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Walker plays the sax

Today is a rainy day, cool but not cold. My lawn is starting to green up.

I still expect another snowfall before spring.

I meant to post the pictures below on Monday, but was prevented for reasons explained yesterday. Then I figured I’d better review the Barnitz book while its memory remained fresh (memories go bad faster than ripe bananas for me these days). So I left it to today to report on my big weekend project.

The Vikings had two kinds of swords. One, called a sverd, was a double-edged, one-handed broadsword. The other was similar to the sverd, but had only one cutting edge. This somewhat cheaper sword was called a saex (or seax, or sax). There was also a shorter version called a scramasax, which was used as a utility knife, chef’s knife and backup weapon. A few weeks ago I bought this replica scramasax on eBay:

Saex1

The knife itself is pretty decent. It appears to be a copy of a 7th Century Frankish scramasax presently located in the Cleveland Museum of Art (which I’ve visited, years back—great arms and armor collection). A knife like that is kind of early for my own Viking “impression,” but it wasn’t uncommon for weapons to be passed down from generation to generation.

The main problem with this knife, and the reason, I suspect, why the guy on eBay is selling them off cheap, is the sheath that comes with it. This sheath’s first sin is the black leather, which is something all serious reenactors eschew. It seems the Vikings did not blacken their leather.

Secondly, the sheath has too narrow a “collar.” The collar is important in a knife hung horizontally (in the Viking manner), because you need to hold it in the sheath with friction, as you can’t depend on gravity. But this sheath’s collar is too narrow to allow the knife to be completely sheathed. The guard comes up against it and is too big to squeeze inside. The only way to use this sheath is to slit the collar’s closed side, creating a pair of “wings” on either side that hold the knife only loosely. Since the knife is grip-heavy, this makes it prone to slipping out, especially in the action of live steel.

So I made a sheath of my own. It looks like this:

Saex2

I’m pretty happy with it. It’s tight enough to hold the scramasax securely, and the rear belt loop is far enough toward the collar to make it hang pretty straight. You’ll note that the knife is suspended with the cutting edge upward in this configuration, but that’s something many reenactment groups prefer, or even insist on. It has the advantage of putting the weight down on the knife’s spine, which then doesn’t cut into the bottom of the sheath (an academic point here, since I gelded the blade for live steel use). And it’s no problem to draw that way, because it’s worn behind the back.

My real innovation is the shape of the collar. Instead of it being cut straight across, it’s cut at an angle. This wasn’t the result of a plan, but of the shape of the piece of scrap leather I was using. Once it was done, though, I found I rather liked it. It has a humped, whale-backed appearance that looks very Scandinavian to me.

Probably wouldn’t be approved by the English reenactors, though. But I already know the English reenactors would laugh my impression off the field.

My vengeance, needless to say, would be terrible to behold, but that would be bad for transatlantic relations.

The legend of the microwave and the bird

I forgot to mention that Libertas recently posted this review of Andrew Klavan’s new novel, Damnation Street. As you know, I boost Klavan at every opportunity. I’ve got to read these newer mysteries. Unfortunately, no store in the Twin Cities seems to carry them in stock. Wouldn’t have anything to do with his politics, do you think? Nah, not here.

This will probably be my last post till Monday. I’m driving down to Iowa for the Viking Meet in Elk Horn, and although I’ll be staying in a motel room and bringing my laptop, I never count on web access.

Today’s interesting anecdote:

I was asked to sit in on what is called a “President’s Lunch” at the Bible School today, because a couple who plan to donate a large number of books to our archives were going to be there. When they told me where they came from, I told a story about my one visit to that town. I had been there with my musical group in the early ’70s, and my hosts had told me an anecdote about a microwave oven.

The lady laughed. “That was us,” she said. “That was our story.” They turned out to be the same people we’d met on that first visit. (Not so great a coincidence, considering the size of the town.)

The story goes like this:

This was just when microwave ovens were first entering the consumer market. They were very high tech stuff, and not a little frightening. Some people refused to eat food cooked in the things.

This particular couple had a neighbor who was selling microwaves. He made them a thirty-day offer. “Try it out, see how you like it,” he said. “You can cook almost anything with this, in almost no time. You can cook a twelve pound turkey.”

The couple told him they were going to take a chance and cook their Thanksgiving turkey in the microwave. They told him several times, to make sure he knew how important it was to them.

On Thanksgiving Day, at lunchtime, when everyone was sitting down with their families to eat, they called their neighbor.

“What have we done wrong?” they cried. “Come over here! Look what your microwave oven has done to our twelve-pound turkey!”

The neighbor and his wife left their meal and came over immediately, instruction book in hand.

“Look at this!” said the couple.

There on the turkey platter sat a tiny miniature bird, trussed, browned, but so small….

The dealer and his wife obsessed over the malfunction for some time, until the stifled laughs of the couple’s children tipped them off.

The couple had carefully stitched up and cooked a Cornish Game Hen.

I’ve always thought that was a pretty good practical joke.

Sweet 56

It is my birthday today. I am 56 years old.

The temperature got up to 100° today.

These two facts are not unrelated. I’m a hot day’s child, born under the Dog Star. Like most summer babies (in my unscientific experience), I handle heat a lot better than cold. Weather like today’s is an irritant, but it doesn’t prostrate me. I put on a light-colored hat and go about my business.

They had a goodbye party for someone at work today, and in the course of it somebody said, “It’s your birthday, too, isn’t it?” I conceded the fact and they sang The Song for me.

My brother Moloch called me at work, because I’d been out of town over the weekend, when he usually calls. As the conversation wound down and he was jockeying to hang up, I asked, “Is this my birthday call?”

“Oh yeah. It’s your birthday, isn’t it?” he asked. So he wished me a happy one.

Moloch doesn’t believe in cards, so he usually calls for my birthday. Brother Baal sends a card, and generally calls too. My friend Chip, who was born about a week after me, usually sends a card, but he forgot last year and I haven’t seen anything this year. My hero this time around is my uncle Orv, who not only sent a card, but included a nice “housewarming gift” inside it. Public thanks to him (he reads this blog).

When I was a kid, contemplating the likelihood I recognized even then, that I’d never find a wife, one thing I didn’t anticipate about single life was that a day would come when my birthday would not show up very large on any living person’s radar screen.

Fortunately, when you get into your fifties you don’t care much about it anymore, yourself.

It was hot in Decorah, Iowa, too, over the weekend. It was the hottest, stickiest Nordic Fest anyone remembered, and the crowds were widely dispersed—most of them miles away in their own homes. Even a lot of the vendors didn’t show up. We Vikings sat panting in the shade. The first day we couldn’t even work up the energy to do any live steel combat.

We did do some (wisely without armor) on the second day, and felt much the better for it. If my subjective scorekeeping is accurate, I seem to be the Number Two swordsman in our group, which I still find bizarre beyond words.

When it was all over, I felt like I’d spent the weekend baling hay, rather than sitting around in the shade of my awning, laboring greatly only over setting up tents, tearing them down again, and engaging in a spot of healthy recreational mayhem.

I’ll be doing it again on Saturday (hopefully without the extreme heat). We’re doing a town anniversary celebration in Bode, Iowa, and the guy heading up the celebration was in Decorah to visit us. He made a point of coming to me three separate times to tell me that he’d shown an internet photo of me and my equipment to the town fathers, and they’d all said “We want that guy here.”

It’s nice to be wanted. One would prefer, for preference, to be wanted by the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders, but it’s nice to be wanted by anyone.

On top of that, I talked to the distant relative I’d contacted last week, and he gave me the genealogical information I needed for Cousin Trygve in Norway. He also extended an invitation to the family reunion, which is in Belmond, Iowa, just down the road from Bode, on Sunday. That seemed like a sign from God that He wanted me to attend both, and I’m not so sanctified in my personal walk that I can afford to refuse a divine clue-bat.

Especially when I’m this old.

Lars Walker, down the mean streets

I picked Cousin Trygve up at the airport on Friday afternoon. I took him home to Blithering Heights (“Is this Mrs. Hermanson?” he asked when he saw my car. Probably the only time that’ll ever happen). He gave me Sissel Kyrkjebø’s latest CD as a gift, and I played it while we got acquainted. We settled into a language system—he spoke English to me, and I spoke Norwegian to him. It seemed to work out best for both of us that way.

On Saturday morning, not too early, I drove him down to Kenyon, to show him the grave of Martha Swelland, my great-grandmother and the half-sister of his great-grandfather (I think I’ve got that right. I lose track). I also showed him the farm where the Swellands had lived, along with the farm where I grew up, which is just next door. I took him through Monkey Valley, the inspiration for Troll Valley in my novel Wolf Time, and the original, long-abandoned town site of Epsom (also prominent in Wolf Time).

Here’s the mystery he’s hunting: My great-great-grandmother, Mari Olsdatter, the mother of Martha Swelland, had a child out of wedlock before marrying Haldor Syverson, my g-g-grandfather. When they and their children emigrated to America in 1881, they brought that child along. He was a young man by then, and his name was Ole Nielsen.

This Ole Nielsen had fathered an out-of-wedlock child himself before emigrating. This child grew up and lived his life in Norway, and he was the ancestor of Cousin Trygve. Cousin Trygve made contact with me on the basis of the story of Lars Swelland, which I told on this blog a while back. I was the first relative on that side he’d ever been able to find in America.

His quest is to find out what happened to Ole Nielsen over here. Nobody in Norway ever heard what became of him. Nobody in my family seems to know either. So I wanted to do what I could to try to help him in that. But I wasn’t very hopeful. Asking questions, as I’ve said more than once, is not my strong suit.

On Sunday I took him down to Zumbrota, Minnesota to meet Cousin Dorothy. Cousin Dorothy is my dad’s first cousin, a Swelland by birth. She’d told me over the phone that she didn’t know much, but was happy to have us come down for lunch.

Dorothy and her husband gave us a lovely lunch in their pleasant house. In the manner of all Great Detectives, I did my best to draw her out, priming the pump with my own memories of my grandmother (her aunt) and others in the family.

Finally she said, “You know, you ought to go to the Severson Reunion. They hold a reunion down in Iowa every year! I think I’ve got the invitation around here somewhere.”

Bingo. The Seversons were precisely the family we were trying to make contact with. Dorothy couldn’t find the invitation, but she gave me the name and address of the man who sent it. Turns out he’s actively involved with the Vesterheim Norwegian Immigration Museum in Decorah, Iowa (where I’ll be traveling for the Nordic Fest this coming weekend).

A relative who organizes family reunions and is involved in the immigration museum. I think it’s just possible he may be able to help us.

Who says Avoidants can’t be great sleuths?

Unfortunately, our resource guy doesn’t seem to be at home right now. I’m awaiting his call-back. I drove Trygve up to Fergus Falls today and passed him off to some relatives on the other side of his family.

But I’m feeling pretty Sherlockian today. I’m debating whether to start smoking a pipe, or to adopt the more socially acceptable habit of mainlining cocaine.

A swordsman’s tale

Friends, I have found my drug of choice.

It’s live steel combat.

On Sunday I was delayed by being on the church setup team and having to stay late. But as soon as I could get away, I tootled over to Minnehaha Park in Minneapolis, where the rest of the Vikings had already been set up for some time.

Minnehaha Park (home of Minnehaha Falls, immortalized by the poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, who never actually visited there) has a sort of dedicated service road along its length, punctuated by (inadequate) parking areas. Since the day was nice and the Norway Day festival was going on, I figured I wouldn’t get a nearby place, so I parked in about the first slot I saw.

This was a mistake. I’d forgotten how long that park is. I had already determined that the smartest way to get my armor to the camp site was to wear it (mail is much easier to wear than to carry). So I set off walking toward the festival area.

And walked. And walked.

I think I must have parked at least a half mile from the site. I passed many open parking spaces, but reckoning (inaccurately) how far I had yet to go against how far I’d come, I decided to trudge on.

I made it at last (today my feet are extremely sore from the pounding they took in my thin-soled Viking shoes). I was too tired to join in the fight that was starting just then, but I got in a while later.

They put me up against Eirik, son of Ragnar, an old hand at live steel.

I beat him. Twice.

I’m still entertaining the suspicion that Eirik threw the fights, just to encourage me.

In any case, the guys told me that I’m pretty good. I didn’t beat Ragnar Hairyfoot when I went up against him, of course. Ragnar is wily and old and a Special Forces veteran. But he told me, with a straight face, that I gave him one or two worried moments. Then again, Ragnar has been known to embellish a story.

Be that as it may, I came away tremendously bucked, as I generally do after live steel (I’ve had training before, and participated in a couple small battles, but had never done a one-on-one duel before). For a guy as geeky as I, who has never, ever been any good at any athletic activity of any kind, to suddenly find myself playing with the big kids in simulated Viking combat was tremendously affirming. It’s a common nerd fantasy – “I was born out of my proper time. If I’d been born in an earlier age, I’d have been a mighty warrior.”

It’s not true, of course, but now I can pretend it is.

I know what you’re saying. You’re saying, “He makes all these grandiose claims, but can he back it up with video documentation?

As it happens, I can. This Quicktime movie comes courtesy of the Viking Age Club & Society of the Sons of Norway. I am the guy with the red-and-blue shield on your left in the shield wall at the beginning. Note who is the Last Man Standing.

Fear my wrath.

Ignore this post

The post that follows is, as far as I can figure out, entirely pointless.

It has nothing to do with books, and it involves no stories of any detectable drama. I inform you only because I promised to, yesterday (Walker: a synonym for useless, unwanted integrity).

I live on a hillside, and a number of my neighbors have retaining walls running along their neighbors’ driveways, as I do. The difference between my retaining wall and any of my neighbors’ is that mine is much larger, and potentially more expensive to repair.

So I was distressed when a toolbox-sized chunk cracked itself out of the concrete this spring. I told my brothers, Moloch and Baal, and they offered to come up (and down, respectively) and see if we could repair it ourselves.

Since that time I’ve also noticed a tendency for rainwater to run into my basement, along the side that has not, for some reason, been equipped with rain gutters. Someone (and you know who you are) told me that putting up gutters, especially on a straight shot along one side of a house, is an easy afternoon job for a couple guys. So I asked M. and B. if they’d care to help me with that too.

They agreed. I bought supplies, borrowed a ladder at work to supplement the extension ladder I already own, and they came yesterday for the big work day.

Here’s where the story gets (even more) dull: Everything went great. We used patching cement to repair the wall, and the final result appears acceptable (at least as a temporary repair). We overcame some problems with awkward angles (since my ladders weren’t the ideal sizes or shapes), and the gutters went up handsomely. I don’t think professionals could have done that any better.

We did it all in a day. I provided the meals and basically hewed wood and drew water, leaving M. and B. to do the manly work.

They went home this morning, to resume their various duties.

And that’s it. It was a good day.

Georgia Library Will Not Drop Spanish Books

Reportedly the public library system of Gwinnett County (pop. 700,794) had voted to drop funding for “Spanish-language fiction.” Some folks had complained that the readers of such books could be living here illegally. But after it hit the news, several people in the community and around the world wrote in to praise and complain. The result? The $3,000 line item was returned to the budget.

Do we all feel better now? Sure the illegal alien reason is dumb, but can a library cut any budget items without someone making a stink over it?

Despite this public problem, the library board may have other issues according the AP. They dismissed the current library director without explanation.

Coming: A good day to die

My local conservative talk radio station just changed their promo spot for the Michael Savage Show. Best I can figure out, the excerpt they’re using is one where Savage himself isn’t speaking, but a substitute host is.

That strikes me as brilliant marketing. What better come-on could there be for the Savage show than the promise that maybe Savage won’t be on tonight?

Sunday was a pretty good day. I went out to Minnehaha Park in Minneapolis to be part of the Viking Age Club & Society’s encampment for the annual Swedish Day celebration.

The weather started out rainy, but about the time we began setting up it cleared beautifully, and the temperatures were mild by summer standards. I sold a few books, and there were pretty blonde girls to look at. Can’t do much better than that.

I think it’s good for me to do the Viking thing. It gets me out into the fresh air for one thing, something I probably wouldn’t do at all if left to my own devices. It forces me to relate to my fellow humans, something I tend to neglect likewise. And it forces me to lift heavy objects (one of the tough parts of being a Viking is that everything’s made out of steel or wood, and the better your kit the heavier the load you have to carry around). By the way, I successfully pitched the new awning shade I made, following these directions. It’s not historically authentic, but I’ve accumulated too many sunburns portraying subarctic Europeans.

But the big news is that soon I’ll be fighting with a sword.

Eric and Ragnar did all the fighting this time, but we had some further practice, and I got more comfortable with the moves. I was waiting for them to tell me that I was ready to join in, but while we were striking camp I found out they’d been waiting for me to declare myself ready. Apparently my apprenticeship is over, and I’m ready to fight (translation: be killed) at our next event.

Can’t wait.