Monday, 31 August 2009

Sailing among skyscrapers

Everybody knows that cruising can give access to remote places, like tucked away bays or unpopulated islands. But it’s less known that living in your own boat can make it affordable to explore expensive cities.

It’s also less stressful, especially on a budget, to unwind in your own boat, than to be staying in a run down hotel, where you hear sounds through naked walls and wonder what the heck is going on.

The fee for the marina is not that much if you are, say, staying in the 79th Street Basin in Manhattan, New York, or just tied up along the quay in beautiful Porto, Portugal (where we had landlubbers asking if we really came all the way from Norway in “that little thing”).

photo: Henrik Nor-Hansen

Chicago was another big city highlight. We stayed in Monroe Harbor Marina, a friendly place with a good access to the city.

photo: Henrik Nor-Hansen

photo: Henrik Nor-Hansen

Finally we had to unstep the mast and use the outboard to the first lock, outside Chicago River. We passed through down-town Chicago in the early morning, straight through the most interesting cluster of modern architecture. It’s an experience that our little boat made possible.

photo: Henrik Nor-Hansen

Friday, 28 August 2009

The fox

As the fox passed our window early one morning, I grabbed the camera and went out, wondering why the fox was so unafraid.

The fox ran around me like a dog. Curious, playful, intelligent. There’s something alluring about friendly encounters with wild animals. It’s easy to think that you’re experiencing the world like it was meant to be.

Hunters and trappers will often claim nature as brutal, in order to have a moral right to do their own killing. I think it’s interesting when, say, wolf hunters get indignant at the way wolves hunt. But this discussion is not getting anywhere. I’ve met enough hunters to know when they start to circle their wagons of belief. I’m not against hunting, either; I’m against certain types of hunters.

The fox sat down and yawned. I guess it’d been a long night. Then he suddenly sensed something a couple of meters away. He arched over and dived down with the nose deep in the snow. Up came a lemming.

It felt like I'd gotten a friend for life, but we never saw this particular fox again. Maybe it got trapped. Maybe the fur hangs in the closet of a bourgeois woman. Or maybe the fox had more important things to do, than hang around with me.

The fox acted as it was tame, even domesticated, but it had probably never seen humans before. This is the alluring thing about encounters with truly wild animals; they sometimes act as if humans aren’t dangerous. They don’t know better.

Wednesday, 26 August 2009

The owls

One of the most common sounds in the dark, during our stay at Tapawingo, was the calls of the great horned owl. It sounded something like “hoho hoo-hoo”, and then it would be quiet for maybe 10-20 seconds, before the call was repeated.

The great horned owl is a big hunter, up to 1.5 meter wingspan, and highly skilled (as all the owls). I once saw a great horned owl early in the dusk; it just swept from the tree and down the cut line in front of me. The wings were almost touching the snow. It was remarkable how this huge bird could fly totally silent.

We never got a good picture of the great horned owl, and I was getting a bit obsessed, since we often could hear the calling at dawn. The first times I dressed quickly, but later I stopped, thinking “damn it, the bird will be gone anyway,” and undressed. The call would continue. Hoho hoo-hoo. I couldn’t listen to this for long. I dressed up again, grabbed the camera, and went out. The bird was gone.

It sounded like a couple was going to nest close by the cabin. We even found the tree. The owls swallow their smaller prey whole, and we could see the regurgitated nuggets of bone and fur, but up in the dense pine there was nothing.

Nina discovered the boreal owl; it was just sitting in the snow, like it was sick or injured. This is a small owl, rarely seen. It seemed to accept that I was crawling around in the snow for a good shot. But the eyes flared up in panic when our cat entered the scene. We managed to hold the cat, though.

A couple of hours later the boreal owl was gone. We couldn’t see any animal tracks around, and hoped the owl got better and flew away.

The owls are mysterious, and subjected to at lot of myths in medieval Europe. We once photographed the horned owl from a great distance, it didn’t turn out well, but after enlarging the picture we could see how the owl seemed to be without a head. It was flying headless. This, of course, has been taken for an incarnation of the dead: “There is a decapitated man flying in our yard!” They didn’t need horror movies in those days.

If eyes could kill. We saw this great grey owl on our way to High Level. There were several along the road.

Monday, 24 August 2009

Music and silence

You can listen to music for several reasons, but I’m into music for its silence. I’ve come to this conclusion after looking at my playlist. It’s not for dancing. It’s the kind of tunes that knows something about silence.

At Tapawingo I woke around 5 am, ate breakfast and started to write. I listened to music in my headphones and waited for the morning light. Then I went for a walk. It wasn’t for the exercise, but to stop and listen.

Henrik Nor-Hansen
We often say that snow is silent but it’s not. I’ve heard a recording of snow falling, amplified. The woods are not silent either. Just listen: there will be sound. Listen deeper: more sounds will appear. Music and silence have a lot in common.

The primeval forest is in a constant process of growth and decay. Branches are breaking under the weight of snow, in the wind, in temperatures going up and down. This kind of forest is noisy because it's alive.

Friday, 21 August 2009

Through the fog

We had some doubts when entering the oil sector of the North Sea. There are plenty of platforms and supply ships around, and normally you just have to eyeball yourself through it all.

But the patches of fog got more dense, the wind died out, and everything unfolded like a nightmare in slow motion. We had the radar reflector hoisted. I guess the dew forming on the sails helped a bit, too.

We could hear the deep coarse sounds of distant fog horns. This was serious ships. Our little canister just gave a muted fart. Nina shook it up a bit and that seemed to help, but still, this game would have to be settled on the radar. And we had none.

We got contact with a stationary supply ship over the VHF. They could see us, but we couldn’t see anything. The captain said we were heading straight at them. He then came up with a
surprise solution; he would move.

The picture is not as dramatic as it seems. It’s not from the North Sea, but from the channel outside Mobile, Alabama, the ship had reduced speed and a predictable course. But the dark grey wall appeared less than a hundred meter in front of us.

Radar is out of the question for our engineless little boat, but we’re considering AIS, after a slow bickering back and forth. We’re all taking our chances in life. But of course, the worst fog stories never get told.

Wednesday, 19 August 2009


An ocean belongs to no one, but a lake is an entity. It collects everything in the murky water.

Bistcho Lake surely had some kind of memory. The still surface was like an eye, and when the lake froze over it formed a lens. Then it started to snow. The lake was blind until the spring. We forgot about the lake and acted like it was a field.

But a native collected a huge chunk of ice. It was important that the ice should come from the middle of the lake. He meant to bring it to the medicine man, but instead he got drunk, and lost the ice and most of his belongings along the trail; "[...] in Wildness is the preservation of the World".

photo: Henrik Nor-Hansen
Henry David Thoreau is often misquoted on this particular saying. He never did write "in wilderness is the preservation of the world", but he used the word "Wildness", with a capital "W", in his famous essay Walking.

I'm not sure if I really understand what he meant. It's not as obvious as it first seemed to be. And I can't help thinking about the drunk man with a chunk of ice.

Monday, 17 August 2009

A blog for the masses

The blog passed 500 visitors this weekend. I was happy, until I realized that my own movements, my checking and double-checking, got counted as well. There’s hardly been any visitors at all.

It doesn’t take much surfing, in the world of blogs, to understand that the hottest issue is how to get the blog known on the web.

It seems like everything I have ever joined, or taken part in, has been (at least mentally) in this crusade for publicity. Even the chess club at school, the dingy racing, my short attempt at archery; they were all in a sort of vague crises.

When I published my first book, I really started to wonder about the silent reader. I believe the readers change every writer. Even if there are no readers.

Jean Baudrillard wrote In the shadow of the silent majorities: It’s time to call upon the ghost to make it reveal it's name. The web has made this book even more compelling. The masses exist and they exist not. Everywhere people are asked to step forward, to vote, to comment, to have their saying. But the masses are silent. The masses rule us in silence.

It’s the question a blogger shouldn’t ask: Am I writing this to myself? He really hopes for comments saying “Yes, you are”, more than no comments at all.

Friday, 14 August 2009

Ravens flying

The ravens started mating in April, and it turned out they chose Tapawingo and the surroundings as mating grounds. Or battle field. It may have had something to do with the fact that we dumped eight barrels of discarded fish, meant for wolf bait.

The snow was getting granular and sluggish as brown sugar. We started to see dark holes and open channels on the ice at Bistcho Lake, but we used the snowmobile anyway. The barrels were heavy. They also had a poignant smell, which of course would attract black bears, unless we could get it away from the cabins pretty quick.

photo: Henrik Nor-HansenThe ravens loved the fish. And they had more time fighting each other. The males would sometimes interlock their talons and swirl to the ground. But they would always release the grip before touch down.

The raven has one eye for genes and nature, and one eye for himself.

photo: Henrik Nor-Hansen
photo: Henrik Nor-Hansen

Wednesday, 12 August 2009

The ice

Bistcho Lake froze during one night, all the way to the horizon. And then it started a strange concert of deep electronic sounds, like something of the composer Arne Nordheim. It lasted for two days. There were no animal tracks near the lake.

Then the ice turned quiet. The eerie aching of growth was over.

I were cautious on the thin ice, and it creaked underneath, like some giant organism. I kept seeing icicles that resembled some sort of figure or animal. I returned the next day, but they were gone.

Monday, 10 August 2009

The killing of magic

We left Demopolis early in the morning. It was cold and crisp. The landscape appeared stunning in the frost smoke, with great egrets flying like ghosts.

But then we reached the first lock and the magic disappeared. The man in charge was in a terrible mood and started to scream over the VHF. I’m not going into details because there are none.

To go through a lock is a simple task. After a couple of locks it gets downright boring. But for the US Army Corps of Engineers it’s comparable to a landing on the moon; that’s the kind of attention they want, in order to feel that their work is important.

It comes down to this: Militant people don’t hate their enemies as much as they hate humanity, even within their own ranks, in the very barracks. They can’t stand diversity. That’s why they always dehumanize the environment in which they rule.

In general we passed through several locks without seeing humans at all, just a surveillance camera in every corner of the lock. I guess there were people behind the dark glass in the tower but I can’t tell for sure. Sometimes we heard a cold cartoon-like voice in the PA-system, ordering us to do so and so.

There was no point trying to be friendly with these guys. Friendliness seemed to be taken for sloppiness. If they got agitated the next couple of locks would be slow indeed, without any other likely reasons than as a punishment.

I got an understanding of conspiracy through these locks. But Nina, being more humane, refused to believe that the US Army Corps of Engineers were that crazy.

Friday, 7 August 2009

Slum and dignity

In Cartagena we decided to get involved with FundaciĆ³n Querido Amigo, a local organization that provides schooling for one of the many slums in the suburb. The kids also get a school uniform, and a meal a day.

For most of the kids this will be the only meal that day. Everything about the school is falling apart except the spirit. This community have come a long way.

photo: Henrik Nor-Hansen
photo: Henrik Nor-Hansen
photo: Henrik Nor-Hansen

The school is surrounded by a slum that’s lacking almost everything, everywhere. Whole families go to bed hungry. This is the kind of people you’ll see collecting plastic or glass or whatever. You’ll see them sifting through garbage.

You’ll see them pass through the aisle of the bus, in a hopeless attempt to sell chewing gum or candy for a small percentage. You’ll look away because you have to. There’s just too many of them.

We got together with other cruisers and held a fund raising in the marina. Hopefully this initiative will continue. The school is a huge success. You can see so much dignity in these kids' faces that you may wonder if they are really poor. You should have seen the slum they go home to.

Anybody interested can read further here

Wednesday, 5 August 2009

The heron

Down Illinois River we started to see the herons, with their eyes focused on the water below. The bird looks like it’s carved out from bleached sun-dried wood.

If compared to humans the heron is like a lanky academic in a grey suit. You don’t like him in a personal way, but have to respect that he’s sharp and serious in his field.

The herons seemed to have divided the river into exact portions among themselves. We passed them at regular intervals. Some of them were still as statues. Others got nervous and started to move their long thin beak, it was just a short movement back and forth, like a person who suddenly gets a whiff of something disgusting.

They always fled downstream and landed on the bank again. The situation would repeat as we came closer.

In Kentucky Lake and further down the Tenn-Tom Waterway, when it was getting really cold in November, the herons looked even more introvert.

The heron likes solitude. If disturbed in the dark he would scream like it was the worst thing ever.

Tuesday, 4 August 2009

Cape Verde

We had almost two months of gale, and a rough time sailing among the Cape Verde islands. The dust blows all the way from Sahara. The islands are often a bit hazy.

Maybe it’s the dust that makes the light so soft. When the sun was low it used the wavy hills like a earthen canvas. The shadows crept slowly over cliffs and rocks.

The highest islands had a thin layer of green foliage on the top, often with fog or clouds. From the boat we could see white buildings like crusts of salt in the mountains.

In the dark there were nothing. At anchor we slept with the strong trade wind shrieking. Bika heeled over in the gusts, like we were sailing.