Saturday, December 31, 2016

MoHurley's Amazon Book Reviews 2016

I began writing Amazon Reviews in 2013 after reading a Kindle ebook that was so awful, I was distraught. My cousin suggested that I write an Amazon Review. And so I did. I'm over a hundred reviews, total. I haven't written many reviews this year. My goal was a minimum of 25 reviews, I got 24 done; the last one didn't make the midnight cutoff date.

It takes considerable time and thought to write (and rewrite) reviews. I don't take the process lightly. I look for a believable plot, good storyline, and figurative language that doesn't intrude, and subtle intellect. Novels stem from the oral tradition. They should entertain (as well as enlighten). It's not all about the escape fiction part.

Unfortunately many reviews are viewed as a popularity contest. Not. It is my hope that some authors will take the time to correct their typos and upload revised books so that we all benefit. Hey, free copy editing! 

Unfortunately, negative reviews also garner a lot of negative points. Please mosey on over and LIKE some of my reviews. Amazon's all about Like, just like LIKE on Facebook. Except, like, the buttons are, like, different.

My older reviews are buried deep. So I tried to include the direct links whenever possible here as well. Go to MoHurley's Amazon Reviews click on the comments section under my review and that will take you to the review where you can like it.


MoHurley's Amazon Book Reviews 2016
MoHurley's Amazon Book Reviews 2015
My Amazon Book Reviews 2014
My Amazon Book Reviews 2013

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Scanning crusades 2014-2016, and beyond

Two years ago, as we began to clear out my grandmother's house, which was my home for the first 24 years of my life,  in order to sell it, I was heartbroken. So much memorabilia. Memory loosened by random bits of paper. And things. I expected to write lots, because, well, unearthing the past... Instead, I was numb. Profoundly depressed. Useless.

So I collected small trinkets from my childhood, and began to create archives. Then, in order to save them, I began a scanning project. It started out small. The first year I scanned old family photos, then I created a large family photo archive on Dropbox. It's now a monster folder pushing seven gigabytes. But the entire extended family now has access to those photos. (Except for the stolen ones.)

I scanned a fair amount of odd flotsam and memorabilia from that era as well (still lots more to do). Some of the detritus of the past found its way to my blog by way of illustration. My story on Christian Burkhardt: Almost Amish, for example. 

Some of it gave credence to old memories that I've transcribed in this blog. Biggest mindblower was finding a photo of my mother and Lloyd Bridges for The Student Prince at Sacramento's Music Circus. I wrote a blog piece about Lloyd in Guys and Dolls.

This year, I focused primarily on scanning my own extensive travel photos, I am nearly done scanning them (I just finished scanning the USSR—monstrous pile o pix), and will add some photos to this blog when I process them.

I began scanning chronologically with photos from the 1970s. Of course, as I scanned photos, I began to remember all the missing ones. Sometimes I'd get lucky. Somebody would unearth a photo from a lost era. See, I was the family chronicler. All events and parties, I was behind the camera recording, recording. Now scanning.

Still to do are all my black and white negatives from the 1980s and 1990s, but I need a good film scanner for that project. Since they are mostly of poets, I've been in conversation with Carolyn Forché who was my mentor at the Napa Valley Poetry conferences in the early 1980s, to bring them into the digital age. Her husband, Harry Matthison, too is culling and scanning his extensive archive of photos from when he was a war photographer-correspondent with Magnum. At least he'll get four coffee table books for his efforst. I still don't have a forever home for most of my work.

Carolyn asked how we can fund these photo archives. I thought the National Endowment for the Humanities might be a place to start. I need to create a GoFundMe account to raise enough money to get the scanner I need. And look into a grant to fund my time. On the 2017 To Do List.

This year, I've also been also scanning my paper/poetry archives, and fluffing up this blog with old poems and memorabilia. (I'm up to 2002 published posts! Nearly 1k posts added this year.)

As I rounded out the blog posts for the early years (1980s-1990s), it became a numbers game. Did I have enough strong work from the old days to bump up my meager collection of posts from the 1980s—before computers! It's strange to relive the past via poetry, but now it's a timeline of sorts. Prepping for the Alzheimer daze...

My goal is to post 52 blog pieces of writing a year. One for each week of the year. Every year. Seems reasonable. Most years I did not meet my minimum goal, so I lowered my standards to 25+ pieces a year. There was some fudging of numbers as I expanded my idea of what I wanted to include in this blog. Posters of readings, and poetry awards were added, for example. Some random doodles from my poetry journals. Letters. There will be letters.

A few of the old yearly collections do meet my arbitrary criteria of 52 posts per year. (PPY). Nearly all of them meet the 25+ PPY criteria (finally), and then some— but I still harbor hope to fluff up those anemic years.

Then, there are the years where I wonder what the fuck happened. I have not scanned all my old poetry journals, so the ranks still might swell. These years listed below are seriously in arrears. I have hope, but I'm also running out of material to scan. Letters and memorabilia from poets will swell the ranks somewhat. Letters. There will be letters. I already said that.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

What's in Hawthorne, NV, and why is it shaking and rolling?

December 28, 2016 at 3:21am
Two big 5.7 quakes (one upgraded to 5.8), and a 5.0, with several swarms, in Hawthorne, NV. So that's why I'm now wide awake... It seems something woke me around 12:45ish. I was in a deep sleep so it may have been earlier. And then I thought it was morning, time to get up. Must've been the bed shaking. Hawthorn, NV??? Can we even feel that in the Bay Area? Apparently so. Wow. What's in Hawthorne?

5.8   it took me a while to find the old USGS Did You Feel It? map. Which is invaluable to see where it was felt. I really wasn't imaging things. I do NOT like the new USGS website. The old one was much better. 

 I noticed there's an Aurora Crater right below Hawthorne. Hmmm? This was a volcano field. Hundreds of miles of them. The valley is a caldera. There are old ash cones all around the edges. Must be indigestion. Wait, the whole valley is a caldera? Not a sinkhole/playa? It was upgraded to 5.8. Aurora Crater is rumbling?

WTF is in Hawthorne, NV??? It's a sinkhole on the backside of the Sierras, between Walker Lake and Mono Lake, near Bodie, fergawdsakes... Not even on a faultline. I thought I was imagining things until someone posted it on FB. Well, the Sierras are still growing. Must be growing pains. One quake at Bridgeport too, that entire area above Mono Lake is loaded with geothermal activity. There are a whole bunch of little unnamed faults south of the basin, running east/west... two sets leading into Mono Lake.

There are quite a few unnamed east/west faults below it, near Mono Lake.

And of course, below Mono Lake is Long Valley, and Mammoth Caldera...maybe a new fault rupture to the Big Bulge. If Mammoth ever blows... It blows my mind that I felt the big quakes in Oakland. Sleep? What's that? 5.8, 5.7, 5.5, 5.3, 4.1, 4.0, ....more than 70 quakes between Hawthorne and Bridgeport. Talk about a swarm.

No faults are listed where the swarm is located, but the area is a vast volcanic field, and it's close enough to Mammoth to give pause... that whole area is riddled with geothermal activity. Yes, the Sierras are young mountains still growing, so it could be merely tectonic growing pains...

Joyce Simmons, who lives near there, said the epicenter was near Lucky Boy grade. The underground bomb tests used to set off swarms.

Geologist Garry Hayes said: Quakes are probably tectonic related rather than volcanic. First motion diagrams indicate strike-slip (lateral) motion. Sensation of shaking is stronger on surfaces underlain by sediments. People I know in the Sierra didn't feel anything while lots of folks in the Central Valley did.

Here's hoping it's not clandestine injection wells, or fracking related. Or underground bomb tests!

Can I please go back to sleep now, dear Earth?

Art has always been my first language

Art has always been my first language, grief-struck, after Tiananmen Square (a poet friend, Bei Dao, escaping to the west), all I could do was draw. I sat on the floor of CA Museum of Art (LBC, Santa Rosa—Marsha Connell and I were teaching an art class to kids), and I drew vast images of rows of trees, over and over. That was all I could do. That, or cry. And I couldn't do that in front of the kids. The trees became receptacles for my tears. A floodgate of leaves. Not words.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Stairways to hell

I've been laid up since the 17th as I managed to fall down two steps into Cormac's sunken living room, splitting the difference by folding my left ankle down to the next step and bending my right knee up at unnatural angles to hold the pose. A reindeer could've bolted between my bowed legs. 

But I had one more stair to navigate. Then, whump, I went down on my butt, hard—so freakin elegant. The edge of my outside boot caught on the steps (the sole split), as I was going down sideways. Facing forward, I would've been a real goner, or broke my nose (again). But I didn't spill my wine. Miracle of miracles.

The cardinal rule: always RICE right after you fall. I had some wine in me (anti-inflamatory agent), so I took Advil, and religiously iced my elevated ankle and knees the rest of the week.

I hate stairs. I have missed the bottom stair more than a few times.  I remember when I was somewhere between the ages of three and four, I took a tumble off the top of the stairs, and made it around the curve, only to have the home stretch open all the way down to the bottom, headfirst. The scenery jarring and bumping as my head hit each step. I was too surprised to cry. No one ever knew.

I did it once off a ladder, backwards, while painting a mural... A long step down, the jarring pain and lots of little bird stars tweeted in my head...

I won't mention the hikes, where stairs and I have parted company. How I ever made it over the Andes, with its thousands upon thousands of stairs for miles on end, was a major miracle. I was not so lucky on the glacial moraine on the Continental Divide.  My nose took a suckerpunch from a rock.

Another time Galway Kinnell called me on the phone to set up a reading, and I was so dazed, I walked out my front door, and promptly fell down my one front step. One step! Twisted my ankle but good. He wanted to know why I was whuffling like a buffalo.
One time I did the splitz down a long flight of attic stairs... My flip flops lost traction slipped, and down I went, like a grass toboggan ride. I had no idea I was that limber. Or that I could bend like that. 

Crotch rugburn was the least of my worries. I had to tie a bandana around my left knee to raise and lift it in order to shift the clutch—for a month....

Monday, December 26, 2016

Hard sauce

My grannie made fruitcake every year. She started early in the fall, assembling the fruit and nuts, gathered all the spices, then she made the glacé and candied the citron, assembled the batter, mixed and packed the cakes, and then steamed them for six hours (not baked). When it was cooled, the fruitcake was swaddled in cheesecloth like an infant, and required a weekly baptismal dressing in whiskey, up until it it was served, well aged, with real hard sauce, tea, and more whiskey in the hand. But I couldn't eat it. Eventually she quit making fruitcake. An old tradition that died hard. It was the Christmas ritual that mattered, not the cake. I wish I had been kinder as a child.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Drought-breaker Day

It's been raining so hard, you practically need a snorkel out there. Most of the roads in San Rafael, Richmond and Oakland are canals. It's beginning to look a bit like Holland. The underside of my car is very, very clean. As are my brakes. Squeaky clean. And they are also not working. Soft brakes is really upping the ante. But the show must go on. We’re singing for the elders at the San Rafael Whistlestop Christmas luncheon for Bread and Roses today. We’re braving the storm with duck feet and nae knickers. At least Neil is, as he’s wearing his kilt.

In San Rafael, the water is all the way up to 2nd Street ramp by noon, and the San Rafael exit, near the canal, was a duck's infinity pool. Water birds were churning all over the place. Seriously partying down. Luckily we veered to the left side of the exit, and drove on the shoulder as the water was up to the bridge, and was at least a foot deep on the roadbed. The force of the water slowed us down quick. No need for brakes.

Of course we were late for our carol performance at Whistlestop Wheels. But at least we had an excuse. The parking lot was under two inches of water, and my boots decided to split their soles at that moment. It was a packed house. They had to wait for us, as Neil was singing the finale, Auld Lang Syne, solo. We sang extra hard to make up for being late. It was almost toast for us just getting there.

Driving home was another adventure. Hwy 580 northbound to the Richmond Bridge was closed. Probably an accident. Luckily we're going the other way. In Richmond, the Gerrard exit was completely underwater at 4 PM. One guy drove down the meridian to avoid the puddle. More like a pond or inland sea by the train tracks, reminding us this was all once marshlands. Kind of exciting at Golden Gate Fields/Gilman exit too. There were actual waves surging across the intersection. I swear I saw Nessie frolicking by the racetrack.

I think the drought has been thoroughly trounced. All that praying for rain is ganging up on us. Now we're dancing and praying just to get to the car without drowning. And Yahoo Weather must be seriously out of practice, as it predicted ZERO chance of rain today. And to think it was sunny this AM. Right.

It's a deluge, practically Biblical. The epicenter seems to be south of here. In San Jose, of all places. It just got a half a year’s worth if rain all at once. Flash flood warnings for the entire Bay Area, and massive flooding inland. The Sacramento has stormed its banks, ditto that with the Truckee. Some places got 7-8 inches of rain all at once. More than a cloudburst. Yes, the Truckee has leaped its banks too. We’re talking rain falling in biblical proportions—falling on the snowpack! The Pineapple Express has arrived decked up in full monsoon garb. Literally sheets of rain. There goes the snowpack, which means, pradoxically, we'll be back in drought mode, come summer.

Oh, and my new camera died today—a good soaking did not improve things. A lens malfunction—it's not even a year old. Ditto that with the one it replaced. I’m having a serious run of bad luck with short-lived cameras. But I do love the quality of the Panasonic Leica lens. And so I can’t even take photos. I used to cry when my cameras died, so much of my identity is tied up with cameras. an extension of my eye, but it’s how I process things, really. Still, a camera a year?

So I’m bearing witness with words today. Tears would only add to the flood. And to boot, my clutch is failing. Every time we have to stop, I wonder if it's gonna be the end. (We later swing by Mike’s Garage. Car is fixed, it’s not the clutch, but a leak in the hydraulic system. Next time, check the fluids.) The camera, however, is toast. Four years of praying for rain is catching up on us all at once. I guess the drought is officially over for a while. At least in the Bay Area. But tonight there's the full moon and the king tides....

rev 1/22/2017, and 2020
from a Facebook post.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Power outage

Power's out, rain, rain, and more rain. And now Neil's babbling on about generators and St Mirren's soccer score. He's not handling being cut off from the internet very well. I made soup and cornbread.  Thank God for gas stoves. At least you can carry on. The power used to go out often in Forest Knolls, so I just went into hillbilly survival mode. Break out the candles, booze, and food. After  hours of no juice, we're back online. The hall light was our Judas light. Let it shine.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Godspeed, John Glenn, back to stardust

I was startled awake by something before 7 AM. I didn't realize it was an earthquake. Getting the news. More death. All our cultural icons shuffling off this mortal coil in 2016. Do you think they knew something we didn't? It's a mass exodus.

Now John Glenn. Godspeed, back to stardust. Somebody said it must be the Rapture, another said, Yep, 23 more days to go. Who's next? We're no longer talking in multiples of threes here, but scores of threes.

It's been a rough harvest: David Bowie to Leonard Cohen. and now Mercury Seven's John Glenn. Glenn became the youngest and first American to orbit the Earth, aboard Friendship 7 on February 20, 1962, he was the third American in space, and the fifth human being in space.
Zero G, and I feel fine.
— Glenn's first words on becoming weightless upon reaching orbit, February 20, 1962

 I once taught an Elderhostel class at Silverpenny Farm, in Petaluma, and one of my students was a NASA engineer that put the astronauts on the moon. He brought a piece of moon-rock to class. I held a piece of the moon in my hands. Basalt! I realize astronaut William Anders took the photo Earthrise, in 1968, but when I see it, I will always think of Glenn and Man on the Moon.

Not only was Glenn the youngest American to go into orbit. He returned to space on the Space Shuttle in 1998, and, at age 77, he held the title of being the oldest person to go into space. Glenn "won his seat on the Shuttle flight by lobbying NASA for two years to fly as a human guinea pig for geriatric studies."

My friend Rebecca Morrison said: "My uncle in Colorado was John's best friend and was the best man at his wedding. My father was an astronomer so my uncle got glossy first-hand photos of the moon from John and mailed them to my father."
And friend Miceál Francis O'Hurley siad: "John got me transferred to the House for a stint where I worked to get Vladimir Titov on the STS-63 mission. This is the flag and crew patch they flew for me in space. Eileen Collins piloted the Shuttle Discovery on this mission. I owe much to John Glenn."
Miceál sent me this:

hen I was in the Ukraine, I got to see many exhibits of USSR cosmonauts Yuri Gagarin and Gherman Titov. And there's an exhibit of some of the space capsules on the Navy aircraft carrier, the USS Hornet, docked in Alameda. There's a space museum aboard the ship with NASA Apollo artifacts. The Hornet was the recovery ship for the Apollo 11 and Apollo 12 moon missions in 1969. The Apollo command module is so tiny, it's boggling.

Time to watch The Right Stuff, Brigadier General Chuck Yeager, USAF (Ret) plays Fred, the bartender at Pancho's saloon. Scott Beach as Head German Scientist based on Wernher von Braun.

Scott' Beach's most famous line ever was: It's White Flower Days at Macy's! We'd all nag him to say it again in that basso profundo voice. Loved that guy. He was part of The Committee, with Mimi Fariña, they did a lot of street theater in SF/Bay Area. He was also a popular DJ.

I first met Scott, in high school, at the Renaissance Pleasure Faire in Black Point in Novato. Scott was the Lord Mayor of the Shire. George Lucas liked his voice so much he used him in THX 1138. Beach also appeared as Mr. Gordon in American Graffiti, and was an uncredited stormtrooper voice in Star Wars. 

How Jerry Brown earned the moniker Governor Moonbeam; see the 2nd segment, on CA being an independent country, with its own LANsats. Priceless.


Wednesday, December 7, 2016

More meanderings on Hiraeth/Saudade

A friend, Slim Russell, noted the similarity between the Welsh hiraeth and Portuguese saudade, not knowing the linguistic relationship. These are from some notes I wrote to her.

Well, it's not so strange a connection in that Portuguese/Galego (Galician) and Welsh are related, both stemming from the same Gaulish-Celtic ancestor...and that strange melancholia was a noted trait among the Celts.

The Welsh hiraeth, Breton hiraezh, Cornish hyreth, and Irish sireacht (shiracht), all stem from the Celtic root word, siros, which is related to Latin serus—which evolved into Portuguese/Galician via Iberian Celtic speakers, full circle to Saudade. Galicians also use morriña, that's extreme saudade on steroids.

Portuguese/Galician Gaulish had many similarities to Irish (Q-Celtic) vs Gaulish, from which Welsh (P-Celtic) stems. Of course Portuguese/Galician evolved from Iberian, or Atlantic Celts trying to speak Latin, language of the conquerors.
"Hiraeth is a Welsh word for which there is no direct English translation: homesickness tinged with grief or sadness over the lost or departed. It is a mix of longing, yearning, nostalgia, wistfulness, or an earnest desire for the Wales of the past.

Hiraeth bears considerable similarities with the Portuguese concept of saudade (a key theme in Fado music), Brazilian Portuguese banzo (more related to homesickness), Galician morriña, Romanian dor, Russian toska and Ethiopian tizita."  —Wiki
"Saudade is a word in Portuguese and Galician (from which it entered Spanish) that claims no direct translation in English. ...Saudade is also associated with Galicia, where it is used similarly to the word morriña (longingness). Yet, morriña often implies a deeper stage of saudade, a "saudade so strong it can even kill," as the Galician saying goes. Morriña was a term often used by emigrant Galicians when talking about the Galician motherland they left behind. Although saudade is also a Galician word, the meaning of longing for something that might return is generally associated with morriña. A literary example showing the understanding of the difference and the use of both words is the song Un canto a Galicia by Julio Iglesias."   —Wiki

One of my favorite songs of Cesária Evora, is Sodade. (Cape Verde spelling.)
Y un canto a Galicia, desde Julio Iglesias, who is Galician.

It's Pearl Harbor Day, a good a day as any to suffer from a case of saudade or hiraeth.

Longing/Saudade/Hiraeth  A blog I wrote on saudade/hiraeth.
and another on Hiraeth.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016


I can't bring myself to delete 
the accounts of dead in Facebook
I still have Kathleene West's page. 
She sold me her cellphone for dirtcheap 
right before she committed suicide, 
and it was haunting to find her photos 
on the memory card after she had gone...
Jane Elsdon and Ann Menebroker 
are up to something, I know it...
I can hear Steve Kowit laughing 
maniacally in the other room.
Juanita Musson's cooking 
up a great feast in a washpan.
Speaking of Old Sausalito, 
Brite Bonnier's still painting.
And what about Pagan Neil?
Tom Hayden's dusting off his book, 
saying Poets don't pay. Ever.
And Norton Buffalo sometimes still visits 
from beyond the earthly Paradise, 
via fan photos. He fills the page.
Chris Caswell's ghost harp 
still plays in the wind.
Whitman McGowan's just stepped out 
of the room for a moment. Perhaps for a pint.
No, I can't delete them. No, not yet.


Michael Rothenberg (100Thousand Poets for Change) wrote that he was deleting dead friends on his Facebook page.My reply was a poem of sorts.

Sunday, December 4, 2016


California quail on the fence rail
in front of Diebenkorn's old place
balanced on the whitewashed boards
like teacups tottering on the drainboard,
they chuckled nervously as I stopped the car
to watch them catching the morning sun.


Saturday, December 3, 2016

Solving picture math equations

Everybody's going crazy over this math problem. Who knew I was supposed to Multiply or Divide before you Add or Subtract. Whoa. Definitely never learned that rule. Ever. I learned to always go from left to right. Like the way we read in this hemisphere.

All this time I've been doing picture math wrong. I didn't know about the bait and switch part (do multiplication first even if there are no huggy-armed parentheses to hold you in a huddle). 

I was told that we couldn't mix apples and oranges in math—ever—so why is this mixup ok? Is this new math? We're adding coke and fries and burgers, here. What about the apples an oranges? 

Who knew that even WITHOUT parentheses, you still solve it as if there was invisible parentheses there? Why even write it that way? Because someone forgot to add parentheses? Seems like a bait and switch. Or somebody was slovenly. Lazy bastard. Who all agreed to this formality? No wonder people don't like math. I want a hug.

And then there's the trick drawing, as if I wasn't already stressed out. I missed that there was only one pack of fries for the final equation. And McDonald's? Ugh. That explains all the empty calories. And a profound lack of clarity. Too many golden arches. Not a happy meal.

First equation, three cokes, means a a pitstop. Second and third equations with burgers and fries in various configurations means a powerful thirst, and quite possibly indigestion. All those burgers had cheese. Why didn't anyone share their fries? 

Next time, I want to tell the mathematician, choose In-n-Out Burgers. They use real potatoes. Much more straightforward. No hidden ingredients. Do the math. That's my answer and I'm sticking to it.

Now, would you like an apple or an orange?

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.

In the Pygmy Forest

Late in the season we went huckleberrying in the Pygmy Forest at Jughandle Creek. The bushes were so laden, the berries hung like grapes. In no time at all, I had 25 pounds of berries weighting me down, but it was getting late—twilight, the color of crushed berries. A false light. No real direction of home. We circled and came back to the same copse of pygmy trees. Three times. The only time I ever got us lost. The lichen encrusted cypresses were not much taller than us, and maddenly thin, like broomhandles, so you couldn't climb them to see where you were. We were trapped in a thick fairytale forest of venerable age. No glimpse of the ocean to orient myself. The temperature plummeted. We left our sweaters in the car. Think, don't follow your instinct. I found the lip of of the marine terrace, and from there, fighting against the surety of instinct, I worked my way backwards to the parking lot. Suddenly I understood how people who lose their way in the forest, always circled back to the starting point. Like gyrating dreidels. I ate humble pie. My granny never knew I had gotten us lost. I never said a word either. At Pat & Betty's cabin in Fort Bragg, we unloaded our bounty. And the pies we made afterward were made of twilight. That night our dreams were the color of midnight and studded with stars.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Death by Earwig

My grandmother used to hang the laundry out to dry. Extra clothes that didn't fit on the clothesline were draped over the bushes. I loved the odor of sage, rosemary or lavender invading my clothes. I grabbed some clothes and took off for the weekend to visit my boyfriend. It was a scorcher. I wiggled into my damp cutoffs grateful for their coolness. At a complicated 5-way stoplight in downtown San Jose, an earwig, or nipper, as my grannie called them, crawled out of the seam of my jeans and angrily began to pinch me. I screamed, and tried to rip off my shorts— while driving, running a red light in the process. Horns blaring, cars careening. I finally bashed it into my hip. And I smeared the sucker. Luckily I also didn't get smeared in the process. Death by earwig would be so very hard to explain.



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?


Tuesday, November 22, 2016

I WAS TEN (a birthday poem of sorts)


I was ten. The meal complete.
Some two score and more of relatives
leaned back in their chairs, comatose.
The long 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 and leaned in wild abandon. 
The teakettle screamed its siren call.
Amber whiskey sloshed into cups and mugs.
I waited in eager anticipation
for the entrance of the cake—
the cake that I surely knew was mine... 

Would it be chocolate?
Please let it be chocolate 

with chocolaty frosting.
Not mint. Real chocolate 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.

Bay Area Generations #42

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.

Dear Google, about those 404 errors on Blogspot
Dear Google, Using Google Photos is Painful
Dear Google, Using Blogger is a Painful Experience...

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Cut my Hair

So today, I whacked off my hair to shoulder length, I'm now 30 pounds lighter, and my head is in danger of flying off my neck. I'm looking a little poodley around the edges. All that curl weighted down by yard-long hair. Boing! It was well past my waist and I have a long back.

I warned it to behave. Repeatedly. I got tired of detangling it every morning, at best it resembled dreadlocks, or a hornet's best. As someone said, A messy kitchen.

And my hair was getting thin because of the constant tangles. No matter how careful I was combing it out. For a while, I was out of my hair product, and used commercial shampoo, which made my hair strands thin, and even more flyaway, and prone to tangling. Hair that long dated back to the first Clinton inauguration.

I'm sure I will mourn its loss, but I was so tired of it all. I reached around back to hold my hair, to comfort myself, but it wasn't there. LOL. My familiar has left me. New beginnings. I put my ponytail into a birchwood box laden with turquoise and coral. I said a small requiem to the past. I put on my pantsuit jacket, and I voted for Her.

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...

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Day of the Dead, Farallones, from a photo 2015


A photo from the last day of the year, 2015: the Farallones, 20 miles out from Point Reyes, seemed so close, I could almost touch them. A last gasp from a dying camera; its swan song. Farallón means "pillar" or "sea cliff," once aka "Devil's Teeth Islands," for the treacherous shoals. Part of the Sierras, a block of rifted granitic continental crust thrusted up. A place where, as a child, I though the dead dwelled. I had no idea that the islands were the abode of spirits, called "Islands of the Dead" by the Ohlones.

The Farallones are home to 400 species of birds, many of then rare, or endangered. I once saw a tufted puffin wing his way off Point Reyes. A small clownish football of a bird winging home with a beakfull of fish.

Vizcaíno's friar, Antonio de la Ascencion called the islands los Farallónes. Probably why San Francisco Bay was never discovered by Vizcaíno or by Drake, who called them the Islands of Saint James. A place of treacherous shoals. A place of many shipwrecks.

The American whalers, and Russian explorers built sealing stations there, manned by Alaskan Kodiak Islanders, until there were no more northern fur seals left. Whether Northern, or Guadalupe fur seals, we will never know. One of the largest seabird colonies in the U.S. Then the Gold Rush—millions of seabird eggs (500,000 a month) collected, led to the San Francisco Egg Wars.

Then it was Rum Row during the Prohibition, and a nuclear waste dump during the 1940s to the 1970s; 50,000 radioactive drums, and 44,000 shipyard containers were scuttled, and are rusting away—we still don't know what is in them. But it can't be good. Stories of massive sponges growing in the littoral zones.

Yes, and here we are, still dancing on the brink of the world.

uxar-at kai pire.
On the cliff, on the edge,
on the brink of the world,
we are dancing.

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

Thinking of my mother who wanted her ashes scattered off the Golden Gate, to drift to the Farallones. Maybe I should give her back to the sea.

Fitting image for El Día de los Muertos. 

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

PAD poetry prompts 2016 (not used)

These poetry prompts were copied sans date, if you want the date and Robert' Lee Brewer's model poems, visit his website. 2016 November PAD Chapbook Challenge:

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.

from a Facebook post
February 4, 2016

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.

Monday, October 31, 2016

El Dia de los Muertos was moved atop our Day of the Dead/New Year....

There was an altar for a poet friend who died last year, Francisco Alarcon, and a woman posting it said: "Dear White People: Día de los muertos is not your Halloween!" Not knowing the background as to why El Dia de los Muertos was moved to our Day of the Dead/New Year....

I wrote back:

Hallowe'en/Samhain is when we Celts celebrate the end of the year (it's our New Year), and it's a day we also honor our visiting ancestors with food, song, and storytelling. It's a time when the doors to the Otherworld are open. Francisco was a longtime friend, and he would've also honored our traditions as well. FYI, El Dia de Los Muertos was moved atop our holiday, and there are also shared traditions. Francisco would've also honored that.

On Jack O Lanterns and squashes

This was a diatribe against a medievalist's "scholar" post, who conflated pumpkins, New World squashes with old world species.
The author also lumped the Renaissance with the Medieval world. We (imperially speaking) came undone. These are from my notes to I had reposted some of my comments on Facebook. I always meant to make a blog of it, but never did, so this is a placeholder.

I wrote: Did something get lost in translation? We don't call cucumbers squashes. Citrullus was the other form eaten. Melons are not called squashes. Lagenaria was mostly inedible (gourd, clalbash). The word cucurbita means "gourd".

 Most squash as we know them, came from the New World. Note the country of origin in the list below.
"squash, pumpkin, or gourd depending on species, variety, and local parlance,[a] and for their seeds. First cultivated in the Americas before being brought to Europe by returning explorers after their discovery of the New World, plants in the genus Cucurbita are important sources of human food and oil....Cucurbita fruits have played a role in human culture for at least 2,000 years. They are often represented in Moche ceramics from Peru. After Christopher Columbus's arrival in the New World, paintings of squashes started to appear in Europe early in the sixteenth century. " —Cucurbita- Wiki
The genus Cucumis in the Cucurbitaceae family, including some gourds, do not include New World squashes. Most gourds are inedible, and you can't eat a loofah! Some gourds (calabashes), and several melons were native to the Old World.
Cucurbita – squash, pumpkin, zucchini, some gourds
Lagenaria – mostly inedible gourds
Citrullus – watermelon (C. lanatus, C. colocynthis) and others
Cucumis – cucumber (C. sativus), various melons
Luffa – the common name is also luffa, sometimes spelled loofah (when fully ripened, two species of this fibrous fruit are the source of the loofah scrubbing sponge)
"Six cucurbit crops are represented in 23 Byzantine-era mosaics from Israel, these being round melons (Cucumis melo), watermelons (Citrullus lanatus), sponge gourds (Luffa aegyptiaca), snake melons (faqqous, Cucumis melo Flexuosus Group), adzhur melons (Cucumis melo Adzhur Group), and bottle gourds (Lagenaria siceraria). Cucurbits are represented in 23 of the 134 mosaics containing images of crop plants." —Cucurbitaceae - Wikipedia
The Cucurbits of Mediterranean Antiquity: Identification of Taxa from Ancient Images and Descriptions
"By ancient times, long-fruited forms of Cucumis melo (melon) and Lagenaria siceraria (bottle gourd) were selected, cultivated and used as vegetables around the Mediterranean and, in addition, bottle-shaped fruits of L. siceraria were employed as vessels. Citrullus lanatus (watermelons) and round-fruited forms of Cucumis melo (melons) were also consumed, but less commonly. A number of cucurbit species, including Bryonia alba, B. dioica, Citrullus colocynthis and Ecballium elaterium, were employed for medicinal purposes. No unequivocal evidence was found to suggest the presence of Cucumis sativus (cucumber) in the Mediterranean area during this era. The cucumis of Columella and Pliny was not cucumber, as commonly translated, but Cucumis melo subsp. melo Flexuosus Group (snake melon or vegetable melon).
Food in Antiquity: A Survey of the Diet of Early Peoples
"The cucumber was much cultivated in Egypt in Pliny's day and known in Early ... Apicius cooked them with brains, cumin, honey, celery seed, liquamen and oil, ... "

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Triskeles, whiteface, and woad, photos

Celtic triskeles and spiral inspired by La Tene art in whiteface and woad—I mean Maybelline. As to the usual: Yes, but what are you supposed to be, my answer was I am that I am. If you need a name, the hag cycle of the Morríghan, the phantom queen, goddess of fertility, war and death; or the Cailleach, the divine crone, a creator/weather/ancestor deity. (From caille, mantle, the veiled one.) The feather growth on the side of my head is part of a plaster bandage mask/cast of my face—also in whiteface and spirals. But prettier. The maiden aspect. I couldn't wear my scary face when I taught kids poetry, so the mask was a compromise. I either wore the mask on my face, or on the back of my head—which really freaked people out. They couldn't tell whether I was coming or going. Nor could I, apparently. 

I always painted my face up as the grotesque Celtic hag with triskeles, but people complained, asked, can't you do something nice....I just wasn't into "pretty" so this was as good as it got. Only once, and once only. I got tired of explaining my character/costume. A New Age Pierrot-Columbina character?

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.