Winter Storm Warning

We had been out hiking for most of the day, and it seemed like the snow kept falling harder. Starting in the morning, we had set out on a hike up the east side of Mt. Elden, a mountain settled slightly northeast of Flagstaff, Arizona. The trail was called Fatman’s Loop and led up the mountain in a circuitous fashion. Rocks, shrubs, and trees dotted the upward slope as we hiked.

At one point the trail thinned out, and we began to notice a large number of deer droppings in our path. After walking a few minutes more, we realized that we had lost ourselves on a deer trail. The trail eventually looped back, however, and we found ourselves again on the main trail. Wasted time, but we weren’t lost.


Google’s weather forecast had been calling for a winter storm to pass through Flagstaff starting at 11am that Monday–predicting 8-10 inches of snow over the next day. On Sunday afternoon, concerned that our tent-camping expedition might not be able to handle such a large amount of snow, we walked by the KOA office to get some wisdom.

“Yeah, the weather people keep saying there’s gonna be less and less snow,” said the man at the desk. “It’s probably not gonna be too bad.”

I said I heard there were going to eight to ten inches. “Yeah, from looking at the radar, I wouldn’t expect it to be that bad,” the man said. “You should be fine.”

Because of this assurance, we had decided to stay one more day in Flagstaff, for one more hike.


17097228_958330574297108_7809531117575133334_o

Reaching a rocky outcropping, I pulled out my phone and snapped a photo. It was beautiful, misty, quiet. I was insistent that we hike as far as we could, so when we reached the Elden Lookout trailhead, we took that turn and continued up. With snow falling steadily but lightly, we had to watch our steps. “Three points of contact!” Sammy said matter-of-factly.

Pulling my phone out again, I discovered it was dead. Freezing temperatures played games with my phone battery–it had been fully charged only an hour or two before. I had forgotten to keep my phone in my pocket and had instead put it in my backpack. When pressed against my leg in my pocket, the phone tended to last longer, bolstered by the warmth of my body. Surrounded by cold, it quickly died.

“Sammy, your phone still has battery?” I asked.

“Yeah, for sure,” said Sammy. We decided that if his phone died too, we would turn around–our hike wasn’t especially dangerous, but we didn’t want to take any chances.

We stopped and ate lunch–PB&J’s and chips–and then kept climbing. The mountain reminded my nerd-mind of the Fellowship attempting to cross the Misty Mountains in The Fellowship of the Ring. It was snowy, and the rocks were snowy, and there was ice in places. The only thing missing was “a fell voice on the wind.”

We decided to turn around.

Getting down, I discovered, was trickier than I expected. Sammy slipped a couple times on the rocks as we descended. “Careful,” I would say each time, before slipping myself and sitting down hard with a thud. My self-righteousness vanished, and we continued down, carefully, one step at a time.

Reaching our car at the base of the trail, we climbed in and headed for town. It was snowing more heavily now from a cloudy, bright sky. We stopped at the Flagstaff post office and mailed off some postcards to family, then headed for a nearby coffee shop.

It was a small, cozy establishment–the White Dove–and just what we needed. I pulled out the book I was reading (a book by Kevin DeYoung on the Heidelberg Catechism) and read for a bit while sipping coffee and letting my phone charge. We were both thankful for the warmth–something we hadn’t had much of recently. It was a welcome reprieve from being almost constantly in weather hovering around freezing.

Eventually, we decided it was time to head back to camp. The car had been covered in a fine layer of snow, so we had to dust off the windshield before driving back.

At the camp, we walked to the main office first, and I shot a video journal entry with my phone on the way–we had been keeping a video log of our trip, and with all the snow falling and a winter storm warning, I figured it was a good opportunity for an update.

When we returned to our tent, it had collapsed. The weight of the snow had twisted it down into a pile. Shaking the snow off, we set it upright once again.

In an orderly fashion, we got out the campstove and made dinner–instant mac & cheese combined with a couple cans of chili–voila, chil-mac! When it was ready, we wolfed it down. Then, after washing the pot, cleaning up, and stowing our cooking gear back in the car, we got in our tent.

“What the–” said Sammy, feeling around the inside edge of the tent where he kept his towel and some clothes. “Everythings soaked.” His pillow was soaked too.

Throughout the day, the snow had melted and crept in around the edges of the tarp we laid down. The moment was sobering for us–we were prepared for a cold night, but we hadn’t counted on the moisture. At least our sleeping bags were waterproof.

“Here, Sammy,” I said. “Let’s move our sleeping bags and other stuff towards the center of the tent. That way if more snow leaks in during the night nothing else will get wet.” After more discussion, that’s what we did. There wasn’t anything to be done about Sammy’s soaked pillow, but we were at least a little more comfortable.

Sammy looked up the weather forecast for Utah–our next stop. It was supposed to be clear and warm(er) there. We talked excitedly about how we were going to get up in the morning, load up, and drive out of Flagstaff. From hearing us talk, you’d think Utah was the Promised Land–the thought of getting away from all the bad weather made Utah sound positively idyllic. Utah had better be nicer, or we’ll just go home, I thought to myself.

As we lay there, snow falling, a dull light from a nearby lightpost illuminating the skin of the tent, I could see snow piling up above me. It got heavier, and as the minutes ticked by the two supports of the tent began to twist. Sammy and I took turns reaching up and giving the tent a shake to dislodge the snow. It was a game for me, watching the snow pile up and guessing the point at which the tent would start to collapse.

The snow we knocked down collected at the sides of the tent and caused the sides of the tent next to our sleeping bags to lean in on us–a cold, wet kiss if I swung my head the wrong way. I pushed through the tent on my side, scooting the snow back and creating a little box.

The game of keeping the snow away continued most of the night. I woke once to see the tent frame slowly twist, then twist some more. I popped out of my bag just in time to keep it from falling on us. The commotion woke Sammy, and I explained in guttural, half-awake tones what had happened as I rolled over and attempted to sleep some more.

The morning came quickly, and we were up with the dawn. After a brief discussion, we decided to go find the laundromat and dry out some of our gear. I checked my phone and saw a message from my mom–a picture of the king cake she had made and the words “Happy Mardi Gras.” It was Mardi Gras–I’d completely forgotten!

Unzipping the tent door, we were greeted by a lovely site–the world a giant open-faced ice cream sandwich. Over 10 inches of snow lay on the ground–maybe more.

Hopping over to the laundromat, I matched my steps to Sammy’s footprints to keep from collecting snow on my boots–like one of those Tusken raiders from Star Wars. We used all of Sammy’s quarters to dry a few loads. Then, after a breakfast of oatmeal, we set about getting past the next hurdle: driving out. A KOA employee with a front-end loader equipped with a snowplow had been out that morning clearing the main paths of the campground, but there was still a large pileup of snow directly behind my car, between it and the main path. We went to the main office and asked if we could borrow a snowshovel, so the office sent a man to help us. Walking back to our car, we passed the front-end loader making its rounds. The driver opened the cab and stuck his head out.

“Y’all are from Louisiana,” he said loudly. “You should be home celebrating Mardi Gras right now!”

We laughed, and I told him about the picture of the king cake my mom sent earlier that morning.

“You’re crazy!” he said.

17038698_958330880963744_3088190067227406309_o

Back at the car, the man with the snowshovel took one look at the pileup and decided to call for backup, so soon we had the front-end loader swipe our area, clearing most of the snow.

“Just start backing up,” the man with the snowshovel said. “And if you get going, don’t stop.”

After a first attempt that ended in snowy wheelspin, I pulled forward, and backed up once again, keeping pressure on the pedal. The car burst free onto the path, and we were clear.

Getting on the interstate and heading west, we were delighted to see the weather clear up and become beautiful once again.

Poems for All Nations: Part III

In part three of her research paper about Czech composer Smetana and his work Ma Vlást, Caroline Bennett has at last reached my favorite part of the composition: the second movement known as Die Moldau.  If you’re just joining us, here are Part I and Part II of the paper.

Kniha "VLTAVA - Libor Sváček" - vydání 1., rok 2011
The Vltava (known in German as Die Moldau) River flows into the Elbe

The second movement of Ma Vlást is perhaps the most well-known of all. This is not only due to its intricate orchestration, but also because its subject is that of the Czechs’ most beloved river. Though commonly called by the German name Die Moldau, the Czech name of the river is the Vltava.[1] Smetana was likely inspired to write about the Vltava when he visited the Šumava valley in 1867, and saw the two streams that join and eventually become the sweeping river. A friend later wrote that it was there that Smetana “heard the gentle, poetic song of the two streams…and within him sounded the first two chords of the two motives which intertwine and increase and later grow and swell into a mighty melodic stream.”[2]

Without a doubt, Smetana composed effective motives for imitating the flow of water, but there is some dispute over what inspired the main melody of the piece, a rising and falling figure, often played by the strings, that symbolizes the Vltava. The melody bears a strong resemblance to the Swedish folksong “Ack Varmeland, du skona,” as well as to a plethora of central European folksongs.[3] Most striking, however, is its similarity to an Italian piece called “La Mantovana,” which also inspired the Israeli national anthem “Hatikvah.” It is impossible to know specifically which of these songs Smetana was thinking of as he wrote Vltava, but regardless, it reveals his familiarity with different musical cultures and his ability to adjust songs to create the perfect melody for his compositions.

Vyšehrad
Vyšehrad

Smetana’s genius for combining melody with story is demonstrated throughout Vltava. In the opening bars, Smetana uses the flutes to imitate the first source of the river by having them play fluttering upward passages. Soon after, the flutes are joined by the clarinets, representing the river’s second source with a downward moving figure.[4] After the main theme is introduced, indicating the joining of the two streams, Smetana depicts the river’s integration into daily Czech life by reflecting a series of images—forests, weddings in the countryside—through an ever changing key center. At first the entire orchestra can be heard, but slowly the volume dies away as instruments drop out. Just when it seems that the instruments will completely fade out, a lively dance is introduced by the strings, as a group of water-nymphs dance in the moonlight by the water.[5] Then, just as suddenly, the key changes to minor and the audience is immersed in only the moonlight and the flowing of the river as it passes by ruined castles from long ago. The echoes of horns are a reminder of the former glory of the castles. The horns crescendo as they reintroduce the main theme, and the instrumental parts divide, signaling that the river enters the St. Johns Rapids. Leaving the rapids behind, the flowing lines of the music return as the Vltava enters a broad stream. Smetana has the river pass by the towering castle Vyšehrad by introducing the “glory” theme previously heard in Vyšehrad.[6] Finally, the music dies away, much like it began, as the Vltava flows into the Elbe river.

[1] Brown, “Folk Consciousness,” 48.

[2] Clapham, Smetana, 108.

[3] Clapham, Smetana, 80.

[4] Ibid., 80.

[5] Bartos, Letters, 264.

[6] John Clapham, “Bedřich Smetana,” The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, edited by Stanley Sadie (London: Macmillan Publishers Limited, 1980), xvii: 399.

Photograph of Vltava and Elbe rivers from http://www.visitstrednicechy.cz/en/central-bohemia-the-central-elbe-and-melnik-areas/30/

Fado

On our last night in Lisbon, Portugal, my brother, myself, and 10 other world travelers made our way to the upstairs dining table at a small local restaurant. After filling up glasses of wine and beer, accompanied by sides of bread, cheese, and fried cuttlefish, the lights were dimmed. Soon, in came two guitar players accompanied by a couple singers, and thus began a night of Fado music.

Fado is a Portuguese genre of music originating in Lisbon during the early part of the 19th century. Meaning ‘fate’ in Portuguese, this genre is often characterized by bitter sweetness -missing something that has passed on. However, this westernizing of the translation doesn’t really capture the full depth of the meaning, because not all Fado can be characterized as sad. An example our guide gave was: “It is like being sad to leave Lisbon to have to return home, but at the same time looking forward to getting back and being excited about the future”.  The Fado we heard was very much about setting a mood: the lights were dimmed, and the style of singing of both the male and female singers was very emotional.

After performing for two twenty minute sessions, the musicians retired, and the night was over. One by one various members of the group headed back to hotels and hostels through the moonlit streets of Lisbon with the haunting sounds of Portuguese music lingering in their ears.

The Forgotten Norse

In 1898, Olof Ohman was pulling stumps on his Minnesota farm when he encountered a particularly resistant tree.  Digging away at its roots, he found a large 202 pound stone lodged beneath the tree (Holand 97, 100).  The stone was covered in Norse runes.  Little did Ohman realize that his discovery would turn out to be the Kensington Stone, one of many examples of the far-reaching and important effect the ancient Norse had on the world.

When asked to list important world cultures, many people would think of the Greeks and Romans; few people realize the significant effect the Norse had as well.  From books like The Lord of the Rings to everyday words, the Norse influence is evident everywhere.  Understanding how the Norse affected the world is valuable because they impacted civilization by leading the way in exploration, shaping European politics, and influencing culture.

Rollo
Rollo

To begin with, the Norse changed the world through their feats of exploration.  According to maps of the Middle Ages, the area which the Norse settled now includes at least 17 modern day countries (Wiseman).  The Norse tribes had several prominent leaders who led the Norse expansion across Europe, and one of these was Rollo, who founded Normandy in 911 A.D. (Jones 229).  Rollo was the ancestor of William the Conqueror who took over England in 1066.  Two other important Norse explorers were Erik the Red and his son Leif Erikson (Quinn 24-26).  Erik the Red led a group of Norse to settle in Iceland.  From there, Leif sailed even further west to the coast of North America and is credited as the first European to have discovered North America.  While these are the most famous Norse voyages, the existence of the Kensington Stone reveals that the Norse continued their explorations for centuries afterwards.

In addition to accomplishing feats of exploration, the Norse impacted European politics and government.  According to Winston Churchill in The Birth of Britain, two Norse leaders ruled England and established dynasties there (Churchill 140, 167).  The Norse played an important role in the history of other dynasties, as well.  For example, a Norse tribe called the Varangians settled in the eastern part of modern day Russia, and their leader Rurik established the Kievan Rus dynasty, which eventually ruled all of Russia (“Rurik”).  Another way in which the Norse shaped government was by introducing new forms of government.

Althing
Thingvellir, Iceland, where the first Althing met

The Norse in Iceland established the first parliament in the world, called the Althing (“Althing”; Derry 33), and the Norse also contributed to the development of the Russian city of Novgorod, which was Russia’s first and only republic and a major trading center in the Middle Ages (Marumu).

By beginning dynasties, conquering countries, and establishing new forms of government, the Norse clearly affected the world.  Not only did they lead the way in exploration and shape nations, though; the Norse also affected culture.  First_Single_Volume_Edition_of_The_Lord_of_the_RingsAccording to language professors Elaine Treharne and A. A. Sokolsky, the Norse influenced the languages of England and Russia (Treharne 1; Sokolsky 11).  In a news article, BBC reporter Jayne Lutwyche explained that the origins of the English names for six of the days of the week are Norse.  For example, Wednesday is derived from “Wotan’s day,” and Thursday comes from “Thor’s day.”  In addition to impacting language, the Norse affected many other aspects of culture.  Norse culture and myths have inspired epic poems like Beowulf, fantasy series like The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien, movies like Thor, and television shows like The Vikings and Game of Thrones.

The Norse broke over Europe like a tsunami, spreading far and soon disappearing from the surface, yet in their wake, they left a significant mark on cultural traditions, politics, and exploration.  Their influence is not merely a part of the past, though.  The effect of the Norse continues on in the modern world, for the Norse have inspired feats of exploration that led men to the North Pole, shaped nations that are now major world leaders, and created culture, stories, art, and words that remain in people’s lives today.  Like the Kensington Stone, the Norse impact on the world is often buried beneath the surface and forgotten, but it continues to affect history and can be uncovered in some of the most surprising places.

Works Cited

“Althing.”  Encyclopædia Britannica, 20 Sep. 2016, britannica.com/topic/Althing.

Churchill, Winston.  The Birth of Britain.  Dodd, Mead & Company, 1956.

Derry, T. K.  A History of Scandinavia: Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, and Iceland.  University of Minnesota Press, 1979.

Holand, Hjalmar R.  Norse Discoveries and Explorations in America 982-1362: Leif Erikson to the Kensington Stone.  Dover Publications, 1968.

Jones, Gwyn.  A History of the Vikings.  Oxford University Press, 1968.

Lutwyche, Jayne.  “Why are there seven days in a week?”  BBC, 22 Jan. 2013, bbc.co.uk/religion/0/20394641.

Marumu.  “Brief History of Novgorod in Dates.”  Way to Russia.  4 May 2016, waytorussia.net/CentralRussia/Novgorod/History.html.

Quinn, David B.  North America from Earliest Discovery to First Settlements:  The Norse Voyages to 1612.  Ed. Henry Steele Commager and Richard B. Morris.  Harper & Row Publishers, 1975.

“Rurik.”  Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th Edition.  Literary Reference Center.

Sokolsky, A. A.  A History of the Russian Language.  Imp. Taravilla. Suc. de G. Sáez, 1965.

Treharne, Elaine.  “Legacy of the Vikings.”  BBC, 17 Nov. 2004, bbc.co.uk/history/trail/conquest/after_viking/legacy_vikings_01.shtml.

Wiseman, Howard.  “13 Centuries of the Nordic Peoples.”  ICT Griffith University, 19 Feb. 2010, ict.griffith.edu.au/wiseman/Nordic/Nordic-13centuries.html.