Published on July 25, 2014
Jane Ralling (right) wife of P.E.I. mariner Geoff Ralling, was a welcome early morning visitor with a cup of coffee for TC Media reporter Mary MacKay this week after MacKay spent a night in the interpretive sod hut on the grounds of L’Anse aux Meadows. — TC Media photo
Published on July 25, 2014
A view of the sunset over the Viking grounds in L’Anse aux Meadows. — TC Media photo by Mary MacKay
TC Media reporter Mary MacKay revisits travel routes used by the Vikings
The sun was going down off L’Anse aux Meadows just as it has since the beginning of time.
On this night I was witnessing a spectacular sight that was surely similar to sunsets seen by Leif Erikson and his Viking settlers 1,000 years ago as the day waned and they settled in for a long night’s snooze.
Nothing much had changed. The sky still showed a spectacular red hue of promise of coming sailors’ delight, just like it would have for those adventurous Norsemen so long ago.
“It’s amazing to think that 1,000 years ago that, with the exception of those houses over there, this was pretty much what they would have seen,” Geoff Ralling said of the sheltered cove these Icelandic explorers called their overwintering home for brief time at the turn of the last millennium.
Ralling is the Charlottetown, P.E.I. mariner with whom I will soon be sailing to retrace some of the marine routes taken by those Vikings on their exploration of the Strait of Belle Isle and the Gulf of St. Lawrence.
But as a precursor to that fun sailing run, I had arranged with Parks Canada for us to have a Viking sleepover in the interpretive sod hut on the grounds of L’Anse aux Meadows to get the feel of one small aspect of Viking life.
Of course, two modern-day folk hunkering down for the night would not have been the reality 100 decades ago. The cramped central room would have been jammed with smells and sounds of the unwashed many — by today’s sweetly scented standards anyway — arguing, laughing, farting, snoring and lovemaking for the lucky few.
We were a boring pair in comparison, but in my case things would soon liven up.
Vikings were a hale and hearty lot, but there was something that no Norse — neither woman, child nor the strongest man — could ignore and that’s the call of nature in the middle of the night.
Eons can pass and millenniums can wan, but the need to pee never changes.
And I, in that dark, damp little sod hut in the middle of the night like the Viking explorer/settlers before me, tried to ignore it. But I just drifted off to dreams of streams running and cups that runneth over.
Cursing mentally in fine Viking fashion every last drop that I’d drank before bedtime, I flung back the warmth of my fur pelt cover and tiptoed barefoot across the cold damp earthen floor to the back door.
After fumbling with the wooden latch, I peered cautiously outside, scanning right, then left, for wayward wildlife, in this case the big mama moose and her baby I’d seen munching about the marsh earlier in the day.
The coast was clear and so was the night, but for a spattering of gray clouds on black sky, so it was easy to see where I had to go.
I skittered back into the sod hut and tucked myself into my bedroll as tightly as a plastic-wrapped Larsen’s wiener.
I closed my eyes with a relief so sweet you could have cut it with a knife and served it up with warm chocolate sauce and a dollop of whipped cream. I was just about in la-la Viking dreamland again when all of a sudden there was a snap and crackle in the back room to the loudness tune of a freshly wetting bowl of Rice Krispies to the 10th power.
With eyes wide open, I peered uselessly toward the direction of the sound, wondering what on earth could be the source.
Then I heard it again and my eyes inched a little wider.
That’s when a quick sparkle of light flashed in the air directly above my sleeping spot.
The unknown sounds were immediately forgotten.
I didn’t believe my eyes until that tiny illumination pinged on high again.
“What the heck is that?” I thought, my imagination racing.
It couldn’t be a firefly, it was too precise and non-moving, and I didn’t think they could be found this far north.
Was it a ghostly Viking entity trying to make its presence known via a pinpoint of porthole to Valhalla? I gingerly groped for my glasses and/or my flashlight and grabbed a sharp wooden implement instead, which was one of the props in this simulated Viking world.
I immediately felt a bit better now that I was wielding a sharp wooden stick.
With my free hand I aimed the flashlight to the spot from which the mysterious tiny beacon of light was sporadically emanating. When it blipped I flipped the switch and focused on path of my flashlight beam to its conclusion.
And there, tucked discretely behind a support post in the middle of this Viking domicile replication, was a blinking fire detector.
This proves that I may be a 51-year old-reporte,r but in a Viking-style sod house, in the middle of the night, in the dark, anyone can be a child at heart.
Some things never change.
TC Media reporter Mary MacKay is filing stories on mariner Geoff Ralling Viking adventure as he retraces the marine route taken 1,000 years ago by the Vikings when they explored the East Coast. This report was filed L’Anse aux Meadows.