Standing on a Californian beach staring at the horizon where the ocean meets the sky, does cause one to reflect on the power that nature wields. What an incredible leap of faith, that people over the centuries ago built vessels to sail and row into its infinity.  After all, how could they know how far the waters stretched or if indeed the world would end at an abrupt cliff and plunge them into some version of hell.

This is  a dramatic ponderance for someone walking along a beach full of children’s laughter, beach balls and colourful umbrellas. What can I tell you?  My imagination doesn’t know I’m on vacation and I’m always on the look out for short story idea.

This was my Californian summer and what a joy it was to spend two weeks on the west coast. On a boardwalk stroll overlooking the beach by the historic Ventura Pier, I saw a sign posted. It read, “Eric Ericsson”.  Thoughts of Vikings sprang to my mind. I associated the names Eric and Ericsson with Viking history and the name Eric Ericsson rang a bell too. The pier must be named thusly to honour some earlier discovery of Viking artifacts, I thought.  I was wrong.

ventura pier b
Historic Ventura Pier on California coast (photo: Gwen Tuinman)

I’m still laughing at myself — on several counts. First, the name Eric Ericsson sounded familiar because my undergraduate degree is in psychology and I studied Eric Erikson’s psychosocial stages of development.

Secondly, there was never a studied Viking figure named Eric Ericsson. I was recalling Eric the Red.  While unraveling my confusion, I happened upon some interesting facts. In the early 980’s, Eric the Red was found guilty of murdering his neighbor over a long running dispute concerning the death of some slaves. There were three possible punishments for such a crime. The first and most serious was to be declared “a man of the woods”. The guilty party was exiled from his country to live in the forest or some deserted area, leaving all his possessions behind.   Sheltering a man of the woods or aiding with his departure was a punishable offence.

"Tyra", Viking long ship replica at Hardangerfjord, Norway
“Tyra”, Viking long ship replica at Hardangerfjord, Norway

The alternate consequence was to exile the guilty party from a particular district for a set period of time. The third option fell somewhere in between the first and second in terms of severity. This was Erik’s sentence. He was fined and asked to leave Iceland within three years and to stay away for three years.  Why was he in Iceland, you may ask. Apparently murderous tendencies and hot tempers ran in the family. His father, Thorwald, was outlawed from Norway after committing multiple murders and so the family escaped to Iceland.

Erik the Red had a son named Leif and since Erik was his father, his surname became Eriksson. As a matter of interest, Leif Eriksson is credited with bringing Christianity to Iceland much to the delight of his mother who quickly embraced the religion. Not so delighted was Leif’s father. According to the Erik’s Saga, her zeal for Christianity vexed him, particularly when she refused to live with him because he remained firmly rooted in Heathenism.

Jon Erlandson holds crescent and a stemmed point (Photo: Jim Barlow)
Jon Erlandson holds crescent and a stemmed point (Photo: Jim Barlow)

So, why was there a sign posted on the pier that read Eric Ericsson?  It is the name of a local iconic Ventura restaurant that operates on the pier. There has been some evidence uncovered of a seafaring culture in artifacts unearthed on Santa Rosa and San Miguel islands just off the Californian coast. Sophisticated projectile points and crescents dating back 12 000 years were found along with the remains of a diverse list of sea life including shellfish and cormorants. There is a hypothesis that these people followed the movement of kelp forests which them along the coast of North and South America, aiding in the populating of these continents. The island digs are the work of Jon Erlandson, professor of anthropology and director of the Museum of Natural and Cultural History at the University of Oregon. He studies several interests, two of which are Vikings, human migration and the peopling of the Americas. In the research I was able to find, there’s no clear statement that the artifacts are conclusively Viking in nature.

I am grateful for the Viking association as it gave rise to a new short story. I imagined what it might be like to live in the skin of a character with robust Viking physique during the 1960’s when Twiggy was the standard of female beauty. Inside of eight days, I wrote about 5000 words. I’m still writing with more research to come!

Does the roar of the ocean whisper in your ear?  Or maybe you’ve visited a Viking settlement?

I’d love to hear from you. Please leave a comment.