lá fhéile pádraig {st patrick’s day}

‘Sloping Fields’, painting of the patchwork fields of Ireland, by the mysterious Irish artist ‘Eolaí gan Fhéile’ … found here

… likewise, this artist has also authored a witty wee story called ‘A Kansas City Phone Call to an Irish Mother’, from the book ‘A Pint and a Hair Cut: True Irish Stories’ {all royalties in aid of Concern’s Haiti Fund} …

{perhaps we’re now due a few more such books in aid of the latest catastrophes} …

the spirit of alchemy: moonshine & ‘uisge beatha’

‘The second Booke of Distillations, containing Sundrie excellent Secret remedies of Distilled Waters’ …

… Anonymous woodcut illustration of alchemist in his laboratory in: ‘The Practise of the New and Old Phisicke’ by Conrad Gesner, 1599, via the British Museum; found at the fascinating BibliOdyssey

‘Moonshine Still’, from Earl Palmer’s superb Appalachian Photograph Collection, 20thC, via Virginia Tech; found at Home Distiller

‘Legendary Appalachian distiller Marvin “Popcorn” Sutton evades the law one last time’, from the sad tale, ‘Death of a Moonshiner’, read the story here

‘Moonshine’, Kings County Distillery c.’10, ‘New York City’s oldest operating whiskey distillery, the first since before prohibition’ … aka, ‘white whiskey’, also, hooch, firewater, white lightning, mountain dew, etc … more here

‘Elements of Islay’ c.’08, single malt whiskies … complete with Periodic Table labels & laboratory bottles … for ‘medicinal’ purposes, particularly during the depths of winter to warm the body from the inside out … the sublime restorative & so-called ‘uisge beatha’ {water of life in Gaelic} … pick your poison …

… 2011 is the International Year of Chemistry‘exciting electrons’ and so much more …!

welcome 2011: new dawn, new paradigm …

‘Polar Bear & Cub’, by Niviaksiak, 1959, and a poignant piece about the artist & his art, via Waddington’s …

‘Untitled Chant’: [haiku url=”http://download940.mediafire.com/vjndi1o3l0ug/odkjzjufznz/Untitled+Chant.mp3″ title=”” graphical=”true”]

From the 1974 film {& based on the book by James Houston}, ‘The White Dawn‘, an Arctic tale, featuring the actors/singers, Akshooyooliak {‘Medicine Lady’} & Lou Gossett …

… Found, including fascinating wee backstory to this beautiful, obscure song, via Corduroy Mountain …’Her song simmers with a spectrum of emotions: sadness, hope, desperation, and resolve.’ …

Also, a clue from this extract from the comment by levinsky9, via the NYT review of said movie:

‘Henry Mancini’s music, based on the song created by an Inuit woman who made it up on request …’

Curious to know what Medicine Lady is singing about … could it be a foretelling, a lamenting … ‘warmest year on record‘ … observations from visiting photographer Ron Wassink in Iqaluit, ‘no one has a memory of the bay as we see it today’ … ‘there is no ice on Frobisher Bay’

… Could it be the Gulf Stream has veered northwest, leaving Britain in a rather more Labradorian / ‘White Dawn’ deep freeze these past few winters …?

… Now there is talk of a ‘polar bear refuge‘ …

… Whatever the reason, it’s unnerving & not ‘in season’, that on this day, 01 January 2011, in Toronto, Canada, it’s a soggy, grey +10C …!

armchair explorer: atlas of remote islands …

‘Atlas of Remote Islands: Fifty Islands I Have Never Set Foot on and Never Will’, by Judith Schalansky, 2010 … Lovely, imaginative, original wee atlas … Discovered here & here … with links to great reviews there with pics and another there

“There is no more poetic book than an atlas,” Schalansky writes, and her book makes a magnificent case for the atlas to be recognised as literature, worthy of its original name – theatrum orbis terrarum, “the theatre of the world”.

… and, Nat Geo’s review … and, last but not least, one very lucky guy who actually has set foot on a good few of these faraway lands …!

Islands evocatively named Lonely, Deception, Possession, Rudolph, Christmas, Easter, Pagan, Robinson Crusoe, & many more exotic names that translate to Disappointment, Danger, Cloudy, & Passion, etc …

Dare to explore the far corners of the world without ever leaving the comfort of your chair …!

armchair escapist: winter’s tale …

‘Winter’s Tale’, 1983 novel by Mark Helprin … near impossible to describe in a nutshell … Set in a mythical New York City … in a fantastical wintry landscape … with a master mechanic/thief as your guide through the haze of time … enjoy the ride …!

‘I have been to another world, and come back. Listen to me.’

NY Times review c. 1983, and more recent reviews here, here, here and here

Great read {or re-read} for hibernating folks, most especially during cold, dark, long winter nights …!

northern lights in north america: earliest recorded sightings {on paper}, etc …

Art inspired by the first observation of northern lights in North America {New England}, 1718-19; ‘Aurora Borealis’ painting by FE Church, 1865, via Smithsonian American Art Museum

Very unusual early copper plate astronomy engraving of Aurore Boreale, Aurora Borealis the Northern Lights, dating from around 1760. The text is in French and appears to refer to an event in 1721. A rare engraving.

via the Maritime Gallery, UK

A. Angot, Les Aurores Polaires; Captain H. P. Dawson, Observations of the International Polar Expeditions, 1882-3, Fort Rae

‘… and in far northern latitudes serves to illuminate the earth and cheer the gloom of the long winter nights … the aurora borealis is said to be frequently accompanied by sound, which is variously described as resembling the rustling of pieces of silk against each other, or the sound of wind against the flame of a candle.’

via Project Gutenberg’s The New Gresham Encyclopedia

John Rand Capron (1829-1888)
Aurorae: Their Characters and Spectra

Early voyagers to the polar regions often saw the northern lights, a remarkable luminous display that some considered to be mists emanating from the earth. Capron was one of the first scientists to discuss the chemical and physical nature of the phenomenon. By the 1950s, it was accepted that the northern lights are caused by the interaction of high-energy electrons from the Sun with atoms in the Earth’s upper atmosphere.

Thirty Plates Illustrative of Natural Phenomena, etc, 1846

This work contains beautiful color illustrations of various natural phenomena, including icebergs, waterspouts, and glaciers.

Both books via ‘Voyages, A Smithsonian Libraries Exhibition’

Interesting reading about the stunning colours of the aurora, why the aurora ‘dance’ {eg ‘merry dancers’ in Shetland}, & folklore

Fascinating compendium about the historical record of ancient chroniclers, history of auroral science, cultural impact, folkloric names, such as ‘foxfire’ in Finland, ‘tricky lady’ in Norway, current science, photography, the arts & etc … via Aurorae

Last but not least … how to record the sounds of the aurora …!

dog days of summer: sirius rising {‘dog star’}

canis major_modern constellations

Canis Major {the ‘Big Dog’} constellation, featuring Sirius {the ‘Dog Star’, at the ‘dog’s nose’}, the brightest star in the constellation, and in the sky, actually … celestial illustration by the ‘forgotten astronomer’, Elijah Burritt, found via Modern Constellations … you can even get your hands on an extremely rare copy of Geography of the Heavens {sans Star Atlas} …!

Dog Days of Summer begin now … are you ready …? And some compelling comparisons between astronomy and indigenous cosmology discussed here, based on the image below via flickr: an ancient Ojibwe pictograph from Boundary Waters {Quetico-Superior canoe country}, straddling the Canadian-US border, featuring the ‘Dog Star’ …

on thin ice: the arctic sea & history

‘Cambria Icefields, BC’; aerial photography by Eamon Mac Mahon

Some ‘ice breaking news’ we may have heard before … but whether ‘climate change’ or ‘solar cycles’ … whether climate warming or cooling, it seems the Arctic sea ice is melting rather quickly …

According to ‘the largest climate change study ever undertaken in Canada, the Arctic sea ice is thinning faster than expected … It was the first time a research vessel had ever remained mobile in open water in the Far North’ …

For the past 100 years, ‘no serving Canadian icebreaker was able to penetrate Canadian Arctic water during the severe winter season from November to May’ …!

Will icebreakers {and sea ice} become ancient history? Open season on the high Arctic seas begins …

Cruising the Northwest Passage … not so long ago, a certain charismatic Scot ventured across the top of Canada, exploring the legendary and ‘mythical sea route’ … {and got a mention in the Scottish Parliament for it … see below}

Billy Connolly journeys to the ‘Edge of the World’: insightful observations, stunning scenery, remote and remarkable folks; aired on TVO not long ago … an ode to Canada, series produced by ITV UK, keep an eye out for re-runs …

One of the last expeditions that attempted passage through Arctic waters 1.5 centuries ago, was much less pleasant … ‘Passage’, based on the compelling book by Ken McGoogan , who brought the story to light …


Anticipating the film release of this fascinating and largely obscured history of Dr John Rae, the Orcadian Scot who scoured the Northwest Passage in search of the truth … and ‘was the first to identify and map the navigable link of the North West Passage’

Dr Rae joined the HBC and became a ‘student’ of the indigenous Cree and the Inuit in particular, who nicknamed him ‘Aglooka’ {he who takes long strides} for his skilled snowshoeing … and the rest is history … it’s been a long time coming …!
{we spent a year in Orkney, many moons ago, where we were introduced to this extraordinary story and unsung hero}

A wee tune to set the mood …

winter survival: ice fishing, shacks & the TSG

‘Ice Fishing Shacks’, photography by Scott Peterman, Maine, USA, found via here and featured in ‘Maine’ magazine

Shelter from the elements and a wee nip for inner warmth {Stanley Flask … in the shop!}

‘Ice Fishing in Gimli’ , the curious new 7-book, 8-volume epic & exhibition, by Rob Kovitz {Winnipeg}; a few interesting posts about the novel and subject matter found at on site review

Ice fishing on frozen lakes & camping under the stars with the TSG this weekend … don’t forget your snow goggles …! {ice fishing Inuit photo, via the CMC}