National Geographic : 1971 Jul
of heavy line. The captain's aim had been mercifully true. Two minutes later the whale broached, sharp nose pointed skyward, and sank again, dead. A clanking donkey engine winched the car cass up from the depths, and crewmen made it fast alongside. Olav plunged a hollow lance into its vitals and pumped in air to keep it afloat. Throughout the drama, aside from a few terse commands, no one spoke. Even to those who have made it their life's work, the death of a whale is no spectacle for banter. Black smoke smudged the sky as the ship headed at full speed for Troms0. Unless it reached port within 20 hours for butchering and freezing, the fin whale's tons of dark-red flesh would be food fit only for Norway's mink farms, instead of a beef-like delicacy. When I jumped to the dock, Star III had won the race by five hours. TROMS0 IS AN ISLAND CITY of some 38,000 linked to the mainland by Norway's longest bridge. But even more impressive is Troms0's role as the gateway to the Arctic. It was from Troms0 in 1928 that Roald Amundsen, discoverer of the South Pole, took off in a seaplane to search for a fellow ex plorer, Gen. Umberto Nobile, missing on a North Pole dirigible flight. Nobile later was found alive; Amundsen never returned. I had often wondered how a country of fewer than four million people could produce so many daring explorers-men like Amund sen and Nansen, and others more recent, like Helge Ingstad and Thor Heyerdahl.* A friend of mine, one of Norway's finest young journalists, finally gave me a clue. As we lounged before a crackling birch fire in his vacation cabin near Oslo, he told me of a narrow escape he had had while div ing in search of an old treasure ship in Trond heimsfjorden. Overcome at great depth by the deadly lethargy of nitrogen narcosis, he barely managed to fight his way to the sur face. Yet the memory seemed more to elate than disturb him. "Every man wants to test himself to the limit, to reach out toward death-and return, of course," he said with quiet conviction. Five months later he was dead-entangled in the wreckage of a German ship at the bot tom of Oslofjorden. His legacy to me was a brief but valued friendship-and perhaps a rare insight into the nature of Norwegians. Dr. Tom Andersen gave me another. He is a youthful-looking psychiatrist, Chief of Male Therapy at Troms0's Asgard Sykehus -a modern mental hospital that serves the 213,000 people of Norway's northernmost counties, Troms and Finnmark. I asked how he would characterize his countrymen. "We are overcontrolled; we restrain our smiles and our anger," Dr. Andersen said. "We are basically skeptical, yet we feel secure. You find little hunger in Norway today. People have enough money to live, and their medical needs are met. Perhaps that's why we are quick to sympathize with others we're always sending aid to victims of floods or famine somewhere in the world." I had seen Norwegians' deep affinity for nature-the lemming-like weekend rush from the city to the mountain hut and hiking trail. "I think it is because we depend on nature so," he said, fingering his brown beard. "Na ture can be very hard to us at times, so we must be able to interpret it, to know every thing we can about it. "Up here in the north," the psychiatrist went on, "the people do as nature does-sleep in winter and awaken, very suddenly, in spring, like the flowers. They awaken hun gry for warmth, for the sun, for work, for living. Our year begins in the spring, when the dull time is over." AL OSLO had been vaersyk for weeks A when I paid a second visit to Norway in February. Sunshine had been scarce enough, and the muddy trench of new subway construction that disfigured much of Karl Johansgate did nothing to lift the city's spirits. But worst of all, there hadn't been a respecta ble snowfall since November. Until now. "Yesterday," my taxi driver said, beaming. "Not here," he gestured at the scant inch of slush on the streets. "Higher in the hills. All over Oslomarka!" Skiing is Norway's national sport, but in Oslo it approaches a religion (pages 12-15). Little wonder. Oslomarka-a hilly belt of lake-strewn forests and farmlands-sprawls over 460 square miles, almost all of it within city limits. On a sunny winter Sunday you can find upward of 100,000 skiers, more than a fifth of the population, out on some 1,200 miles of trails around the capital. While the city worked and waited for the *Archeologist Helge Ingstad wrote "Vinland Ruins Prove Vikings Found the New World" for NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC, November 1964. Thor Heyerdahl, of Kon-Tiki fame, told of his subsequent reed-ship Atlantic crossing in "The Voyage of Ra II," January 1971.