Sunday, July 23, 2017

Coming to America

No, not the Eddie Murphy movie, but another excerpt from the autobiography of my father, Otto, after whom this blog is named.

The war was over and in 1946 Otto's younger brother, Audun, had gotten a scholarship to attend Case School of Applied Science (later Case Western Reserve University) and had to leave that same day for the U.S.A.

Otto spent that summer of 1946 in Iceland with his Uncle Balduin and Aunt Gunnhildur and cousins. This is where we pick up the story. The rest is directly from his autobiography.

"I did a lot of sightseeing and joined the local band in Akureyri and the folk dancers. Spent a few days in Stefän Jönsson's home in Saudarkrökur and a couple of weeks in Reykjavik. I was thinking of staying but wanted to get back to Norway to start preparations for my study in the USA. I caught a small cargo ship going to Sweden where Herulf met me in Gothenborg. From there, the train to Oslo and then to Bergen.

Getting ready for America

Back in Bergen I started working at Fleischer's again In the Fall we moved back to Laksevaag (note: Laksevaag is part of the Bergen "metro area". In 1944 their home had been destroyed during the allied bombing and they each had to find other places to live). My Father and a Mr. Johannesen had started and electrical contracting and appliance business there. On New Year's Eve he and Margith (Larsen) got married. Next spring I went to the hospital to have an operation for varicocele which had bothered me especially participating in sports. Spent a week in the hospital around Easter 1947.

To get my visa (student), I needed a lot of papers, not too difficult to get. It was a lot harder three years later when applying for immigration visa.

Money was another problem. My Father helped a lot. God bless him.

Going to America

Left Bergen on the night train for Oslo. My friend Ole Hilstad at the railroad office had gotten me a room at a small hotel. I stayed there a few days and then my cousin Margith asked me to stay with them until I left. Had gotten passage on a troop transport the "Marine Jumper", Moore and McCormack Line. Left Oslo early September. First stop was Havre, then Southampton and then to New York where we arrived 13 days after leaving Oslo. Got off the ship early Monday morning. I had met Olav Torgersen on the ship. He was also a student at N.C. State and had been home for the summer. We took a taxi to Penn Station, where we checked most of the luggage for Raliegh. Olav flew down and I was on my own. Got on the right train, changed trains in Washington D.C. where I met a guy who was also going to State, and I travelled with him to Raliegh. We got there early th next morning. Rode the bus to school.

North Carolina State University

Got myself a room, and after trials and tribulations got situated. Lived in Gold Dormitory. My roommate was Chuck (Charles) Swerdlove from the Bronx, New York. He was, and still is, a great guy and good friend.

I started as a special student, taking courses that would be good for me when later I returned to Norway. Most of the courses were in the School of Textiles. The head of the Textile and Dyeing Department was Henry (Hank) A Rutherford. He had just come to N.C. State. The Dean was Malcolm E. Campbell. They both became very good friends of mine.

I did well in school getting mostly A' and B's. After a while I thought perhaps I would like to stay in the U.S.. I did part time work in school. So during the next summer, 1948, with the help of Hank and Dean Campbell, and some others I was accepted in the Graduate School and got my M.S. degree the next June, 1949. I was accepted on trial and had to get at least B in the courses I took."

College Life

When starting college, we were seven Norwegians at N.C. State, all enrolled in the School of Textiles. We had a number of other "foreigners", Chinese, South Americans, Middle and Far Easterners, and a few Europeans.

I struggled through the first few month, especially because of the language problem. That Southern drawl was not the King's English that we had learned in school. Few social activities the first year. At night before going to bed, Chuck and I would go to Grimes cafe, just off campus, and have a bottle of Seven Up, 5 cents in those days.

Olaf Torgersen whom I had met on the ship coming over lived a few blocks from the campus in the home of Dr. Nels Anderson who was a dean at the college. Olaf was a good friend and we had many meals down there in the cellar where he had a room. I was also invited to have Thanksgiving Dinner with them at their home in 1947. Their maid Ruby was a skinny black girl. During my first summer 1948 I lived in the Anderson house, since my dorm was closed and being painted, etc.

I made friends with several American students, visiting with Dick Davis at his home in Lexington. We rode the bus in those days.

On the 17th of May (our Norwegian Constitution Day) we would have a party. 1048 was nice and quiet, 1949 somewhat more tumultuous. That's when we had to carry Steve Yang, our Chinese friend, out. He was a character living across the hall from me. As of this writing, I just had a letter from Hank where he says, "He is still the same old Steve".

To be continued...  

Saturday, July 8, 2017

There was this guy...

Long ago and far away I was a college student working at a camp in the Adirondack Mountains of New York. I worked there for three summers 1970, 1971, and 1972 for for the McKennas, William Brewster (W.B.) McKenna (cousin of Murr Brewster) and his wife, Patricia Alden McKenna. They were well educated and you may see in their names that they descendants of early European settlers in North America. They had many friends and relatives that would come to visit them during their summer stays in the Adirondacks, but they wintered in Tucson, Arizona.

My job was to be their "Boy" for lack of a better title. I took care of the driving, the cleaning, firewood, dishes, a little light cooking, and chauffeuring, including transporting the McKennas and their guests by boat from the parking lot and landing across the lake. My uncles Audun and Kaare had also had this same position back in the 1940s and 1950s when the McKennas spent most of their time in Cleveland, Ohio. My uncles were continuing their engineering studies at Case Western Reserve University at the time before they went on to their PhDs at MIT, but I digress.

Mr. McKenna had a cousin who came to visit us either the first or second summer I was at their camp. His name was Dr. Donald (Redfield) Griffin, a professor at Rockefeller Institute (now University) who seemed to know a bit about animal behavior. His wife, Jocelyn Crane Griffin was also a well known (in those circles) animal behavior scientist. She was primarily known for her fiddler crab research, mostly done in Venezuela and Trinidad. I was a college freshman/sophomore majoring in biology. I was somewhat in awe of these two very interesting and very nice people.

Dr. Griffin had been banding bats since he was in high school (early 1930s) and continued doing it throughout the years. He banded many thousands and some of this was based out of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts where his uncle, Alfred C. Redfield, was affiliated (later Associate Director). Redfield was also chairman of Harvard's Biology Department.

What Dr. Griffin was most noted for was that bats navigate by radar. He was working for the U.S. government during the Second World War on a project using bats to guide bombs. Early editions of smart bombs, I suppose. He termed the word echolocation. He also became Chairman of the Biology Department at Harvard University in the mid 1960s for a few years. His pioneering work in bird and bat migration led to many new discoveries.

One day during his stay with his cousin he wanted to go for a walk in the woods and this 19 year old college student said, "Sure!" We went a couple of miles back to a large, but abandoned beaver pond back in the forest. He explained to me how they had made trails to skid logs and branches from places farther away from the pond as they ate themselves out of house and home. You could see the remnants of the trails and signs of the forest growing back in. The pond had been abandoned for some time, so I essentially got a lesson in beaver archeology. I had never had personal tutoring of this caliber, nor would I ever again, but I never forgot it.

Dr. Griffin was at this time beginning his more formal studies on animal communication and interaction with their environment that showed reasoning ability and real thinking in a way that no one had dared study before. It was said that had it not been  him who was doing these studies that anyone else would have been scoffed at in the scientific community.

We now understand animal echolocation in whales and dolphins as well as tool use by birds and mammals. Basically, he was studying the thought processes in critters. While we all know some "smart" animals and have stories about things we have seen them do, Dr. Griffin was one of, if not the first scientist to document and publish scientific papers on these things. Many others have carried on this type of work. Dr. Jane Goodall comes to mind.

Here he was later in his life still doing the things he loved.
(picture lifted from the internet)

My own interest in birds and animals took some giant steps from my summers in the Adirondacks. If you are interested I  have some older posts about my time in the Adirondack Mountains. Woodswoman and Summer in the Adirondack Mountains, where I previously mentioned my time with Dr. Griffin.
His and his wife's achievements in the behavioral sciences are much more that what little I have mentioned. An internet search will find you some more information if you are interested.

Sunday, July 2, 2017


Everything is so green here. "How green is it?", you might ask. It is so green that when I come indoors my eyes take several minutes to adjust to other colors. Nearly daily rain is the culprit and while June tends to be our rainiest month it got a bit carried away this year. I have barely been able to cut the grass without leaving a wake. Since we have about 28 feet of clay under our feet it can be squishy and slippery.

The Cooker and I took a short walk int the woods yesterday and once we got used to talking over the squishing of our boots we found a few things other than just green things. It wasn't easy. It has been cool, also, so things that tend to have other colors have not all shown themselves. We did find the beginning of some chanterelles, but just barely. They should be pick-able in a couple of weeks if we get some warmth.
 We hardly saw any other fungi at all. Maybe they have drowned.

Our fallen "mother of all birches" is still giving life to other things like this baby birch which should start growing upward if the sun ever decides to show itself.
These will be recognizable Jack-in-the-Pulpit when Jack comes out of hiding. It looks like this now.
Soon it should look like the insectivore that it is. Like this one.
There were some Anemone canadensis (Canada Anemone) which is so appropriate for Canada Day (July 1st).
The rest are from around the front yard.

And last, but certainly not least, I present the rhubarb.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Of Music, Men, and Chipmunks

It was and still is a rainy day. All day. "So what kind of tasks should I take on?" I asked myself. I started a book that I downloaded to my Kindle a few weeks ago and got well into it by the time the ladies were up and functional. I haven't been reading much lately and it felt good to see a new plot unfold.

Then I went out to the garage and to the stall I take over for the summer as my seasonal "man cave" and wondered what I should do there besides just grab a guitar, sit down, and start playing. Then I looked at the overstuffed, orange folder with many copies of music and lyrics to an amazingly eclectic bunch of song. Everything from Clapton to Hoagy Carmichael to Ry Cooder, The Band, Cyndi Lauper, The Rankins, etc. I borrowed a paper punch from the Cooker and a three ring binder I had salvaged from work and went to organizing. There were pages upside down, single songs in several places as I had dropped the folder previously and just stuck everything back in it.

I got it all punched and just about alphabetized when I got distracted by one of my guitars. It is very difficult to have some nearby and not want to play something. I picked up my little Martin and after playing it I remembered that I wanted to put a strap button on it to make it more comfortable to play while standing.

I also remembered that I didn't have a strap button and that I would probably have to order one. They are only a few bucks, but I was looking at a few days and would probably put it off again. Then I remembered my friend Dave the Luthier (also co-owner of Hungry Jack Outfitters) and since it was after 9 a.m. I decided to call him. I like a man who answers his own phone and I asked him if he had any strap buttons. He said maybe a hundred or so. I imagined he had these and a lot more.
The question was did I want to drive up the Gunflint Trail for about 30 miles for a three dollar part? Dave said he was coming to town in a few days and could drop it off where I work. I said okay to that, but this still put me in procrastination mode. I went back to putzing around the garage and house for a bit and a little while later the phone rang. It was Dave and he said that he had to make a run to town for a plumbing fixture and could stop by with a strap button.

While I waited i did an online search to see if there were any installation tips I could find. Here were some options.
I chose position 5 as I have my 12 string set up that way. Dave showed up with the button and one of his commissioned guitars for me to check out. I asked for his thoughts on installation and felt at ease with my decisions.

BUT the guitar he brought was gorgeous and 99% finished. It had a contoured body with the soundhole(s) on the upper side where the player would hear it as much as any audience.
This isn't Dave's as I wasn't smart enough to get a photo, but it is somewhat similar. I was too busy enjoying the feel and sound of it to go get a camera. The finish was exquisite and Dave checked to make sure my fingernails weren't too long. Had they been I would have immediately cut them to the quick if need be. His creation was unique, comfortable, and sounded wonderful. I may have to start a separate savings account.

Alas, all fun things end too soon, but as we stood in the driveway in a very light rain we were entertained by a couple of chipmunks who were scurrying past us slightly overloaded with sunflower seeds. We wondered how the excess weight in their cheeks didn't cause them to fall forward.
They seemed to defy the laws of physics. How they can run with their center of gravity that far forward defies logic.

Hopefully, I'll finish today's projects tomorrow. Except for the strap button. I got that done.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Lofty Goals

I've never been one to set a lot of specific goals to get things done. Usually, I keep a list of things in my head until the list gets long and then I have to write things down, but rarely have I prioritized tasks. Nowadays people of the older generation, of which I am becoming one of depending on your perspective, make "bucket lists". These are things to do before they kick the bucket, or as we call it more directly, die.

When I turned sixty a lot of shit started to happen to remind me of my mortality (i.e. I really can be killed!). I got prostate cancer, had my knees replaced, and I got skin cancer, all within five years time. Until age sixty I had not spent the night in a hospital since I was six years old.

I have done a lot of fun things in my life, but some things call me back and I want to get a chance to do them while I have a break in my varied infirmities.

My brother and I are planning a trip back to Norway around next May and I have decided after looking at it for years that I would like to take the hike up to Preikestolen (Pulpit Rock).

It sits about 2000 feet (604 meters) above Lysefjord. It is a ferry and bus trip from Stavanger to the trail base which is already at about 250 meters (820 feet) so it isn't too bad of a climb and is a well-used trail in fact. Base jumpers like it because of the shear drop off. It is less than 4 miles round trip and takes about 4 hours, so they say. I can hope for a sunny day for the photo ops.

Twenty years ago I would not have had to think twice about a spur of the moment hike like that, but ten years ago would have taken a little preparation. Now it is a different set of rules. Getting in shape takes longer now. I have been walking a mile at a fast pace most evenings after work because that is when I can squeeze it in (and I am no longer winded, only sweaty). The terrain is fairly flat. It is the same walk I took with Smokey the dog. I am not supposed to run with these new knees, but walking, biking, and cross country skiing are all okay to do. The walk from the lake to just above the farm is about a 700 foot rise over about 2-1/4 miles, so that should be a good training walk to do regularly. Keeping in shape through the winter is tougher, but there are ways and I will find them.

I was as fat as I ever have been last summer at about 224 pounds, but am closing in tight on 200 now. Should be under it by next weekend. My Buddha belly is on the wane and I will be very comfortable in about 15 more pounds. I am officially at 5' 10-3/4" according to my physical last month and while I didn't regain all my previous height when I got my new knees this is an okay place to be. Like I have a choice.

Maybe I'll get a shot like this.

I remember back to doing a spur of the moment day hike about 25 0r 30 years ago on Mt Rainier in Washington. I went from the parking lot to Camp Muir on afternoon on a whim. It started at about 5000 feet and went to 10000 feet and was five miles each way. It was a nice afternoon hike, but my running shoes were pretty well shredded from the rocks when I got done. And I felt about 6 inches shorter because of the compression on my knees, but I was just fine. Glad I did it back then.

If I am able to pull this off I will have some nice pictures to show off the following month at my 45th college reunion.

In the meantime I'll enjoy my walks and watch the changes in the plants and animals. It keeps me grounded to be aware of the cycles of life and to accept the inevitable. But the beauty in all of that still makes me smile.

Here is my walk this week.

 Lupines on top, thimbleberry flowers (solstice flowers), orange hawkweed, lupine leaves. 

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Life After Dog Sitting

I am trying to continue the good things Smokey the dog taught me while we cohabited. I watch the world around me and go for walks, but I don't nap as much as she does. She is nearly 15 years old which is about105 in people years so I hope I don't need to nap so much yet.

Lots of birds are back and hanging around.
This ruby-throated hummingbird kept turning his back on me, but the siskins, goldfinches, and rose-breasted grosbeaks weren't as aloof.
The purple finches were more personable.

I had to make a very quick trip to the Twin Cities to pick up a guitar that had had some maintenance done and before I headed back I found a park with free admission to go hike around. It seems Smokey got me to the point of needing to walk regularly otherwise I feel like a toad or slug or some other chubby, semi-dormant animal and get easily disgusted with myself. I get over the self loathing if I walk regularly. I feel better, too.

Basically I was walking on cross country ski trails that look like fun to ski during the cooler part of the year. Being well out of the city it was also cooler than the concrete heat sink of urban world. There are, however, some trade offs between city and country living. Here is a sign that mentions one of those things.
Most of the trails are between one and four miles in length and are relatively easy walks. My time was limited and I wasn't sure how I would hold up in the heat (it was in the low 80s) as I am not used to it.

There were lots of mighty oak trees (we don't have those this far north) and they are quite prolific judging by the quantity.

There was a bit of wildlife in the park, too, although it stayed hidden for the most part. Being the keen observer that I am (I can actually see the forest for the trees!) I spotted a few interesting denizens. A lovely garter snake showed herself and didn't crawl away from me right away. I asked if she minded if I took her picture and she said, "no" in the way garter snakes convey those things.
There was a small contingent of Canada geese. If you look closely you may be able to see the little maple leaf insignia on their wings, but you have to know just where to look.
There were nice places to sit and observe the surroundings and the bugs weren't too annoying had I chose to sit, but Smokey taught me not to do it for too long. Otherwise I might stiffen up and lose my motivation to keep pushing forward.
There was also evidence of the cycle of life that is the essence of nature. Sometimes unpleasant for we humans, but a fact of life nonetheless. This is a spot where a bird of prey caught another unsuspecting bird and ate it. It is quick and efficient and there is very little suffering involved.
Smokey's wisdom about the aging process keeps me grounded and accepting of the things I can't change. Always be happy to be among friends, get used to physical discomfort and remember all the wonders you have seen and experienced. It all makes it a bit easier to go forward with this thing called life. Smokey is a very wise dog. I still see her Monday through Friday at work and we always take our moments together as something special where we block out the rest of the world. It is just us and we touch each other and smile knowingly.


Monday, May 29, 2017

Temporary Dog

I have had a dog since the 8th of this month, but now her mother is coming home and will want her back. Her name is Smokey and she is a mixed cattle dog of 14 years. Getting kind of old for a dog, but she sleeps a lot.

We have been practicing our naps together with me on the sofa and her on the floor next to me. We are often joined by several cats who are usually on the sofa, but sometimes on the floor with her.

She goes to work with me as that is what she does with her owner who has been on vacation in Ireland and Scotland for the past weeks. She is the only one excited about going to work on a Monday morning (or Tuesday this week) because she gets to see all her friends. There are our regular customers as well as the delivery guys who often bring her treats. She has been sleeping under my desk mostly, but we go out for a nice walk at lunch time and any other time she tells me she needs to go out.

Most of the cats are indifferent to her, but some like her and a couple don't want anything to do with her. She doesn't care much one way or the other as long as they stay out of her food while she is eating. One of the cats shoved her face in the dog dish when Smokey was eating and that is the only time I heard her growl.

The highlight of our daily routine is going for our after work walk which we only missed once due to really cold rainy weather. We took that walk early today since it is a holiday here in the States, Memorial Day. Here are some pics of our daily walk.

 Marsh marigolds by the creek
A service berry bush in bloom.
Overlooking one of the ponds
Wild strawberries blooming
A stand of young Aspen trees
An old snag
 Tiny puffballs
Lupines way before the flowers come out
 Bent and broken Birch
A fungus among us
Smokey on the road again.

I have been dogless for about a year and am trying to slowly reduce the number of animals in this zoo, but I am still a softie. It is a difficult task. I get to see Smokey at work unless her owner, Judi, takes a day off, but I was honored to take care of her these past few weeks. I expect she will go right back to her old routines, but maybe she'll come and lay under my desk once in a while for old time's sake.