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.
Heavens Reflected on Earth
For such a famously violent sea the waves lapped gently at this rare beach of sand. It was a short drive from Hammerfest to the fishing village of Førsøl. But in a climate as challenging as this, on the cusp of the Barents Sea, even a small drive over a low mountain pass can turn into an unwelcome adventure; there are reasons for the gates to close the road (remember they don’t use salt in norway and barely plow).
I regret not touching the water, I could have but I didn’t give myself permission. The aquamarine colors were beguiling. Those are the colors that adore fancy photos of exotic locations where the beautiful people holiday. The playful, mostly green but maybe wispy and blue colors are a reason to holiday in Arctic Norway. But those who seek the colors are looking up, they are seeking the Northern Lights.
In February I saw the Northern Lights, they were weak and minimized by the light pollution of Tromsø. Yet the lights were clearly visible, mostly green but vaporous, with perhaps some colors from the cool spectrum present. But I also saw those same colors in the waters near Tromsø. My flight over the Arctic this week helped me make a connection to the beauty of the heavens being mirrored in the beauty of clean water.
My descent Sunday into Tromsø was a real treat. On the approach we dropped from a high cloud deck to a remarkably clear view. It must have been special because the pilot announced he would make some added S-turns so everybody could get some good looks. What a mensch.
The views were magnificent. Mountains, real mountains robbed in white with a speckling of black where the granite was visible. Something like the royal ermine but more nobel. However my eyes were drawn to the sea. The coasts of the islands and fjords were ringed where the water met the land. The colorful water was almost playful in contrast to the stark massifs. Or was the water rebellious, calling attention to itself, upsetting the established order? Perhaps the water was acting as a fine necklace of precious stones, ringing a sublime beauty?
I choose to believe all three can be truth. Over many waters a jet has carried me, these waters were among the prettiest. And aren’t they just as unusual as the Northern Lights? Aren’t they worthy of celebration and tourism broadsides? Yes, but looking down doesn’t have the same cache as looking up.
Last night I was looking up in Hammerfest. The report was for a strong Northern Lights show. I got a wild hair and decided to take the ferry to an outer island and back, a hasty unguided tour. The three hour ride would get far away from light pollution than even a small city like Hammerfest can dish out. Alas, the internet let me down because at the terminal there was no ferry scheduled for the night.
For no reason I decided to linger on the harbor promenade, I was already here and all ready to endure a little cold. The magic of appearing stars always surprises. The sky takes on a rich, velvety darkest blue and then, there’s one, and then another. Stars, stars coming into focus like a filmmaker resolves from an unclear image to sharp focus. What was particularly fun was that I had my binoculars at hand. The added power of eight revealed layers upon layers of extra stars invisible to the naked eye. A current of ethereal green glided into my field of view, from left to right. It was weak but present nonetheless, the Northern Lights. Locals scurried past, ignorant or inured.
I retreated to my room on the seventh floor of the Thon. Over Skype, Meghan said to set my alarm for midnight, the predicted strongest hour. Sloth and a warm bed being too powerful, I decided to go again after our call.
Now about 8:30, I waited once more on the promenade. Looking up I saw the Big Dipper and almost directly overhead, Polaris. Where will they be when you look up tonight? My wonderment of the positions of celestial bodies came to an abrupt end when the cooly colored phantom reappeared. Now, the visitor was strong and arching, moments of color that suggested an isolated rain shower. Then over the mountain to the north, splashes of intensity, instances of amber. Fireworks for the conscientious. Worn from such a display, the colors dimed and then left.
So wonderful but I was a little annoyed at the light pollution, what might had I been in a truly dark place? Tonight finds me at the foot of Balsfjord. The village is small and the skies are clear. I hope to get just one more look at the Northern Lights. My earlier inspection showed brilliant stars. Cassiopeia dazzled. The Big Dipper had moved a bit from Hammerfest’s position, the clarity plus my binoculars gave me an added treat of seeing the Little Dipper.
What color is your water? How is your light pollution, what stars can you see tonight? When I return to the arctic in late spring, I know there will be no Northern Lights. But I take comfort, and anticipation, in returning to those lovely waters and seeing the heavens reflected on earth.
Post script: I went out again and was dazzeled. A broad ribbon filled the sky from west to northeast. The northeast segement became animated with multiple dendrils of glowing light streaked with colors from the warm spectrum. My poor mobile phone camera just could not capture a thing.
I turned to go several times, I was gettying cold, but I just couldn’t leave. Would this be my last show in Norway…I can wait one more minute. Finally the calculus of pain overcame the pleasure of the spectacle and I retreated to my cabin. I wish you could have been here with me, that would have been extra special.