All posts by Lars Walker


More rain today, and it’s supposed to rain even more over the weekend, then snow early next week.

But it’s Friday. I don’t intend to go out any more than I have to over the weekend, anyway.

I stopped for groceries on the way home. A side street at the grocery store intersection had been cordoned off by the police. Cop cars were parked all over. A news helicopter hovered patiently overhead. I don’t know what was going on, but somebody was involved in a life-or-death drama, just a few hundred feet from where I was buying bananas.

It seems wrong, somehow, that we can be utterly oblivious to the sufferings and stresses of our fellow humans, even near at hand. I often remember that episode of Star Trek where Mr. Spock felt a sudden psychic pain when a Vulcan starship exploded.

On the other hand, I have to admit what we’ve got is a mercy—a kind of spiritual and emotional air-lock system. C.S. Lewis pointed out in The Problem of Pain that, by God’s kindness, the greatest amount of pain that can exist in the universe is limited to the greatest amount that one individual can endure. That may be a lot of pain, but there is no accumulation of common suffering.

There’s been some “buzz” around the blogosphere about the proposal in the Minnesota State Legislature to make the Tilt-A-Whirl the Official State Carnival Ride. The proposal was made by a representative from Faribault, where the Tilt-A-Whirl was invented and continues to be manufactured.

Let me state for the record that, as a person born in Faribault myself, I fully support this initiative, and indeed any initiative intended to promote anything or anyone originating in Faribault (pronounced “Fair-boe”).

I plan, in fact, to petition to have myself named Official Minnesota Washed-Up Midlist Author.

The tank is empty tonight

I have less than nothing to say tonight. Anything I said would actually reduce the sum of public knowledge, just as a carbon credit is supposed to reduce global warming (but doesn’t).

Gleaned from a comment at Luther At the Movies: Scenes from Luther’s life done in Legos! That’s what I call culture!

For Aitchmark and other cat-lovers: This piece by Austrialian writer Hal G. P. Colebatch on cats in literature.

Sorry, that’s all I’ve got. Wake me when it’s summer.

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:


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:


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 Deepest Sea, by Charles Barnitz

Sorry about not posting last night. I was… indisposed. I’m not going to go into more detail, because it was pretty disgusting. Don’t even think about it. I’m trying not to.

And that was a great pity, because it tacked a nasty ending onto a glorious day. The temperature was something like 80°, a record for the date. As I took my evening walk (wearing a tee-shirt) I just wanted to spread my arms and sing out—


Don’t forget it’s March, fellow Upper Midwesterners! Haven’t you paid attention to what I’ve been saying about the deceitfulness and tricksieness of Madame March? When she gives you a beautiful day like this, it’s only for the purpose of softening you up for the big double cross. Beware! Beware!

On the other hand, she did come in like a lion. Maybe she’s tired.

No, no, no, no! Listen to me—even I am falling for it.

Cooler today. Rain coming tonight.

When frequent commenter Dave Alpern sent me a pile of books to read a while back, he included the novel The Deepest Sea by Charles Barnitz. I read it with much interest and considerable enjoyment.

If my own The Year of the Warrior ever had a sister, it would be The Deepest Sea.

I hasten to add that I don’t mean to suggest he copied my book (the first part of TYOTW came out in 1995; the Barnitz book in ’96). I’m sure he’s never read any of my books (who has?).

But clearly he was trying to do the same thing I was attempting—to tell a rollicking Viking story in a non-clunky form. I tried to do it by putting on a stage Irishman’s brogue and trying to be creative with idiom. Barnitz tries to do it by creating a character who’s been alive since Viking times (I won’t tell you how) and so speaks our language. This results in a Dark Age narrator using terms like “off ramp” and “middle managers,” which irked me at first and never entirely pleased me, but I got used to it.

The book started a little slowly, but (as many people have told me about my own books) it grew on me as I read, and I spent Sunday afternoon and evening not putting it down. One problem I saw is one I can identify with—delayed introduction of the fantasy element. Jim Baen was always complaining about that with me. “This is a fantasy, isn’t it?” he’d say. “We don’t publish historical fiction.”

There’s a natural impulse to try to draw your reader in with naturalistic narrative before taking the risk of introducing the fabulous. But the fact is, if you delay the magic too long, its introduction jars the reader. In a book like this one, where you’re planning to bring a dragon onstage later on, it’s good to set it up with something a little stronger than mystic dreams and soothsaying.

I can quibble with some of the Viking stuff. Barnitz has a character named Snorri and one named Skallagrim, in a book set in the 790s AD. But we know from the sagas how each of those names came to be (they started as nicknames), and that was in Iceland some time after the date of this book. Also he has a minor male character he calls Hjordis, which is a woman’s name. He also thinks people sat around belowdecks in Viking ships. They didn’t. (One reenactor has described Viking ships as “floating water tanks.”)

But these are nitpicks. The book grabbed me before long, and had me by the short hairs by the time it was done.

The hero-narrator is Bran Snorrison, the son of a Danish settler in Clontarf, Ireland. He falls in love with the sister of his chieftain, and goes on a Viking raid to England, in order to either win enough money to sue for her hand, or kill the Irish nobleman who is betrothed to her (and who is along on the raid), or both. He gets separated from the army, and finds himself traveling cross-country in the company of a strange young woman who attaches herself to him for no reason he can understand. She has a secret, which is revealed in a very effective climax.

The anticlimax pleased me less well, but that’s mostly because of my taste in music.

I was worried in the beginning by Barnitz’s flip attitude toward his Vikings, and I was afraid I’d be treated to another “dumb warriors” story, but the characters and the stakes got more serious as time went on.

I was also worried that there’d be a lot of Christian-bashing, but I was surprised to see Barnitz depict the monks of Lindisfarne (which makes a big part of the story) with considerable respect. This is not a Christian novel by any means, but it could have been much worse.

All in all I liked it a lot, and wish there were more.

But there aren’t. Barnitz hasn’t published a book since this one.

Not a good omen for our sub-genre.

I see dark clouds anyway

If today’s weather were a meal, I wouldn’t be able to afford the restaurant where they serve it.

It’s 65° right now, and tomorrow’s supposed to be even nicer. When I took my evening walk, it seemed like everybody else in the community had the same idea. Pasty-faced Minnesotans were crawling out of their lairs, blinking in the sunlight, and stretching themselves like badgers (Gophers would be more appropriate, since the badger is Wisconsin’s animal, but badger sounds better).

Life felt good.

Which, of course, it isn’t.

I don’t do much politics here, with good reason, but I’d like to go on record with the opinion that the Islamists have now been notified that they can have anything in the world they want, including the full submission of the United States to Sharia law, if they remain ruthless enough for long enough.

I’m sure the American left will be perfectly content to watch their gay friends being stoned to death, just as long as we’re not at war. The important thing is not to be at war.

My big question is, once Islam has conquered the world, and the only war left is the one between Sunnis and Shiites, which side will the left support?

Confession of an approval junkie

I’m a slave of mutabilitie, as Chaucer might have put it. One e-mail, and all of a sudden my attitude changes and the world looks brighter.

The e-mail to which I refer is one I got this afternoon, from a woman representing the local chapter of the Nordmanns Forbundet, a Norwegian-American friendship organization I once actually belonged to (though in Florida). They had a speaker cancellation for their April meeting, and she wondered if I could take the gig at short notice. She’d met me when I spoke to a Sons of Norway group in St. Paul last year.

Somebody needs me! I regard myself with scorn in my mind’s eye, saying, “You pathetic loser. Somebody shows you a little attention and you wag your tail like a dog.”

Yeah, I do. Having no self-esteem of my own, I depend entirely on outside reinforcement for my satisfaction.

I think my depression the last few days may have been a symptom of an unconscious feeling of closure. I’ve always considered my lecturing career a sort of dragging appendage of my novel writing, like a long tail. I’ve basically stopped advertising myself as a lecturer since I lost my publisher, so I’d figured the Owatonna gig on Monday was the final shot. The last gasp of the tail end of my life as an author.

But now it’s OK, at least until the middle of April. I’m not quite gone yet.

A second consideration is that it pays an honorarium, which will help with my ongoing financial crisis. It occurs to me that this is one of God’s methods of providing for me on a One Day At A Time basis, just like the Bible says.

I’m always hesitant to talk too loud about these manna deliveries. I don’t want to sound like one of those enthusiasts who gets a smile from a girl and decides it’s God’s will that he marry her, or has a cancer remission and loudly proclaims he’s been completely healed forever. Guh-lory!

So I sin in the opposite direction, denying God the praise He deserves.

But today I’m giving credit where credit is due.

Did I do good, God? Huh? Huh?

More reasons I don’t miss being a kid

It’s dark and rainy today, and it’s dark and rainy in my soul.

I went to bed early last night, really tired, and then couldn’t get to sleep. I woke up early and couldn’t get back to sleep. These are things that haven’t happened much since I started the CPAP, and I don’t know what to think of it. Maybe my body’s still adjusting to the new sleep patterns. Maybe it’s an emotional reaction to having to pretend to be normal and talk with people at my lecture the other night. Maybe my suppressed psychosis is finally manifesting itself.

In any case, I’ve been low all day.

Found this site by way of People list the odd things they believed when they were kids.

I’ve got some of those.

I believed a pack of nasty, winged dogs lived under my bed (but only at night). It was very important never to dangle my hand down over the edge where they could bite it. They couldn’t reach far out from their hiding place, though. Why a dog that lived under a bed would need wings, I never wondered.

I believed that there were other dangerous things after me in the night, beyond the winged dogs. But they couldn’t hurt me if I kept my sheets and blankets up right under my chin. If my neck got uncovered while I slept, though, I was in trouble.

I believed (or suspected) that all objects had personalities and feelings, like in the cartoons. To this day I feel guilty about throwing anything away. I know the objects are hurt by the rejection.

I used to wonder about that animal they always showed drawings of on weather reports. You know, that animal with the small head, thin front leg, and big hindquarters. My father eventually explained that it was a map of America.

When they did the Emergency Broadcast System tests on TV, I believed I was expected to hide under a table, like we did under our desks in school, during the bomb drills.

I believed that the Revolutionary War Battle of Concord had been fought in West Concord, Minnesota, a town near where we lived.

My mom told me that babies came from a seed that passed from a husband to a wife. So I figured the seed passed through their hands when they held hands during the wedding and the pastor pronounced them man and wife.

Brother Moloch and I had fun with our little brother Baal when he was scheduled for his first dentist visit. We told him they’d give him a shot with a big, square needle, and we made up a bunch of other harrowing stuff. This was standard family humor—we like ridiculous exaggeration. We thought he got the joke. He didn’t. They literally had to drag him into the office, screaming—and it was only a check-up.

Coming to the ends of things

I want to say thanks to the folks of Nor-Tonna Lodge of the Sons of Norway, Owatonna, Minnesota, for bearing up under the weight of my lecture last night. I did my “The Viking Sagas: Dead Men Tell Tales” PowerPoint presentation, probably my most popular. I’m not sure why that is, though I suspect it may be because I listed it first on my promotional brochure.

Anyway, they were a wonderful audience. They even laughed during my reading of “The Tale of Thorarin Nefjolfsson’s Feet” from Heimskringla, which some audiences aren’t smart enough to do. And they bought a pile of books, which is a blessing from God at just this moment in my economic history.

A lady told me a story she’d heard from another author. I wish I remembered the author’s name, because I’d like to give proper credit. If anybody knows the source, let me know.

The story goes like this:

A writer dies and arrives at the Pearly Gates. St. Peter says, “We offer a special deal to writers here. You can choose whether you go to Heaven or Hell. Let’s look at Hell first.”

He leads the author downstairs, and opens the door to a large room, where a number of writers toil away at word processors. They are scowling and sweating. Whenever they pause, a devil comes along and whacks them with a whip.

“This isn’t very pleasant,” says the writer. “Let’s see what Heaven looks like.”

St. Peter leads him up to Heaven, and opens a door to a large room precisely like the first one. Here also a large number of writers sit hunched over word processors, scowling and sweating. Whenever they pause, an angel comes along and whacks them with a whip.

“I don’t get it,” says the writer. “What’s the difference between Heaven and Hell?”

“The difference,” says St. Peter, “is that here you get published.”

Not hilarious. Lousy theology.

But about as accurate a description of the writing life as I’ve ever heard.

I finished The Lord of the Rings today. At last.

It’s not that I didn’t enjoy it.

It’s just that it took so long. Not only because of the length of the trilogy, but because with books I’ve already read several times, I find myself lacking motivation; lacking the need to find out what comes next. That makes for slow reading.

I know C.S. Lewis would be appalled to hear that I don’t enjoy good books as much on re-reading as first reading.

I guess I’m just a philistine.

I did cry a little at the end, though. For Frodo. Because I know now what it means to know you have a wound that will never be healed, this side of Numenor.

But all in all, I’m glad I’ll now be able to tackle the pile of books Dave Alpern sent me, a month or two ago.

Can I make this title shorter? Part 2

I have more to say about last night’s subject, come to think of it. The importance of fewer words. Like white space in graphics. Like pauses in music.

I know a pastor who’s a very effective preacher, but hopeless with words. He actually has, I think, a phobia about words (like my own phobia about numbers). Faced with a word choice, he grabs the first word that enters his mind and throws it against his meaning to see if it sticks. If it doesn’t, he throws another, and another, in the hope that the aggregate of all those words will be somewhere close to what he wants to communicate. If he weren’t good with gestures and facial expressions, nobody would ever know what he meant. But because he adds a lot of physical clues, he makes it work.

A lot of people try the same sort of thing with writing. They write a sentence and then think, “That’s not exactly what I meant.” So they add another sentence, or a lot of modifiers—adjectives and adverbs. In the end they walk away from the steaming pile of verbiage, hoping the meaning they intended is in there, somewhere.

That’s not readable writing.

I made a reference to Westerns last night. Think of all the Westerns you’ve ever watched. You’ll probably recognize the following scenario.

The bad guys ride into town, yahooing. They ride their horses on the boardwalks and into the saloons. They fire their pistols again and again, indiscriminately. Mothers snatch their babies up and run away, terrified of a stray bullet or ricochet.

Enter the hero. He doesn’t say much. He goes into the saloon and orders his drink. He refuses to talk to the rowdies.

They get angry. They taunt him.

He does nothing but drink his drink.

They shoot at the floor at his feet, to make him “dance.”

He doesn’t take the bait.

Finally they do (or say) something unforgivable.

Suddenly the hero is all action. But it’s limited, deliberate action. He draws his pistol. He may not even be fast with it. But his shooting isn’t indiscriminate. He fires three times. Three men fall, each of them shot dead center.

The hero has his weapon under control. He doesn’t use it more than necessary, but when he uses it he uses it with precision.

The writer’s weapon is his vocabulary. He doesn’t show it off. He doesn’t try to impress the reader with his fancy style. He uses the minimum number of words he needs to, but they’re precisely the words he wants.

(I know there are good writers who use a more flowery style. But even they, I think, need to learn to cut words first, before they can move on to an idiom of their own.)

“But how do I know the precise, right word?” you ask (using a redundancy you’ll need to work on).

There’s no royal road. Do what you need to do to expand your vocabulary. Read thesauri in your spare time. Do word puzzles in the newspaper. Read books above your reading level with a dictionary at your elbow.

Whatever you need to do, do it. Learn more words so you can use fewer of them. These are your tools. If you want to be a master, you need to control them and their uses.

Can I make this title shorter?

The amusing Dr. Luther at Luther at the Movies was playing with an aristocratic title generator yesterday. I went over and checked it out, and frankly it didn’t amuse me much. Too easy.

But at that site I noticed a link to this site, where you can purchase an official Scottish lairdship. Or so they claim.

Don’t say I never did anything to improve your quality of life.

How am I today? Much better, thanks. I went to bed about 9:00 last night, and slept till 6:00 a.m., and I woke up much improved.

My working hypothesis on what happened to me is that my body was overwhelmed by the unprecedented amount of sound sleep it’s been getting lately. It had to shut down for a while to recalibrate.

I was listening to talk radio today in the car, and when I got where I was going I turned it off. I noticed immediately how much more pleasant the silence was than the preceding discussion had been.

That put me in mind of a saying attributed to Calvin Coolidge (which means somebody else probably actually said it): “I try never to say anything that won’t improve on silence.”

Those words have been guiding lights to me all my life.

You might not realize it, knowing me only from these posts, but I’m known as a man of few words. Partly because I grew up in a situation where saying the wrong thing was physically dangerous, I learned to keep my own counsel and save my fire for the moment when I can drop one pithy, memorable, and possibly funny statement into the mix.

Because of this policy I have a reputation for being smarter than I am.

I’m perfectly OK with that, by the way.

But I think it might be a help to me in writing too. Less isn’t always more, in spite of the cliché, but in modern writing it definitely helps.

An example comes from one of my favorite books, Heimskringla, (or The Sagas of the Kings of Norway) by the Icelander Snorri Sturlusson—the most exciting and readable history book written in the Middle Ages.

There’s a scene in the saga of King Harald Hardrada (who deserves to be much better known than he is). Harald has come into open conflict with one of his jarls (earls), a man named Haakon. who spared an enemy of Harald’s against his orders. Harald goes out to attack Haakon with an army. He defeats him, but it’s uncertain whether the jarl survived or not. As the king’s army is going home, a man suddenly leaps from the forest into the path, grabs the jarl’s captured standard, kills the man carrying it, and disappears into the trees again.

In the earlier versions of the saga that Snorri used for sources, Harald replies with a fairly long speech about how dangerous an enemy Haakon is, and how everyone should be on guard.

In Snorri’s version, Harald just says, “The jarl is alive. Bring me my armor.”

Think of the impression Clint Eastwood made by doing the Man With No Name westerns almost entirely without lines.

Writers do well to remember how powerful a few, well-chosen words can be.

Wow! It’s snowing hard out there.

Winter is alive. Bring me my sweater.

Come by to be cheered up? Too bad.

I’m beat. I’m washed out. Judging by the energy I’ve lost, I have to assume somebody implemented the Kyoto Accords on my behalf.

Up to now, it’s been a good week. The CPAP machine seems to be doing its job. I’ve been waking up refreshed, sharper of mind and with a better attitude. The effect generally faded in the afternoons, but the time I hit the wall seemed to be later each day.

Yesterday I felt like I didn’t hit the wall at all.

Alas, the wall was just changing tactics. I woke up early this morning, and was unable to get back to sleep, for the first time since I started using the breathing prosthetic.

And all day I’ve been Grandpa Sloth, the sloth all the other sloths have to wait for. I’m weak. I’m tired. I’d close my mouth when I chew, but that takes so much effort.

And the Black Dog of Depression has his big Labrador paws on my shoulders and is drooling down my neck.

It wasn’t even a bad day. I got started on a project I’ve been dreading and putting off, so my guilt should be lower. My new library assistant seems to be catching on to the basics of the cataloging system. And I got a line on a new agent, thanks to the good offices of Ed Veith (I’ll let you know if any contracts get signed).

Fortunately the day will end, and tomorrow will likely be better. I’ll be sorry I even wrote this post.

So forget all about it, please.

Soon I’ll be in my 60s too

Today the temperature topped 60. We’re not fooled, mind you. We’re Minnesotans. We’ve been deceived too many times by Madame March to put any trust in her fickle promises. Tomorrow will be cooler (though not bad) and there’s a chance of some snow over the next few days.

But today it was possible to pretend the whole thing was over.

As I took my constitutional, I saw two people I also saw last night. Last night I took them for a mother and her little boy.

Today I got closer and realized the mother was a young guy. And the little boy was his girlfriend.

That’s pretty much all the proof I need, isn’t it? I’m officially a codger.

Movie advice (from a guy who almost never goes to them anymore): If you enjoyed 300 and want to find more of the same, and if you check out movies starring Gerard Butler on Netflix, and you see that he did one called Beowulf, and you think, “Hey, another great action movie with swords, starring the same guy!”—take it from me. Don’t waste your money.

My review of Beowulf is here.

I’m considering devoting the rest of my life to destroying the market for that particular irritating piece of political correctness.

Being a codger now, I have to take my pleasures where I can.

Pretending it’s spring

Sorry I’m late. I interviewed a prospective renter this evening (yes, I finally got a call). I’m not going to describe him, because he might be whacko, or he might be a saint. Or neither. But if he’s a saint I don’t want to be talking behind his back.

We ended the meeting on an ambivalent note. One of us may call the other, or not.

The weather has been beautiful, in terms of air-to-skin compatibility and sun-to-earth face time. It was my weekend on set-up team at church, which is always a drag, but when I came back from church on Sunday, my obligation fulfilled, I noticed the bank thermometer said 50°. I went to the local Chinese buffet I just discovered (not the one I told you about before, where the hostess is cute but the food marginal; the hostess at this one is less cute but the food is much better). Then, to make the day perfect, I noticed that the local Dairy Queen has reopened for the spring, so I was able to buy my traditional after-Sunday-lunch Dilly Bar (you’ve got to get the kind made in the store; the factory-made ones in cellophane wrappers aren’t worth the trouble). So the day was perfect. I love Sunday afternoons. I made a commitment years ago that, since I considered myself a professional writer, I wouldn’t write for money on Sundays. That makes the Lord’s Day a weekly break from (some) guilt for me, and I bless the Lord of Sinai for it.

When I got home from work today, most of the snow had already melted from my front lawn. And my basement hasn’t flooded.

It’s not spring yet, but I’ll take what I can get.

Island thoughts

Anthony Esolen, in a post at Touchstone Magazine, shares a poem that contains these lines:

When your mother has grown older,

And you have grown older,

When what used to be easy and effortless

Now becomes a burden,

When her dear loyal eyes

Do not look out into life as before,

When her legs have grown tired

And do not want to carry her any more–

Then give her your arm for support…

It was written by a very famous man. Read the article and be troubled.

Christians, I think, have a leg up in thinking about things like this, because we believe in Original Sin. If you aren’t a Christian and don’t understand what I mean, feel free to ask.

In the room where I slept during my sleep study they had a TV with cable. I hadn’t watched cable in a while. I clicked through the stations, and noticed there was a show about fishermen, and I gathered from the narration that it had to do with crab fishing in the Bering Sea.

This caught my interest, for reasons I’ll explain, but I decided not to watch it because I assumed it wouldn’t relate much to my own experiences.

How wrong I was.

The latest issue of the Sons of Norway’s magazine, Viking, carries an article about that series (“The Deadliest Catch” on the Discovery Channel), and it connects to me in a couple ways.

First of all, the featured fishermen, Sig, Edgar and Norman Hansen of Seattle, are Norwegian-Americans. Not only that, but their parents and two of the brothers’ wives (one is single) were born on Karmøy Island, the birthplace of my great-grandfather Walker and one of my favorite places in the world.

Secondly, I spent a summer of my own life processing Bering Sea crab. I wasn’t doing the dangerous work, fishing with a crew, but it was a memorable experience.

My musical group (we spent nine years together) were still in college when our leader said “My cousin just spent this past summer working at a crab meat packing plant in Alaska. He put in a lot of overtime and came home with a pile of money. I think we should do the same thing, and finance a concert tour.”

Although the thought of lots of overtime gave me pause, I went along with the plan. The idea of going to Alaska sounded adventurous (and indeed I’ve found it one of my few sure-fire conversation sparks ever since). So we bought tickets to Anchorage, and from there we took a bush air service to Sand Point (that’s on Popof Island in the Shumagins. The Hansens sail out of Dutch Harbor, which is in the same general area [we touched down there on the flight]. I understand the plant where we worked was closed down long ago).

Popof Island is less than 40 square miles and had, at the time. about three miles of gravel road. It was a frontier place, and we learned something about frontier living. The most important thing about frontier living is that it’s generally, really, really boring. There’s nothing to do when you’re not working your glutes off, which helps explain the popularity of drinking and fighting in such places. Once a month we had to help unload the supply freighter, and the largest single commodity we moved was alcohol. Never was so much booze consumed by so few.

We lived in a “dormitory,” a large house that had once been a hospital, located at the top of a hill. I forget the precise number of steps that went up to it, but I believe it was closer to 100 than fifty.

On Fourth of July morning (a day off, of course) we found a drunk passed out in the basement.

He had a cast on his leg.

Somehow he’d scaled all those steps with his leg in a cast.

There was a desperate emptiness in the place, a feeling of being at the end of the world in a couple senses. Nowhere to go from here. If things don’t work here, drown in the sea or drink yourself to death.

We had a short summer in Sand Point. The crab fishermen went on strike and we didn’t get the expected overtime. We went home earlier than planned, with some money but less than we’d hoped.

I’ve never read a Western quite the same way since then.