Thursday, May 5, 2016

GGRR! Not a Growl, the Great Greenbrier River Race!

What do a bank president, an industrial electrician, and a middle schooler have in common (besides being related, of course)? GGRR!

Last weekend was the 30th annual Great Greenbrier River Race, a triathlon event with running, kayaking, and biking as its components. Family members have been taking on the race for the past 6 years, and this year we had three entrants--oldest son George, fourth son Aaron and Aaron's son James, who will be 15 this summer.

James, Aaron, George, and George's college friend Jeff, just before the race started

James was feeling good before the race start!
Aaron visiting around with other competitors before the race

George stands quietly waiting at the starting line. 

Waiting, waiting, waiting...

and on the river, the kayaks await the runners. My guys' kayaks are the second blue one in front, the red one and the red and yellow one behind the red one. The river was high and running fast.

 And they're off! The beginning is a two mile run and it was pretty amazing to see how fast some of these runners made it to their boats. The race was divided into groups: men, then women, then teams. that made the start a lot smoother than the years when everyone started together.

George looked pretty comfortable at the take-off.

Here he is, heading for his kayak--can you see him in the gray and black? 

Aaron was just a couple minutes behind George, and was already taking off by the time I got there for a photo.
James in his kayak, heading downriver.

The next time we saw the guys, they were coming in on their bikes. The race was very fast this year. I don't know how long the kayak section is, but the bike section is 10 miles. The first guy in crossed the line in an hour and 25 minutes. George finished in an hour and 39 minutes, and Aaron only 2 minutes behind at an hour and 41 minutes. James was just doing it for fun (he;s actually a motocross competitor), and finished in 2 hours 11 minutes.

George and Aaron after the race. I never did get one of James afterwards, daggone it!
Usually I have photos of the guys as they come in on their bikes. I thought I'd try for a video this year, and totally messed it up. Ah well, there will be next year!

And after all the racers were done, the awards handed out and the people gone home, the Greenbrier River returned to its usual quiet, beautiful self.

See you in June, River, for Allegheny Echoes!

Copyright Susanna Holstein. All rights reserved. No Republication or Redistribution Allowed without attribution to Susanna Holstein.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Happy Nutty May Day

Nuts in May, you're thinking? Were they daft? Many folklorists have come up with explanations for the rhyme, from suggesting that it meant the "knots" of flowers on the hawthorn tree to the gathering of pignuts (a type of wild tuber dug out of the ground in early May in England), to referring to knots of flowers, not nuts. 

Which is true? I can't say. Perhaps it was just meant as a silly jingle--the song goes on as a choosing game, similar to Red Rover or PawPaw Bush or other childhood games:

Who will you have for nuts in May,
Nuts in May, nuts in May,
Who will you have for nuts in May,
On a cold and frosty morning.
We'll have [name] for nuts in May,
Nuts in May, nuts in May,
We'll have [name] for nuts in May,
On a cold and frosty morning.
Who will you have to fetch him/her away,
Fetch him/her away, fetch him/her away,
Who will you have to fetch him/her away,
On a cold and frosty morning.
We'll have [name] to fetch him/her away,
Fetch him/her away, fetch him/her away,
We'll have [name] to fetch him/her away,
On a cold and frosty morning.

It was not a cold and frosty May morning at my house this year; it was a damp and rainy one, with clouds, fog, and ground so saturated that to step off the sidewalk meant getting your feet very, very wet. I went out to wash my face anyway, doing it with rainwater once again instead of dew since there was none of the latter to be had. Ah me.

There are many traditions associated with this day around the world, some of the pleasant, some of them, well, not so much. In a post from May of 2012, I wrote about some of these traditions, along with my own memories of May. 

May 1 is one of the "cross-quarter days," coming roughly midway between an equinox and a solstice. Other cross-quarter days are Groundhog day, August 1 (called Lammas--one day I need to look into the folklore of this date too), and October 31, Halloween. Perhaps their position in the solar calendar is one reason for celebrations occurring on these dates? 

In Ireland, this is Beltaine (or Bealtaine), celebrated with bonfires and other customs dating back to very ancient times. The website Irish Archeology has more fascinating information about this date.

Here are some recent tidbits I've gathered about this day, once considered to be the first day of summer (and I think that was actually more accurate than our current date of June 21).

Taken on May 1 at the John C Campbell Folk School in Brasstown, NC when we visited there in 2014.
You can read about it here
The British Isles, of course, are well known for their May Day celebrations, with Maypoles and processions. It was also a custom to leave a little bouquet of flowers on neighbors' doorsteps for luck, and to drive cattle through a fire to prevent such evil as milk thievery (people believed that milk could be stolen from the cattle through various evil means).  More about British customs, along with a few others,  from the BBC, can be found here.

In Greece, it was a day for celebrating, singing and feasting at the expense of the gentry. This is a clip from Folklore, Volume 1, by Joseph Jacobs, : 

The adults took part too, it seems, with their own song:

In Europe, Wikipedia gives this fascinating look at Walpurgis Night: 

"Burning of witches: also known as Walpurgis Night,[4] according to the traditional Czech stories, the night on the turn of April 30 and May 1 had a magical power. Not only was evil believed to be more powerful at this time, but also those who felt brave enough to go outside could find treasures if they carried with them items such as wood fern flower, wafer or sanctified chalk. It was also believed that during the night witches were flying and gathering for the Sabbath. To protect themselves, villagers burnt bonfires on hills and set fire to brooms, which were then thrown into the air to reveal any flying witch. These celebrations are nowadays accompanied with music and traditional food and mark the opening of the tourist season."

In Finland, April 30th is also Walpurgis Night, or Vappu, a celebration that spills over into May 1. Wikipedia describes it this way:

"In Finland, Walpurgis day (Vappu) is one of the four biggest holidays along with Christmas Eve, New Year's Eve, and Midsummer (Juhannus). Walpurgis witnesses the biggest carnival-style festival held in the streets of Finland's towns and cities. The celebration, which begins on the evening of 30 April and continues to 1 May, typically centres on copious consumption of simasparkling wine and other alcoholic beverages. Student traditions, particularly those of the engineering students, are one of the main characteristics of Vappu. Since the end of the 19th century, this traditional upper-class feast has been appropriated by university students. Many lukio (university-preparatory high school) alumni (who are thus traditionally assumed to be university bound), wear a cap. One tradition is to drink sima, a home-made low-alcohol mead, along with freshly cooked funnel cakes."

Walpurgis Night has a more sinister meaning in Germany, however, for it is the night many believed that witches met with the devil to await the arrival of summer. Creepy. bonfires were often lit, probably to keep those witches at bay!

France has a more pleasant tradition on this date. Because a king was once given a bunch of lilies on May 1, it is the custom to present loved ones with small bouquets of lilies on May 1. What better way to fill your house with sweetness than bringing in a bunch of these fragrant little flowers? I think I'll do just that, as mine are coming in to bloom right now.

This post could go on and on, as there are many celebrations worldwide to celebrate the coming of May. If you know of one that I haven't mentioned, please share it in the comments. I'd love to read it.

Copyright Susanna Holstein. All rights reserved. No Republication or Redistribution Allowed without attribution to Susanna Holstein.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Feathered Visitors on a Rainy Day

Yesterday was one of those spring days I dislike. It started well enough but then turned hot, humid and sticky, with occasional breaks when it stormed or showered. The ground is now beyond saturated; even here on the hill we have standing pools in the grass.

But the birdfeeder action has been a real pleasure. This fellow came by for a visit, and he's still here today. I'm beyond happy because we rarely have seen a rose-breasted grosbeak here. It may be because the feeders were a good ways from the house and we mistook these birds for some other species. Now that we've moved the feeders closer we're able to see who's visiting a lot more clearly.

The grosbeak and the red-bellied woodpecker got along quite well, apparently deciding that there was plenty for both.

He's a handsome fellow, isn't he, with that rosy-red breast?

Munching down!

The grosbeak showing me his better side??

The little pine siskins are still with us and I have really enjoyed their twittering in the trees around the house. These little guys are very vocal, and quite comfortable with us nearby.

 You can barely see the touch of yellow on this bird--that is what made me think at first that these were goldfinches who were just getting their summer color.

A better look at the pine siskin, and you can see the yellow here too.

I am hoping we see more of the migratory birds in the coming weeks. The hummingbirds have returned, just two so far, but perhaps more are on the way. 

There's something that makes me happy when I see the various birds coming to the feeders. Maybe it's knowing that their arrival marks the true return of warmer weather. Or maybe it's just seeing them flitting about and knowing that they're eating insects. Or maybe it's just the colors of them, and they're beautiful songs. The truth is, it's all of those things.

Happy bird-watching, my friends!

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