Monday, May 30, 2016

Eating Medieval: Armies on the March

What did the troops eat on the campaign trail?  It is believed the Scots of Niall's time--the time of Robert the Bruce--traveled light, each carrying his own bag of oats or grain to make himself oatcakes or bannocks.  Food was no doubt also bought--or, of course, sometimes simply taken--from the farms, villages, and towns through which an army passed.

Most sources speak more to English armies, which did not travel as lightly as many of the Scots did,  However, those sources give us some insight into how the men in the armies of the time lived. From Signora Leonora de Liliaceae at Serve it Forth, a great resource on medieval cooking, we get this recipe:


Beer Bread 
6 to 8 cups hard white flour
2 cups brown ale sediment as leavening agent (barm)
3 cups barley and malt mash from a beer batch
3 cups rolled oats 

Combine mash and oats with 5 cups of flour. Add the sediment and combine well, stirring in one direction to develop gluten. Turn out dough onto a heavily floured board and knead, drawing in approximately another 3 cups of flour. It will have the consistency of a heavy biscuit dough. 
Shape into a smooth ball and place in a lightly oiled large stainless bowl. Cover and let rise in a warm, humid place until about double in bulk, about two hours. 
Punch down and divide into four loaves. Place loaves in lightly oiled bread pans, cover and let rise in a warm, humid place for about one hour. 
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F and bake loaves for approximately one hour. 
I have also successfully baked this bread in a cast iron baker over an open fire, and in a wood-fired granite oven.
When I figure out where to acquire brown ale sediment, I plan on making this over my own firepit in my back yard and posting the results here.



From Serve it Forth and The Scriptorium, we also get lists of what the English armies carried with them.

To feed a medieval army was a colossal undertaking, an army needed food in industrial quantities. Just how much they needed can be calculated from an example in the 15th century writings of Christine de Pisan who listed the following provisions for a garrison of 600 men for 6 months: 
60 tons of wheat, one third baked into biscuit the remainder ground into flour, 40 tons of beans, 2 tons of peas, 120 pipes of wine, 2 pipes vinegar, 1 pipe of oil, 1 ton of salt, 1 pipe of salted butter, 10-12lbs of rice, 50lbs spices, ginger, pepper, etc., 15lbs almonds, 2lbs of saffron, 2 quarters of mustard seed, 100 oxen live or salted, 100-120 fletches of bacon, 160 sheep, as much poultry "as men will", 1000 eels (presumably smoked or dried) and 25 barrels of herrings. 
It is recorded that in 1431 78 men-at-arms and 284 foot soldiers took with them a reserve of cereal for six weeks, 90 beeves (beef cattle), 90 quintels (hundredweight which at this time was 100lbs) of dried meat, 9 quintels of lard, 1200 cheeses, 80 dried cod, 2 large and 73 small barrels of Austrian wine, 138 small barrels of beer, plus vinegar, vegetable oil, pepper etc.
Regional produce affected the diet but every kind of salted, dried and smoked meat and fish, usually listed and including cod, skate, eels, pickled herrings and pilchards, were common. 
Fish, along with eggs and cheese replaced meat on fasting days which were observed by all levels of the army. The diet was often enlivened with raisins, dried apples and pears, onions, garlic, oil and practically anything else that grew, flew, ran or hopped.


And:

In Robert Hardy's impeccably researched book, Longbow , he quotes an order given by Edward III, king of England: "The county of Lincoln, in Crecy year, sent to William de Kelleseye, the king's receiver of victuals at Boston and Hull, 552 1/2 quarters of flour at 3 shillings or 4 shillings a quarter, packed in 87 tuns, 300 quarters of oats, 135 carcasses of salt pork, 213 carcasses of sheep, 32 sides of beef, 12 weys of cheese (312 stones) and 100 quarters of peas and beans."



Signora Leonora goes on to say that the oats would likely have been cooked into some sort of frumenty porridge.  

Closer to home (home being Scotland in the early 1300s), Professor Richard Abels provides this look at what Edward I fed his own army--which would have been on average much larger than the Bruce's armies.

Case 2: Edward I (Scottish wars, 1296-8)
Based on records of supplies for Edward I’s garrisons of Scottish castles: 20 men required one quarter of wheat a week (quarter=8 bushels=450 lbs in weight), two of malt, and quantities of meat and fish. Horses required a peck of oats every night [peck=2 gallons=quarter bushel=14lbs). 
Caloric value of garrison’s diet= approx 5000 calories. 
Army of 30,000 men would require approx 4500-5000 quarters of grain a week (around 800 tons). 5000 horses about 2,000 quarters of grain a week (around 500 tons). 
Edward I demanded 100,000 quarters of wheat be gathered for his troops in Gascony in 1296. Exchequer showed that 63,200 quarters were actually collected.
 Kings needed to have sufficient supplies at least for royal household. Edward I’s household during Scottish wars required 10 quarters of wheat a day and equal quality of malt to make ale. From April to Sept (six months) household troops consumed also 1500 oxen, 3000 sheet, 1200 pigs, and 400 bacons. Royal horses required 3000 quarters of oats.

Makes feeding my nine kids look easy!


Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Wild Mountain Thyme at St. Oran's Chapel



A reminder: I will be on WCCO's Midmorning Show tomorrow, Wednesday May 25, about 9:40 a.m. talking about The Blue Bells Chronicles.

The song I'm playing in this video is Wild Mountain Thyme, one of my favorite melodies.  It is the song Angus originally sang when he and Amy were searching the standing stones and cairns near Inverness in The Water is Wide.  For several reasons, I wrote new lyrics for him, but this is the song I had in mind.

Readers may also remember that in their search for Shawn, or any sign he's left, Amy and Angus follow the carving on the rock--Iona J--to the Isle of Iona, where Amy sings in St. Oran's Chapel, and Angus tells her at least one recording was made here.

This is the chapel.  A pan around it, while I'm playing, gives an idea of how small it is, and of course, the acoustics are obvious!

Oh, the summertime is gone
And the trees are sweetly blooming
And the wild mountain thyme
Grows around the blooming heather
Will you go, lassie, go?

REFRAIN:
And we'll all go together
To pull wild mountain thyme
All around the blooming heather
Will you go, lassie, go?

I will build my love a bower
By a clear crystal fountain
And around it I will shower
All the wild flowers of the mountain
Will you go, lassie, go?

If my true love will not come
I will surely find another
To pull wild mountain thyme
All around the blooming heather
Will you go, lassie, go?



Dan Blum's Interview, Part Three

The Feet Say Run is now available in Kindle and Print!

Welcome back to Dan Blum, in his third and final segment of his interview.  Speaking of interviews, I'll be on the Twin Cities' WCCO's Midmorning Show tomorrow morning, Wednesday, May 25, about 9:40.  Not surprisingly, I'll be talking about my own books and their continuing rise in readership.


Dan Blum, The Feet Say Run, Boston authors, holocaust, world war ii fiction, nazis, literary fiction
Dan's second book, The Feet Say Run, is being released by Gabriel's Horn Press this fall.  Having read it a few times myself, I highly recommend it.  It is the journal of 85-year-old Hans Jaeger, telling both of his life on a deserted island with 6 other castaways, and of his own, long life, from his youth in Nazi Germany and the Jewish girl he loved, through his post-war years in Germany and his older years in Iowa, trying to come to terms with his decisions of the past.

It is a fantastic book for its rare ability to tell a deep and profound story while still capturing the humor of life, our foibles, and quirks.  I loved every page of this book.  It is available for pre-order at Smashwords, and will soon be available for pre-orders elsewhere.

Dan Blum Interview Part One   Dan Blum Interview Part Two


What writers have had the greatest influence on you as a writer?

I would say mostly they are from the previous generation – Updike for his prose and vision of America, Marquez for his surrealism and sweep of history, Barth for the humor that seems completely missing from contemporary fiction, also Nabokov for a very different kind of humor and surrealism.

These were some of the big names when I was starting to write, and I still think they were a remarkable generation. Going back further, there is Faulkner, who I was mesmerized by in college and in the years immediately after, and Henry Roth, whose Call It Sleep is still one of the unsung masterpieces, and showed how it is possible to be emotionally riveting in a highly literary, often stream-of-consciousness narrative.

I have also greatly admired, and been influenced by, more commercial writers who told wonderful, engaging narratives – Larry McMurtry in Lonesome Dove, and E.L. Doctorow in Billy Bathgate, for example. Also Scott Turow, who constructs masterful plots around strong, interesting characters.

What about current writers?

There are definitely some excellent writers out there, but overall I find myself pretty critical of the state of the novel as an art form these days.

T.C. Boyle is one of the current writers I really enjoy.  Drop City was a fantastic read. Donna Tartt’s, The Secret History was excellent, and The Goldfinch was also vastly better than most of what I pick up. I have also liked Jennifer Egan and Ann Packer and Elisa Albert. Patty Marx’s novel was the last really funny novel I’ve read, and it is great to see that the comic novel is not entirely dead. I’m sure there are many others I am not thinking of.

But truth be told, many other writers, even more celebrated ones, I don’t really understand what the excitement is about. Sometimes I find the reviews so over-the-top full of praise for books I find mediocre, I wonder if the critics are even being honest with themselves, or have lost the capacity to judge, independent of a writer’s reputation. I find this really troubling. A novel’s number one task is to engage. To not be boring! Isn’t that what the craft, and skill, and art is about? I truly feel we have forgotten this.

You have not been shy in your blog about criticizing other writers, including some highly-respected ones. You have also been critical of book reviewers. Do you regret that now?

Certainly, I have not done myself any favors if I had hoped for a review in the New York Times. But I said what I felt needed to be said, and what many writers are afraid of saying. And it was interesting that I received emails from a couple of fairly well-known novelists about how much they enjoyed and agreed with what I’d written. The NY Times Book Review is a great institution. I would never deny that. But it should not be immune to a bit of richly-deserved teasing.

As to criticizing other writers, my one regret is some worry about hurting feelings. I am not a mean-spirited person. I can imagine seeing something I had worked on for years lampooned by some upstart, and the genuine pain that would cause, and I do think of that. But honestly, I also feel that overall, and with some exceptions, our literature has taken a turn for the dull. And I know many others also feel this. So if we never criticize, if we accept the canon of contemporary literature that is handed to us from on high, in my view we are doing a disservice to literature itself.

To me it feels like recent National Book Award winners and nominees are largely of a particularly type: they have all gotten A+’s in English since they were eight years old, got a creative writing MFA from some distinguished institution, but have not necessarily lived, experienced, and suffered, and often the stories just feel flat to me. Prudish and humorless and stagnant. Perfectly crafted sentences that amount to nothing.

So, there is a serious point I am trying to make in my snarking. And it is one I feel needs to be made.

Thank you, Dan, for being here!  

If you would like to connect with Dan, he is at

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Saturday, May 21, 2016

Skye Boat Song, Hermitage Castle





Skye Boat Song, played at Hermitage Castle.



The melody of Skye Boat Song has been used as the theme for Outlander, with slightly altered Robert Louis Stevenson lyrics.



[Chorus:] Sing me a song of a lad that is gone,
Say, could that lad be I?
Merry of soul he sailed on a day
Over the sea to Skye.
Mull was astern, Rùm on the port,
Eigg on the starboard bow;
Glory of youth glowed in his soul;
Where is that glory now?
[Chorus]
Give me again all that was there,
Give me the sun that shone!
Give me the eyes, give me the soul,
Give me the lad that's gone!
[Chorus]
Billow and breeze, islands and seas,
Mountains of rain and sun,
All that was good, all that was fair,
All that was me is gone.




The original lyrics do have to do with Bonnie Prince Charlie, who plays a part in the time in which Claire finds herself--the time of the Jacobites.  Here are the original lyrics:



[Chorus:] Speed, bonnie boat, like a bird on the wing,
Onward! the sailors cry;
Carry the lad that's born to be King
Over the sea to Skye.
Loud the winds howl, loud the waves roar,
Thunderclouds rend the air;
Baffled, our foes stand by the shore,
Follow they will not dare.
[Chorus]
Though the waves leap, soft shall ye sleep,
Ocean's a royal bed.
Rocked in the deep, Flora will keep
Watch by your weary head.
[Chorus]
Many's the lad fought on that day,
Well the Claymore could wield,
When the night came, silently lay
Dead on Culloden's field.
[Chorus]
Burned are their homes, exile and death
Scatter the loyal men;
Yet ere the sword cool in the sheath
Charlie will come again.

More on Hermitage Castle and its connection to The Blue Bells Chronicles in future posts:
Who was the Cout of Kielder?  Amazing Grace at Hermitage 

Thursday, May 19, 2016

The Water is Wide, Turnberry Castle





Readers may notice I play many of the same songs on these videos.  This is because I'm steadily working on memorizing a whole repertoire of Celtic folk songs, and also because I specifically play the songs that make up the titles of my books: Blue Bells of Scotland, The Minstrel Boy, The Water is Wide, and Westering Home.  

This was recorded April 20, 2016, on the shore beneath Turnberry Castle.  Lovers of Scottish history will know this is where Robert the Bruce was born.  There is very little left of Turnberry.  You can see the stone wall rising on the cliff behind me and in front of the lighthouse.


More to come on Turnberry: Happy Birthday, Bruce!





Dan Blum, Author of The Feet Say Run, Part 2

Welcome back to Dan Blum, author of the soon-to-be-released The Feet Say Run, a literary page-turner in which 85 year old Hans Jaeger journals about his life with six other castaways, even as he recounts his long life, from Hitler Germany to a new life among the hoped-for mountains of Iowa, organ tourism, and his life on a Pacific island, until the day he joined his neighbor's yachting party.

In Part One, Dan talked about how the inspiration for the book came to him.  Today, Dan talks about writing serious material mixed with comedy in The Feet Say Run


Do you think of the book as a Holocaust novel?

I definitely don’t. The story of the war from the Jewish perspective has been amply chronicled. Harrowing and compelling though it is, it is not new territory. It would have been easy, knowing that I had many relatives who were killed in that era, to turn it into a kind obsession. But I find myself fighting against that temptation. I wanted a universal story of human suffering, human triumph, human cruelty and compassion - not just a story about my own ethnicity or people.

Laura: Having read The Feet Say Run, this is one of the things I love about it.  It's about real people, who are never all villains or all heroes.  It's really a universal story that I think most people relate to.

How do you feel, as the writer of a humor blog, putting out this essentially very serious work? Do they conflict with one another?

I do think about that a lot. I hope they don’t conflict. But it is possible that some readers may be less inclined to take The Feet Say Run as seriously, after having seen the blog. I hope that’s not the case.

And I have long felt that humor and poetry are two sides of the same coin. They both involve making surprising connections between things, finding the right way to put things, sharing an insight with the audience. I really admire great comics almost in the same way as I admire excellent serious artists. It’s a creativity of sorts.

Life is full of tragedy and there is definitely a sort of catharsis in exploring it.  It needs to be comprehended and absorbed. But who would want a world where that was all that was available in our stories? So hopefully there is room for a serious novelist to enjoy a laugh now and again, revert to his slightly sophomoric self, and generally be a bit more relaxed.

Your earlier novel was an edgy, contemporary comedy. The Feet Say Run is big and historical and at times harrowing. Which is the real you?

I suppose they are both me, because I wrote them both. But I’d say, The Feet Say Run is a more complete expression of me.

Even back in high school, in my creative writing class, I remember writing a poem one day and humor piece the next. And sometimes the humor piece would be ridiculing the poem. And then I would just start a new poem right after.

The Feet Say Run is finally a kind of synthesis – mixing humor and irony and tragedy into one, big cauldron. So it is fair to say I have put all of myself into this book.

Thank you, Dan!  And readers, Part Three is still to come.  Watch for the link to pre-order!


Tuesday, May 17, 2016

The Water is Wide, Carlsluith Castle





I've posted elsewhere about The Water is Wide, and Carlsluith Castle, a 16th Century castle, was not built until a couple hundred years or more after the time of Robert the Bruce,  But Carlsluith is built on the Galloway coast, a place Bruce would have known quite well.


There is also the fact that this 'crypt' or storeroom is not really different from those Niall would have known, and this is part of my purpose in posting the videos--to capture a sense of the locations he knew.


So, for today, a very short entry!

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Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Dan Blum Speaks on His New Novel, The Feet Say Run

Today, I welcome to my blog the multi-talented Dan Blum, satirist, poet, and novelist.  Dan's first novel, a satire called Lisa33, came out in 2004 from Viking.  He has also written two wonderful literary novels--with none of the stuffiness that people often associate with 'literary novel.'  The first of those, The Feet Say Run, is scheduled to be released by Gabriel's Horn Press this September.  From the publisher's website:

Dan Blum, fiction, holocaust, Nazi, literary fiction, historical fiction
The Feet Say Run is the story of a life spent running--a literary novel that is also a suspenseful page-turner, a work at once emotionally gripping and darkly comic.

In his waning years, Hans Jaeger finds himself stranded on a desert island--the last island not mapped by modern GPS--with a small band of survivors.  What is my particular crime, he asks.  Why have I been chosen for this fate.

And so he begins the chronicle of his long life.  He tells the tale of his life in Nazi Gemany, the Jewish girl he loved, and his years fighting with the Wehrmacht.  His war experiences are vividly individual--a struggle for survival in the most harrowing of circumstances--and yet also the broader story of the cruelty and absurdity of the Nazi regime, the madness of men, and of war itself.  Hans's story is the story of all the madness, irony, and horror of the modern world--and the story of one man who finds redemption when there's nowhere left to run.


Today, Dan talks about his writing.  His interview will appear over several days, so be sure to come back for the rest.

What are your main interests in fiction-writing?

My interests vary very widely, so this is hard to answer. I really like literary fiction that is plot-driven and emotionally intense. But I also enjoy a certain kind of twisted humor and I even must confess to occasionally descending into the dark art of poetry. Really, I love the craft of writing - the puzzle and challenge and the chance to entertain.

The one thing I tend to avoid is writing too directly about myself. There is something that feels a bit less creative, and a bit less liberating, in fiction that is too autobiographical. I am much more interested in conjuring a fictional world that is not exactly the one we inhabit than in probing into modern society as we know it.


What have been the biggest influences that got you interested in fiction writing?

My childhood was unremarkable in most ways. I grew up in an affluent, Jewish family on Long Island. But in one respect it was quite unusual: my father was a well-known psychoanalyst, my mother a clinical psychologist. Later, my brother and sister also both went into the field. So, in some sense, I was immersed in thinking introspectively, and in the Freudian concept of the unconscious, from a very young age. I learned it by osmosis.

If that background does not incline one to see the irony in life, I’m not sure what will. So definitely my sense of humor is both heavily influenced by this and also a reaction to it. But the worldview in my more serious writing is also influenced by it. For example, I often think of a good metaphor as bringing to the surface some connection between two things that readers may already have made subliminally, but are not yet consciously aware of.


How did you come to this topic of World War II for your novel?

This is difficult to answer. I truly never came to a decision to write about this era. Like so many things in novel-writing, it just sort of happened.

I had a vision of a man’s life that would span the better part of the last century and in some way tell the story of that century. I had my narrator – an old man looking back on his past from a deserted island. And then I wrote this one scene of his childhood in Germany, more or less as an experiment. And it felt right. So I just kept going. It was only once I wrote a bit of his early life in Germany that I started doing historical research, found what I really wanted to describe that seemed new and different and universal, and decided that this would be one of the main focuses of the book.

Did you feel uncomfortable, as a Jewish person, writing about the Nazi era from a German perspective?

Definitely, yes. But isn’t that what being a writer is about – transporting yourself into the time and mind of another world? At first, as I said, it was more or less an experiment. As the story progressed it felt more and more like it was an important perspective that had really not been told – an essentially sympathetic portrayal of a German young man living in the Nazi era – neither a courageous anti-Nazi nor an anti-Semitic believer, but a complete, complex human being – imperfect like all of us – sharing his experience.

As I thought more about it, it seemed who else could write this? A German novelist writing this book might well be accused of being a denier or an apologist. Who knows what I might be accused of. I am certainly no apologist for unspeakable atrocities. But I am also not a big believer in collective guilt. In the end, I have simply tried to remain faithful to the history I have read and to my own sense of the extreme complexities and contradictions of human nature.

Thank you, Dan!  I can say that having read the book, I find it remarkable writing, and a poignant story, that tells a side of history we rarely see. 

Dan Blum Interview Part Two  Dan Blum Interview Part Three


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Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Kelvin Grove at the Machrie Moor Stone Circles





This video is on the Isle of Arran, off Scotland's west coast, roughly across from Turnberry in Ayrshire.  You can read more about the song, Kelvin Grove, in my post on Crossraguel Abbey.  I'm playing not on a standard concert flute, but on an alto flute, which is quite a bit larger, and has a deeper voice.  In my humble opinion, it is the most beautiful of the flutes, and should be used far more.



Not only are the Machrie Moor Stones--six groups of them, one of which I'm standing in front of--interesting, but Arran is part of the Robert the Bruce story.



1306 was a bad year for the Bruce.  On February 10, he killed John Comyn, Lord of Badenoch, before the altar at Greyfriars Kirk in Dumfries.  Technically, he only stabbed him, and raced out of the church to tell his men what he'd done.  Roger de Kirkpatrick, one of Bruce's supporters, said, "You doubt.  Ise mac siccar."  I make sure.  Hence, I make sikkar became the motto of Clan Kirkpatrick.



As a result of killing on sacred ground, Bruce knew he must race to be crowned King of Scots before he got ex-communicated--for an ex-communicated man cannot be anointed king.  So on March 25, 1306, Robert and Elizabeth became king and queen of Scots.  While this would normally be a happy event, it was a rushed affair, with little pomp (if any), and few supporters.  Further, as Elizabeth remarked, "We are but king and queen of the May."



The months that followed were hard living, in the wilderness, pursued by the English, and at war with Comyn's kin.



On April 5, Edward II granted Aymer de Valence, Comyn's brother-in-law, power to 'raise the Dragon Banner.'  This meant no quarter, no mercy, for Bruce or any of his supporters.  On May 20, Edward knighted 250 young men in preparation for the coming onslaught, and took 'the oath of the swans,' swearing to avenge Comyn's death.



On June 19, Aymer de Valence attacked Bruce and his party at Methven,  4,000 of his men were killed, nearly decimating what few followers he had at the time.  His friends, Bishops Lamberton and Wishart, were seized and taken into captivity.



On their retreat, with perhaps only 500 men left, Bruce was attacked by a thousand of the MacDougalls.  His losses were high.  Many or all of his remaining horses were killed by the MacDougalls, and among his closest friends, Gilbert Hay and James Douglas were both injured.



Bruce was now referred to by the English as "King Hob."  His kingship meant nothing, as he lived in the wilderness with his last few supporters.



But things were going to become still worse.  In an effort to protect the women, he sent Elizabeth, his daughter Marjorie, and his sisters Christian and Mary, to Kildrummy Castle for safety, escorted by his brother Nigel, or Niall.  The English, not surprisingly, laid siege to Kildrummy.  In the events that followed, Niall was killed by drawing and quartering, and in October, Bruce's wife, daughter, and sisters were taken captive.



No, it was very much not a good year.



With almost no one left at his side, Bruce fled here, to Arran to recuperate and regroup over that winter.

Saturday, May 7, 2016

The Water is Wide, and Windsong





In the continuing series of Scottish music in Scottish locations, here is The Water is Wide.  I'm playing on the shore not far from St. Ninian's Cave, in the southwest of Scotland.  This is either in or very near Carrick, the lands that once formed the earldom of Robert the Bruce.  It is four miles from Whithorn Abbey, to which Bruce traveled in March of 1329, only three months before his death, to pray for healing from the skin condition that has often been called leprosy.  (Other evidence suggests it was not what we call leprosy.)


St. Ninian, or Ninian of Whithorn, was a 4th-century saint, who preached to and converted the southern Picts.  Stories say he lived in this cave, about four miles from Whithorn Abbey.  His miracles are recounted in the Miracula Nyniae Episcopi,  an anonymous 8th-century work, which was later used as a reference by Ailred of Rievaulx for his Vita Sancti Niniani in the 1100s.  He is believed to be buried at Whithorn.


Although I have read nothing to suggest it, it is easy enough to believe that Robert the Bruce, in seeking a miracle healing at Whithorn Abbey, might have also traveled the four miles to St. Ninian's Cave, where the great saint, to whom miracles were attributed, had once lived.  It is easy to imagine that that great man, who gave all for his country and his people, walked across the very same shore, and climbed the very same stones to look into the cave where St. Ninian once lived and prayed.


Yes--it is a wonderful thing to stand on the shore where such people walked, to follow in their footsteps, to climb up the stones that lead to the cave.  The cave was not what we expected.  It was quite small--really more a big indent in the rocky cliff, just deep enough that St. Ninian certainly could have stayed dry and out of the wind there.


We--and by 'we' I really mean Chris, although in my defense I offered repeatedly to help--hiked the 40 pound harp in a full mile, up and down forest paths and crossing over a stream, in which we had to carefully get our footing, one at a time, on the stones that crossed a shallow run, and pass the harp between us, until we and the harp were across.  We crossed 400 yards (and that's an incredibly rough guess) of a shore of rugged, large stones, before climbing an ascent of even larger rocks to St. Ninian's Cave.  The best way I can describe this ascent is to say that it would be rugged walking, but still relatively easy for anyone in good health, but quite awkward with a 40-pound harp.  Once again, we had some very cautious moments of assuring our footing and passing the harp between us, ever so carefully!


We had hoped for amazing acoustics in a cave, but as I said, we found out, it wasn't a cave, so much as a deep crevice.  I played a few pieces on harp and flute, but we didn't find the acoustics we'd hoped to.  It was as we hiked back, and decided to play The Water is Wide,  that I think we really got the best music.  (We enjoyed both the apropros and the irony of playing that song at a stream that was not actually that wide at all--an elementary student could probably do the long jump over it.)


Not only did I actually manage to play from memory here, while making up the left hand accompaniment on the spot, but I loved the way the wind played in the strings.  It's one of the things I love about harp--this ethereal natural music that is created when you take a harp out into a breeze. We let it sound before I started playing, and again after.  You can also hear it happening as I play.


The Water is Wide is a Scottish song that dates back to the 1600s.  It is associated with one of the Childs Ballads, Jamie Douglas,which is ostensibly about the not-so-happy marriage of the 2nd Marquis of Douglas to Barbara Erskine. The song is also known as Waly Waly and When Cockleshells Turn Silverbells.


The young Marquis was a man of profligate conduct--as one source says--who came to suspect his wife of infidelity.  (Is this another irony?)  One story says that it was Lowrie of Blackwood, a previous suitor of the Lady Barbara, who convinced him of this.  Hm...no cause to think bias and revenge there!  The erstwhile Jamie separated from Barbara after she gave birth to his first child, and the song describes her feelings of betrayal and love rejected.


These are just some of the verses of the song under its incarnation as Waly Waly:



‘O wherefore should I busk my head,
Or wherefore should I kaim my hair,
Since my true love has me forsook,
And says he‘ll never love me mair.
Now Arthur’s Seat shall be my bed,
The sheets shall ne’er be pressed by me,
St Anton’s Well shall be my drink,
Since my true love’s forsaken me.
O Martinmas wind, when wilt thou blaw,
And shake the green leaf aff the tree?
O gentle death, when wilt thou come,
And take a life that wearies me?’

To me, the moral of the story is, be careful how you treat others, for you may be memorialized in song for the next five centuries...or more.




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Friday, May 6, 2016

Art Reception, Plymouth Creek, You're Invited

Free and open to the public:  My photography collaborative, Emmanuel's Light, is hosting an opening night reception featuring photography taken in Scotland's medieval castles.

Friday, May 6--that's tonight!  Well, at least, it is if you're reading this on May 6.

7-9 pm, Plymouth Creek Center, 14800 34th Avenue North, Plymouth, MN

Free and open to the public, food, wine, and wonderfully fascinating guests, and learn a little about the locations of the photographs.