The Old Country: Another Take on Another Auld Song

Silly Wizard Wild and Beautiful (1981) LP Cover

I did not awake planning to write new words to another folk song today. Instead, I made some coffee and stirred the ashes of last night’s fire to get it going, and sat down with a book on hunter-gatherers! However, the playlist I chose this morning started off automatically with “Hame, Hame, Hame” – a gorgeous song recorded by the Scottish folk band Silly Wizard for their album Wild and Beautiful (1981). The haunting tune is borrowed from “Tha Mi Sgith” (I am Tired), also known as “Buain na Rainich” “(Cutting the Bracken), which is supposed to be a song of heartbreak by a fairy after being separated from his human girlfriend. The lyrics of Silly Wizard’s version made me consider how sometimes home is really not where you are from, but where the heart is. So here is my attempt to express those feelings in words set to this tune, and here is a link to Silly Wizard’s beautiful rendition of “Hame, Hame, Hame,” – should you like a sense of the tune I was thinking of when I made this new version this morning as the sun was rising – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RND2KMlgP-w.

The Old Country

Hame, home, hame

Home I long to be

Hame, home, hame

In the Old Country

Where the rose and the oak

And my bonnie Rowan tree

They are all blooming fair

In the Old Country

Hame, home, hame

Home I long to be

Hame, home, hame

In the Old Country

Where my Love and I did run

Through her forest new to me

Where my heart will ever remain

In the Old Country

Hame, home, hame

Home I long to be

Hame, home, hame

In the Old Country

Where my Love still remains

Among her mountains green

And I am far away

From the Old Country

Hame, home, hame

Home I long to be

Hame, home, hame

In the Old Country

For home is wherever she rests

O my bonnie Rowan tree

Though I am far away

In my own country

Hame, home, hame

Home I long to be

Hame, home, hame

In the Old Country

Categories: England, Folk Music, Love, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

The Girl I Left Behind: A New Variant on an Old Song

Cover of Sam Henry's Songs of the People, 2010 UGA Press edition

 

Listening to British folk singer Andy Irvine today, I was stuck by a song I had never heard before: “The Girl I Left Behind.”  This is neither the same song nor even the same tune as the famous fiddle tune “The Girl I Left Behind Me,” which is in every bluegrass band’s repertoire.   The song I was enjoying struck me, however, as having a very familiar tune itself, and with a little research I discovered that it is essentially the same music as “I’m a Good Old Rebel,” “Lily of the West,” and “Lakes of Ponchartrain.”  I am not certain when this song dates to, but I do feel that it could easily have an Irish origin and might be as old as the late 18th or early 19th century.  Perhaps someone can comment on that.  At any rate, the tale told in Irvine’s version of the song struck a chord in me (literally and figuratively! – here is a link to his wonderful version –https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5MQilZw1LZ8), and inspired me to try my own hand on a new variant.  Below are the results of today’s glorious obsession!

[Incidentally, Irvine wrote this in his liner notes accompanying the album Way Out Yonder (2000), on which his version of the song first appeared: “I’ve known the first part of this song since I was quite young.  I heard it on a Library of Congress Album sung by Mrs Pearl Borusky, who recorded it in Ohio.  I later heard the great Seamus Ennis sing it at a party in Peggy Jordan’s in Dublin.  I found this full version late one Summer’s night in Sam Henry’s Collection “Songs of the people”–How had I never seen it before ?”]

The Girl I Left Behind (2015)

There was a gentleman farmer at Everton Grange he dwelled

He had one only daughter in love with her I fell

She was so tall and brilliant, so funny and so fair

No other girl in England with her I could compare.

We rambled and we courted for two years near about

She showed me Merry Old England, its meadows, fields, and routes

Through Oxfordshire and Hampshire, Old London, and sweet France

The farmer’s daughter smiled on me, and made my heart to dance.

Then news from home it reached me and Lord it beat me down

And I knew that I must leave her and return to my own town

Over the hills and far away from England I must go

But to leave the farmer’s daughter it filled my heart with woe.

I asked if it made any difference if I crossed over the main

She said her heart was ever mine, that we would meet again,

That we would meet on foreign shores, this greatly eased my mind

So we kissed and then we parted and I left my girl behind.

Straightway I flew from Londontown unto Americay

My mother she was so relieved to see me on that day

My father and my sons rejoiced when I came down the line

But the girl I left behind me was always on my mind.

We wrote each other when we could but things were not the same

She moved off to another place far from our haunts and hame

A new life beckoned and off she flew, the sun upon her shined,

But I was far away without the girl I left behind.

My business settled at home I flew to see my bonnie bird

But her heart was cold and hurting when my words of love she heard

She said she didn’t love me now and a new love I should find

As my tears fell down away she walked – the girl I left behind.

Since then across wide oceans I’ve traveled o’er the earth

I’ve roamed and rambled this wide world over to soothe my aching heart

But my tears still fall like the storms of Thor and she’s always on my mind

I’ll always love the farmer’s daughter – the girl I left behind.

Now, compare these lyrics written today with the traditional lyrics sung by Andy Irvine:

There was a rich old farmer lived in the country nigh
He had one only daughter on her I cast my eye
She was so tall and slender so delicate and so fair
No other girl in the neighbourhood with her I could compare.I asked if it made any difference if I crossed over the main
She says it makes no difference if you’ll come back again
She promised she’d be true to me until death’s parting time
So we kissed shook hands and parted and I left my girl behind.

Straightway I sailed from old Ireland to Glasgow I did go
Where the work and money was plentiful and the whiskey it did flow
Where the work and money was plentiful and the girls all treated me kind
But the girl I left behind me was always on my mind.

One day as I went walking down by the public square
The mail boat had arrived and the postman met me there
He handed me a letter which gave me to understand
That the girl I left behind me was married to another man.

I stopped and gazed around me my heart was filled with fear
O oftentimes she promised me that she would prove sincere
On the Sunday of our parting ‘twas on the Book she swore
That she would wed no other man and she vowed it o’er and o’er.

I advanced a few steps forward full knowing these words to be true
My mind being bent on rambling I didn’t know what to do
My mind being bent on rambling this wide world to see o’er
I left my dear old parents perhaps to see no more.

Straightway I sailed to old New York strange faces for to see
Where Handsome Peggy Walker she fell in love with me
My pocket being empty I thought it was full time
For to stop with her and think no more on the girl I left behind.

One day as I sat musing she says my boy don’t grieve
For I have money in plenty to support both you and me
Your pocket will be laden hard labour you can give o’er
If you’ll agree to marry me and rambling go no more.

Well if should agree to marry you I would be much to blame
Your friends and your relations would look on me with shame
And I mean to see my parents before that they resign
And to bid farewell and a last adieu to the girl I left behind.

Well if all that you reveal be true our friendship’s at an end
Since first you came to this country I’ve always proved your friend
You had my money at your command when fortune seemed to frown
And my boy’s cause I still maintained when others ran you down.

At this my heart it did relent for what she said was true
And I promised for to marry her, oh what else could I do ?
Now Peggy’s mistress of my heart she loving and she’s kind
But the perjured vows I’ll ne’er forget of the girl I left behind.

“But let’s remember, there are four parts to our definition of a folk song: anonymity is important – nobody knows who wrote it; age; travel; change.  When you have these four elements, when you can test a song by these four criteria, I think you can tell whether a song is a folk song or not.”

Frank M. WarnerFolk Songs of the Eastern Seaboard: from a Collector’s Notebook, 1963

Categories: England, Folk Music, Ireland, Love, United Kingdom | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

For Paul, Who Died in the Philippines in 1945

Previously I wrote about my great uncle Dee Douglas, who served in the European theater against the Germans, and his lost love Rosemary of Manchester, England (https://ramblingmuser.wordpress.com/2015/10/26/to-r-h-in-manchester-with-love-from-georgia/). Another tale that must be told is that of his brother Paul, who died in the reinvasion of the Philippines during MacArthur’s 1944-45 campaign to free those islands from Japanese tyranny and oppression.

Everyone living has troubles and worries and pains and griefs, if not when they are younger, then certainly by the time they are a little older. Perhaps this a reminder to myself that as painful as life can be at times, there is much greater grief and pain. This is certainly not to say that today’s heartbreak is not actual heartbreak or that today’s tears are not genuine tears. But the death of a 25 year old boy is something that his family never ever forgets, even though neither I nor my mother ever even met him.

I have several primary source letters to transcribe regarding this, as well as photographs of Paul’s personal effects inherited by my mother, so if you will check back over the next few days, I will add them here. For starters, here is the letter written to Paul’s parents after his death on January 17, 1945 by his company sergeant.

Co. A. 103rd Inf.

A.P.O. 43

March 5, 1945

Phillippines

Dear Mr, Mrs. Douglas,

It has been a custom for us in this unit that when a comrade passes away to write to his folks and pass the information we have about his death.

At the time your son was killed, I was his Platoon Sgt. having lost my platoon leader a week before. So seeing that I was the one in his charge and was there when it happened, I will write down every thing that happen on that bad day of Jan. 17th.

I was given orders to from a line across a river and protect the rear of the companys while they were crossing the river. We were just getting into position when we were fired upon by a group of Japs. We all ran into our position and as Paul was running to his a Jap was hid a short distance from where Paul was going – the Jap being well hid in bamboo patches was not seen by any of us or by Paul.

The Jap fired and his shot entered your son’s right side under the shoulder and came out on his left side – killing him instantly. A few of us made a run where Paul layed but was fired on. We made three attempts and finally reached him while the rest of the boys gave us supporting rifle fire. Two of his comrades really put themselves in danger to reach him. That’s how a good your son Paul was to all of us.

I and many in our company have known your son for a long time. And I must say, Paul had always been a very good soldier, never gave any of us any sort of trouble and whenever anything turned up, Paul would be willing to help.

We will all miss him as you do too. No doubt it was a bad shock to both of you but I’m sure that his death was not one of suffering. And his fine conduct as a soldier no doubt brought him to God. At our first service for our fallen comrades I and all remembered him in our prayers and also you and Mrs. Douglas.

In closing, I am wishing you and all the very best of luck and health. May God bless you all. And if Paul’s personal effect doesn’t reach you within the next month or so, please write me and I will see to it that they are mailed to you.

May God be with you,

2nd LT. ROLAND A. LECLAIR

CO. A. 103rd INF. A.P.O. 43

c/o P.M.S.F. CALIF.

You will notice that I’m in a different company now, being promoted to 2nd LT. I was transferred to this unit, but I still miss my former CO. F.

image

PFC Paul Douglas of Coffee County, Georgia; KIA on January 17, 1945 in the Philippines, and awarded a posthumous Purple Heart

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The Gift of Spring

One early spring day when I was about 22, I saw a Robin Redbreast, and heard his cheery and happy call echo through the woodland and fields.  As there were no other birds to be seen at that moment, I was unprepared for what happened next.  It seemed to me that every native bird of Georgia suddenly appeared and began singing: cardinals, tufted titmice, chickadees, and all of their friends.  And it struck me then that they had all just been waiting for the herald to announce that Spring had finally arrived!  This idea filled me with such joy that within five minutes the following words had assembled themselves on the page in front of me.  It was a gift; something that flowed through me.  I have long thought of having it published, but it has languished in darkness long enough and needs to be as free as the beautiful bird of Spring that inspired it.

Song of the Robin Redbreast, Spring’s Herald

Hark! O ye beings who inhabit the earth!

Let winter’s woeful wail give way to dance and mirth!

For I the Redbreast, Herald o’ the Spring,

Throw back my head, stick out my chest, and sing:

‘Tis Spring!  ‘Tis Spring!

Let all the earth rejoice!

‘Tis Spring!  ‘Tis Spring!

Let every bird give voice!

‘Tis now time for motherhood,

That gift of greatest worth!

Sing a song of simple joys,

And sing the song of Birth!

Robin Redbreast

The American Robin, Affectionately called the Robin Redbreast

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Musical Influences & Traditions, and Writing Modern Folk Songs

I’ve long had a fascination with British folk song and balladry.  The English, Welsh, Scottish, and Irish musical traditions are endlessly fascinating to me, being full of history, rebellion, warfare, love, hate, joy, and sadness.  Some of my favorites in this field include Silly Wizard, Alex Beaton, the Corries, the Chieftains, Tommy Makem & the Clancy Brothers, Ronnie Drew & the Dubliners, and the Jolly Beggarmen.

What’s more, many of these songs have had an enduring influence on the American South’s balladry and folk song traditions from Virginia all the way to Florida and Texas, as explained by American folklorist Francis James Child in the 19th century and by English ethnomusicologist Cecil J. Sharp in the early 20th century.

North Carolina Historical Marker on Cecil Sharp

North Carolina Historical Marker about Cecil Sharp

Nowhere has this influence been stronger than in Appalachia, which still has strong musical roots in the Scots-Irish emigrations from the borders of Scotland & England as filtered through the Ulster Scot musical ear. I learned a great deal about these connections, and how difficult they can be to document, from wonderful speakers like John Moulden and Peter Gilmore when I attended the Ulster-American Heritage Symposiums held in South Carolina in 2002 and in Tennessee in 2006.

With these connections and interests in mind, you might understand how ecstatic I once felt to attend a concert by the blind musician Doc Watson, who truly embodied so many of the deepest influences of American roots music. A few of my other favorite American traditional musicians, or musicians working in a traditional framework, include Emmylou Harris, Joe Penland, Allison Kraus, the Kruger Brothers, and Gillian Welch.

Doc Watson

Doc Watson

I was also fortunate enough to attend a conference called “Making Connections: The Celtic Roots of Southern Music at Emory University in Atlanta in 2012, which was organized by Yeats scholar Dr. James Flannery, who also appreciates these British and Irish musical connections to America (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9h_om3JQsIg).

Most recently, having spent the last few years living in Great Britain, I’ve been very fortunate to have had a dear friend who has introduced me to so many contemporary English and British folk singers and groups I never in a million years would have heard of at home.  Just a few of these include Show of Hands, Fisherman’s Friends, The Unthanks, Seth Lakeman, Sunas, Chumbawamba, and Frank Turner.

So as a songwriter myself, and in an attempt to acknowledge this great musical debt, I proffer the following song, with words of my own composition set to the tune of “Down by the Sally Gardens” by William Butler Yeats.  Yeats himself set his own words to the music of “Ye Rambling Boys of Pleasure,” so I guess we are both indebted to the unknown composer of that lovely air.  The version of  “Down by the Sally Gardens” that I had in mind whilst writing it was the gorgeous flute and harp setting by Cormac de Barra and Karen Leitner heard here (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hlo-YmaN7NE).

 

The New Forest Rose

She swings over Everton Grange

And lights up Lymington shore,

The English girl I sing of,

The lady I adore

And Britain’s crowns all bow down to

And Oxford’s geniuses know

The English girl I sing of

The beauteous New Forest Rose

She skips over Portmeadow pasture

And splashes Wolvercote Common ground,

The English girl I sing of,

The belle of Town and Gown

And Britain’s crowns all bow down to

And Oxford’s geniuses know

The English girl I sing of

The beauteous New Forest Rose

She cavorts round Kenilworth Castle

And frolicks on Stonehenge’s plain

The English girl I sing of

And hope to see again

And Britain’s crowns all bow down to

And Oxford’s geniuses know

The English girl I sing of

The beauteous New Forest Rose

“Ballads…contain a refrain; they utilize a detached and impersonal narrator; they frequently have no dramatic nor cathartic climax; and they often employ a device called incremental repetition, which is nothing more than a method of carrying the story along with slight variations in the text, but with a repeated pattern.

June Skinner SawyersThe Celtic Roots of Southern Music, 1994

Categories: England, Music, Folk Music, Balladry, Scots-Irish, Appalachia, American South, United Kingdom | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

How to Dine like a Gentleman or a Lady on your Remote Archaeological Expedition

Howard Carter and field team dining in Egypt at the Valley of the Kings in a tomb near King Tutankhamen's.  Photo taken by Lord Carnarvon

Howard Carter and field team dining in Egypt at the Valley of the Kings in a tomb near King Tutankhamen’s. Photo taken by Lord Carnarvon

In late 2014 a colleague and I went to a lecture at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, England on what can only be called “How to live like a gentleman whilst exploring the remotest corners of the world.” The talk was by the archivist from Fortnum and Mason’s, the elite London store catering to the culinary needs and wishes of aristocrats, gentlemen, and ladies the world over. F & M is especially known for its gift hampers full of chocolates, teas, wines, and jams, and it is definitely a thrilling experience to be on the receiving end of one of these hampers! Lord Carnarvon had crates of food and wines routinely delivered via ship from F & M while he and Carter were in Egypt searching for King Tut’s tomb. Today archaeologists and explorers can still get this kind of delivery on their expeditions no matter where they are in the world. One day I shall have to partake of this excellent service, though it would help immensely if I had a patron of that ilk!

Fortnum & Mason Christmas Hamper

Fortnum & Mason Christmas Hamper

“In the 1920s, Fortnum and Mason was the only store (oddly enough) to have a department that functioned solely to service ‘Expeditions’. This way, true English gentlemen could make their great discoveries in the far corners of the earth whilst never relinquishing the essentials of butter knives and foie gras. Fortnum and Mason not only supplied hampers to Howard Carter’s 1922 expedition, but thereafter empty wine boxes were employed to store and catalogue the finds. The intrepid amongst us will be happy to know that Fortnum and Mason still sponser expeditions, ensuring that no matter how far into the unknown one ventures, marmalade and fudge are not far behind. Unfortunately it would appear that the more recently catered adventures are those instigated by the children of the board.” Quoted from http://www.ashmolean.org/ashwpre…/underthevaults/…/25/week4/

Categories: Archaeology, England, Exploration, Food & Drink, Museums | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments

To R. H. in Manchester, with Love from Georgia

Dee & Rosemary, Manchester, 1944, most likely with her sister Barbara and mother Beatrice

Dee & Rosemary, Manchester, 1944, most likely with her sister Barbara and mother Beatrice

I once rambled to Manchester, England on a pilgrimage of love and a mission of nostalgia. There I communed with both living spirits and the shades of yesteryear. But since obscurity will not tell the tale, let me explain.

When my great uncle Ellied (“Ellie D” or just “Dee”) Douglas died childless in 2001, my maternal aunts and uncles became his sole heirs. Each niece and nephew inherited something belonging to Uncle Dee, and my mother happened to receive an old trunk full of many of his precious memories. The most interesting of the items in this trunk had to do with World War II, in which he served as a Warrant Officer in the U. S. Army. The saddest of these were the personal effects belonging to his brother Paul, who died in the reinvasion of the Philippines in early 1945. Uncle Dee had kept Paul’s civilian clothes, glasses, other mementos, and even some special Japanese paper money and coins that American soldiers, marines, and sailors used as they island-hopped across the Pacific. But the most fascinating things left behind by my great uncle were the series of letters to him from an English girl by the name of Rosemary Higginbottom of Manchester, England.

Dee was a farm boy from rural south Georgia who had been working in a cotton mill when he joined the army on August 6, 1942 at Fort McPherson, Atlanta at the age of 25. He could have had no idea how far the war would take him or of the lifelong attachments he would make when he set out on his journey. Although I am still trying to work out many of his whereabouts during that conflagration, the family has long known of his lost love in Manchester, and how he was sent into France with the army in September 1944 and presumably never saw her again. It appears that he was sent to Manchester for training as a Warrant Officer in the spring of 1944, and it was there that he met and fell in love with Rosemary and she with him.

Dee and many other American soldiers were billeted in houses with English host families who were paid for this by the U. S. Government. This was badly needed money, since it was a time of unbelievable hardship across Britain, much worse than the situation in the United States. The Blitz had even hit Manchester and other northern English cities, and life on the home front was exceedingly tough for families just trying to exist until the hoped-for victory would occur and their boys could come home. At any rate, somehow and somewhere Dee and Rosemary met and fell in love, and although we do not have his letters to her, we know a little of their life together in the southern Manchester area called Withington from her beautiful letters to him.

Dee Douglas, Manchester, England, 1944

Dee Douglas, Manchester, England, 1944

On this pilgrimage d’amour to friendly Manchester, I was fortunate enough to meet some lovely people who were fascinated by the story of Dee and Rosemary. Two of these were Phil the retired merchant seaman and Sarah the barmaid at the Victoria Pub in relaxed Withington, whither I had wandered down from the busy city centre. Perhaps Dee and Rosemary once visited this very pub together, since it had been established in Victorian days! I may never know. At any rate, today the Victoria is full of local characters and friendly faces, who listened to the tale and gave me some directions that helped me find the house where I believe Rosemary, her sister Barbara, and her mother Beatrice lived with her father during the war years.

The Victoria Pub, Withington

The Victoria Pub, Withington

Based on the address on her letters to Dee, the topography in the back garden (as the Brits call the back yard) as shown in the 1944 photos above, and confirmed by my expeditionary pedestrian survey as assisted by Google Maps, I do believe I actually found and visited the former Higginbottom home at 49 Ashdale Drive, Withington, Manchester 20, England! This confirmation is primarily based on the berm running behind the house in the photos, which is still behind the house at that address today, and holds the elevated track of the Manchester Tram running to Withington.

49 Ashdale Drive, Withington in October 2015

49 Ashdale Drive, Withington today

Heart on Door of 49 Ashdale Drive, Withington

Heart on Door of 49 Ashdale Drive, Withington

It was a very fulfilling experience, and I am so glad I was able to honor the memories of my Uncle Dee and his Rosemary by making this pilgrimage. As I said before, they evidently never met again after Dee was shipped off to France, although they wrote letters to each other for a number of years after Dee came home to Georgia after the war. It appears that Rosemary eventually married Charles E. Heaton in Manchester in 1951, although I do not know if they had children or not. Much later in life Uncle Dee married the woman who became my Aunt May. They never had any children.

But in an odd way there is a living link between Rosemary and her Dougie. When he returned home to Georgia in 1945 at the close of the war, evidently all he could talk about was his Rosemary. It just so happened that his brother Chester’s wife Eva was great with child then, so when a daughter was born to them on September 14, 1945 – a year after the last meeting of the lovers in our tale – they decided to name her Rosemary, after Rosemary Higginbottom of Manchester, England. And that second Rosemary happens to be my mother.

[September 1944]

My Darling Sweetheart

I shall be able to give you this letter in person this morning. I am glad that I am coming down to see you for I have still to hear you do some more talking.

I must just make one reference to last night. Dearest I am sorry but really I should have known only the trouble was explaining to the family over a film. When you kissed me before going last night the hurt the evening had caused died right out and if you hadn’t been very near to going I should have felt on top of the world.

I have very many happy hours to thank you for. And here’s the Big Thank You – when you leave me today I am hoping with all my heart that it won’t be good bye forever. You sure are the grandest & best pal a girl could ever wish for & I could never wish for a better one ever. I love you very much Dougie and when you are away I want to think all on my own. I should like to know one day if I needed you if you would come to me. Dear you have shown me far more than Joe ever did how much you love me and I am not
the kind of girl to forget my friends & never my best ones.

I should have asked you about the coins* for my arm or neck & please oh let me have them for that is something I should like more than anything else. I would always keep it to. I must close now & wherever you are or go I shall always be thinking of you.

All my love & very best wishes my Darling
Your English girl
Rosemary xxxxxxxxxx

Rosemary Higginbottom to Ellied Douglas, Letter from September 1944

*Note: the obscure reference to coins for her arm or neck indicate that Rosemary wanted to make a necklace or bracelet out of coins given to her by Dougie. This was a common gift to the girls, wives, and mothers back home, and called Sweetheart Jewelry.

Categories: England, Exploration, Love, World War II | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Altering and Removing Love: True Love, Forgiveness, and Shakespeare

Rowena walking away, b&w

Shakespeare knew something about love. One of his greatest poems is about love, anger, pride, and pain. And about marriage in the sense of the true union of two hearts and minds. The lines: “Love is not love which alters when it alteration finds, or bends with the remover to remove” are the heart and soul and point of this poem.

When any Lover tries to alter his love for his Beloved – to remove it from her – he will find that this is impossible to do, try as hard as he may. Because if his love is truly love, despite everything he says to the contrary, his love must remain constant still. Likewise if in reaction the Beloved says she no longer loves the Lover – that somehow suddenly her love for him has altered – and that she has removed her love for him because he tried to remove his from her, then this probably has more to do with pride and pain than with Love.

To use a metaphor, if the Beloved can somehow turn off the valve of her Love for the one she loves, so that the basin holding that Love – which can only be their hearts – is soon only half full of her Lover’s outpouring love, or visa versa, then there must never have really been any love at all. But if there was true love before, then the soul-crushing despair of heartbreak and pain may be to blame, not a lack of love, and Love may yet burst forth from the streams in their hearts changing heartbreak into New Life and New Love once again.

This is the lesson Shakespeare teaches us in his masterful poem on the subject of pain, heartbreak, anger, and the constancy of love – Sonnet 116. Can you not see the English bard’s logic in this?

William Shakespeare, 1564-1616

William Shakespeare, 1564-1616

Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove.
O no! it is an ever-fixed mark
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wand’ring bark,
Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken.
Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle’s compass come;
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
If this be error and upon me prov’d,
I never writ, nor no man ever lov’ed.

William Shakespeare, Sonnet 116, published in 1609 but perhaps written as much as 10-15 years earlier

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Imaginative Camping, Indian Trails, and British Traders

Early 21st Century Primitive Campsite

Early 21st Century Primitive Campsite

I definitely have greater respect for British classically-trained actors who cut their teeth on Shakespeare and Sophocles, whilst breaking a leg on stage, than I do for Hollywood method actors who feel the need to “live the role” for their latest blockbuster movie. This is precisely the difference between the performances of Laurence Olivier and Dustin Hoffman in the thriller “Marathon Man.” However, there is still something to be said for attempting to get into the mindset of the characters we wish to understand by comprehensively researching them, immersing ourselves into similar conditions, and then using our imaginations. This can even be a useful tool for archaeologists attempting to comprehend the lives of the peoples they study. For instance, I study the Creek Indians and the British traders with whom they interacted. And though I can never truly understand all the myriad “primitive” experiences of the Creek or the Scottish, Irish, Welsh, and English traders who traveled the Southeast 300 years ago, sometimes camping out in the woods for a few days helps spark the imagination in ways that can lead to tiny epiphanies.

For example, knowing what camping gear I usually take into the woods does help clarify the kinds of things these traders might have packed on their horses for survival in the deep woods as they crisscrossed the South on ancient Indian trails, and forded or traveled up and down our beautiful rivers. On these sylvan peregrinations, whether by land via foot or pack horse, or by water via pole boat, they visited the towns of the Yamasee, Shawnee, Apalachicola, Cherokee, the Creek Confederation (including towns belonging to the Hitchiti, Muscogee, Yuchi, Chehaw, Westo, etc), and others. But this also means that they spent a great deal of time in between Indian towns, camping in the woods or along rivers or creeks near the preexisting Indian trails connecting them to humanity. Some of these trails still exist today, if you know both the history and where to look for them. There are numerous examples around Middle Georgia, for instance, including those with the poetic-sounding names of Okfuskenene – the “Path to Okfuskee” – and Chelucconeneauhassee – literally the “Old Horse Path.” The former became known to the traders as the Upper Trading Path, while the latter they called the Lower Creek Trading Path.

Major Indian Trails in Georgia, Marion R. Hemperley, 1979

Major Indian Trails in Georgia, Marion R. Hemperley, 1979

Since these traders adopted many of the ways and material culture of the Indians amongst whom they lived, I would not be surprised if they learned how to construct and organize their camping spots from the same source. Perhaps they constructed their camps similar to the Indian camp depicted by the Salzburger emigrant Philip Georg Friedrich von Reck, who arrived in Georgia from England in 1734, kept an important journal, and used his considerable artistic talents to document the Indians and natural history of his new home.

An Indian Camp, Georgia, Von Reck, ca. 1734

An Indian Camp, Georgia, Von Reck, ca. 1734

Sitting in my own camp before a fire in the woods one morning after eating some fried bacon and scrambled eggs for breakfast, I listened to the sounds of the waking woods, drank some strong black coffee, and seemed to be able to imagine human beings not so different from myself camping under similar conditions while listening to the same sounds I could still hear hundreds of years later. What did they think about though, these traders who had left “civilization” behind and come to the forests of Southeastern North America to begin again? Upon arriving in Charleston or Savannah, what made them choose to leave other Europeans behind and strike out as explorers and traders across a landscape completely outside of their own experience? The trails were like arteries, carrying them away from the heart of the European coastal settlements, but then changing into veins carrying them toward the heart of the Indian towns.

And what of their hearts? Did they see only money, only personal advantage in their dealings with their trading partners? We know that by 1715 the Yamasee and the Creek felt mistreated and abused by many of these traders, and this led to the greatest and most dangerous Indian war that occurred in the colonial South – the Yamasee War. But the traders also seemed to prefer living amongst the Indians, adopting their buckskin clothes and more easy-going lifestyle. So these foreigners truly felt an affinity for the natives, though each trader lived a double life. He would have to bring new trade goods in and take the results of his trade back out. And what did the British want that the Indians had? Deerskins and Indian slaves. Deerskins were turned into European leather goods, book covers, hats, and other items of apparel, and Indian slaves were sent to to work on Caribbean plantations where nearly all of them quickly died from diseases.

In fact, the currency of the backwoods, and for the Southern colonies during their earliest decades, was usually deerskin. According to the “Journals of the Commissioners of the Indian Trade,” the prices for trade goods in 1716 were established as follows: Guns (30 buckskins each); Pistols (20 each), a Cutlass (8 each); Duffield blankets (14 each); Hatchets (2 each); and 1 buckskin each for rum mixed with 1/3 water per bottle, or fifty bullets, or three strings of beads, or eighteen flints, or a pair of scissors.

Did the traders, who usually worked for wealthier men, merely inventory their goods and chuckle as they ruminated on their portion of the profits as they made their trips back and forth from the coastal cities to the interior Indian towns? Did they feel relieved to be away from the cities? Were they happy to see old friends in the woods and towns, and did they enjoy making new ones? Did they feel apprehension for some unseen and unknown foe while on the trails? Did they have remedies for keeping away ticks and mosquitoes, were they worried about alligators, rattlesnakes and cottonmouths, and did they study the ways of the possum, the raccoon, the bear, the panther, and the deer? Did they keep journals, now lost to time, documenting their lives amongst the Ochisee, Okmulgee, Kawita, and Kasita?

Many of these things we shall never know. But it is a very enjoyable experience to camp in the woods away from the sights and sounds of modernity, and to imagine for a few moments – at dawn or dusk when all the world is quiet – that the year is A. D. 1700, and that the people, plants, birds, woods, and animals are all yet to be classified and studied. And all of them are a wonder to behold!

The Woods of Natural Wonder

The Woods of Natural Wonder

Categories: Archaeology, Exploration, Indian Trails | Tags: , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Exploring the Woods and Rivers of Middle Georgia

Exploring the Ocmulgee by Helicopter!

Exploring the Ocmulgee by Helicopter!

Exploring the Ocmulgee, Oconee, and Flint Rivers of Middle Georgia is not for the faint of heart, but for the adventurer!  Whether by kayak, canoe, or motor boat, by hiking on trails or along deeply wooded ridgetops with no paths, or in the sky by helicopter, there are many ways of looking for the long lost traces of Native American mounds and towns, and for those of the American soldiers and early settlers who followed in their wake hundreds and sometimes thousands of years later.

Exploring the Ocmulgee River by Kayak!

Exploring the Ocmulgee River by Kayak!

The most important aspect is being fortunate enough to know someone on the ground in any given locale.  This person is the key to the success of any exploring archaeologist, and it is they who serve as escort and guide through the snares and tangles not just of briars and brambles, but of local indifference or misapprehension.  When it becomes clear that knowledge and the subsequent enrichment of the community are the ONLY goals, then most folks are interested helping sooner or later.

Exploring the Flint River by Kayak

Exploring the Flint River by Kayak

Exploring the Oconee River on Foot Upstream from Milledgeville

Exploring the Oconee River on Foot Upstream from Milledgeville

“If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is, Infinite. For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things thro’ narrow chinks of his cavern.”

William Blake, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, 1790

Categories: Archaeology, Exploration | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

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