Saturday, March 21, 2015

First Day of Spring

Sunlight falling on an antique plate nailed to the wooden fence took my breath away, but I was posting photos, and so, let the image go back into the void...then I saw a photo of early morning light and wished I'd snagged that moment. But it is indelible, in the mind's eye.

David Best's Temple Burning in Derry

First day of spring,
an eclipse of the sun.
Annealed grief rains
in the form of ash
drifts over the River Foyle.
David Best's temple burns
the troubled past.
I remember Sunday,
Bloody Sunday.
My grandmother sobbing
as she cradled the radio.

Drought Diaries

Drought Diaries: Yesterday's bathwater, destined for the two-gallon flush, missed the toilet, only to hit a Costco package of toilet paper rolls, which promptly swelled up, doubling in size like a tight school of bloated pufferfish holding their collective breath.

I won't mention finding knives and forks in the flowerbeds after dishwater is recycled to thirsty plants feeling a bit peckish for water. A good thing I don't have any real silver! Otherwise it'd add another layer of dimension to seeding the clouds with silver to make it rain.

Friday, March 6, 2015


Chestnut-backed chickadee
viciously dukes it out 
with his own reflection 
headbanging his beak
in 4/4 time, day after day, 
chattering a storm of outrage, 
with his mate in the sidelines,
egging him on to drive 
that cheeky impostor off
so they can just get down 
to the business at hand.

He's so exhausted from fighting
i scoop him up and hold him
in the hollow of my hand
giving him a "time out"
but as soon as I release him
he's back at the mirror
banging away in a frothy rage
at his doppelganger
his mate, a grass widow, waits
for a time that will never come.

This little headbanger exhausted himself attacking his image in the mirror the entire afternoon. Apparently my outside mirrors have captivated the two of them. They were headbanging like rockstars last year. He fell down between the pillows, panting, still he wouldn't give up. The top of his head's even dented. So I cupped him in the hollow of my hand to give him a "time out" until he calmed down. When I let him go, he went right back attacking his image until dusk drove his demons off. He plans to win that battle with his reflection. Meanwhile, I fear for his beak. Surely he must have the headache from hell.

Q is the loneliest letter

¿Quien sabe? Because Q is the loneliest letter, it picked up a French tail to prove it. Never ventures out without its sidekick, U. A geminid twinning, fraternal, I think. Because it had a bad gamma cough, (kof), because it peed its pants in church and ran off with U. And U, a johnny-come-lately, raking the chaff from the straw, faw, that garden rake, ancestor to UVW and WHY? got around, begat almost as many children as Niall of the Nine Hostages (and none of them in the Irish alphabet, I might add). A deep throated sound: uvula vulvula. Yeah, when the soft C crept into church Latin, it was hell inna handbasket for those hard Cs expectorating on the church floors throughout the liturgy. No more Celts but selts. Ask the cwen. Incanabula quern, quunt. The crack in the cosmic egg. Because gimel was once a camel, a ship of the desert, and kappa was the hollows of the hands, as if scooping water from the stream, and the poor monkeys of Gibralter were so lonesome for the wine-dark sea, that one skull turned up in someone's crannóg or hillfort in Navan. An archaeological mystery or mishap. quoph = monkey. That monkey must've froze his brass baa's off In Ireland in winter, like that. Did they make him a little fur coat? And what about Hannibal's elephants queueing up to cross the alps, did the Celts knit them tall sweaters amid the snow flurries? It all comes back to those white maidens of Delphi, the flurrying snow, and CuChullainn, himself, fighting the waves with his sword, after he slew his only son in battle. Prophecy biting the ass it begets. I don't think the Etruscans had any say in the matter. That's a bit of a red herring. Phoenicians, maybe. All that tin at the end of the world, nuggets in the riverbeds of Wales, to make faence and blue glass to ward off the evil eye. There are both sides of the coin, heads or tails?

Monday, February 16, 2015

Tapping Trees: a Sappy Story

Anthropologist and writer, K. Kris Hirst posed a question on the process of tapping maple trees, who invented it first? Northern Europeans or Native Americans? An interesting chicken or egg dilemma.

K. Kris Hirst, who writes for, posted a story on the process of "Maple sugaring—obtaining sugar and syrup from maple trees—primarly a North American phenomenon. Although maple trees (species Acer) are found throughout the world, only North America has sugar-producing species (especially sugar maple Acer saccharum and black maple Acer nigrum), combined with the right mix of cool nights and warm days that generate enough sap to make sugaring worthwhile."

I love Kris's posts, they get me all Wiki-fingered, thinking parallel thoughts. I leave a small comment. Then another, and so on. Soon, I have enough material for a blog. Lovely story. Especially the chicken or egg dilemma part. Who invented tree-tapping first? Europeans or Native Americans? Especially when there's no archaeological evidence to prove or disprove it?

Another reader, Bill W. commented on Kris's Facebook post: "Last year I had an interesting—and surprisingly lively—debate about whether some of the objects labeled "dugout canoes" are actually maple sugaring troughs. There are historical accounts in Iowa of settlers reusing old Indian wooden sugaring troughs as hog troughs."

My mind had already run off with the idea of maple sugar-cured ham and eggs for brekkie. The idea was beginning to tap-dance itself into a bad Abbot and Costello archaeological joke with a sweet punchline. Why did the yellow-bellied sapsucker cross the road? Turns out it may be an even sappier story involving sap-swigging squirrels.
"Legend has it that, during a spring of famine, an Aboriginal was watching a squirrel bursting with energy. After noticing that the squirrel drank water from a maple tree, he realized that this was where the squirrel was getting its energy from. Maple water became a food prized by the people of the First Nations and later of New France.” —
I'll leave you to visit Kris's page and read up on traditional maple sap collecting practices. But come back, OK?

However, squirrels aside, I envisioned another solution. It's possible that Northern Europeans and Native Americans both independently came up with the process of tapping and reducing down tree sap. Convergent evolution, if you will. The Natives may have taught some European settlers how to tap maple trees, but the concept of tapping trees for sap was already a long-standing tradition in Russia and other boreal regions, as well as in Eastern North America.

Indigenous maples do grow throughout the Northern Hemisphere, but the sweetest sugarbush stands grow in North America. Three maple species are tapped: sugar maple (Acer saccharum)black maple (A. nigrum), and the red maple (A. rubrum). You can tap other maple trees, but they're more stingy with their sugar content.

But there other other deciduous trees in the forest you can tap for sweet sap. Not just those three maples. For example, Sycamore (OK so false and true sycamores are related to maples—Acer; somebody was trying to cop a Biblical feel by naming those trees sycamores, but those Biblical plane trees (ficus/mulberry) are not our sycamores). Somebody posted that sycamore syrup tastes vile. They didn't mention if they were swigging Biblical sycamore sap or Acer sap.

And you can tap the equally related box elder (Acer negundo) AKA the ash-leaf maple. But there's also birch, lime/linden (Tilia), walnut, and even beech and oak trees that have been tapped for sap. (Palm trees too may be tapped for sap, they may be Biblical, but they're not exactly a northern tree…)

Now Birch is classified as a Rosid, as are most of our food sources. The birch family, Betulaceae, includes some 130 species of aldershazelshornbeamsbirches, and is closely related to the beech/oak family.

Finnish birch trees
When tracking down sources and ideas, I tend to lean toward folk customs, and oral tradition for clues. Sometimes, if I'm lucky, a particular tradition has survived into the modern era. In the case of Northern European tree-tapping, it seems to be true. Only with birch trees, not maple trees.

There is a related old Russian / Ukrainian folk custom, to tap birch trees at the break of winter to spring, boiling the syrup down to make an alcoholic berezovyi or birch beer (considered to be a spring tonic). 

I can't believe I still remember the word (I always think I don't know any Russian—until the words arise unbidden from memory). I was in the USSR collecting and translating poetry from 1989 to 1991. My Ukrainian translator, Oleg Atbashian was very emphatic explaining that berezovyi was a very special spring beer made from the sweet sap. And that old peasants drank it. (Russian: byeryozovyi).

So I Googled it, I found that birch beer is also made in North America, flavored with sap, or a twig oil distillation, but it's also made with added sugar. Coals to Newcastle. Not exactly authentic. I needed a paleo-source, not these modern shortcuts, using raisins and lemons and sugar to make a carbonated soft drink flavored with bottled birch oil.

Besides, most New Englanders erroneously assume that birch beer was invented in America ca. 1800. Well, that just didn't sit right—especially when I began to uncover posts from homesick ex-pat Russians trying to locate a source of the authentic ancient brew. (Hint: it predates root beer, it's made with sap, not roots, or twigs.)

My understanding of Russian birch beer was that only the natural sugars in the birch sap were used (and fermented). Apparently birch sap runs a month later than maple tree sap, and is more copious (but has less sugar content). The reduced birch sap is dark and molasses-like, sweet, slightly tart, maple flavored with vanillin with wintergreen/piney overtones. But it has a shorter shelf life.

During the regime of the USSR, sugar was not readily available, and it was a hot black market commodity. Probably why Russians have a mad sweet tooth today, they add jam and sugar to their tea, so sweet, that your cavities will positively beg for fillings. Birch trees are ubiquitous in Russia. Gather birch sap at the dacha, equals a free sugar fix.

Googling along, singing a song, I found a British birch beer recipe dating from 1676 that must've found its way to North America. John Worlidge was the go-to man for cider-making and his Vinetum Britannicum was the brewer's Bible, a 17th c. Amazon bestseller for at least a quarter of a century. The colonists had a prodigious thirst, and knew about fermenting the blood of several trees, and birch trees were the best (and the cheapest). Since the Middle Ages, laborers were routinely paid two gallons of cider (or birch beer/wine) a day.

(Note that Worlidge added refined sugar, which would've been a luxury item from the West Indies.)
"To every Gallon whereof, add a pound of refined Sugar, and boyl it about a quarter or half an hour; then set it to cool, and add a very little Yest to it, and it will ferment, and thereby purge itself from that little dross the Liquor and Sugar can yield: then put it in a Barrel, and add thereto a small proportion of Cinnamon and Mace bruised, about half an ounce of both to ten Gallons; then stop it very close, and about a month after bottle it; and in a few days you will have a most delicate brisk Wine of a flavor like unto Rhenish. Its Spirits are so volatile, that they are apt to break the Bottles, unless placed in a Refrigeratory, and when poured out, it gives a white head in the Glass. This Liquor is not of long duration, unless preserved very cool. Ale brewed of this Juice or Sap, is esteem'd very wholesome."  From Vinetum Britannicum, p. 176, London, 1676. (Free Google Book download.)—Wiki
The sugar addition to the recipe bothered me. Why add sugar to a sap already ladened with natural sugar? Sounds like a shortcut to an older tradition. I did look up the book and found that honey was also used. I've included a facsimile of the text as it's tho charming. And after you read it, I'm pretty thure you'll be lithping  ath well. Yeth.

The book provides my terminus anti quem. We do know that forest trees were being tapped for sap by the British as early as 1676, and probably since the Middle Ages. It took Worlidge several years to ready his manuscript for the printer, then it had to be hand-letter-set. Safe bet to say it was written ca. 1670. Jamestown was settled in 1607. Quebec 1608.  There is no mention of tapping North American trees for sap, Asian, African and Northern European trees, yes. From the 1620s on, there were Indian raids and wars, safe to say, there wasn't a lot of sharing. The English civil war from 1640 to 1659 meant England was a bit distracted. The French and the Dutch patrolling, more wars. Not a pretty time.

A fortuitous accident more fruitful (sapful?) was to search the internet for birch sap, or syrup. I found that "Making birch syrup is more difficult than making maple syrup, requiring about 100-150 liters of sap to produce one liter of syrup"    —Wiki
In the Ukraine and parts of Russia the sap is collected and sold as a type of mineral water, so they clearly value it. A fantastic, easy to make and reliable white wine can be made with a very distinct and pleasant taste, as well as beer, vinegar and a rich caramel and molasses-like syrup.... The sap then, which is actually about 95% + water, minerals and a little sugar, can be evapourated off to make a sublimely delicious syrup.—Fergus the Forager
Then searching under "birch sap," I hit paydirt:
"Birch sap is collected only at the break of winter and spring when the sap moves intensively. Birch sap was a traditional beverage in Russia (берёзовый сок / byeryozovyi sok), Latvia (bērzu sula), Estonia (kasemahl), Finland (koivun mahla), Lithuania (Beržų Sula), Belarus (Бярозавы сок / biarozavy sok, Byarozavik), Poland (Sok z Brzozy), Ukraine (Березовий сік / berezovyi sik), France, Scotland and elsewhere in Northern Europe, as well as parts of Northern China. Heterosides present in birch sap release methyl salicylate by enzymatic hydrolysis which is analgesic, anti-inflammatory and diuretic."   —Wiki
Then I Googled "birch juice" and garnered even more payola. For centuries, birch sap has been a staple in Russia, Scandinavia, Northern Europe, and Northern China (must be that Russian influence). Described as divine nectar:
Beryozovy Sok (birch juice) is the sap from a birch tree. It is a water-like sweet liquid. It’s the only kind of juice in Russia that is venerated in songs about the love of the Motherland. The ancient Slavs worshipped various Pagan gods. And birch was one of the most sacred trees. At that time it was forbidden to take the juice out of the tree for regular use – it was to be saved for rituals. But after the introduction of Christianity the ban gradually disappeared. And people started to collect birch nectar for everyday needs.  —Russiapedia
(Apparently Chernobyl led to the downfall of large scale birch sap collecting). But it's making a comeback among bodybuilders and athletes. Besides, most of them are already on steroids, so what's a little radiation, besides the glow-in-the-dark teeth bonus? Forget about hydrating with coconut water. Birch sap and maple sap, or rather, xylitol, is the tastier and new improved Gatorade and mineral-rich detoxicant. 

Sok means juice, or sap in Slavic languages. And dang if birch sap isn't just loaded with an aspirin related derivative, methyl salicylate, AKA wintergreen oil.  And birch sap, a diuretic, is a veritable wunder-drug, reputed to restore virility, cure baldness, rheumatism, prevent scurvy, and get rid of freckles (must be an anti-redhead thing). Health tonic indeed, and since the Russians are mad for fermenting all manner of things, birch beer is a natural. I guess there's no hangover. A nice spring ritual. LOL!

And if that doesn't float your boat, you can always buy hangoverless vodka made from birch tree sap, it’s called ‘brzozowka’ in the Ukraine.

In Old Slavonic, a cultural poem is embedded in the names of months: the Latinate Апрель (April) was called берёзозол, from берёза (birch tree) and зол—the month of greening birches. Any gardner worth their salt knows not to prune trees when the spring sap runs, or a fruit tree can bleed to death. Birch juice, collected during the first thaw, when the sap flows, is called the "crying of a birch."

The other weird Russian custom I encountered while in the Ukraine one winter, is birching. You wet your birch switch, or broom (ве́ник), and then flagellate yourself (or a lover) all over while in the (ба́ня) banya. Never personally witnessed it. A birch broom switch was thought to have magical powers, a sweet love potion. Does that make the banya the equivalent of a sugar shack? But it's an interesting aside. Think of it, a wintergreen-like substance is in the bark. Sort of like tiger balm on a stick, with a laced beer chaser, anyone? Sounds like a good spring tonic plan. Elixir of the gods.

And of course, birch is associated with the goddess Brigid in Ireland, and in Siberia, it's considered to be the world tree. The Latin name, betula is from the Gaulish betua; birchm in Old Irish: bethe, is the second letter in the alphabet of trees. Birch bark, the Northern Hemisphere's first paper, the wood, also used for writing. Famine food, and a hangover-free beer, as well. 

A child's IOU birchbark drawing from Novgorod ca. 1240-60AD:
     надо    митрѣво     зѧти     доложзи       кѣ

See also:

Russian Birch Tree Juice (English Russia)

Plant Profile: Birch (Betula ssp.)

Taste Test: Birch Beer (An East Coast phenomenon). 

Alaska Wild Harvest produces Kahiltna Gold Birch Syrup.

Fergus the Forager

Forget coconut water... birch sap is what clean-living Londoners are drinking in 2015

Tree Sap: Nature’s Energy Drink

Maple Water The story according to "Legend has it that, during a spring of famine, an Aboriginal was watching a squirrel bursting with energy. After noticing that the squirrel drank water from a maple tree, he realized that this was where the squirrel was getting its energy from. Maple water became a food prized by the people of the First Nations and later of New France.”
Betula alba (white birch), 
Betula pendula (silver birch), 
Betula fontinalis.

The common name birch comes from Old English birce, bierce, from Proto-Germanic *berk-jōn (cf. German Birke, West Frisian bjirk), an adjectival formation from *berkōn (cf. Dutch berk, Low German Bark, Norwegian bjørk), itself from the Proto-Indo-European root *bʰerHǵ- ~ bʰrHǵ-, which also gave Lithuanian béržas, Russian beréza, Ukrainian beréza, Albanian bredh ‘fir’, Ossetian bærz(æ), Sanskrit bhurja, Polish brzoza, Latin fraxinus ‘ash (tree)’. This root is presumably derived from *bʰreh₁ǵ- ‘to shine’, in reference to the birch's white bark. The Proto-Germanic rune berkanan is named after the birch. The generic name betula is from Latin, which is a diminutive borrowed from Gaulish betua (cf. Old Irish bethe, Welsh bedw). Birch holds great historical significance in the culture of North India. Birch paper (Sanskrit: भुर्ज पत्र, bhurja patra) is exceptionally durable and was the material used for many ancient Indian texts. They are also associated with the Tír na nÓg, the land of the dead and the Sidhe, in Gaelic folklore, and as such frequently appear in Scottish, Irish, and English folksongs and ballads in association with death, or fairies, or returning from the grave.  —Wiki

At Russian banya there are special bath brooms (ве́ник) that are used. These brooms or venik sare bundles of twigs and leafy branches bound together from some kind of tree—usually they are from birch or oak trees. The veniks are dipped into cold water and then smacked briskly all over the body. There is a special person who is responsible for this, called banschik(ба́нщик). But usually people don't need banschik's help because groups of friends typically go together and are able to smack each other with veniks.
В ба́не ве́ник доро́же де́нег.
A bath-broom in the banya is worth more than money.  —Russian Banya

Whitsunday: Young birch is the traditional tree of the holiday and a symbol of life. Churches, houses, gates and wells were decorated with birch branches. After the holiday, birch branches were either placed in rivers or spread out on fields, symbolizing long life. In some other places birches were not chopped. Early in the morning on Whitsunday young girls decorated the birches with scarves and ribbons. Then they would sing and dance in a ring around the birch. Also on Whitsunday every girl twined a wreath of birch branches with flowers and grasses and wore it around her head. In the evening the wreaths were thrown in the water. The girl would marry on the side of the river, where the wreath landed. 
A wedding broom made of birch branches and decorated with ribbons was a symbol of beauty.  —Russian Culture

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Call Me Skinny, But Don't Call Me Late

In the early years, during those golden days that defined some of my earliest memories, the Lagunitas school bus dropped us off at the highway at the bottom of Arroyo Road, and it was over a mile to my house. Pete Sutton's house was about a quarter of a mile up the road from the highway. By then, I was tired of walking, so I'd follow him home.

I was also nearly a year younger than most of my kindergarten classmates, so I was a baby walking that long walk home. My grandmother did not walk down the road to greet me after school, I was on my own. I guess she figured that because we walked to church in Lagunitas every Sunday, I knew the way. True.

I literally dropped out of kindergarten because the walk to the bus stop was just too far for my short four-year-old legs and, wandering attention span. Too many distractions: the creek, the water nymphs, the gopher snake stretched across the road, shooting stars and milkmaids bordering the road just waiting to be picked.

Sometimes Mr. Dingman would wait for me at the bottom of the road, or, if I missed the bus, he'd angrily honk and pick me up me on the reverse run after he'd collected the rest of the kids in Lagunitas, hollering at me all the while. But more often than not, I stood forlornly at the empty crossroads of Arroyo Road and Sir Francis Drake Boulevard waiting for a school bus that would never come.

By the time I got to first grade, I had to catch the bus. I had to go to school, or else I was a truant. It was the law.

By then I had developed some quirky bus neuroses. I'd dream that I finally caught the bus to school on the wrong side of the road (coming back from Lagunitas—which meant I already missed my bus, this was my second chance at hell). The door hissing like a dragon, and Mr. Dingman's wrath, was the first obstacle. Then, facing down a sea of staring kids frightened me so much I nearly peed my pants and swooned with fear. Finding an empty seat or a friendly face was like running the gauntlet. Clearly, this tripartite dream was based on real-life experience.

But there was more: When I took my new red wool coat off, to hang it on the coathook in the back of Mrs. Ramsey's first grade classroom, I discovered, too late, I had forgotten to put my dress on. There I was in my frilly knickers and grubby undershirt for all the world to see. Kids sniggering. I died of embarrassment every time, as it was a vivid reoccurring dream Freud would've loved to sink his eyeteeth into.

Or I'd dream of catching the bus home, but no one else was on the bus, not even the driver, as it barreled and careened through Lagunitas canyon at dusk, like it was possessed. Forget Stephen King's "Christine." Vroom!

Coming home from school was a different matter. I had classmates to walk with. Sort of. But Jeff Sutton, Joan Lindsey, Diane Moyle, and Billy Joe Bianchi would ditch us little kids, or walk too fast for us to catch up. That left me and Pete standing at the crossroads. (Pete's dad, a pianist, had already gone down to the jazz crossroads at midnight, but that's another story). So I took the easiest route, I followed Pete home. Pete's mom, Chuck (Charlene), fed us peanut butter and exotic store-bought grape jelly sandwiches, and sometimes she even gave me a ride home in the green VW bus. 

To his credit, Peter never ditched me, though he could have. I'm sure I was a little pest. I remember playing in the creek, hiking up to Forest Farm Camp, and building Lincoln logs with him in his room. Kid stuff like that. Jeff was far too cool to hang out with us. I wasn't allowed in the army blanket chair fort. And besides, I was, you know, a girl.

(I don't remember when the school bus started coming up to the bend at Barranca Road to turn around where Joan Lindsey's house was, but that was a year or two later, as more families with kids were moving into the Valley. By then there were so many of us, they couldn't NOT pick us up.)

I was devastated when the Suttons moved to Lagunitas. I'd lost a playmate. No more free lunch. No more reason to drop by the Sutton house as he lived way up the hill. Then, as I got older, I was  too shy. Then, we all got way too cool (or too stoned), and we hardly spoke to each other during that long stretch of gravelly road that transported us across the gawky years of high school and hormones. Or even at College of Marin—though we were in the same pottery class for years.

(What's funny about this aside, is that when Ralph Sutton died, Pete said his father was a man of few words: "every couple of years he completes a sentence." That pretty much summed us up too. Until Facebook came along. This bloggy bit was inspired by a running rantlet with Pete. He's paying me back for all the times I ate his peanut butter sandwiches. It really was a long walk home and his house was the closest refuge…)

Nobody ever had any money in those days, and feeding the neighborhood kids was what families did. I remember eating cereal at 5PM (I thought it was scandalous) with the twins, Adrian and Adair (Lara) Daly. Their house was a mob scene and it was a free for all, with Connie and Mickey yelling at the top of their lungs, not to drink up all the milk or eat up all the cereal. Shannon was a kid of few words, he'd merely hitch the bowl up closer to his gaping maw and shovel it all in before the empty cereal box even hit the ground.

There was "poor" and then there was "really poor." The Bagleys, who were newcomers, were in the really poor camp, right out of Grapes of Wrath. After a good game of olly-olly-oxen-free, or kick-the-can, with the Weavers and the Magnussens, we were all skinned knees and grubbier than dirt. No formalities, like washing up before dinner, were enforced.

We gleefully ate the wilted vegetables Mr. Bagley couldn't sell from his vegetable truck. There were so many of us, the Bagleys set up a couple of doors on sawhorses in the bulldozed lot, and we'd have at it. Mountains of white welfare rice with salt and butter, watery zucchini and catsup under an indigo sky and wavering stars never tasted so good.

Seeking nourishment for an inarticulate hunger, I went from house to house, grazing with the other Valley kids. Scott Weaver's mom made the most outrageous raised yeast doughnuts, I'd eat them, still warm, granules of sugar crystals riming my lips. Nothing else even comes close to those airy doughnuts of memory. Forget Dunkin' Doughnuts.

Billy Joe Bianchi's grandmother dragged me into her kitchen and fed me raviolis and spongecake, saying, "Mangia, mangia." "Eat, eat." And so I did. As I tucked in, she grated cheese rinds into a big jar; and when the golden sponge cake hanging upside down in its cake pan, was cool, it'd slough onto the table, whispering unintelligible secrets, and we'd eat divine food of the gods. Billy Joe usually ditched me to do chores, so I was fair game for Mary Bianchi's brand of cheek-pinching ministrations. After all, she'd fed my grandmother's children too.

One of my best friends, Stephanie Stone's newly blended family was so large, they never even noticed another ravening mouth at the table. New step-mom Helen was doing a bang-up job feeding her small army. Shopping was a field expedition. We'd load the shopping carts with gallons of condensed milk and field provisions. Then a dozen of us would stand in the cattle truck all the way home, leaning into the turns over White's Hill.

Micaela Miranda Wall's stepmom Betty Lang, a potter, held an open larder policy too. Dense homemade honey wheat bread and slabs of sharp cheddar, and garlicky salads, so hot it burned your tongue. My job was to rub a clove of garlic into the wooden salad bowl. I practically lived at Micaela's house when we were tweenies. We'd get long skirts from the Goodwill and slit them in two to make twin miniskirts. We were peas in a pod.

I'd also head over to another neighbor's across the way for Second Dinner. They didn't have kids, but they had a TV, which was part of the draw, I'm sure. There was only one or two channels to choose from, and there was also a lot of snow—depending on the vagaries of reception so far from civilization.

During the summer months, I used to peer through a knothole in the fence, watching kids play in the pool until Barbara Scott took pity on me and invited me in for a swim. I learned to swim late in life, I was ten. I was floating on a big sausage balloon and it popped in the deep end. My grannie dragged me down to Barbano's Summer Camp across from Pete's house, for my first swimming lesson. But lessons cost money so, after I mastered the dogpaddle, I finished learning to swim at the Scott's pool. Barbara Scott put me to work, lifeguarding the little kids, babysitting, or making props for a play she was producing.

I was never turned away from anyone's table. It was as if I was trying on different families, to see how they all lived. For the most part, the common denominator was a large family. I had only my baby brother, and my parents had dumped me off at my grandmother's house by the time I was four. So I had issues of abandonment. I was like a stray dog turning up at the dinner table.

You'd think my grandmother wasn't a good cook, but she was. I rarely missed a meal at home either. She'd already raised eight kids, so we were unofficial numbers nine and ten. She was done with parenting. The way I was eating, I should've been the size of a house. But I was a lonesome, skinny little kid, so skinny, that Jimmy Bohman, who was at least a year younger than me, used to sneer, and call me "Flaco" and "Skinny" at school.

I must've had a tapeworm or something, I ate like a horse. And I was horse crazy too. Horses were my saving grace, they offered me a steady circle of friends, they also exponentially expanded my dining horizon, and getting home was a piece of cake. But that's fodder for another tale.

Now I'd give anything to be able to eat like that—and still be called Skinny too. Guess I'll nibble on these words instead.

Sir Francis Drake High School jettisoned our bus system. There was no bus and It was a long walk to Drake, then home again over White's Hill. 
Seems like trouble getting to school was a reoccurring theme. For an expanded version of this IJ article, see my previous post, Shank's Mare Ironically, when we got to high school, our school bus was cancelled by Reaganomics.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Shank's Mare and Reaganomics

Ca. 1969-70—The IJ says Mon., Jan 11, but there was no Mon. Jan 11th in 1967, '68, '69, or '70.

During winter break, Sir Francis Drake High School took our Greyhound bus away so we had no way to get to school. We lived in the country, quite a ways from town. There wasn't any public transportation in our neck of the woods—other than the lone Inverness Greyhound commute bus that traversed the San Geronimo Valley around 5 AM and 7 PM. There was a bus route "in town," as we called it, but no Marin Transit, or Golden Gate Transit (until 1972) in West Marin.

In those days, most people living in the San Geronimo Valley were poor and didn't own cars. The Independent Journal article nade it sound like we had an option to ride the bus. But we staged a protest march, refusing to pay the 70-cent fee ($3.50 a week was a lot of money in those days), and so the Tamalpais School District jettisoned the Greyhound bus. Left us all hanging. What the article failed to mention was that the cutback was due to Reaganomics. And if the San Geronimo, and Nicasio Valley residents were wealthy, abolishing the school bus would not have been on the cutting board.

It was a long eight-plus mile walk to Drake. Then home again up over White's Hill. How I learned to hitchhike. Yep. The stories I could tell. My friend Allison Lehman was holding the sign I'd made—making it look so easy.The Woodacre contingency was fantastic, as I recall. A real morale booster.  Richmond Young was the organizer. They were all fresh as daisies when they met up with us which undermined the dreariness of it all.

Allison and I had walked from Forest Knolls to Woodacre by the time the IJ showed up. So we were already tired. Part of the Woodacre contingency, Peter McConnell (in the plaid shirt) was walking in front of me—I was  dressed in a trenchcoat, in the back. Rain was predicted for later that day. Geoff Davis was walking beside me. From him I learned that a good story does make the road shorter. After a few days of walking, we were bone-tired. But I gained a good friend in the process.

And thus began my hitchkhiking phase. Thank Gawd, those who had cars would stop for us when they saw us walking. How I met Carlos Santana hitching to school. All the rock stars had moved out to The San Geronimo Valley, so it was always an interesting ride into town, but coming home was trickier. We met Jesse Colin Young and the Youngbloods, Quicksilver Messenger Service, The Grateful Dead,  Jefferson Starship (Airplane), The Sons of Champlin, Big Brother and the Holding Company, but never Janis. 

Janis Joplin lived on Arroyo Road at the Barbano's Summer Camp dorms. I remember the Larkspur house. But she still stayed in Lagunitas as her bandmates from Big Brother lived in the dorms. She had a hand-painted white Porsche, but she never gave us rides. 
Oh Lord, won't you buy me a Mercedes Benz, my friends all drive Porsches, I must make amends...
We weren't complete strangers to hitchhiking. Once, on a lark, Sue Williams, Sue Barry and I hitchhiked to Yosemite to save the $20 Greyhound fee, but got busted in Los Banos. A CHP cop bailed us out. Got us on the right road home. Scared the bejazuz outta us. Thought we'd get busted for sure. 

For me, hoofing it to school was 8.7 miles over White's Hill, one way. That's 17.5 miles a day. Sir Francis Drake Blvd. was not set up for walking. It was quite dangerous going over White's Hill. No bike lanes then.

Walking for pleasure is one thing, forced marching to and from school every day that distance is another thing—especially during storms. Not to mention the time involved—all this because Ronald Reagan cut back back school funding. 

Good old Reaganomics. We were the first to feel the ramifications of it, as few families had cars, the Valley was poor. One time, about ten of us piled into Don Stanley's old white Ford Falcon station wagon (he founded the Pacific Sun). We sat on the tailgate, and rode over White's Hill watching the road whizz beneath our feet. So illegal.

But this was hitchiking in earnest—twice a day, every day, rain or shine. Which meant you never knew when you would arrive at school, or when you'd get home. You never knew where you'd be let off, so no matter what, you were walking a mile or two.

Then there were the weird rides where you didn't know IF you'd ever get home. (Does the Zodiac killer ring a bell?)

No transport also meant that there were also no extra curricular activities after school because the ride pool to West Marin dried up after 6 PM. Too hard to get home via shank's mare. Terrifying aft
er dark. And that inverness commute bus wouldn't always stop for us—even if we did have the spare change. Which we didn't.

This post is restructured from a Facebook thread.

Reaganomics: "Throughout his tenure as governor Mr. Reagan consistently and effectively opposed additional funding for basic education. This led to painful increases in local taxes and the deterioration of California's public schools. Los Angeles voters got so fed up picking up the slack that on five separate occasions they refused to support any further increases in local school taxes. The consequent under-funding resulted in overcrowded classrooms, ancient worn-out textbooks, crumbling buildings and badly demoralized teachers. Ultimately half of the Los Angeles Unified School District's teachers walked off the job to protest conditions in their schools.[5] Mr. Reagan was unmoved.
Ronald Reagan left California public education worse than he found it. A system that had been the envy of the nation when he was elected was in decline when he left. Nevertheless, Mr. Reagan's actions had political appeal, particularly to his core conservative constituency, many of whom had no time for public education.
In campaigning for the Presidency, Mr. Reagan called for the total elimination the US Department of Education, severe curtailment of bilingual education, and massive cutbacks in the Federal role in education. Upon his election he tried to do that and more.
Significantly, President Reagan also took steps to increase state power over education at the expense of local school districts. Federal funds that had flowed directly to local districts were redirected to state government. Moreover, federal monies were provided to beef up education staffing at the state level. The result was to seriously erode the power of local school districts.[6]
As in California, Mr. Reagan also made drastic cuts in the federal education budget. Over his eight years in office he diminished it by half. When he was elected the federal 
share of total education spending was 12%. When he left office it stood at just 6%." —The Educational Legacy of Ronald Reagan 

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Imbolc : Lá Fhéile Bríde

"Brigid saw the beauty and goodness of God in all His creation: cows made her love God more."

I had a mooving experience with the heifer girls in Nicasio. One young heifer couldn't get enough of me and bathed my left arm; she thoroughly rasped my shirtsleeve for good measure. Was she commenting on my hygiene habits? Nothing like cow slobber. Worse than Newfie and St. Bernard goo. Appropriately it's St. Brigid's Day. Lá Fhéile Bríde. Patroness of springs, wells, calves and lambs, beer and poetry. Happy Imbolc, Celtic Spring.

Oh bright one, Brid óg, 
welcome into our home today, 
bring with you the gentleness 
and grace you share, 
protect the walls, the floor 
and anyone who comes through our door. 
Spread your cloak of peace and healing 
to all that know Bright Brigid,
your face as the hag has gone,
reborn again we welcome you young Brid.
Brighten our way.

(I got this from Frances Black's FB wall, a post from Joseph Keane. Don't know if it's his or a translation, as I also found it on the Celtic Revival page)

(10th century Poem attributed to Brigid herself) 
I'd like to give a lake of beer to God.
I'd love the heavenly
Host to be tippling there
For all eternity. 
I'd love the men of Heaven to live with me,
To dance and sing.
If they wanted, I'd put at their disposal
Vats of suffering. 
White cups of love I'd give them
With a heart and a half;
Sweet pitchers of mercy I'd offer
To every man. 
I'd make Heaven a cheerful spot
Because the happy heart is true.
I'd make the men contented for their own sake.
I'd like Jesus to love me too. 
I'd like the people of heaven to gather
From all the parishes around.
I'd give a special welcome to the women,
The three Marys of great renown. 
I'd sit with the men, the women and God
There by the lake of beer.
We'd be drinking good health forever
And every drop would be a prayer.

More poems and incantations here:
Brighid, Bright Goddess of the Gael

Smúraidh mi an tula
Mar a smúradh Brighde Muime.
Ainm naomh na Muime
Bhith mu'n tula, bhith mu'n tán,
Bhith mu'n ardraich uile.

I will smoor the hearth
As Brighid the Fostermother would smoor
The Fostermother's holy name
Be on the hearth, be on the herd
Be on the household all.
—Carmina Gadelica, Alexander Carmichael,  vol.3

My grannie tried to show me how to make St. Brigid's crosses, I wasn't a very good student. Crosóg Bhríde. —Wiki
How to Make a St. Brigid's Cross

For reference to "Brigid saw the beauty and goodness of God in all His creation: cows made her love God more."
"Brigid is the patron saint of Ireland, poets, dairymaids, blacksmiths, healers (White), cattle, fugitives, Irish nuns, midwives, and new-born babies (Roeder). She is still venerated highly in Alsace, Flanders, and Portugal (Montague), as well as Ireland and Chester, England (Farmer)."
See St. Patrick Catholic Church Saint of the Day,

See my post,  "Up Helly Aa," reconstructed Fire Festival, or Imbolc in Viking drag? for information on the goddess Brigid.

Brigid's British and continental counterpart Brigantia was the Celtic equivalent of the Roman Minerva and the Greek Athena.

Celtic Lore and Mythology  Imbolc or Imbolg (pronounced i-MOLK or i-MOLG ), also called (Saint) Brigid's Day (Irish: Lá Fhéile Bríde, Scottish Gaelic: Là Fhèill Brìghde, Manx: Laa'l Breeshey), is a Gaelic festival marking the beginning of spring. 

Irish Medieval History:
Lá Fhéile Bríde 
Did the goddess became a saint or did the saint become the goddess?
February 1st or Imbolc (Imbolg) is the name of the ancient Irish festival marking the beginning of spring. 

Saturday, January 31, 2015

"Up Helly Aa," reconstructed Fire Festival, or Imbolc in Viking drag?

Guizers with torches at Up Helly Aa celebration in Uyeasound,Shetland.  Before the 19th c., tar barrels, not torches, were used. They look a bit KKKish.
The Viking Up Helly Aa, celebrated on the last Tuesday of January in the Shetland Isles in Northern Scotland, is a "reconstructed" fire festival. I'm not convinced the festival even has Viking roots, though modern-day Shetlanders would probably avow it does. I suspect the origin is a bit more obscure, as the Vikings invaded the Shetland Islands during the 8th and 9th centuries, but—detail!—there were other people living there since the Neolithic era.

The Vikings, as we know, were not big on sharing, and 19th century Viking scholars were also not keen on sharing. When something is claimed as being authentically Viking in Celtic lands, there is often a blurring of anthropological lines. What came before, is often overlooked, because it doesn't fit current thought. So, rather than observing the overlay with a cultural substrait, we often get skewed cultural theories based solely on later invading cultures—especially in Scotland where the Viking love affair is still in full swing some six centuries later. There is only "I" in Viking. Not even poetic license can alter that.

Shetland was no terra nullius before the Vikings invaded Shetland. Long before the Shetland archipelago (Scots Gaelic: Sealtainn) was under Icelandic-Norse control, it was a Mesolithic, Neolithic, then a Celtic stronghold—for millennia. The Shetland Islands were originally settled by Neolithic Bell-Beaker peoples, then the Celts, the Picts, and the Scotti, or the Irish Celts—who also celebrated a fire festival on this date as well

Since the Neolithic era, (4000 BC), people have raised cattle and sheep, and farmed the Shetland Isles. What survives are prehistoric field systems, Bronze Age burnt mounds, Iron Age brochs, and Pictish wheelhouses. The oldest archaeological find, ca. 4000 BC, is a midden at West Voe, Sumburgh. Hard to imagine now, but much of the North Sea was dry land, Shetland was lightly wooded and the climate was warmer. Neolithic burials include stone cists, and heel-chambered cairns on the island of Vementry, Punds Water and Islesburgh. Skara Brae, Maes Howe, and Ring of Brogar, in nearby Orkney, are extraordinary Neolithic monuments.

During the Bronze Age (2000 to 600 BC), the climate deteriorated, peat bogs spread, and sea level rose. Some 300 crescent-shaped burnt mounds (possible hearths) date back to the Bronze Age. "Ireland was the chief center for the manufacture of bronze and Scotland's early settlers were energetic seamen." Even way then there was a lot of travel between the islands. For millennia, there was Irish contact in the Shetlands, whether by trade, or by theft: a bronze-gilt harness mounting was made in Ireland during the 8th or 9th c. AD, was excavated from an archaeological dig.

Possibly due to a population explosion, or increased warfare, the Iron Age in Shetland saw the rise of massive fortifications: double-walled circular towers, and dry stone brochs—sometimes called "Pictish Towers", but their construction predates the Picts. Ancestors of the Picts, maybe.

Of the 120 Iron Age broch sites, Old Scatness, and the Broch of Mousa (ca. 100 BC), are among the finest preserved examples of Iron Age fort towers. In the case of Old Scatness, the Celts, the late Iron Age Picts, then the Vikings each built atop the old fortifications. Excavations at Jarlshof, confirm archaeological evidence in Mainland, Shetland, since the Bronze Age.
By the sixth century AD, Shetland had become integrated into the mainstream of Pictish politics and life. Artefacts such as painted pebbles and carved symbol stones demonstrate a strong Pictish presence in the islands. Good examples include the ogham script of the Lunnasting Stone, and Christian cross-slabs which include fine examples such as the cross slab and the Monk’s Stone, both from Papil.... From the late 8th century, Shetland was subject to the turbulent impact of the expanding Viking world.—Visit Shetland
The Viking invasions began ca. 800 AD. The earliest archaeological evidence of Norse occupation is in the nearby Orkneys (Viking Shetland was administered as part of the Orkneys, and they were both called the Northern Isles). In 800 AD, a Pictish, or Culdee hoard of silver bowls, brooches, torcs, thimbles, chapes, and a porpoise jaw, was found beneath St. Ninian's church floor on Shetland's St. Ninian's Isle. (See St Ninian's Isle Treasure. St. Ninian AKA Apostle to the Southern Picts).
Human settlement of the island dates from circa 3000 BC and there are remains of several Neolithic burial chambers known as 'heel-shaped cairns'. Little is known of the pre-Celtic and Celtic eras, but when the Norse arrived it is likely they found a religious settlement as the name of the island derives from Papey Stóra meaning "Big island of the Papar" (Celtic monks), in distinction to Papa Little. —Wiki  (see Culdees or papar.)
In 1299 AD, the oldest Old Norse manuscript from Shetland (the Norse called it Hjaltland), was over a duel, where the isle of Papa Stour is referenced. Thorvald Thoresson, accused of corruption, was called "dominus de Papay." In early Irish literature, Shetland is referred to as Inse Catt—"the Isles of Cats." 

During the outbreak of Celtic Christianity, when "green" martyrs were seeking hermitages to commune with God, the Irish monks settled on most of the Hebrides, Orkneys and the Shetland Isles, as well as the Faroe Islands, and Iceland, the first stepping stone from Shetland to Iceland. Iceland was settled by the Norse, and Celts from the British Isles—including from Hebrides and Shetland.
During the Dark Ages, groups of outlaws and farmers took to the sea from the northernmost reaches of Europe. These seafaring marauders became known as the Vikings. Some of these outcasts among the Vikings were to achieve historical distinction indirectly through dubious means. —from The Struggle against Colonialism and Imperialism in Kalaallit Nunaat
What's interesting about the Up Helly Aa festival is that it completely obliterates any connection with the peoples of the past, other than a nod to 19th century Viking revival nostalgia. It's a wayward case of settler colonialism displacing the preexisting subculture, as a means strengthening an invader's power base to shore up national identity. This was certainly true in Iceland even though Iceland was settled by as many Irish as Vikings. So, what is Up Helly Aa?
According to John Jamieson's Etymological Dictionary of the Scottish Language (1818), up is used in the sense of something being at an end, and derives from the Old Norse word uppi which is still used in Faroese and Icelandic, while helly refers to a holy day or festival. The Scottish National Dictionary defines helly, probably derived from the Old Norse helgr (helgi in the dative and accusative case, meaning a holiday or festival), as "[a] series of festive days, esp. the period in which Christmas festivities are held from 25th Dec. to 5th Jan." while aa may represent a', meaning "all".  —Wiki Up Helly Aa
But the Northern Isles were once described as "Pictish in culture and speech."  Not Viking. Few Pictish placenames survive, except for the northern islands Fetlar with its stone Funzie Girt (Finn's Dyke) a Bronze Age Berlin Wall, Unst and Yell, the second largest island, with 12 brochs, and 15 early chapels—a Culdee stronghold, probably not as enticing to the Norse. The dearth of Celtic "place-names suggest that the Picts may have been forced onto poorer land."
Despite many archaeological remains, we have only a patchy understanding of those who lived in Shetland before the Viking invasions of around 800 AD. Immediately before the Vikings arrived, though, it’s clear that Shetland – like much of Scotland - was part of the Pictish culture. By the time of the Viking invasion, possibly two or three hundred years earlier, Christianity had reached the islands. —History of Shetland
The "Northern Isles were the first to be conquered by Vikings and the last to be relinquished by the Norwegian crown." The historical record is weak but Woolf (2007) suggests the Icelandic sagas proclaiming dominion over the Shetland Isles are stories concocted "to legitimise Norwegian claims to sovereignty in the region. Perhaps that is also why Imbolc underwent a transformation into Up Helly aa.

An interesting aside: according to the Icelandic sagas, Egil's saga, and the Orkneyinga saga, the Broch of Mousa was used as a refuge for runaway lovers.

I suppose if one is inventive enough, the Norse origin of some island placenames could be challenged: Vementry (Old Norse: "Vemunðarey) could also be derived from a form of Finn, as in Finn's beach: as in Ventry, (Irish: Ceann Trá—which means head beach), which is an anglicization of Fionntrá, in Dingle, Co. Kerry. St. Ninian was also known as Fionnian. M, B and F, in the genitive, take on a v sound. But I'm being linguistically silly.

Maybe it would be more fruitful to look at DNA. Shetland's genetic heritage is 60% Norwegian Y-chromosome DNA (R1a Sigurd), and 40% is ancient Briton (Celts) DNA. The most common male Y chromosomes reflect the most recent migration. Apparently the Norse married lots of local women; as Norse (matrilineal) mtDNA was 30%. However:
[in] Orkney and Shetland, Roberts reported (1985, 1990) that both island populations diverged considerably in allele frequencies from neighboring populations. Roberts concluded that the islanders of Orkney and Shetland most likely represented remnants of an aboriginal gene pool that had changed on the British mainland because of later population movements.... Of the Scottish populations, Orkney [not Shetland] evidently has the closest matrilineal links with Scandinavia. The inhabitants of the Scottish islands share two to seven times more of their lineages exclusively with Gaels than they do with Scandinavians.... mtDNA lineages can be used to identify recent migration. Viking men settled and intermarried with existing populations in Shetland... —mtDNA and the Islands of the North Atlantic
So, with all that intact ancient matrilineal Celtic Briton gene pool intact, do you think their fire customs, celebrated since time immemorial, would suddenly be forgotten and just disappear with the occupation of the Vikings—only to return as a new and improved Viking festival? Methinks this particular fire festival smacks of the neo-Romantic Viking revivalist movement: think truncated Wagner as performed by Viking mummers. (Note that Up Helly Aa iis not celebrated in Scandinavia.) 

According to the Smithsonian article, "Up Helly Aa was first celebrated in the 1880s. Before then, rowdy residents would take to the streets to mark the end of the Yule season by burning tar barrels." 

Up Helly Aa is a procession of 1000 guizers celebrating their Norse heritage. Guizers (dis-guisers and galoshins) are a long-standing tradition in the Celtic ream; our modern Halloween trick or treaters are guisers

The festival is stapled onto the end of Yule season (see: Burning of the clavie), but even using the old calendar, "Old Twelfth" would have fallen on Jan. 17, not the end of January, which would be Imbolc, the Fire Festival of Brigid.

A parallel story of confusion: an Irish Medieval History Facebook post notes that people erroneously assume the pagan Celtic Goddess Brigid, who represented the light half of the year, was transported into Christianity as Saint Brigid. Ancient customs and religious beliefs were not swept away with the arrival of Christianity and traditions associated with St. Brigid’s day are thought to date from the pre-Christian period. Candlemas is the Christian overlay of Imbolc.

So taking that model for cultural continuance, despite new landlords, I suspect this Shetland fire festival is an offshoot of the festival of Imbolc, and of the pan-Celtic Goddess Brigid, which was a time for a massive spring clean-up, burning old possessions and replacing them with new ones. 

Since Neolithic times, cross-quarter days, that midway point between solstice and equinox, were celebrated with fire festivals. Cross-quarter days were marked via astronomical alignments on ancient monuments: Mound of the Hostages: Hill of Tara, Howth, Newgrange, Stonehenge. The four fire festivals, Samhain (the end of the Celtic harvest year), Imbolc, Beltane and Lughnasadh also mark the beginning of each season. Spring was the beginning of the Roman New Year.

Imbolc might derive from Old Irish í mBolc, meaning in the belly (as in pregnant—bolg — Spanish /Galician bolsa means bag); it might mean purification or, First Milk.
...which arises from the word “oimelc/oí melg” used in the 10th century Sanas Cormaic (Cormac’s Glossary) which some people have taken to mean “sheep’s milk”. The word “melg” meaning ‘milk’ comes from the Proto-Indo-European (PIE—the ancestor language of most European languages) word “melg” which means "to wipe, to rub off". Purification/ cleansing was an important aspect of many ancient festivals and “oí melg” is not milking but rubbing, as in the act of cleansing. Further evidence of cleansing comes from the Roman festival of Februalia. The Old Irish word for February is ‘febra’, ‘febrae’ from Latin ‘Februarius’ which in turn comes from ‘februa’ meaning purifications. —Irish Medieval History: February 1st or Imbolc 
Imbolc was the second of the four great fire festivals, with significance placed upon the Light of fire. The Irish word for spring, "errach” thought to be related to the word “airreach” which means hauling and dragging. In Ireland, Imbolc is referred to as the big Spring Clean. "Right up to the twentieth century, on Brigid’s eve, the house was be scrubbed from top to bottom by the women who worked into the night." 

All debris was burned (including floor rushes, beds and bedding). Bonfires galore. Oh, and Brigid is a daughter of the Dagda, and a poet. She is the patron of the hearth, healing, metal smithcraft; and inventor of poetry, keening, and beer making. Ya don't want to piss her off. Burn, baby, burn. Sláinte!
A Bhríd, a Bhríd, thig a sligh as gabh do leabaidh
Bríd Bríd, come in; thy bed is ready
Brede, Brede, come to my house tonight.
Open the door for Brede and let Brede come in.
Imbolc festival in Marsden, Yorkshire. —Wiki

Brigid's the goddess of weather, for an early spring, forget the groundhog, chant this instead:

Thig an nathair as an toll
Là donn Brìde,
Ged robh trì troighean dhen t-sneachd
Air leac an làir.
The serpent will come from the hole
On the brown Day of Bríde,
Though there should be three feet of snow
On the flat surface of the ground.

Lá Fhéile Bríde shona dóibh go léir (Happy St. Brigid’s festival day to you all)!

LINKS & SNAUSAGES (no beer):
Vikings Storm the Streets at Up Helly Aa, Europe's Biggest Fire Festival
Scandinavian Scotland
Shetland History
Papa Stour
Someone beat the Vikings into the North Atlantic by 500 years human settlements ca. the 4th and 6th centuries AD. “There is evidence of Irish hermits sailing into the North Atlantic islands in a passage by an Irish Monk called Dicuil in 825AD,”

Prehistoric Shetland (see Heel-shaped cairns, a style of chambered cairn unique to Shetland) Hjaltadans on Fetlar is a ring of stones, although there are no true stone circles in Shetland. The level of organisation involved suggest a relatively high population for Shetland in the Neolithic era, perhaps as much as 10,000. In AD 43 and 77 Roman authors Pomponius Mela and Pliny the Elder referred to seven islands, Haemodae and Acmodae, thought to be Shetland. Thule is first mentioned by Pytheas of Massilia when he visited Britain ca. 322-285 BC, but it is probably not Shetland as he said it was six days sail north of Britain and one day from the frozen sea. Tacitus reported that a Roman fleet had seen "Thule" on a voyage that included Orkney in AD 98. Watson (1926) states that Tacitus was referring to Shetland.

The Crucible of Iron Age Shetland
Broch of Mousa
Broch of Clickimin 
Broch of Culswick
List of Shetland islands
St. Ninian's Isle
Northern Isles

My grannie tried to show me how to make St. Brigid's crosses, I wasn't a very good student. Crosóg Bhríde. —Wiki
How to Make a St. Brigid's Cross

Irish Medieval History:
Lá Fhéile Bríde 
Did the goddess became a saint or did the saint become the goddess?
February 1st or Imbolc (Imbolg) is the name of the ancient Irish festival marking the beginning of spring. 

Celtic Lore and Mythology  Imbolc or Imbolg (pronounced i-MOLK or i-MOLG ), also called (Saint) Brigid's Day (Irish: Lá Fhéile Bríde, Scottish Gaelic: Là Fhèill Brìghde, Manx: Laa'l Breeshey), is a Gaelic festival marking the beginning of spring.

Brigid's British and continental counterpart Brigantia was the Celtic equivalent of the Roman Minerva and the Greek Athena.

'World's oldest calendar' discovered in Scottish field The ancient monument was created by hunter-gatherers about 10,000 years ago. The pit alignment, at Warren Field, Aberdeenshire, is a Mesolithic "calendar," thousands of years older than previous known formal time-measuring monuments created in Mesopotamia.

Shetland Amenity TrustShetland Place Names Project (Irrevocably lost: Few Pictish placenames survived, except for the names of the islands Fetlar, Unst and Yell). (See Shetland Archives)

Ancient Scotland

The blood of the vikings - Orkney's genetic heritage

mtDNA and the Islands of the North Atlantic: Estimating the Proportions of Norse and Gaelic Ancestry Some orphans: The Gaelic contribution to the Icelandic mtDNA pool was least as large as that from Scandinavia. in The Book of Settlements, Orkney is mentioned 7 times, the Faroe Islands are mentioned 3 times, and Shetland is mentioned 2 times.


Imbolc festival: A short history of the Gaelic celebration one of the oldest celebrations marking the beginning of spring, has a rich history in Ireland, Scotland and the Isle of Man.

The Sacred Fire The Celtic year was divided into two halves, the dark and the light. Samhain was the beginning of the dark half, with its counterpart, Beltane beginning the light half. Between these two 'doors' or portals fell Imbolc, on February 1, and Lughnasadh or Lammas, celebrated on August 1, quartering the Celtic year. These quarters were again divided by the solstices and equinoxes, which were known as the four Albans. Imbolc was celebrated in honor of Brighid or Brid (pronounced breed), also known as Brigid, Brigit, or Bride, in her maiden aspect. Brighid is the daughter of Dagda. Imbolc was the second of the four great fire festivals, with significance placed upon the Light of fire. At Imbolc, Brighid was pregnant with the seed of the Sun. She was ripe with the promise of new life, as the seeds of the earth deep within its soil begin to awaken at this time, ripe with the promise of Spring, new life for the planet. Thus Inbolc was a time of awakening, promise and hope for the coming spring.

Wheel of the Year, depicted by the eight-armed sun cross, is an annual cycle of seasonal festivals, consisting of four, or eight festivals: either the solstices and equinoxes, known as the "quarter days", or the four midpoints between them (Samhain, Imbolc, Beltaine, Lugnasadh), known as the "cross quarter days".

Chapter 62. The Fire-Festivals of Europe: The biggest fire-festivals were on Beltaine, Midsummer Eve or Midsummer Day (Walpurgis Night), and Samain, or Allhallow Eve'n. In the Highlands of Scotland, “children gathered ferns, tar-barrels, the long thin stalks called gàinisg, and everything suitable for a bonfire. These were placed in a heap near the house, and in the evening set fire to. The fires were called Samhnagan. Whole districts were brilliant with bonfires, and their glare across a Highland loch, and from many eminences, formed an exceedingly picturesque scene.” In Wales the Samhain bonfire was called Coel Coeth. These cross-calendar dates don't coincide with the four great hinges of the solar year, the solstices and the equinoxes. Nor do they agree with the seasons of the agricultural year. A new fire was kindled every year on Samhain, and from this sacred flame all the fires in Ireland were rekindled.

Culdees or papar

St. Ninian: Apostle to the Southern Picts (aka Nynia, Ringan, and Trynnian). Tradition has it that Ninian was a Briton who converted the southern Picts to Christianity. He might have died in Whithorn, or Ireland in 432AD. Ninian dedications are found throughout the lands of the ancient Picts, also south of the Firths of Clyde and Forth, in Orkney and Shetland, East Donegal and Belfast; and in parts of northern England.

"Saint Ninian preaching to the Picts", Book of the Hours of the Virgin and Saint Ninian

Orkneyinga Saga History of the Earls of Orkney: Norse saga written ca. 1230 AD. chapter 85: enroute to the Holy Land, Earl Rognvald stopped off in Shetland—It was agreed that Rognvald should have the most ornate ship; but rival Eindridi broke the promise. So, his even fancier-assed ship smashed up in Shetland. Lots of sparring over women, etc. According to the Orkneyinga Saga, the Vikings used the islands as a base for raiding expeditions against Norway and Scotland. Norwegian king Harald Hårfagre ("Harald Fair Hair") annexed the Northern Isles (Orkney and Shetland) in 875, Rognvald Eysteinsson received Orkney and Shetland as an earldom in reparation for the death of his son in battle in Scotland.

Landnámabók Book of Settlements: (two mentions of settling in Shetland).

Lebor Gabála Érenn Brigid, daughter of The Daghda.

Galoshins Remembered, by Dr Emily Lyle; Galoshins was a seasonal folk drama learned orally and performed, mostly by boys, in people's houses. It took place on Old Year's Night or on Hallowe'en in central and southern Scotland at the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th. The drama took the form of a fight, sometimes with 'swords', and then a 'doctor' performed a comic turn in bringing the injured party back to life. These oral reminiscences, gathered for the first time in book form, were collected in the 1970s for the School of Scottish Studies Sound Archives, University of Edinburgh from people in Melrose, Morebattle, Hawick, Westruther, Biggar, Morekirk, Kirkcowan, Newton Stewart, Armadale, Falkirk, Camelon, Dennyloanhead and Kippen.
Here comes in Wee Johnny funny
The best wee man to draw the money
Lang lang pouches down to his knees
A penny a tuppence or three bawbees.
To order from Amazon US

Tobar an Dualchais - Galoshins (sound recording) In Galloway the performers and the mummers' play known elsewhere as ' Galoshins' were called 'The Black Boys', because they had their faces blackened. The play was not rehearsed. The parts were cast at school, and, in order of importance and seniority, were: Wee Johnny Funny, whom David Laurie played in 1921, aged six, then the doctor, then Beelzebub, then The Black Knight or King of Macedonia, and Balhector. The meaning of the name Balhector, which appears to be peculiar to Galloway, is discussed.

Galoshins: The Scottish Folk Play (Google Books) In Galoshins, Brian Hayward provides a new, and much-needed, study of the Scottish folk play of Hallowe'en and Hogmanay. Cousin to the English Mummers' play and to the Irish Christmas Rhymers' custom, Galoshins has a tradition in Scotland that can be retraced to the thirteenth century. The story of this neglected folk custom is not only valuable in itself, but also in the new perspective it offers on Scottish lowland traditions and social history. In his study, Brian Hayward not only records the texts, locations, calendar dates and customs of performance but also places them in their historical context. Students and enthusiasts of drama, folklore studies, social history and Scottish traditions will find this a fascinating and rewarding volume.

See also: Galashen Galatian, Galations, Galoshins, Golaschin, Goloshans, guisards, guisers, guising.

Mummer's Day, or "Darkie Day" (Darking Day), an ancient Cornish midwinter celebration celebrated on Boxing Day or New Year's Day. Originally part of traditional pagan midwinter celebrations throughout Cornwall, with guise dancing, (dancers painted their faces black or wore masks).
Mummers' Plays: seasonal folk plays performed by troupes of actors known as mummers or Guizers (rhymers, pace-eggers, soulers, tipteerers, galoshins, guysers, and so on), from the British Isles (see wrenboys), In mummers’ plays, the central incident is the killing and restoring to life of one of the characters. "guisers" (performers in disguise). Although the main season for mumming throughout Britain was around Christmas, some parts of England had plays performed around All Souls' Day (known as Souling or soul-caking) or Easter (Pace-egging or Peace-egging).

A Mummers' play, the Papa Stour Sword Dance, is from Shetland:  
In 1831 Sir Walter Scott published a rhyme used as a prelude to the sword dance in Papa Stour, Shetland in around 1788. It features seven characters, Saint George, Saint James, Saint Dennis, Saint David, Saint Patrick, Saint Anthony and Saint Andrew, the Seven Champions of Christendom. All the characters are introduced in turn by the Master, St. George. Some of the characters dance solos as they are introduced, then all dance a longsword dance together, which climaxes with their swords being meshed together to form a "shield". They each dance with the shield upon their head, then it is laid on the floor and they withdraw their swords to finish the dance. St. George makes a short speech to end the performance. From Mummers

Oot bewast da Horn o Papa,
Rowin Foula doon!
Owir a hidden piece o water,
Rowin Foula doon!
Roond da boat da tide-lumps makkin,
Sunlicht trowe da cloods is brakkin;
We maan geng whaar fish is takkin,
Rowin Foula doon!" —Papa Stour

Wren Boys, Dingle, County Kerry, Ireland -Wiki

Wren Boys, or Straw Boys were guisers asking for money "to bury the wren".  The wren was a symbol of the old year; Celtic names of the wren (draouennig, drean, dreathan, dryw etc.) suggest druidic rituals. Wren Day is a Samhain or midwinter sacrifice celebration (now celebrated on St. Stephen's Day in Ireland; also celebrated in Galicia and Southern France). Lleu Llaw Gyffes, a Welsh hero, earns his name by killing a wren. He strikes a wren "between the tendon and the bone of its leg", causing his mother, Arianrhod, to remark "it is with a skillful hand that the fair-haired one has hit it". His foster father, Gwydion, reveals himself, saying Lleu Llaw Gyffes; "the fair-haired one with the skillful hand" is his name now".

Cill Aodáin
Anois teacht an earraigh, beidh 'n lá dul chun síneadh
'S tar éis na Féil' Bríde, ardóidh mé mo sheol,
Ó chuir mé 'mo cheann é ní stopfaidh mé choíche
Go seasfaidh mé síos i lár Chontae Mhaigh Eo.
I gClár Chlainne Mhuiris bheas mé an chéad oíche,
'S i mBalla taobh thíos de thosós mé ag ól,
Go Coillte Mach rachad go ndéanfad cuairt mhíos' ann
I bhfogas dhá míle do Bhéal an Áth' Móir

Fágaim le huacht é go n-éiríonn mo chroíse
Mar éiríonn an ghaoth nó mar scaipeann an ceo,
Nuair 'smaoíním ar Cheara nó ar Ghailleang taobh thíos de,
Ar Sceathach a Mhíl' nó ar phlánaí Mhaigh Eo.
Cill Aodáin an baile a bhfásann gach ní ann,
Tá sméara 's sú craobh ann, is meas ar gach sórt,
'S dá mbeinn-se 'mo sheasamh i gceartlár mo dhaoine
D'imeodh an aois díom is bheinn arís óg."
Antoine Ó Raifteirí (Antoine Ó Reachtabhra, Anthony Raftery 1779–1835)

SAINT BRIGID'S PRAYER(10th century Poem attributed to Brigid)
I'd like to give a lake of beer to God.I'd love the heavenlyHost to be tippling thereFor all eternity.
I'd love the men of Heaven to live with me,To dance and sing.If they wanted, I'd put at their disposalVats of suffering.
White cups of love I'd give themWith a heart and a half;Sweet pitchers of mercy I'd offerTo every man.
I'd make Heaven a cheerful spotBecause the happy heart is true.I'd make the men contented for their own sake.I'd like Jesus to love me too.
I'd like the people of heaven to gatherFrom all the parishes around.I'd give a special welcome to the women,The three Marys of great renown.
I'd sit with the men, the women and GodThere by the lake of beer.We'd be drinking good health foreverAnd every drop would be a prayer.

More poems and incantations here:

Brighid, Bright Goddess of the Gael

Smúraidh mi an tula
Mar a smúradh Brighde Muime.
Ainm naomh na Muime
Bhith mu'n tula, bhith mu'n tán,
Bhith mu'n ardraich uile.
I will smoor the hearth
As Brighid the Fostermother would smoor
The Fostermother's holy name
Be on the hearth, be on the herd
Be on the household all.
—Carmina Gadelica, Alexander Carmichael,  vol.3