fredag 30. november 2007

Two things that I miss that I didn´t know I´d miss

Cats and trees.

Let me explain. Cats aren´t allowed here because of the parasite that I´ve mentioned earlier. The parasite (Echinococcus multilocularis) that the introduced mice Østmarkmus carrie, and which a cat might catch - and then take back to the humans etc. Dogs are easier to control than cats, so they´re allowed (this doesn´t stop the Russians from keeping cats in Barentsburg, from what I´ve heard).

At home, we have a cat (Tobias, he´s the black one on the top, now lodging with a friendly neighbour, and probably forgetting us completely). Also, the area we live in in Bergen, Sandviken, is crowded with cats. I bet that since 1990, when I first moved there, I ´ve at least seen three cats a day. I´m not really a "cat person" - but I sort of look on them as an obvious part of my surroundings - and it´s strange NEVER seeing one.

Trees. The photo above is a detail from Fjellveien in Bergen, where I go walking a lot. The trees there are wonderful at any time during the year, and I never tire from admiring them.

There is a tiny plant around here that´s technically a tree, dvergbjørk, or betula nana, but frankly that´s not good enough. I want to hug a proper tree, not study it with a magnifier.

And stroke a cat. If it lets me.

But then again, it´s nice missing something. I´ll try to remember when I come back, and everything has become just ordinary again.

søndag 25. november 2007

Images from a dark town

I´ve little experience with photography in the dark - I don´t even have a tripod - but I quite liked these.

A couple of photos of the illuminated kibbstolpe in the centre of town (one of the towers used to support the cars that transported coal).

The main street, looking uptown.

The chimney at the power-station...

... and finally, a funny one from our neighbourhood. It wasn´t this much light - it´s the camera that compensates, somehow.

So - who needs the sun? ;-)

lørdag 24. november 2007

The adventures of the Frozen Five

No, the Frozen Five aren´t William and myself and our three exceptionally charming kids - we´re the Frozen Family. The Frozen Five is a group of five UNIS students from different places in Europe, who earlier this year crossed Spitsbergen on skis - first to the southernmost point, Sørneset, then to the northernmost point, Verlegenhuken - and then back to Longyearbyen. All in three months, and apparently just for fun.

Last night, at UNIS, they had a one-hour presentation - or I should say two of the five had. In excellent spirits and with lots of charm they told about their expedition - and left the audience very impressed. But there´s no reason for me to retell what they said, as they have a blog and a homepage, with pictures such as this underneath. Well worth a look!

And me, I´ll just sit for a little while and stare at the blazing sun on the photo. Its about one month until the sun turns, and I feel just a little desperate by the aspect of more than two more months of complete darkness. A little, I must admit.

tirsdag 20. november 2007

Looking back a century

Are you curious about what Longyearbyen looked like in earlier days? Or do you like chilly pictures in general? Norsk Polarinstitutt has collected 60000 new and old pictures from the polar regions - the oldest dating back as far as 1872. It´s worth a look.

These two are from the first settlement in Longyearbyen - which was located at Skjæringa, more or less where the church is now. The first is from 1908, when the Americans still ran the place.

The next one is from 1935, when the Norwegians (Store Norske Kullkompani) had taken over. It was on this muddy street that Siri from Svalbard ran around, I suppose.

This third on the right I don´t know the date of - but it gives an idea about what mining was like 50-60 years ago.

But - check it out for yourself. More pictures here.

lørdag 17. november 2007

Seed Vault for the Whole Wide World

Do you remember me mentioning the seed vault that´s being installed in the old Mine 3 here in Longyearbyen? I thought it´d be finished in September (because that´s what it said on the huge board next to the site), but it appears that it wasn´t finished until today. And as the Grand Opening with all the Big Shots will be on February 26th next year, I suppose even now it´s not quite ready. But us ordinary people living here were invited to come and have a peek at it today.

A crowd of ordinary, but curious people.

Thomas´first visit to a mine. Except it doesn´t look much like a mine anymore.

The construction streches about 150m into the mountain.

Inside one of the halls (there are 3 of them) - filled with empty shelves.

It´ll take about 20 years to fill one hall - I can´t remember exactly how many millions of seeds each will contain, but it´s quite a few.

The vault will be closed tomorrow, so the temperature can be lowered, slowly, until it reaches a stable -18C (now it´s about -5C) sometime in January. This temperature will slowly spread into the surrounding rock, so eventually the whole mountainside will be freezing cold. Which is a good thing, of course, as that guarantees freezing conditions no matter what happens (because of the permafrost, the temperature will never rise above -5C).

There´s so much more I could say about this project - but I´ll stop here, and point you towards some links instead, like here, here - and here. And loads of other places. By the way, the illustration at the top was nicked from this link.

The next you´ll hear about the seed vault from me will probably be in the end of February next year - there are some vague rumours that Leonardo diCaprio and Bill Gates (Gates has donated a huge sum to the project) will come to the opening - I wouldn´t miss it for the world!

And now, more mouse-news:

Yesterday, out walking in the dark, along the road towards Adventdalen, in the cold snow ... a little furry creature crossed the road right in front of us and scurried on across the field!

I´ve no idea whether this was an Østmarkmus, but I suppose it was. I´ve heard that they live in the insulation along the pipes - it seems there are more of them than I thought.

So next time I spot a mouse, I promise I won´t mention it.

mandag 12. november 2007

Back to the glacier, on skis

Yesterday the Frozen Family went back to Longyearbreen - in near darkness, on skis. A surprisingly nice trip, actually, despite the fear of lurking polar bears. It was far too dark to see one at a distance, darker than how it looks on the photos.

But as snow scooters kept whizzing past us (the trip up to the glacier is one of the most popular in town), we felt safe that any approaching bear would turn and walk in the other direction. The scooters are smelly and noisy, so under normal conditions I´d hate them, but as it was, they were kind of comforting.

Here´s three of them coming down the glacier.

And here´s Thomas admiring the view towards Longyearbyen.

Going down again, past Nybyen, Peter and I found a frozen mouse, and we were both very excited. No, we don´t have extremely boring lives - in fact, it is pretty special to find a mouse around here. Mice aren´t a natural part of the Svalbard-fauna, and as far as I know there is only the Østmarkmus (the one carrying parasites) that has been able to establish themselves here (we didn´t touch it!). And they live near Grumant, not here.

It could be a small rat, I suppose, there are some in the buildings by the shore. But this was in Nybyen, three kilometers upvalley.

Anyway, we put it in a plastic bag and took it home, and I´ve sent this picture to the Governor´s (Sysselmannen) office, in case they want to know about it.

I promise to give you all an update about this amazing event later!

I don´t think we´re going to ski to the glacier again, this side of New Year. But as there are some good tracks within Longyearbyen, brightly lit, we´ll be able to do a lot more skiing, if we like. And we like.

Update on mouse

Aha! Sysselmannen asked very kindly if I could deliver the deceased mouse to their office. Being a good citizen I did so immediately. It is now in the competent hands of one of their biologists, and I have a small hope to get an update myself about the creature, that is, cause of death, how it got there, whether it was infected with parasites ...

The biologist was pretty sure it was an Østmarkmus (Microtus rossiaemeridionalis in latin, Sibling vole in English) because of the hairy tail. So they´re not only in Grumant, it seems.

The cutest thing on Svalbard.

torsdag 8. november 2007

When it gets REALLY dark

So what makes Longyearbyen tick? I know, I´ve asked this fundamental question before, and yeah, it´s still the coal. But what is it the coal generates?

Electricity. Abundance of electricity for the lightbulbs and heaters and ovens and kitchen gear and TV and radio and computers. And almost everything else. So what happens when the electricity disappears? Like last night?

In a place like Longyearbyen, after an hour or so, when the first thrill about all the stars you can see, and the northern lights that suddenly are visible, then you start to wonder. What would happen if the power failure lasted for a while, like one day, two days, or three? How long before we´d have to be evacuated?

It didn´t last more than three-four hours, and parts of the town got the power back long before us. But it reminded us how far away from everything we are, and how cold and dark the outside is.

And today, I bought an armful of candles. And a new torch.

tirsdag 6. november 2007

Thomas in the mine-tunnel

I have received permission from my youngest son to publish his recent work, "Thomas in the mine-tunnel" (Thomas pocket no 1)

Thomas is out for a walk in the night.

But then...

Ouch! Where am I?

In a mine-tunnel!

Where´s the exit?

Later..... Moonlight! I found the exit

There´s even a staircase here

The end.

Kjartan Fløgstad, eat your heart out!

søndag 4. november 2007

A kind of daylight

Being a newbie in these parts, I can´t help being awestruck by the pink-and-blue light of this season. Complete darkness will be upon us in only a few days, so these last hours of "daylight" seem very precious.

These were taken around 12 o´clock a few days ago. The sun disappeared beneath the horizon late in October. Already today it´s been a lot darker.

So - good night, everyone.

torsdag 1. november 2007

More on mining

Having read Kjartan Fløgstad´s book about mines (and suggested that we stop mining Svalbard altogether), I´ve had the pleasure to read the book "Siri fra Svalbard" by the Danish writer Estrid Ott, which offered a more romantic view on the subject.

Now, I would classify "Siri fra Svalbard" as a typical "pikebok", a book from the first part of last century which is suitably dramatic, funny and romantic for a girl the age between 12 and 18. I think Evy Bøgenæs (1906-1985) is a good representative for the Norwegian-style pikebok - books about ordinary girls around 16-17 years, who end up getting engaged to the galant/sporty/sensible/handsome/kind hero. Which invariably is the End of Story.

"Anne of Green Gables" by Canadian Lucy Maud Montgomery is another, well-known example - the books about her continue beyond marriage and even tell the story about her daughter (I seem to remember that those were the boring ones).

Siri, who lives in Longyearbyen sometime just before World War 2, is 14 years old and has no interest in boys. She is, however, very interested in mining and spends a lot of her time in mines with her father the mining-engineer. The book also offers descriptions on activities like hunting, driving dog sledges and being onboard an icebreaker. And meeting a herd of muskox (they were introduced by humans in 1929 and lasted until around 1960). But mining is what interest Siri the most, so much that she is determined to become a mine-worker herself. Not an easy choice for a girl in the 1930´s, but a brave one.

I see that I sound a bit ironic - that´s unfair, really, as the book is both engaging and sweet. It describes a child´s life on Svalbard rather romantically, but still it seems genuine. It´s interesting from a historic point too - for instance, her description of the "new" town that´s being built upvalley is interesting to read, as a lot of those buildings are almost gone today (but those that are left are still called "the new town"- Nybyen). Also, she explores a Swedish mining settlement, deserted because of a burning mine, that I suppose is Svea today.

This is not a book to get hold of through the usual channels, like shops - I borrowed this copy from the local, excellent library (it was recommended to me, otherwise I´m sure I´d never have discovered it). Pikebøker like these are seldom printed again, as they´re certainly not the fashion anymore.

I suspect this isn´t a big loss for humanity, but in sentimental moments I return to the old copies, and look up the favourite passages. I´m sure quite a few women out there know what I mean!