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.


Songbird said...

Ah, I'm glad to hear there is a glimmer!

Mama Pea said...

Omigosh. Sounds like things might, just maybe, be finally, FINALLY starting to take a turn for the better? I hope with all my heart that it is so.

Once again, your writing in this post was beautiful. Awesome. Magnificent. So far, far beyond what most of us can ever hope to do. It read like a sermon, in the very best sense of the word.

Noni said...


And what a crafter of word, emotion and spirit you are! Can't wait to hear the news and hoping the dawn comes soon! That ol' sun is matter what, the sun returns! I am convinced!

Noni said...

Ps, love your chicken picture! Is it your own? I want a copy to frame!insert

God_Guurrlll said...

Good to hear the hope.

Give the dog a pet for me. And the cattle too.

Sue 2 said...

To dance on solid ground. I am thrilled. Plus, I love you guys!

patti said...

Good luck!