The Detective Novel in Iceland: Beck Lecture

Dr. Tulinius

The place was packed. I quit counting at sixty.

And it wasn’t just the numbers but who was there. This is Victoria, remember, not Winnipeg, and there were the Consul General, Hjalmar Hannesson and his wife, Anna. With them were Bill and Heather Ireland. Heather is the Honorary Consul in Vancouver.

Dr. John Tucker, Medievalist, has retired. He has directed the Richard and Margaret Beck Lectures from the very beginning. Dr. Helga Thorson, Chair of the Department of Germanic and Slavic Studies is the new director. She introduced herself and the speaker Dr. Torfi Tulinius.

Dr. Tulinius wasn’t intimidated by a room full of Arnaldur Indriðason groupies. He launched right into his eagerly awaited talk, “The Detective Novel in Icelandic: From Jóhann M. Bjarnason to Arnaldur Indriðason“.

Torfi has a Phd from the Sorbonne, is Professor of Medieval Icelandic Studies in the School of Humanities at the U. Of Iceland. He is interested in a broad subject matter: Medieval Icelandic Literature, Medieval history, narrative theory, and psychoanalysis. He used something from all those fields to tell us about Indriðason´s writing and Indriðason himself. However, he first put Indriðason´s novels in context.

The detective novel in Icelandic could first be attributed to Jóhann M. Bjarnason in 1910. JMB, an Icelandic Canadian writer, wrote a short story that had a protagonist who uses Conan Doyle´s techniques to solve a mystery.
Not much happens from then until after the war when Valur Vestan writes some mystery fiction However, it really isn´t until the 1970s that detective fiction, murder mysteries start to appear by people like Viktor Arnar Ingolfsson, Gunnar Gunnanson, Brigitta Halldórsdóttir, and Leo Löwe.
In 2001 crime fiction was still not taken seriously because Icelandic writers felt that there was so little crime in Iceland that there was nothing to write about.

It wasn´t until the late 90s mystery writing started to catch the attention of both Icelandic writers and public.

Because of the importance of literature in Iceland, crime fiction created a reaction. It was a stranger in the family where poetry and serious literary work were admired and understood. Literature in Iceland is an important part of the national identity. People didn´t know quite how to react. The Sagas and Eddas had preserved the language and kept it distinct from other languages. As well, the Eddas and Sagas had played an important part in Iceland´s gaining independence from Denmark.

Modern prose writers such as Gunnar Gunnarsson and Halldor Laxness were considered serious writers. They fitted into the literary image held by Icelanders. Sixty years ago in 1955 Laxness received the Nobel prize and with it created recognition world wide of Icelandic literature.

Crime fiction intruded into the serious literariness of the Icelanders but, because of its success abroad, it had a driving force that could not be ignored. Iceland was the guest of honour at the Frankfurt Book Fair in 2011. That was, at least in part, because of the wide readership and praise for crime fiction written by Icelandic writers.

Torfi gave a slide show as he lectured. It made following the historic story easier to follow. He entitled one section “Is crime fiction a stranger to the family?”

He answered this question by demonstrating that there are elements of mystery solving in the sagas. One of those was the mysterious murder of Vésteinn and then Gisli´s murder of his bother-in-law, Porgrímur. In another saga episode the dead are brought back to reveal that a crime has been committed. Even in societies that don’t have police forces crimes need to be discovered and dealt with.

At this point, Torfi turned to telling us something about Indriðason´s background. Like his father, he was a journalist. Arnaldur reviewed Scandinavian crime fiction. He developed a wide knowledge of Icelandic modern history. Using that knowledge, he recreates a fictional world that incorporates modern elements that people know about. In The Draining Lake, he has as an important element of Russian spy equipment. It is a little bit of history that people only remember when prodded.

While he creates the Iceland that was rushed pell-mell out of history into the present by WWII, he is influenced by the sagas with their themes of revenge, honour, and family loyalty. His novels often revolve around families and their relationship.

One particularly interesting fact was that the name of his main character, Erlendur, means foreigner or stranger. It immediately made sense for Erlendur, the depressed, moody detective, obsessed with the missing and the past, is from the country, from old Iceland. He lives in Reykjavik, in new Iceland. He is uncomfortable there. As a policeman he sees the stresses and strains, the ruptures and disruptions of family life, the cost of urbanization.

Torfi finished by telling us that Indriðason writes a book a year. He is looking forward to the new one being released, as usual, on November 1. You could tell from the reaction of the audience that there will be a lot of people at the bookstores in Victoria when this latest novel becomes available. I´ll be one of them.

If you get a chance to hear Dr. Torfi Tulinius talk about the detective novel be sure to attend. He´s a good lecturer and will leave you satisfied but wanting to know more.

Rímur Through the Ages

Gudrun
Dr. John Tucker and Dr. Patricia Baer are to be congratulated on arranging for Guðrún Ingimundardóttir (Rúna) to give a Richard and Beck Lecture on Oct. 17 at the University of Victoria. Guðrun´s lecture and demonstration was on Icelandic traditional music.

Guðrun is the Chair of Rima, a traditional folk singers group in Iceland. She founded Stemma. This is a traditional folk music association. She is the first person to teach Icelandic traditional singing (kvesðkapur) “in an official music school in Iceland (Tónskóli Fjallabyggðar).”

It would be easy to deliver a lecture on a poetic form from the 1400s to the early 1900s and make it so dull that the audience falls asleep. Gúdrun did just the opposite. She electrified the audience. Not only was she able to tell the audience about the history of rímur and its importance for a country with a small population living on isolated farms, she was able to sing the examples of the various kinds of rímur.

The kveðskapur traveled from farm to farm like itinerant troubadors. This was before radio, telephones, film, TV, or the internet. In the evenings, after the day´s farm work was complete, people sat around the baðstofa, the main room of the farmhouse, and knitted or did various tasks such as mending horse bridals or clothes. To keep people awake and entertained, stories were read or told. If a storyteller came to a farm with new stories, he might stay for weeks or months. Many of the rímur were very long and might provide entertainment over the entire winter.

Eventually rímur were written down but for centuries they were oral poems, told and retold, changing with the different tellings and the different tellers. Many, probably most of the rímur, were based on classic stories such as the sagas and skaldic verse. Ironically, it is the survival of rímur that provides proof of the existence of sagas that have been lost.
As well, there are indications in some rímur that they were accompanied with dance. Guðrun mentioned that these might have been similar dances to those of the Faroese. I know from my own research that the Icelandic bishops were violently against dancing of any kind and, with Iceland having such a small population, they were able to supress dancing even in private homes and isolated farms. The result is that evidence of dancing has to be searched for in other activities such as the singing/chanting of rímur.
A particular treat during the lecture was when Guðrun´s husband, Gustaf Danielsson, joined her to sing a ríma.

Among many other things that Guðrun mentioned was that kennings became part of ríma. As with everything, she provided us with examples of the kennings and their meanings. Kennings alone could be the basis for a number of lectures. On my first trip to Iceland, my host was the National Librarian, Finboggi Gudmundson and I still remember his shock when he realized that I didn´t know what a kenning was. They are poetic metaphors that often make poetry so obscure as to not be understandable. For example, instead of saying blood, a poet might say battle sweat. Or so I say and Guðrun seemed to agree, although that didn´t seem to dampen her enthusiasm for them.

Time and again, as Gúðrun went through a list of rímur with their known authors and more recent tellers, she sang for us. She even gave us an example of how and why the tellers/singers chose the voice they chose. When a lecturer can perform what she is lecturing about what a difference it makes!
One surprise was that in the list of ríma writers was Hallgrimur Pétursson, the famous writer of The Passion Hymns. He lived from 1614-74. There are modern advocates such as Steindór Andersen who is “the leading rímur singer in Iceland: he often collaborates with the band Sigur Rós and has also contributed to some of Hilmar Örn Hilmarsson’s works.”

The hour and a half went by so fast for both Guðrun and the audience that it seemed impossible that the lecture was over. Because the Richard and Margaret Beck Trust were fortunate enough to hear that Guðrun was going to be in Victoria and was able to arrange for her to give a lecture, we all benefited, hearing an Icelandic expert on a topic those of us involved in Icelandic culture would normally have to go to Iceland to hear.

To make the experience even more enjoyable, I had the opportunity to have lunch with Guðrun´s husband´s Canadian relatives and hear something of their family´s early years of homesteading in British Columbia. Virginia Guenther came from Sidney, Valerie and Shannon Brickley from 100 Mile House, Victor Lindal and Sherry Thorsteinson from Victoria. The history of Icelandic immigrants in BC is not well known so this Beck lecture didn‘t just educate us about an ancient Icelandic poetic form but brought about a sharing of our local history.

Laxness: hypothermia in the Interlake

laxnessberet

Chapter 3

After Valdi told me about the desperate night on the road after Laxness’s reading, I wasn’t able to come back to the nursing home for two weeks. I’d had time to make notes and think over what he’d revealed. I asked him but he wouldn’t tell me the name of the farmer’s wife.

“She was,” he said, “blonde and slightly plump in a good way, a healthy way, the kind of way that makes a man want to hold onto a woman.”

“But were they, you know, are you sure…”

“Maybe, maybe not. Laxness was far gone. He wasn’t a robust man. The wet and cold had made him hypothermic. She spooned potato soup broth into him. He was shaking with cold. It was not unknown in Iceland in those circumstances, for a woman, even two of them, one on each side to get into bed with a man in hope of saving his life. In Iceland, they didn’t have electric blankets or even stoves. They survived the winter on body heat, theirs and their animals. You use what you’ve got. You know that in Iceland, if a traveler came to your house, your eldest daughter undressed him, got his soaking wet clothes off, helped dry him. It was just the way things were done. Who knows what they did in Germany? She was Catholic German. When she heard him chanting  a Latin prayer she thought an angel had fallen from heaven. She may just have been rubbing his hands and feet, trying to get circulation into them.”

“And this driver?” I said. “How reliable was he?”

“When he wasn’t drinking, he was very reliable. If you don’t believe my sources, then don’t ask. There’s no point in my telling you anything.”

“The story is incredible.”

“So is the story of Hjalmar getting lost on Lake Winnipeg in a storm and his legs freezing solid and his walking on them all night. I guess you don’t want to believe that either because teachers have cushy jobs and if someone does something they can’t, they refuse to believe it.”

“I know about Hjalmar,” I protested. “I’ve heard how he had his legs amputated and then cleared his land on his knees.”

“People like you,” he always said people like you when he was annoyed, “would have been whining and applying for disability benefits and expecting someone else to come and clear your land.”

He’d said this before but I still got huffy. “Just because I teach school doesn’t mean I’m a whiner. Everybody can’t be a farmer.”

“The Chinese had it right when they ordered all the teachers to work on pig farms during the summer.”

I looked at my watch even though there was a large clock on the wall of his room. “I guess I’d better be going,” I said.

“There’s no need to be like that,” he replied. “I could use a cigarette.”

“Your daughter says you are not to smoke,” I said.

His daughter was a librarian who lived in Brandon, Manitoba. She had married, divorced, remarried, divorced and went to Hawaii when she had the opportunity. Hawaii was a lot more attractive than Gimli, she said, especially in winter. It was about a five hour drive from Brandon to Gimli. “That’s quite a distance,” I once said to Valdi. “Not distant enough,” he replied. “I keep hoping she’ll retire to the Okanagan.”

When she appeared at the nursing home, the staff found jobs to do in distant parts of the building. You would have thought Valdi would have looked forward to her visits but they inevitable turned into shouting matches.

He was lonely. There was no doubt about that. I think that’s why he put up with me. That, and the fact that I brought him cigarettes and, sometimes, a bottle of brandy.

“Don’t be a prick,” he answered. “I can see the package in your pocket.”

I pushed him down to the dock. There was no point in trying to have a conversation while we were moving. For one thing, he was too busy checking out the tourist babes going in and out of Tergesen’s store. “There must be a terrible shortage of cloth,” he said as he admired a couple of women in shorts.

He wanted an ice cream cone so we stopped at the restaurant on the corner and I bought him a strawberry cone. “Babelicious,” he said between licks. “Oh, to have two good kidneys and two good legs. Life isn’t fair.” He was studying some of the women going by. “By the time you learn the moves, there’s no point in making them.”

“There’s no volleyball today,” I said. I could see where his mind was going.

“Too bad,” he said, “we’ll have to make do with what’s available.”

We got settled beside the fountain at the foot of the dock.

“Laxness was the greatest writer Iceland has ever had,” I said.

“Snorri Sturlusson was better,” he replied. “No contest.”

“We know Laxness wrote his books. We’re just guessing at who wrote Egil’s Saga.” Egil’s Saga, at least a fragment of it, goes back to 1240. The saga is about the life of Egil Skallagrimmson, an Icelandic farmer who is also a poet. The family is known to be shape shifters, crafty and violent. Egil kills his first person when he is seven years old. It’s that kind of a story. Valdi thought it was much better than Pride and Prejudice or even Romeo and Juliet, both of which I taught. Literature for wimps, he called them. Chick lit. No wonder boys don’t want to read, he often said when we discussed education. Give them Vikings and raiding and pillaging and they’ll eat it up.”

He licked the ice cream drips off his fingers. “I need a smoke,” he said. “I can’t concentrate when my brain is craving a smoke.”

I reluctantly took out the cigarette package. There were people with children gathered around the fountain. The mothers narrowed their eyes at me. I could hear what they were thinking. Giving that poor old man in the wheel chair cigarettes to hasten his death. I kept waiting for someone to come over and give me a lecture.

I refused to put the cigarette into my mouth and light it. I’d quit years before and I wasn’t going to start again. Instead, I put it in his mouth and lit it with his purple plastic lighter that I was afraid was going to one day burst into flames in my pants’ pocket.

Valdi Vigfusson knew he had me by the short hairs. He knew that the writing I most admired was that of Halldor Laxness. Laxness was Iceland’s most famous writer. Laxness had received the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1955 for his novel, Independent People. However, I thought he should have received the Nobel Prize a number of times, for books like Christianity Under Glacier and Iceland’s Bell. The novels are brilliant and brave. Living in a country with a tiny population, around 100,000, related to a large number of people, he risked satirizing Christians, farmers, and Vikings. Iceland’s official religion is Lutheranism, its major occupation was farming and its most treasured memory were the glory days of the Vikings.

As Iceland’s only Nobel prize winner, Laxness has had his life written about many times. Every detail is known. Except for his visit to New Iceland, Manitoba. Here, there was the possibility of writing something new, of filling in part of his life.

Iceland has had a peculiar history. There were no native people living there when disgruntled Norwegians and Danes left Europe and settled. There were some Irish priests; however, they fled before the onslaught of pagans. The Little Ice Age hadn’t started yet and it was possible to grow grain crops. Enough grain that some was exported to Europe. Some of the early settlers said there was butter dripping from the grass. Misleading advertising isn’t new.

There was no paper around so when the oral tales of Viking derring do and feuding were written down in Iceland in the 1300s, vellum, treated cow hide, was used. Those tales, the sagas, became one of the foundations of Western Literature. Then nothing. It’s not that people quit telling stories but most of the stories, if not folk tales about the huldufolk or trolls, were a retelling of Viking tales from the Golden Age.

Icelanders gave up their independence voluntarily. They couldn’t stop fighting among themselves and so asked the Norwegian king to be in charge. Big mistake. The chieftans kept swearing their loyalty to the Norwegian kings in return for appointments and gold until the independence for which they’d sailed to Iceland was gone. And then Denmark conquered Norway and got Iceland as a bonus. Iceland didn’t shrug off Danish control until 1918 and didn’t become a republic until 1944. Centuries had passed. In the meantime, except for a few wealthy and powerful families well connected to Denmark everyone lived in abject poverty. They were indentured servants, cheap labour.

And then, for no particular reason, Halldor Laxness appeared. He started writing at the age of seven.  Later, when he published his novels, a lot of Icelanders didn’t like his writing because it affronted their dignity. He made fun of their state church, of their precious, romanticized Vikings that the Nazis had also latched onto to promote their racial superiority. He mocked the Icelanders who had gone abroad to Utah to become Mormons. When he won the Nobel Prize, a lot of Icelanders, particularly those in power, were torn. They didn’t like this Lutheran turned Catholic turned Communist turned God knows what. At the same time, they couldn’t help but be proud. They’d have preferred it if one of their social and economic elite had been recognized. They were so used to their entitled positions and their belief that they were superior to everyone else that they were dismayed that someone from the lower class could receive more recognition than them.

When Laxness came to New Iceland, he hadn’t won the Nobel prize. His life and career were largely ahead of him. His writing, because it did not romanticize Icelandic history offended many. And then, to make matters worse, he chose to read the short story, New Iceland, to the assembled multitude.

A cone of silence, a conspiracy of muteness, descended over Laxness’s visit to New Iceland. Although he came to Gimli, Manitoba, and stayed for a time, I never heard his name mentioned. Not once. His books weren’t in the school library.

So, Valdi Vigfusson from Vidir was important, not just important, but critical, because he had knowledge, not first hand, but directly second hand from his mother and father, about the reading and the visit.

If you want a warm reception, you need to tell people what they want to hear and, what they want to hear, is how wonderful they and their ancestors are. They want to be reassured. Instead, Laxness told people that their  Lutheranism was a fraud, their Vikings were a bunch of brainless galoots, and the local elite were charlatans.

I liked Valdi from Vidir. He was grouchy at times, sarcastic, difficult, but not without reason. His parents came from Iceland because they were no better than serfs. Iceland never went through the Industrial Revolution. There were no roads and no wheeled vehicles in Iceland until the early 1900s. People lived on isolated farms. Many never saw a foreigner in their entire lives. On their immigration papers, they called themselves farmers. There were no farmers in Iceland. They planted nothing. Grain wouldn’t ripen and vegetable crops were limited to some root vegetables that were planted at the insistence of the Danes. The only crop was hay. There were no trees. They came to Manitoba and found themselves isolated in heavy bush. Valdi’s father, Gudmundur, did not know how to use an axe. He’d built a house in Iceland from lava blocks and turf. There were no lava blocks and turf in Manitoba. There were trees. Lots of trees. They lived in a hole in the ground with a roof over it through a hellish winter while he learned to chop down trees. The land wasn’t much good for growing grain but he didn’t know that.

They had a quarter section of land and eventually got a cow, a couple of sheep, then another cow, and learned to eat rabbits and squirrels. They figured out where they could grow oats, rye, barley, wheat, flax. They raised pigs.

And Laxness was right when he said that the wives of the Icelanders had to work as domestics. They weren’t independent. There were times when Gudmundur and Gudni went out to work for wages. He worked on the railway and she worked as a domestic in Winnipeg. Those were hard times. But they persevered and had something they would never have had in Iceland, their own land. In Iceland, in times when the weather was good, they  might have had a piece of marginal land on the edge of the lava desert, they’d have paid a killing interest rate on the mortgage and with no money to pay the mortgage would have been share croppers, giving the landlord and the church part of everything they produced. They would have paid a ridiculous amount to rent cows and sheep, and would have lived in a turf and rock cave without any heat. There’d be no heat because there were no stoves, there were no stoves because there was hardly any fuel except poor quality turf and, in some locations, brown coal that also burned poorly, gave lots of smoke and not much heat.

Valdi had numerous jobs as he was growing up, learned farming from his parents and, eventually, bought a farm with better land than his parents. He raised beef cattle and grain and hay the rest of  his life. He farmed until he was eighty-five. Until then he’d only been in a hospital once in his life and that was because his arm was broken when hay bales fell on him. He resented his failing kidneys, spoke harshly about them and to them and, if his kidneys were in reasonable shape, would have had knee replacements. He did not want to die in a bed in a nursing home. He wanted to die on his farm in the cab of his combine.

His daughter threatened to have him tested for Alzheimer’s but it wouldn’t have done any good. He hadn’t made her Power of Attorney or Executor. He’d had the same lawyer all his life until the lawyer died and now the lawyer’s son was his POA and Executor. They had a good relationship. The lawyer’s son called him Uncle Valdi and sent him Christmas and birthday cards.

“She wants the money,” he said. “She wants me to retire so she can retire. She wants to go on cruises. If she wants the farm, she can come and work the farm.”

She thought he was crazy to be living alone on a place five miles from town. “Sell the farm, sell the farm,” she’d yelled. “People ten years younger than you are retired.” That was when he was seventy-five. She was still yelling the same thing when he was eighty-five. He moved into the nursing home when he was eighty-eight. He refused to sell the farm.

He’d never got to go beyond grade eight except for some short term agricultural courses in winter. However, he read both Icelandic and English and spoke some Ukrainian. Although, by any measure, the people in Iceland were poor, many of them poverty stricken, living on isolated farms, they were literate. Children were schooled at home, learning to read from both the divine and profane, the Bible and the sagas, plus anything else that managed to find its way from farm to farm. The tradition had followed the settlers to Canada. People read and discussed what they read in the evening while everyone worked at necessary tasks. The rooms at Betel, the nursing home,  aren’t very big but he’d sacrificed the clothes dresser for a book case that reached the ceiling, filled it with some of his books from the farm, and bought himself a come-to-me, a device with which he could reach up, grasp a book and pull it down. From time to time, a book would fall onto him. He kept the larger, weightier books on the bottom shelves. Which was good because some local histories weighed more than five pounds.In good weather, he also visited the local library which was just over a block away.

He had a good voice. He’d always sung with a couple of local choirs and on Saturday evenings, he’d joined a local group to sing at the nursing home. He’d driven in from the farm except when the harvest was on. He sang English songs with the choir but solos in Icelandic. Now that he’d had to leave the farm for the nursing home, he rolled down the hallway to the entertainment room where the choir performed.

He’d married later than many, probably around thirty-five. It had taken him that long to save up a down payment, buy a farm, get it running properly but even so he’d taken work with the municipality while it was available. His wife drove a school bus. She played the piano and they often had people over for supper and a sing-along.

His parents’ owned the section immediately east of him. It worked out well. They could help each other when the cattle were calving and at harvest time. If they wanted to go for a holiday during the winter, it was easy to pop over in the truck or on a snowmobile and do the necessary chores for a couple of weeks. When they died, he took over their property.

I’d known him to see him but not well enough to do more than say hello or nod as we passed on the street in or in the hardware store. He’d been friends with my grandparents and my parents. I sometimes saw him at church, although that was years before when I still lived in town. His wife was still alive then. I vaguely remember her as an attractive,  somewhat overweight woman who wore large hats. My parents had told me the courtship and marriage had taken the community by surprise. Valdi had already been designated a determined bachelor and his wife, Gudny, a spinster. Before they had married, she had worked for years as a clerk at the local drugstore.

I first went to see him in the nursing home because I was working on an article on farming in the area. I explained who I was and he’d eyed me rather suspiciously. He’d been a reluctant and grumpy source. He’d only recently moved into the nursing home and he hadn’t totally adjusted to the idea. “Pasta,” he complained to me, “Pasta, pasta. What do they think,  this is an Italian nursing home? Icelanders eat fish and potatoes. Meat and potatoes.” They’d had macaroni and cheese for supper that evening.

“There’s a restaurant just down the hall at the other end of the building,” I said. It was not a good way to start our relationship.

“Do you know what I’m paying to stay here for a month? It’s more than I earned in a year when I started working. Pasta is for peewees and Filipinos.”

“Filipinos don’t eat pasta,” I replied. “They eat rice.”

Silence descended. He glowered from under his bushy eyebrows. He had eyebrows like shelves and deep set eyes.

“Icelanders eat rullupylsa, brown bread, hakarl, dried cod, mutton soup. Rice!” he ended contemptuously.

“I was raised on rice pudding with raisins in it,” I said.

“Your mother was Irish,” he replied. “I knew her. She boiled her beef.”

My mother was Irish. She did not boil her beef. She was an excellent cook. One of the best cooks I’ve ever had the good fortune to know. She made beef stew with dumplings that was to die for. Valdi was lying through his teeth about the rice pudding. One of the biggest imports into Iceland in the 1800s was rice. They boiled it with milk. People in Gimli ate it regularly, cooked with raisins and with cinnamon sprinkled on top.

I wasn’t going to argue with him about my mother’s cooking. I said, “I heard that your father cut his first crops with a scythe. I want to know what that was like.”

“He bought the first swather in the district.”

“I want to know about the scythes.”

“Icelandic or Ukrainian? Straight or crooked?”

“Both,” I answered. “And if you happen to have some pictures of people scything, I’d appreciate it if I could have copies. You’ll get credit for them. It will say Photographs permission of Valdi Vigfusson.”

“From Vidir,” he said. “There are half a dozen Valdi Vigfussons around.”

 

The Things We Care About

saga book image
Strange, the things we care about. Some people care about the fate of the timber wolf or the prairie gopher or the red legged wombat. Others care about historic events, are fixated on Napoleon and the battle of Waterloo. Others are passionate about Mediterranean frescoes. There’s no accounting for taste.

Me, I care about Iceland. If someone asked me why, I’d have a difficult time explaining the reason.

My mother was born of northern Irish parents. That makes me half Irish. And the family tree goes back to Scotland. If family lore is accurate, two brothers came with Cromwell. One stayed, one went back to Scotland and disappeared in the fog and heather. The one who stayed is an ancestor of mine.

My father, in spite of his Icelandic name, was a quarter English. One of his grandfathers was a Bristow. There are in and around Oxford, lots of graves with stones that say Bristow.

So, that leaves me three eighths Icelandic. That’s not much to hang a passion on. Of course, there’s genetic folding in. Icelanders have a lot of Celtic background. The people who settled Iceland weren’t just Norwegians or Danes. However, that strengthens the Irish background, not the Norwegian.

A big part of that involvement in things Icelandic came from growing up in Gimli, Manitoba. Gimli was the centre for Icelandic immigration to Canada in the 1870s on. A lot of people came, stayed for a while among people who spoke the same language, who were relatives and friends, then moved on to places with better land and more opportunities. However, a core remained in Gimli and the neighbouring villages of New Iceland. There was Hnausa, Arnes, Ness, Riverton, Arborg, and, although it fell slightly outside the New Iceland boundary, Lundar. To the south there was Selkirk and, of course, Winnipeg, with its concentration in the West End that was known affectionately as Gooli town.

In the 1940s Gimli was still very Icelandic. People spoke the language at home and in conducting business. Church services were in Icelandic. However, my mother didn’t speak Icelandic so my father didn’t speak it at home and when I was an adult, I was surprised when I heard him talk to someone in Icelandic. So, it wasn’t the language that made me interested in all things Icelandic. It’s not like I knew the secret code. I couldn’t smugly talk to some of my friends and classmates in a language others couldn’t understand. I did learn pig latin but it didn’t make me identify with pigs or latin.

The defining event in Gimli every year was Islendingadagurinn, the annual Icelandic Celebration. There were official events. A woman was chosen Fjallkona, the Maid of the Mountains, dressed in regal robes, laid a wreath at the foot of a memorial cairn that, at that time, was across the street from our house. An elegant car would turn up, there’d be a bit of a cortege behind. The Maid would be led to the cairn, people from the cars would descend and gather. The Maid would dedicate the wreath to the pioneers, get back in her car and go to the Gimli Park. There, she would be led to a stage where she would preside over a toast to Iceland, a toast to Canada, numerous speeches, many of which were in Icelandic and were listened to raptly by an older crowd.

We’d have run the two blocks to the park to watch the formalities, then leave for the far corner of the park to compete in foot races in hope of winning enough for a hot dog and coke. From a kid’s perspective, the day was mostly about hotdogs slathered in mustard and relish. In the evening, we’d go with our parents to the park pavilion to watch adults dance to old time music. The Icelandic part of the day was eating Icelandic pancakes, prune tort, donuts, pickled lamb flank on brown bread.

There were a lot of Icelandic flags. Mostly, however, we hung around our parents’ house because relatives dropped by from far and near. There was a lot of eating, drinking and talking. The talking sometimes went on all night.

The town was very Lutheran and, at one time, services were in Icelandic. However, I don’t remember that. I’d have been at the Sunday School which was in English. We did have some ministers from Iceland. I don’t remember that having any effect on us.

When I was in grade three, Icelandic lessons were offered after school or on Saturdays. However, the first thing we were told was that in order to learn Icelandic you had to be exceptionally intelligent. I didn’t have any reason to believe I was exceptionally intelligent so I didn’t go back.

There was the Sunrise Lutheran camp. I went there a couple of summers. The only thing Icelandic I remember about it is the sago pudding. Icelanders consumed a lot of sago pudding. Someone said it was frog’s eggs and, after that, none of us would eat it.

There was, of course, the visible existence that the town was Icelandic. There was Tergesen’s general store with a drugstore and soda bar on the south side. Nowadays, it is mostly clothes, many of which are Icelandic and a bookstore. It’s the one place where you can go to get books by Icelanders and Icelandic North American writers.

There was Bjarnason’s store that was a mainstay of the town. It was half grocery store and half dry goods. There was Arnason’s dairy bar. Arnason’s had a dairy and delivered milk that was so rich that, in winter, the milk froze, popped the cardboard lids off and the cylinder that rose up was pure cream. We ate it. You could hear Icelandic being spoken in any of those places.

I don’t remember Gimli as being particularly Icelandic. I never heard of rotted shark or brenevin, nothing of Iceland’s history except that, at one time, there were Vikings there and not much was made of that. I never heard rimur, no toneless, tuneless chanting of rhymed verses. I don’t remember anyone quoting Havamal to me to get me to behave myself.

I was a voracious reader but I read the Hardy Boys and Robin Hood, not the sagas.

When I went to university, I met some students my age who were from the West End of Winnipeg. I don’t remember them talking Icelandic or any discussions we had being about Icelandic subjects. However, a process began to draw us into the Icelandic community. There were coffees at Walter Lindal’s and, if I remember correctly, I found myself discussing the Icelandic Canadian Magazine. Somehow, I got involved in the local Icelandic club. There may have been meetings at Will Kristjanson’s. Caroline Gunnarson became part of my life. These were stalwarts, promoters of all things Icelandic. Walter and Will both wrote important books about the Icelandic communities. Caroline was an editor.

Somewhere in there was Professor Besseson, the head of the Icelandic department at the University of Manitoba. He was offering a non-credit course in the evenings. It was the sagas in translation. My wife and I took it. The Icelandic department and the Icelandic library had begun to play their part.

Terry and Lorna Tergesen drew me into creating a literary event at the Icelandic Celebration.

And there is where it all starts to break down. You see, my Gimli experience wasn’t all that Icelandic. I loved perogis fried with onions and served with sour cream, hollopchi baked in tomato sauce, bowls of bright red borscht made with beets straight from the garden, turkey, dressing, mashed potatoes, pickerel fillets, sweet and sour pickerel, Cantonese food from Sam Toy’s café.

I loved going to Ukrainian weddings and dancing the polka and the butterfly. Add to that, the airport two miles from town with air force personnel from all over Canada and, eventually, from all over the world meant I was used to hearing French being spoken in Olsen’s bakery or Bjarnason’s general store.

There were, of course, Icelandic elements. Local women knitted sweaters made from Icelandic wool. There was Betel, the Icelandic old folk’s home. Tergesen’s store was an anchor for all things Icelandic. There were women who, on special occasions, wore the Icelandic dresses that women wore during the time of immigration. There were a lot of Icelandic books around because Icelanders are great readers and writers. However, if any of my classmates could read Icelandic, I didn’t know about it.

But the Gimli experience was skating and hockey, curling, eating pickerel fillets, stuffed whitefish, smoked goldeye, not cod, fresh or dried, although some people did still make hardfish. We didn’t practice glima, Icelandic wrestling. Instead, we played soccer on snow covered fields. We hunted rabbits and deer, geese and ducks. Some of us had trap lines for rabbits and muskrats.

In Iceland, the Little Ice Age put an end to growing grain because the fall in temperature meant that grain would not ripen. Icelanders did not farm. They grazed sheep and milk cows.

In Gimli the settlers had to become farmers and fresh water fishermen. Farmers broke land, learned to plow, to seed, to harvest grain, rye, oats, wheat, barley. I grew up with my father fishing through four to six feet of ice with nets created for Lake Winnipeg.

In Iceland there were no forests. Gimli was surrounded by forests. Wood in Iceland was rare and expensive. In Gimli, we built with wood, heated our houses with wood, cooked our food with wood. One of my childhood tasks was throwing stove wood into the basement in the fall. We lived in a wood economy.

In Iceland there was a homogeneous population. In one of the travel books I’ve read, an Icelandic farmer says to a visiting Englishman that he is the only foreigner he’s ever seen in his lifetime and he expects that he will never see another. In Gimli, we dealt with “foreigners” every day. My mother and her parents were foreigners, so were all the Ukrainians, Germans, and Poles. There were the summer cottagers, many originally from the UK but many Jewish immigrants from Europe. There were the local aboriginals.

There were few “real” Icelanders, that is Icelanders who came from Iceland during the time that I was a child. There were a couple of ministers and a fellow called Ragnar.

The only person I knew who went to Iceland to visit was my great aunt, Stina. She was going to come back and tell us about all the bishops and poets and rich farmers who were our ancestors. When she came back, she never said a word about her trip. Our ancestors were indentured servants, farm laborers and, in some cases, had children out of wedlock or were married numerous times because their wives died in childbirth. Her dream of a past filled with prestige and glory died like the grass in a cold Icelandic summer. We can’t claim to be related to Snorri Sturluson or any Viking heroes.

Stina’s belief in a golden past when our ancestors weren’t poverty stricken share croppers or indentured servants wasn’t so strange. A characteristic of Icelanders is an abiding belief in a glorious, golden past during the Viking age.

The fact that hundreds upon hundreds of years of poverty, of domination first by Norway, then Denmark, makes no difference. Icelanders, in their heart of hearts, know that not too long ago their ancestors were raiding and pillaging, driving their foes before them, risking everything on endurance, bravery and good luck. Never mind all those hundreds of years of sheep farmers.

Maybe that’s one of the reasons I like Icelanders. They are, on the surface, restrained. So much so that there are discussions and speeches about whether or not Icelanders actually have a sense of humour. However, scratch the surface or have a couple of drinks with them and a romantic streak is revealed. They don’t see themselves as bus drivers, fishermen, dentists, caretakers, stock brokers. No siree, beneath those daily facades, they are Vikings. That suit, white coat, overalls, covers up a Viking heart ready on a moment’s notice to row a longship into the North Sea in search of wealth and fame.

Even those of us who have only three eighths Icelandic blood share those distant dreams and memories. That belief in a golden age survived centuries of oppression, dire poverty, devastating epidemics, starvation, volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, fjords filled with ice. Generation after generation said, well, things are pretty bad right now but there was a time when we ruled the seas, when we were honored guests at the king’s table, when no one spun greater stories than us.

That attitude served us well during the time of emigration. Faced with starvation and oppression people emigrated to North America. In the early years New World hardship replaced Old World hardship. People went hungry, died from everything it was possible to die from, struggled to survive, sometimes failed, but they still had those memories of the ancient past to comfort them.

Maybe part of my interest in all things Icelandic is that I’m linked to this difficult past. We celebrate and honour the people who died and those who survived the trip from Iceland to the New World, who survived Kinmount, who survived the cold and poor food and small pox at New Iceland. Hardship and overcoming it shapes people, determines what they believe, how they behave, creates an identity separate from those who did not share the experience.

So, who am I? Where did I come from? How can anyone know who they are without knowing their past? Without kings and queens, without wealth, without great cathedrals or mansions, Icelanders chose to determine their worth on their behaviour.

Cattle die and kinsmen die,
thyself too soon must die,
but one thing never, I ween, will die, —
fair fame of one who has earned. –from Havamal

Not everyone lived by the advice in Havamal. Not everyone lived like a proud Viking warrior but there, in the background, was an understanding of what behaviour should be like. The sagas, those replacements for the great cathedrals, the castles, the elegance of Europe, gave everyone a history of the golden age.

Much of this was lost by the time a fourth generation, that’s me, appeared. There was intermarriage, the desire to integrate so that better jobs, greater opportunities existed. Yet, there was enough retained to hold firm to an identity. The Icelandic Department at the University of Manitoba was funded, the Icelandic library, for a time, the Jon Bjarnason Academy, the Icelandic Canadian magazine, the newspapers, Logberg and Heimskringla, the various clubs that were formed, the INL. A lot of it is based on nostalgia for a past that is romanticized, not just that distant Viking past but the past of immigration, but it doesn’t matter. What immigrant past isn’t romanticized and idealized?

With the internet, publications and documents that before were hidden away in distant libraries have become available at little or no cost. It is possible, today, to read about what life was like for our great grandparents and great great grandparents, to read back, to the times beyond them, to know ourselves.

Maybe that’s why I identify with Iceland and Icelanders. The dream of a golden age infuses everything, is always there, Gunnar and Njal and dozens of other characters, so that while I’m caught up in the mundane, cutting the grass, washing dishes, buying groceries, there is the world beyond that, the world of bravery, excitement, daring, strength, adventure. It rises closer to the surface during the Thorrablots, the INL conference, the club events, the Icelandic Celebration, the Beck lectures, August the Deuce, Icelandic summer camp, the Snorri program.

What causes me to identify with Icelanders and Iceland is not just a personal question. It is a critical question for the continuing relationship between people of Icelandic descent in North America and the people of Iceland. Canada is a multi-cultural society. Intermarriage is the norm. History appears to have been abandoned by the educational system. I’m three eighths Icelandic. My children are three sixteenth. My grandchildren are three thirty seconds. How will we infuse them with a belief in the Golden Age, make them proud of their Icelandic history, make them feel it is their history?

Rimur: your literary heritage

Matthew Driscoll

Matthew Driscoll

One is fortunate, from time to time, to come across masterful lecturers, the kind who are precise, organized, know their subject matter perfectly and can explain it to those who don’t.
Matthew Driscoll is one of those. His lecture, “The Icelandic Rimur”, could be used as an example for aspiring teachers.

Rimur, those long, narrative Icelandic poems we’ve all heard about in a rather vague fashion, are complicated. That’s actually an understatement. Yet, in the hour allotted to him, Matthew Driscoll managed to provide history, analysis and appreciation in a way that left me feeling that I now had a grasp of this important part of Icelandic history.

Dr. Driscoll is senior lecturer in Old Norse philology at Nordisk Forskningsinstitut, University of Copenhagen, and curator of the Arnamagnaean manuscript collection. He gets to protect and work with the original Icelandic sagas. Everyone else is a supplicant or a pretender. You know, supplicants, people who want to hold, study, be in the presence of the original sagas (I got to put on white gloves and hold one once) and pretenders (all those people in Viking costumes and blow dried hair).

Somewhere, in the distant past, I first heard of rimur but I never heard of anyone in Manitoba chant rimur. It turns out that I was just not in the right place at the right time because I now know someone from Winnipeg whose father chanted rimur and, when I spoke to Dr. Driscoll after his lecture, he told me that a large number of printed rimur have been recently discovered in Winnipeg.

To appreciate the role of rimur, you have to think back to Iceland before 1900. Icelanders still lived on isolated farms. Travel was extremely difficult and dangerous. During the winter, travel was often impossible. There was no TV and no movies. The winters were dark and long. Entertainment came from reading, story telling and the chanting of rimur.

These rimur are long. They are made up of four line stanzas, and sometimes there are as many as 200 stanzas.

A lot of rimur have been preserved. Pre 1600, there are 78 known rimur. 17th C, 148. 18th C. 248. I found it fascinating that it is in the surviving rimur that evidence is found of lost rimur and lost sagas. The author of a rima sometimes mentions other rimur he has composed. As well, since rimur were verse narratives of myths and sagas, although all the copies of a saga may have been lost, it may be mentioned or may be the basis for the rimur.

There is nowhere else in the world where there is any verse form like rimur.

These poems are highly complex. They have intricate rhyme schemes and internal alliteration. Various metres are used. The language of the rimur was poetic. Kennings were used. Ship, for example, might not fit a verse, but it’s kenning, sea-horse might. Kennings are so much part of Icelandic literary heritage that when I first went to Iceland and my host was the national librarian, Finboggi Gudmundson, and he discovered that I had no idea what a kenning was, he went into a state of shock. However, I’d been raised on Hemingway and he would have thought kennings were affected.

What made rimur so popular was that the authors took interesting stories and told them in rhyme. They were full of romance, battles, sea going adventures, men and women in relationships. The sort of thing that makes soap opera and movies popular today.

In my research into foreign visitors to Iceland in the 19th C., I have come across more than one writer saying that Icelanders have absolutely no musical ability. They sing off key in the most boring way imaginable. However, what those visitors were probably hearing was the chanting/singing of rimur. Singing in harmony doesn’t apply. Dr. Driscoll had some film clips of people chanting rimur (I hate to use the word singing) and they made me feel that only a population with no other entertainment available could want to listen to 200 verses of that.

However, toward the end of the lecture, he showed us a clip of a young woman singing rimur and it was delightful. That event can be accessed on You Tube. The singer is charming, her singing is charming and the fact that the event takes place in a lighthouse is charming.

In recent times the path for rimur has been difficult. Clergy have thought the rimur were awful. They weren’t serious enough. They weren’t religious enough. Viking battles and hot romance was more interesting than someone agonizing over sin. During the Enlightenment the intellectuals thought rimur were holding back modernization and progress. The Romantic poets thought that rimur were just plain crappy verse.

However, rimur has staying power. Those who follow Sigur Ros will know that they are interested in rimur and have been using it with their music.

Dr. Driscoll gave many examples of rimur authors and their poetry along with details of rimur structure. If you are interested in this major component of Icelandic culture and literature, you can access Dr. Driscoll’s lecture on the Margaret and Richard Beck website that is managed and maintained by Dr. Patricia Baer at the University of Victoria.

Dr. Driscoll was in Victoria as a Beck lecturer.

Snorri Sturluson: traitor hero

Nancy Marie Brown. Song Of The Vikings. New York: palgrave macmillan, 2012. 239 pages.

There are books I read quickly, racing through the sentences, the paragraphs, the pages. There are books I read slowly, not because the language is clumsy but because nearly every page gives me something to think about, to ponder. The Song of the Vikings by Nancy Marie Brown is one of those books that I have read slowly, that I will read again and, probably, again. I wish it had been written fifty years ago when I was a university student and was taking an evening non-credit course, the sagas in translation, with Haraldur Besseson in Winnipeg.

The sagas are wonderful stories. As Brown tells us in the preface that in the later 1920s, J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis were debating what the curriculum should be for English majors at Oxford University. C.S.Lewis was all for Shakespeare. Tolkien thought the students should be studying the works of Snorri Sturluson.

It is details like this that engage the reader of Brown’s book about Snorri Sturluson and the sagas and the eddas. She adds details in the introduction such as “I learned that Tolkien had read Morris’s Journals of Travel in Iceland, 1871-1873.”

For someone like me, who reads everything he can about foreign travelers to Iceland, particularly in the 19th C., the bait was too delicious to pass up. The hook was set, of course, and I knew I would not throw it off until the last page.

Brown tells us early in the book that “Snorri created the Viking image so prevalent today, from the heroes of sports teams to the bloodthirsty berserks of movies and video games to the chilling neo-Nazi.” Before the book is finished, she has explored them all.

While the book is focused on Snorri, on his political schemes, his ambition, his betrayal perhaps of Iceland to the Norwegian king, on the endless conflicts among the warring chieftains, it fills in details that if the reader pays attention, helps to explain Viking society.

For example, the strange idea that I heard stated more than once when I lived in Gimli, Manitoba and later, in Winnipeg, that Iceland was a democracy because it had a parliament (the Althing), is corrected in one line. “Iceland’s thirty-nine chieftains and their wives and children and followers gathered for the Althing, the general assembly of all Iceland.”

She explains about the gods, who they were, tells, in summary, some of their stories. She weaves together gods and men and the influence the stories had upon Viking society. Early on, she says, “As parents the gods were pretty dysfunctional./Snorri and his kind had odd love lives and dysfunctional families, too” and then goes on throughout book to detail the jealousies, ambitions, resentments, that led family members to plot, scheme against and kill each other. How could it be otherwise when “The gods were braggarts. They were tricksters and cheats, no good at keeping oaths, greedy, and niggling, always eyeing a bargain but always wanting the best”. The goði took them as models.

She explains Iceland’s relationship to Norway, to the struggle of the Icelanders to stay independent, the temptations for an ambitious man like Snorri (and others) who wanted all the advantages royal favour would give them. We see his rise in power and fortune as he marries off his children, creating alliances, making deals, betraying others, always wanting to be the greatest man in Iceland, its uncrowned king, and then follow its unravelling.

This is a biography of Snorri Sturluson, of his greed and ambition, of his manipulation, of his deceitfulness, of his cowardice, but also of his greatness, for in the midst of constant conflict, he put down for posterity, the tales of a past time. Those tales were lost in other places, and were nearly lost in Iceland. Some, tragically, are only known by their names or by fragments, but others have been preserved. Those stories permeate today’s society. His work affects our lives many times a day, for the concepts he preserved and created are now woven into the fabric of our lives. “In addition to the wizard, dwarves, and elves, Iceland and Icelandic literature inspired Tolkien’s dragon, shape-shifter, warrior women, rider, giant eagles and trolls, not to mention his wargs, barrow-wights, magic swords, Mount Doom, and the cursed ring of power.”

She also touches on the fact that “Snorri’s works —in fact all Icelandic literature—became so identified with Nazism that studying them became suspect in England and America. Even today there is a chilling connection of Snorri’s writing with neo-Nazi groups, as well as with anti-Christian neo-pagan cults (often quite racist themselves) and the blood-and-death-theme rock music known as Viking metal.” Little did Snorri know what his life’s work might spawn in the distant future. Although they were created many hundred years before, Snorri’s stories were co-opted by the Nazis, used to promote the idea of a master race and to justify the idea of conquering other nations.

Tolkien

However, Brown goes on to say “J. R. R. Tolkien held a grudge against Hitler, a “burning private grudge,” Tolkien wrote in 1941, for “ruining, perverting, misapplying and making forever accursed, that noble northern spirit, a supreme contribution to Europe, which I have ever loved, and tried to present in its true light”

Snorri Sturluson was born in 1179 and was murdered in 1241. It was a long life in Viking times, 62 years, long enough to rise and fall, to create and record. He was, at the end, Brown tells us, gouty and fat, and is hiding in a cellar when he is hacked to death with a sword. His sins are many but his virtues far surpass them and, on balance, it is hard to think of any single Icelander who has given as much to the world.

People often tell me they are proud of their Icelandic heritage. If that is true, then buy this book, read it, make an effort to understand the tangled relationships, the implications of many of the things that are said, put it under our Xmas tree as a gift to yourself, sleep with it under your pillow and when you wake during the night, turn on the bedside lamp, and read another paragraph or two before going back to sleep.

Brown: Song of the Vikings

I love books. I don’t remember a time when I didn’t love books.

My grandmother taught me to read by sitting beside me on the living room couch and reading the newspaper comics to me and getting me to recognize words and sound them out. Comics led to picture books and picture books led to novels and collections of short stories.

I love to read. Reading makes who worlds come alive. Reading takes me places I will never go physically.

Books are filled with details that inform and fascinate.

I’ve been enjoying my new book, Song of the Vikings, by Nancy Marie Brown. It’s all about Snorri Sturlusson, one of the great figures of Icelandic history and literature. However, the author knows that she’s got to make the times she is writing about come alive. The way a writer does that is with concrete, specific detail. That details allows us to share the time and place. It does more than that, however. It also tells us that the writer knows what she is talking about, that her narrative voice can be believed. Added to that is that these concrete details inform, make this reader feel that he now knows something he didn’t know before.

I love to learn. To stop learning is to die. A good book leaves the reader knowing more than before he read it.

Brown’s Song of the Vikings is filled with concrete detail, with information, but there on page 31 there was a paragraph that to me was worth the entire price of the book.  I expect there will be many more of these paragraphs. I will, I think, be repaid many times as I read.

Here is the paragraph:

“Quill pens were cut from swan, goose, or raven feathers (also easily come by in Iceland); left-wing feathers were best for right-handed writers because they bent away from the eye. Ink was made by boiling whole bearberry plants with a clay commonly used to dye wool black. A few shavings of green willow twigs were added to the pot, and the mixture was simmered until it turned sticky. “Let a drop fall onto your fingernail,” says one recipe. “If it remains there like a little ball, then the ink is ready.” A little bit of gum from the first milk of a young ewe or heifer was added to the ink to make it shiny. The result was ink that was black, glossy, and impermeable to water—important to people who often traveled by ship.”

All those sagas, hand printed on vellum. Deposited in Reykjavik. National treasures. Ink on vellum.  And did you ever wonder where that ink came from in the land of fire and ice, the land of earthquakes and volcanoes, the land of long, dark winters, the land of huts made of turf and rock? Without ink, ink that would last through the centuries, there could be no written sagas. Snorri could not have written, could not have recorded the stories we still read today.

Simple questions. Obvious questions. But often unasked and so unanswered. Here is a saga. How could the pages be created? From where came the ink? From where came the pens to dip in the ink? Without knowing these things, how is one to appreciate what one sees when looking at a saga in a glass case, not created by God, not created by magic, but  by our ancestors on some isolated farm, read and re-read, surviving the vagaries of the weather, the conditions in the turf houses, the smoke, the dampness, the handling.

Quill pens. From swan, goose or raven. Knowing that being right-handed, we needed feathers from the left wing. Going shopping for pens meant hunting those swans, geese and ravens. You might stumble across a dead bird and be blessed with the wings for your winter’s printing. More likely, you had to hunt the birds or have the wealthy farm owner have his hired help hunt them for you. A winter’s supply of quill pens.

And having ink meant you had to know the bearberry plan. Know the right clay and where to collect it. Knew where to collect the green willow. Know when you could get the first milk from a young ewe. No going to an office supply store where all you need is a credit card.

Let us read this book together. You can post your discovered treasures, make your comments, on my blog site.