Consider This

“I just read that the first baby born in North America was named Snorri. I wonder if we’re related?” my late sister Alane once said to me. I can picture her in her professional-level kitchen in her restored 18th-century brownstone in Troy, New York.

Her gleaming stainless steel island doubles as a supper table and is the only modern room in her home. She sits on a stool at that island as she speaks on the phone. I’m in Altadena, my home chock-full of tchotchkes, mostly women-made art collected during my world travels. Alane got the tidy gene; I did not.

“I doubt that Snorri was the firstborn since North America was full of people already.”

“Oh, you know what I mean,” she says.

“Yes, I do. And who was Snorri’s mother?” I ask. “Surely, he didn’t birth himself!”

“You don’t always have to bring up the ‘women topic,’” she says.

“Yes, I do. If I don’t, who will? It’s 2004, and women are still missing from almost everything.” It’s fascinating that women could be absent from at least an honorable mention when it comes to births. Don’t get me started. Oops! Too late.

As I write this, it’s Oct. 11, 2021, which is also Thanksgiving Day in Canada. It’s the holiday formerly known as Columbus Day and more honorably known now by many as Indigenous People’s Day. In 1964 President Lyndon Johnson declared Oct. 9 Leif Erickson Day to commemorate the Viking credited with actually “discovering” North America 500 years before Columbus set his genocidal feet in the so-called New World. Erickson was an explorer worth honoring!

Celebrating Columbus grosses me out. An Italian explorer, bankrolled by Isabella and Ferdinand of Spain, he and his crews were a plague on the Indigenous people of the Caribbean islands. The Taíno people were literally wiped out. Despite thinking that he’d reached India and dubbing the people who inhabited the island Indians, he kept calling the Taíno “Indians” even after he found out he hadn’t reached India. Yes, Columbus was yet another man who refused to ask for directions… but I digress.

Back to 2004, the following week: “Hi, Alane. Gudrid Thorbjarnardottir gave birth to Snorri. I thought you might want to know that Snorri didn’t pop out of his father’s head.”

“Good to know, although I didn’t lose sleep over it,” Alane said.

“I know it’s so ho-hum that Viking women could sail a ship, weave sails and drop a kid,” I said. “Apparently, Gudrid was a gorgeous Christian. Another Viking woman, Freydis, also probably gave birth in North America, although she was a pagan.”

Alane said, “A pagan… so what?”

“The Icelandic saga about the North American voyage with Gudrid was told by Gudrid’s husband, Thorfinn. He was involved with spreading Christianity, and to tell about Freydis would diminish Gudrid and Christianity’s luster. It’s all PR when you get down to it.” I explained.

“Good lord, Ellen, don’t you have better things to do with your time? How about straightening up your house?” Everyone knows sisters can be one’s greatest critics.

“Oh, and dig this: Gudrid and Thorfinn sailed seven years after Leif Erikson and got as far south as New York City. If conditions had been just a tad different, we’d very likely all be seeing musikalteater pa Broadway.”

Leif Erikson probably had women sailing with him, too. Some artifacts suggest it. Women would not leave looms behind, but it was easy to lose accessories like the weights that spinners use at the ends of their yarns. What did Vikings need? Sails! And no Viking wanted to row over to Vinland — the Viking explorer’s name for what is now the east coast of Canada and New England. Who made the sails and repaired them? Women! 

Recent archaeological finds and subsequent DNA testing of bones found in graves confirm that female Vikings were warriors. They were also handy travel companions who could create life, fought shoulder to shoulder with their male relatives, tended on-deck livestock, and wove. Use logic: If you’re exploring possible new lands to settle, would you leave your female family members behind? You wouldn’t.

Finally, in 1960, Anne and Helge Ingstad found Viking longhouses on the northern-most edge of L’Anse aux Meadows in Newfoundland, Canada, putting speculation to rest. The Vikings were there and then gone. Indeed, Eric the Red’s son Leif Erickson made the trip to and from Canada. Eric the Red was a con guy; he named Greenland that to entice people to go there. There’s barely any green there for most of the year.

“Columbus Day is bogus,” I said. “He wasn’t the first, he didn’t discover India, and 1492 was 500 years after Leif Erikson. We need to celebrate Indigenous people and scrap the second Monday in October entirely in favor of November, Native American Heritage Month.”

Alane said, “What day is Leif Erikson Day again? Oct. 9?”


“I’m going to celebrate Snorri Day in October,” Alane said. “I’ll use it to catch up on my napping.” I groaned.


Ellen Snortland has, via this column, been exploring new worlds and ideas for decades now. Email her at