Freedom Rock, Ottumwa: a salute to U.S. Veterans

While visiting my family in Ottumwa in November/December last year, my Dad took me to a new memorial. It’s called “Freedom Rock”.

An eleven-and-a-half ton boulder had been delivered to Bridge View Center in September, and over the course of a few days had been transformed by Ray “Bubba” Sorensen into a patriot mural.

Here’s part of the official press release, which includes the background on the inspiration for Ottumwa’s new Freedom Rock, finding a suitable boulder, and getting it set up and ready:

Ottumwa, Iowa – Sept. 22, 2014 – Drivers traveling Iowa Highway 25 in northern Adair County pass an enormous boulder adjacent to the highway north of Greenfield. It is impossible to miss given the rock weighs approximately 60 tons and displays impressive murals. You may know it by its official name, The Freedom Rock. The rock is located two miles south of I-80 and has become a popular tourism attraction for travelers on this stretch of the four-lane highway.In 1999, The Freedom Rock was created by a young local artist, Ray “Bubba” Sorensen II, after seeing the film “Saving Private Ryan”. Its development was fueled by Sorensen’s desire to give veterans more recognition on Memorial Day. Since then, he has painted different patriotic murals on the rock every year. This work was not commissioned by anyone but rather is made possible by the generous donations received annually.In addition to The Freedom Rock, Sorensen has painted murals across the country, and during one of those projects, he came up with the idea to pursue “The Freedom Rock Tour”. The tour is a means of spreading the message of The Freedom Rock to other Iowa communities by creating a tribute to veterans in all 99 Iowa counties with rocks bearing images unique to the immediate area that honor military service. Although the rocks may be smaller than the original, the message is equally powerful …

(L & W Quarries) donated the 11.5-ton boulder to be the Wapello County Freedom Rock. The search was more challenging than anticipated and took several months to find a boulder of sufficient size and type.

Bringing it here was the next step which demonstrated county and city collaboration. The Wapello County Secondary Roads Department transported it more than 50 miles to Ottumwa. Upon arrival, the City of Ottumwa worked with the Market Street Bridge contractor, Portzen Construction of Dubuque, to unload it. Something that proved easier said than done.

At that point, the rock was power-washed and otherwise prepared to be painted. Sorensen arrived the afternoon of Monday, Sept. 22nd to begin working his magic …

On November 11, 2014 (Veterans Day in the States), Ottumwa’s new Freedom Rock was dedicated.

A month after this dedication, my Dad pulled up at Freedom Rock and I got out of the car and walked around this boulder that is taller than me. I studied the paintings and absorbed the meanings. It was a peaceful moment in the midst of a busy five week visit.


I’m the granddaughter and daughter of veterans. My daughters’ Dad is a veteran. I am a veteran. And my oldest daughter is active duty Army; she’ll be a veteran one day. For me, America’s Veteran’s Day has always been a day of thanks and expressed appreciation … even (especially?) living out of the country. It was good to take a few moments to think about it, inspired by the incredible story behind this patriotic memorial.

Norway, skiing, and Holmenkollen

The 2015 Nordic World Ski Championships in Falun, Sweden are ending today. They’ve showcased the best of cross country and ski jumping athletes. I’m not glued to the TV, but these past few days whenever I hear the announcers’ voices getting excited — and my husband’s cheering — I get myself out to watch the finish of a race!

My one time to try skiing years ago was cross-country. I loved it! I’ve enjoyed watching cross-country skiing since then, and have especially appreciated the true athletisism and dedication of the Norwegian skiers over the past eight years I’ve lived here.

But watching the ski jumpers yesterday (when Norway won their 10th gold medal of this championship) — especially from the perspective of the camera set just behind each skiier as they waiting to go down the slope and fly through the air — made me shudder with nervousness, and it made me remember my first trip to Norway in May/June 2006 when Jan lived in Oslo. We drove up to Holmenkollen and, although there was no snow at that time of year, I was introduced to the outdoor mindset of the Norwegian culture.

I remember being fascinated by the grass roofs, decorations, and architecture of the buildings. Since then, those aspects of Norway’s architecture have become familiar to me. But I don’t think I’ll ever get used to seeing those place filled to capacity with Norwegian fans packed together, keeping warm with their Janus wool and outwear, cheering on whichever competitor is the best. Whether the winner is Norwegian or not, they respect the athletisism and dedication it took to get to the top of the competitors’ heap!

Between 2008 and 2010, the entire structure of Holmenkollen was demolished and rebuilt … but here’s what it looked like a few years before that.


What’s your experience with winter skiing: A cross-country experience? Alpine or ski-jumping at speeds that make me dizzy? Or cheering on the athletes from the warmth of a living room sofa? :)

glorious moments

Ahhh, Bergen area. Just when I think I can’t handle another blah and dreary day, you gift us with glorious moments like these: Warm, muted, or brilliant sunshine; contrasting and textured clouds; a subtle rainbow; glimpses of blue sky; a sparkling dusting of snow; glistening tree bark; dancing snow flakes gently falling.

Thank you.

daydreaming of Spain’s summer light

After several days of beautiful yet cold sunshine, it turned dreary/rainy/windy/blah outside again today. To distract myself, I think it’s time to daydream of the summer light and warmth of our August trip to Spain. Although mountain views were familiar, the light and colors were completely different compared to our everyday views.

The bright daylight of the sun directly overhead was almost too intense.


The warm, lingering evenings spent sitting out listening to the night sounds, with the only light coming from the setting sun/rising moon or the man-made reflected light from pool and patio lights were magical. (Well, except for that one accidental camera flash … but I liked the result, so decided that image can be included in the “magical” collection, too! :) ).


The red reflected light of the strong summer sun through our restaurant’s table umbrella at lunch was cool and inviting.


After a lazy week of sleeping late and “morning” coffee under the mid-day skies, our last morning was an earlier one before the taxi picked us up for our trip to the airport. The morning sunrise and light were the perfect ending to a perfect week.


Ah, that was refreshing. I’d forgotten how the changing light of the different times of the constant sunny days made for interesting and diverse photographs!

Now it’s time to get back to the rainy/no-snow blah-reality of this 2014-2015 winter in the Bergen area. How’s the light in *your* part of the world?

paintings and photographs: Mother and Child by the Sea

For this comparison in my occasional “paintings and photographs” series, I’m once again sharing my favorite Norwegian painter, Johan Christian Dahl. His subjects, landscapes, and colors sure speak to me!

Here’s a little background to offer historical perspective, paraphrased from a conversation with my Norwegian husband:

Norway is a beautiful country, but the coastlines, mountains, and fjords can be very dangerous. For centuries, Norwegians on the coast earned their living by fishing. In modern times there are huge trawlers who sail out in the big seas, but if we go back two or three hundred years there were only small row boats, maybe with a small sail. The rough seas were deadly, but fishermen had to go out.

During a visit to Lofoten, one of the most beautiful yet dangerous places to live in Norway, I met a young woman who told me a story her mother shared with her. The weather was rough, the menfolk had gone out to fish, and her mother was sitting in the kitchen at the table drinking coffee and looking out the window at the big waves and harsh winds. She could see the boat with her husband and her son. Because of the waves she could only see them from time to time. She saw that one of them had fallen out of the boat, and that was the last she ever saw of them. They disappeared.

I met an old priest on Lofoten. There are a number of small cemeteries there, and he took me to a few and showed me that, in earlier days, no men were buried in the ground. They were all drowned at sea.

With that brief insight, can you feel the reality and emotions of the women as they waited for their men? Uncertainty, fear, hardships, relief, hunger, fright. Gazing at the sea, straining for the first sight of a sail or boat. Not knowing if they’d return safely, or if the days would pass with only a gaping and empty sea. Days and days of this.

While thinking about the experience of those emotions, here’s Dahl’s painting:

Johan Christian Dahl - Mother and Child by the Sea

Johan Christian Dahl
Mor og barn ved sjøen
(Mother and child by the sea)

A little boat, a fisherman, a wife and mother, a child. It looks as if there’s a threatening storm in the distance. The moon is out; is it setting or rising? They seem so close, one in a tiny boat and two on the rocks. The wind in the sails indicates the boat is approaching the shore. How long have they been waiting? The fishermen went out at three or four in the morning, and were usually home by noon. It’s very late. They’ve had a rough wait.

Can you imagine the emotions they were feeling?

Living where I do, I don’t have any photos of a cold moon over the sea, just those with the warmth of it rising or setting, or hanging in the sky over the mountains. But I have several images that, combined, give a glimpse of this seaside reality that Dahl painted: moon, anchor, water, boulders, boat, clouds.

Obviously I get pulled into an artist’s mind when I study his artwork. What paintings have you seen where you also experience such a strong emotional connection?

Shelley, a favorite blogger, added a comment to this post that needs to be part of the original:

Your post reminded me of a Newfoundland poem.

“Erosion” (1931) by E.J. Pratt

It took the sea a thousand years,
A thousand years to trace
The granite features of this cliff,
In crag and scarp and base.

It took the sea an hour one night,
An hour of storm to place
The sculpture of these granite seams
Upon a woman’s face.

Yeah, teaching Newfie kids whose family were fishermen was tough. You’d get the principal on the intercom asking you to send a student down to the office. Everyone would start crying. Everyone knew. Awful.