Saturday, February 11, 2017

Spring Afoot

Things are stirring in the dark, just beneath out feet. They are planning for their journey toward the sun. And no wonder, as winter has been strangely mild with 70 degree days bookended by freezes. A topsy turvy season to be sure. These crocuses are winter bulbs, though, and it is their time to bloom. They are such treats while the rest of the natural world is still grey and slumbering. Looking forward to all the gifts that spring brings.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

The Shadow of Spring

Happy Groundhog's Day here in America. Happy St. Brigid's Day in Ireland. Happy Imbolc in Ancient Ireland. The beginning of February is steeped in old folklore, traditions, and religion, though many only know of the infamous Punxsutawney Phil.

Traditionally, if the groundhog emerges from his burrow and it is cloudy, thus seeing no shadow, spring will come early. If it is sunny and the groundhog sees his shadow, he will retreat back into his burrow and winter will persist for six more weeks. 

This tradition has trickled down from ancient times. February 1st is the Ancient Celtic Festival of Imbolc, which divides the winter from the spring and honors the Celtic Goddess of fire and fertility, Brigit or Brigid. She dispelled the dark of winter and was "mistress of fertility"* to the land, animals and women, too. Later this day would be Christianized into St. Brigit's Day, the patron saint of mothers, cattle, and poets. Imbolc marked time to begin sowing seeds for Spring and reading the signs of nature to forecast spring weather. "An exceptionally fine day was regarded as an omen of poor weather to come."** Seeing a hedgehog was a good sign, because he would always return to the burrow if he sensed the coming of bad weather.** Traditionally, ancient civilizations also trusted the Badger to impart this important prediction because they lived beneath the earth where Spring might already be afoot. If the badger saw his shadow, winter would linger on. This tradition came over to America with German settlers and became the Groundhog Day we know today, once with a little more veneration.*

So many nearly forgotten or over-commercialized traditions are deeply rooted in the past. There is so much history in the transformation of traditions, from a Celtic Festival to Punxsutawney Phil, and much can be learned about our ancestors who settled this country and the places they left behind.

*Dance of Time by Michael Judge
**A Year in Ireland by Kevin Danaher

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

British Isles # 21: Around the Cairngorms, Scotland

Not far inland from the Cliffside Dunnottar Castle you will enter the Cairngorms National Park. An amazing, but short and easy hike can be taken at Burn O Vat (burn means stream in Scots Gaelic) near Dinnet. Park at the trailhead (where there is a restroom) and take an easy wooded hike to a what looks like a dead end. The rocks create a little portal through which you enter the vat - a giant bowl shaped rock hollow created by years of stream erosion. From here you can scramble up past a small waterfall along the stream and moss and ivy covered boulders - slippery but worth the effort. Directions and more trail info HERE.  

From Burn O Vat we drove through the Cairngorms to The Glenlivet Whisky Distillery for an afternoon pick me up. Then we were on to Grantown-on-Spey where we stayed at the Craiglynne Hotel

The next morning we took shelter from the rain in the Glenfiddich Distillery, peeked into Balvenie Castle ruins across the road and then headed a bit south through the Cairngorms to Auchindoun Castle, a desolate ruin. We visited Auchindoun on a cold, cloudy April day. Sitiated atop a high hill on the edge of Cairngorms above the deep valley of the River Fiddich (as in "Glenfiddich" Whisky), this is perhaps the windiest place I've ever been. The hike seemed harsh against the wind as we walked up a lane and through a farmstead but was really perhaps a half mile. We parked our car near the main road as the lane said not suitable for vehicles but knowing what was ahead we would have driven up that road at least a bit (unless it was muddy, mind you). Auchindoun was incredible - so stark and lonely, a gothic ruin if ever I saw one. I especially loved how the field around the castle was planted with rows of crop (turnips, I think) and the dozens of sheep grazed and dotted the field. Worth a visit if you have the time. You'll likely find yourself alone here a the top of the world, or so it feels.

Auchindoun Castle, Scotland

Late Winter Cairngorms
Late Winter Caringorms
Onward north we stopped in Elgin to see the cathedral ruins and ancient Pictish Stones as well as Spynie Palace and Duffus Castle. The we ended in Inverness for the night, arriving too late to stop into Leakey's Bookshop which could have busied me for hours days. Alas, I don't travel just to shop for books so we sadly missed out on this gem There is always next time...

Elgin Cathedral

Stone with Christian Carving on one side and Pictish Carving on the reverse

Spynie Palace Ruins above and below

Duffus Castle - just a few scattered ruins here atop a motte and bailey earthwork and remnants of a wall enclosure. Still fun to scramble around the tilted ruins.
Leakey's Bookshop, Inverness. Still dreaming of this bibliophile heaven...

Monday, January 16, 2017

British Isles #20: Dunnottar Caslte

As you walk up to Dunnottar Castle you notice first that this fortress is staggering, strategic, built atop ancient craggy cliffs that drop off into the North Sea on the east coast of Scotland. In fact, Dunnottar means "fort on the shelving slope". The oldest parts of the castle were built during the 14th century though there is evidence of Pictish (a Scottish Tribe) presence from the 3rd century. There is a really interesting timeline HERE if you you'd like to know more castle history.  Most of the ruins remaining date from the 15th & 16th century. On a clear day the views out to the North Sea must be spectacular! But even on the foggy, misty and cold day that we visited this place is still amazing, atmospheric and little haunting. We took a steep but easy walk down to the pebble beach to the left of the castle after our visit. I love beach combing for pebbles and shells. Here we found a small cave and many different types of seaweed and mollusks. This is a must visit if you find yourself in Scotland anywhere near Aberdeenshire

Thursday, January 12, 2017

La Lune

New Telescope + Full Moon + Smartphone + Steady Hand = Moon Magic

Saturday, December 31, 2016

A New Year

Elk atop Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado in July!
Hoping your holidays were joyous & bright and that the New Year is full of wonder, good fortune, and the best kinds of adventures.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Emerald Posting...

It's not too late to order a Yuletide Edition of Emerald Post HERE which includes a festive print called "Gathering the Greens," a tribute to the Irish tradition of decking the halls with Holly, Ivy, & Mistletoe all nestled around a vibrant red trinity knot. You'll also find a mini notecard, a postcard, photo print, and bookmark in December's Emerald Post. If you'd like to send one as a gift, I can address and post it directly to the lucky recipient.  

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Winter Blooms

'Tis the season for these beautiful winter miracles. These are frost flowers, delicate naturally occurring ice ribbons formed when the air is freezing but the ground is not. The stem of the plant is still pulling water up from the ground but the freezing air causes the stems to crack and ice to form in extremely thin layers which is pushed out from the stems of plants in the most wonderful patterns, like Christmas ribbon candy. These are worth looking for on these cold mornings!