Tag Archives: Viking

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.

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.

My fame grows

I just sent an e-mail to the guy who runs my website, telling him to note that I’ll be at the Nordic Fest in Decorah, Iowa, July 27-29. I gave him a link to their web page. I then scrolled down the page and found picture of myself playing Viking last year, handsome in a red shirt. You can see it here.