Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Hvalsey, Greenland

Sadness descends on me in the fading evening light.

An old church with stone walls three feet thick still stands, its windows and door open to the sea, the peat and timber roof long gone. The crumbling walls of the settlement's great hall are joined by other less defined piles of loose stone. The last words from the Norse settlements in Greenland came from here, marking a wedding in 1408, and a year earlier the news of burning at man at the stake for sorcery. I try to imagine this dying outpost in the new world, riven by disease and starvation and finally religious madness. What would it be to wait year after year, watching as first the cattle die off. Then the sheep. Waiting each summer for some sign of a ship from the outside world. But Europe had troubles of its own as plague and war swept the continent, and no one seemed to even remember the colony.

Maybe in the summer, at the end of a beautiful fjord with green grass and wildflowers in bloom, you'd think you could hold on. But as winter came and the snow and the dead piled up, how must it feel to lie shivering and starving, dying along beyond the edge of the known world.

Under leaden skies, I turn my back on the place, filled with dark thoughts, and head back to sea.

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