Spring magic

This year I seem to be more aware of budding trees. At this point in the season, where nights are still cold, although days are warmer, growth is slow, careful. I woke up to frost this morning, but now, as we approach sunset, my balcony is baking at a whole 26C/78F in the sun!

Won’t be long until leaves are bigger, blooms show better, branches are less naked.

In the meantime, I’m enjoying the magic of the slow awakening. (Click to enlarge photos.)

From top left to bottom right:

The rosehip bush is right below my living room window. I’ve watched its progress through the seasons many, many times. One of the sounds of summer is to hear a bumble bee’s buzz amplified by its wings touching the side of the rosehip petals while it hunts for nectar. And of course I love the scent of rosehip roses! I’ve even learned to like rosehip tea. But first we need to get more leaves!

The Japanese cherry tree is at the other end of my building and is purely for decoration. It is lovely, though, and will be at its showiest in May.

The beech tree is next to my balcony. This is the first year I’ve noticed flowers on it. It was planted about 25 years ago and barely reached up to my balcony then. Now it’s reached up to my upstairs neighbor’s balcony. One of things that happens when I blog, is that I end up doing a little research on behalf of my reader(s). The pink flowers mean that this is a copper or purple beech, a native of Europe. I did not know I had a purple beech!

The magnolia is by the main theater in town. I have wandered around in downtown Bergen and by the theater since 1981, and this is the first time I’ve ever noticed this tree. If it weren’t for the flowers, I’d never know there were magnolia trees in amongst the cherry trees lining the park below “Den Nationale Scene”. But this year I caught it blooming on naked branches. I have seen a magnolia tree in person only once before: Tucked in a cozy corner of the botanical gardens by the university. But that was memorable enough to help me identify this other tree, a snow magnolia. This particular species also comes from Japan.

Magic everywhere!


Those of you who follow me on Instagram will have seen these photos before. 😁

The Humanity Star

I read about this very bright object being shot up into orbit around Earth earlier this year, just to twinkle in natural sunlight as an artificial star for a few months. And I noted that it would be visible from Norway on April 24-25 2018.

I've had this date marked on my calendar since I read about the controversial launch of the Humanity Star. Although I understand the arguments against this bright object that the astronomers had, I thought I may as well take a look since it's up there. I read somewhere that it would be visible in my part of the world today or tomorrow.

First of all, it's overcast now and it will continue to be overcast the next couple of days. Never fails. I guarantee that if they announce some awesome celestial phenomenon visible from Bergen, the skies will not be clear. I pretty much treat forecasts for southerly viewings of the Aurora Borealis as forecasts for rain now. (In case you're wondering, auroras are a polar phenomenon that weaken the farther away from the poles you get—unless the aurora activity is very strong.)

Secondly, the Humanity Star website tells me that the thing reentered Earth's atmosphere and burned up in March.

Well, no matter. Did I mention it's overcast?

Water and habits

As a native Californian, I still feel a bit of worry when I let the water run, like I see so many Norwegians do. It's standard: They let it run to get it nice and cold. They well afford to: The one place that never seems to run out of fresh water is Norway. The never-ending supply of that most vital of fluids can lead to some bad habits and disappointments. Norwegians are always faced with culture shock when they leave their country, because the moment you set foot in Denmark, you get recycled water. Norwegians always complain about how tap water tastes elsewhere. They also complain about being told not to waste the water, especially when they want to shower every day just like they do at home.

Norwegians are encouraged to take shorter showers at home, but this has nothing to do with water and everything to do with the price of electricity—used to heat up the water.

During lunch at my first job in California, the discussion turned to personal hygiene. The showers-every-day woman chewed out the showers-every-two-days woman. As the discussion went on, it became clear that showering every two days was the norm around the table. I still have that habit.

Californians don't shower as much as Norwegians (or that one co-worker) do because we, a) have dry heat so we don't sweat much, and b) are always told to save water. Since I don't have a job that makes me sweat and I don't live in a hot climate, there's no reason to shower more often.

Also as a Californian, I have so wished that the record-breaking rains Bergen, Norway, had last year could have been sent to my home state. It has felt almost unfair that there is so much water falling from the sky in a place that doesn't need it, while completely bypassing a place that desperately does.

I'll keep my California habits. They serve me well the moment I go traveling. I will drink recycled tap water in Germany and I will limit my showering in Spain. After all, it is Norway's fresh and clean wetness that is the exception.

Water and bones

As healthy and as long-lived as Norwegians are, they are plagued by one baffling disease: Osteoporosis. As a woman who has lived here for part of her childhood and all of her adulthood, this is something to be concerned about. Is it genetic? Is it dietary? We may have the answer, finally. Good dietary habits when I was a child in Norway included a tablespoon of cod liver oil. As a child, I actually liked the stuff. Didn't like fish, but I didn't mind that spoonful of omega 3's and vitamin D, intended to compensate for the lack of sunshine. (The rule is to take cod liver oil or "tran" in all months with an R in it. There is also the rule not to fish in months without an R in it, so those two rules dovetail nicely.) As an adult I can't stand straight "tran" any more and get my fish oil in capsule form.

In the years since, Norwegian researchers trying to understand the national epidemic of broken hips have proposed many theories: Sedentary lifestyle, not enough milk or calcium in the diet, not enough fish in the diet, not enough sunshine. However, in comparison to countries with a similar population or lifestyle, none of those theories held water.

Water itself may be the reason.

Most fresh water comes from underground, moving in aquifers that give off minerals to the water. All over the world, humans dig wells to get to this water source. But in Norway, our main source of drinking water is surface water. We get it from lakes and reservoirs replenished by rainfall. And that water has hardly any minerals in it since it doesn't pass through rock.

85 % of Norway's drinking water comes from surface water. And the current best theory about why our rate of osteoporosis is so high is the lack of mineral content in our water, especially the lack of magnesium.

It is the one thing that makes sense to me. I have already discovered that magnesium helps my digestion and bowel motility. Now I'm going to double my intake in hopes of compensating for decades of drinking fresh, clear and cold water straight from my tap.

 

(Re current best theory: PDF article in Norwegian with introductory paragraph in English.)

 

Lush

In school we learned that what makes a rain forest a huge and dense forest is, well, the rain. Alaska actually advertises its soggy and mossy pine forests as northern rain forests. I've wondered why Norway doesn't do the same. In the summer, this wet country is as lush as a tropical rain forest. Anywhere from 18 to 24 hours of daylight in the middle of summer and a lot of rain makes everything grow incredibly fast. We don't have the tall, dense canopies of the tropics; our denseness tends to be closer to the ground. But the huge number of trees, the millions of leaves, create a solid green along roads, up mountainsides, across vistas, and around my local pond.

Summer where I live has been cool and wet. Nature seems not to care. The moment the ground thaws and temperatures stay somewhere above 10 C, stuff grows. Norwegians with lawns find themselves a bit frustrated: All the rain makes the lawns grow fast, but all the rain makes it impossible to mow said lawn. What we learned early in school about plants thriving on sunlight and water is never clearer than when looking at the lushness of my local pond.

The combination of blue and green, of water and leaves, is always attractive and calming to humans. Never more so during an undisturbed moment, viewed through thick foliage on a late summer's day.

A lush spot in my local pond, Ortuvann

A lush spot in my local pond, Ortuvann

Heralds

Gulls herald spring for me. They head for open sea during winter, and when the snow disappears from the land in April, they come back and start screeching at each other at 4 am in the morning. I'm one of the few people who can sleep through that racket, so I welcome the noise.  Gulls, in spite of their seemingly huge numbers, have become a protected species in Norway. They've lost their habitat by the ocean, and come into cities to build nests on our office buildings which often have gray gravel on the flat roofs and provide perfect camouflage for baby birds. The roofs of my apartment buildings are black asphalt but the gulls build their bowls of sticks there, too.

Since April, I've seen a gull perched on the corner of the neighboring building every morning, as I go to shut my bedroom window (yes, I have the Norwegian habit of sleeping with an open window). Often the gull starts calling in a voice meant to carry across the Atlantic. I have been aware of gulls on the roof all spring and summer. Until today.

This morning, the bird with a 360 degree of my co-op was a crow. Crows are as big as common gulls but this one seemed even bigger. And with its dark coloring it was a startling contrast to the morning view I've had until now.

I knew it wouldn't be sitting there if the gulls still had flightless young on the roof. The lack of any calling from any gull confirmed that there was nothing to protect from crows (or magpies) any more.

A city girl takes her nature where she finds it, fascinated by and grateful for the life that insists on existing in an urban setting, and delighting in still discovering subtle changes as the days move on.

The hectic growth season of summer is over, heralded by a hooded crow.

Junior update

Junior Gull has been spotted again, in good health and twice as big since last we saw the little one. An adolescent magpie was hanging out on the balcony outside my office window, and an adult gull was quite upset at the corvid's presence. A behavior the gull would have only if it had babies.

Maybe Junior is fine after all?

I assume so. A gull chick twice as big as Junior was when last seen (a week ago) was out on the mossy roof, oblivious to its parent's worry.

So Junior's grown a mile or that's another gull chick.

Whatever. There's a baby out there to watch!

They do blend in with the gravel roofing

They do blend in with the gravel roofing