Monday, October 21, 2019

Lucky us ....

While sights like this are not common, neither are they rare in many places such as Minnesota. They happen in the autumn -- at least that is when I have seen them -- and involve thousands of "winged things" such as starlings or black birds and probably other species, as well .... and truly are marvelous to watch. The event is called a murmuration and can involve hundreds of thousands of birds. Should you see one, remember it. Who knows how much longer birds will be here to do it?
"If You've Got the Money I've Got the Time"
Those words form the title and are among the lyrics of a song written by James Beck and William "Lefty" Frizzell and recorded by Frizzell in 1950.
Neither money nor time are in short supply for me at the moment, but glancing through the arts section of a Saint Paul newspaper made me appreciate that fact that probably no one has enough of either to keep pace with entertainment opportunities in and around the Twin Cities of Minnesota.
Upcoming at the Guthrie Theatre in coming weeks, for instance, are these:
The Glass Menagerie
Steel Magnolias
A Christmas Carol
The Minnesota Opera will be presenting The Barber of Seville.
Both the Dublin-based dance group, TeacDamsa, and the Russian Ballet Theatre will be offering Swan Lake beginning Thursday.
There are innumerable authors making presentations and offering readings and holding autograph sessions during the days ahead -- some of them famous and others, well, sort of local.
Being a devotee of classic rock, I simply will say everyone ranging from "newbies" to senior citizens who have been around since the 1960s and 1970s has the Twin Cities on their itineraries. Not to worry, all genres of music will be similarly represented.
Some might argue "sports" are another form of art (not I), so add to this there are six professional sports teams in the Twin Cities representing football, baseball, hockey, soccer and two basketball.
Less exciting, but more relevant, I think, was an article which stated the United States and Canada have lost an estimated three billion birds -- nearly 30 percent -- since 1970. Most of the losses have been among birds which occupy grasslands from Texas north into the Canadian prairies. Suspects are the usual: Habitat loss and more intensive agriculture, and greater use of pesticides that kill the insects birds eat.
So, while we who have enough time and money to seek out our favorite forms of entertainment, we can prepare ourselves for fewer sights and songs from Nature, it would seem.
Lucky us ….

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Overdue for a riddle ....

A couple more photographs to accompany the posts on Vikings in North America and the 1926/1927 replication voyage .... why? .... I have no idea other than I simply felt like it and I suppose I might respond with two words .... why not?
The top photo was taken on the day of the arrival of the Leif Erikson in Duluth, Minnesota -- June 23, 1927. It presumably was taken by a Duluth News Tribune staff member. It would have been fun to have been there, I think. The second photo is of another post card showing the vessel when it was on display in Leif Erikson Park. A man is partially visible at the far left, to provide a bit of perspective regarding the size of the Viking "knarr."
The music to accompany this post is sort of a matter of coincidence. I saw both these acts -- Heart and Joan Jett and the Blackhearts -- Sunday evening right here in Saint Paul at the Xcel Energy Center. The videos are from earlier performances of the same "Love Alive" concert. I never had seen Joan before, but I did see Heart and the Wilson girls a long/long time ago in Duluth -- of all places, and hence the coincidence -- when we all were younger and wilder. The Duluth concert was a "dumb luck" event. I was passing through town en route from Michigan to the Twin Cities, noticed Heart was performing that evening, thought "why not?," got a room, got a free ticket courtesy of my press credentials, enjoyed the show and the activities which followed it. Nancy and Ann still are terrific ....
Why + why not = wake me later
I look at myself in a mirror and wonder who I am in a cosmic sense. I know who I am in an earthly sense, but inside I feel/think/believe -- a bit of each, but not the absolute of one -- that there should be another existence/place/purpose where there are answers to anything and to everything.
I suppose it could be there is no such existence/place/purpose, which leaves me asking, "why not?"
I remember a story in which a Norseman refused to accept the teachings of a Christian priest, saying Odin and the "old gods" were good enough for him.
The priest asked the Norseman how he could believe in such ludicrous, pagan gods and have faith in them.
The Norseman replied that he had neither belief nor faith in them.
"In what, then, do you believe?" the priest asked.
"I believe in the strength of my own right arm," answered the Norseman.
I suppose life could be as simple as that. It does make sense. So, I go back to the beginning and put forth a variation of the same question: "Why?"

Saturday, October 12, 2019

Curiosity is healthy & learning is fun

I was hesitant to use this photograph. It is a "portrait" of the Viking ship -- the Leif Erikson -- used by Gerhard Folgero and a crew of three, plus his dog, to cross the Atlantic Ocean in 1926 and then to progress through rivers and lakes until arriving in Duluth, Minnesota, on June 23, 1927. Folgero was emulating the 997 crossing by Leif Erikson. Folgero's vessel had been on display in Leif Erikson Park in Duluth until a few years ago. It is now undergoing repair and renovation. The exact name or the type of Leif's ship is not known, but it likely was either a dragon boat (Drakar) or a longboat (Skuders). The smaller support boat (Karvi) is unlikely. Since he was traveling on the open seas, it is possible he used a merchantmen or high seas boat (Hafskip), either a Knarr or a Byrdingr. Folgero's ship was a modified knarr. Note the ore carrier passing by in the distance in the waters of Lake Superior.
Folgero went to sea as a boy
(Editor’s Note: This is the final piece of three to introduce any who pass by this way to the Viking explorer, Leif Erikson, who around the year 997 became the first European to lead an expedition which found its way to North America and to another Norwegian, Gerhard Folgero, who captained a replica Viking ship named the Leif Erikson from Bergen in Norway to Duluth in Minnesota in 1926/1927.)
Gerhard Folgero went to sea in 1900 at age 14. At age 24 he obtained his captain's license, and seven years later commanded his first ship as a captain. By 1925, he had the money to pursue his life-long dream of proving Vikings had crossed the Atlantic Ocean and reached North America. He hired a boat-builder, Johan Petersen, in Korgen, Norway, to build a 42-foot wooden modified "knarr," about half the size of what Leif Erikson likely used to cross the Atlantic around the year 997 Anno Domini (A.D.).
Korgen men had a good reputation as boat-builders, and Petersen was one of the last boat-builders still using the old methods called clinker built, with the edges of hull planks over-lapping. Everyone else said they only used carvel construction, with the plank seams butted flush together.
Named the Leif Erikson and made of Norway pine, the ship was rigged with red- and white-striped sails along with one set of triangular sails. The vessel, with a carved dragon head and tail and traditional wooden shields on the side, was steered by a rudder with an attached long har (tiller). It had no motor.
Sometime after March 21, 1926, Folgero wrote these words:
"When the ship was completed, Petersen sent out word to gather horses and men to transport it overland to the sea. The ship was set upon timber supports, and people came flocking to see the strange sight as a large procession moved down the road. In the forest where the road was too narrow, trees were cut to allow passage of the boat, fences were moved and telephone lines were lifted up. When horses sank too deep into the snow, strong arms helped them up again. It all went with humor and a precision we had to admire.
"We arrived at open water in the Elsfjord at 5:00 p.m., where the boat was hauled down to the beach and set upon the water with loud hurrahs from the people. It sat very nicely in the sea, and the boatbuilder looked at it there with tear-filled eyes. I understood his feelings. Everyone sat down in the snow for a well-deserved rest and a bite to eat.
"The boat was towed to Hemnesberget where Stenersen & Sons will install boom lifts, water tanks, and provision tanks. The old sailmaker, Jens Henriksen, has nearly finished sewing the sails. The rigging and mast are ready, and just need to be set up."
Embarkation took place from Bergen on May 23, 1926. Folgero, Johan Johnsen, Kristian Andersen, Thomas Stavenes and their dog arrived in Boston Harbor in mid-August. The vessel had travelled 6,700 miles. The voyage was resumed in early March the next year by going up the Hudson River and connecting with other rivers and lakes. By the time the ship reached Duluth on June 23, 1927, the little boat had travelled about 10,000 miles.
Folgero returned to Norway and in 1930 built a bigger Viking ship, the 60-foot Roald Amundsen, which he had named after his explorer friend. With this vessel, he and a crew of three sailed the sea route taken by Columbus in 1492 from Spain to Cuba.
I have seen conflicting reports about when Folgero died. One said 1948 and another 1950. It is obvious I have a bit more research to do.
By the way, among the thousands awaiting the arrival of Folgero and the Leif Erikson in Duluth that summer day in 1927 was our friend -- the Arctic fisherman, Norwegian immigrant, college professor and novelist Ole E. Rolvaag.
I wonder what Rolvaag's thoughts were as he watched the Viking knarr gliding along in the icy cold, deep blue waters of Lake Superior ....
I wonder if he and Gerhard Folgero talked to one another and, if so, what words were spoken ....
I wonder / wonder / wonder .... and always will ....
(Concluding thoughts: Once again, there probably are more books out there about the Vikings and their lifestyles and habits and beliefs and explorations than can be read in a lifetime. These three posts sort of bounce on and off the surface, but, hopefully, you will be curious enough to try reading a few of them. Curiosity is healthy and learning is fun ....)


Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Three brothers & a sister

This statue of Leif Erikson, titled "Discoverer of America," was dedicated on October 9, 1946, the day which has become synonymous with remembering the Viking explorer. In the background is the Minnesota capitol building in Saint Paul. This Leif Erikson statue and another in Duluth were sculpted by John K. Daniels, a Norwegian immigrant. This statue also appears in the video below a few times.
The tale of two sagas
(Editor's Note: This is "Leif Erikson Day" in the United States and this is the second of three posts offering a glance at Leif Erikson's voyage from Greenland to North America in approximately 997 and at the 1926/27 duplication of that journey by four men and a dog in a hand-built replica of a Norse longship aptly named the Leif Erikson. A few details about Leif's life are part of this post, as well as saga accounts of other Viking trans-Atlantic crossings, including those by two of his brothers and one by a sister. The next "episode" will appear in a day or two or three and will focus on the 1926/27 adventure ....)
There have been countless books written about Viking explorations and discoveries and about one of the more notable members of the tribe -- Leif Erikson -- who other than having led the first known expedition of Norsemen to actually have set foot in the Americas was a somewhat unremarkable individual -- at least when measured by what data history records of his life.
The date of Leif's birth is uncertain, although I found one record which stated he lived from 970 Anno Domini (A.D.) to 1020. He is thought to have grown up in Greenland. According to the 13th-century Icelandic Eiriks saga (or "Saga of Erik the Red"), Leif sailed from Greenland to Norway sometime prior to 1000. On the way, he was believed to have stopped in the Hebrides, where he had a son, Thorgils, with Thorgunna, daughter of a local chief. In Norway, King Olaf I Tryggvason converted Leif to Christianity, and a year later sent him back to Greenland with a commission to spread faith among the settlers there.
According to the Eiriks saga, Leif sailed off course on his return to Greenland and landed on the North American continent. He called the region where he landed Vinland after the wild grapes that grew in abundance there and the general fertility of the land.
Another Icelandic saga, the Grænlendinga saga (or "Saga of the Greenlanders"), which scholars consider more reliable than the Eiriks saga, holds that Leif heard about the previously unknown/unnamed lands to the west from the Icelandic trader Bjarni Herjulfsson, who had sighted the North American continent from his ship about a decade before Leif's voyage, but not set foot on land.
In addition to uncertainty about the context of Leif's arrival in North America, the exact location of his landing is in doubt. The Grænlendinga saga claims he made three landfalls at Helluland (possibly Labrador), Markland (possibly Newfoundland) and Vinland. The location of Vinland was disputed until excavations at L'Anse aux Meadows, on the northernmost tip of Newfoundland in the early 1960s, turned up evidence of what is believed to be the camp of the 11th-century Vikings -- the Leifsbuðir of Leif Erikson.
It is probable that this was Leif the Lucky's one and only journey to Vinland. He returned to Greenland. Though his father proved unreceptive to the Christian faith, Leif was able to convert his mother, Thjodhild, who had Greenland's first Christian church built at Brattahild. When Erik the Red died, Leif took over as chief of the Greenland settlement. His son Thorgils was sent by his mother (whom Leif never married) to live in Greenland, but apparently was unpopular. Another (presumably legitimate) son, Thorkel Leifsson, became chief by 1025, after his father's death. Nothing further is known about Leif's descendants.
As for the Vikings in North America, Leif's brothers, Thorvald and Thorstein, as well as his sister, Freydis, set out on expeditions of their own. Thorvald and Freydis actually lived in houses that had been constructed by Leif and his crew. The Grænlendinga saga also tells of an expedition led by Thorfinn Karlsefni, in which Thorvald and Freydis appear as participants, not leaders of their own expeditions.
Here is some data to help confuse you. In chronological order as written in the Grænlendinga saga:
It is Bjarni Herjolfsson who first sights North America when he is blown off course sometime around 985 or 986;
It is Leif who buys Bjarni's ship sometime around 997 and with it "discovers" Helluland, Markland and Vinland; who builds houses and stays for a year; who rescues the crew of another ship on his way home;
It is Leif's brother, Thorvald, who leads another expedition which stays in Leif's houses and remains for two years. Thorvald is killed during an encounter with Native Americans;
It is Leif's brother, Thorstein, who leads an unsuccessful expedition;
It is Thorfinn Karlsefini, who leads an expedition which includes women and livestock with the intent of establishing a permanent settlement. He trades and fights with the Native Americans. Snorri Thorfinnsson, the son of Thorfinn and his wife Gudrid, was born, probably between 1004 and 1013. The expedition lasts two years.
It is Leif's sister, Freydis, who leads the next recorded expedition which includes women and livestock with the intent of establishing a permanent settlement. Internal quarrels and manslaughter end the expedition after a year. There is evidence Freydis herself killed two Icelandic brothers, with whom she had a bitter dispute, and, in the least, instigated the deaths.
There are variations of some of these items and omissions of some of this in Eiriks saga.
So, for now .... fare thee well, baby ....

Sunday, October 6, 2019

The first Europeans to arrive

Once upon a time a young merchant named Bjarni Herjolfsson on his way to Greenland across the Denmark Strait was blown blindly past his destination and across the Atlantic Ocean to previously unknown lands. This was in 985 or 986. About a decade later Leif the Lucky, son of Eirik the Red, bought the ship that had survived the voyage and steered it with a crew of thirty-five back to the shores of the "New World" to explore and, if possible, to exploit Bjarni's chance discovery. This, at least, is the account given in the Grænlendinga Saga. This is one post about that event and about a 1926 / 1927 duplication of it. Maybe there will be a second post, maybe not, depending upon whether I am feeling ambitious or lazy. The post card above is the closest thing I could come up with showing the ship which made the 1926 / 1927 crossing with a crew of four men and a dog as it was in a Duluth, Minnesota, park for a number of years. The ship is now dry docked and undergoing renovation. The photograph at the end of this piece shows the captain of the replication voyage, Gerhard Folgero, standing on the prow of the vessel.
A latter-day Viking voyage to America
(Editor's Note: October 9 is Leif Erikson Day in the United States and a few other corners of the world. The day to remember and to honor Leifr Eiríksson, as his name would be written in Old Norse, is not an official holiday -- meaning no banks are closed and students still have to attend classes -- but some people and communities observe it in their own ways. The 1874 book, "America Not Discovered by Columbus," by Norwegian-American Rasmus Anderson helped popularize the idea Vikings were the first Europeans in the New World. On September 2, 1964, Congress authorized the observance of Leif Erikson Day nationwide. Each president in the years since has noted the event with a proclamation, often praising the contributions of Americans of Nordic descent and the spirit of discovery. The date was chosen because the ship Restauration coming from Stavanger, Norway, arrived in New York Harbor on October 9, 1825, beginning a wave of immigration from Norway to America.)
Norwegian Captain Gerhard Folgero of Sannesjoen with a crew of three men -- Johan Johnsen from Molde, Kristian Andersen from Sandnessjoen and Thomas Stavenes from Bergen -- and a dog (whose name and breed I have yet to uncover) sailed in a hand-built Viking replica ship across the Atlantic Ocean from Bergen, Norway, to Duluth, Minnesota, in 1926/27.
The ship set out from Bergen on May 23, 1926. The voyageurs reached the southern tip of Nova Scotia two months later on July 22, where according to lore, the legendary Leif Erikson had briefly landed years ago.
When they arrived in Boston Harbor in mid-August, the vessel had travelled 6,700 miles. After wintering in New York, the crew resumed the voyage in early March the next year by going up the Hudson River and connecting with other rivers and lakes. By the time they reached Duluth, Minnesota, on June 23, 1927, the little boat had travelled about 10,000 miles.
Folgero's dream was to prove true the Norse sagas about Viking explorer Leif Erikson making the journey to America in approximately 997 Anno Domini (A.D.), almost 500 years before Columbus arrived in 1492.
At the time, no evidence of Viking sites had been found in North America and not until 1960 with the discovery of a Viking settlement at L'Anse aux Meadows on the northern tip of Newfoundland was it established the Old Norse had crossed the Atlantic Ocean.
After arriving in Duluth, the adventurers later sailed the craft to Chicago with Folgero and two new sailors returning to Duluth, where the ship has been since that time on display in Leif Erikson Park. It currently is in storage undergoing renovation. 
Here is Folgero's account of the last leg of the original journey across Lake Superior -- The Lake -- from Sault Ste. Marie in Michigan to Duluth in Minnesota:
June 17 1927
Wind from the east and clear skies to begin our journey of 505 miles across Lake Superior to Duluth, Minnesota. We met many large ships loaded with ore, and at 3:00 p.m. reached Whitefish Bay. We set a course for Isle Royale; the landscape is quite desolate, only a few houses or fish houses along the shore. Most people who live here are of Scandinavian ancestry and fish on Lake Superior. Farming isn't very good, the summers are raw and cold, and the winters are very hard.
Open sea ahead of us is very rough, with rollers just a big as those on the North Sea. Many large ships have been lost on this lake. The wind died down, but the rollers go on so we can't make coffee. The only life we see is an occasional seagull.
June 18 1927
The wind died completely in the night and we drifted and rolled. It was as cold as in Greenland, and the water is ice cold both summer and winter. Tradition has it that a man overboard is dead right away, going to the bottom and never coming up again. Later the wind picked up from the east, and we made observations and navigated just like we did on the ocean. There is no land to be seen, only smoke from steamships passing on the horizon.
We caught sight of Isle Royale, and were met by many fishermen. Everyone spoke Norwegian, Swedish, or Danish. It was the height of the herring season, and it (sic) were given some. It was freshwater herring, dry and large, not as good as ocean herring. We also got a large trout from a man from Egersund, Norway, which we cooked at once and it was delicious. The island was beautiful, with many fishermen living there, along with summer homes for Duluthians and Canadians.
June 21 1927
We sailed on and encountered a powerful storm, followed by a thick fog. It was difficult to navigate because of all the magnetism in the hills, the compass was almost useless. We arrived in Two Harbors this Tuesday night where we were met by many Norwegians who arranged a dinner for us. We prepared the boat for our arrival in Duluth.
June 23 1927
The president of the committee, Mr. Borgen, a Norwegian, came to Two Harbors, along with some other committee members, and with some Daughters of Norway, to sail with us to Duluth. The distance from Two Harbors to Duluth is only 28 miles, and wouldn't take more than eight hours if the wind was favorable.
We were told the boat was a proud sight as it sailed out of Two Harbors, decorated with flags from stem to stern. We kept near the shore all the way to Duluth, with a fresh wind from the east and the lake smooth. People waved American and Norwegian flags from shore, and many Norwegian fisherman came out and followed us a while. The coast here is similar to Norway, high hills and small bays where fish houses stood, the houses even looked Norwegian.
Five miles out of Duluth we were met by the warship "Paducha", with an orchestra on board playing the Norwegian anthem. Closer in, more boats came out to meet us, and thousands of peopled line the canal piers to welcome us. We sailed into the harbor and tied up. We had made it to our destination. It was an event for us, our country, and Duluth.
People were everywhere, even on rooftops. A choir sang "When the Fjords Turn Blue", a song dear to every Norwegian. We took our places under the Sons of Norway banner and the Norwegian anthem was played, then we went in parade to the courthouse where the American national anthem was played. Mayor Snively and Congressman William Chars gave speeches. Chars said, "Nobody will say today that the history of the Vikings is not true. There is no doubt that Vikings were in America long before Columbus was born."
(Concluding Note: Now, it is safe to say that barring the unforeseen there will be what I consider to be a footnote piece to this post, something more about Gerhard Folgero, and another post about Leif the Lucky and Norse explorations along the east coast of North America. Until then .... later, baby ....)

Something special ....