Summer of 2012 found me flying over to Europe for three weeks of touring with Alison Krauss and Union Station. One of the best parts of playing in a band is that it funds my bent for wandering and taking in beauty. In the past 20 years, Europe, England, Ireland, and Scotland have skinned me of more shoe leather and per diem than I care to count. St. Patrick’s and Christ Church Cathedral in Dublin, the British Museum and Library in London, and Heidecksburg Castle in Rudolstadt, Germany, have all been food for the eyes and soul of this wandering boy.
Four days into the 2012 tour we flew to Oslo, Norway. It was a day off, but much of it was burned up traveling, so I walked around the town for a bit, bought some food, and went to my room. I got online to research Oslo, and a thrill ran through my stomach when I saw The Viking Ship Museum—three ships used for burials—was three miles away. Sound check at the venue wasn’t until later in the afternoon the next day.
In the morning I armed myself with camera and coin and set out. There is something deliciously lonely about walking solo for miles in a strange country thousands of miles from home. I took time for a perfect cappuccino in a narrow cafe on a quiet street, looking in shop windows, listening to unintelligible conversations, and watching birds.
I wandered in town:
As I came closer to the museum I smelled the salty edges of the sea, wanderers moored until the next wind drove them out again.
Three miles from the hotel, I entered the museum slightly footsore (I’d been in Europe four days already, remember). I went in, paid up, and saw how the Vikings crossed the North Sea. Basically, they used large, ornate rowboats.
Also, I saw some boots. The boots of a wanderer.
And combs to make things beautiful.
Museums always get me thinking about bigger things. I remember seeing the Persian Kings exhibit at the British Museum in 2005. There were floor tiles the prophet Daniel may have walked on, utensils, cups, dishes he may have used. My old pastor used to say, “Most people don’t put flesh and blood on the Bible.” I’ve pled guilty to that more than once. But as I looked upon the everyday household goods of Darius and Nebuchadnezzar, I felt a palpable closeness with Daniel, a sense of his utter reality.
I stirred myself and moved on to the Viking cart, which was in amazing condition partly due to how well it was built. Practicality and beauty mingle. I especially loved the reddish textures in the wood.
After two hours of slack-jawed gawking, I noticed I was really stretching it on time. The band bus would leave from the hotel for sound check at 3pm. I went outside, my mind and heart spinning with all the impressions and thoughts I’d gathered. Art, craft, beauty, courage, sailing by the seat of your pants, life, and death, we-never-really-own-anything-we-just-use-it-for-awhile.
I walked to the trolley stop outside the museum. It would ride into Oslo and be at the hotel in fifteen minutes. After all, time was short, I was tired, my feet hurt a little, and I had a show to play that night. Then the thought came, “If the Vikings could sail the North Sea in ships like that, you sure as heck can walk three more miles.” I didn’t have time to walk all the way back. So I ran.
Winner of 147 Grammys (or so), Ron Block is the banjo-ninja portion of Alison Kraus and Union Station. When he's not laying down a bluegrass-style martial-arts whoopin' on audiences around the world, he's taking care of his donkey named "Trash" and keeping himself busy by being one of the most well-read and thoughtful people we know.