Who Killed Cock Robin?


In Celtic mythology, Lugh — also known as “Coch Rhi Ben”* — is the sun god who rules when the days are long but whose power wanes as the nights get longer after the summer solstice. A feast in his honor was traditionally held on “Lammas,” the first day of August, represented in the calendar by a bow-and-arrow shape.

In the old rhyme it’s the sparrow who kills Cock Robin with “my bow and arrow.” In the same Celtic tradition, the sparrow stands in for Bran — the god of winter.

I don’t think the sparrow got this robin, not this time of year, not according to tradition. We’re just days away from the spring equinox with Lugh just coming into his own — essentially the opposite end of the season normally marked by his cyclical demise.

Even given the weirdness of the seasons’ cues these days, a complete 180 seems unlikely — just yet.

When the robins arrive here in late winter they like to gather at the end of the day in the top branches of a particular oak near the water tanks — all turned to face the west and the last light of the day. This old soul has heralded his last spring. Poor Cock Robin.

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* (Coch means “red” and rhi-ben means “chief king” — and all that sounds a lot like cock robin, don’t you think?)

The Places Where Memories Live

Tom on Moel Y Sensigl

Nearly forty years after Tom’s father’s ashes were scattered on Moel Y Sensigl, Mair relayed in an e-mail to him that her husband Edward remembered that Tom’s father used to go there to sit. Tom had written to Mair to ask if she knew the correct spelling for the place because we were having no luck finding any references. It’s not the kind of place to get tagged on Google Earth or Google Maps is it? Standing stones and footpaths don’t exactly register. Although maybe the fewish people who remember them think it’s better that way…

But if you’ve been there, you can find it on the satellite images. It does help to have paid attention to what you passed on the winding ride up, like the crossroad where sheep jammed up the narrow road and the farm that advertised working holidays.


And if you’d walked to the top - with your dad or later with your uncle and the other men to scatter the ashes - and knew the view from there, you’d be able to pick it out.

The picture here of Tom on Moel Y Sensigl (pronounced Senagl) was taken in 1999 during one of our visits back. Coincidentally, Mair and Edward were planning a ride up there when they got Tom’s note. Mair said, “I do love to look down on the Morfa and across the Traeth (estuary).” This photograph gives you a sense of that I think, and you can also just see Harlech Castle over the bend of the hill before the dunes in the distance.

It’s good to keep walking the footpaths and taking in the views. Not so much to relive or recreate the past but simply to remember - and to carry on.

When people first pass away, they loom large in their absence. At some point…eventually…the edges of the space they leave soften, and life washes in and fills the hole. Then they linger in the stories we remember to tell and the places we remember to visit.

When the places go, we have to rely on the stories. When the people who know the stories all go - or forget - do the places remember? Do places have memories too? And if they do, does someone have to keep walking the tracks and taking in the views, whether or not they ever knew a soul who also walked and looked, lest the place memories drift away as well, finally and completely?

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Moel Y Sensigl megalith

Bee Mused

I’ve been reading up a bit on bees, and I’ve come to the conclusion that bees love flowers. I knew this already really because I have been observing them in my garden. I didn’t have to read about it, I only had to step outside and take a look around. (This is true of many things.)

Ever since the rosemary started blooming in early spring I have noticed bees associating themselves with flowers in the garden. I do not see them hanging out in the grass or anywhere near the brick pavement, gravel drive or shrubbery. This is the kind of nitty gritty scientific fact finding that leads to illuminating intellectual breakthroughs - and major research grants. Do you think I could get one of those so I could stay outside all day watching bees?

Other astute gardeners are making similar observations. This from Richo Cech at Horizon Herbs: “The world news would have us believe that the economy and the bees are dying fast, but the diverse medicinal herb garden belies all that with the sweet richness of its flowers and the buzzing of bees all around. This morning the first poppies opened, and in an effort to curb my tendency to exaggerate, I got out the measuring tape. Vying with the bumblebees for a good position, I measured one of the flowers to 7 inches from petal tip to petal tip, then left my measuring tape to dangle and just stood there and TOOK IT IN! The garden heals us humans. If you start to feel frustrated, my advice is: Go put your fingers in the dirt!”

Patricia Leigh Brown of the New York Times would probably think that one thing Richo says about gardens healing humans is “woo-woo” and not scientific at all, but then she’s got a bee in her bonnet about something obviously. I think she should get out more. (More about woo-woo in Dharma in the Dirt, by Patricia Leigh Brown.)

So the thing is, we’ve got to grow more flowers. And not use pesticides. This is not rocket science. This is life science. You can be your own guinea pig on this one.

I mean, can you honestly say you’re happy living with brick paving, gravel roads, shrubbery and boring old grass everywhere you look?

Besides, if we’re not careful strawberry ice cream will go extinct. (Although we will still have Dulce de Leche, I think.) And if you don’t think that’s a big deal, just ask Hagen Daz. http://www.helpthehoneybees.com/ I hear the buzz on Wall Street is that ice cream futures is the next big thing.

Worried? Don’t be. There’s a lot of good information on bees and flowers and growing flowers for bees in What’s All the Buzz About by Randi Lynn Mrvos. Check it out. And then just grow some flowers. And don’t use pesticides.

I was amused to read the bit in the above article about red flowers usually being pollinated by butterflies, bats, and birds (especially hummingbirds) - but not usually by bees. I had just bought these stamps - two days before the postage rate went up a penny - because they were so cool and, in fact, had the big four pollinators on them. Dave the postmaster said he was about to chuck all the “41-centers” and replace them with some truly dazzling new 42-cent flag stamps (my description, not his).

I couldn’t believe it was worth it, just for a penny (and patriotism), but Dave said the government had it all figured out. Kind of an actuarial thing, I think, with statistical probabilities and a cost benefit analysis factored in and all. You know, real facts.

So I brought a sheet home. I may not ever use them, I just like having them around. That’s true of many things, too.

Until It's Safe to Go Home

The entrance to Svalbard Global Seed Vault
photo credit: John McConnico/Associated Press
I’m a big fan of Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy: The Golden Compass, The Subtle Knife, and The Amber Spyglass. (If you haven’t read them, there’s still time.) I know they’re pitched as fantasy books, but I’m firmly convinced they are quite true - or at the very least stunningly prophetic. One detail I conceded to narrative license was the place name Svalbard. Imagine my confusion when I read, in the New York Times no less, that a global seed vault had opened - in Svalbard.

Could Iorek Byrnison’s panserbjørnes be guarding the gates? And what if the Oblation Board (sub. ADM, Monsanto, …) rears its ugly head(s) and gains control?!

And what will the world be like when the seeds are brought outside again?

More details…

:: Svalbard Global Seed Vault official site
:: Svalbard Global Seed Vault on Wikipedia
:: Buried Seed Vault Opens in Arctic at dotearth.blogs.nytimes.com