The Sunday Nature Call, Uke 14: Long Water Brought Low
Thanks for your patience, another late entry. A joy of spring is flowers. In particular, the little flowers that dare to risk the frost. They are not too fragrant or fancy but they are courageous. Maybe we should all strive to be spring flowers.
New birds: 7, Journey to date: 59
Gulerle (Motacilla flava)
Fjæreplytt (Caldiris maritima)
Stellerand (Polysticta stelleri)
Lunde (Fratercula arctica)
Lomvi (Uria aalge)
Alke (Alea torda)
Polarlomvi (Uria lomvia)
Long Water Brought Low
The Niagara Falls are famous, of course they are. Geology and promotion cooperated to make the sight familiar to every American whether you’ve been there or not. The volume of water is astounding at Niagara. However that is such a nebulous idea that the height of the falls are the most important. How tall? Like a mountain scorecard, the height is the key. There are higher falls. Bridalveil Falls in Yosemite is three times the height of Niagara. Thursday I traversed my tallest water-fall to date in Norway, and you’ve never heard of it. In fact no one has.
Sea level, the great equalizer of the world; the standard. In Alta Norway you are at sea level, 0 M.O.H. in Norway. That is zero Meter Over Havet, “Havet” meaning “the sea.” At almost 0 M.O.H. I unwittingly started my experience with this most tall movement of water. In fact I didn’t realize I surmounted the great height until after my journey.
Alta is connected to the inland town of Kautokeino with the Alta River. It’s a world famous destination for summertime anglers seeking large salmon that are searching for their natal sites. My destination was Kautokeino. It is a Sami-centric town deep into the Finnmark plateau, closer to Finland than the coast. Kautokeino sits at 306 M.O.H. My journey on the road upriver would follow for the most part the intended path of those piscine athletes.
You see, it is a waterfall. The water does fall from the highlands to the sea. But instead of a dramatic crash over some precipice this descent is attenuated, almost unnoticed. If you choose to, then you can notice all sorts of new things.
Finally, after three hours of cooling my heels in the Alta airport, the bus to Kautokeino was away. The estimated time was two hours and 15 minutes, about 185 kilometers, they failed to advertise the elevation. The middle of April in Arctic Norway means there is still snow, plenty of snow. But there is also the sun. The sun now has enough height and strength to melt the drives and raise the temperature. The snow puts up a fight about the temperature, it melts, slowly; it shrouds the land with vapor, a shield against solar missiles. According to the bus monitor, the water closet was open and the external temperature was 0 centigrade.
Like any respectable river the Alta forms a delta where it reaches saltwater. Here, that means the Alta fjord, the roiling waters of the Norwegian Sea wait in the distance. I find the playful bends of a river slowing delightful. Maybe the river is trying to be coy, or play with the ocean. Does water flirt? Thank you Google Maps for indulging my imagination.
It doesn’t take long to leave Alta sentrum, however I wish I got more than a glimp of the spiral-staircase spired church. We are three, two mature men, friends, sitting at the front and me, amidships and port. The surface was Highway 93, but this would be no drive from LaCrosse to Eau Claire. Time was 15:10.
In Arctic Norway there are birch and pine trees in some combination. Of course there are other genera present but your line of sight is dominated by birch and pine; usually Scots pine (pinus sylvestris) and Silver birch (Betula pendula). At 15:25 the bus was paralleling the river, only a few kilometers from the confluence. The surrounding land was covered in trees, pine and birch that reached for the sky, looking like perfectly normal second growth forests.
This highway is a major road, but even in a prosperous land it is but two lanes, today it’s mostly snow covered. The low leaden clouds have been spitting all day, mostly drops but sometimes flakes. There is little hope for photography.
Mountains hulk over road the road, were they sirens for the engineers? Perhaps, Norwegians love their mountains. The road leaves the main river for a branch that winks upstream through cleavages. 15:42, the canyon is tight and twisted, borderline claustrophobic. Icefalls cling to the cliff faces. Many are blue, in bad light they look good, to think what they look like in good light.
The driver and riders are talking freely. Earlier I was sure they were discussing me, the driver and I shared an amiable conversation before the ride. If not their conversation then it’s the hum of the bus or the radio, there is no silence within to match the silence without.
15:49, we are out of the tight canyon and in a defined valley, still with walls but not confining. The trees have changed, the pines have become few to none. Birch covers the land, dull gray limbs on white snow. The birch are curious in that they are short and thin, as if malnourished.
I learned that the birch are indeed malnourished. 16:00, we are in a land of barely rolling hills, the plateau – Finnmarkvidda. Two forces are afoot, conspiring against trees: elevation and distance. The elevation is of minor concern, but when leveraged with distance from the warming water of the coast, then trees struggle to survive. The lack of enough days above 10 centigrad condemns trees, even the hardy birch and aspen yield.
60 kilometer from Alta and about 70 to go. The stunted forest is spread thin as far as the eye can see. Time, 16:15.
The fish migrating this far would have to be strong and committed. They love “the motherland” and are fanatical about their mission to spread their seed. I wonder if the creators of the Netflix show, “The Americans,” liked to fish?
The star of the Norwegians rivers, and the star of the star river, is the Atlantic Salmon (Salmo salar). For over one hundred years this muscular beast has enticed anglers to venture north. Connecting with a brute fresh from the sea must make one forget all about the cloud of mosquitoes and gnats that are attracted to the tourists. The Alta River is highly regulated, the Gallatin River is a free for all by comparison.
“Uurr,” that feeling in your gut when a vehicle lurches. The bus caught another pile of slush on the starboard side. The resistance slowed the right tires and made the bus groan.
“Salmon” is a name that invokes wonder. It’s a fish that occurred outside the centers of civilization. A food stuff reserved for the affluent, a sport controlled by the kings. Growing up, the idea of eating salmon was something reserved for the most special of occasions. Plus, I don’t think anybody dared cook it at home. A salmon fillet isn’t something you deep fry.
The men have been silent, 16:20. Perhaps they are tired? Maybe the vastness of the landscape finally caught them? Here one is really alone, there is no need to speak.
The trees are shorter and more narrow, still thinly spread to the horizon. These little birches appear darker. The snow covered landscape is covered by the dark pricks, in the low light it reminds me of an ostrich skin cowboy boot.
The coach leaves the main road to swing through the settlement of Masi. No one waits for the bus. A good number of the homes here have large animal hides tacked to their sheds and small skins hanging on porches or roofs, protected from crows and stray cats by fencing and mesh. Just driving through this land it would be easy to dismiss that much wildlife lived here, clearly the locals have found otherwise. My eyes were peeled to the windows but only crows betrayed their presence. If crows were tasty or had a good skin, then they would be hiding too.
Atlantic Salmon are a curious fish. As a Midwesterner, my idea of salmon was totally formed by childhood lessons and TV shows about the heroic salmon of the West that fought 3,000 kilometers of elevation and thousands of river kilometers only to die. If only Homer knew of this fish. But Atlantic Salmon don’t die! Their bodies change to survive in the freshwater so they can return to the ocean to gorge again. Several years later they can make another run.
The driver broke the silence. I guess he couldn’t take it, the silence from an audience. The three resume their discourse on the all the world’s problems. 17:06, on of the passengers asks if there are always so few riders for such a large bus? Yes, plainly responded the driver. The rider had a follow up question, “Why not a minibus?” This must have been an assault on the obvious and a breach of the cultural norms because the driver gave a verbous and emotional lesson as to why the large coach. He talked so quickly all I made out was something to do with having a toilet onboard.
We dropped off of Highway 93, a one lane road through the outskirts of Kautokeino. 15:13, the men leave, loaded with backpacks they walk up a side road towards some adventure. The driver beckons me to sit up at the front. I oblige, how could I resist?
We wait and watch the men walk away. Then the driver confided in me that they were from the city, he felt obliged to talk to them, to tell them about the area and make them feel at home. Lonely cultures have strong hospitality rituals.
My journey ended at the Thon, I was greeted by a fleet of hotel snowmobiles for rent. I was too tired to be interested. Little did I know I traveled a water-fall of 306 M.O.H. Such a stand alone thing would be famous throughout the world. The Finnmarkvidda in general, and Kautokeino in particular are hard places to get to, harder still to live. Here, so far and so high from the sea, the fish are visitors, the trees are unwelcome, and people do what they must.
Distance and elevation make for water to fall. With a little creativity, you can see the wonders of water-falls most anywhere, even in a place like Iowa. Let’s share stories when I move to America.
Looking up, looking ahead, and keeping my pencil sharp.
Scotland: “eye” is for what one can see
Brand (he comes up the track, starts to descend, pauses halfway on a projecting crag and looks down into the depths)
Now I recognise the spot!
Every boat-shed, every plot,
land-slip bank, the fairway birch,
that brown pile there, the old church,
elders by the river-side, —
childhood memories that abide.
But I fancy it’s more grey,
smaller, too, than in my day;
and the over-hang, protruding
more than it had ever done,
shaves another sliver, gaining
on the strip of sky remaining,
leaning, threatening, dark and brooding, —
stealing yet more of the sun.
(sits and scans the distance)
The fjord. Did that seem, to my mind,
quite so ugly, so confined?
Patch of rain. A yawl ahead
running on a homeward reach.
South, the part the outcrop’s shading,
there’s a shack, a quay for lading,
then a farmhouse, painted red.”
From “Brand” by Henrik Ibsen, Act I.
If you like Norway then Scotland’s not too much a stretch. Pines, cold lakes, and small fishing villages hugging the rocky coasts, so much was familiar. In fact we took an epic one day bus tour (12 hours) and got to see pretty much the representative sample. Perhaps it was akin to the Norway in a Nutshell? The different was that in 12 hours you could drive over a remarkable breadth of Scotland that I don’t think would be possible in Norway. However, the payment was a thorough lashing of the kidneys on roads so rough they would be unacceptable in the Kingdom of the North.
Our small coach held about 30 passengers. The driver, Kenny, was also host, tour-guide, mascot, and hall monitor. Don’t be the last to board! Traveling North from Edinburgh we quickly bid adieu to the lowlands and began to climb. Our international party went higher and deeper into the Highlands, west of Cairngorms National Park. I was surprised how quickly most signs of human habitation atrophied. The customary cabins of Norwegian wilds were absent in like terrain; the difference between a landholding nobility and not.
The River Sprey was a welcome sight, not as visually impressive as the mountains but more famous. Scotland’s highest distillery straddled the river, like so many others that turned the swift water into spirited water.
Loch Ness lived up to its reputation. The sky was mostly cloudy though the sun managed to sneak in a ray here and a beam there. The effect on the vistas was delightful. The 90 minute stop facilitated a 60 minute ferry ride; 30 minutes to Urquhart ruins and back. A monitor in the cabin showed the depth and sonar images. Only the incredibly deep bottom with a few blips of salmon registered on the screen. Later, Kenny lamented that we were but six minutes late in seeing the monster. I’m sure he always says that.
Paralleling Loch Ness, towards the southwest, I could have been forgiven if I thought I was back in Norway, driving along the lake Mjøsa. However the absence of tunnels to smooth the route reminded me I wasn’t home in Norway. Perhaps evidence of the Scot’s legendary thrift?
On to the sea we drove. Another lake, Loch Lochy, a scale model of Ness. As we lost elevation so did the cloud deck. At the rain capital of Scotland, Fort William, we stopped for a break. In the mists hid the upper reaches of the tallest mountain in all of Britain, Ben Nevis. A formidable hulk, the mountain recently claimed two experienced climbers. Their bodies were recovered during our stay.
Refreshed and back aboard the coach, we climbed again, to the famous Glen Coe. A valley famous for epics sights, of crying mountains, beasts, and of backdrops for Harry Potter. But also infamous for the Campbell massacre. No place is fitting for a slaughter, yet the horrors of that winter morn seem too fantastic were not they true.
Climbing more, we reached the plateau and an alien world of peat and heather. The earth protested human incursions by wrinkling the road so as to rattle my teeth and test my spine. And finally as the sun fell behind the mountains so did we. Kenny steered down the river valley past Tyndrum and eventually back to the lowlands.
It was a rather melancholy ride from the lowlands to Edinburgh. The music selection was mornful; darkness fell over our route. Few of the riders were chatting, many appeared to nod off. The culprits were weariness, a smooth road, and stimulation capacity. Sad too was the end because it was over; that is, my stellar views and experiences with the family had just become memories, the past.
Scotland: “i” is for imagination
“And the fleet of little boats moved off all at once, gliding across the lake, which was as smooth as glass. Everyone was silent, staring up at the great castle overhead. It towered over them as they sailed nearer and nearer to the cliff on which it stood.” (Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, Chapter 6)
Scotland is layered with human history atop human history. I have joked with Norwegian teachers that in Iowa if a building is 100 years old we consider it ancient, and they think it’s relatively new. Some added to that play by noting that when they travel to the UK they might mention to new colleagues that their school in Norway is over 100 years old only to be told by their British hosts that this school is over 500 years old.
My holiday to Scotland was centered in Edinburgh, a most fabulous city. Arriving to Edinburgh airport my first introduction to the city was thoroughly modern. The conspicuous air-traffic control tower announced a commitment to high technology and progress. The double-decker express bus to the city center was then a journey back through time, 30 minutes to travel over 1,000 years.
An interstate highway pierced the first layer, post-war modernity. We cruised past dull buildings that passed for businesses. Too typically festooned with garish signage to attract attention that the architecture could not. LCD displays relayed GPS information, we neared the Gyle Shopping Centre.
Continuing forward to go back in time, turn-of-the-century row houses lined the way. The homes were tidy and compact stone or brick structures with ad hoc parking for cars; satellite dishes hung like peculiar and forgotten christmas ornaments. Edinburgh was a working city, a destination for displaced farmers from the Lowlands and crofters from the Highlands. People moved here to continue life, to move forward. And so did our bus.
Harry Potter was born in Scotland, Edinburgh specifically. J. K. Rowling took inspiration from her surroundings and experiences to create that most magical world. We ate at the cafe where she wrote the first book. Like Scotland, Rowling wove a story that wed the ancient, the fantastic, and the modern into a compelling tale. As it did for Rowling, Scotland invited me to do the same.
Our bus entered Shandwick Place circle and another era, Georgian Britain. The German-bred kings of Britain reigned over a period of industrialization and wealth. New cities were plated to both capture and reflect the prosperity and philosophies of the day: right-angle city streets and uniform architecture. The West End and New Town of Edinburgh exemplify the ambitions of those long since passed Scots and their wisdom; the old buildings still stand and thrive in a modern world.
Owen and I took a walk through New Town later in the week. The straight streets and din of traffic were familiar but the aesthetics of the buildings were not. I could imagine the wide streets free of autos, and instead traversed by horse drawn carriages. The sound, and certainly the smell would have been different. I didn’t ask Owen what he imagined, I regreted that.
Cruising east on Princes Street we passed the Scott Monument. It was a fitting transition between the New Town and the Old Town to which we were about to enter. Bus #100 reached the end of the line on the bridge and our journey back in time was nearly complete. We crossed Market Street with our backpacks to ascend Cockburn Street. The curved and climbing street took us back in time further still. The twists and turns, nooks and crannies of Rowling’s Diagon Alley were here. Cars were clearly out of place yet had muscled their way onto the street through brute force and threat of violence, taking cues from the countless public hangings in the neighborhood.
High Street, also known as the Royal Mile, denoted the journey’s end. The route was a riot of architectural splendor. Our apartment on the street has hosted souls for hundreds of years. And at the end of the street, actually the beginning, rested Edinburgh Castle. It was perched on a crag and protected the Chapel of St. Margaret. The diminutive house of prayer was built in the 12th century, the oldest building in Edinburgh.
From the ramparts of the castle all of Edinburgh was visible. Our visit was extra special in that the sun was present, illuminating a city that needed little help to amaze. The view from the primordial rock went back again through time: from Old Town and a Royal and Independent Scotland, to New Town and the cusp of the industrial revolution, and on to the horizon where a new bridge over the Firth of Forth will commemorate the 21st century.
Inspiration for the imagination, is that the old Celtic meaning for Pictland? It has inspired so many authors, Rowling most famously as of late but also Sir Walter Scott, Robert Louis Stevenson, Alan Ramsay, and Elizabeth Melville. We agreed that Scotland in general, but Edinburgh in particular warranted a return visit. Who can resist a place of such creativity that made the unicorn its official animal?
The Sunday Nature Call, Uke 10: A Contemplative Life
The forecast in the Arctic for novel feathers was discouraging. My local source in Hammerfest said all was quiet save for gulls and crows; I don’t get excited for gulls or crows. Returning from teaching one afternoon I thought I spied a small raft of diminutive ducks in the harbor. A quick retooling and I was walking the harbor promenade when I saw an odd loner, my catch of the week. Satisfied. In Nordkjosbotn I saw either Parus palustris or Parus montanus. Oh so close to claiming the latter, I am so close to certainty…but, close to certainty isn’t good enough.
New birds: one
Teist (Cepphus grylle)
A Contemplative Life
“On the road again
Goin’ places that I’ve never been
Seein’ things that I may never see again
And I can’t wait to get on the road again”
Being on the road, riding the rails, and plying the currents of the skies, is to be a Roving Scholar. Also, to be a Rover is to be somewhat exhausted, the travel connections, the new hotels and the new pillows, the same breakfasts…all are the glories and grind of travel.
An unadvertised element of these job has been time to think. Without a car, I am a rider, a passenger, someone who waits. Be it waiting at a bus stop or airport gate, waiting to arrive, or just my hotel room, I wait. I wait a lot in Norway. And time to wait is time to think, if you let it.
As a luddite there are some tech habits I resist more than others. One is going about in public with earbuds or headphones. I just hate it, I think it looks ridiculous, as if one is plugged into a troubling messaging system that is delivering instructions from afar. Two it’s dangerous because you can’t hear cars or people overtaking you, to say nothing of the fact that you can’t hear the birds.
Instead of tuning in, I tune out. And when I tune out I get to hear something precious: my own internal voice, my conscious. Travel has made this possible in ways I’ve haven’t experienced before, not to this degree. Being able to tune out because of travel compliments my go to method for tuning out, running. Accordingly I have been able to do a lot of thinking in Norway. Sometimes I even get to think about thinking.
This thinking about thinking (people in education like to use the term “metacognition” here, generally the one big impressive sounding word they can get away with using) got me to wonder about how our ancestors thought as they lived. They lived out of doors and interfaced with the natural world so much more than our sealed building and cars permit. Were they all big thinkers?
A woman at her cabin loom, attending to a familiar pattern, she hears the wind without the walls, the groans and creaks of the trees. What did she think?
Sitting but not resting, watching but not looking, the collier may have been the ultimate philosopher. His thoughts smoldered like his work, energy transforming and emanating from a central core.
So many other jobs, so much other work, lost work that were handmaidens to contemplation. I don’t envy their poverty. Would they pity my modern distractions?
I run to think. And on lonely roads my footfalls quickly fade, replaced by the sounds of nature and my own internal dialogue. Maybe a live action brain scan could show me actually having a conversation.
“What animal tracks are those?” “A hare, but why would it cross here?” “No clue, though they lead towards that mountain.”
“The stratum of that mountain reveals its thrust and displacement from the level.” “Yeah, but wouldn’t it be cool to climb?” “There are a lot of mountains in Afghanistan.” “Hmm, when will they have peace in those mountains?”
And so it goes. A small sensory detail or stimulate flows and winds, curls and blooms into new thoughts and topics, paths of logic and discourse I never would have imagined. But because I had the time/space to think, it did.
In week 10 I got to a lot of time to think. My time engaged in travel was sufficient for a post of its own. Fortunately I was able to match the contemplative time engaged in fossil-fueled transportation with meaningful runs in the deep fjord. I might be ready to make a claim that the deep fjords are the most thoughtful spots. But such a declaration will have to wait until my travels are done. Until then I will keep my senses open for the offering of nature and the blessings of a contemplative life.
Looking up, looking ahead, and keeping my pencil sharp.
There is a High Price to Living By the Roads
8:28 Resistance to motion sickness nearly exhausted, I feel like I should apologize ahead of time to the girl next to me in case I have to make a dash for the door. But trapped against this window in a moving bus my options are limited. Hold on.
The bus ride from Fredrikstad to Moss was only 60 Crowns, less than $8 dollars, pretty cheap. But like so much of our modern roads and highway culture, the costs are really high. No one really likes the bus, but I don’t see how we can afford our cars. The thought of society without them makes me as unsettled as this umteenth speedbump does another number on my belly.
I rode into Fredrikstad on the train. Trains, even slow trains, I think are probably the only truly sustainable way to move about on land. Railroads and the Industrial Revolution are two heads of the same coin. They were born and grew together, often with speed and change like a matastisizing cancer.
Trains were energy suppliers of people and goods into our town and city centers. Cinders and smoke be damned – the train needs to stop downtown! I romantize that trains helped stitch together provincial settlements and regional cities into a greater national tapestry and respected the distinctions of each town to their neighbors. Not too far from the central station, the city stopped and a clear transition to rural, maybe discivilized, lands occured. Then nothing, until the next town.
Paved roads, then highway culture upset the order. The car meant the more power you had the farther you could live from the center. Free of the stations, one could get on and off the road at will. And developments of a house here and a subdivision there blurred the lines between communties, blurring their distinctions, robbing some people of their identities, and freeing others from any responsibility to any one place. Everyone who was anyone could be anywhere and nowhere at the same time. Our car culture’s genesis coinsided neatly with Heisenberg’s Nobel winning uncertainty principle.
7:30 I decided to ask for help. Google Maps had me waiting at a stop across the street from the hotel, but it just didn’t feel right. The man at the desk didn’t know for certain either but he said when in doubt go to the main stop at the shopping center. I walked a couple of icy blocks for certainty.
7:39 I expected to wait about 10 minutes for the bus to come. To my horror, there it was, waiting. If I had waited at the stop near the hotel I would have frozen to death for nothing.
7:50 We roll on schedule. The bus is almost full. Norwegian full that is, which means there is one person to every pair of seats. The next sad sack aboard the bus is going to have to ruin someone’s solitude. Radial roulette.
7:53 Another stop, more frosty passengers. This is an intercity bus but with stops liberally sprinkled along the route. By car this would be about a 30 minute drive, I’m planning on an hour.
There’s a reason to pay more for a train, LOTS of stops on this route, will have to fight the motion sick, like riding a camel.
Traffic flowing into Fredrikstad, looks like any US city, we love our cars, we can’t afford them. We hate busses, but MAYBE we can afford them.
7:55 A large backhoe digging a hole. Artificial lights frames the scene. The earth is giving up its heat, the pile of spoils is steaming like a fresh dog dropping in the snow.
In the east there is a suggestion of the approaching dawn, mostly clear skies again.
The bus is 2/3 full.
7:58 Out of town, cultivated flats covered in snow, wrapping around the woody hills gives me a double-take of the Coulee region; maybe Viroqua or Decorah will be the next stop?
I had stowed my bags out of respect, people who set their bags and kit in the seat next to them on what they know is going to be a crowded bus is a universal yet boorish move. Buy a second ticket! A young woman took the seat next to me, she’s since moved, that’s okay.
I’m reminded a little of my trip to Farsund, lot’s of highway stops.
A gaggle of kids just got on, rosy checked and about 10-12 years, they were waiting for a while.
8:03 Trying to read the papers online while riding, but it makes my head spin and stomach queazy, need to take breaks to look out the window.
Sunrise comes slowly.
8:12 Råde. Now this route rides the break between the hills to the east and the lowlands west towards the sea.
Råde, your speed bumbs are numerous and really quite the experience on a long bus, once will be enough.
Homes lines this road, a half acre here an acre plot there, not in town but clearly not farming either. A problem with paved roads is ironically the open access and freedom, gives to “takings,” something elese we can’t afford. “Takings,” is what I call the conditions when an individual leverages the public in such a way as to drain, rather than add, to the society. I choose to believe it is mostly an innocent action but the consequences last and compound beyond the original actor or intent.
I think I just got a glimpse of an inlet from the sea off to my left.
The consequence of building homes is that one person’s temporary dream and ambition becomes a permement obligation for society, think institutional raced-based housing patterns in American cities, or demands to support an expensive road for a small number of people who live there.
8:22 6 board: mother and toddler, some kids and a woman.
8:27 Full pre-dawn. A low current of clouds parallel the road to the left, maybe an indicator of the fjord?
8:28 Resistance to motion sickness nearly exhausted, I feel like I should apologize ahead of time to the girl next to me in case I have to make a dash for the door. But trapped against this window in a moving bus my options are limited. Hold on.
8:36 Stamaad car dealship, there are snow covered cars on the lot. It snowed two day ago and they are still not cleared off. I’m not in Kansas anymore.
8:39 I asked the girl next to me if she’s getting off at the Malakoff school stop? I think she said yes but then she said a school name I didn’t recognize. I’m confused, which mixed a standard dose of anxiety, and stirred by motion sickness has got me on the total edge.
8:40 A stop, I think we must be close. Lots of teens pile off. I go for it. Of course I’m the last off the bus with all my luggage. No jacket on, I just drag everything off in a huff because I don’t want to delay the bus and draw anymore attention to myself that I already feel. Plus, the frigid temps will hopefully be a balm.
Where’d all the kids go? By the time I got all my gear together and dressed, they had disappeared across the street and into the neighborhoods. Here goes nothing. I cross the street and disappear too. There is a high price to living by the roads.
Roving in Review: 2015
The 2015 segment of my Roving Scholar experience is in the books. I have written plenty of words about my time teaching in Norway thus far, so here are some numbers.
In 2015, this Roving Scholar:
-presented at 1 academic conference
-traveled to 13 of the 19 regions of Norway
-visited 25 different Norwegian high schools to present workshops for students and teachers
-spent 51 days teaching at Norwegian high schools
-conducted 104 workshops
-reached 2732 people
Implicit in my title is travel, and boy did I ever. For a certifiable “homebody” in Iowa this has been a sea-change for me. According to my trusty spreadsheet my travels have totaled:
-5,542 kilometers in the air
-2,243 kilometers by local and regional bus
-2008 kilometers on trains
-976 kilometers by foot
-471 kilometers with city-rail
-and 5 hours on ferries
I do not have a car in Norway. All my transportation is done on Mass Transit. I have become quite fond of Mass Transit, in Norway it actually works.
“I could just live here, it’s so fun,” said Owen as we left Leo’s Lekeland. Leo’s is a franchised indoor playground. We had a little banter about where would one sleep and so forth and then I asked him if it would stop being fun, you know, if you were there all the time? Owen screwed up his face a little, maybe he didn’t like having his fantasy damaged. Who would? “No, I guess not,” he answered.
Travel brochures, family propaganda, fun literature, and internal aspirations create ideal places. Judge for yourself, think about: The Cotswolds, Bavaria, New Zealand, Nepal, or Tuscany. It is difficult to imagine life there as anything but mundane. “How fascinating… Must be nice… Couldn’t you just picture yourself…,” and all those other familiar phrases of lowgrade jealously. “Folks in Vail must never be bored.” “I wonder where people from Miami go for vacation?”
Norway is no exception to those examples. The chamber of commerce and tourism bureau do a bang up job here. And when you travel on a tourist’s agenda you expect to see, smell, hear, feel, and especially taste everything that makes a place wonderful. You better or disappointment begets negative press.
The reality is that life is so similar. Globalization has brought Levi’s, Coke, and Nintendo to all corners of the world. People go about their daily lives and gripe about the same issues. We should all be so lucky to complain about the mundane. When you live with famine, or displacement, or violence the trivia of life must become a dream.
Today was mundane. It was a nice day but like a day I could have had almost anywhere in the modern world. Saturday began with our new routine, which I detest: the boys spending a couple of hours on their e-tablets playing Minecraft. I don’t have too much standing to complain because since they’re playing quietly I troll the internet on my devices, Meghan does too. Codependents, all of us.
We needed to do something, to have a goal and get out of the house for the sake of our mental health if nothing else. Yesterday was stellar, the bar was low for today but there was a bar and we needed to cross it. Last night we scored big experiences for nary a Kroner so I was feeling generous.
What to do? Meghan and I settled on a choice for the boys: the Røa indoor pool or the indoor playground in Østerås. Leo’s was the winner even though it required traveling in a new part of city. But hey! That’s what makes every seemingly simple trip special. We hoofed it to Røa, took the #5 train to the end of the line at Østerås and then returned to Shank’s Mare for the rest of the trip. It took about hour total. I’ll be waiting for some local reader to suggest a more efficient route. Meghan quipped it would have taken 11 minutes if we had a car.
Leo’s was nice. It was clean. It had a lot of room and a surprisingly sophisticated food selection. In fact, the staff would even deliver the handsome open-faced sandwiches to your tables – no intercom blaring, “Solbretsen, dine pølser er ferdig. Solbretsen!” So actually, in those ways it was different from my experiences in America, but I digress.
We paid for the boys, we all took our shoes, and then, “Cry ‘Havoc!’ and let slip the dogs of war.” Meghan and I found a comfortable brown leather couch. This place was organized for the contemporary world. That is, the parents are almost all on their smart phones, not paying attention to the children. So, the comfortable seating and couches were dispersed through the play areas. Kind of a soft supervision, if a child cried out at least there would be an adult nearby who’d look up in curiosity.
I am giving the architect a lot of credit. If it was an accident of design, then well done anyways. While the boys played Meghan and I read. She had her novel, I grabbed the house copy of VG, a daily newspaper. I was pleased to read a featured story about a Norwegian family living in sun-drenched Spain. The title was, “Lever Drømmelivet i Spania,” or my translation, Living the Dreamlife in Spain.
As a young couple they skipped out of Norway to Spain with just enough money to live for six months – to have an adventure. 17 years later they have two kids, a borrowed turtle and “hverdagsliv,” everyday life. That is they say their lives in sexy Spain don’t live up to their friends and countrymen’s ideas of what life is like in that Francophone slice of heaven. The weather is different, but after that it life is remarkably similar, said Hilde.
I predict this will be my abiding insight to living abroad, a year in Norway will strip away the gilding. I will get to appreciate the beauty and the wonderful people, but also that Norway is like most anywhere else. People go to work, worry about how their kids are doing in school, wonder what the election will mean for them, and complain about the weather.
And if you life movies, or sport, or repairing old cars, then you will find that most anywhere you live. Sure, if you really like ski-jumping, painting sunsets over the Channel Islands, or attending first-run theatre, then you need to choose your geography. But if you’re like most people, and you are, then where you live doesn’t matter that much. Same Difference. Continue reading →
Coming “home” from a different perspective.
Coming “home” from a different perspectiveThe Norwegian anthem begins with the phrase, “Ja, vi elsker dette landet, som det stiger frem.” In English it means, yes we love this land as it rises forth. The phrase suggests the happiness the weary sailor experienced as slowly out the sea rose the mountains of his home, Norway. And that’s the way it was for millennia. I imagine the feelings were reversed as one sailed away and the loyal mountains sank into the ocean’s horizon. I wonder what emotions my relatives felt as they left Norway over 120 years ago?
Now we have air travel. Norway has always been a fantasy home for me, something to dream about. Yesterday I finally came “home.” Here I’m not Norwegian. In fact it takes three generations for an immigrant family to be truly Norwegian. Okay, we’re only here for a year anyway. Although, it would be nice if they had a special deal for wayward sons like me.
My return was from the clouds. I slept, finally, from the Iceland leg of the journey until we were close to Oslo and began the descent. With the solid cloud cover I missed nothing since taking off. Closer, and lower until, there it was, Norway. My first focus point was a small lake tucked in and amongst the farmland and hills north of the airport. But it was underwhelming, too much like a Google Map. I desperately wanted to be overwhelmed. As we continued the descent, I finally gained some perspective and relief to the view and that changed everything.
Warmth surged through me, a swelling. Here, among these tidy ancient farms and fields were my ancestors. In this part of Norway that means the Gullicksrud side; dreadfully poor farm workers who left for greater prospects in America where thrive they did indeed. I am looking forward to my family thriving here during our oh-so-brief time here. And when we leave, and Norway flattens out beneath the wings of a jetliner, I expect there will be tears. The questions is what type, joy or sadness?