Monday, July 25, 2011


The Sierra Madre mountain range starts in southern Wyoming, works down through Colorado into New Mexico, and then splits in two to contain the central plateau of Mexico. That portion of the mountain range that runs parallel to the Pacific coast, the western edge of the Mexican plateau, is known as the Sierra Nevada Occidental.

It is some of the most forbidding terrain on Earth. The mountains present formidable escarpments whose flanks drop into deep canyons known as barrancas.  One can easily become lost in this rugged, twisting, mazelike wilderness, and, given the harsh climate and inaccessibility of the region, rescue for the unprepared is highly unlikely. Death within a week is almost certain.

Some few who explored the region not only survived, but thrived. One such was Carl Sophus Lumholtz. After spending a number of years charming the aboriginal cannibals in Northern Australia, the Norwegian explorer and ethnologist did extensive fieldwork throughout the Sierra Madre Occidental, studying the local Indian tribes, primarily the Tarahumara, from 1890-1898.

Nor was Lumholtz the last Norwegian to visit. Quite a few settled down in the area, the most notable being Bill Bye, who lived near Altamirano throughout the 1930s and 40s. He had a pack of wild hunting dogs that got his meat for him. He adopted a Sierra Madre Apache as his daughter.

What is it about Norwegians and the Sierra Madre?

Could it be the topography of both countries is similar in its god-awful awfulness? Could be, but I prefer to think that it’s because Norwegians are tough old birds, even when they are young.

You keep hearing about the exploits of people like Roald Amundsen, Thor Heyerdahl, Borge Ousland, to name just a few. Tough old birds, even when they were young.

You think the men are tough? Better stay away from the women, then!

Why are they tough? My take is, they’ve never really been completely civilized. And by that I don't mean to imply they are savage or uncouth. Quite the contrary. Despite the fact that they live with modern conveniences, I think they think it’s all possibly just a temporary stroke of lucky good fortune. And so, your average Norwegian girl spends her summers learning how to swim, fish, sail, canoe, tear down and rebuild an outboard engine, and in the winter shoot for meat and drill holes in the ice for fish. In short, just in case Western civilization falls, all of that will be more of an inconvenience than a catastrophe.

Okay, so maybe I exaggerate a bit. The point being though, that their character is, like their flinty topsoil, made of solid granite not very far beneath the surface.

And, I would add, (though I am a bit prejudiced), they are a friendly, tolerant, and kind folk. In the short amount of time I spent there (back in 1976), I was treated with a sincere and openhearted generosity, and received a great many kindnesses. Oh, I know the decent treatment of strangers seems to be a universal theme among  humanity. But this was, far and above, something I experienced nowhere quite like in Scandinavia, and certainly by far the most in Norway. I think this helps keep them tough. Not just their land, but having each other. Of sharing the common decency of community.

So, my cousins, you've had a rough couple of days, so just know that I wish you all the best.

It will be tough for you, but I can't think of a nation that can tough it out better than you. 

Forces are brewing that will try to drive you apart, that will try to drive you away from the rest of your cousins around the world. Evil forces. Don’t let it happen.

No comments:

Post a Comment