Sunday, May 30, 2010

Memorial Day

I'm on a tight schedule today, so can't make the big Memorial Day post I had been planning. To be quite truthful, I hadn't decided at all what to write about, merely that it was going to be big, and wasn't going to feature John McCrae's very fine poem, merely because it is a good poem and everybody quotes it. I was hoping there might be something obscure lurking in the archives somewhere that would offer a similar, but startlingly unfamiliar view of the sentiment of the day, but if there is, I never did come across it. . .anyway, it would have to be something rather exquisite to equal the appropriateness of McCrae's concise verses, as overly familiar as they may be to us these days.

Since I have about five minutes to type out something, and since I am already on the topics of Canadians and Memorial Day, when I was north of the border, I was most impressed by a grand custom that they had up there. They have Remembrance Day, of course, which is equivalent to our Memorial Day (and, rather confusingly, celebrated the same day we celebrate Veteran's Day in November). The whole week leading up to Remembrance Day, however, it is extremely common to see people wearing poppies on their coats--even the newscasters on TV. This matter-of-fact display of respect was quite staggering to a foreigner like myself, and it certainly carried the spirt of the commemoration splendidly. The American Legion and the Veterans of Foreign Wars sell poppies around Memorial Day, but you rarely see anyone wearing them down here. It would be a custom worth establishing.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Fiddle and Feet

Québécois music is something I am only recently acquainted with, but the more I listen to, the more amazed I am by the fiddlers. If the videoes on YouTube are any indication, it seems to be quite normal for them to do double duty as foot-percussionists while carrying on on the fiddle--you can't say their reels aren't driven! Here is an example with André Brunet on the fiddle and feet and Martine Billette on the keyboard. The tune is listed as "La Belle Catherine."

Thursday, May 27, 2010

One of Those Bird Jigs

If you're into pipe music, have you ever noticed how many jigs are named after birds? Donald MacPherson's "The Curlew," is a classic, of course, and there's always Donald MacLeod's "The Duck" (though if I remember aright, that was about a man who had a distinctive gait, rather than an actual bird). Donald MacLeod is also responsible for "The Seagull," which is presented in the sample video below from Stefan Grossman's Guitar Workshop. The demo of the tune only takes up the first 1:05 minutes, but the following explanation by guitarist Tony McManus is quite interesting, especially the bit where he goes to the trouble to capo so that the guitar is in bagpipe range.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

New Things of Great Beauty

There are advantages to techonolgy at times--I saw a post on Facebook last night about this lovely little boat that was just completed by a group of people in Achiltibuie.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010


I was trying to find another hornpipe and couldn't bring the one I wanted readily to hand, so here's something much better: a smashing band rendition of "His Father's Lament for Donald MacKenzie" by Texas' St. Thomas Episcopal School Pipe Band.

(I just re-read that intro and realized that "smashing" in strict English might be a little at odds with the deliberate beauty of a piobaireachd like the one above, but if you buy into the supposed etymology of the word, it comes, they say, from the Irish is maith sin, which simply means, "That is good." Which it certainly is.)

Monday, May 24, 2010

This Side of Spring

Purplish flowers were all the latest rage down at the American River yesterday. There were thistles in great quantities, a circumstance which seemed to please the bees to no end. In fact, it would have been worthwhile to spend an hour at the first growth of thistles I came upon; ever turn of leaf or flower seemed to be claimed by a different creature. Inevitably, there were many more bugs than there were good shots to prove it, but the focus held on this katydid nymph.
Wide, sunny spaces that had been green only last month were burned a dull brown and glutted with fluffy white parachutes of aster seeds. It was all the more startling, in such a wilderness, to come upon sharp strokes of colour effected by dwarf brodiaea (Brodiaea terrestris).

The predominant family in the park was definitely Fabaceae; the clearings that still had some life in them were thick with small lupins, and especially vetch.

For every plant I could more-or-less identify, there were at least two that I couldn't, so if any of you might give me a lead on any of the following, it would be muchly appreciated! The long, square stems of this one could reach the five-foot mark.

It isn't entirely the fault of a bad exposure that the plant below doesn't look too purple; it was only very faintly coloured in real life as well. (Note the almost-in-focus pipevine swallowtail on the top cluster of flowers!. . .Alas, only "almost.")

And yes, this one is stretching the "purple" label a bit, but I thought it was pretty nifty. Is it a showy native, or a showy escapee from a local garden?

[EDIT: 07/05/2011 It's a native, definitely Clarkia. Unless told otherwise, I'm going to assume it's Clarkia ungiculata.]