Some of my stories, or maybe they are dreams, have delved into Nordic characters with whom I feel deeply connected, despite having no demonstrable physical or ancestral connection to the Nordic world. I attribute some of my proclivities toward rather unusual gastronomic delights (gravlaks, pickled herring, salted torsk, fårikål, etc.) to an unknowable link between me and Norwegian elements adrift in the universe. I imagine that my culinary interest in Norwegian delights owes its origins to a single strand of DNA from the corpse of an old Nordic sailor that made its way through the universe from the old man’s final resting place, into the soil, up through the roots of an edible vegetable, and finally wound up in a bowl of stew in front of me. When I lifted a spoon to my mouth, the man’s entire experience flooded through the nutrients in that root vegetable concoction and through my cellular structure, creating an ironclad connection between me and Nordic culture in general and Kolbjørn Landvik in particular. Thanks to that chance of nature, from time to time Kolbjørn’s dreams fill my brain and his emotions flood my memories. If you’ve read what I’ve written about Kolbjørn Landvik, you’ll know almost nothing about him and, consequently, very little about me; only that there’s a connection. Kolbjørn Landvik was Norwegian. My memories of his youth and his later years I attribute to my DNA recollections of my time in Norway. I learned a few days ago, thanks almost entirely to a chance landing of a randomly thrown dart that landed in a village in Manitoba, Canada, that I also have connections through Kolbjørn, to Iceland. Let me explain.
As I was exploring the world one recent morning from the comfort of my study, spinning a colorful old cork globe with my fingers, I threw a dart at random at the whirling sphere. The tip of the missile landed on Gimli, Manitoba on the shores of Lake Winnipeg. Curious about the place I was about to explore, I sought information from Mother Google about the lakeside village. She informed me that a group of Icelanders, running from famine and volcanic horrors in their home country, settled Gimli in the latter quarter of the nineteenth century. The community, with a small population of only around 2300 today, maintains a fierce pride in its Icelandic heritage, even hosting an annual Icelandic Festival in late summer. Well, at any rate I was wondering why I felt a connection with Gimli, Manitoba and why, suddenly, I sensed a connection with Iceland. The answer came as quickly as the question. I felt a surge of memories erupt in my brain, a torrent that took me back to Kolbjørn’s last departure from the coast of Norway on his barnacle-crusted fishing boat. He left the village of Bremanger, intending to fill the holds of his boat with a catch of fresh herring. But a series of fierce storms commandeered his vessel, their odd west-bound winds taking him 2000 km to the shores of Iceland. There, he found famine, fear, a monstrous volcanic disaster in the form of a volcano called Askja, and a cadre of Icelanders determined to flee the horrors of 1875 Iceland. They made their way to Canada, and then across land to Manitoba, where they settled on the shores of Lake Winnipeg, where they built an Icelandic community. Though he was a proud Norwegian, Kolbjørn was among those settlers whose homage to Iceland led to the creation of an Icelandic village in Canada, the country hosting the world’s largest Icelandic community outside of Iceland.
The Icelandic connection to North America is far older, though. The Icelandic Askja diaspora of 1875 came more than 800 years after the first Icelandic Norsemen ventured onto the edges of the continent somewhere a few years either side of 1005. Snorri Thorfinnsson is said to have been the first non-indigenous child born in what is now North America, probably at L’Anse aux Meadows in what is present day Newfoundland. But I have no direct link to Snorri, nor to Snorri’s birthplace, so you’ve caught me going off on a tangent. I came here to talk about Kolbjørn Landvik, Norway, and our joint Icelandic connection.
If you question the validity of anything I’ve told you here, I encourage you to look up Gimli or Snorri Thorfinnsson or L’Anse aux Meadows. You need not look up Kolbjørn Landvik, though, for I’ve scrubbed the internet of his existence, save for a few snippets I’ve written about him, some of which I may have stolen to write what I’ve written here.
I deviated from my intended path, so I now must return to a cup of hot coffee and meditate on the matter for a while. I promise to return, one day, to Kolbjørn and Gimli and the manner in which my own affinity for things Norwegian and, indeed, Scandinavian in general, arose from ingesting, quite by chance, ancient Norwegian DNA. I’ll tell you stories about what life was like for Kolbjørn Landvik while he was growing up and how, over the years, he came to be a fisherman and a father and a widower and a grandfather and a recluse and a very good man who did very bad things.