a sight I’d never seen. Slowly and then with a burst of speed she rushed towards the bank and the shadows. I heard the commotion but still didn’t see the object of her ire.
Large fluffy balls scattered on the water. A hen mallard gave kurt quacks to her chicks. The Goldeneye approached again and snapped. I’ll be a monkey’s uncle if it wasn’t like an alligator attack!
She returned to the center of the river. Victorious and proud she dipped and flailed her wet wings. It was a display of authority, and in the low light a luscious sight. Topping off the exercise were fits of aggressive calling, something like a rolled “R” three times capped with short and hard “R!” “Rrrr, Rrrr, Rrrr, R!”
The Mallard made a beeline for me on the opposite shore and hauled out at my feet. I never imagined that a duck would ever see a safe harbor in me. I guess your enemy’s enemy is you friend, genus and species be damned.
I was perplexed. All this work, all this flying for a hen Goldeneye without young. Was she angry for loosing her clutch? A gull flew overheard. The Goldeney called with rage and display her wings. The gull flew back and the hen gave a stunted chase. And then I finally saw a small fluffy ball swim from the shadow of the bank to the hen, she was a mother.
I was heartened and saddened. The little guy was really cute, the marking with white and dark feathers were surprisingly conspicuous. Yet, she would have laid about 12 eggs. To think that only one survived to this point, maybe less than a week old: nature seems too cruel at times.
Her loud calling continued, though the tone was a little different. And then I saw a second chick, near the first. Ah, two, good. A chick needs a sibling. Wait, there’s number three!
Three is a reasonable number for survival in the city. With all the house cats on the prowl it’s a wonder she has any survivors. Happy, I left my vigil to continue downstream. But wait, here comes number four to the call, it was all the way on the other side. What an unexpected dispersement. And then I saw number five also swim out of its hiding spot on the far bank. Five, five is a good number, a prime number, I’m sure she can keep track of five.
The Goldeneye didn’t want to share the river with the Mallard, the Mallard didn’t mind me. I can’t help but think that maybe out of that 8.2 kilometers of river we couldn’t find a way to make a little more safe space for a duck. I think that in this relationship we’re the only ones who know how to share.
Looking up, looking ahead, and keeping my pencil sharp.
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
It is easy for people to ask what was the neatest-most impressive-coolest-
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.
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.
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.
While 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.
I 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.
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.
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.
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.
Yes, We Love This Land
I waved at the King and the Royal family. I smiled for the NRK cameras. And I kept reminding myself that I was here to supervise and chaperon. After all, this was a children’s parade.
Norwegian Constitution Day is a big deal, and rightly so. Syttende Mai (17th of May) is a celebration of Norway’s constitutional independence, never mind that full sovereignty didn’t come for almost 90 years – that’s another story. 17 Mai not only commemorates a significant event in the people of Norway as a political entity but also marks the passing of winter to summer, snow to blooms, and school to holiday. May in Norway is special.
My children’s school marched in the big parade on Karl Johans gate. Their school was one of over 100. The parade had a record attendance of over 60,000 children. That is an accomplishment in our modern era of fear.
The day started earlier than I anticipated, 4:32 if I recall. The rays of daylight streaming into the bedroom didn’t wake me but the Boom-Boom-Boom of a stereo did. Ah, the last day of Russ. Live it up while you can, I guess.
The forecast was for a blessing of wonderful weather. In mid-May, the weather in Oslo can range from windy storms with sleet to sunshine and warm weather. Odin treated us to the latter.
At 8 AM was the flag raising ceremony at the school with the our music korps, every proper school has a music korps. The children worked their way through a couple verses of, “Ja, Vi Elsker,” and another tune as the flag rose. Then they marched off. “Oh, they’re done,” I thought. Wrong. They wound their way through our extended apartment complex residential area, like pied pipers drawing people out of their homes to the all-school ceremony at 9.
So many people in Bunads, that really is a sight to see in person. I understand the allure and I empathise with the envious. But at the price of a nice used car, I will settle with my old black suit.
The school ceremony commenced on time. There were songs from children’s choirs, speeches from the Rektor, speeches from three top students, and a multitude of parents snapping photos. And now off to the buses.
Did I mention this was a big deal? Please allow me to iterate, it was a big deal. Please think of the logistics of getting about 62,000 pupils, marching band equipment, and chaperones to Western Gateway Park in Des Moines so they can march in-turn up Locust Avenue to the State Capitol. Uff!
They dropped us off somewhere and then we had to walk, and stick together, to designated waiting spot. Our spot was near the Arbeidierpariet building. And then we waited.
Last year Lysejordet Skole was near the front. This year we were number 102 of 119 marching groups. We waited some more. The kiddos protested as much as you would expect, the teachers gave them license to do so. Thank God for shade, and to think how tough these kids are to do it in the rain.
After two hours of finding ways to entertain the boys and girls we moved. Well, then we stopped. And then we moved a little bit more and then we stopped again. You get the drill, the accordion of marchers needed space to smooth out.
At a party later that night I was asked by several people to compare Syttende Mai to July 4th. I stammered a lot when I tried to answer because I couldn’t. One wasn’t better than the other, they were just different. But one way in which Syttende Mai differed importantly was the emphasis on the children, and I loved it.
The parades are children’s parades, organized through the local schools. The adults are there, dressed nicely, to support and cheer on the children, the future. In the parades there are no martial displays or floats advertising the great deals you can get at Bob’s RV Round-up. Refreshing.
We crested the highpoint of Karl Johan gate and saw the throngs to the west, marching towards the palace. Parliament was on the left, a grand hotel was on our right, and a current of flag-waving children held the attention of a city.
Up the red gravel to the castle, visible litter on the grounds let me know that many early watchers had left after their children passed. Karl Johan astride his horse was to our left, “A penny for your thoughts.”
Turning left, our group passed by the reviewing balcony of the royals. I was on the right so I got a good look. Waving for three hours is a tough job but then they could take the rest of the day off. I was satisfied.
To our left I spied Meghan and my Mother. Lysejordet marched on and out of the palace grounds. Now our pace quickened and the teachers were less vigilant in policing behavior or the quality of the lines. Rådhuset marched our journey’s end. I signed the boys out and then were were off to a lunch date.
We all had tired feet and sweaty shirts but no matter. We had marched together and celebrated a small country’s commitment to democracy and each other. And I for one was grateful.
An Unexpected Award: the gold I earned at the back of the pack
I followed the arc of the sun over the day while outside, it was a long day. Nearing four PM many things were clear. One, my body was suffering. Two, the sun will set. Three, I was determined to finish. And four, I was trying to enjoy my gold at the back of the pack.
“Dear Dr. Hanson, It is a pleasure to inform you of your selection by the Board of the Fulbright Foundation in Norway and the J. William Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board for a grant to teach in Norway. This grant is made under Public Law 87-256, the Fulbright-Hays Act, the basic purpose of which is to increase mutual understanding between the people of the United States and the people of other countries through educational and cultural exchange.”
This letter set into motion the fulfilling of dreams. Among the many dreams to be realized with a year in Norway was the opportunity to ski in the Birkebeiner, the “real” Birkebeiner that is. As a boy I dreamed of the birkie since I first read about it in an old copy of Wisconsin Trails magazine from the mid-70’s that my grandparents had (I have it now). I skied the Kortelopet (half-Birkie) first, because of my age, and then skied the full race several times. But the lore of the American Birkie in Wisconsin was tied directly to the legend and race in Norway, so naturally I pinned for the original.
Within a fortnight of arriving in Oslo I was registered for the Birkebeinerrennet, 19 March 2016 couldn’t come fast enough. We had brought our skis so I felt confident that I would get enough on-snow training to be ready. The goal of the Birkebeiner also sharpened my ambition to run, and run, and run all over Norway, wherever my travels and teaching took me.
I was excited and apprehensive that Saturday morning. The thrill of joining the ranks of finishers got me out of bed at 4:29 AM with ease. The concern that my shoulders would give out and general skiing readiness clouded out excessive optimism. Plus, it was dark and early, there is no sense in being too happy at that time of day.
The dark morning was mild. By 4:41 I was awaiting the taxi for a 4:50 pickup. A white Prius from Norges Taxi arrived at 4:49. As I got in, another taxi, a navy wagon from the same company, pulled up. They double booked, not me.
At the Oslo Bus Terminal drop off I was happy to see many fellow skiers, just follow the herd. The locals led me to the bus and by 5:10 I was seated, port side against the window and amidships. There were a lot of middle aged white guys aboard the coach. When did I become a middle aged white guy?
The driver did a silent head count at 5:21, the sky was inviting a blue suggestion of sunrise into the dark heavens. In addition to the usual suspects there were 4-5 women aboard. Among the riders there were eager conversations, quiet routines, and bodies trying to get just a couple more minutes of shuteye.
The cabin door closed at 5:29 only to reopen for a man rushing in with a coffee and the grin of a cheshire cat. The lights went out and we pulled away. 5:30 AM, right on schedule.
An early morning bus ride awakened memories of college band trips and drill weekends in the Marines. By 7:12 AM there was a steady parade to use the toilet across from my row. The good, the bad, and the ugly.
“Good morning Rena, Norway,” I thought as we stopped to unload. A stream of contestants coursed towards the welcome building. It was like a large pole shed that housed the race packet pick up as well as a small vendor fair and cantina. I passed on an early morning hotdog.
I weighed my backpack at the hall. All racers must carry a 3.5 kg pack to mimic the weight of the baby viking king carried by the original warriors. I boarded the shuttle bus to the starting area, a 3 km journey. We left at 8:46 AM.
The sky was overcast but the mood was merry at the start. The portajohns were aplenty and the wave-by-wave starting zones well designed. Ebullient commentators broadcast enthusiasm and well wishes and for all the intrepid. I just wanted 9:35 AM to hurry up. The temperature was hovering at the freezing mark, we were burning daylight and Wave 18 was chomping at the bit. “Boom!” went the starting gun, finally.
I predicted a demanding day, the warm and course snow would be a challenge for glide and grip. But I didn’t predict the condition of the course would be so bad. In classical skiing, the track is the key to happiness. The tracks for Wave 18 were in sad shape where they existed at all.
I passed the sign, “53 km to finish” and knew I was in a for a long hard day. My skis defied physics, they had neither glide nor grip. The worse was the lateral slipping. I fought and fought to keep my skis underfoot. Soon my adductors were burning and my feet were getting bruised in their boots.
The clouds thinned and the breeze increased. The atmosphere of the event was a fusion of RAGBRAI and a Big Ten football tailgate party. The river of brightly clad skiers flowed through the woods and up the first mountain pass. Along the way, hearty revelers who camped in the woods were now basking in the sun atop their sofas of snow. A fire to grill meat and warm the spirit was ubiquitous, as were the spirits. The Norwegians make up for their work-a-day sobriety on vacation, today was the start of the Easter Holiday. I seemed to notice a bias towards Carlsberg for beer and Jagermeister for liquor. Aside from being happy to be on vacation in the glorious nature I think most of the spectators were pleased they weren’t skiing.
I got a reprieve at 10 km, the groomer made a pass and laid 4 new tracks. My stride was still labored but at least I wasn’t fighting the splits. The gift was temporary though, after about 4 km the groomer doubled back and we were all forced back to the trampled tracks of thousands.
It was a beautiful and sunny day. I managed a moment or three to shed my backpack and take pictures. There was an invisible force that none of my photos captured though, the constant headwind was an unwelcome companion.
The Birkebeiner in Norway differed from the the American copy in several ways. One, this race was classic technique only. Two, the climbs and descents were sweeping and long. Three, most of the route was over three mountain passes and quite exposed.
Some people from later waves passed me. I passed some from prior groups. But generally I found myself skiing among an increasingly familiar cadre. But I wasn’t the only one suffering. The lack of banter was but one indicator of the demanding conditions. The long lines at the aid stations were another.
Oh, the aid wasn’t for thirst or hunger, it was for skis. Techs from SWIX worked feverishly to treat the skis of the needy to give them some traction. I paused once to apply a little klister; in a battle you make arrows from any wood.
By the highpoint of the race I was two-thirds to the finish and approaching Sjusøen and the complex of trails spreading from Lillehammer. Relief. I had been on these trails before and the course would lose about 400 meters of elevation to the finish; that is, mostly downhill.
Relief soon gave way to panic as the descents at Sjusøen were steep and curved. Compounding the treacherous course was the windrows of loose snow over an icy surface, the result of thousands of snowplowing skis.
I survived the hills and I do mean survived. At this point in the journey I was not sure I would be getting up from a hard crash. And then back into the deep woods and silence as there were no spectators. Just the weary and the goal, and the gold.
Skiing into the lowering angle of the sun gave us slow movers a gold medal of our own. The solar angle was 16º The snow absorbed the warm energy and reflected a most wonderful color, a very bright and yellow gold at the edges. It was like Mother Nature and Father Time conspired to reward the back of the packers with a visual prize commensurate with our persistence.
I shuffled into the stadium grounds, 1 km to go. On the last little descent I fell for the third time, this time with a full face plant in front of a couple of ladies. Only my pride was hurt. If the announcers called my name, I didn’t hear it. I just needed to finish, I was done in so many ways.
Time! 5:03 PM. I crossed the line and managed a smile as I accepted my finisher’s pin. My official time was 7:28:31 I had hoped for five hours but I was very happy I just finished at all.
Off came my skis, uff! Somehow I managed to touch the klister and then wipe my mouth. Don’t ever let klister touch your lips! My attempt to quench the burning with a hotdog in lefse was unsuccessful.
The stadium shuttle took the smelly and bleary-eyed to Håkons Hall. I changed, retrieved my finishers diploma and wolfed down the bag of cookies I carried on the race. At 6:22 PM my bus to Oslo was underway. Too tired to rest, I watched the countryside fade away into nightfall. My mind replayed the day, all the ups and downs, but most especially the gold I earned at the back of the pack.
The Sunday Nature Call, Uke 4: Trails and Impressions
Another late Nature Call. Well, I could come up with some lame excuses but I’d rather just own it. If only I was clever enough to come up with fascinating excuses…
New birds: zero
Trails and Impressions
Man has not invented a better way to record the passage of a being than snow. As a medium of travel and impression collector, snow is unparalelled. But more than just a medium, snow is a thing unto itself. Snow is a destination, a means to a destination, a dream, and so much more.
Our skiing has been wonderful, I feel so lucky to have the access that Oslo residents have. Of course, no one “gave them” the forest, they fought for it. The trails did not appear by magic, they worked to make public access. The grooming machines don’t run on good feelings and dugnad vibrations, people pay.
I love a freshly groomed trail. In the low sun it can look like futuristic art. In the dark it’s a path that invites wonder and adventure. The trails have been balms for the long nights.
The Nordmarka trails gave me an unexpected gift, a sense of hope. I have been really hoping to see a Norwegian Moose, “Elg” in these parts. The moose have remained as elusive as the Northern Lights. But crossing the trail was the distinctive tracks of a deer. Yet the deer tracks in question were no bambi but the large and splayed impression of the king of the forest, Acles acles.
Bullwinkle had coursed from the forest on a pretty direct route to a pile of cut logs. No doubt looking for some easy and concentrated nibbling. The trackes winded around the pile and then off in a lazy pattern to a distant line of trees. Tracks makes me wonder, they conjure smiles.
Wishing you miles of trails and smiles of impression.
Looking up, looking ahead, and keeping my pencil sharp.
The Sunday Nature Call, Uke 3: No Postcard Available
The ski trailed beckoned and we obliged, the forest in white was a soft sell. Tuesday gave Meghan and I a chance for a mid-day ski in the sun, I think that qualifies as a “date.” A raptor glided across the trail, I got a look but just not good enough. I suspect it was either Accipiter nisus or Falco rusticolus, but I can only suspect. Again, the hawks and falcons of Norway elude me.
New birds: zero
No Postcard Available
“How about just not driving today?” I guess in Oslo that can be a real question for the commuting public, I can’t imagine that passive-aggressive line having much effect in Denver or Los Angeles. But therein lies the stereotypical difference between American and Norwegian culture. America: look out for number one; Norway: look out for each other.
Norway is a postcard perfect country, almost all the time. But the last months there have been days in the largest two cities that will never make a postcard save some insufferable hipster store that specializing in irony. There have been bad air days in Bergen and Oslo.
Last the week Aftenposten ran a page two story on suggestions for doing your part to reduce the bad air “dårlig luft” in Oslo. My comments in italics are the interpretation.
1. Let your car sit really why not? are you that important? no, didn’t think so.
2. Don’t use spiked tires (responsible for 12% of pollution in Oslo) get regular snow tires like everybody else, they’re good enough, shees!
3. Don’t burn wood of course you like to burn wood, but how about try candles for a while.
4. Carpool you know you should be doing this anyway. now’s your chance to ask that quiet man down at the end of the street, you work in the same building for pete’s sakes.
5. Walk or bicycle think of the free exercise, everybody’s doing it.
6. Avoid rush hour it wouldn’t be too hard to do now would it.
7. Work from home you know you want to, here’s your in.
8. Take public transportation as if this even needs to be said, it’s a shame you don’t.
9. Burn dry wood cripes, if you just have to burn at least get some good dry oak.
10. Spend some time in the woods just please don’t drive there by yourself, that would defeat the purpose, goodness sakes.
Maybe the air isn’t too bad where you live, but these are some nice suggestions anyways.
Why the bad air in paradise? Like anywhere, modern living plus a little geography is to blame. The geography can’t be change. The mountains and valleys are perfect winter hosts for inversions that trap air at group level. That is not the problem per se, but when combined with hydrocarbon emissions, exhaust, construction dust…you get the idea.
The prevalence of diesel passenger vehicles is a surprise to American visitors. The evidence that those clean engines are actually dirty is a bitter pill for so many who bought those cars because they were supposed to make a positive difference.
Bergen and Oslo also have ship traffic. Massive ocean going vessels idling away at port are monsters for air pollution and barely regulated in comparison with land-based exhaust systems. Long Beach developed a clever “plug-in” system for running ships while docked – check it out.
Air pollution kills people, it demonstrably kills more Americans than fanatics could ever dream of. America has come a long way in reducing air pollution, thankyou Clean Air Act and EPA. Between 1900 and 2000, air pollution was reduced 97% in America. Wow! Still, 44% of Americans live where the air is often dangerous to breath (State of the Air, 2015). A 2013 MIT study held that air pollution led to the early deaths of 200,000 Americans, that always unnerves me.
I will be in Bergen for the coming week. No inversions are forecasted, just rain and wind. Something else for which there is no postcard available.
Looking up, looking ahead, and keeping my pencil sharp.
That was it?
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.
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.
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.
Nobel Peace Prize Ceremony
A small poem and a some photos from my time at the Nobel Peace Prize Ceremony at City Hall, Oslo, 12 December 2015. The longer write-up is done but on hold.
In the Name of Peace
Alfred’s birthday had a strong breeze
From Norskies én camera, no need to please
Dissidents, heros, mothers and more
2015, from Tunisia these four
To love thy neighbor is not too much to ask, please
Early, no crowd yet.
A little entrance music from the Army Staff Band
The Central Hall
Four chairs recently occupied by the Royal Family
US Diplomatic car, outside a coffee shop after the ceremony. NOBODY drives big black suburbans here expect you-know-who.
The Gravity of a Place and a Time
“We don’t stand on ceremony ’cause life is phony in spite of it.” That song sends my mind immediately back to the early 1980s and in particular a wintertime exploration with cousin Paula along the stream at her farm. It just does. So often songs pop into your head for seemingly inexplicable reasons. Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton reuniting in my head was unexpected but understandable.
The sentiment of simple authenticity from that song is something I can appreciate. I know the Baptist, and Puritan traditions of America and those legacies we live, even if you’re a midwestern Lutheran. Anti-Catholic Know Nothings, rebellion against royalties and all those ancient tradtions…Americans have congenital incompatibility to ceremony – as if we have a level of gluten intolerance. Sure, a little pomp and circumstance now and then is manageable but in contrast to most things American, less is more.
Yesterday we gathered at the Nobel Institute in Oslo. The dignified building was in that particular Scandinavian yellowed tangerine color. The location was kitty-corner from the US Embassy and across the street from the palace grounds. Power, influence, history, and the future coalesces on the geography there. The US Norway Fulbright Foundation put on a ceremony in the Nobel building, in the very hall where soon the world will learn the winner of the peace prize.
The grantees, academic mentors, family, Foundation members, key Embassy staff, and Ministry representatives attended. Foundation director, and fellow Badger, Petter Næss was the adept master of ceremonies, smoothly flowing between english and Norwegian. After the obligatory speeches we got to talk. Each grantee got to speak at the Nobel podium: a brief introduction, scope of project, and “why Norway?”
I was one of the last grantees to speak. My moment at the podium was moving. I expected to be nervous about speaking into such an impressive audience. Instead, I felt a heavy sense of meaning and weight in this opportunity. For over 100 years some of the world’s most notable humanitarians had their names immortalized from this stage. Now my small thread is woven into the great tapestry of Nobel history.
The other Fulbrighters commented on how impressive and important an occasion this was. This ceremony reinforced the magnitude of the Fulbright program. We needed that.
We use ceremonies in life to pronounce to our community and sometimes all of society that this is important. Things like baptisms, weddings, graduations, inaugurations, and funerals are about impressing upon the individual and larger community that what is going on is important and to be remembered.
Physics dictate that to make an impression, you need weight; the pull of the earth’s mass leveraged to leave a mark. Is it possible that some places have more weight than others? I like to think so. Through ceremony and symbols we can invent greater meaning. We can craft an experience that transcends ourselves and Newton’s laws. From time to time, we can create more gravity.
PS: i’ve been delaying posting this blog posting because i have been trying to create a gif of laureate photos i took in the diliberation room of the fulbright committee. i finally made the gif but i cannot download it as a file to then attach to this blog. looking for comments of advice. 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