Friday, July 27, 2018


The Tree of Life

Waking up at 5:30 in the morning to the dying screams of a fawn leaves me standing at the window with sorrow knowing there is nothing I can do. I watch the small group of deer at the top of the hill where they normally spend the night. They are restless and running back and forth. I hear the crows excitedly cawing and unreasonably hope it is one of theirs. And then the lone coyote slips down the hill and quietly jumps the fence.

Later, I look for the fawn, hoping that the screams were just the "che che" of a fawn anxious for its mother. But, no, the fawn is dead, already wet from the sprinklers, stretched and gutted by the predator. The morning events remind me of the news stories this spring of whale watchers on Monterey Bay aghast as Orcas slipped by mother Grey Whales, corralled and killed their babies, filling the ocean with bloody water.

We are not used to such terror or viseral sightings in suburbia. But we are more and more encroaching on wild land, which means these sights are more common. We remind ourselves this is part of nature. Kill or be killed. Starve or eat. But that doesn't make the sight of death any easier.

Our backyard is usually a sanctuary. We have hosted deer and their fawn over the years, raccoons have given birth and raised families under our deck, a jack rabbit snips at flowers and then bounds up our hill, skunks waft through looking for mates, birds of all kinds feed at our feeders and drink from the fountain. But sometimes, nature appears at its most cruel. A mother deer died trying to give birth at the top of the hill. The animal control person who collected the body for us reminded me that deer do not have veterinarians or hospitals to assist them. A butterfly fell at my foot, beautiful just barely alive. Birds raid other birds' nests and leave broken eggs and feathers strewn on the ground.

This morning's abrupt awakening lingers with me and reminds me of the closeness of life and death. I  stand over the spot where we buried the fawn and thank it for giving us a brief view of its short, joyful life as it would bound over our fence each morning with its mother to go out to search for food.

Friday, July 20, 2018


Have you ever gone to a place where your first impressions help you define the character of  that area? Maybe in the Southwest or Hawaii?

The western side of Norway, which is mountainous, separated by deep fjords, with farms clinging to the steep grades, conjures up stories of giants leaping across mountain tops, gnomes snuggling together for warmth in barns and offering protection to isolated farm families, and trolls hiding under waterfalls and bridges.  Stories aside, the images of gigantic stones, water, and cleanliness created an impression of the character of Norway.

Rugged Norway

Stone: Mountains of stone, walls, foundations, fences, roofs, sculptures.  
Timber: Heavy logs used for houses, buttresses to hold up slate roofs, neat stacks for fencing
Tunnels: To connect one side of a mountain to another, the Norwegians have bored tunnels as long as 10 miles through the mountains, including one with a roundabout separating two roads. In the middle of the tunnels are stops with colored lighting to give drivers a break.

Uredahl, a good source for brown goat cheese. Across the fjord is a farm on a steep hill.

Stones carved for implements

Stones supporting a house

log buttresses

logs cut to fit tightly together to keep out weather

Strong slate roof in Voss 

Stone sculpture by Gustav Vigeland.
Part of the Vigeland Scupture Park in Frogner Park, Oslo

One of the many long tunnels inside the Norway mountains.

Water-filled Norway

Surrounded by seven hills and seven fjords, Bergen, a seaport, is the gateway to the fjords. Look in the town for a long, low building where rope used to be made. If you think about the length of rope needed on sailing ships, you will understand how long the building needed to be.*

We saw waterfalls all along the way from Bergen to Flam. Near Mrydal, one of the ancient stories came to life as a spirit danced high above us beside the waterfall. Sounds hoky, but the performance was so unexpected and far away that it felt dream-like instead. The spirit is a member of the Norwegian national ballet company.

Clean, Colorful Norway

Clean: The outside of houses, the streets without trash, show an innate sense of design, organization, and orderliness (Maybe learned from stacking and sculpting all those rocks?)
Colorful: Many buildings are painted red, shades of green, mustard yellow or white. Because of moderate temperatures in the summer, flowers flourish everywhere.

Friendly Norway

"Hei, hei!" were the first words I heard from the Norwegian flight attendants as we boarded the plane to Oslo.  Everywhere we went, we were met with friendly smiles, even at the beginning of the tourist season as huge cruise ships anchored at stops along the fjords.

Brother and sister guides at Hallingdal Folke Museum

The Dozens of Cousins from the U.S. and Norway have dinner together

I came home full of stories about a visit to Norway and with a glimpse of how the character of Norwegians has developed from the land they live on.  Have you been to a place where the countryside shows you the spirit of its people?


If you are in Nesbyen, which is a ski resort town and a good place to reach hiking trails, check out Guesthouse Hagaled Gjestegard:

*If you are interested in how rope is made, watch this video:

Friday, July 13, 2018


In the middle of hot July, in the middle of Watercolor Month, I remind myself of the decree: paint one watercolor a day for a month. A good challenge, but easy to become overwhelmed if I try too hard to "make a painting." I remind myself that I have done the same practice for a year with calligraphy. I set aside a half hour each day to work on the Chancery Cursive alphabet. I've followed Julia Cameron's advice from The Artist's Way to write morning pages each day. In both cases, practice worked for me. I think I'm better at writing and calligraphy now. I just have to set aside a half hour a day and  also my own expections of what I will produce.

Various palettes
 using both Kuretake
 and Prang pan watercolors

In the middle of hot July, in the middle of Watercolor Month, I decided to experiment with a collection of Kuretake pan watercolors. I'm used to painting with watercolors from tubes, but I have three trays of Kuretake just waiting to try. The paint is creamier than most pan watercolors, but it still takes practice to learn how much paint and water to pick up in my brush. I found some of the colors, especially the blues and violets, to be quite staining, which means I had to work fast around the edges to soften them.

The violet in the background hills dried too quickly

I started by making several palettes of places following Mimi Robinson's guiding idea from her book, Local Color. There are several good books including Robinson's that showcase palettes of color. They are beautiful to look at and a way to see how one color can change completely when mixed with another.

Then I graduated to simple landscapes on small paper using ideas from Huntley Baldwin's book, Local Color: Jackson Hole in Words & Watercolor.

All of these practices are similar to meditation: taking time to focus, being in the moment, and listening to the quiet. None of these paintings will see the light of day in a gallery or book. They are practice only. They are a way to center myself without expending too much energy. They are a way to let go of my inner critic and play.

I have heard from so many people, "Watercolor is hard," and it can be. But these small paintings and palettes are a good way to take the first step. Sometimes I end up cutting them up and repositioning the pieces into another picture to remind myself they are just practice.

Check out Mimi Robinson's website and her book, Local Color:

Two other good watercolor palette books that I found at Barnes & Noble. They tend to go in and out of stock at both B&N and Amazon:

600 Watercolor Mixes by Sharon Finemark:  at Amazon,204,203,200_QL70_&dpSrc=srch

Watercolor Painters Pocket Palette By M. Clinch

Kuretake watercolors are manufactured in Japan. They also make Zig markers and other calligraphy supplies. Check them out:

Friday, July 6, 2018


At the Voss Folkemuseum in Voss, Norway
Thirteen cousins and spouses stood in a small dark room. The chimney overhead was the only light. The room, 30 feet by 30 feet at most, was the home of two Norwegian farming families in the 1300s. Fifteen to twenty people shared the room as well as the tasks to keep the farm on a steep hill running.

Fast forward, after the Black Plague that killed half the population, to the 1800s where Norwegian farmers' children had less and less land to divide between them. The United States offered them another chance to prosper. Over a period of 100 years, 800,000 Norwegians, out of a population of 2 million, went across the Atlantic, first to Canada, then mostly to Minnesota, and acquired homesteads to start a new life. My grandfather was one of those people. At 15 he traveled to meet his older brother Olaf who had given up his rights to the family farm to pursue a career as a Lutheran pastor.

Peter Heimdahl family

Olaf Heimdahl (Olsen)

It is hard to imagine what life would have been like living in the dark farm house in the 1300s. Just as hard to understand how someone could leave everything they knew to come to a strange country with little or no contact with family back home.

My grandfather never went back to Norway. His children returned once to meet distant relatives. Now the grandchildren repeated the journey to reconnect with Norwegian cousins. The tour include something for everyone: closer relationships with cousins who have spread out all over the U.S., hiking trails for some, stacks of photos and documents about our ancestors, samplings of Norwegian food (as well as hamburgers), a stop at a railroad museum for antique engine buffs, photographic moments for Bill, and enough travel misadventures for me to collect for future stories.

One of our stops, Sletta, a small town on the western side of Norway, made us realize again how important America and its fundamental values are to other people all over the world. At the invitation of people from North Dakota, a group of people from Sletta traveled to Brampton in 1997. They disassembled several emgriant-built structures, nail by nail, packed them in crates, and shipped them back to Norway to assemble them again on the farmland slopes where the emigrants came from.

Buildings returned to Sletta from North Dakota built by Norwegian emigrants 

We listened to Asbjorn Ystebo, the man most responsible for the Western Norway Emigration Center. He was passionate about the importance of American inspiration, ingenuity, and values. He talked of the people who started on homesteads, became farmers, doctors and lawyers and prospered, contributing so much to our country. Ystebo spent college time in the U.S. and truly loves what America means. His talk was a good reminder of our American ideals. His talk is a good reminder how people in other countries hold America in such high esteem. We could all benefit from listening to his lesson.
Want to know more about the Black Plague:
or a more scholary essay:

Updates:  The Lafayette Library is requesting postcards from everywhere you travel this summer. You can send them to Lafayette Library, 3491 Mt. Diablo Blvd., Lafayette, CA 94549

FB rock group: I just found out that whole communities on Facebook are abandoning rocks with the intention that the rocks will be picked up, redecorated, and left in a new place for someone else to find. Paint a rock and post it to Facebook! But one request: leave them in inhabited areas not in wild places.