Miles: Oh, Thoreau!January 26, 2011
- Went Cross-country skiing. Loved it. The falls are significantly less painful. There are beautiful tracks near Kringsjå, another student village.
- Did Laundry. Am now out about $10. Will now be wearing all clothing for a disgustingly long time.
- First Norwegian cold! My throat hurts like WOAH. Green Tea and my flatmate’s stash of Ricola throat drops are saving my life.
One of the courses I am taking this semester is a North American Studies class called “Restoring the Earth/Renewing Culture: Critical Evaluations of the Green American Tradition.” It is a course on Environmental studies and writings. Yes, you could argue that it is silly to take a course studying my own country when I am in the middle of a Scandinavian adventure, but having only had the class twice, I can already feel the value of the course.
First, I am getting to see the States from a Norwegian point of view. The professor, while American, skews his examples towards Scandinavia when providing comparison to North America. For example, when talking about forces that are pitted against the environment, we discussed Norwegian economy. (Norway’s primary export is Oil, and many in power argue that the country simply cannot ween itself off of oil when it is such a large part of the economic stability of the country. I will be researching more into this, as I think it is fascinating. I will report more later!) By being a part of a class studying a culture that I am more familiar with (but by no means an expert on), I am in fact learning more about their culture.
But more importantly, and perhaps the thing I am most excited about, I am learning about the role Nature can play in my life. In our first reading assignment, we were given selections of Thoreau’s journals and also his piece “Huckleberries” (which, I have learned, are blueberries. Blueberry Finn. Who knew?) My favorite quote out of the journals was part of a section where Thoreau was writing about how the Earth is always changing, but continues to remain vibrant—we shouldn’t ever think of things as “dying.” He writes: “decayed wood is not old, but has just begun to be what it is.” To think of Nature, especially in wintertime in Oslo, is always being at its fullest is an extremely helpful way to look at things. It turns winter into not the long wait for spring, but rather it’s own beautiful entity.
“Huckleberries” takes the idea of a huckleberry patch to discuss the way we are living—Thoreau breaks down class systems, the concept of property, and challenges “modern” (circa 1861) men to begin the process of restoring the environment around them. (My summary certainly doesn’t do the piece justice and I highly recommend looking into it.) For me, the part that resonated the most was when Thoreau talked about everything that we have to gain from Nature that cannot be captured when things like berries become commodities—concepts like inner peace, happiness, beauty. He argues that Nature is the most important part of any community, and that it should be cherished.
Thoreau’s ideas challenged me to think about the way I interact with Nature. Here in Oslo, a city with about half the population of the Twin Cities area, I have the opportunity to interact with a great deal of nature. I walk through a small wooded area to get to campus. Any time I approach the subway from my flat, I see Mountains in the distance. A short ride on the T-bane takes me up into the hills and surrounds me with trees. I can walk to Sognsvann, a beautiful lake circled by hiking/skiing paths and forest. As a student trying not to spend copious amounts of money, I have found Nature to be a simple yet stunning way to connect with my semester abroad. When I go for a walk or cross-country ski, I am not only experiencing Nature, but am truly experiencing Norway. This is why I am here—not to get drunk all weekend every weekend, not to shop at H&M, not to panic about final exams—to truly be here. I think I will find that connection in Nature.
Then I begin to think about “home”—whether that is Madison, Wisconsin or Minneapolis, Minnesota. How can I take Thoreau’s ideas and bring them back with me? At home I am accustomed to my routined way of life—and up until now, it hasn’t involved a ton of nature. Sure, I bike to class when it feels safe to do so, I go for walks, I visit Powderhorn Park and sit on the shore of Lake Monona, but can I take the feelings I get from the Nature in Oslo and apply them to the Midwest? It is a challenge I look forward too.
(Okay, that all sounded way more earthy-hippie than I had initially intended, but really, I think maybe it’s all at least a little true. I also think that there is a part of me that, because of growing up in mostly urban settings, has a weird pastoral fantasy that I have yet to fulfill. Chickens and vegetable gardens, I’m a-comin’ for you!)
Things I have learned:
ROUTINES WERE MEANT TO BE BROKEN. I have a limited amount of time in Norway. It would be so awful to get into a rut and not experience every inch of it all. Whenever I feel myself getting too settled or too comfortable, I try to find a way to push. So far, it has been a lot of fun.
MACHISMO SUCKS. REALLY. I MEAN, REALLY REALLY SUCKS. I never realized how fortunate I was to be attending college surrounded by men and women and everyone in-between who believe in gender equality and who constantly challenge themselves to not perpetuate sexism and male-dominance. I am trying to find balance between the cultural differences that I may be oblivious to and the unacceptability of having a sexist attitude towards the women around you. I am trying to remember a phrase we used in Central Touring Theater (the organization that I interned for all last year): “Seek to understand before you seek to be understood.“