Until recently, neither had I.
Here’s some context for you: a few weeks ago, while wandering the stately avenues of downtown Poulsbo, I suddenly found myself on an unfamiliar lane leading off Front Street. This was weird. Having grown up in Poulsbo, I was pretty sure I knew all there was to know about the place (after all, how hard should it be to get to know a small, Viking-themed town?), but there I was, standing between a kayak store and the Sons of Norway headquarters, lost in suddenly unfamiliar territory. According to the street sign, the little lane was called King Olaf Way. How hadn’t I noticed it before?
Being a curious person (and apparently having nothing better to do) I decided to do some detective work. I walked home, cracked open the Encyclopedia Britannica, and searched for evidence of King Olaf. There was quite a lot to read.
Born in the 960s, Olaf was a celebrated Viking king of Norway. In his youth, Olaf was forced to flee Norway after the nefarious Harald Graycloak murdered his father. Living in exile in Russia, Olaf trained as a Viking warrior, a process I assume was similar to the training montages in The Karate Kid or Rocky movies. Eventually, Olaf proved his worth by waging a successful war against the English King Ethelred (nicknamed “the Unready” as a testimony to his apparent ineptitude), and then he returned to Norway to fight in a rebellion and reclaim his rightful spot on the throne.
In short, it’s rather astounding that I managed to grow up ignorant of such a celebrated figure and the street named after him. What else didn’t I know about Poulsbo?
Quite a lot, as it turned out. The town is nicknamed “Little Norway on the Fjord” and has all sorts of interesting street names, including King Harald V, Bjermeland, Fjord, and (my personal favorite) Rotten Herring. There’s a yearly Lutefisk eating contest, and a St. Hans Mid-Sommerfest (who knows what that entails), and a famous Independence Day celebration that takes place (quite inexplicably) on July 3rd. There’s a lot of personality packed into this little town, in other words, and I’ve been completely unaware of it.
As sad as my ignorance is, I’m afraid it’s pretty normal these days. Living in a society obsessed with using mobile telephones to imprison imaginary cartoon monsters in red and white spherical structures, we’ve forgotten how to connect with the geographical spaces we inhabit. Rather than reveling in the rich stories embedded in the landscapes we call home, we’ve elected to drool over television shows streamed onto the glowing screens of laptops and tablets.
Now, I’m hardly saying that everyone should possess encyclopedic knowledge of his or her hometown, nor am I trying to cultivate a Holier-Than-Thou attitude (I’m just as guilty of binging on Keeping Up With The Kardashians as the rest of you). Instead, I’m trying to suggest we’ve forgotten how to connect with our homes. We’ve lost the ability to engage with the physical living space around us (unless, of course, our engagement is facilitated by a screen), and so we’re losing the memories and stories that not only define our homes, but that also defineus.
Faced with such a grim possibility, I’ve made a resolution. Rather than surfing reddit’s labyrinthine pages or mindlessly watching the Kardashian girls gripe about their good-for-nothing husbands (which, to be fair, makes for some pretty exciting drama), I’m going to go for a walk. I’m going to unplug myself from our virtual world and stroll the streets of my neighborhood, taking note of interesting buildings, trees, and side streets along the way. I’m going to pause to consider vacant lots and public parks, taking the time to observe every weed poking up through the asphalt. No doubt I’ll seem like a loony to most, and that’s an assumption I wouldn’t disagree with (few people walk these days, after all). Still, the fact remains that I know next to nothing about my own home, and that’s a problem I’d like to remedy.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to peruse the Encyclopedia Britannica; there’s an entry on King Ethelred the Unready that looks highly diverting.