Monday, December 21, 2009

2009: A Term for the Verse

Today marks the Winter Solstice-- the year's shortest day and longest night. As the minutes slipped away prior to the Official Astronomical Event, I wormed my way under our new house for one last intimate encounter with the earth. (The practical reason for this ritual was that a faulty extension cord needed replacing; the shower drain--so carefully surrounded with heat-tape, insulation, and a tyvek-wrapped, earth-banked styroboard frost wall--would do us no good through the winter's whistling winds if the heat-tape could not be trustworthily plugged in!)

Now I am back inside the house, grubby but warm, relaxing into the knowledge that the last great ritual has been successfully performed and we shall henceforth be able to Hold The Wolf of Winter At Bay. (We won't make any bold predictions about any other wolves just yet, but suffice to say that we're really boning up on our wolf-wrangling skills and getting better every day!)

The Proper Activity of Northern Winter Folk is repair and creation: the careful tending of tools and gear, the mending of strained relationships, and the creation of things both useful and beautiful. My heart is ready, now--and if you will permit me a bit of creative indulgence--my rusty bardic muse is in need of some warm-up stretches. Like any stretch, the following will involve the potential of painful reaches and the appearance of ridiculousness, but these seasonal tasks simply MUST be done...


January started out
cold and full of gripes:
Our year began with frozen folk,
cold house and frozen pipes.

February came along
with icy, sparkling jaws--
We went outside and froze some more--
for a worthy local cause.

March brought hard digging
and--finally--joy! Let
us now praise installers
of pipes, shower and toilet!

April--on windowsills,
seedtrays sat out,
dark soil dreaming
and sending up sprouts.

May--month of sweet melting
and warming and growing!
New piglets were bought.
In the fields we went sowing.

June--to market and home again,
all in a whirl
to host a church picnic
and the dear Wild Girls!

July started wet and grew wet enough
to douse any forest fire.
Pigs being pigs, in the mud they did dig,
and slipped out under the wire.

August brought an island journey--
oh, sweet farm-women's reprieve!
Our first home-grown bull met his meaty end:
a choice we did not grieve.

September: batten down the farm
and rush to catch a plane
For a family wedding we piped and preached--
so good to see kinfolk again!

October came to
a bittersweet end.
With bards and musicians,
we mourned a dear friend.

November brought the cold and dark--
a fearful time for the farm.
But oh! We gave thanks for our sweet new house,
where the woodstove kept us warm!

December sang softly of flickering hope,
now fanned to a stalwart flame.
We plan for years, fields, and friends to come.
Solstice Blessings! May you do the same!

--copyright MaineCelt 12/2009

(This post's images were taken during a visit to Trustworth Studios.)

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Whaur Will Ye Bide?

The song was based on the words of Maggie Cameron and other Travellers in the midst of a wrenching struggle for their dying way of life. Their stories were gathered by Ewan MacColl and others in the 1960s, recorded on cumbersome equipment in potato and berry fields and along British byways their people had traversed for centuries. These so-called Tinkers and Gypsies had moved between time-honoured camps and resting places as they plyed their traditional trades... but the old ways were changing and new laws turned their traditions into punishable crimes.

From their own words, Ewan wove a Winter Song that later came to be known as "The Terror Time."

Heather will fade, and the bracken will die
Streams will run cold and clear
And the small birds, they'll be goin'
And it's then that you'll be knowin'
That the Terror Time is near.

And whaur will ye gang, aye, and whaur will ye bide
Noo that the wairk's aa dane,
And the fairmer disnae need ye
And the council wilnae heed ye
And the Terror Time is here.

--from the BBC Radio Ballad,
The Travelling People (1964)

We have lived all too close to the aching reach of this song. These last few years, in the same span of joyful animal-tending, seed-planting and upbuilding, we have lived daily with the knowledge that this land was not entirely in our grasp. We have lived knowing it could all be taken away.

The woods give no shelter, for the trees, they are bare.
Snow's fallin aa aroond
And the bairnies, they are cryin'
For the straw on which they're layin'
Aye, it's frozen tae the groond...

And you need the wairmth o yir ain human kind--
You move near the toon and then
The sicht o ye's offendin'
For the police they'll be sendin'
And ye're on the road again.

Because we are history-minded, because we are singers of old songs, we knew there was nothing unique in this, just a gnawing, echoing sameness that linked us to Dustbowl farmers, hurricane victims, and thousands of other faceless losers-of-land-and-homes. We tried to steel ourselves. We tried--and failed--not to love this particular piece of land too much. We tried to keep our minds open to possibilities and our hands always working, our eyes and ears always searching for that job, that program, that business or organization that might make it possible to bind ourselves to this land forever. Mostly, the words we heard were "no" and "sorry..." or just...nothing. Into this emptiness came the song's haunting refrain:

And whaur will ye gang, aye, and whaur will ye bide
Noo that the wairk's aa dane,
and the fairmer disnae need ye
And the council wilnae heed ye
An the Terror Time is here.

But now, in the Dark Half of the year, there is a rumour of light. There is a whisper of music. There are signs of hope. We are not out of the woods just yet, but neither are we alone. We are blessed to find ourselves surrounded by friends, by well-rooted and winged things, by good friends and Wise Tiny Creatures. We are beginning to walk, ever-so-tentatively, on something that feels like Solid Ground.

It feels funny, this placing of the feet with unaccustomed confidence. We do not know how to move this way. It feels awkward and strange. We are people who have walked in darkness...perhaps we might yet learn to rest, to trust, to see each other's faces by the light of a bright star. Perhaps we might yet find a way to dance down the path, to stumble astonished across our own threshold, and call it Home.