Tuesday, May 11, 2010


As Caryl and I prepare for a trip to our ancestral Norway, I have expected an anticipated nostalgia for the homeland; I didn't expect to be nostalgic for a volcano.

In an e-mail, I nonchalantly reported to my sister that we were headed to Norway "if the volcano allows," and with that casual line something in me stirred. At the risk of overstating, a sense of the wholeness of human history shuddered through me as I realized that a similarly nervous statement could have been made 15,000 years ago at the rise of civilization or (grunted?) millions of years ago at the dawn of humanity: "If the volcano allows."

Tolkien would have loved the Eyjafjallajokul Volcano, both for its name and for the way it stands tall and menacing athwart the flight of human progress. His friend, C.S. Lewis, would have embraced it for it's "northernness:"
A vision of huge, clear spaces hanging above the Atlantic in the endless twilight of the Northern summer, remoteness, severity... the twilight of the Gods... Joy....
(Lewis, in his odd but enchanting autobiography, Surprised By Joy, says that the sense of longing that this "northernness" engendered in him was the definition of "joy" -- a joy that was "the central story" of his life.)

What is thrilling about looking toward the volcano in 2010 is that it's not a metaphor; it's the real thing, as it has been for thousands of years: "If the volcano allows."

My appreciation for what my Scandinavian ancestors left behind to bring me to where I am -- and the tales I heard as I was growing up -- have produced in me my own yearning sense of northernness, and so it is almost as a Norse prayer that I hope the volcano will slumber and let us pass by.

And speaking of nervousness, the fire of Tolkien's Lonely Mountain is actually that of it's ancient resident dragon, Smaug. Where is Bard the Bowman when we need him? 

Explainer for non-nerds: Tolkien was a student and professor of mythology. His "Lord of the Rings" was an exercise in inventing an English mythology. Bard is the archer who slays the dragon, Smaug (who for centuries threatened Lake Town from his lair in the Lonely Mountain), in "The Hobbit."

p.s. A few days after posting this blog, the volcano did, indeed, delay our trip to Norway by one day.


Anna said...

I have to say that I really enjoyed this entry, I find it quite refreshing to be reminded how affected we are by Mother Nature. It's a good reminder that there is life outside of technology. Also I didn't think this was so nerdy until you felt the need to explain Smaug. And then all I could think was, 'What a geek.' Have a most excellent trip.

Anonymous said...

Hope you have a great trip to the ancestral farm. Wish we could join you.

Nephew Bob

Anonymous said...

Have a good trip. Sometime I might try connecting with a few relatives around Orebro, Sweden. The lure must be in the genes. Bill G.

Joseph G. Crippen said...

Good post, but here's my question: how do I get a gig like yours? Boston for a week, Black Hills for a week, and now a gallivant around Norway. I need to attend to my Catechism and the 9th and 10th commandments.