One of my most brilliant unrealized ideas is to time travel millions of years back and somehow install a camera in the sky so that it can record a time lapse of events over thousands or millions of years. I first thought of the idea in one of many trips driving though the Columbia River Gorge. I was thinking about the creation of the gorge, and the giant Missoula boulders that scoured it out during the floods, before coming to rest somewhere in the Willamette Valley.
I thought about this idea again when we were driving though South Dakota, where there are signs indicating the layers of prehistory in the hills — Paleozoic, Pleistocene, Mesozoic. How cool would it be to watch a time-lapse of all those dinosaurs wandering around and eventually getting covered up with ash and dust and making way for new ones.
I mentioned this idea to Jim when we were wandering around the grounds of the Viking museum in Borg, Norway. We’d just visited the replica of Viking chieftain Olav Tvennumbruni’s longhouse. The remains of the structure, along with tools and dishes, were discovered by some farmers here in the 1980’s while they were plowing their fields. In the surrounding area, many graves were found, with Viking jewelry and weapons interred.
We’d watched a short, melodramatic film about Olav, from the perspective of his daughter, about when they went away to Iceland and she left her new little boyfriend behind. She eventually came back and married him after her dad died, and they became the new chieftans of Borg. I have no idea if any of this is true, but it makes for a good story.
What made for a better story, I thought, were the leftovers. I assumed that the Vikings were pretty primitive, but they had keys! They made skeleton keys out of metal to lock their doors. They created intricate glass beads of different colors and designs. They carved tiny medallions of gold and encased them in glass as jewelry. Theirs was a story of hardship – of bitter cold, hewing onions out of the frozen ground, their children and mothers dying, their fathers fighting. Yet they took the time to carve the beams in their longhouses, to dye their wool in bright colors and embroider their dresses, to spend countless hours creating beautiful jewelry. And then they buried it all with their dead. People are weird. I know I may sound guilty of “noble savage” syndrome, but it comforts me to know that no matter how difficult our lives are, humans find a way to create beauty and comfort.
As we walked around the area of the longhouse I imagined what it would have looked like back then. What it would have felt like. Have you ever noticed that you can “feel” whether or not there are people around you? Even if your neighbors are a mile away, you can still sense them. I imagined being at that longhouse in 800 a.d. and staring off across the rolling green hills, knowing there wasn’t another house for miles and miles.
I imagined fast-forwarding from then until now, the longhouse eventually abandoned and slowly falling apart and decaying into the hillside, layers and layers of soil and grass hiding the nearby graves from view. Millions of sheep wandering over the terrain over the years, early settlers moving in where the Vikings had vacated. And eventually, roads and horses and more and more people, dividing the land into farms and villages and eventually building highways and grocery stores and parking lots. And coming full circle with a longhouse, mere yards away from the one that was there in 800 a.d.
Not much is known about the Vikings, so if anyone figures out time travel, it’d be much appreciated.