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Column: Lessons from Leif Erikson
Tammy Davis
Tammy Davis
Davis - Erikson
Columnist Tammy Davis (left), with her daughter, Laura, and Laura’s best friend, Lyndsay, in front of a 250-foot-tall statue of Leif Erikson in Reykjvavik, Iceland.

(Part of the Iceland Adventure series)

I was so busy reading one of my guide books, that I almost missed it. Thank goodness the girls spotted him.

We were taking a very expensive taxi into Reykjavik, and this was one of our must-see spots. The forecast called for rain later on, so I told the driver to keep the meter running. Lyndsay grabbed Henry the Hawk and the Hammond flag, and we hopped out and ran up to the 250-foot-tall statue of Leif Erikson.

Through Hammond School’s Country of Study program, a teacher travels to that year’s destination, becomes somewhat of an expert, and comes back and shares her knowledge with others. I had done my due diligence and taken good notes from the previous day’s experiences with the geothermal baths and lava rocks and volcanos, but science isn’t really my thing. History. The Age of Exploration. The Vikings. Standing in front of that statue with my daughter and her best friend felt surreal.

We made a quick video of the basics. I’m sure my 5th Graders know that Leif Erikson landed in North America around 500 years before Columbus. I hope they remember why Columbus gets all the credit. Would they be able to plot the route the Vikings took? Fingers crossed.

Since the meter was still running, my first stop at the statue was brief, but I kept going back, and each time my depth of knowledge felt a little deeper, the whole point of Country of Study. Leif Erikson began to come alive for me.

Until this trip, I never knew that Christopher Columbus travelled to Iceland to study the route of the Vikings. Until this trip, I didn’t know that I had been using the term Viking incorrectly. Turns out, Viking is a profession, not a group of people. You would be a Viking in the same way you would be a farmer or a blacksmith.

I’ve been teaching history for more than 10 years now. I always tell the students I like to think that when we study people and learn about their lives, it’s a way of honoring them. I always say that I hope somehow they can see us learning and asking questions about their accomplishments.

I hit all the must-see spots in Reyjkjavik: the Harpa Concert Hall, the Hofni House where Regan and Gorbachev met in 1986, and the Sun Voyager sculpture by the harbor. I went to a museum that was on the must-do list in all the tour books, but I will never include that in any part of my social studies curriculum.  That visit made me very glad I didn’t teach anatomy or sex ed.

I loved all the street art and impromptu concerts on the sidewalk. I loved turning a corner and spotting the water. I loved everything about that day

If Leif Erikson was somehow watching over me as I explored the modern city, I bet he chuckled because I had no idea what I was going to see the next day.  I wonder if he was sitting with some of his friends saying if she gets this excited about a statue, can you imagine how she will feel when she sees where we used to hold our parliament meetings? Do you think she will realize she will be walking where we once walked? Walking in a place that hasn’t changed much at all? If he could, I think he would say, “Oh, Tammy Davis.  School teacher.  History lover. If you think this day is good, just you wait until tomorrow.”

On my last trip to the statue, I popped into the Hotel Leif Erikson right across the street for a snack. I wasn’t hungry. I just wanted an excuse to look around. On the way out, I found myself in front of a wall mural. They are everywhere in Reykjavik. I had read in my guide books that Icelanders call them intentional art. After reading this poem, I understood why. Facing the statue of Leif Erikson is this poem:

If change is all you require,

Dwell not on the present or prior.

Imagine a view,

Where everything’s new

And make that your only desire.

For a variety reasons the Vikings needed change as they traveled to new lands.  Like the Vikings, we are always changing. Maybe from high school to college.  Maybe to a new town or a new relationship. That’s really all life is, successfully navigating one change after another. Sometimes the change is something we want. Sometimes the change is forced upon us, whether we like it or not. Sometimes it’s easy. Sometimes, it’s not. Either way, it’s always best not to dwell on the present or prior. It is really, really hard, but the Vikings were tough, and so are we. We have to imagine a view, where everything’s new, and make that our only desire.

(Tammy Davis is a teacher and a writer finding lessons in everyday life. Follow her on Facebook and Instagram and You Tube or online at