Wednesday, July 31, 2013

A Viking Ship Named Snorri

The Icelandic name Snorri, which I admit I cannot properly pronounce, seems to follow me about. I first went to Iceland in 1986 thinking of writing a novel about Snorri, the chieftain of Helgafell in Eyrbyggja Saga. Gudrid Thorbjarnardottir, heroine of my 2007 nonfiction book The Far Traveler, had a son named Snorri, born while Gudrid and her husband Thorfinn Karlsefni explored North America just after the year 1000. My latest book, Song of the Vikings, is the biography of a third Snorri, the 13th-century poet and politician Snorri Sturluson, who gave us Norse mythology as we know it.

Now a fourth Snorri comes into my life. While on tour for Song of the Vikings last November, I gave a lecture at the University of Southern Maine in Portland. There to meet me was Rob Stevens, famous for building a Viking ship replica named, yes, Snorri. Granted the ship was named after Gudrid the Far-Traveler’s son, but still, another Snorri.

Rob was a bit of a Santa: big white beard, big round belly, round blue eyes with the requisite sparkle. He had two silver rings in his left ear, one in the right. A curly ponytail. His hands were strong and notably banged up, the hands of a woodworker.

I knew all about him from Hodding Carter’s 2000 book, A Viking Voyage, which has one of those subtitles that need no further explanation: In which an unlikely crew of adventurers attempts an epic journey to the New World. In spite of reading like a farce, Carter’s book supplied me with wonderful background material for Gudrid the Far-Traveler’s experiences sailing in a Viking ship across the North Atlantic eight times.

Rob, in the book, did not come across as a hero. Carter wrote of “Rob’s moodiness and tendency toward being a loose cannon,” while acknowledging that “even if half of what he spewed was bullshit, he still probably knew more about traditional boatbuilding than anyone alive.”

“What’s it like to be written about—especially in a funny book?” I asked him.

He shrugged. At first he had been annoyed. Then he’d compared notes with the others on the crew, and none of them had liked what Carter had written about themselves either. So it was probably all true.

Now Rob shared with me a new book: Paul T. Cunningham’s Building a Viking Ship in Maine (Just Write Books 2012), a photo essay that chronicles the building of Snorri out of oak, pine, locust, tamarack, willow, and iron. The ship was a copy of a knarr, or Viking merchant ship, found in the harbor at Roskilde, Denmark some years ago. It is 54 feet long, 16 feet wide, and 6 feet deep. Rather tubby compared to the long, sleek dragonships we’re used to thinking of as Viking ships.

It also seems a little small for an ocean-crossing knarr. On pages 110-111 of Cunningham’s book, Snorri is in the water, surrounded by rowboats and canoes; a phalanx of motorboats waits further offshore. The blacksmith who made the rivets, a husky guy in a plastic horned helmet, poses at an oar, two other  fake “oarsmen” (is one a woman? hard to tell) pose behind him, while the rest of the crew and their families look like the tourists they are, sitting on the gunwales, lounging hands-in-pockets amidships. It’s quite a crowd: Packed in, with little room to move are at least 41 people (a couple more children might be tucked in, invisible). In Eirik the Red’s Saga, Thorfinn Karlsefni is said to come to Greenland on a knarr, or merchant ship, with 40 men aboard; his partner, another Snorri, had a second ship with 40 men. Traveling to Vinland, Karlsefni is said to have taken three ships and a total of 160 people. Looking at this photo of Snorri, the saga account doesn’t seem possible, unless Snorri is an unusually small knarr.

But other than its carrying capacity, Snorri proved it was fully up to the task of discovering America in about the year 1000—with a little remodeling. Unlike other replica ships like Gaia, on which I took a pleasure cruise in Newport Harbor in 1991, Snorri  had no back-up diesel engine, no enclosed cabin, no chase boat. The crew were totally exposed to the elements—the way the Vikings were—and totally reliant on the ship’s sail and oars. Not being totally insane, however, Carter did allow modern communications technology aboard. Otherwise, there might have been no story to tell.

On their first attempt to cross the Davis Strait, Carter wrote, “Our huge rudder had loosened a supporting crossbeam, a thigh-thick piece of wooden framing, by constantly pulling forward on it, instantly creating four holes in the bottom of the boat. Water gushed in…” They radioed for help. The coast guard towed Snorri back to Greenland and Rob flew to Denmark to consult with the experts at the Viking Ship Museum in Roskilde on rudder design.

The Danes weren’t a lot of help. Recalling his trip to me last November, Rob shrugged. “There’s a series of books called Culture Shock. I wish I’d read the one about the Danes before I went there. I’m just a boatbuilder. I thought they’d say, ‘Boy, oh, boy, another Viking ship!’” They didn’t. In fact, Rob thought they were giving him the shove-off. “After I read the book, I realized that they were being really helpful. They’d say, ‘This is all we will do for you’ and I now I realize they meant, ‘This is all we can do for you.’ It’s a huge difference in English.”

From Building a Viking Ship in Maine
Essentially, no one really knows how to build a Viking ship—or how to fit one with the correct rudder. All the Viking ship replicas built are examples of experimental archaeology, a fancy term for trial and error.

“The hardest thing about building Snorri,” Rob told me, “was organizing people. The vast majority of it was done the same way we built boats a hundred years ago. The only difference is if you’re using electricity or not. And electricity makes us lousy woodworkers.” The Vikings, he believes, could build a ship much more quickly than we can now. “Take the laziest person in the world,” said Rob, meaning in the Viking world: “Their tools were sharp. They knew how to measure and then cut to the line. Now you cut and grind it down to the line and it takes forever.”

In one of Cunningham’s photos, Rob uses an adze to shape the stern. Reads the caption, "Sometimes in wooden boat building, the older tools are the right ones to use." Elsewhere, another craftsman uses a modern router to shape a floor timber. If the Viking’s had one, they would have used it. It was a common refrain, Cunningham noted. The builders of Snorri weren’t purists.

But they were brave. Reading about Rob’s experiences sailing Snorri from Greenland to Newfoundland convinced me I would never (as I had once threatened) talk my way onto a replica Viking voyage. Remembering that time the “water gushed in,” Carter wrote: “We were more than 130 miles from Greenland, adrift. All that bashing and groaning I had so cherished had taken its toll. Some of the crew were falling apart. Rob was retching wherever he stood. Others were nearly as sick.”

And again: “Walls of crashing water would tumble over you and then the wind finished you off. I stayed just warm enough in my wool clothes—just shy of hypothermia, really—but I was soaked to the bone. Dean took a hit that even Mike Tyson could not equal. He reeled around gasping for air. Rob became incapacitated and puked mightily…”

I would rather fall off a horse (and I have, repeatedly) than be seasick. When I asked about it last November, Rob laughed it off. “Great way to lose 40 or 50 pounds.” Then he added, “I want to convince the guys at Cape Cod to build another one and sail it back to Greenland.” Spoken like a true Viking. Let a little bit of discomfort get in the way of an adventure? Never.

The adventures of the ship Snorri are chronicled in three books. I recommend them all:

Hodding Carter’s A Viking Voyage (Ballantine 2000)
Carter’s An Illustrated Viking Voyage: Retracing Leif Eriksson’s Journey in an Authentic Viking Knarr, with photos by Russell Kaye (Simon & Schuster, 2000)
Paul Cunningham’s Building a Viking Ship in Maine (Just Write Books 2012).

Join me again next Wednesday at for another writing adventure in Iceland or the medieval world.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Where Was the Vikings' Vinland?

A thousand years ago, an Icelandic woman named Gudrid the Far-Traveler sailed west from Greenland with her husband, Thorfinn Karlsefni. They spent three years exploring North America then, after a clash with Native Americans, returned home to Iceland. As I wrote in The Far Traveler: Voyages of a Viking Woman, their story is told in two medieval Icelandic sagas: The Saga of Eirik the Red and The Saga of the Greenlanders.

It is also backed up by archaeology.

Since they were discovered in the late 1960s, the Viking ruins at L'Anse aux Meadows in Newfoundland, and the artifacts found in or near them, have provided more and more proof that the stories in the sagas are true. A particularly intriguing tale is told by the collection of strike-a-lights—shards of jasper, a reddish flinty stone that, struck with steel, creates sparks to start a fire.

When I was working on The Far Traveler in 2006, 10 strike-a-lights had been discovered in the three Viking houses.

I discussed them with Birgitta Wallace, who for a long time was head archaeologist at L'Anse aux Meadows. (I've blogged about her work before: see "The Case of the Butternuts" and "A Viking Woman in America.")

Birgitta Wallace believes the L'Anse aux Meadows ruins were the houses the sagas say Leif Eiriksson agreed to lend—but not give—to Gudrid and Karlsefni. She writes in the book Vinland Revisited: "It is far too substantial and complex a site not to be mentioned in the sagas." It is like other gateways in the Viking world, where a king or chieftain will lay claim to a rich region and seek to funnel all its resources to one spot, where he or a trusted deputy can tax them more easily.

This gateway did have a strong leader, someone who divided the work of repairing a small boat among the three houses. As the pattern of artifacts shows, the men in the southern house smelted the ore and fashioned the nails. They worked the wood in the middle house. In the boatshed attached to the northern house, they pried off the broken piece and nailed on the patch.

But was that leader Leif, or Karlsefni? Leif did not have 90 men to build such sturdy houses, according to the sagas; Karlsefni did.

Then there's the jasper evidence. Knowing that jasper varies in its chemical makeup, geochemists compared the trace elements in the 10 strike-a-lights to jasper from Iceland, Greenland, and Newfoundland, as well as to samples from Norway, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, New England, Pennsylvania, and the Great Lakes region. Four of the strike-a-lights came from Greenland. Five came from Iceland. One was Newfoundland stone.

The strike-a-lights had been recovered from the floors of the houses. The southern house held only Icelandic jasper; the middle house had Icelandic and Newfoundland jaspers; the northern house, Icelandic and Greenlandic. In The Saga of Eirik the Red, Karlsefni's expedition had three ships: two crewed by Icelanders, and one, Gudrid's ship, that was "mostly" Greenlanders. Those ten bits of jasper seem to assert Karlsefni's claim.

Which does not push Leif Eiriksson out of the picture. His crew might have wintered here, building themselves a sturdy longhouse and some outbuildings. When Karlsefni and Gudrid arrived four years later, with three ship’s crews to house, perhaps they enlarged the settlement. Birgitta Wallace agrees we will never know. "In archaeology, it doesn't really matter if the houses were built 10 years apart—that’s simultaneous to us."

The idea of L'Anse aux Meadows being a "gateway" raises another question: Where did the Vikings sail from there?

And now the jasper strike-a-lights have provided an answer. The Vikings went at least as far as Notre Dame Bay, 143 miles south, where they picked up a piece of jaspar—and may have encountered the Beothuck Indians. As archaeological research has shown, Newfoundland's Notre Dame Bay was home to a dense settlement of Beothuck Indians a thousand years ago.

"This area of Notre Dame Bay was as good a candidate as any for that first contact between the Old World and the New World, and that's kind of an exciting thing," said Kevin Smith of Brown
University, as reported by Owen Jarus on LiveScience. Smith also worked on the earlier strike-a-lights study. He presented his new findings at the annual meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, held April 3-7, 2013, in Honolulu, Hawaii. (A copy of Smith's poster presentation can be downloaded through; the photo below comes from that poster, by way of LiveScience.)

The bit of jaspar that provided this insight was discovered in 2008, 33 feet from one of the Viking longhouses. When compared with 73 jasper samples from around the world, using a handheld X-ray fluorescence device, the chemical signature of the strike-a-light showed the closest match with rocks from a 44-mile-long stretch of Notre Dame Bay known today as Fortune Harbor.

Though a beachcomber might get very, very lucky, don't expect archaeologists to find--or even go looking for--any signs of the Viking presence in Fortune Harbor. As Birgitta Wallace told a reporter from the CBC, "To look for something that was a summer camp 1,000 years ago, by just a handful of people, is pretty useless. Unless there was a big catastrophe, I don't think a group of people like that leave many traces of themselves."

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Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Viking Blood

I'm descended from Vikings. People often ask me why I'm so interested in Iceland and the Icelandic sagas--why I write books about the Viking Age. My glib response has been to say, "All my ancestors come from Northern Europe, so I'm sure there was a Viking in there somewhere." But now I can legitimately say I'm descended from a Viking warrior.

For the sake of argument, let's call him Ragnar Lothbrok.

A few months ago, in "The Real Ragnar Lothbrok," a post about the History Channel's Vikings series, I questioned whether there was a historical person called Ragnar Lothbrok or if the character in the stories we know is a conflation of several Vikings with similar names. My source was a new scholarly book by Dr. Elisabeth Ashman Rowe, Vikings in the West: The Legend of Ragnarr Loðbrók and His Sons.

The post inspired two readers to reply that they were descended from Ragnar or from another Viking, "a close companion to Rollo" who founded Normandy, and another to suggest (sarcastically) that he himself descended from Julius Caesar and Cleopatra.

Well, an article in the new science magazine Nautilus by Veronica Green says … they are all right. They do descend from Ragnar, Rollo, Caesar, and Cleopatra. And I do descend from Ragnar Lothbrok.

You do too.

Green reports on a "a computer model of human genetics" that shows "that anyone who was alive 2,000-3,000 years ago is either the ancestor of everyone who's now alive, or no one at all." 

Mindboggling as that idea is, it's too far back in time for Ragnar Lothbrok, who lived (if he lived) around 845 AD. 

But Green points to an article on the National Geographic blog by Carl Zimmer, which explains that you only need to go back as far as Charlemagne (c. 800 AD) to find that you're related to everyone who lived in Western Europe (if not the world) at that time.

Zimmer was reporting on the work of Yale statistician Joseph Chang. Chang did the math: You have 2 parents, 4 grandparents, 8 great-grandparents, 16 great-great-grandparents … as Zimmer writes, "If you go back to the time of Charlemagne, 40 generations or so, you should get to a generation of a trillion ancestors. That's about 2,000 times more people than existed on Earth when Charlemagne was alive."

So you're related to all of them. Charlemagne, Ragnar, all of them.

Chang's not the only scientist to come to this conclusion, Zimmer notes. A recent paper by Peter Ralph, a geneticist at USC, and Graham Coop, a geneticist at UC-Davis, looked at the DNA of 2,257 people currently living in Europe. (You can read the original paper here:, or a nice less-technical FAQ-sheet here:

Ralph and Coop found that huge chunks of DNA were shared by people who didn't seem like they should be related. As they explain, "We found that even people living on opposite sides of Europe are genealogically closely related to each other over the past thousand years. Even pairs of people as far apart as the UK and Turkey share a chunk of genomic material 20% of the time. Since the chance that two people inherit genetic material from any one shared ancestor from 1,000 years ago is incredibly unlikely (<10-10), to explain such sharing we need these pairs of individuals to share many ancestors. In fact, they need to share a number of ancestors that is far larger than the size of the European population, indicating that any pair of individuals share as ancestors all of the individuals alive back at the time in Europe, each many times over…. Everyone is everyone's ancestor."

As Zimmer puts it, "Charlemagne for everyone!" 

Or, as I'd prefer, Ragnar Lothbrok for everyone!

Join me again next Wednesday at for another adventure in Iceland or the medieval world.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Riding Past the Rainbow Bridge

An Icelandic horse “will climb wherever a goat can clamber,” noted Sabine S. Baring-Gould in 1863. Baring-Gould, a Devonshire parson who wrote fairy tales, novels, and the hymn “Onward Christian Soldiers,” was among the many British gentlemen who went adventuring in Iceland in the 19th century. The book of his travels, Iceland: Its Scenes and Sagas, is one of my favorites, particularly for the parson’s appreciation of our horses: “An Icelandic horse is a most remarkable object,” he wrote. “As he spins along, he holds his head toward the ground, observing it intently, so that he seldom trips, and when he sees a crack or hole in the lava, he swerves rapidly and avoids it. … He will climb wherever a goat can clamber, will trot over wastes of angular stone fragments, and tread fearlessly over bogs, supported only by a network of long grass.”

I was riding such a horse, thankfully, on an America2Iceland trek a few weeks ago when our Icelandic guide, Halli, decided to take us cross-country. Halli, whom I described in a previous post as a man with four arms (one for the reins, one for the whip, one for his GPS, and one for a cigarette), is much like his horses: tireless, intent, fearless, and a whole lot of fun. Nothing flusters Halli. Certainly not the lack of a path.

“We’re heading for that mountain,” he assured us. “Just ride straight for that mountain, the farmer said.”

We had come from beautiful Langavatn (Long Lake), a deserted, paradisical fishing spot high above Borgarfjord, where the late evening sun glowed on the blue water.

We needed to reach Hredavatn (Bull Lake), another pretty spot closer to what qualifies as civilization in the Icelandic countryside: Hredavatn is ringed by summer houses, sheep farms, and the business college at Bifrost, with a snack bar and gas station of the same name, and close to the crater Grabrok, a popular tourist stop on the busy Ring Road, which is Iceland’s Highway Number One.

The lake was also near a tunnel under the Ring Road specifically designed for horse traffic.

Note that Bifrost is the name of the Rainbow Bridge connecting heaven and earth, over which the gods and goddesses Odin, Tyr, Freyja, and the rest ride their horses every day to hold counsel beside the Well of Weird. (Except for Thor; he’s so big he has to walk.) When a horse dies, we often say it has crossed the Rainbow Bridge. This tunnel under the Ring Road was Iceland’s attempt to limit the number of horses (and riders) that took the bridge.

The night before, Halli had called some local farmers to confirm his route from Langavatn to Hredavatn, and thus to the tunnel. He’d learned that the traditional horse tracks through the highlands above Borgarfjord were still too wet to ride on. It had been a very late spring in Iceland. There’d been snow in some areas in late May. Riding on those sensitive paths would lead to erosion, so the farmers had sketched out an alternate route for our tour in mid-June. Emphasis on the “sketched.”

“Just ride straight for that mountain,” Halli told us.

I didn’t think so. I’d ridden in Iceland many times before and had never attempted what Halli was suggesting. Between us and “that mountain” was an Icelandic forest. Not a planted forest, with imported trees growing in nice rows, as you’ll see more and more around the Icelandic countryside these days. But a real Icelandic forest. Waist-high birches just coming into leaf, their twigs bursting with fat catkins, growing so close together, their branches so interwoven, that you couldn’t see the ground. We had just left a trail, gone through a fence, crossed a stream, up a steep slope, and spotted Halli’s mountain.

I looked around. A thin line, the mere hint of a path, stretched transversely across the hilltop behind us. “There’s a path, Halli,” I said.

He looked. “Not going the right way. We need to ride straight for the mountain.”

And so we did. Halli was riding a young horse with only two months of training. He had taken it on the trek so it would “get used to things” and stop being afraid. It plowed into the bushes. Yellow-green pollen burst in clouds behind it. We followed: four tourists, 15 loose horses, our riding instructor, and Halli’s daughter. We wormed and bullied our way through the forest, whose floor, we now discovered, was punctuated by sofa-sized rocks covered with moss, making the horses hop and jump—or clamber like goats—as well as twist and shove. Strangely, I did not hear a lot of branches break. The trees are as tough as the horses.

“Stop there,” Halli said quietly, as he halted his horse, its feet on a boulder it was just about to clamber over. Somehow the horse managed to pivot and come back toward us. “It drops off to the river there,” Halli calmly explained.

River? Looking down the valley I could see a river. I ran my eyes back along it until it disappeared under the forest. About 100 feet under the forest, I calculated. We nearly rode over a sheer drop of 100 feet—though doubtless the horses would have noticed it even if we riders were too concerned with keeping our knees and feet on the same side of the tree trunks as the saddle was. Baring-Gould also wrote of Icelandic horses, “neither persuasion nor blows will make them tread where their instinct tells them there is danger.”

So the horses, both ridden and loose, happily turned around and made their way back to the top of the ridge. Finding myself in the lead, I started down the thread of a path I’d seen earlier. In a few minutes, it dumped me onto a real track, churned up by horse hooves, alongside a sheep fence that led “straight for that mountain” Halli wanted us to reach. Before the trail debouched into a wide pasture along the river bank, Halli scooted ahead of me, took a reading off his GPS, and waved. “Ride straight for the mountain,” he called, and laughed.

We rode straight for the mountain, fording the river at a shallow spot, and walking our horses as calmly as we could through a sheep pasture dotted with days-old lambs and their mothers. Did you know that lambs’ tails wag in circles, like mini-propellers, as they nurse on their mothers?

The farmer was at the gate to let us through. He and Halli exchanged a joke—maybe about the directions? He smiled and waved us onto a gravel road right alongside the Ring Road, separated from the rush of buses, trucks, and tourist traffic only by a strand of twine that the horses were convinced was electrified. It was not. We reached the tunnel: a metal culvert just high enough for riders and horses to safely negotiate. We tolted on through, our hoofsteps echoing. We had passed Bifrost, and no one took the Rainbow Bridge.

The only casualty from our cross-country adventure? Halli lost his whip. He shrugged. “I’ve left a lot of whips out here,” he sighed.

Join me again next Wednesday at for another adventure in Iceland or the medieval world.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

The Dapple Gray

When I was in Iceland to buy horses in 1997, I fell in love with a dapple gray mare. My host, the breeder Elvar Einarsson, who was taking me around Skagafjord horse-shopping, lost his temper. “You’ll be sorry if you buy that horse,” he said.

For a moment I wondered. Were those stories about gray horses really true?

Gray (or white) horses make up an estimated 10 percent of the Icelandic horse population, yet they account for a disproportionate number of the magical horses in legends and folk tales. There’s a gray horse in the story of Fluga, the exceptionally fast mare that Thorir Dove-Nose raced against the sorceror Orn. As I wrote in an earlier blog post, "The Sorceror's Horse," Thorir won the race and Orn went up into the hills and disappeared. But when Thorir came back to fetch Fluga, he was surprised to find a gray black-maned stallion with the mare. Given that Kjolur, the highland route along which the men raced, is in the middle of Iceland, set between two of the largest glaciers, it’s unlikely this stallion wandered off from a nearby farm. Most probably, it’s the sorceror Orn himself.

Another story in the medieval Book of Settlements is that of Audun Stoti and the gray horse of Hjardarvatn. One day, a dapple gray horse came racing down out of the hills. It scattered Audun’s herd and bowled over his stallion. Audun was a big and powerful man, so he went out and caught the newcomer. He hitched him up to a sledge and spent the morning hauling in the hay from the homefield. The work went well until the afternoon. Then the gray horse started stamping. By evening, he stamped so hard his hooves sank into the ground up to his fetlocks. When the sun went down, he broke free of his harness, raced back to the hills, and disappeared into the lake, “and that was the last anyone ever saw of him.”

The horse that lives in a lake in Iceland is called a nykur or "nicker." They are always gray, and can usually be identified by their hooves: turned back to front. They should never be ridden. The Old Icelandic dictionary known as Cleasby-Vigfusson calls them a kind of “sea goblin,” and notes that they can take on other shapes than that of a horse. In this they are like the Scottish water horse, or kelpie, which can also appear as a gnome or an elf. A kelpie waits by the side of a river until he sees travelers approaching. Then he assumes his horse’s shape and drags to the riverbottom anyone foolish enough to mount him. In Iceland, at least the nicker waits for the magic words.

There once was a shepherd girl, one story goes, searching for some ewes that were lost. She was quite tired and a long way from home when suddenly she saw a gray horse standing by a lake. She caught it and tied on a piece of string for a bridle. Then suddenly she lost her nerve. “I don’t feel like riding this horse,” she said. At that the horse jumped into the water and disappeared.

Another time three children were playing on the bank of a river when they noticed a gray horse standing nearby. They went up to look at it, and one of them bravely clambered onto its back. When the horse didn’t spook, a second child climbed on. “Let’s go for a ride,” they called to their brother, but the oldest child refused. “I don’t feel like riding this horse,” he said. No sooner were the words out of his mouth, than the horse leaped into the river and the two children drowned.

The most fearsome gray horse in Icelandic lore is not a water horse but a fire horse. Late in the classic Njal’s Saga, just before Flosi burns the house down around the ears of Wise Njal and his wife and sons, a boy living nearby wakes in the night to hear a tremendous crash. Both earth and sky seemed to quake. “He looked to the west, and thought he saw a ring of fire with a man on a gray horse inside the circle, riding furiously.” The man was as black as pitch, and held high a flaming firebrand. As he rode, he roared out a verse:

I ride a horse
With icy mane
Forelock dripping,
Evil bringing.
Fire at each end,
And poison in the middle…

He hurled his firebrand, “and a vast fire erupted, blotting the mountains from sight.” It was the “witch-ride,” the saga says, “a portent of disaster.” (A modern reader might be inclined to call it a volcanic eruption—still a disaster.)

Elvar Einarsson, when he tried to talk me out of taking home the lovely dapple gray mare I’d seen in Skagafjord, probably knew all of these old stories. But that wasn’t why he warned me against buying her. The problem with this gray horse was her gaits: She didn't tolt, she piggy-paced.

I learned the history and folklore of Icelandic horses to write my first book, A Good Horse Has No Color: Searching Iceland for the Perfect Horse, which I'm now delighted to say is back in print! You can purchase copies of the paperback (or ebook) from, or meet me at Iceland Affair in Winchester Center, CT on July 20 for an autographed copy. Autographed copies will also soon be available at my local independent bookstore, Green Mountain Books in Lyndonville, VT. Call Kim to order.

Join me again next Wednesday at for another adventure in Iceland or the medieval world.