The World That Was

Think for just a moment… or for even a moment after that first moment. What happened in 2020? Two things made news: the COVID-19 pandemic, and Trump with his Republican Party cohorts. That’s all that made the news. But think; what else?

So much more happened which we can barely fathom, but which never made front page. We heard about a few other things, but not being boisterously apparent like Trump, or as deadly as COVID, we probably passed aside those other things that made only the back pages of the newspapers.

The press reported the total number of deaths effected by the virus, but did not publish the names of the 300,000 people who, with their deaths, left at least double that many people grieving and wondering how they would manage to fend for themselves in a world gone haywire. How many of those people were mothers or fathers to multiple children, were aunts or uncles to a multitude more. The unknown number of affected people tears at the heart.

That is news.

In your lifetime, certainly not in what remains of my lifetime, Oregon, Washington, California, Colorado will never display the beauty of their once magnificent forests. The parts of each of those states that we most enjoyed are gone: beautiful lakes stipped clean of the trees which once stood watch among their shores are gone, trees which, if sturdy enough, stand only as charred sticks in the brittle ground that may wash away in the floods which will come with the spring thaws.

How many notable deaths――scientists, musicians, literates, conservationists, proponents of human equality? The list seems longer than those of the previous five years:

• Mario Molina―received the Nobel Prize for his work on the effect of CFCs on the Earth’s ozone.
• Julian Bream―master of the classic guitar.
• Eva Szekley―survived the Holocaust to win the gold medal in the 200-meter breaststroke in the 1952 Olympics.
• Arthur Ashkin―invented the “Tractor Beam.”
• Debra White Plumne―defender of the Oglala Lakota Tribe.
• Barry Lopez―naturalist and conservatiuonist writer…
… and the list goes on: Bill Withers, Terry Gilliam, David N. Dinkins, Priscilla Jane, George Bizos, Charlie Pride… .

How many of us know these names? How many of us understand the significance of these names. They were reported, but only as an afterthought of political spewing and the virus that hacks at the guts of the American Dream――chops away the dreams of so many people on this planet.

But what is it that holds us all together, as one people, stuck on a rock circling a star that glimmers in a universe so infinite that time does not know we exist, never needed a reason to care that we inhabit a mote that has never made the news?

My hope is that the “lockdowns” of COVID have given us enough time for introspection, a study of ourselves that reveals each of us is a part of larger whole that seeks to survive amidst the turmoil we inflict upon ourselves.

Old to New

Then none were for the party,
Then all were for the State,
Then the great man helped the poor,
And the poor man loved the great:
Then lands were fairly portioned,
Then spoils were fairly sold… .
――Thomas McCauley, “Horatius”

At a point in time a homeowner decides a certain room or other living space no longer suits the needs of the day, and contacts my boss and his wife. They all congregate to devise a new plan: an updated kitchen, a finished basement, a bathroom that, since the original construction of the house, has never quite been as easily accessible as it could be. A style is chosen, plans are drawn, colors are picked… and then it’s showtime.

My boss and I walk cocked and loaded into the particular living space we’re contracted to remodel. We rip away the walls, leaving only the bare bones of framing. If necessary, we tear up the flooring and lay down a new subfloor for whatever change is to come. We use crowbars, hammers, electric saws, drills, the heels of our boots… whatever it takes to empty the space to its essential, original nakedness. Sometime we eliminate entire walls. It’s laborious work; lots of sweat and a couple of “owies” are always involved. When our demolition is complete, it’s showtime.

Updated electrical systems have been installed, plumbing may or may not be rerouted, a new floor is laid, new cabinets are hung, a stove and range may have been relocated from a dark corner against a wall to an open island we built between the cooking and dining areas, and all appliances are updated. When we’re finished, the place looks like a brand new house.

The biggest deal: the remodel functions better than what the homeowner lived in previously.

The House, the Senate… good gosh the entire country: Democracy in the United States is dead. We need a constitution not written by candlelight. The Bill of Rights has been ignored since the day it was ratified (1791). Three branches of government to “ensure” checks and balances so a dictatorship could not raise its evil head above the banner of democracy――lately that doesn’t seem to be working as planned. In plain sight, mailboxes are being removed so the current government can remove our basic right to vote. Racisim runs rampid in murderous numbers.

Just my opinion, but I think it’s time for a complete remodel of the United States, because the house in which we now live no longer suits the needs of the day.

――Alfred Lord Tennyson,
“The Idylls of the King: The Passing of Arthur.”

Time to Replant the Garden

Vikings and their Historical Footprint

Vikings — the first images that come to mind are of barbaric marauders ravaging, looting, and terrorizing the coasts of northern Europe. That may be accurate, to some degree, but not entirely. The Vikings gave the world sagas, collections of stories and poems that shaped the way modern fantasy and science fiction are written today. Without the old literature of Iceland, there probably would not have been J.R.R. Tolkien’s Hobbit.

The Vikings also gave the world the enduring legacy of the Alþingi , the world’s first parliamentary government. What we know of Norse mythology and Scandinavian history was written in Iceland.

To sustain themselves with food crops and livestock, they would have needed a calendar, and therefore a knowledge of the stars. To know the cosmos is to also understand mathematics.

Beyond literacy, political savvy, and agriculture, the Vikings were also a people who traveled the globe far and wide, in boats, which could only have been done with their knowledge of the stars and planets, and mathematics. In other words, the Vikings also knew science. To cross the ocean for global exploration and trade, in boats that could also serve as warships in shallow tides, the Vikings had to know more than just thumping people on the head.

And they did.

Fierce warriors, to be sure, they were feared opponents, but they were also sought after for trade, and for imparting their technological advancements. Kings in Scandinavia and other parts of Europe commissioned Viking longships, because in the years between 900 and 1100AD, no one could craft a sea-going vessel to match the Viking longship.

Their art, delicately crafted and intricately tooled, has been unearthed in archaeological sites across the globe. Their literature paved the way for current best-selling books and blockbuster movies. They gave the world a government which serves as foundation for governance in countries all over the current world.

In truth, the Vikings gave to and educated the world as much as the Greeks and Romans.

As you discover Iceland, with its hard, finicky weather, its rumbling mountains and tectonic activity, blue ice glaciers, and its isolation from the rest of the world, you have to image that the people who could settle in such a land, and who could be successful, must have been a bit smarter than the average polar bear.

From any Icelandair Hotel, you can easily tour and explore a world that marries fire with ice, and you can visit museums and landmarks to learn more of Viking history. If you stay long enough, you might even become a Viking yourself!