incredible.

•April 6, 2014 • 2 Comments

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When I moved to Visby, I was like, woohoo, this is pretty cool, it’s sunny and I live in a UNESCO World Heritage Site. But I didn’t really figure out just how cool it was until this weekend, when instead of having to go to work (BORING, amiright?) I was able to explore a little bit.

I mean, there were hints. For instance, this is the street I live on:

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And the running isn’t bad here either. This is just a 15-minute jog from my house:

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But on Saturday, I packed my bag to head to the university for the internet (I don’t have it in my flat, meaning I spend a lot more time reading and listening to podcasts, which I’m quite happy about), and was determined to take the long route, camera in hand.

This is the other side of that city wall on my street:

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It was quite a lovely way to start a walk.

I usually always take the same route to and from the university. It takes about seven minutes, and there is one alternate route about the same length. So I’ve seen one side of the medieval part of the city. What I didn’t realize that rather than being, say, one half of the walled snclosure, it was actually just a fraction of it. The old city is much much larger than I had previously realized. The walls are very extensive. I explored them.

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And then, eventually, I went inside.

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Amidst the cobbled streets and the small, cute old houses, there is a ton of history here. I mean, no duh: it’s a UNESCO World Heritage site. But I didn’t realize quite how much that meant. My corner of the city has mostly houses in it. This other side? There were the houses, but also a lot of much older things. There’s one cathedral which is maintained, beautiful, and still in use.

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There are many, many others which are unmaintained, beautiful, and not in use. Okay, unmaintained is not a fair characterization. They have been fixed up quite a bit. But they don’t have roofs. They are falling down, or rather they were falling down and have now been frozen in one point of the falling-down process, fixed at a certain amount of fallen-down-ness. Some have grass growing on what little roof remains. And they are open to go inside – but only from May through the summer, so I couldn’t wander in and look up at the sky through the roof of a church. In one, I took a photo through the gate barring my entrance.

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In short, I have accidentally landed in an amazing place. When my supervisor told me he worked in Visby, a satellite campus, rather than Uppsala proper… I was sad. I love Uppsala and my friends are there, and I was really sad to leave them. I had a good life there, whereas here I am almost completely solitary.

But I’m not at all sad anymore. This weekend I also took a long 2-hour run north of the city and ended up in some amazing nature areas, as well as just running along the rocky beach. This is a great, wonderful, amazing place. At least for now, I’m enjoying my solitude. Plus, I have visits from a couple of friends to look forward to, and my own trip to Portugal next week, and at least one if not more trips back to Uppsala to visit. I don’t think I’m going to be too lonely.

Final thought: paging Kate Mosse. I love southern France, but I think you could write a great book set here!

then I moved to Visby.

•April 1, 2014 • Leave a Comment

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Yesterday I hustled my luggage all the way across town to return the keys to my dorm room to the student housing agency, then lugged them back to the train station. I got on a train, deposited my luggage with SAS, and worked in Arlanda for a few hours (it’s quite a nice place to work actually, thanks Sky City) before getting on a plane for Visby. I moved! I’m finally working on the same campus as my supervisor, Juha Alatalo. I am very sad to be leaving my friends in Uppsala, but it’s not far away. I will be back often, and as Juha says, now we can work more efficiently.

And I am in love with my newfound situation. I have a small two-room flat to myself. No oven, but a stovetop, refrigerator, sink, microwave…. and tons of storage space. The kitchen table has a tablecloth. The windows have lace curtains. I bought a pot of daffodil bulbs yesterday as a moving-in present for myself, and when I woke up they had bloomed. I ate breakfast looking past them out into the yard. A yard!! It’s going to be a good semester.

Unrelatedly, Nature is on fire this week with editorials. The first is about cuts to science funding in the U.S. – or really, how “flat” funding is actually cuts, because funding isn’t rising with the pace of inflation. The second is about the elegance and chaos of ecology, a field in which, frankly, it is very difficult to publish in Science and Nature. I loved both. Read ‘em here.

let’s talk about books.

•March 29, 2014 • 2 Comments

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March has been National Reading Month. I don’t put much emphasis on these months and days (although I did recently enjoy National Swedish Waffle Day), simply because everything seems to be national this month or national that day. I didn’t even realize it was National Reading Month until partway through the month. But it brought back memories: I remember back in fifth grade we had a competition with the fourth grade class to see who could read more books in a month. The rule was that the book had to be more than 100 pages and I think we had to check them with a teacher. I can’t remember the exact number, but I think I read over 20 books that month. Those were they days, when the only homework was a couple of easy math problems and reading a book of your own choosing!

I don’t get to read so much anymore, but I really try to. Reading takes you to other worlds and I also know for sure, 100%, that it makes my own writing better. These days I read more fiction than anything else, when I do read, because reading scientific papers for work makes you pretty weary of anything complicated. So fantasy is a nice change.

I recently ordered a big box of books from Amazon and am depressed about how long it will take me to get through them, but opening that box was the most exciting thing that happened to me that day (week?). I was giddy with possibility.

What have you read this month? Here’s what I’ve read through, with links to Powells where you can buy them packaged not in a terrible warehouse somewhere” (I also listened to Radiolab’s “Brown Box” episode!):

The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared: A great story by a new Swedish author that I picked up in the airport on the way to Sochi, actually. It’s a quick and easy read with an incredible sense of humor. It features mobsters, an elephant, most of the important political figures of the 20th century, and a lot of dynamite, plus the protagonist who is 100 years old. I recommended it to Nat who sent me a text at one point that said something like “this book is amazing!” High praise.

Four Fish: An amazing nonfiction work by Paul Greenberg. As soon as I started, I was hooked: he described his childhood growing up in Connecticut and how fishing had been an incredibly outlet for him. The book goes on to highlight the history and science of four fish (salmon, cod, sea bass, and tuna) particularly important as human food, and question how we can manage our fish appetite without driving these species to extinction. But all the while it is interspersed with emotion and feeling about Greenberg’s love of fishing. It includes a great line about catching a yellowfin tuna during a stormy outing:

“Congrats,” said Steve.

“Thanks,” I said, and vomited.

This is one of those books that makes me want to be a writer so badly that I’m almost willing to give up science, jump ship and try, despite all the challenges. I want my life to be writing a book like this.

Mehar: My amazing uncle Chris, one of a total of four amazing uncles, has been working on a chapter story about a little girl named Mehar. For a while he was sending the chapters to me and my cousins one at a time as he finished them. They were so fun! I was in awe of his writing and his ability to come up with a whole universe for Mehar to live in. This month, I was visiting friends in Lillehammer who had a five-year-old daughter, Greta. I began wondering if the stories would be appropriate for her, so I re-read them. It was just as great as the first time! Chris is working on getting them all into one doc and I hope that the whole world will be able to read it one day. (And, no, they weren’t right for Greta – she doesn’t like rule-breaking or scary things, so maybe in a few years she’ll be able to deal with the really very sinister bad guys. Not right now though.)

I also spent a lot of time reading out loud to Greta. I won’t list all the kids’ books here, but the very best one, which I adorrrrrreeeeee (I remember reading it to her last time I visited!) was Goldilocks and the Three Dinosaurs. It’s one of those books so clever and uproarious that the adult reading it enjoys it just as much if not more than the kid. It inspired us to write our own story “Goldilocks and the two dragons” which we also illustrated ourselves, © Lillehammer, Norway, 2014.

With those in the bag, I’m starting The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, a novel by Haruki Murakami. It is in fact the first way I ever heard of Murakami: I read a review of this book in the New York Times. It was when I was living in Craftsbury, and I went to search for the book at the library. They didn’t have it, so I got Kafka on the Shore instead, and loved it. I’ve since heard people say they don’t like specific Murakami books, but I read and loved 1Q84 and am excited to finally dig into another huge strange Murakami saga. I’m only two chapters in but for sure, I have been bitten by the bug already.

Finally, this doesn’t count as reading, but I’ve listened to some great episodes of the New Yorker fiction podcast (among others in my stable of podcasts…). The format is this: the fiction editor selects someone whose work has recently been published in the magazine, and asks them to choose a story, any story, from the New Yorker archive to read out loud and discuss. The podcasts and stories are the perfect length to listen to on a train or while traveling, and they have the double benefit of introducing me to some stories by great authors from before I was born, and introducing me to people who are writing interesting short fiction right now. Besides being entertaining, it’s given me lots of ideas.

Have you read anything great? Please tell me. In case, you know, I develop more spare time and can read it.

paper!

•March 25, 2014 • Leave a Comment

I’m excited to announce that I have a new paper in print! It is about the cushion plant Silene acaulis and responses to simulated climate change in the late 1990′s and early 2000′s. My supervisor, Juha Alatalo, is the first author and organized the experiments, and I had the opportunity this winter to do the data analysis and help with the paper writing. I also went through the process of responding to the reviewer comments and fixing up the paper for final publication. Now it’s out! At SpringerPlus, which is an open-access journal so everyone can read it for free.

Check it out here or download a PDF!

It is funny because I didn’t help with the fieldwork at all on this paper. BUT…. my housemate Quim from the summer in Davos was working on Silene and I helped him for a day in the field. So I do actually know what the plant looks like at least and a little bit about it! Working on Silene can take you to places like this:

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Where you are out in the big open but staring at little tiny things (Quim on the right, my Switzerland supervisor Christian Rixen on the left):

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I will see some Silene acaulis in my own fieldwork coming up this summer.

And as it happens, Quim is visiting Uppsala right now for a meeting about his work! So I’m off to meet him now for a tour of the botanical gardens and a nice fika. It’s great to see old friends!

oslo.

•March 24, 2014 • 1 Comment

I had a great time in Oslo the last few days! One of the best things was staying with my friend Knut, who is great company and also made sure that my stay was easy and fun.

Yesterday he headed out of the city to go see his mom, so my stay culminated in an end-of-season party at the venue last night which was really super fun. I am not feeling so hot this morning, but I’m in the Oslo airport and it has been pretty hilarious to see all the biathletes catching their flights out and looking at least as bad as I do. So instead of writing something, I’ll start by just posting a slideshow. The mass start race yesterday was really exciting and picturesque! Click to enlarge.

I’m not sure if you can tell, but Martin Fourcade turned the final roller into a jump and got some air on his way into the stadium! It was I think my favorite of the ways he has ever celebrated a win – more joyful, less egotistical bravado.

I like to call the last photo in the set “goodbye biathlon season.”

birken.

•March 17, 2014 • Leave a Comment

Well, this is not as exciting of a post as I was anticipating. I spent Friday evening waxing up my skis here in Lillehammer. Nothing fancy, just some HF7 and binder ironed in to the kick zone. After extensive consultation with Erik, who I am staying with, we decided that for the Birkebeiner it was impossible to tell whether it would be klister conditions or hardwax, so I packed a bag of goodies and figured I would wax once I got to the start and could scope out the situation.

I woke up at 4 a.m. to eat some yogurt, and Erik was up half an hour later and drove me to catch the 5 a.m. bus from Håkans Hall in Lillehammer to Rena with the Lillehammer Skiklub. I slept most of the way there and we arrived shortly before 7 a.m. I was set to start around 9 a.m.

As we got in the car in the morning, Erik had said something like, “just so you know, NRK was reporting that a meteorologist said there were such high winds that organizers should think carefully about whether they were going to send people over the mountains.”

You see, the Birkebeiner is not like the Vasaloppet – it is an extreme experience! The course climbs to almost 3,000 feet and spends a lot of time in the mountains. Bad weather there is not atypical. Participants have to carry a 3.5kg backpack to symbolize the weight of the baby in the old story the race is based on, but also because they must carry food, drink, an extra shirt, pants, jacket, and wax with them. Things in the mountains can get crazy.

Anyway, when we arrived in Rena we learned that the race had been delayed an hour so organizers could continue to assess the weather at the top of the course. I was somewhat dismayed because I hadn’t planned for this and an extra hour meant an extra hour of when I should be eating, only I didn’t really have any “extra” food, just what I had brought to tide me over to the normal start time.

After the hour of deliberating, though, the race was canceled completely. I was sad but at this point honestly I had sort of begun expecting it, so I didn’t feel quite as dismayed or furious as the Norwegian skiers around me seemed to be. We waited for everyone else to come back to the bus and headed back to Lillehammer. Erik picked me up back at Håkans Hall around 10 a.m. As I walked back in the door of the house, I told his daughter Greta, “it only took me an hour to ski back here! I won!”

All day she asked me whether I was really, really sad. I kept saying no. I mean, yeah, I was sad. I was really looking forward to the Birken. But this wasn’t the defining point of my season and honestly, while I feel a lot better than I did before the Vasaloppet, I’m still not very fit. Instead of racing, I have been hanging out with the Stange family and Erik and Emily have made sure that I have the opportunity to ski every day. It’s a different trip than I was envisioning when I hopped on the train, but it has been perfectly lovely in a different way.

Many Norwegians don’t feel the same way. I wrote a short article for FasterSkier summing up the controversy around the race cancellation, which you can read here. Wind gusts reached almost 50 mph and the wind chill was at -14, but there were windows of more okay weather and some people skied over the mountain anyway. They said it was fine, and that is what is pissing people off – the idea that maybe everything would have turned out okay.

As for me, I went for a pretty blustery ski today and was distinctly glad that I wasn’t racing, especially not in conditions that were significantly worse. Eh, well. You win some, you lose some, Norway.

I joked to U.S. biathlon coach Per Nilsson this weekend that I seem to be some sort of curse on races in terms of weather and snow conditions, and he wrote, “We see if it’s bad in Oslo, then you are not welcome to World Cup Biathlon anymore…”

springtime of my sverige.

•March 9, 2014 • Leave a Comment

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In less than a week I’ll be competing in another big ski marathon. I know, I know. After the Vasaloppet, you really want to do this again, Chelsea? Well yes, I do. It’s the Birkebeiner. I’ve been excited abut the Birken for…. years. This year is no exception. I’m ready – to do whatever is possible for my body on that day, to participate, to have a great time. I know that it can’t possibly take 7 hours, since it’s only just over 50 k. So that right there means I will have significantly more fun.

But I digress – I’m going to be competing in a ski marathon. It feels surreal: these days in Uppsala have been warm and sunny. Spring came weeks ago and is not going anywhere. Winter is a distant memory.

And so in the midst of a long run I found myself standing in this magical clearing asking: where did the snow go? What did you do with it, Sweden? Which god have we offended and what can I sacrifice to appease him, or her? I’ll do it.

Don’t get me wrong, spring is lovely. It has been painful to work sitting at my desk all day, looking out the window at the sun that washes over everything and wishing that it could wash over me. I’ve been sneaking in a run here, a bounding session there, as I try to stay somewhat fit for the Birken.

Today I finally had time for a big run, and hit up my favorite place in Uppsala, Hågadalen. Just to get there, I had to make my way on a bike/pedestrian path full of happy people who were thrilled to be out in the spring weather. It was 50 degrees F and everyone was still bundled up, as if they were excited for spring but just weren’t quite sure whether they could trust it or not.

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And then, finally, I was in Håga, navigating my way through the puddles and over the rocks. I adore trail running, adore adore it. There’s something spiritual about being out there in the quiet, absorbing the peace all around you, but also focused so acutely on the little details of the treacherous ground. And yet you can’t be focused too hard. The best thing about trail running is that you achieve a sort of trance state, where you are noticing the bumps and potential trip-ups almost through your peripheral vision and your stride automagically adjusts to take them in. You’re looking, but you’re not looking. It goes deep.

For me the singletrack of Håga is almost like a cathedral, a place which distills and amplifies all those little things about trail running. The quiet is so quiet – you are surrounded my mosses and lichens which soak up the sound in their softness. And the trail is so nimble and twisty. It’s muddy and rocky and rooty and sometimes the best way is to just head off through the heather. I never come back without a scratch as a souvenir.

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And so I was happy, so happy, to be out running in Hågadalen for the first time this year. I had this sense that I belonged. It was magical, especially as I headed toward Rödmossen, where that top photo was taken. Even within Håga, which I already love, Rödmossen is one of my very most favorite places. It seems almost mystical with all that moss and lichen, a spongy sort of forest that can absorb anything. Maybe it would just soak you right up into it. I follow trail signs but always have this nagging sense that the forest has a will of its own, that it’s its own being with wishes and plans. What if there’s something out there switching the signs around? The boggy, fenny, rocky forest would make the perfect labyrinth. I can imagine twisting and turning your way through, stuck forever not knowing which direction you were going. I always think that this area would be a fantastical place for a fairy tale, and indeed these landscapes must have inspired Norse mythology.

These slightly foreboding feelings are seldom at the front of my mind, though. The forest is a happy place. And today it was a happy day, the sun seeping through the trees and me and the forest just enjoying springtime together. And yet – I didn’t belong there. It’s early March! It’s not time for this. No, it is time for skiing. I have had a few snowless late winters in my life – Eugene, Oregon; Montpellier, France – but this is something on a whole new level. It has been spring for weeks and going to Norway will be like a culture shock: white? snow? Spring is lovely, but this was not what I was expecting from Sweden.

It’s the hand I’ve been dealt, though, so I might as well go about enjoying it. Starting in Hågadalen.

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