Friday, December 2, 2016

"The Lady With the Umbrella" —after Sargeant

The Lady With the Umbrella John Singer Sargent, 1911

Rose-Marie's sprawled back against the feather pillows. A momentary respite, escaping the confines of her corset. As if she'd just flopped back after a large lunch. She's bundled up against wind and weather. A hat, a scarf, a parasol. Did she forget her gloves? The red and blue accents on her midi-blouse suggest she was boating, or perhaps a game of lawn tennis is in progress. Her hips are canted towards the artist, her skirt is a field of snow. Damp grass threatens to stain her voluminous white petticoats. She's watching him paint her. She wishes he'd hurry up. He says: One more minute. Five. He is in love with all that diffuse light, and the undertone of lake reflections. But her eyes have traveled beyond the confines of the frame to another time. And the score is love or nothing.


Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Fallow Deer

Why does everyone assume white deer are albinos? Old Man Ottinger had a herd of fallow deer, they were leucistic, white against the moonlight. But the National Park Service came and killed them all. That was long after the murder. I was there the night the ranger was slain. I was camping illegally. I saw the poachers enter, heard the shots out near Limantour. Saw them leave. I was so afraid, I curled into the arms of the old pine. Fear was drumming a naked tattoo in my heart. A staccato of hooves on pavement. Blue Eyes is indeed beautiful. If she was albino, her eyes would be red. Maybe not so pretty then. Other images might come to mind. Then she could see between worlds when the poachers come.

An accidental prompt from June Hopper Hymass' blog
The Memory Thread,  At Dusk 
write a 10 to 12 line prose poem that tells a story and has some philosophy in it, too.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016


I was feeding the wringer a washcloth, 
and it nipped, then latched onto my fingers, 
then it swallowed my hand, a delicate crunching,
as the rubber rollers, like the maw of a hungry python
gulped at my tender flesh. I struggled and screamed, 
in anguish, my grandmother came running 
as the wringer inexorably ground its way
up to my arm, to the elbow. The gears gnashing.
I feared for my shoulder, and my head.
Would my entire body pass through the wringer? 
Would I be wrung out flat as a pancake, 
and slide into the tub for my final rinse?
Would she hang me out on the line to dry 
with the rest of the laundry, 
or would she drape me over the rosemary bush 
like the sheets, for remembrance?


The wringer took my arm all the way up to my elbow once. I was feeding it a washcloth, and it ate my arm. I screamed, my grandmother came running as the wringer inexorably ground its way up my arm, I feared for my head, would my entire body pass through the wringer? Would I be flat as a pancake, and slide into the tub for my final rinse. Would she hang me out on the line to dry with the rest of the laundry, or would she drape me over the rosemary bush like the sheets, for remembrance?

Tuesday, November 22, 2016


I was ten. The meal completed
Some two score and more of relatives
sat back in their chairs, comatose.
The table was cleared, 

the turkey carcass in the soup pot, 
salt and luck poured onto the spilled wine lakes  
that bled out on mended Irish linen cloths.
The cutlery and cut glass sang staccato arias
in the kitchen. Stacks of dessert plates

clattered leaned in wild abandon. 
The teakettle screamed out its siren call.
Amber whiskey sloshed into cups and mugs.
I waited in eager anticipation
for the entrance of the cake
that I surely knew was mine... 

Would it be chocolate?
Please let it be chocolate 

with chocolate frosting.
Not mint. Real frosting.
But they brought in the pies.
No cake, no candles. Pumpkin pies.
I was ten. I combusted into tears.
My mother slapped her forehead
saying, OhmyGod, it's her birthday.
Everyone cooing, we'll make it up

at Christmas. Never happened. 
Story of my life.


I was ten. The meal completed-2 score and more of relatives sat back in their chairs, comatose. The table was cleared. The cutlery and crystal sang staccato arias in the kitchen. I waited in anticipation for the entrance of the cake that I surely knew was mine...they brought in the pie. No cake, no candles. Pie. I burst into tears. My mother slapped her forehead. OMG, it's her birthday.

Story of my life.

Dear Google, Now Blogger?

The only warning I got that Blogger was being updated. I clicked yes, and Blogger disappeared.

Dear Google,

I see that you've changed Blogger this afternoon—right as I was working on a poem post. I can't say it was an upgrade as I lost all ability to see anything other than your Confidential/ "got it." pop-up windows. Luckily, I had saved my poem in another format. But all my formatting changes were lost.

Your design teams really need to do a better job on Google products—the upgrades are supposed to improve user experience, not frustrate us. I was an early supporter of Google products, and now I'm disgruntled enough to leave Google behind. Your last revamp of Blogger also left me out in the cold for long stretches of time. So now, finally everything's mostly working again, (except the gratuitous extra drafts it saves every time I make a correction) and you had to go and upgrade?

And now Blogger, my entire dashboard and related pages are a blank white field, replete with orange feedback button in lower right corner. I've sent you many of messages today, while trying to get back online to complete my post.

All I get is a blank white page when I try to access Blogger's All Posts, and Create Page, etc. The only thing I can access is the public page. I've tried everything from changing cookies, disabling extensions. dumping, caches, resetting Safari, restarting, and nothing works. The URLs are broken.

I agree, Blogger really does need a revamp, it sure was an ugly interface (what's with all the orange anyway?),  Now, it may be that Blogger no longer supports legacy Macs/Safari. But like with Gmail, it should at least continue to support basic legacy HTML.

Speaking of Gmail, the new iOS Gmail is a warthog of an app. It's cluttered and distracting, What's with all the extraneous red stuff? Are you trying to attract bulls to the proverbial china shop? I can't even do basic functions without emails taking off to the hinterlands. The clincher, the embedded hot links are dead. I can't access URLs. I finally had to delete the app from my iPad, as it deleted some important emails with no way to retrieve them. Steep learning curve by torture? A dungeons and dragons approach to email? Oops! Steep learning curve, I mean, black hole ahead.

I won't even mention what an utter dog's breakfast the new features are. Imagine receiving a password reset, and then not being able to access the URL. Imagine getting an email with a link to reset that password. Now imagine, a Gmail app so screwed up, that you can't access the URL in order to change your password. A weird nanny feature? Yeah, that was me two days ago. And, yes, I have the latest iOS update. I combed the settings, etc., looking for a way to fix the problem. Nada.

Since I was prompted to download the Google Photos app along with my new iOS Gmail app, I was presented with another form of hell, when Google Photos accessed ALL my iOS photos and dumped them into Google Photos. I use my iPad as a diary, I take photos of receipts, checks, etc. I DO NOT want them showing up in my Google Photos folder. I deleted them from Google Photos, only to discover they were also deleted from my iOS photo folder. Luckily, I was able to retrieve all 104 deleted photos.

And now I can no longer use Blogger. What sort of fresh hell establishment are you running over at Google these days?

I dislike Google+, and its attached Google Photos (see previous post) on the Mac, as it's too in your face to be of much use when looking at hundreds of photos at a time.  I am still smarting over the loss of Picasa. I HATE Google Photos, which is a terrible replacement for Picasa. In addition, I lost all my curated notes on my Picasa sites, with no warning. Had I known, I would've copied them. The irony is that some people still have access to their Picasa sites. Bring back Picasa, or fix Google Photos.

So, I'm thinking it's the death knell for you and me, Google, I've downloaded my blog, as it looks like I may need to move it to another platform. Sadly, I think I've had enough of your broken applications.

So, Google, what's next? Please expand your R&D base before trotting out changes that affect our lives. FWIW, I was eventually able to get back onto Blogger, by using a different web browser, but I prefer using Safari to Firefox for my Google applications. It's simple, clean, elegant. Something you should strive for in all your products.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Dear Google, Using Google Photos is Painful

Dear Google,

I use your Picasa desktop app to edit and to upload photos, for years, it worked swimmingly until I was forced to embrace Google Photos. To my horror, when I was transferring photos from one Picasa site to another Google Photos site, in an attempt to consolidate work, I found that all the Picasa app editing did not translate.

My photos look awful in Google Photos.

Now I'm stuck with either using a different desktop app, and the Google Photos online editor. Alas, your editor is not as robust, and it's slow and cumbersome. Did I mention cumbersome? Try using it with a variable DSL speed sometime. Oh, btw, we upgraded to ATT Uverse, much faster, but still boggy at times. Still your glitches persist.

When you have 1000s of photos to reprocess, Google Photos makes editing impossible. No batch edit of albums—Picasa's desktop Auto Contrast and I'm Feeling Lucky were great filters. And the Darken Sky filter was brilliant. Can't do that in Google Photos.

So disappointing. The entire Picasa app and online experience was so much better than the online Google Photos experience. I'm sure I've told you before, I started out loving all Google products, Like The Guy (Kawasaki, who got me into this blogging mess to begin with back in 2007), I was an Google-evangelista, but I've discovered the more you tinker with our online experience, the worse it gets.

Blogger is a case in point. I continue to use it, but most of the time I'm seething. nay, frothing. The revamped Blogger has been a royal pain in the ass to use for years—since its last upgrade, and now I see Google Photos has followed suit. The relatively new Gmail revision is bad enough. At least I can opt out and use the old school version for slow HTML. Bells and whistles are not necessarily a good thing. I avoid Google+ for the same reasons.

There needs to be multiple ways to do things, and there needs to be quick and dirty methods to deal with multiple blog posts, bulk images, etc. It seems you've gone the way of Microsoft—bloatware. It's fine in small quantities, but frustrating on bigger jobs.

And while we're at it, what the hell happened to all my historical album annotations when you forced my Picasa photos over to Google+ Photos? Have you ANY idea, how much work went into that process, and now it's all gone. Poof. Like with my Seamus Heany Memorial photos, I had written a curatorial pieces identifying the readers, etc.—including poets laureate, and the Consul General of Ireland. Had I known, I would've copied the comments.

I want my Picasa web albums site back. I want my album comments back.

The more I use Google Photos the more I HATE Google Photos, and I mourn the elegance and simplicity of Picasa. What were you thinking? And  yet you've let some users keep their Picasa sites, why not me? I know others are still using their Picasa sites, including Robert Lee Haycock.

I want to opt out of Google Photos, as a user, and have access to my Picasa Web Albums again. All five sites. I don't mind that viewers interface with Google Photos, but, as a user, I need something better designed for behind the scenes access. Something like Blogger-All Posts listing. But with thumbnails.

It seems the more you make things better, the worse it gets. You need to use a much wider test market before you roll out some of these design changes. You do use a real test market, right? It's not all in-house?

And while I'm ranting, do you actually ever listen to your constituents? I get it that I'm proverbially biting the hand that cyberfeeds me. Clearly I am ungrateful. But I was once one of your most ardent supporters. Once you were great, now, you're  bloatware. Cumbersome, at best. Get a new design team in, fergawdsakes. And test drive it to a wider audience. Especially to us dyslexics. I'm offering it up, here.

1. Google+ Photos needs to also have an additional thumbnail user contact page style design—like film strips—for overall ease of viewing. Not just this multi-sized format that fills the entire page that the visitor sees. The eye needs places to rest in order to comprehend, not to be bombarded with imagery.  Please take care of the user as well as the visitor. And modular organizing of images, not by exif dates.

2. Each album needs to have a discrete space to include album prose, and not just the space on each photo, but for overall curatorship. People need context as well as visual imagery.

3. On Blogger, you also need another way of organizing posts. It's cumbersome when you have 2K's worth of posts, to navigate. Perhaps a hierarchical decade index as well as a year/month index.

4. Your in-house blogger search engine is not very robust. In fact, it's tetchy. Gawd help us if we add an extra space between words, or misspel (stet) a word. It needs to be more like Google search engine, more boolean in nature. I know you have the skills. I know you can do this. And when we get the results of the blog search, just list the titles, not the entire piece—I'm long-winded, in case you can't tell. It's otherwise impossible to access the older pieces via the in-house blog search. Even with Hot Links enabled—which bogs down the loading of Blogger, BTW.

5. On the Blogger Compose page, an actual date listed up there with the toolbar. The Schedule button is not always visible. And the helpful Schedule And Label slide-out windows are a little too trigger-happy. Sometime I have a cat-and-mouse chase the window to nail it down. Nothing worse than an overly helpful  hide-and-seek window anticipating my every need, only to have it be the wrong need. Sort of like using Autocorrect. And what's with the ghost drafts of blogposts I've already corrected and reposted? Hard to track down and delete.

I'm sure I'll have more suggestions as I continue to use the site...but at least this is a start.

Thank you, I feel better now. So let's get to it, improve Google Photos and Blogger. Or at least keep those legacy pages available for the users.

Yours under the Cranky Sign,

Dear Google, Using Blogger is a Painful Experience...

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Last sunset of the year (photo)

 Last sunset of the year,2015,  the Farallones from Point Reyes

A macaw-colored sky. Last sunset of the year, 2015, floating islands of the Farallones from the tip of Point Reyes, The air was so clear, it looked like you could touch them. They're part of Point Reyes' lost siblings. Soon the Point will become an island too. Island moving north.

It was the day I killed my camera, all the photos I took on Dec. 31, 2015, came out too dark, and were loaded with sunspots. but this one, with a lot of doctoring, gaudy as it is, worked. It breaks the rules. Never divide a photo directly in half, it's too static (unless it's the Farallones). Don't shoot clichés like sunsets and islands (unless it's the Farallones). 

Don't shoot in low light sans tripod, avoid pixellation and noise. Image was loaded with burned sunspots from pointing it at the sun, burning the processor. I don't think it'll recover. I was able to clone the sunspots out of the sky. But not the pixellation. Spots before my eyes in more ways than one.

I left one sunspot in the lower left corner as a reminder. The upper left corner of the photo looked like a pong table gone mad. Who knew that reflected water off Schooner Creek after 4 PM on one of the shortest afternoon of the year, would completely fry my camera in multiple corners? 

Nothing to be done about the whacked light meter, though. Fritz is its middle name. So even if I can save some of the photos, the digital noise renders them useless. Luckily with this photo, it doesn't matter. But just look at that water. Lovely pixellation. Which made it even harder to clone the sunspots out of it. You can see several patch jobs.

I've fried other cameras before, and undoubtably will fry more cameras in the future, and since the sunspots are usually in the upper corners of the sky, I took to shooting pohotos upside down(the camera, not me) to avoid the sunspots. 

Damage control was not possible this time. I was so distressed I didn't even look at the photos until six months later—hence the late posting. Editing was a nightmare. So this is a salvage job, at best.

Johnson's Oyster Farm—aka—Drake's Bay Oyster Farm requiem

This was the place where I thoroughly fried my camera shooting a low winter sun over Schooner Creek (it was a Johnson's Oyster Farm—aka—Drake's Bay Oyster Farm homage and requiem). 

My camera lost its mind. You can see a few sunspots in this photo. But it was so outrageous, I shot several photos, each image added to the overall sunspottiness. Not only that, after these shots, the light meter also went south. Or maybe it was north. Everything was underexposed. Nearly black images. Hundreds of them. Not much to be done about it. Except cry.

It was a suck it up Buttercup kind of moment. I used to cry whenever my cameras died...Quivery-lipped, I buried the images in deep dark folders. I still haven't edited this batch...

The Farallones photo and comment were from an old Facebook post, that I rediscovered and revised. Hence the odd posting date.

Day of the Dead, All Soul's Day, The beginning and the end of the Celtic year. Halloween is always hard, my grandmother, brother and mother all died right before Samhain. So, Samhain, All Souls' Day, and El Dia de los Muertos is a three-fold sorrow.

Thinking of my mother who wanted me to scatter her ashes off the Golden Gate, to drift to the Farallones. Maybe I should get someone to sail me out there, and be done with it, give her back to the sea. Who has a boat?

See also
Tomales Bay Photo I managed to save a few photos from hundreds.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Halloween Traditions (notes for the UICC Samhain series)

Oíche Shamhna! Happy Samhain. Hallowe'en, aka All Hallows Evening, has its roots in an Irish Catholic tradition that supplanted ancient pagan Celtic Samhain customs. It was introduced to Scotland ca. the 16th century, and came to America in the 19th century via the Irish refugees.

Oíche Shamhna ( night of Samhain) Hallowe’en is the evening before the Feast of All Saints (The Hallowed Ones). But it wasn't always so. In 608 AD, Pope Boniface IV decided to commemorate all the martyrs, so the 13th of May was
designated as the Feast of All Holy Martyrs. In 837 Pope Gregory IV extended the festival to remember all the known and unknown saints. The festival was renamed the Feast of All Saints and the 1st of November was chosen for the festival. The Martyrology of Oengus written circa 800 records the Irish keeping All Saints on the 1st of November but additional feasts of All Saints of Europe on the 20th of April and All Saints of Africa on the 20th of December. Later the 1st of November became the sole commemoration date for All Saints in Ireland. The 2nd of November is the feast of All Souls a day which commemorates the faithful departed. The feast began in the 11th century and was connected with Christian concerns with death and purgatory. Later a popular belief developed that the souls in purgatory could on this day appear back on earth to haunt those who had wronged them. The souls would take the form of ghost, witches or toads. (Farmer 2011, 14). It was also believed one could help the dead on this day by giving alms in the form of coins or food (ibid). In Britain a small round cake called soul cake was made and the cakes were given out to soulers (mainly consisting of children and the poor) who would go from door to door on Halloween, singing and saying prayers for the dead. (BBC)

All-hallows or All-hallowmas (Middle English Alholowmesse: All Saints' Day) the night before was called All-hallows Eve, shortened to Halloween. Pope Gregory IV in 83 AD, moved All Hallowmas to November first. Another harvest holiday was co-opted, one celebrating a Roman Harvest Goddess (of apples) Pomona. Later, the New World Aztec holiday, which shares a remarkable amount of customs with Samhain, El Dia de los Muertos, was moved from August, and added to the melange.

The first historical reference of Hallowe'en in America dates back to 1919, The Book of Hallowe'en. A Massachusetts librarian, Ruth Edna Kelley, credited the Famine Irish with bringing Hallowe'en customs to the new world.
The place of the old lord of the dead, the Tuatha god Saman, to whom vigil was kept and prayers said on November Eve for the good of departed souls, was taken in Christian times by St. Colomba or Columb Kill, the founder of a monastery in Iona in the fifth century. In the seventeenth century the Irish peasants went about begging money and goodies for a feast, and demanding in the name of Columb Kill that fatted calved and black sheep be prepared. In place of the Druid fires, candles were collected and lighted on Hallowe'en, and prayers for the souls of the givers said before them. The name of Saman is kept in the title "Oidhche Shamhna," "vigil of Saman," by which the night of October 31st was until recently called in Ireland.
AS in Ireland the Scotch Baal (fire) festival of November was called Samhain. Western Scotland, lying nearest Tara, center alike of pagan and Christian religion in Ireland, was colonized by both the people and the customs of eastern Ireland.The November Eve fires which in Ireland were replaced by candles and were continued in Scotland. In Buchan, where was the altar-source of the Samhain fire, bonfires were lighted on hilltops in the eighteenth century; and in Moray the idea of fires of thanksgiving for harvest was kept to as late as 1866. The Book of Hallowe'en

I will touch briefly on some of the tropes connected with Halloween, and share some of the ancient traditions associated with this modern holiday. Incidentally, the American candy industry saw a chance to capitalize on Halloween and expand candy sales, and created this dentist's nightmare (or dream) that we celebrate today.


The Celts celebrated four major Fire Festivals: Imbolg/c, Bealtaine, Lughnasa and Samhain, which fall on what is called ‘cross quarter’ days – half way between the solstices and equinoxes (celebrated Feb. 1, May 1, July 1 and Nov. 1 for convenience. There is some calendrical variation).

Tochmarc Emire (The Wooing of Emer) from the Ulster Cycle of Irish mythology, mentions the four cross-quarter days, and Samhain is the first mentioned, hence the New Year. Samhain translates as "summer's end," the birth of the dark of the year.

Speaking of fire, of course, there were no flashlights (or torches) way back when, so carving a turnip root lantern makes sense if one wanted light at night whether in Scotland or Ireland. Just try using a naked candle outside at night—even if there's no wind (or rain) you're blinded by it. Turnip lanterns were a brilliant, if practical rural invention—like organic alabaster lamps. Feed them to the cows when you're done with them.

As a child, my grandmother carved turnips (or swedes, or even mangles—any big pithy round roots used for cow fodder) in Bantry during the 1890s. Turnips were used as lanterns, candles were placed in the window. Carving a turnip with a spoon was hard work, and usually broke the spoon.

Carved turnips are terrifying as compared to pumpkins. When lit, they resemble glowing human skulls—and since ancient Celtic warriors collected heads of their enemies and displayed their skulls on special niches, then perhaps there is more to this tradition than meets the eye (or skull).

This is what I turniped on the Irish ancestors of Jack o'lanterns: The turnip or white turnip (Brassica rapa, subsp. rapa) is a root vegetable with a white, bulbous taproot. Apparently a rutabaga (Brassica napus, subsp. rapifera—it means ram's horn in Old Swedish), or yellow turnip, is the result of a sordid little love affair between a cabbage and a turnip, see, the little rutabeggar love child had double the chromosomes. Busted.

Rutabagas were carved out and used as candle lanterns in Halloween celebrations in Scotland and Ireland. The tough root vegetables were considered famine foods, fit only for livestock.

So the origin of Jack o'lanterns was really a poor man's torch. What you couldn't eat. Somehow our family survived the Great Potato Famine: an Gorta Mór (1845-52), in the hills of Coomanore, and I suspect it was because they ate lots of turnips. Candles were placed in the windows to show the dead the way back home.

And of course there's the story of Hard Jack or Stingy Jack, the drunken farmer who was so wicked in his ways, that when he tricked the devil, the devil kicked him out of Hell and tossed a coal after him to light his way.

Jack, who was 86ed from both Heaven and Hell, was destined to wander the Netherworld for eternity. Jack begged the Devil for a light and a little something to keep him warm in limboland. The devil actually felt sorry for Jack and threw him a coal to light his way, but it was too hot to handle, so Jack carved the first lantern from a turnip as he wanders purgatory looking for a place to call home.

According to folklore, the Jack O’Lantern is named after a blacksmith Stingy Jack who tricked the devil into paying for his drinks. Unable to enter heaven or hell when he died, the devil threw him a burning ember. He was left to wander the earth carrying it about inside a turnip – or should that be a pumpkin? (Fowler 2005)

New World pumpkins were already conveniently hollowed out, and made for a much better Jack o'Lantern. Using turnips as lanterns was not solely an Irish tradition. Apparently turnip “Hoberdy’s Lantern” were also used in Worcestershire, England at the end of the 18th c.

Here's the full story of Jack.
A man called Stingy Jack invited the devil for a drink and convinced him to shape-shift into a coin to pay with. When the devil obliged, Jack decided he wanted the coin for other purposes, and kept it in his pocket beside a small, silver cross to prevent it from turning back into the devil.
Jack eventually freed the devil under the condition that he wouldn’t bother Jack for one year, and wouldn’t claim Jack’s soul once he died. The next year, Jack tricked the devil once more by convincing him to climb up a tree to fetch a piece of fruit. When he was up in the tree, Jack carved a cross into the trunk so the devil couldn’t come down until he swore he wouldn’t bother Stingy Jack for another ten years.
When Jack died, God wouldn’t allow him into heaven and the devil wouldn’t allow him into hell. He was instead sent into the eternal night, with a burning coal inside a carved-out turnip to light his way. He’s been roaming the earth ever since. The Irish began to refer to this spooky figure as “Jack of the Lantern,” which then became “Jack O’Lantern.” —By way of Irish Central.

Believe it or not, Samhain was never Satanic. It was a dangerous time, but not evil. We can thank the fire and brimstone aspect from evangelical, or Puritan Christian influence. There was no concept of heaven or hell in Celtic mythology, just Otherworlds. The Cruachan, and Owenyngat were considered to be gateways to the Sídhe Otherworld—which was underground. The word banshee, the keening woman who heralds death, comes from woman of the Sídhe.

Jack wasn't the only one to look out for on Halloween, there were other creatures wandering about, some benign ancestors, others, not so much. There are also tales of shapeshifter cats from the sídhe, as Otherworld sentries, and useful as spare parts if a god lost an eye. Owenyngat is the cave of cats. There's an Irish saying, "God save all here, except the cat."

And the Púca was one very busy goat pissing on all the berries on Hallowe'en, so you couldn't eat them after Nov 1.


It was also an Irish tradition to let the hearth fire die, and relight them for the New Year. My grandmother cleaned the hearth, buried the ashes in the garden, and then she told me the of the tradition of relighting the fire—from the runners carrying the sacred flame in those traveling turnips.

Theoretically all the hearth fires of Ireland were relit from the Druid fire of Tara. But the New World was a bit of a jog from Tara. So we used a strand of broom from the stove to carry the fire to the living room. Out with the old, in with the new. It was New Year's Eve, and first day of winter, after all! The other cross quarter holiday is Bealtaine, which is the feast of Bel's fires.

My great-grandfather also used to run his cattle between two bonfires, on his farm in the hills of Coomanore. My grandmother told me he also filled an oak (whiskey?) barrel with tar, set it alight and rolled it down the hill. An Irish Catherine wheel of sorts. (The Walsh farm, Coomanore.)

And the fire festival of Up Helly Aa, in the Shetlands, supposedly a Norse tradition, as well as Guy Fawkes Day, seem to have been retrofitted from earlier Celtic customs—in a manner similar to what the Catholic church co-opted and made its own. A penny for the Guy?


The ancient Celts believed that the dead were placed went into the (divine hag/crone) Cailleach's cauldron, which symbolized the womb of rebirth, the dead awaited earthly reincarnation—which directly contradicted the Catholic Church's teachings. One of the four legendary Tteasures of the Tuatha Dé Danann, the Allfather god, Dagda's Otherworld cauldron of plenty, the horn, or cornucopia. His cauldron, the Undry was probably the origin of the Grail myth—was nefariously used to create vast armies of undead (zombies), to fight battles. And then there's the most famous Celtic cauldron of all, the Gundestrup cauldron, with the antlered Cernunnos deity.

Gundestrup Cauldron; plate g; one of the 8 plates is missing. —Wiki


Samhain Feis na Samhna, (named after a god), was also the time of harvest and plenitude, the end of the pastoral year, as well as a time of hospitality. Food was laid out for both the living and the dead—soul cakes, apples and nuts. In my grandmother's time, prized Valencia oranges—a luxury item wrapped in foil—were also given as gifts.

Put the kettle on the hob, my grannie would say when she fancied a cup of tea. Special tea dishes included ham, colcannon, a cabbage and potato dish, or fried potato cakes (soulcakes?), and sodabread, or the magic barmbrack cake. It was also a time to tell ghost stories or tell the future.

Forms of divination is still practiced, in the west of Ireland, four plates were used to foretell marriage, prosperity, travel, or death.

Then there was the barmbrack, or Halloween cake with its symbolic ring key, penny thimble, button and baked inside. (See James Joyce's, story, The Dead.) The ring was a hasty marriage, the key—a journey, a penny—wealth; the thimble-spinsterhood, and the button—bachelorhood.

Bunworth Banshee, Fairy Legends & Traditions of the South of Ireland, Thomas Crofton Croker, 1825 —Wiki

Apple bobbing, if you managed to grab an apple floating in a barrel at the first try, or snap-apple, apple on a string at first bite, meant good luck, or you'd be the first to marry, or that you'd find true love.

Apples on strings are as fickle as love, so girls would place bobbed apple under their pillow on Halloween night, to dream of their future husband. Sort of like the Tooth Fairy on a matchmaking spree.

There was also scrying in water or mirrors—if you owned one. Peeling an apple in one long peel and see what letter it represented when it fell on the floor. The initials of who a girl would marry.

I've read that special straw crosses, similar to St. Brigid's cross, but made with a spiral in the cross arms instead of a woven square, were made and placed above the lintel to protect the home from bad luck during the coming year. But I've never seen one. My grandmother once showed me how to make St. Brigid's crosses, but the tradition never took. I was all thumbs.


Oídche na h-aimléise: Mischief Night (wearing a mask was to scare off the scary wanderers).

Wearing rags, and masks (as a disguise) and using bull roarers to scare off evil spirits—were all part and parcel of a long ongoing tradition of Hallowe'en. Since the doors to the Otherwirld were wide open and all manner of spirits, and gods could freely travel between worlds, not to mention one's ancestors, masks were a precautionary disguise to keep the living safe from the nefarious characters juking about.

Traditional Irish Halloween masks were often made of cloth or papier-mâché, and were called false faces, or fiddle faces. Gangs of masked boys would visit local farmhouses to beg for food or money, creating mischief if they were not rewarded, like throwing cabbages at people's doors, tilting outhouses, or practical jokes like removing hinges from gates, or swapping them with the gates from a neighboring farm, etc.

I found a reference that Mischief Night turned deadly in the hands of Irish gangs roaming New York's Hell's Kitchen. So Irish families organized Halloween parties—from which many of our American traditions stem.


My grannie was thoroughly disgusted with the American tradition of Trick or Treat. She said, in Ireland, one had to dance and sing, or recite a poem or story, and then, if one was good, they might be given a treat, hazelnuts (the nut of knowledge), or an orange, or a ha-penny if they were very, very good. (Singing a song for a treat was considered fair trade, hence the term, a "trick for a treat." This tradition was also associated with Christmas.) One was expected to trot out one's best pony show. Move over, Simon Cowell.

Samhain has been a big date in the Celtic Irish world for at least 2000 years—with and without church sanction. All the ancient Irish epic tales (dating back 2000 years) usually began on on the last day of the old harvest year, All Hallow's Eve, and included many traditions we now associate with Hallowe'en—when the gates to the Otherworld were open. Samhain was the date the itinerant bards, the storytellers also arrived to tell their tales through the winter months.

As to the Scottish Hallowe'en connection: not only were the Highlands settled by the Dalriada Irish during the Dark Ages, much of Glasgow (and River Clyde shipyards) environs—especially the slums, the Barrowland—were continuously resettled by waves of itinerant Catholic Irish workers—through the Industrial Revolution—especially after the Irish Famine.

One could also include most of Renfrewshire in that Irish matrix—especially Johnstone, where Neil is from, one epicenter of the Industrial Revolution: paper, flax, cotton mills, lathes. One curious Scottish custom, which probably has roots in Halloween traditions, is instead of trick or treat, it was to feed the Galotians. Or as Neil said the na-glotians. His friend, Jane Bark, from Barra remembers dressing up as the galotians.

Galotian pageants, sort of like Everyman plays, were not restricted to Hallloween.

There is a crossover with the tradition of mumming or guising (dressing in costumes, part and parcel of many holidays, including Christmas). I suspect the Scottish Christmas Panto(mime) is related.


Trick or Treat is also related to Catholic traditions associated with November 2nd, All Souls Day. Christians begged for "soul cakes" or "go a-soulin" with promise to say prayers on the behalf of those who had recently died.

The round, Hey Ho, Nobody Home was one of my favorite caroling songs when I was young. My grandmother heard me singing it and told me of soulcakes and filled me in on other verses. (See Mudcat) Apparently the nautical term, "hey-ho" first appeared in print in 1471, which suggests the song is medieval in origin.

Soul Cake (an ancestor of trick or treating)

1. Soul, soul, soul cake. Please, Good mama, a soul cake, an
2. Apple, a plum, a peach or cherry, Any good thing to make us merry
3. One for Peter, two for Paul. Three for Him that made us all.


Hallowe'en itself arose because the older Celtic pagan traditions of worshipping ancestors and mythological deities needed to be Catholicised and brought into the churchfold: hence we have All Hallows Eve(n), All Saints Day and All Souls Day.

BTW—there's a reason why there are shared customs in both the Old, and New World. In the 9th c., Pope Boniface IV decided to show those heathens a thing or two, and Christianized the holidays (holy days). And from the Aztec world, there was El Dia de los Muertos, an August festival. Not really, it was more complicated than that. Besides, the New World hadn't been "discovered" yet. Detail.

But eventually November 1 was a time to honor "saints and martyrs" and it was called All Saints' Day, or All-hallows or All-hallowmas, and the night before, Samhain, was renamed All-hallows Eve and, eventually, Halloween.

Then in the year 1000, the Catholic church set up November 2 to be All Souls' Day, a day to honor the dead. It was celebrated much like Samhain, with bonfires, parades, while the people dressed as saints, angels, and devils. Fast Forward to the discovery of the New World, the Aztec ancestor celebration was moved to the Celtic celebration to keep it all together.

However it all went down, the secular aspect of Hallowe'en certainly caught fire. And we're still celebrating it to this day.

I was searching for ballads and poems to share, I sang something in irish, and also the Praties, My voice wasn't up for it. Had I been in fine form, I would've recited or sang or made reference to these gems I uncovered. There was a lot of Halloween drivel, but not much by way of substance on Halloween songs or poems.

John Barleycorn

There came three men from out the west
their victory to try,
and they have taken a solemn oath
John Barleycorn should die.
Sing ri fol lol, the diddle al the dee,
right fal leero dee.

Soul Cake (an ancestor of trick or treating)
1. Soul, soul, soul cake. Please, Good mama, a soul cake, an
2. Apple, a plum, a peach or cherry, Any good thing to make us merry
3. One for Peter, two for Paul. Three for Him that made us all.

Souling Song

A soul, a soul, a soul cake
Please, good missus, a soul cake
An apple, a pear, a plum or a cherry
Any good thing to make us all merry
One for Peter, two for Paul
Three for Him who made us all

God Bless the master of this house, the mistress also
And all the little children who around your table grow
Likewise your men and maidens, your cattle and your store
And all that dwells within your gates
we wish you ten times more

The lanes are very dirty and my shoes are very thin
I've got a little pocket I can put a penny in
If you haven't got a penny, a ha' penny will do
If you haven't got a ha' penny, then God bless you

Sung for All Souls (November 1). A soul cake was left for the spirits that left their graves on Samhain (Halloween) Recorded by Watersons and by Peter, Paul, and Mary


Lyrics by W.B. Yeats; music by Loreena McKennitt; Margie Butler of GOlden Bough does an amazing rendition of this—where I first heard it. I had no idea it was Loreena McKennitt's melody.

Damanta has a related song I also love to sing, when I find the words, I'll post it. I stayed with Elegwyn during the summer of 2014 and he sang it for me


Where dips the rocky highland
Of sleuth wood in the lake
There lies a leafy island
Where flapping herons wake
The drowsy water rats
There we've hid our fairy vats
Full of berries
And of reddest stolen cherries.

Come away oh human child
To the waters and the wild
With a faery hand in hand
For the world's more full of weeping
Than you can understand

Where the wave of moonlight glosses
The dim grey sands with light
By far off furthest rosses
We foot it all the night
Weaving olden dances
Mingling hands and mingling glances
Till the moon has taken flight
To and fro we leap
And chase the frothy bubbles
Whilst the world is full of troubles
And is anxious in its sleep.


Where the wandering water gushes
From the hills above glen car
In pools among the rushes
That scarce could bathe a star
We seek for slumbering trout
And whispering in their ears
Give them unquiet dreams
Leaning softly out
From ferns that drop their tears
Over the young streams.


Away with us he's going
The solemned eyed
He'll hear no more the lowing
Of the calves on the warm hillside
Or the kettle on the hob
Sing peace unto his breast
Or see the brown mice bob
Round and round the oatmeal chest.

CHORUS (last time)
For he comes, the human child
To the waters and the wild
With a faery hand in hand
For the world's more full of weeping
Than you can understand.

Who goes with Fergus?
W. B. Yeats, 1865 - 1939

Who will go drive with Fergus now,
And pierce the deep wood’s woven shade,
And dance upon the level shore?
Young man, lift up your russet brow,
And lift your tender eyelids, maid,
And brood on hopes and fear no more.

And no more turn aside and brood
Upon love’s bitter mystery;
For Fergus rules the brazen cars,
And rules the shadows of the wood,
And the white breast of the dim sea
And all dishevelled wandering stars.

One of my favorite songs has an otherworld twist.
Oh, the Wind and Rain (The Two Sisters)
which has equally macabre variants.
The Cruel Mother
Unquiet Grave
These are the variants I found.

The Dreadful Wind and Rain (The Two Sisters)
Jerry Garcia & Dave Grisman recorded a similar version

The Gas Men recorded another version, similar to Garcia/Grisman. I sang my version to Vinnie Keehan after the performance—which he liked.

Oh, there were two sisters
come a-walking down the stream

Oh, the wind and rain
And one of them pushed the other one in
Crying, oh, the wind and rain

Johnny gave the younger one a gay gold ring
Didn't give the elder one anything
She pushed her sister in the river to drown
And watched her as she floated down
She floated 'til she came to the miller's pond
Crying, Father, oh father, there swims a swan
Well, the miller laid her out on the banks to dry
And the fiddling fool come a-passing by
Way down the road come a fiddler fair
Way down the road come a fiddler fair
And he's made fiddle strings of her long yellow hair
And he's made fiddle strings of her long yellow hair
And he's made fiddle pegs of her long finger bones
And he's made fiddle pegs of her long finger bones
And he's made a little fiddle body of her breast bone
Whose sound would melt a heart of stone
But the only tune that the fiddle could play
Was, Oh, the wind and rain
The only tune that the fiddle could play
Was, Oh, the cruel wind and the rain

Altan's version of The Wind and Rain
There were two sisters of County Clair,
Oh, the wind and rain
one was dark and the other was fair,
Oh, the dreadful wind and rain

And they both had a love of the miller's son,
Oh, the wind and rain
but he was fond of the fairer one,
Oh, the dreadful wind and rain

So she pushed her into the river to drown
Oh, the wind and rain
and watched her as she floated down
Oh, the dreadful wind and rain

And she floated 'til she came to the millers pond
Oh, the wind and rain
dead on the water like a golden swan
Oh, the dreadful wind and rain

As she came to rest on the riverside
Oh, the wind and rain
and her bones were washed by the rolling tide
Oh, the dreadful wind and rain

And along the road came a fiddler fair
Oh, the wind and rain
and found her bones just lying there, cried
Oh, the dreadful wind and rain

So he made a fiddle peg of her long finger bone
Oh, the wind and rain
he a made a fiddle peg of her long finger bone, crying
Oh, the dreadful wind and rain

And he strung his fiddle bow with her long yellow hair
Oh, the wind and rain
he strung his fiddle bow with her long yellow hair, cried
Oh, the dreadful wind and rain

And he made a little fiddle of her little breast bone
Oh, the wind and rain
he made a little fiddle of her little breast bone, cried
Oh, the dreadful wind and rain

The only tune that the fiddle could play was
Oh, the wind and rain
the only tune that the fiddle would play was
Oh, the dreadful wind and rain

From Wiki
"The Two Sisters" is a murder ballad that recounts the tale of a girl drowned by her sister. It is first known to have appeared on a broadside in 1656 as "The Miller and the King's Daughter." At least 21 English variants exist under several names, including "Minnorie" or "Binnorie", "The Cruel Sister", "The Wind and Rain", "Dreadful Wind and Rain", "Two Sisters", "The Bonny Swans" and the "Bonnie Bows of London". The ballad was collected by Francis J. Child (Child 10) and is also listed in the Roud Folk Song Index Scottish Gaelic, 'A' Bhean Eudach' or 'The Jealous Woman'.

Tam Lyn was also recommended but I didn't see the connection.


Folk Songs from Somerset, 3rd Series, ed. Cecil J. Sharp and Charles L. Marson, Simpkin & Co., London, 1906.

Say can you make me a cambric shirt
Sing ivy leaf, sweet william and thyme,
without any needle or needle work ?
And you shall be a true lover of mine.
Yes, if you wash it in yonder well
Where neither springs water, nor rain ever fell
Say can you plow me an acre of land
between the sea and the salt sea strand ?
Yes, if you plow it with one ram's horn
and sow it all over with one pepper corn
Say can you reap with a sicke of leather
and tie it all up with a tom-tit's feather ?
Yes if you gather it all in a sack,
and carry it home on a butterfly's back,

769. The Fairies
My grandmother used to recite this one to me.
Arthur Quiller-Couch, ed. 1919. The Oxford Book of English Verse: 1250–1900.
William Allingham. 1824–1889

UP the airy mountain,
Down the rushy glen,
We daren't go a-hunting
For fear of little men;
Wee folk, good folk,
Trooping all together;
Green jacket, red cap,
And white owl's feather!

Down along the rocky shore
Some make their home,
They live on crispy pancakes
Of yellow tide-foam;
Some in the reeds
Of the black mountain lake,
With frogs for their watch-dogs,
All night awake.

High on the hill-top
The old King sits;
He is now so old and gray
He 's nigh lost his wits.
With a bridge of white mist
Columbkill he crosses,
On his stately journeys
From Slieveleague to Rosses;
Or going up with music
On cold starry nights
To sup with the Queen
Of the gay Northern Lights.

They stole little Bridget
For seven years long;
When she came down again
Her friends were all gone.
They took her lightly back,
Between the night and morrow,
They thought that she was fast asleep,
But she was dead with sorrow.
They have kept her ever since
Deep within the lake,
On a bed of flag-leaves,
Watching till she wake.

By the craggy hill-side,
Through the mosses bare,
They have planted thorn-trees
For pleasure here and there.
If any man so daring
As dig them up in spite,
He shall find their sharpest thorns
In his bed at night.

Up the airy mountain,
Down the rushy glen,
We daren't go a-hunting
For fear of little men;
Wee folk, good folk,
Trooping all together;
Green jacket, red cap,
And white owl's feather!

Burns's Tam o' Shanter. A Tale

Upon that night, when fairies light
On Cassilis Downans dance,
Or owre the lays, in splendid blaze,
On sprightly coursers prance;
Or for Colean the route is ta'en,
Beneath the moon's pale beams;
There, up the cove, to stray and rove,
Among the rocks and streams
To sport that night.

Among the bonny winding banks,
Where Doon rins, wimplin' clear,
Where Bruce ance ruled the martial ranks,
And shook his Carrick spear,
Some merry, friendly, country-folks,
Together did convene,
To burn their nits, and pou their stocks,
And haud their Halloween
Fu' blithe that night.

The lasses feat, and cleanly neat,
Mair braw than when they're fine;
Their faces blithe, fu' sweetly kythe,
Hearts leal, and warm, and kin';
The lads sae trig, wi' wooer-babs,
Weel knotted on their garten,
Some unco blate, and some wi' gabs,
Gar lasses' hearts gang startin'
Whiles fast at night.

Then, first and foremost, through the kail,
Their stocks maun a' be sought ance;
They steek their een, and graip and wale,
For muckle anes and straught anes.
Poor hav'rel Will fell aff the drift,
And wander'd through the bow-kail,
And pou't, for want o' better shift,
A runt was like a sow-tail,
Sae bow't that night.

Then, staught or crooked, yird or nane,
They roar and cry a' throu'ther;
The very wee things, todlin', rin,
Wi' stocks out owre their shouther;
And gif the custoc's sweet or sour.
Wi' joctelegs they taste them;
Syne cozily, aboon the door,
Wi cannie care, they've placed them
To lie that night.

The lasses staw frae 'mang them a'
To pou their stalks of corn:
But Rab slips out, and jinks about,
Behint the muckle thorn:
He grippet Nelly hard and fast;
Loud skirl'd a' the lasses;
But her tap-pickle maist was lost,
When kitlin' in the fause-house
Wi' him that night.

The auld guidwife's well-hoordit nits,
Are round and round divided,
And monie lads' and lasses' fates
Are there that night decided:
Some kindle coothie, side by side,
And burn thegither trimly;
Some start awa, wi' saucy pride,
And jump out-owre the chimlie
Fu' high that night.

Jean slips in twa wi' tentie ee;
Wha 'twas she wadna tell;
But this is Jock, and this is me,
She says in to hersel:
He bleezed owre her, and she owre him,
As they wad never mair part;
Till, fuff! he started up the lum,
And Jean had e'en a sair heart
To see't that night.

Poor Willie, wi' his bow-kail runt,
Was brunt wi' primsie Mallie;
And Mallie, nae doubt, took the drunt,
To be compared to Willie;
Mall's nit lap out wi' pridefu' fling,
And her ain fit it brunt it;
While Willie lap, and swore by jing,
'Twas just the way he wanted
To be that night.

Nell had the fause-house in her min',
She pits hersel and Rob in;
In loving bleeze they sweetly join,
Till white in ase they're sobbin';
Nell's heart was dancin' at the view,
She whisper'd Rob to leuk for't:
Rob, stowlins, prie'd her bonny mou',
Fu' cozie in the neuk for't,
Unseen that night.

But Merran sat behint their backs,
Her thoughts on Andrew Bell;
She lea'es them gashin' at their cracks,
And slips out by hersel:
She through the yard the nearest taks,
And to the kiln goes then,
And darklins graipit for the bauks,
And in the blue-clue throws then,
Right fear't that night.

And aye she win't, and aye she swat,
I wat she made nae jaukin',
Till something held within the pat,
Guid Lord! but she was quakin'!
But whether 'was the deil himsel,
Or whether 'twas a bauk-en',
Or whether it was Andrew Bell,
She didna wait on talkin'
To spier that night.

Wee Jennie to her grannie says,
"Will ye go wi' me, grannie?
I'll eat the apple at the glass
I gat frae Uncle Johnnie:"
She fuff't her pipe wi' sic a lunt,
In wrath she was sae vap'rin',
She notice't na, an aizle brunt
Her braw new worset apron
Out through that night.

"Ye little skelpie-limmer's face!
I daur you try sic sportin',
As seek the foul thief ony place,
For him to spae your fortune.
Nae doubt but ye may get a sight!
Great cause ye hae to fear it;
For mony a ane has gotten a fright,
And lived and died deleeret
On sic a night.

"Ae hairst afore the Sherramoor, --
I mind't as weel's yestreen,
I was a gilpey then, I'm sure
I wasna past fifteen;
The simmer had been cauld and wat,
And stuff was unco green;
And aye a rantin' kirn we gat,
And just on Halloween
It fell that night.

"Our stibble-rig was Rab M'Graen,
A clever sturdy fallow:
His son gat Eppie Sim wi' wean,
That lived in Achmacalla:
He gat hemp-seed, I mind it weel,
And he made unco light o't;
But mony a day was by himsel,
He was sae sairly frighted
That very night."

Then up gat fechtin' Jamie Fleck,
And he swore by his conscience,
That he could saw hemp-seed a peck;
For it was a' but nonsense.
The auld guidman raught down the pock,
And out a hanfu' gied him;
Syne bade him slip frae 'mang the folk,
Some time when nae ane see'd him,
And try't that night.

He marches through amang the stacks,
Though he was something sturtin;
The graip he for a harrow taks.
And haurls it at his curpin;
And every now and then he says,
"Hemp-seed, I saw thee,
And her that is to be my lass,
Come after me, and draw thee
As fast this night."

He whistled up Lord Lennox' march
To keep his courage cheery;
Although his hair began to arch,
He was say fley'd and eerie:
Till presently he hears a squeak,
And then a grane and gruntle;
He by his shouther gae a keek,
And tumbled wi' a wintle
Out-owre that night.

He roar'd a horrid murder-shout,
In dreadfu' desperation!
And young and auld came runnin' out
To hear the sad narration;
He swore 'twas hilchin Jean M'Craw,
Or crouchie Merran Humphie,
Till, stop! she trotted through them
And wha was it but grumphie
Asteer that night!

Meg fain wad to the barn hae gaen,
To win three wechts o' naething;
But for to meet the deil her lane,
She pat but little faith in:
She gies the herd a pickle nits,
And two red-cheekit apples,
To watch, while for the barn she sets,
In hopes to see Tam Kipples
That very nicht.

She turns the key wi cannie thraw,
And owre the threshold ventures;
But first on Sawnie gies a ca'
Syne bauldly in she enters:
A ratton rattled up the wa',
And she cried, Lord, preserve her!
And ran through midden-hole and a',
And pray'd wi' zeal and fervour,
Fu' fast that night;

They hoy't out Will wi' sair advice;
They hecht him some fine braw ane;
It chanced the stack he faddom'd thrice
Was timmer-propt for thrawin';
He taks a swirlie, auld moss-oak,
For some black grousome carlin;
And loot a winze, and drew a stroke,
Till skin in blypes cam haurlin'
Aff's nieves that night.

A wanton widow Leezie was,
As canty as a kittlin;
But, och! that night amang the shaws,
She got a fearfu' settlin'!
She through the whins, and by the cairn,
And owre the hill gaed scrievin,
Whare three lairds' lands met at a burn
To dip her left sark-sleeve in,
Was bent that night.

Whyles owre a linn the burnie plays,
As through the glen it wimpl't;
Whyles round a rocky scaur it strays;
Whyles in a wiel it dimpl't;
Whyles glitter'd to the nightly rays,
Wi' bickering, dancing dazzle;
Whyles cookit underneath the braes,
Below the spreading hazel,
Unseen that night.

Among the brackens, on the brae,
Between her and the moon,
The deil, or else an outler quey,
Gat up and gae a croon:
Poor Leezie's heart maist lap the hool!
Near lav'rock-height she jumpit;
but mist a fit, and in the pool
Out-owre the lugs she plumpit,
Wi' a plunge that night.

In order, on the clean hearth-stane,
The luggies three are ranged,
And every time great care is ta'en',
To see them duly changed:
Auld Uncle John, wha wedlock joys
Sin' Mar's year did desire,
Because he gat the toom dish thrice,
He heaved them on the fire
In wrath that night.

Wi' merry sangs, and friendly cracks,
I wat they didna weary;
And unco tales, and funny jokes
Their sports were cheap and cheery;
Till butter'd so'ns, wi' fragrant lunt,
Set a' their gabs a-steerin';
Syne, wi' a social glass o' strunt,
They parted aff careerin'
Fu' blythe that night.

Robert Burns

Irish Poem no reference given
Translated by Caitlin Matthews

"My tidings for you: the stag bells,
Winter snows, Summer is gone.

Wind high and cold, low the sun,
Short his course, sea running high.

Deep-red the bracken, its shape all gone,
The wild goose has raised his wonted cry.

Cold has caught the wings of birds.
Season of ice – these are my tidings."

I drew a blank as I searched modern poetry, but this is close.

The Love of October

A child looking at ruins grows younger
but cold
and wants to wake to a new name
I have been younger in October
than in all the months of spring
walnut and may leaves the color
of shoulders at the end of summer
a month that has been to the mountain
and become light there
the long grass lies pointing uphill
even in death for a reason
that none of us knows
and the wren laughs in the early shade now
come again shining glance in your good time
naked air late morning
my love is for lightness
of touch foot feather
the day is yet one more yellow leaf
and without turning I kiss the light
by an old well on the last of the month
gathering wild rose hips
in the sun."

- W. S. Merwin,

Note bene: In order to have something prepared for the UICC United Irish Cultural Center this evening, I cannibalized old blog posts. Hopefully I've changed and expanded the content, so as to not be the same verbiage as in the past. As it turned out, I didn't read from this piece, but I did paraphrase it.

"Up Helly Aa," reconstructed Fire Festival, or Imbolc in Viking Drag?
Halloween Traditions in Bantry
Hallowe'en, An Irish Tradition
Hallowe'en agus Samhain
Hallowe'en customs in Bantry Bay, Cork, Ireland, ca.1896
Folklore: Fertility Rites

BBC - Religions - Christianity: All Saints' Day and All Souls' Day

On Irish Saints' Names and Family Names

Molly posts a photograph of the two churches in Nevada City, stranded  on opposite sides of the freeway, St. Canice's & Trinity Episcopal. If you stand just so, you can see both spires at once. Two churches separated by road and by faith.

Few know that Canice was an Irish saint, Cainnech moccu Dalánn, he was born in Glengiven, Ireland, and was a close friend of St. Columba's. Helped convert the Picts. 

I'm sure everybody mispronounces the church name. That's Canice, not Candace—which drove my aunt Canice crazy. Just. Don't.

My aunt Canice, the last child in line, was named after a dude. Yep. That would be Kenneth, in English, or Anguish as my grannie would say... 

The name gave my aunt Canice much anguish during her lifetime. She gave up trying to correct people and eventually went by the handle of Candy. People couldn't screw that name up. How sweet.

Sort of like why I cowped to using Mo vs. Maureen after resisting for decades. Not that there was a Saint Maureen, but it means Little Mary, or bitter herbs. Take your pick.

It's a good thing my granny didn't choose St. Kevin. Can you imagine what would've happened with the moniker, Caoimhín, in the mouths of the English speakers? 

Keeping in the family tradition of unpronounceable Irish names, Canice named her only daughter  Sinead, after my grandmother. You'd think she would've known better.  I guess it could've been Siobhan. St. Joan.

My cousin Sinead doesn't let anyone read her nametag at work, their eyes get all tangled up in the random assortment of vowels. And she won't give her real name out to baristas—it comes out as Sin-head, or Sineed! We liked Sinhead. It makes us laugh. 

All this naming after saints in my family to keep us in line. Not that it ever took.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

River of Words Workshop with Pam Michael

Warm up, blind contour line drawing of an object in a paper bag. Using your finger as your  new "eyes" trace along the edges of your object, and make a drawing from what you feel. 

I had to laugh, Pam also used rubber bands to keep our non-drawing hands inside the bag, and so we couldn't peek. Also, snails have weird eyestalks very much like little fingers, art imitating life imitating art.

When you're done with your drawing, make a word cluster. Any words that come to mind. Don't censor, don't think. I didn't use any of them in my poem, but it was pleasant to warm up by drawing...

Then unmask your object, after you've speculated as to color, texture, etc. Share the drawing with the class. I speculated the stripes but not the brown color. I went for pink. Sometime what you  already know isn't useful. begin fresh each time.

write down 5 images

1. Outdoor setting
2. weather
3. something lost
4. something found
5. final line, wrap it up: comment, compare, contrast, complain, question. Revise. Read aloud to class.

The wind plays the barbed wire 
with its ghost fingers
The trees hiss and sigh 
while the grass whispers secrets
Cumulus clouds gather on the horizon
ladened with the promise of rain
Looking for remnants of lost childhood 
on this lonesome ridge
Garnered the wisdom of experience,
remembering then, and now, as one thing.
What other secrets does the wind dream up?


Pam also gave us a historical perspective and slide show of River of Words highlights. An amazing annual international poetry and art contest for children and a program that reached students from around the world. Fantastic art and touching stories of students in refugee camps sending in their artwork. Perhaps the saddest story is that Pam turned over the project, her life's work, and all the memorabilia to St. Mary's College, and they've let it go defunct. Tossed 20 years' worth of art out.  But the ROW website is still up. Check out the website and download her free PDF River of Words Teacher's Guide.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Poison Oak Bouquet

One day during the Fall in the early 1970s, we were hiking in Big Basin Park in the Santa Cruz mountains. It was sizzling hot, Indian Summer, the only evidence of Fall under the redwoods, were the brilliant splashes of red leaves of the poison oak, shining like sirens in the understory.

At the overlook, we interrupted a soldier on leave with his girl. He was dressed in army fatigues, and sounded like he was from Tennessee, probably stationed at Fort Ord. She looked like she had stepped out of American Bandstand. Ratted hair in a flip, big bows and buttons. Clearly visitors from another planet.

The soldier was busy gathering armfuls of brilliantly colored poison oak for his lady love. When they spotted us, instead of greeting us, they scowled, refused to make eye contact, and treated us as if we were invisible.

We watched, flabbergasted as he gathered armloads of poison oak. I said, Excuse me, sir...  Not quite knowing how to begin to tell him. He may have been rude, but no one deserved a fate like that—especially not his girl.

But being Californians, we were perceived as the enemy,  we were automatically labeled "hippies" with our long hair, etc., so they sneered at us, and of course, he refused to listen to my plea not to pick it. If anything, he went at it with a vengeance. Soon he had armloads of the stuff, which he deposited on his lady's lap.

It all must've ended rather badly. I bet they were both hospitalized...especially since they were so busy groping each other all afternoon long. By that evening, I'm sure there was no place left untouched, as it were. Worse than the seven-year-itch.

These beauties are from Soda Rock Lane, Healdsburg, 2009. I have the year wrong.

I once ran into a soldier from the Deep South on leave with his girl at Big Basin park in the Santa Cruz mountains—he was gathering armfuls of brilliantly colored poison oak for his lady love. We, being Californian, were perceived as "hippies" with long hair, etc., so they sneered at us, and of course, refused to listen to my plea not to pick it. It must've ended badly for them. I bet they were hospitalized...especially since they were pawing each other.