Nordpolen Journal: 6/14/13- Stabbur-Makrell, Jackdaws, and Wagtails

Nordpolen Journal: 6/14/13- Stabbur-Makrell, Jackdaws, and Wagtails

Oslo, Norway
June 14, 2013

I’ve got an hour until my shuttle back to the airport for the final leg to Svalbard, and I have internet access… so guess what? A small  blip from Norway!


I was greeted at the Gardermoen Airport by rain and what I thought were crows, but I’ve now identified as Jackdaws. These guys are about 2/3 the size of American Crows, but have the same body language of curiosity… perhaps with a little less swagger. I made friends with one who looked exactly like this by tossing him/her a yogurt-covered almond.

Norway is beautiful, even right next to the airport. It is swaths of green with small two-lane highways. I arrived exhausted at 11:00am local time, which was 2:00am for me. I tried to sleep on the plane, but I find it difficult to sleep on the plane… too much unpredictable noise. I did watch The Hobbit, which put me in an adventuring state of mind, though I think I’ll skip the singing.

My motel, (which is frankly more like a hostel), is passable. It’s warm, and relatively clean… but there is nothing to eat, and I mean nothing. Well, okay, there are chips and soda, which is what I ate for dinner. There is nothing within walking distance… no restaurants, no grocery stores, no bars…. there was a beautiful trail though through the Kulturpark, which is where I found my first geocache in Norway on the bottom of a WWII tank parked on the grass. This whole area was a military base during WWII and apparently so much airline activity was directed here, it was eventually converted into a commercial airport.

The path was beautiful, and I decided to go looking for another geocache about 8/10 ths of a mile away. I got within 14 feet of it, according to my gps, but didn’t find the damned thing, despite wading around in wet grass and getting stuck in the rain. I was wearing my deck shoes for the trip, which still aren’t dry. Duh. Duh. Duh. But seriously, you can’t just give up within 14 feet of a cache… though I finally did after an hour of fruitless searching.


I did meet another kind of bird… it looks like a sparrow, built higher off the ground, with a white bandit mask. It pumps its tail up and down whenever it comes to a halt. It turns out to be an aptly-named “White Wagtail.”

I also discovered some odd little abandoned cabins, with busted-out windows and trees growing so thick around their front doors that only animals would be able to knock. They did have plastic keyholders– the kind with a code like real estate agents use– on the front. I’m guessing they used to be rented out. I was poking around one and thought I heard music coming from inside so I took off. It would be a remote place for a squat, but I’m a stranger here and therefore prefer caution.


I made it til 6:30pm local time and finally gave in, took an Ambien, and went to bed. Can I just say that I already have strange dreams as it is, but Ambien is like taking a hallucinogen. I slept really really well, but oh my god the dreams. The first one involved a roll-away bed with a dead body rolled up inside it. The second was about some reality-tv type game I was in that somehow involved exploring unfamiliar places and taking photos of the other players without being seen. I woke up promptly 8 hours later, and then made myself keep going back to sleep until 6am.

I have been writing a lot by hand in a journal. And in terms of the effect of this experience on creative process, I already have noticed quite a few things, but I won’t have time to transcribe any of it until I get back. For now, I offer just a little glimpse of the surfaces.

Breakfast, by the way, was…. interesting. A vegan would lose a lot of weight. A vegan who is gluten intolerant would starve to death.

I did, however, get plenty of coffee, which is my manna… and I picked up this souvenir for some lucky friend to spread on toast!



i dreamt i was a polar bear burrito

i dreamt i was a polar bear burrito

San Francisco
September 6, 2012
279 days until the Arctic Circle expedition

focal area of arctic ice meltI dreamt I was a polar bear burrito.

As in, I was seeing the world from the perspective of a polar bear. I was very  hungry and there was a delicious smell, a hot, living, promising smell. I followed the smell to a smallish, bluish lump, which I then ate. Then, as often happens in my dreams, I was both the bear and the bluish lump, which was in fact a person asleep in a sleeping bag, and i was that person. I was both the polar bear and me asleep in the sleeping bag, inside the bear. These are the impossible insights of dreams.

When I woke up, I started to think about polar bears. What is my polar bear gestalt?

There is the polar bear of the Coca Cola advertisements of the 1990’s, the affable, rotund cartoon swilling sugary liquid alongside cavorting penguins at an idyllic pole where it is always Christmas. The idealism is sickly-sweet and hard to take, and it’s difficult to forgive the basic geographical impossibility of penguins (Antarctic) being anywhere near polar bears (Arctic) except perhaps in a zoo. Or in dreams. Or in a fantasy where a natural predator has become a slothful, sentimental tool.

The next image that popped into my head was that of Iorek Byrnison.

He is one of the heroes of Philip Pullman’s Golden Compass trilogy. This is him in his battle gear. He’s both savage and kindhearted, and like most characters in books, he is not an actual polar bear, but a Polar Bear: a cipher constructed of fears and wishes. He’s indomitable strength, tempered by a human sense of honor and chivalry. He’s more powerful than pain, as he can’t not fight to the death. he’s a dream bear, and a story bear. He is how we bear (oh yes, pun intended) to deal with how merciless actual survival can be. That’s the beauty of characters in stories- they can force the world to be a place where things make sense, and where fairness and safety can be won, and even sustained.

With that alarming synchronicity that often accompanies dreams, I saw this article today on the BBC: Arctic ice melting at ‘amazing’ speed, scientists find

In it, the Director of the Norwegian Polar Institute (NPI) says:

“…we must adjust our understanding of the system and we must adjust our science and we must adjust our feelings for the nature around us.”

This is the moment where the dream and the day collide: if an animal, a real animal in danger of becoming extinct within the next 50 years is dreamt of as this:

but actually looks like this:

then it is time for the dream to change.