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West meets East on the meadows of Newfoundland

June 3

A man cannot discover new oceans unless he has the courage to lose sight of the shore.
— Andre Gide, French author

Steve Bahls and the Augie A at L'Anse aux Meadows in Newfoundland.
Steve Bahls and the Augie A at L’Anse aux Meadows in Newfoundland.

I had a moving experience at L’Anse aux Meadows in the northern tip of Newfoundland. L’Anse aux Meadow is where the Vikings, in all likelihood led by Leif Erickson, established the first European settlement in North America, arriving from Greenland. Jane and I arrived at the meadows early in the season before the park’s visitor center was open, and we nearly had the place to ourselves. There isn’t really much to look at — just a few sod foundations and a re-creation of what some of the buildings probably looked like. Since it was deserted, I did claim the recreated Viking longhouse, for the real Vikings, the Augustana Vikings!

What is extraordinary about what occurred here 1,000 years ago is that West met East. How so? Most agree that the cradle of human existence was in Africa about 100,000 years ago. From Africa, mankind journeyed west (through Europe) and east, through Asia and across the Bering Strait into North America. When Leif Erickson and the Vikings landed on the shores of Newfoundland and interacted with the native peoples of Newfoundland, West met East. Through migration, mankind had circled the earth! A sculpture arching over the trail commemorates this moment.

West meeting East in L’Anse aux Meadows was not entirely successful. The Greenland Sagas tell of Leif Ericson’s party meeting people living here already, whom they called “Skraelings.” The Vikings, who sometimes blurred the line between courage and ruthlessness, maintained this outpost for about 10 years before abandoning North America. Most likely, they determined that they could not conquer this new location — it was vast, remote, barren, and they were outnumbered by the native peoples. West meeting East has had a rocky record through much of the millennium that followed those first encounters. In my family, West met East during my son’s college years as he met and fell in love with the young woman from Indonesia who is now his wife. We are grateful for our two granddaughters and the grandson to be born in September.

It’s important for us to view ourselves beyond on own shores. It is as important to build lasting West-East relationships. Which is why, at Augustana, we encourage our students to travel abroad and make friendships, East and West, for a stronger world.

L'Anse aux Meadows
L’Anse aux Meadows archaeological site on the northernmost tip of Newfoundland, the only known site of a Norse or Viking village in North America outside of Greenland.
(See also Jane Bahls’ Arctic Adventures)

One Response to “West meets East on the meadows of Newfoundland”

  1. How strange to see the Augie A in such a distant location — although I see an A of another sort in the peak of the doorway to this re-created Viking longhouse, as well. A is for adventure!

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