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 battle for spring

Of all the seasonal transitions, the one between winter and spring seems to be the most violent.

I’ve tried to predict weather using astrology (astrometeorology). The starting point are the seasonal ingress charts, i.e. the charts for the equinoxes and the solstices or the cardinal signs. For the spring equinox the chart is made for 0 degrees of Aries, which is ruled by Mars. For the summer solstice, it’s 0 degrees of Cancer and Moon ruling. For autumn, it’s 0 degrees of Libra and Venus ruling. And for winter solstice, the chart is for 0 degrees of Capricorn and Saturn ruling. These dates are approximately around the 21st of March, June, September and December, respectively.

I live where we have four seasons and am used to how they flow into each other, and how it can vary from year to year exactly when one can say that one season is officially over and we are fully in the next season. Spring glides into summer by budding, one type of bush or tree at a time, and growing the leaves and turning a deeper green by the summer solstice. July and August are rich thick foliage, but during August, ripening of berries breaks up the solid green. Still, the trees can look quite lush well into September. October is the month of changing colors, and November is the first month of naked trees. The first snow or frost may appear where I live at this time but not stay. In fact, a true winter chill doesn’t happen until January, well into the winter season.

But the part that has my attention, is the transition between winter and spring. This seems to be the most obvious conflict of interest. Whereas the other seasons move into each other on a gliding scale, even weatherwise, Winter seems to arm itself and do serious battle with Spring.

The hedge had started to leaf, and then the snow returned

The hedge had started to leaf, and then the snow returned

I mentioned ruling planets above. I think they may be key. In traditional astrology, Saturn and Mars are called malefic. In more modern terms, they are challenging or difficult. These two planets require more self-discipline to use correctly than, say, Venus or Mercury do. In a person, Saturn and Mars in a bad relationship to each other can be volatile; it can mean a bad temper or bad impulse control. I have this myself, but maturity, meditation and some therapy have tempered these two for me.

But weatherwise, we have two planets both known for high energy, high winds and a desire to make bad weather. Saturn is the ultimate low pressure significator, while Mars is just volatile. Venus is a moderating influence on the weather (though she can misbehave if in bad company) and the Moon is about clouds and rain and wind, but the normal stuff, not the extreme that Saturn can be. Mars emphasises whatever is there, and brings on heat and movement, usually.

So in the transition from a Mars season to a Moon season, the force necessary to generate new life gives way easily to the force necessary to grow life (watering the plants). And later that growth force transitions calmly into the final ripening and harvesting energy of a Venus season. Venus then quietly passes the torch on to Saturn who sets about making sure everything acts dead.

And so Life reappears, with the Mars energy of spring (and of course, the increase in hours the Sun is up), and starts to throw its weight around old, cold Saturn who isn’t having any of that. Saturn demands proof that you are viable, that you deserve respect, and so throws whatever it has at the budding life lured by some mild weather. It’s snowing out as I write this, and I’ve already seen fresh dandelion leaves on our lawns.

The other seasons do battle too. It’s just so obvious with Winter and Spring and perhaps more so because we humans need to see life and warmth and growth again. We want Spring to win. We need to know the dead of Winter is not permanent. We’ve all had our rest. It’s time to get moving again.

Ultimately, Life wins. Aided by warmth and ever lengthening days, growth takes hold, and the dead of winter gives way until next time.

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?

The frigid north?

Snow in Fyllingsdalen as seen from my living room

Snow in Fyllingsdalen as seen from my living room

A lot of people think I live in the frigid north. I don't, actually. Where I live, an umbrella is far more useful than a fur coat. Norway is more like Washington state than upstate Alaska. The sister cities of Bergen and Seattle both tend to be rainy, not snowy, in the winter. This winter, of course, decided to be an exception. Or maybe it's this spring that's acting up.

It snowed on Tuesday and Wednesday. Big, wet, fluffy flakes that covered the ground with a soggy white blanket that only children bound and determined to get some sledding done can enjoy. For the rest of us, the challenge is footwear and temperature. Regarding the latter, if it freezes, this pretty slush will become pretty dangerous to traffic. Regarding the former, rubber boots will keep one dry but they slip on wet snow, and leather boots with good soles will help you walk safely, but may get wet—or worse: Road salt will soak in (though waterproofing helps).

Such are the challenges of leaving in a part of the world that likes to flirt with freezing temperatures but never actually gets into a serious relationship with them. That is left to places like Oslo or Trondheim or Svalbard. Bergen is known for its rain and mild winters.

And outside a few flakes drift past my window—again.

The Daily Prompt: Frigid

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.

Dethroning 1964?

We've had one of the wettest and coolest summers ever in Bergen in Norway this year—rainy enough to have us wondering if we will break a record. The current record for the most rain in one summer is from 1964. That's the record we're trying to break this year. Actually, we've been very against breaking the record, but once we got to mid-August after a wet and miserable "summer", we all thought "Oh, whatever, may as well go for broke".

I know about the rain in 1964. In 1964, my grandpa ordered a Mercedes 190 D with a diesel engine direct from the factory in Stuttgart, painted in a shade of blue picked out by my grandma. He took my grandma with him to Europe to pick the car up and they drove it around in Germany and then up into Sweden, all the way up to Kiruna (I assume). There they put the car (and themselves) on a train and went to Narvik in Norway. (There is still no road between Kiruna and Narvik.)

From Narvik they made their way down to Bergen and visited relatives. While on the coast of the Osterfjord, visiting the farm of Mundal Grandpa grew up on and got his name from, my grandparents enjoyed three sunny days. They were told those were the only 3 days of no rain the Bergen region had had that whole summer.

We are not going to break 1964's record, when 810 millimeters (31.89 inches) of rain fell in the months of June, July and August.

As of last Wednesday we were short 75.1 millimeters (2.96 inches), and on Friday the weather gods blessed us with glorious sunshine. I actually broke a sweat on Saturday. Today it has rained heavily, but not enough to dethrone 1964, and the forecast is for no rain the rest of the week.

The weather gods have a very, very wicked sense of humor.

Sunny

Bergen just broke a weather record from 1952: The number of consecutive days with precipitation in June. In 1952 it was 24. This year it was 26; we had rain every day from June 1 through June 26. I pity those who will go through breaking this year's record because clouds and wet every single day gets really dreary and old.

So, the record-breaking weather wrapped up with heavy squalls during the night. I woke up early on the 27th, certain it was morning (as in, time to get up). It wasn't. It was only 4 am.

Granted, we have very short nights this time of year, but we hadn't noticed because it was cloudy all the time. Clouds are like curtains and when they finally disappeared, the night was suddenly too bright to sleep in.

I couldn't go back to sleep and read in bed until it was the "correct" time to get up. Outside my kitchen window was a rare sight: Bright spots of sunlight on the lawn, created by the morning sun reflecting off the uppermost windows of my apartment building.

I had left a corner of the curtain in my living room open, and a stripe of sunlight shone across the floor. Another neighbor's window was reflecting dawn into my apartment.

In spite of a month of rain, and loss of sleep, I felt yesterday morning was one of the best so far this summer. The absolutely clear sky and beams of sunlight energized me.

Sunny weather will do that.

The Daily Prompt

Kind of sort of a Christmas letter

OK, so I didn't write anything for a while here because, well, I didn't like the other layout (this being a new setup and home for my blog). Wordpress updated with a new one I felt like fiddling with, so here I am. I'm in consolidation mode. I probably should be shopping for Christmas presents, but instead, I'm writing a blog post (this one you're reading right here) and trying to understand budgeting (again) using YNAB. You're not supposed to use it as a way of tracking your bank accounts, so I'm going to try doing spending without involving bank account movements. I'm one of those people who spends what she has because it's there. For 2015, I'm going to spend because it's in the budget. We'll see if my checking account survives this shocking change.

Life in Norway currently includes cold, wet weather with lots of thunderstorms ('tis the season) and stores open from 2-7 pm on Sundays for Christmas shopping. It also includes hunting for an alternative way to make eggnog, because that stuff simply doesn't exist here. You can find Reese's peanut butter cups, pumpkin pie mix, turkey, maple syrup (organic!) and corn on the cob, but they don't have eggnog. This is what I get for befriending Americans. I've been living happily here since 1981 without eggnog. Now I want to make some. (Don't worry, I'm still living happily here.)

Bergen bay during Tall Ships' Race 2014

Bergen bay during Tall Ships' Race 2014

I spent my summer vacation hanging out with the Americans who want eggnog. 2014 was a year of extremes. For many people, there was a lot of upheaval in their personal lives (I got down-sized and re-hired, myself), and even the weather was doing something it doesn't normally do: Our wettest summer month was our driest and hottest. July offered a heatwave while Bergen was hosting the Tall Ships' Race. It was four days of magic and Bergen at its best, ever.

I hope, even with all the crazy, that you too have landed on your feet in 2014. Happy holidays and cheers!

You can get beer on top of Bergen’s tallest mountain, Ulriken. Skål!

You can get beer on top of Bergen’s tallest mountain, Ulriken. Skål!