Maybe the abundance of summer sun first lured humans to the top of the world. Or it could have been the fish and berries, or a primal yearning for untamed terrain covered with elk, caribou or reindeer. Perhaps hunters and gathereres felt crowded out by cities and agriculture, or just got the itch to explore. I suspect plenty of folks were escaping tyrants.
Whatever prompted the exodus from humanity’s southern cradle, it happened. People adapted to challenging climates where they had room to be themselves. Some of those bloodlines still inhabit Northwest Europe and the Pacific Northwest. Many family trees are rooted in the upper left edges of both continents. We see this mirrored in traditional midsummer festivals, from Stockholm to Astoria.
Stories about human culture are often told by conquerors. Thus the word “Nordic” conjures up images of horn-helmeted men flinging dominion hither and yon, hauling plunder to giant halls where they toasted their exploits. We’re drawn to hollywood scripts about gods who immortalize male egos. Thor, the alpha muscle-head. Shrewd Odin, the patriarch. That crazy bastard Loki.
In his new book Norse Mythology, Neil Gaiman says traces of older stories can be found in such brawny myths. Those elder accounts point to deities of nature, less war-prone but no less formidable. “There are so many Norse stories we do not have,” proffers Gaiman, “so much we do not know.”
Humilty is a grand thing, yet storied truths were written on hearts long before they were scribbled on paper. The DNA of Nordic culture is manifest in eqalitarian leadership. Decency is achieved by following that example, so the summer print edition of the Upper Left Edge combines tributes to Denmark, Finland , Iceland, Norway, and Sweden (plus a special bonus country at the end). In our pursuit of greatness, these nations remind us how to be good. Their moral compass orients toward true north.
I’m especially inspired by the Sami, whose homeland includes parts of Finland, Norway, Sweden, and Russia. Last year a Sami delegation visited the Standing Rock Sioux, bringing gifts of pure arctic water and a special joik. They came to demonstrate their solidarity with other indigenous people who struggle against corporate tyranny around the globe. Soon after their visit the Sami convinced Norway to divest from banks that fund the Dakota Access Pipeline.
Both Sami and Sioux carry legacies that respect humanity’s intimate connection with creation. Their round drums and tepees remind us that these bonds join our hemispheres and are older than the tales found in most textbooks.
How gratifying it is to collaborate with folks who cherish this kind of connectivity. Many thanks to the contributors and advertisers who make it possible. May civility shine like the midnight sun, bracing us for days ahead.