The calendar said so, but you can’t really know it until you’re in it (the ol’ “you can get your head around the mountain from afar, but once you’re on its face?”). The roving has begun in earnest!
But first and foremost, Happy Back to the Future Day! It’s finally here, despite the host of hoaxes over the years. This is the day to which Marty McFly and Doc traveled from 1985. And in a wonderful twist, the Cubs (as improbable then as now) won the World Series . . . and lo! Look at the NLCS! Go Cubbies!
But back to the present . . .
From the vantage point of late September, the series of red bars, each as long as Monday is far from Friday, looked constant. And indeed, it is. From here to mid-December, I rove. The destinations, fleeting as they are, are manifold and full of wonder. Norwegians have all these designations for places: a city is a by (so towns celebrate, in a way, when it achieves “bystatus“), while a small town in the country is called a tettsted, literally “tight” or “close place.” The thing I love about this sort of travel (the same can be said of bicycle touring) is that every little tettsted becomes a little magical. Places barely on the map or conveniently omitted by all the tourist guides glow a little more, take on a sort of aura that the quotidian would otherwise overshadow. Not many tourists visit Elverum in fall, for example. But I found yellowing birches there, along Glomma, and stands of stark, straight pines to wander through. Likewise Hønefoss: one teacher there said Ringerike (Hønefoss’s kommune) is “Norway’s best kept secret.” The view from Kongens utsikt (The King’s Overlook) out over Tyrifjorden was spectacular.
Up in Trøndelag, in the little industrial town of Orkanger in Orkdal kommune, southwest of Trondheim (nobody goes there for vacation!), I asked after the local hikes. One teacher told me of a road just past the school that leads up the (small) mountain to a farm on the hill where you can look down over the town. I discovered a trail into the thicket a bit beyond the farm, though, and ended up on a several hour hike through an absolutely gorgeous network of trails permeating the mountainside, running through various ecosystems in miniature: a dense stand of pine here, a spindly aspen grove just beyond, a thick mat of clover in here, a broad grassy knoll (and, doubtless, a troll or two), and autumnal paper birches scattered throughout. I found my way to Raudhåmmår’n, an outlook over Orkdal valley and Orkla, its river, all the way south to the mountains of Trollheimen.
Earlier this week I was in Sandnes, a town passed by in favor of its northerly neighbor, Houston—oops, I mean Stavanger, Norway’s oil capital, and the gateway to the highly sought out natural destinations like Preikestolen. Sandnes is a lovely town, with a healthy population of resident swans (plus a fine little bookstore). A teacher there recommended a hike to Dalsnuten, from where one can gets a hell of a view over Rogaland and the greater Stavanger area. I hiked up one side, around a smaller peak called Øvre Eikenuten, and down the other side to the semi-abandoned town of Dale. I had to wait an hour for a bus back to Sandnes, as it got dark (we are losing light—or gaining darkness—fast up here), and next to what appeared to be a grand hotel, totally empty and standing stark beneath the shadow of Dalsnuten. I found out later that the place was once an asylum. It was creepy enough in the moment, standing there in the darkening scene, silent and brooding. But it was creepier yet to hear of its history (though I admit the asylum bit I got only through hearsay, and who doesn’t love a story?). Shiver-making. Jaiks! (That’s the Norwegian spelling, by the way.)
Teachers often ask whether this job is exhausting, travelling constantly, meeting hundreds of new people, teaching all day, giving the same presentations repeatedly. As for that last part, well, I chose topics I care about, and looking at the state of American things, I’m more than happy to offer the same presentation about Civil Rights again and again, since that’s what it seems to take. As for the rest, indeed, there is a lot of a particular kind of energy to meeting so many people so quickly, but I am my mother’s son, for those that know her, so I’m lucky to have a genetic predisposition appropriate for the job. Moreover, I tell teachers that one of the best parts of the job is that it’s all teaching and no grading. Even if, time to time, I have to swim against the current of janteloven or, as a teacher in Trondheim put it, “swim through syrup,” to get some (not all!) groups of students to talk. My job is thus concentrated in the part of teaching that generates energy (being with students), and it minimizes the draining parts (being with papers). So, after a full day of visiting classes, talking, giving workshops and lectures, wherever I am I ask (or hunt) around for a good walk, and do it. Ut på tur. And, as poet Mark Strand put it so well, wherever I am I am what is missing, and that’s an awfully nice privilege, whether a backwater tettsted, a thickety spredtsted (I made that one up), or an urbane and fashionable by.
Maybe, before the photo-dump, it’s worth quoting Strand’s little verse, which fits the roving life well, I think. The poem is called “Keeping Things Whole”:
In a field
I am the absence
always the case.
Wherever I am
I am what is missing.
When I walk
I part the air
the air moves in
to fill the spaces
where my body’s been.
We all have reasons
to keep things whole.
We all have reasons for roving, I might say, where I am. But I think the answer is about the same.
And lastly, to document two minor changes I see in myself:
- My Norwegian gets constantly more practiced. I had the privilege to spend a couple evenings with Anne Sine, a relative in Trondheim. She and another relative, Ingvild, who lives closer to Oslo, have been wonderful, gentle teachers, willing to correct my little mistakes! I can get by, at this point, pretty well, and make myself understood without much comment. But truly, y’won’t get better after a certain plateau without someone willing to correct you with care. Little mistakes in noun gender and word order will pass un-marked. But with such thoughtful teachers, I’m lucky. Another friend in Oslo, Einar, has been likewise willing to help me hone my language skills. Goodness, I’ve had an awful lot of great teachers in my life. Plus, I’ve been practicing the hard, Norwegian ‘L’ characteristic of the eastern, Gudbrandsdal dialect of my ancestors, just for fun. And it’s a whole other challenge to better understand the southwestern coastal dialects, Stavangersk? Bergensk? Jaiks!
- I miss the newspaper—the physical paper one, so I can do the crossword on paper in pen. A deep, daily pleasure in that, for me. In lieu of that option, I broke down and subscribed to the digital NYT Crossword. This means that A) there’s a timer, and B) I know whether I’m correct. While the pleasure isn’t quite the same as the paper version, I confess that the digital version has, I think, made me a little better. Begrudgingly. It’s also made me far more critical of crosswords, which I’m not sure I like. Thanks a lot, Rex Parker. But I have begun to wonder if I could craft a puzzle or two . . . I’ll keep ye updated.
Ok, to the images. This is the first time I’ve had a phone camera that can take panoramic images, so I’ve been having too much fun with that. So this is Tettsteder/Spredtsteder, Pano Edition: