Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Elephant's Child

It was a casual comment, which, like the elephant's nose, grew out of curiosity. I said I was curious and my friend said, "So you're an elephant's child, too?" She's a kind heart so I did not think it was anything untoward, but my mind moved up and down the racks of information stores in my brain like the arm of an old fashioned juke box looking for B47. The non match must have played across my face. "Kipling," she offered and I nodded. I have read Kipling, honest, but it was a long time ago and I am sad to say that Disney pops first into my mind now rather than Kipling's own words.

My friend lent me a copy of Kipling which included not only Elephant's Child and many of the other stories I remembered from childhood--my own and my daughter's--but also some poems and other insights into the culture of the empire--with no trace of the overbearing imperialism, rather parables about duty and hard work. I can understand why these poems were omitted from the editions that I probably read: that sentiment would have jarred with the sensibilities of the time. I found it refreshing tucked away in an old book like a long patient civil servant. In fact, the poem about hard work being the solution to the blues might become the theme song for David Cameron's back to work scheme.

Now back to the elephant's child. The story is a mixture of how to story and moralistic lesson on unfortunate character traits. Children love hearing stories about the perils of animals with their own trait, such as the grisly tales in Zoppelphilip or Roald Dahl's tales. The elephant was curious. His family tried to spank him out of it, but he persisted. His search for an answer to his " 'satiable curtiosity" led him to the banks of the "great grey green greasy Limpopo river" and the clutches of a crocodile, where only the greatest of effort by the elephant child and his companion kept him from becoming the crocodile's dinner. In the process, elephant child got his nose s t r e t c h e d, and, with some help from his faithful companion, got a little wisdom as well.

As if to confirm my friend's hunch that I am an elephant's child in primate form, I appreciated the lilting language of the story, the well crafted tale, and relatively satisfactory conclusion--the elephant got his answer to that particular question and his family stopped spanking him, but did he lose his curiosity? That's what I want to know.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Weather Report

A blatter of hail, a plump of rain
then just enough sun to dry up again.
Clothes on the line flap in the breeze;
They dry fast if they don't freeze.
A gale from the north, a gust from the west
sometimes the storms give us a rest.
Clothes on the line flap in the breeze;
They dry fast if they don't freeze.
First we had summer, then we had fall.
When it comes to seasons we get them all.
Clothes on the line flap in the breeze
They dry quick if they don't freeze
The grey coast is lucky we often are told.
The ocean protects us from bitter cold.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Ploughing Match and the World's Most Exclusive Green Beans

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I did not make it to this year's ploughing match with vintage tractors. I like watching the earth open up and admire the skill to manoeuvre the vehicles in a straight line. The simpler the machinery the more apparent is the skill behind it. I like the smell of the earth as it turns over. There is a poetry and a comfort in the traditionalness of it all.

I got the better part of it though when I showed up later in the day, took a quick glance at the fields and the men busy in the barn talking and drinking and then tucked into the relative calm inside. The kitchen was warm and ever expanding as more places were set for those showing up. I had actually been invited but this kitchen table has the magic to make room with good grace and good food for any and all that show up. The first time I showed up a week early I learned that lesson. Every time I cross the threshold into the kitchen I feel a joyousness creeping up from my toes. After the ploughing and the prizes and the men in the barn came the warmth and comfort of friends and neighbours around a table of good food and non stop conversation.

I have been told that I move fast. In fact, that was one of the traits by which people sussed I was an American. If they thought I had the zippity do dah in my feet, I wonder what they would have thought of my sister--ditty bopping through the world at double triple time and Blue toothing and multi-tasking as she goes along. I hope to get her over here and we can see. A little Caithness time might be good for Molly, but in the mean time she is doing her best to look after me.

When I told Molly I missed summer and gardening and home grown veg, she moved quickly. She sent me jars of her own home grown, Indiana garden nurtured much loved green beans. Now those green beans would be a gift to be cherished for the thought alone, but these green beans are the most exclusive not only for their timeliness and unique upbringing in my sister's own tender gardening but also for the price of getting them here. At a total of $50.00 for three jars of beans, I do not want to calculate the cost of each bean. Priceless.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

"Sing a New Song"

I went along as I so often do when an epiphany is lurking thinking I was just helping fill out the numbers for an event competing for attention with several events in both Thurso and Wick. The Mod is here. A celebration of Gaelic song and culture. The population of Thurso has nearly been doubled by the influx of visitors. Castletown is a bit off the beaten track so despite having a famous and very talented singer and teacher and local singers of national renown, there were only a handful of us sitting nervously on the plastic chairs.

Seemingly effortlessly, Christine Kydd got us all singing and singing together and actually sounding pretty good. We were helped by the influx of real singers but it was a proper choir in that everyone sang. I love to sing, but I am always self conscious that I can't read music, tell one key from another, or remember more than a few notes at a time at the basic up or down level, so simple songs and short ones fit my limited ability.

I was there to help other folks realize their priorities. Since I share their priorities and care for those folks, that would have been more than enough for a good day. I mentioned when we were doing introductions that you really come to understand a place when you can get the jokes and sing the songs. True enough, but I had underestimated, as I so often do, the implications for me of that sociolinguistic truth. More than I had realized, I needed to sing myself into this part of the world.

Someone more sophisticated than I can have a go at explaining how singing about shipwrecks, clearances, and tragic farewells can make someone suffering a desperate homesickness for cornfields and Christmas lights feel better. I'll leave it at the simple truth: a good cry works wonders. I thought I got away with the one tear that leaked out of my eyes as we sang the songs we had practiced earlier in the day at the local hotel. Blame it on the red wine if you like, but I think more than I would succumb to Ian Sinclair's lyrics in "Tak a Dram." Go ahead, try it yourself. Here's the first verse and chorus:

Well the time has passed sae quickly,
And the music's almost done;
heard the fiddler and the piper
The singer and the song.
The time has come for us to leave you
One more song before we go.

Sae button up and aye be cheery,
Tak a dram afore ye go,
Button up and aye be cheery
Tak a dram afore ye go.

The title for this post came from a banner near the pipes of the church organ where the funeral was held for a friend and neighbour who died suddenly. I let the organ and the words drift around me as I studied that banner. Wherever we go when we leave here, I hope there is singing, but just in case there isn't, I'll make sure to do a bit more everyday even though no one can hear me.