Badger Day

DawnGroundhog

Here is a photo from my house this morning.  As you can see the sky is clear, promising a clear dawn and a sunny sky.  Which according to Pensylvania Dutch tradition is a disaster.  Because today is groundhog day, and if the critter sees his shadow he goes back into the burrow and winter lasts another 6 weeks.

Yesterday was Lá Féile Bríde here in Ireland, St Bridgets Day, which sits upon the older pagan feast of Imbolc, the first cross quarter day.  Imbolc marks the beginning of the Celtic spring and involved various fertility rites.

In Ireland we don’t have groundhogs so we don’t actually celebrate groundhog day.  Of course before they arrived in Pensylvania the Dutch did not have groundhogs either.  But they did have badgers.  So apparently you can celebrate badger day.

Sadly there is little cute or cuddly about what happens in Ireland and England to Badgers.  Badger baiting is considered by some to be a “sport”.  They train dogs to fight with badgers, often rescue or kidnapped dogs, because the dogs are damaged in the fights.  They would not risk a valuable animal, so these dogs are considered to be “disposable” and are treated accordingly.  The poem below by John Clare is a pretty fair description of the practice in all its cruelty.  Clare was born in 1793, son of a farm labourer.  He is an important 19th century poet because he gives us a view of life at the bottom of the social divide.

At the bottom I will include some photos from modern badger baiting.  It is an abhorrent practice that serves no purpose but to entertain the foulest of people.  If you are a sensitive type you will not want to look at those photos.

 

Badger: by John Clare

The badger grunting on his woodland track
With shaggy hide and sharp nose scrowed with black
Roots in the bushes and the woods, and makes
A great high burrow in the ferns and brakes.
With nose on ground he runs an awkward pace,
And anything will beat him in the race.
The shepherd’s dog will run him to his den
Followed and hooted by the dogs and men.
The woodman when the hunting comes about
Goes round at night to stop the foxes out
And hurrying through the bushes to the chin
Breaks the old holes, and tumbles headlong in.
When midnight comes a host of dogs and men
Go out and track the badger to his den,
And put a sack within the hole, and lie
Till the old grunting badger passes bye.
He comes and hears—they let the strongest loose.
The old fox hears the noise and drops the goose.
The poacher shoots and hurries from the cry,
And the old hare half wounded buzzes bye.
They get a forked stick to bear him down
And clap the dogs and take him to the town,
And bait him all the day with many dogs,
And laugh and shout and fright the scampering hogs.
He runs along and bites at all he meets:
They shout and hollo down the noisy streets.
He turns about to face the loud uproar
And drives the rebels to their very door.
The frequent stone is hurled where e’er they go;
When badgers fight, then every one’s a foe.
The dogs are clapt and urged to join the fray;
The badger turns and drives them all away.
Though scarcely half as big, demure and small,
He fights with dogs for bones and beats them all.
The heavy mastiff, savage in the fray,
Lies down and licks his feet and turns away.
The bulldog knows his match and waxes cold,
The badger grins and never leaves his hold.
He drives the crowd and follows at their heels
And bites them through—the drunkard swears and reels.
The frighted women take the boys away,
The blackguard laughs and hurries on the fray.
He tries to reach the woods, an awkward race,
But sticks and cudgels quickly stop the chase.
He turns again and drives the noisy crowd
And beats the many dogs in noises loud.
He drives away and beats them every one,
And then they loose them all and set them on.
He falls as dead and kicked by boys and men,
Then starts and grins and drives the crowd again;
Till kicked and torn and beaten out he lies
And leaves his hold and cackles, groans, and dies.
Some keep a baited badger tame as hog
And tame him till he follows like the dog.
They urge him on like dogs and show fair play.
He beats and scarcely wounded goes away.
Lapt up as if asleep, he scorns to fly
And seizes any dog that ventures nigh.
Clapt like a dog, he never bites the men
But worries dogs and hurries to his den.
They let him out and turn a harrow down
And there he fights the host of all the town.
He licks the patting hand, and tries to play
And never tries to bite or run away,
And runs away from the noise in hollow trees
Burnt by the boys to get a swarm of bees.

 

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Ramadan

Iftar

Spare a thought today for Muslims living in Ireland.  Ramadan begins today at the height of the Irish Summer.

There are 50,000 muslims in Ireland.  They are not supposed to eat in the hours of daylight.

Daylight is defined as when you can tell a black thread from a white one.  That means they can’t eat or drink from 3am until 11pm.  So they go 20 hours of the day with nothing to eat or drink.  They need to wait until 11pm at night before they can sit down for the iftar meal and then, they have to rise only a couple of hours later at 2am if they want a bite of breakfast at suhoor.

The only way to cope with this situation is to sleep in the early evening when you come home from work.  Then dine through the late hours of the night and then go back to bed just as the sun begins to rise again.

Honestly, I don’t know how you are supposed to get through a working day like this.

Ramadan; by Kazim Ali

You wanted to be so hungry, you would break into branches,
and have to choose between the starving month’s

nineteenth, twenty-first, and twenty-third evenings.
The liturgy begins to echo itself and why does it matter?

If the ground-water is too scarce one can stretch nets
into the air and harvest the fog.

Hunger opens you to illiteracy,
thirst makes clear the starving pattern,

the thick night is so quiet, the spinning spider pauses,
the angel stops whispering for a moment—

The secret night could already be over,
you will have to listen very carefully—

You are never going to know which night’s mouth is sacredly reciting
and which night’s recitation is secretly mere wind—

Setting Sail

Image

Harbour Mole: by Willem van de Velde (The Younger) 1693

Long and busy weeks these days with little time for selfish distractions.  The blog is suffering.  My little Mind Ship is careened in the mud on some foggy leeward shore waiting for a good scrape and a change in the wind.

I love those old engraved prints of the days of sail, which show harbors bursting at the seams with ships and boats.  But like a Ryanair plane on the tarmac, a ship locked in harbor is a useless asset.  The trick is to flow in on the tide, unload your cargo, load a new one and be gone on the ebb.  Those harbors packed with ships are monuments to stranded productivity.  They need the right wind and tide to make sail.

Sail ships were doomed as soon as steam was viable.  Why wait a week for a favorable wind when a steam boat can cast off into a headwind?  There is no romance in business, only cold hard brass.  At first they used steam tugs to haul the great sail ships in and out of harbour to find a wind.  Then the complimentary technology became the competition.  Tugs were redesigned to operate as barges on canals and rivers, bigger versions became river and lake boats.  Ultimately the noisy, smelly, dirty vessels even replaced the glorious tea clippers, the zenith of sail trader design, the greyhounds of the sea.

I need a cargo and I need it now.  I need a shift in the wind and a good tide.  I could use a bit of power instead of sail.  I need to get off this desolate shore.  I need a touch of magic.

So, how do I unite a steam ship, a touch of magic and a poem about riding at dawn – ah, a cauldron.  Ships boiler, witches pot and the eye of the sun.

‘Ariel’ by Sylvia Plath

Stasis in darkness.

Then the substanceless blue

Pour of tor and distances.

God’s lioness,

How one we grow,

Pivot of heels and knees!—The furrow

Splits and passes, sister to

The brown arc

Of the neck I cannot catch,

Nigger-eye

Berries cast dark

Hooks—Black sweet blood mouthfuls,

Something else

Hauls me through air—

Thighs, hair;

Flakes from my heels.

White

Godiva, I unpeel—

Dead hands, dead stringencies.

And now I

Foam to wheat, a glitter of seas.

The child’s cry

Melts in the wall.

And I

Am the arrow,

The dew that flies

Suicidal,

at one with the drive

Into the red

Eye, the cauldron of morning.