[Originally published in Reader's Digest]
How those stormy Atlantic winds must have filled the single sail! How the roaring waves must have washed over the deck, half drowning the men in that open ship!
At last the storm died down and Leif could lift his head and look about him. To the west he saw a coast line running north and south as far as he could see. The land was low and covered with trees; it could not be either Iceland or Greenland. It was vast; it was, in the words of the saga, unlike any land ever seen before. It was a new world - the New World.
No one knows just what part of North America Leif the Lucky found. "There were xild wheat fields and vines growing there. There were also those trees which are called mausur, and of all these they took specimens." So says the saga in Hauk's Book, and that is all it says about this great moment.
The world of the saga lead us nowhere in our search for the place that Leif found. Since there is no wild wheat in America, Leif probably saw tall grass which looks line wheat. We cannot tell what vines he meant. And trees big enough to be used for building houses and ships grow all the way from Florida to Labrador. The word "mausur" means only a kind of twisted wood.
A Land to Settle?
But in treeless Greeenland, the people must have looked with great interest at the specimens that Leif brought home with him. They must have spoken longingly of reaching this new country, which they called "Wineland the Good".
|A viking longhouse|
He must have heard much of "Wineland the Good". Certainly he saw much of Gudrid, a Christian woman of great beauty and sweet voice. Karlsefni married her at Christmas time.
In the spring of 1004 he set out for Wineland with his wife and a crew of brave sailors. Two ships, filled with cattle and equipment, carried all the thigs necessary to establish a colony. There were 160 men and women - the first European people to sail for America with the hope of living there.
They sailed south until they came to a country with great forests and deep inlets. This they called "Markland", a name meaning "Forest-land". They entered a wide bay, with a powerful current coming from it. This they called "Stream Fiord". Here was an island so covered with birds that the Northmen could not walk without stepping their eggs.
Where Were They?
From the saga's words, scholars have tried to find out just where the Norse adventurers went. They probably sailed first to either Baffin Island or northern Labrador. Forested "Markland" is probably southern Labrador. "Stream Fiord" must be somewhere in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. And the island covered with birds is probably Bonaventure, off the Quebec coast. Today, Bonaventure is still crowded with sea birds and their nests.
At "Stream Fiords", the Northmen spent the winter. In a cabim was born the son of Gudrid and Karlsefni, the first European child born upon the American continent. Hauk was a descendant of that child.
Trip to the South
After a hard winter, Karlsefni and his party set sail for the south. When they had sailed "a long time" southward, they came to a bay, or hop, as they called it.
There they found an abundance of "wild wheat" and "vines". Along the shore they dug holes into which fish fell when the seas were high. In the woods were great numbers of wild animals which they killed for food. Here, for half a month, says the saga, "they enjoyed themselves", feasting on fish and wild animals.
A Strange Visit
One day, we are told, the Norsemen were at "Hops" and saw coming toward them a number of long, narrow boats. The boats were full of strange-looking nem whom they called Skrellings, dark-skinned nem with black hair, great eyes and wide faces. The Skrellings appeared equally surprised by the blue-eyed, fair-haired Norsemen. The Skrellings looked a long time in wonder and then went away in their boats.
The Skrellings did not come back until spring. They brought furs which they wanted to trade for the spears and swords of the Norse. But Karlsefni said "No". Then the Skrellings pointed to some red cloth that the Norsemen had.
"In return for a perfect fur, the Skrellings would take a short piece of red cloth, which they would put around their heads", says the saga. But some of the cattle belonging to the Norsemen suddenly began to roar, and the frightened Skrellings ran away to their boats.
When they returned three weeks later, they came with war whoops and arrows. a bloody battle followed - war-whooping. Skrellings against berserk Vikings.
The Norsemen did not want to fight another such battle, so they decided to sail north again. They spent the third winter at "Stream Fiord".
Back to Iceland
When spring came, they filled their dragon ships with "mausur" wood and set sail for Greenland and then for Iceland, which was Karlsefni home. There he led his wife Gudrid and his little son Snorre into the hall of his fathers.
Here the saga ends. But for some 300 years the men of Greenland sailed to Markland to fill their ships with wood. for hundreds of years, too, the 16 churches in Greenland sent presents to the mother church in Rome. Then this stopped, and the colony in Greenland was never heard of again. No one knows what happened to it. Perhaps some terrible sickness swept over the people; perhaps they starved to death.
A monk in Europe recorded that "it is 80 years now since any ship came from Greenland." And he put the date in his record. The date is 1492.