Here in Utah we have a strong sense of our pioneer heritage. It includes flames along the Mississippi, covered wagons, eating sego lilies while seagulls gorged themselves on crickets, and confrontations with Indians who, in hundreds of versions of the same story, walk up to a log cabin while the pioneer man of the house is gone, but because of the pioneer mother's kind act of some sort, she instills respect in the Indians, who leave without scalping the brave woman and her defenseless six children (none over the age of 4), each Indian bearing a warm loaf of homemade bread.
Outside the stereotyped image that tends to settle in our minds, there are so many other branches of our family trees, reaching out in roots that scatter backwards in a million directions into all corners of the world. Too bad that we so automatically flip into the more narrow vision of our heritage.I address myself to transplanted Danes as an example, having a good percentage of Danish blood flowing through my own veins.
Attached to all of those pioneer stories with log cabin backdrops could be visions of viking ships pulled up into gentle coves, with low wooded hills and the scent of peat smoke from cooking fires flickering in a dim evening light; or imagine thin mists covering the ground in the morning and viking women or children rekindling a morning fire. And the low guttural sounds of Danish voices. For centuries, the lilting Swedes described Danish not as a language but as a throat disease.
For well over a thousand years, clear up through the Viking era that ended about 1000 A.D., the Danes often buried their dead in high mounds, marked by heavy stone markers placed atop them, called dolmens. Driving through the Danish countryside (Denmark is about one-fifth the size of Utah, but with about five times as many people), you often come across these dolmens, protruding from fields as house-sized bumps that farmers plow around, often accompanied with little groves of trees.
Seeing them, I have always been profoundly struck by a thick and unexplored branch of my Danish "pioneer" heritage, a heritage I see reflected in the faces and mannerisms of my dad and grandfather and in many of their friends, whose parents and grandparents abandoned a land of struggle for a far-off place in America where a log cabin, with all of its trials, became a celestial haven from the poverty of Europe. No wonder the new pioneer stories with log cabins and crystal mountain streams held so much appeal.