27 July 2010

Norway fieldwork

"What would you say if I withdrew you from the Norway fieldwork?" A reasonable question. I would be sad anytime a trip to Norway would slip out of my hands, but the Norwegian fileldwork was really bonus. My field areas are in Iceland, the UK, the US and Canada. So why go to Norway? We are a small research group, and we help each other out. I also went to Portugal to help out Wil. Rob came with us to the Isle of Wight when I was still recovering from an tendonitis. And the fieldwork in Norway, that would be a big and important one; both Rob's and Wil's projects leaned heavily on it, but a month is a long time to be away. Rob, who is young and reckless, can do that, but the rest of us, especially Roland, are too busy/expensive/needed at home for that. So all three of us would come in for a part of the time. Rob and Wil would drive all the way from Plymouth to Harstad and start the fieldwork; then Roland would fly in; then after a week I would swap with Roland, and a week later still Wil would fly out, and then Rob and I would drive all the way back. Can't let a gentleman do that alone. It was all agreed on, but then Roland saw the price tag. And asked the question stated above. Too late, though! All bookings had been made.

I of course could not resist popping by in Tromsø when I would be so near, so that explains the previous blogpost. I had a great week in Tromsø with my old friends, but the time inevitably came to take the Hurtigbåt to Harstad, where Rob would pick me up. I walked from the Hurtigbat quay to the parking lot, looking for dark British cars, when I saw a silhouette moving in something that might be just that. Rob! It was good to see him again, and a small relief since we had figured out my phone refused contact with him. But it had worked out!

My goodbye to Tromsø: the Hurtigbåt

We had some errands to accomplish, and it was quite a drive, so we had time to catch up. The work was going quite well! And over pretty Lofoten we drove to a camping on a fjord head, where we met Wil. We had time for a quick lunch, and then we were off! They had worked hard ever since they set off from Arundel, and they did not plan to stop now. Into the field! They had cored a transect, and wanted more. We first had to get past the road works though; there was only one road to our marsh, of course, and they were repairing it at countless places, and we were stuck waiting for a while until big diggers and bulldozers had thrown enough gravel in a deep hole so we could pass.

Our view for a while! And I want a digger like that...

We got there, in the end. So we cored on! As it was not my fieldwork they were chivalrous enough to do the coring themselves, while I wrote the notes. And we nailed a transect more. Not bad for a day that started so early (Rob had driven Roland to the airport in the middle of the night, and had not had more than a quick kip in the car since) but ended up in the field so late. It did not rain the entire time, and we had a herd of reindeer play tag on the other side of the tidal channel. I’ve never seen them so frivolous!

Wil and Rob set up the GPS

The reindeer before they started playing tag
It was evening by the time we left the field, and then we had to pass that road again. We trained our patience. At home Rob cooked a great (of course) meal, after which I looked at some sediment, and went to bed. Rob, who had some business with the data collected in the field, came up later... this was going to be one of these early up, late in bed, very exhaustive fieldworks, by the looks of it.

Rob working hard after a long day in the field

The next morning we wanted to be on our marsh in time to catch the high tide, so we were off before 8. And this day we rocked. We set up the GPS, cored yet another transect, cored with the big barrel too to take some sediment home, which meant that Rob had to jump on the core handle a lot, which is exhausting; surveyed the whole lot, took surface samples, dug a monolith pit, which meant Rob was getting down and dirty, took monoliths, dug another monolith pit, with Rob getting even wetter and filthier and sweatier and more exhausted, took more monoliths, and carried all the stuff back to the car. All in continuous rain. We managed all this before 7, which was good; the day had been long enough as it was, and this way we had a sense of achievement. We had to wait extra long for the road work guys, but we got home before 9, where we hung out Rob’s wet clothes (he had worked hardest and dirtiest, and in the least waterproofs), and then did all necessary things as cooking, processing data, repacking monoliths and the lot. I got to bed before midnight...

Just a pretty picture of a wet plant (Rhinanthus serotinus, to be precise)

Rob jumping a large barrelled corer into the ground

Can't go without a band pic!

Our marsh at high tide

The ladies' room

Rob getting close to science

Our view for a while, after a very long day in the field... what can you do.

The next morning we got up a bit later. Luckily; the men were close to exhaustion. Today we would core an isolation basin. The idea of these is that they are a sort of valleys with a sill at the lower end, and with high sea level they would be submerged. If sea level drops they get cut off, and become lakes or ponds, and may get filled in. If you can date the moment they got cut off from the sea you have a sea level index point. And if you have several you can do a rough reconstruction of sea level behaviour in the region. And we wanted to do that. Roland had, while still with this fieldwork, identified a series of small isolation basins, and they had already done some preliminary coring. We would do this properly.

Our alleged isolation basin was overlooked by a raibowy peak when we got there

In good weather we set up the GPS, and started coring. Coring is damn hard work, and it involved a lot of a tired Rob jumping up and down on the core handle to get it down. And if you want to take the sediments home it gets worse; then you need a bigger and bulkier gauge. In the meantime the weather got colder and wetter. We went from the upper alleged basin down to the sill of the lower. We did not see what we wanted to see, though. And standing in the bog in the pouring rain at the presumed sill we poked it with metal bits, and decided it wasn’t a proper sill, but just a lumpy ridge of coarse glacial sediments. Useless! A day wasted, basically. So we decided to survey all of that in, and then bugger off, to think of our next move. And at the last point of interest the GPS refused. Great. We were off...

Setting up the GPS in the sun...

...and taking it down in the rain.

This day we would eat out. Nice! Someone else to do the cooking and the dishes. And the camping a pub/restaurant also had wireless. Rob managed two main courses before having dessert. And this time we manage to be in bed early.

Rob attacking his second plate of deer stew

The next day was moving day; the cabin we were in was booked by somebody else, so we would move to something that was better, but also further away. Rob would work in the field while Wil and I did the moving, which had us drive from the rain to the sunshine, and that sunshine would not leave us that day! When we were done we joined Rob and rooted around in the mud some more before going to our new accommodation. Roomy, great view, drying room, bed sheets, all you could want! And wireless internet. Good for nerds. And good for the phoneless; my phone had been a bit erratic the last days, but now it refused any service. Not practical!

The view from the balcony of our new place - not bad!

I cooked a meal, trying to use up as many of the tins of food Wil had bought on the way to Norway as emergency food; I managed 7 tins, which was half. It turned out quite a good chilli! We even finished it. Then it was time for some nerding on the couch. Try internet, watch some TV, that sort of things. I am not too fond of ogling random nonsense so when I was done with what I wanted to do online I went to bed, leaving two zombies in front of the TV.

The next morning, as glorious as the previous afternoon, we would first check out another marsh the men had found, so we drove all the way, and had a look. Rob had his doubts, but we went to the nearest house to ask for permission anyway. An amiable old lady opened the door, and told me the story of her life. In between all the decennia of adventures I managed to squeeze in the permission question, which was hampered by probably both my pronunciation and her hearing; I said we were interested in the “myr”, and it took me a while to convince her it was not a “mur” I was after. But we found out whose it was, what he used it for, and where he lived. Rob, however, decided against it; it did not have a good low marsh, and the higher bits had been disturbed for hay making. So we drove off, and focussed on the two marshes we had already worked on. Then the usual drive home, meal, internet, bed.

Pretty flower on the marsh we abandoned

Photogenic green crab in "the" marsh

Lots of gastropods seeking higher ground

The other marsh we worked on. Lovely view!

I was there too!

The beds were really comfy! I want to take one home. So I woke refreshed to a somewhat cloudy day, had some coffee, and waved the men, who would do some last field things, goodbye. I had a very useful morning drinking coffee, blogging, washing some clothes, categorising fieldwork pictures, sending useful emails, and finishing my taxonomy attempt, until the men returned. I'm getting the hang of this! No more do rustsivaks, flatsivaks and pollsivaks (I use a Norwegian flora) have any secrets for me! I think. Anyway. The men returned, with half a marsh (Wil is known for not holding back when it comes to quantity) and we started packing. We properly wrapped all the material; some of it had been only preliminarily wrapped in the field, and some had been done in the pouring rain which is not good for labelling or the adhesive quality of tape, so we had some improvement to do. And then the cleaning and packing and whatnot.

Packing on the veranda

Rob cooked us a Goodbye Wil dinner, after which it soon was bed time. In the middle of the night I heard Rob drive away to deliver Wil to the airport. The initial idea had been that the next day would be rest, which Rob dearly deserved, but there had been an order from the Boss himself we should go to the most remote marsh, and set up a benchmark there, for later use. But that would be more than 2 hours driving, setup, 4 hours calibrating, and then more than two hours back. There goes your day of rest! But so be it.

Rob and I are an excellent team, so we had quite a relaxed last field day. The weather was nice too, so I had a pleasant stroll over the marsh while Rob was working in the car. Wil had texted some last request for a sample from that marsh, but that was a bit late as we had only loaded GPS equipment. So that did not go very well, and then it was a wrap! We drove home, loaded the car back up, which was a bigger challenge than I had expected: it’s a massive car, but Wil’s sampling strategies tend to focus on quantity, and so does his packing of private stuff, so the car almost went through its suspension when we had chucked it all in. Ah well. We’d see how that would go. But now it was time for some last internet, and then beer and relaxation! And tomorrow back to beloved Tromsø!

So how will I remember this fieldwork? I don't know yet! It was a strange one in the sense that I was only an extra pair of hands. But so was I in Portugal. In Portugal, however, I had pulled all my weight, worked myself intro exhaustion, made important decisions, and I had learned not to do that again. So now I was a proper assistant. In that way you learn less, but you keep your energy for your own work afterwards. And this fieldwork could do with someone with some energy to spare... and by being the outsider you do observe people as they are without your interference. And beside the psychology and the geography, I just had a chance to be in my beloved Norway! And it was beautiful!

20 July 2010


From time to time I looked out of the plane window to see if Norway could already be discerned, but never did my eye meet more than clouds. And then we descended into them, and all was blurry. And then, in an instant: the surroundings of Tromsø, clear as glass just below me. My heart jumped.

Helgard was waiting for me. Hadn't seen her in a year! And her driving me home in the good old Subaru through the oh so familiar roads of Tromsø was enough to make me silly in the head. This place has shaped me so much. We caught up over a cup of tea until it was bedtime.

The next morning I did what I tend to do at Helgard's: change bicycle tyres! I'm always welcome to use a bicycle, but they themselves use them so little they tend to always have the tyres that do not match the season. This time it was Carsten's bike I handled, as he was at sea, and didn't need it himself. And then we were off to NP! The first thing Helgard did was lock herself out, but the receptionist saved her, and we could go up to the 6th floor. It's July, and all of Norway is normally on holiday in that month, but left and right familiar faces showed up! Nalan was there, and Tjarda, and Dierk, and Kirsty... Arto even spoke of possible future collaboration. That would be nice! I found pictures on the wall of Dorthe and myself. I was all excited. I then went on a little round and met so many more people I wanted to meet. I miss them!

With Tordis!

The pictures in NP's corridor - and that's me!

By coincidence I had picked the day of the sacrificial feast lunch to show up at my old employer’s, which was, despite the name, a very calm and peaceful event. The rest of the afternoon was spent again on meeting people. Unfortunately not meeting those from Statens Kartverk; they might be able to help us with the fieldwork, but their part of the building was dark and empty. But there were other things to do, and soon it was beer o'clock, and we went into town. Just before we went I suffered a small shock; there had been no sign of Tana, which suited me fine, but then suddenly there she was, in the corridor. It's more than a year ago she threw my friendship back into my face, but still, my heart raced and my neckhair stood up. These things seem to fade only slowly. But I managed to utter something polite. And then we were off. Max, who hadn't been in town the last time I was here, joined us too, to my great delight.

Surrounded by Germans!

The next day would be good weather, so we (being Max, Tjarda, Helgard and me) would go on a hike. We had picked a nice modest walk on Kvaløya, and we would take the good old Subaru to get there. But it didn't have its day, and  Helgard steered it through town cursing and swearing, while the engine stalled again and again. And again. I didn't dare drive it! Once I was the specialist in all its quirks, but these days are over. At a turn out of town it stalled again, and Helgard steered it to the side, to let other people pass while she would kick it back to life. But a combination of the loss of powersteering and the increasing stress made her vulnerable to the dangers of the ditch beside the road... however, less than an hour later we were on the road again. We would not be stopped! And we had a lovely walk to a beautiful lake and back, and in spite of the wavering car were home in time for welcoming Carsten with a barbecue on the balcony.

Barbecue with only cheese!

I was not sure what to do the next day. Try Statens Kartverk again? But Sanja was up for another hike! Luckily, Helgard is online, and my mailbox told me Kartverket would be willing to assist me on Monday. My hands were free!

At Sanja's place I first met Lumo, her housemate's dog, who brought us slippers when we walked in, and then Marika, the actual housemate. We first had a coffee with smalltalk, and then we were off. Within 5 minutes of the walk Lumo, who is a trained dead-sheep-finder, had killed himself a bird, and half an hour later he found a stick, or rather, half a tree, but we wouldn't throw it for him, to his great dismay. Sanja then promised to throw any dead sheep he might find. Dangerous promise! But we sooner found a good lunch spot. And no dead sheep that day. It was an idyllic walk, which for me was a bit of a painful pleasure, as this used to be my back garden, and is no more. It's so unspeakably beautiful! But one day I might return.

After returning Sanja and I made a big pan of pasta, while Marika went looking for mussels. She instead came back with her boyfriend, some fish and some wine, and it was very cosy, as it always is at Sanja's place. But there was also tomorrow, and for the first time ever I took the bus back from Dagtun. I never before ended up separated from my (borrowed) bike like that before!

In the weekend we would do a longer trip, that is, longer in time, not necessarily longer in distance. Sanja could join, but only after doing some preparations for a trip to Summit Station on Greenland she would initially have embarked on, but had to decide against, so we had agreed to meet in the early afternoon at Tjarda's. There we would wait for Sanja to be ready, and to drive us to the start of the hike, in her car that actually worked (unlike the Subaru). Before that Helgard and I had some time to buy food and such, and I also bought a book on coastal flora; I had received a message from Rob they needed that for the fieldwork. And a local used books shop had just what we need!

At the start of the trail we found - of course- another NP amployee, who proposed to take a picture of all of us: me, Max, Tjarda, Helgard, Sanja

The beach of choice, with a view on Vengsøya

Some time later Sanja, Max, Helgard and we threw our bags onto the beach of choice and contemplated the surroundings. Sanja and I wanted to go for a walk, so we picked the neighbouring hilltop, and set off. This involved very sweaty struggling through steep woods, and beig harrassed by all sorts of flying critters. Above the tree line the struggling through woods ended, and the sweat and the insects only increased. Near the top we found a pond, and were unable to resist the cool it would offer, and the protection against insects, so we laid down in it. Lovely! I felt a bit like a water nymph. Sanja then decided to walk to the top entirely naked, but I'm not so tough, so I first got dressed. The view was amazing.

The pond we couldn't resist - but who could?

Coming back to the camp we found only Max; Helgard and Tjarda had gone on some clamber, and we tried to start a fire. Everything was wet, so that was not easy. But we we rejoined by the ladies, cooked dinner, drank multe-wine and beer, and by then we had managed to get a proper campfire going. Just looking out over the sea, talking among friends that are still friends, even after a year of absence, was great.

We woke up to the sound of rain. Max said his tent was big enough for all to have breakfast in, and he would make pancakes! So we scurried in, only to see him bake some blobs, and give up. Bad pan for pancakes. But we also had porridge! When that started to smoke we decided on packing up, and having another try at breakfast at Tjarda's place, and so we did. It was properly pissing down, but we had a cosy breakfast at 2 in the afternoon with actual Max-made pancakes! End well all well.

With the rain still hammering down I did not feel like going all the way to tromsdalen, only to come back soon after to the top of Tromsøya, so I thought of going to NP, blogging a bit, and then going to Rafael where I would have dinner. Tjarda however invited me to stay; at her place I could blog as well, and it would be cosier! So I did, until it was time to go Rafaelward. He and Rike hadn't changed, but their son had turned into a tireless giant. More tireless than themselves, of course.

That night I did some quite necessary laundry, and the next day Helgard and I drove to NP. Next to the institute there's a garage... hopefully they would have time for the old Subaru. I wanted to hunt aerial photographs for the fieldwork. Kartverket directed me to an online source, for which NP would have a login. That helps! The garage didn't, though. But soon we had something else on our minds: dinner at Tordis'! Always nice.

View from Tordis' house

The next day was my last chance for a walk. It rained, and would for hours, but as I said, it was my last chance, so I took it. Just modestly up Fløya with Helgard. And then on without Helgard. Before I knew it I was trying to keep my balance in the strong wind, chastised by horizontal rain, taking pictures of snow fields. The other face of Troms summer! It couldn't always be T-shirts on the beach. But it was beautiful.

Then it was time for lunch, a shower, checking email, finding out I had to go to NP to see if I could get my hands on some aerial photographs the men wanted, and going to Arto. The photographs worked out thanks to the only one present at Statens Kartverk: a Zimbabwan of English descent! Who would have thought. Then Arto and his family offered me a lovely last supper, and introduced me to his son, version 2.0 (the walking and talking version, whom I had not met yet); he's not a real Fin, as within 3 minutes he was stealing my nose and within 5 minutes he was using me as an assault course. In case I would indeed work with Arto in the future I practised my Finnish, and had a generally good time, but then it was time for my goodbye beer in town. I had organised that embarrassingly badly, so we were with no more than 4, but it was good 4! And in that way I had a farewell. And around midnight I was back at Helgard's for a last cup of tea and a last night, as the next morning the taxi would be there at 6.15...