Thursday, December 10, 2015

A Christmas Story and Some Photos

     Let me start this post with some Christmas Trivia (with answers) and then end with a few of my favorite photos from this year, most of which I haven't posted before:

  1. What state was the first to recognize Christmas as a holiday?
  2. What was the last state to recognize Christmas?
  3. When was Christmas declared a national holiday?
  4. What country is the home of eggnog?
  5. Who was the first ghost to appear to Scrooge in A Christmas Carol?
  6. What are the three ships of the song “I Saw Three Ships?”
  7. What ornament is most often seen on the top of a Christmas tree?

The answer to that last trivia question is the Star, the Star of Wonder, the Star of Bethlehem.  That, too, is the topic of this particular post.  Let me examine that special Star in more detail.
For some background, the star we are talking about is the star that guided the Wisemen to the newborn King so they could present their gifts.  The Wisemen were not Kings despite what the song “We three Kings” says.  The wisemen were most likely Zoroastrian priests or astrologers (Magi) who were coming to honor the Christ child.  It’s a basic and ancient sky story where a heavenly event heralds some great event—for good or ill.  And this is where we start getting in trouble in our understanding of the Star.
The problem is that to understand what the Star was we need to know when Jesus was born.  Simple, you say, that was December 25th.  Not so simple.  The Gospel of St Matthew’s is the only book in the bible to tell the Christmas story and that book doesn’t mention the date.  And for very good reasons.  Years weren’t even numbered until 525 AD.  Jesus’ birth is considered to be in the year 1 AD, but could be as early as 6 BC, and was most likely around the years of 3 or 2 BC.  Dating Jesus’ birth is based on what we know of others.  The story is that Jesus was born “in the days of Herod the King.”  Herod died immediately after a lunar eclipse and shortly before Passover.  These events favor the dates between 3 to 2 BC.  
It’s also unlikely that Jesus was born in December for several reasons.  First, Jesus was born six months after his cousin John the Baptist who was born in March.  This favors a September date for the birth of Jesus.  From Matthew we also have the clue that shepherds watched their flocks in the fields by night.  That wouldn’t have happened in December, but would be likely in the other seasons.  Finally, Mary and Joseph wouldn’t have traveled in December.  The census was usually taken at the end of summer.  
German astronomer and mathematician Johannes Kepler tried to explain the Star of Bethlehem in 1614, but he didn’t have information about the correct date of Jesus’ birth.  Some of the explanations given by Kepler and others include comets, nova or supernova, astronomical conjunctions, and others.  Each has its adherents and detractors.
Comets, a fuzzy star dragging a tail of light, is one of the more popular theories for the Star.  They are visible for days, weeks, or even months which would have been necessary for the Magi to be able to follow for a long trip.  The Chinese recorded what we now call Halley’s Comet in 12 BC and again in 66 AD, but that is the closest record of a comet in that time period.  And it’s not really close enough.
The exploding star theory, nova or supernova, relies on the fact that nova can be seen for long periods of time, some even visible during the day.  The Chinese recorded two objects in 5 and 4 BC.  But scripture notes that Herod didn’t say anything about a “star,” but had to ask his Zoroaster priests (the Magi).  That probably means the sign was one hidden from ordinary people, but recognizable to experts.
This brings us to Kepler’s theory and one accepted by many: the conjunction theory.  Kepler believed the Star could be explained as an alignment of planets or stars and planets.  We had several of these conjunctions this year with Mars, Venus, Jupiter, and Saturn in various close alignments.  Between May 19 and August 26, 3 BC, there were nine major conjunctions, mostly involving Venus and Jupiter.  In June of 2 BC, Jupiter and Venus were in conjunction not far from Regulus (the brightest star in the constellation of Leo)—they may have actually seemed to merge into one bright star.  As satisfying as the conjunction theory is, there is one more theory to consider.
The theory of Pious Fiction is particularly noteworthy.  Matthew is the only gospel to mention the Star or the Magi.  The Gospel of St John says that Jesus was from Galilee, not Bethlehem—we know him as Jesus of Nazareth, not Jesus of Bethlehem.  The Gospel of St Mark says the family lived in Nazareth and only traveled to Bethlehem for the census and then quickly returned to Nazareth.  And finally, compelling to my scientific mind is that the Gospel of St Matthew’s was written in about 66 AD which coincides with the spectacular appearance of Halley’s Comet.  Could it be that the writer decided that he needed a real “grabber” to begin his story?
Unless some indisputable archeological discovery is found to settle the question of the Christmas Star, it will remain a matter of faith and conjecture.  Science can’t completely explain it.  History offers no concrete record.  Religion offers only untestable miraculous apparition.  And while Pious Fiction seems to hold more truth than other theories, it too is just a theory.  We can’t agree on the nature of the Star of Wonder, but the tale inspires millions every winter.    

Trivia Answers:

1. Alabama  2. Oklahoma  3. 1870  4. England  5. Jacob )Marley  6. Camels of the Magi (camels are known as the “ships of the desert")

A few of my Favorite Photos and a set from a short trip to the Oregon coast this month:
Anne on Isle of Harris

Trying to get out of the sand at Isle of Harris GC.

Dreams of the Past

My only mussels...Portree, Isle of Skye.

Autumn Gords

Eagle's got to eat.

Horsetail Falls

Mirror Selfie

Hare today, gone tomorrow.

Bob and the Ptarmigan 

True Scotsman

Tillamook Rock Lighthouse

Scottish Finch

My mom at Easter.  She passed in August. 

Washington Sunset

A set of photos from a December trip to Depot Bay and Newport on the Oregon coast:

The bay near Old taft, Lincoln City.

Two views of Yaquina Head Lighthouse, Newport.

Bay Blvd., Newport

With nephew Jon Hoiland at Rogue Ale House, Newport.

We enjoyed a Celtic Christmas concert by fiddler Geoffrey Castle and his band.

Singer was from Ireland.

Some nice storm waves near Depot Bay.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Scottish Villages and the Oregon Beach

Scotland Coastal Villages

In the far northeast corner of Scotland on the Morayshire coast north of Aberdeen, Anne and I visited two very interesting villages. We drove down to the village of Pennan which sits on a small bay with houses practically in the water,.  Pennan is famous for its iconic red telephone box which was featured in the 1983 British comedy/drama Local Hero starring Burt Lancaster and Peter Regent, and directed by Bill Forsyth (who won the BAFTA for Best Director).  
Pennan Village
The phone box was originally just a movie prop, but it became so famous BT had to install a working phone so people could call from the booth.  The other village we visited is Crovie a little further west along the coast.  There we couldn’t drive down to the village because it is so tightly squeezed between the sea and the coastal cliffs that only residents are allowed to drive down to it.  Both villages are so interesting that I looked into the history of each.
Pennan is an 18th century fishing village where most families had small boats and were dependent on the men catching fish and the wives and children selling to clients in the area.  

In the last 50 years most of the native families have moved out and the houses are now let as holiday homes.  

Except for the movie connection of Pennan, Crovie has the more interesting history.
Crovie is what is known as a Clearance Village.  
Crave village

The Highland Clearances (Fuadach nan Gaidheal, the “expulsion of the Gael”) was a forced displacement during the 18th and 19th centuries of small-scale farmers or crofters. The reasons for the Clearances were mostly economic.  Lairds, Clan Chiefs, or large land owners could make more money raising sheep than leasing plots of land to small farmers.  Also, the breakup of the clan system after the Battle of Culloden in 1745, the final battle of the last Jacobite uprising, contributed to the Clearances.  

Clan Chiefs wanted to now be accepted into higher society and didn’t feel the former obligation to clan members.  A third factor in the later Clearances was the Great Potato Famine of 1846.  With starvation and death came the opportunity to turn the land over to more modern agricultural practices--read that also as more profitable practices.  A final contributor to the Clearances was that Lairds saw some profitability in relocating families to the seaside for harvesting kelp (at its peak between 1750 and 1815).  At times, the Clearances became extremely brutal, especially in Sutherland in north central Scotland.  There the Duke and Countess of Sutherland began the eviction (1811-1820) of 90 families in order to plant “turnips,” raise sheep, invest in coal-pits and salt-pans, and increase herring fishing.  People were physically thrown out of their homes and the homes were burned to insure residents wouldn’t return.  

Tenants were given due process, usually three months notice.  But when they refused to leave the farms they had worked (some for more than 100 years) the evictions were enforced at gun point.  Crovie is one of the Highland Clearance villages.  Seeing it, one understands that no one particularly would choose to live there, except perhaps for a week at a time.  
On another trip Anne and I visited one of the Highland Clearance villages in Sutherland.  This is what I wrote in my journal after a visit to Badbea:

Our tee time at Wick GC was one o’clock which gave Anne and me plenty of time to visit the clearance village of Badbea (BAD-bay) on Scotland’s east Caithness coast five miles north of Helmsdale.  I’d seen the village listed on our map, but had no idea what we’d find there. In the lay-by on the A9 near Ousdale informative signage told us a little about the history of the village and gave a few insights into the lives of the families brought here.
The footpath is now more of a sheep trail--for about 100 yards we actually followed a sheep until she bolted off the path.  We could be the only visitors this day or this week; the three-quarter mile trail was little visited.  As we approached the precipitous Berriedale cliffs above the North Sea, the monument, built in 1939 by David Sutherland in memory of his father and the people of Badbea, signaled we had reached the village site.  
At first the monument was all we noticed--that and the quiet.  

Even the gulls seemed to sense the sadness in this site as they slid by in respectful silence.  Then we noticed a few drystone walls and the outlines of stone longhouses and byres crofters from the straths of Ousdale, Langwell, Auchencraig, and Kildonan had built when they were evicted from their land and moved to the cliffside Badbea village.  Sheep and politics had instigated the Highland Clearances and created places like Badbea, which started in 1792. Landowners like Sir John Sinclair of Ulbster evicted the crofters in preference to more profitable sheep. At its largest the village was home to 35 inhabitants, with the last leaving in 1911.
As we wandered about the site under dramatically darkening skies, we could hear in the wind the stories of families forced onto these windswept cliffs as they were uprooted from ancestral lands--lands cleared and farmed by hand, lands which for generations had given a meager, but adequate life.  Stories about men of the land forced to seek livelihood on the herring or salmon boats.  Stories of many, who not knowing the ways of the ocean, did not return from the sea.  Stories of children and livestock having to be tethered to rocks or posts so they would not be swept over the cliffs to the sea below by the fierce winds.  Stories of a people who for more than a hundred years adapted, lived, and at times even flourished, under horrendous conditions. It didn’t take long before we too were hushed like the gulls by the stories that hung heavy on the wind.
It was a quiet walk back to the car and drive on to the Wick golf course.  As we played that afternoon on the lovely Wick links, every breeze brought back the stark scene and stories of the Highland Clearance village of Badbea.

The Highland Clearances aren’t a pretty part of Scottish history, but the Clearances are definitely interesting and give us insight into the harsh conditions crofters faced.     

Photo Essay: The Oregon Coast in November 

Rivers were running very full (Three Rivers near Hebo).
Even the cormorants were taking time to dry out.

Manzanita and Nehalem Bay from Rockwork Lookout.

Looking further south from Rockwork Lookout.

Cove Beach and Cape Falcon

Anne shopping in Cannon Beach for a new hat...the red one.

Lone figure sits contemplating the sea at Cannon Beach.

Sunset at Seaside

Seaside at night.

Gearhart GC is one of Oregon's oldest golf courses, and one of the best.

Tillamook Rock Lighthouse

Sea stacks at Cannon Beach.

Not quite a full moon to end our journey.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Travels in Scotland: Part Four--Home Again, Home Again

     We are now back at home in Canby; we are not yet in this time zone, though.  It seems it’s getting more difficult to adjust from jet lag—thankfully, we still have a couple of weeks before we switch the clocks out of DST.  As wonderful as our travels are it is still nice to get home, though we already miss our Scottish family, the Cliffords (John, Jacky, Jonathan, and Ailsa).
Speaking of our trip, it is time to do a trip summary including a mention of the “Bests” of the trip.  I’ll also continue to showcase the best of my photos from the trip.  To the summary:
We drove a little over 2000 miles in our rented Toyota Auris hybrid automatic.  

Sitting in the glen in our nice Toyota Auris.
Except for some difficulty getting in and out of the driver’s seat, the car was brilliant—easy to drive, enough power, and wonderful mileage.  We got better than 50 miles to the gallon (best mileage of any car we’ve rented) and petrol costs were some of the lowest in years—we paid an average of about $6.00 a gallon.  
This trip really was a golf trip.  We played 21 rounds in 28 days on 17 different courses (4 were 9-hole courses and the rest 18-hole).  Five of the courses were new to us and they will be included in Golf in Scotland: The Hidden Gems when I revise it this winter. Our favorite courses of the trip were Moray Old, 
The 18th and the clubhouse at moray Old GC.  John Murray's pro shop is to the left.
Peterhead, and St Fillans (where we’re members).  Of the courses new to us we really liked both Maverston 
Anne tees off at Maverston GC near Elgin on the north coast.
and Inverurie.  
Not all our time was spent on the courses.  We managed to visit 29 various visitor attractions—7 were of nature (waterfalls, etc.), 
Fall colors begin to show up along the River Tummel at the edge of the Highlands.
6 were historic harbours or villages, 
Crovie Village--only residents can drive down to the village established during the Highland clearances.
5 were ancient sites, 
Loaned of Davit stone circle was created about 4000 years ago and was probably used for astronomical and ritualistic purposes.
4 were religious, 
Greyfriar's Kirkyard in Perth, central Scotland.
and the rest commercial.  Some of our favorites from the trip were “old favorites” (the historic villages of Pennan and Crovie along the north coast, the small harbors of Collieston  and Portsoy, and Perth’s Branklyn Gardens) while others were new to us (downtown Glasgow which in 26 trips to Scotland we’ve spent very little time, and Glen Lednock only 12 miles from our home base in Crieff but which we had never visited).

Glen Lednock about five miles east of Comrie village is only 12 miles from our home base in Crieff, but this was the first time we'd ever driven up the glen.

And, of course, we ate well like on every trip.  We did do plenty of cooking at home when we spent two weeks in self-catering (timeshare), but we also had lunches or dinners out about 25 times, mostly in tearooms or cafes (lunches), but we did eat dinners out in 8 restaurants and 4 pubs.  Quite few of the eateries were new to us, with our favorites being The Three Kings Inn in Cullen, Bread Meats Bread in Glasgow,
Waiting for a table in Glasgow's Bread Meats Bread, from the right: Jonathan (who is now working at a resort in Costa Rico), Anne, Aisla (a freshman in a Glasgow uni), and Jacky Clifford.

 and Hansen’s Kitchen in Comrie.  
Great sandwiches in Hansen's Kitchen in Comrie.

Our best meal, though, was at one of our all-time favorites, Anderson’s in Boat of Garten 

Andderson's in Boat of Garten (near Scotland's Cairngorm National Park) is an affordable fine dining restaurant only about 15 minutes from our timeshare condo in Aviemore.
(always outrageously good).  

The final summary of the trip is the photographic summary—the rest of the good pictures from our fall 2015 trip to Scotland:

Anne tees off at Cullen GC (built in 1870) on the Morayshire coast.  We stayed in a hotel across the road from the course and saw that the course was almost empty on Sunday morning.  We couldn't resist.

Tomnavarie stone circle is high above Tarland GC.  We had visited the circle on our very first Scotland trip.

The river runs through the area known as The Birks of Aberfeldy after a famous Robert Burns' poem.

In the area around Aviemore in the Highlands are lovely stands of birches.

Early morning fog and mists near Crieff.

The Buchan Ness Lighthouse was built in 1827 by Robert Stevenson, father of author Robert Louis Stevenson.  You can now rent the light keeper's quarters for a self-catering vacation.

Hay tractor driving though the main road in front of our B&B in Crieff.  they are super difficult to pass on the small Scottish roads.

The River Braan near Dunked.

Scottish robin singing to us as we put our golf clubs in the car at St Fillans GC.

These boats were put up for the season at Findhorn Bay.

Interested local in Glen Lednock.

Tiger Lily in Perth's Branklyn Gardens.

I never tire of photographing the packhorse bridge in the village of Cartridge.

Hieland Coo (aka. Highland Cow).

But then we had to go home.  Our flights from Edinburgh to Amsterdam and Amsterdam to Portland were good flights--on time, fairly comfortable, not too bumpy, a few decent movies.

Got a nice view of the Iceland coast on our flight.
And Fionabeg (our house's name meaning "little white" house in Gaelic) was waiting for us, already decked out in fall colors.
Fionabeg in Canby.