Tag Archives: winter

There is a High Price to Living By the Roads

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.



That was it?

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.


29 November 2015, 2:56 PM, Bygdøy

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.


26 December 2015, 1:27 PM, Oslo

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.

The Sunday Nature Call, Uke 49: Four Seasons in Stavanger

The Sunday Nature Call, Uke 49: Four Seasons in Stavanger

It’s been a dynamic of week of weather and terrain, including Oslo, Stavanger, and the ski trails east of Lillehammer.

New birds: 0

I did get to see a Bucephala clangula up close at Mosvatnet in Stavanger, not a new bird but nice. Alas, too dark to take a photo with the iPhone.

Four Seasons in Stavanger

imageThat old and conspicuous truck is what awoke my mind to look around and be alert. No, I wasn’t in any danger of getting hit. I was sporting my new hi-viz gaiters on my running shoes in addition to my full refleks kit. But I wasn’t paying attention; I had been to Stavanger before.

Running in new places has been one of my private joys in Norway. A beckoning pedestrian path, an undiscovered forest, twisting and narrow city streets, and new bridges are stimulants for my appetite to run. I have gone on several runs of two hours that felt like joyrides – all the newness makes the kilometers melt away.

In contrast, I now find my section of Oslo staid and uninspiring for a run. In Røa, running has become work. I hope it snows soon so I can ski for a change.

On Monday,  I touched down in Stavanger from my 9:00 flight from Oslo. At Gardermoen the grounds were covered in frost and ice. Some snow survived in shaded patches. Ice was not in the cards for Stavanger, it rarely is.

The moderating effect of the Gulf Stream still surprises me. The daylight and my mind say the weather should be bitterly cold. My skin falsifies those claims. It won’t get warm in Stavanger, but it also won’t get cold.

Walking past the ancient cathedral I was caught in a shower of sleet. Frozen BBs cascaded, like a hose had just been turned on full blast. Crunch-crunch went my feet. Bracketed by rain, the ice pellets wouldn’t last long. It was like vernal sleet in Iowa: quick, dispiriting, but temporary. Sleet, a sign of spring.

Within the hour I was off for a run. My legs were sore from an excessive session of squats on Saturday but I hoped some movement would help (it didn’t). From the hotel I started my run along a familar route at the harbor but got stopped by an unexpected sight: billowing clouds.

imageThe far mountains of my prairie home are the summer Stratocumulus clouds that blow up in the afternoon heat. They form temporary formations as impressive as any in the Sangre De Cristo. And when the low light of evening reflects off their battlements and peaks, it is easy to pause and just stare. They invite wonderment.

The clouds in Norway have been different because I haven’t noticed thunderhead growing towards the heavens. Today was different. Warm weather clouds were working their advective magic over the harbor. The light is low at this latitude and the sight took me home for moment. Cumulous clouds, a sign of summer.

After that old pickup truck snapped me back from my runner’s hypnosis, I was reminded of how amazing Stavanger was. Tomorrow was the beginning of atmospheric winter and I was at 58 degrees North. Yet the temperature was moderate and I had no fear of frostbite. From my path I could see across the harbor, across the Stavanger City Bridge and see the distant mountains. The bands of snow falling on their peaks alternately revealed and concealed their white collections. Snow, a sign of winter.

imageI headed northwest along the harbor only to get stopped by construction. My double-back into the neighbors got me a little turned around. I found myself running up to a school of some sort. It was a school, but nothing like I’ve seen in America. The Stavanger offshore tekniske skole was a training center for work on and around the oil platforms of the North Sea.

imageAt the school’s campus I got stopped again, they were on a dead end. The next stop would be over the cliff and into the harbor. Switching course I got stopped again, this time by a warming vision, a rose. A red rose in bloom, up against one of the campus buildings. The rose called and I answered. The fragrance was weak as were the blooms but they were lovely.

Actually, here was a row of rose bushes. Surprising charms of red on dark green foliage. They softened the footings of the institutional building. Roses, no longer budding due to the weak sunlight. Foliage all around, turning dark, littering the ground with brown corpses of the halcyon days of summer. Fading flowers and falling leaves, a sign of autumn.

Usually when I want to experience several seasons I need to watch a movie or exploit the appliances of modernity in my home. In Stavanger, I just had to go outside.

Looking ahead, looking up, and keeping my pencil sharp. -jlh

Sunday Nature Call, uke 45: Daylight Fading

Sunday Nature Call, uke 45: Daylight Fading

A new friend this week, he honored me by wearing a shirt with images of Haliaeetus leucocephalus. My reputation as the Bird Man of my Alcatraz precedes me even in Norway.

New birds:

none (19)

Long shadows on the Opera House

Long shadows on the Opera House

“Daylight fading

Come and waste another year
All the the anger and the eloquence are bleeding into fear
Moonlight creeping around the corners of our lawn
When we see the early signs that daylight’s fading
We leave just before it’s gone”

-Counting Crows, from the album “Recovering the Satellites” (1996).

“Recovering the Satellites” is one of my favorite albums. I can find a reason, without much effort, to sing songs from that collection in my head. I don’t want to pick a favorite song, I don’t want to have favorites of anything – too confining. But…”Daylight Fading” is one of my favorites.

At the latitude of Oslo, “Daylight Fading” takes on an amplified meaning. I have endured the Midwestern winters and diminished daylight but I can say with a little (just a little) pride that I have not been one to grumble about how dark it is. The M.O. for folks in Wisconsin and Iowa (you know who you are) is to grouse about how it gets dark too early during the winter. If you have a sad outlook on a season, then I bet you’ll have a sad season.

Winter is my favorite season, so many reasons: animal tracks, no misquoitoes, wool sweaters, and the magic of skiing on snow-covered fields reflecting starlight. As a boy I was fortunate to have access to land and equipment that allowed me to spend time alone listening to the zip-zip-zip of my waxless skis and the thump of my heartbeat. I enjoyed the wonder that darkened skies gave my skis; every distance was a long distance, no long gazes, shadows and stumps made for mystical phantasiums, a surprise at every turn, and solitude.

In Oslo, we have already passed the minimum daylight for Cedar Rapids Iowa. The minimum daylight for Cedar Rapids will by 9 hours and 7 minutes on December 22. In Oslo we fell under that mark on October 28. Today the amount of daylight will be 8:08, we did enjoy some sun, albeit low on the horizon. You make the best of what you have, and avoid looking to the south – it’s blinding.

Morning sun attacks the dew

Morning sun attacks the dew, vapor

With a sun so low, so weak, everything seems to hold a dampness. The low clouds and fog seems to hold on, the streets have the Hollywood look of being wetted, the benches at bus stops are worthless: nothing gets dried. And life goes on.

The lumens in Oslo will continue to diminish. I will have the privilege of traveling north of the Arctic Circle during this winter – total darkness – I can hardly wait. Winter will be dark, and then the sun will return. It always does.

I knew the daylight would fade but I moved here anyway. I have seen the signs of daylight fading but I’m not leaving. When my ancestors left Norway about 120 years ago, how did they react to the daylight fading in their new home of Wisconsin: “A winter with all this sun?”

Nature has developed a bounty of life that tolerates and even thrives in the dark months. Nature doesn’t actually care, she knows that each spot of the earth gets an average of 12 hours of daylight and 12 hours of darkness over the course of the year. Nature accepts and adjusts. I will too.

Sunset, from Røa

Looking ahead, looking up, and keeping my pencil sharp. -jlh