Sunday, March 28, 2021

Spring is Here; also Blog Statistics

 Spring is officially here. Ukraine went to DST last night and I have changed all the clocks for another season. Temperatures finally climbed above 10C. Thursday the ground was covered (again) with snow and Friday it was dry enough that Tanya started cleaning her garden. Some crocuses are blooming. Yesterday Lucky and I walked the old 5 km route we did last summer. The one km of muddy dirt road was dry enough not to stick to our feet. Today was 15C and I wore a t-shirt and shirt, no jacket. Lucky is now full time back in the dog yard and sleeps on a blanket inside a room in the outbuilding. The sun is shining and the wind is warm if you are in the sun. It has been a long winter.

Here are some questions related to statistics for people who read my blog and also blog. Some of you have hundreds of followers judging from the numbers of comments and so you should. Quality begets readership. But do you find that some of your posts get hundreds of views, some even long after they have been posted? If so, why?

The topics of my posts are all over the map. I have to write a blog post today? What shall I blog about. . . Oooh a squirrel!! The Blogger dashboard provides a number of statistics. If in the first week after posting there are a half dozen comments and 50 to 100 hits, I am all happy. And actually if I eyeball my posts that is pretty much how it is, some hit 200, and a few a bit higher. What I cannot understand is why some posts keep getting hits long after they have been posted.

Blog views over a 12 month period

Blogger provides stats including charts for 24 hours, 7 days, 30 days, 3 months, 6 months, 1 year and all time.  An analysis of the top 5 posts by views or hits explains some of it. Some is just random, I expect. I sorted by all time views of 1700 posts going back to 2008. Then clicked on a few of the top ones and Blogger charts when they were viewed. These charts explain a few anomalies but certainly not all.

The number one post with over 14,000 views, mostly in the first few years

This one gets viewed at Christmas time. Makes sense.

Got all its views at one time, two years after posting. Why?

More views in the last 5 years than the first 5.

One of my earliest posts but only popular in the last couple of years

A surge in views in 2015 and 2016, posted years earlier 

I can find out what countries are viewing my posts but not where in those countries. For example, I used to be able to check if I wrote a post about Russia, the numbers of hits from Moscow would rise. Sometimes I would be less than complimentary about Putin just to annoy their monitors. 

My next challenge is to track views to cities. Any suggestions are very welcome

Saturday, March 20, 2021

St. Patrick: Saint or Murderous Missionary?

 Today, March 20, 2021 is the Vernal Equinox. The call of the spring equinox is ancient and primal. For millennia, humankind has tracked the sun and the seasons and celebrated the promise of renewal and rebirth by joining together outdoors. A good day to discuss St. Patrick, the main patron saint of the Irish, who allegedly died on March 17th, sometime in the fifth century.

St. Patrick's Day was observed as a rather serious and religious day in Ireland and the celebrations as we know them today really took off in America, where the Irish, tired of being discriminated against and realizing they had strength in numbers turned it into a glorious day for the "wearin' o' the green", and the gettin' of the inebriated. That tradition was more fun and therefore spread around the world

Having a certain amount of Irish extraction in my forbearers, I went along with the tradition wishing people Happy St Patrick's Day and rather than consume green beer, collected Irish jokes, some of which can be printed on a public page. 

I know the usual stuff about St Patrick, how he was born to wealthy Christian Roman parents in Wales, was kidnapped and spent several miserable years in Ireland, escaped, went to France and became a priest then returned to Ireland bringing them Christianity. He incorporated the sun which the Irish worshipped into the cross, creating the Celtic Cross, taught the Holy Trinity using the Shamrock, and of course, drove the snakes out of Ireland. 

Except this year, I got a bit of a rude awakening  from my FB and Blogger friend in Texas, Jackiesue, aka Yellow Dog Granny. Jackiesue is an avowed Pagan who worships The Goddess. I never asked which one as there are several to choose from but personally I'd pick Freya, the Norse goddess of cats, fertility, war, love, sex, beauty, magic and in some ways death. That description fits Jackiesue to a T.

Anyway, Jackiesue informed me that St Patrick was a murderous SOB who Christianized Ireland by killing off the Druids who revered snakes as part of the circle of life, and any other pagans who refused to convert. I ran into this on a number of other people's St Patrick's Day Posts and began to wonder what rock I had been under all these years. The best descriptor was "Happy “another Christian celebrated for mass slaughter of people with other beliefs” day! Let’s get drunk!

Now no Irish ever let the truth stand in the way of a good story, so when I started digging to find out who St Patrick really was, I was not surprised to learn the vast majority of information on His Greenness was myth. All we really know according to Britannica is from two short works he wrote: the Confessio, a spiritual autobiography, and his Letter to Coroticus, a denunciation of mistreatment of Irish Christians.

Everything else is conjecture and legend as there were no written records. The Irish to that time depended on oral history. Hagiographies of St Patrick began to be written in the seventh century by which time he was already venerated as a saint. 

First off, St Patrick was not the first Christian missionary in Ireland, and while he did convert many, paganism was never really eliminated but thrived until the fourteenth century and still exists today.

Second, there never were snakes in Ireland when it was inhabited by humans. The ice killed them all. So what did St Patrick do to the 'snakes' i.e. the Druids and other pagans? Today, Christians assert that St. Patrick only banished a sacrificial Druid religion, an expulsion symbolically represented by the banishment of snakes. Pagans, on the other hand, claim that St. Patrick forced Christian conversion with the threat of violence, and actually killed many Druid priests who refused to convert.

One side glorifies St. Patrick as a peaceful man doing the Lord’s peaceful work while demonizing a corrupt Druid culture by accusing it of practicing child sacrifice, and the other side glorifies Druid culture as living in innocent harmony with nature while demonizing St. Patrick by accusing him of being a violent missionary. (Where have we heard this stuff before?)

Here is one perspective from the Pagan side and note she does not mention murder of pagans. My surname is Mulkieran. That surname is associated with the parish of Clonkennkerrill near the small modern village of Gurteen, in Galway. It was first recorded in the early 11th Century, and other early recordings include Maelisa O’Mulkieran who died in 1197. My mother was a passionate genealogist, who traced our family farther back than that. So you might say that my Irish bonafides have been well established.

I mention this for no other reason than to be able to point out that my perception of Saint Patrick when I was growing up was vastly different from the popular secular view. My mother was a seventh generation hereditary witch, from a long line of women who rejected the Christian tradition of assuming the names of their husbands and kept her family name. There’s not a hyphen among the seven women who preceded me, and each one of them passed down the Pagan traditions which I hold dear today. Among these was a distaste for Saint Patrick (to say the least – my grandmother would spit at the mention of his name), who my family saw as a Christian invader, a missionary who was instrumental in the subjugation of the Irish isle to the Christian church (and who, worst of all, wasn’t even Irish).

It wasn’t arbitrary that the day honoring Saint Patrick was placed on the 17th of March. The festival was designed to coincide, and, it was hoped, to replace the Pagan holiday known as Ostara; the second spring festival which occurs each year, which celebrates the rebirth of nature, the balance of the universe when the day and night are equal in length, and which takes place at the Spring Equinox. In other words, Saint Patrick’s Day is yet another Christian replacement for a much older, ancient Pagan holiday; although generally speaking Ostara was most prominently replaced by the Christian celebration of Easter (the eggs and the bunny come from Ostara traditions, and the name “Easter” comes from the Pagan goddess Eostre).

The best source I found to refute the idea of a murderous St Patrick is Saint Patrick, Druids, Snakes, and Popular Myths. It looks at several perspectives and quotes backup references. I'm only going to copy a bit of it here but please read the whole thing.

For years now, several individuals have worked to debunk this idea as well. It seems the “snakes = Druids” metaphor is a relatively recent invention, as was the idea that Patrick “drove them out.” P. Sufenas Virius Lupus, a Celtic Reconstructionist Pagan (and scholar) who has extensively studied Irish myth and folklore, had this to say on the subject.

“Unfortunately, this isn’t true, and the hagiographies of St. Patrick did not include this particular “miracle” until quite late, relatively speaking (his earliest hagiographies are from the 7th century, whereas this incident doesn’t turn up in any of them until the 11th century). St. Patrick’s reputation as the one who Christianized Ireland is seriously over-rated and overstated, as there were others that came before him (and after him), and the process seemed to be well on its way at least a century before the “traditional” date given as his arrival, 432 CE, because Irish colonists (yes, you read that right!) in southern Wales, Cornwall, and elsewhere in Roman and sub-Roman Britain had already come into contact with Christians and carried the religion back with them when visiting home.”

His assertions are backed up by historian Ronald Hutton in his book “Blood & Mistletoe: The History of The Druids in Britain.”

“[Saint Patrick’s] letters do, however, strongly suggest that the importance of Druids in countering his missionary work was inflated in later centuries under the influence of biblical parallels, and that Patrick’s visit to Tara was given a pivotal importance that it never possessed – if it ever occurred at all – to suit later political preoccupations. […] The only appearances of Druids in documents attributed to Patrick himself occur in some that are generally thought to have been composed after his death.” 

Being neither Green nor Orange but some other form of Irish Protestant heathen I will continue to appreciate Irish jokes and wish people Happy St Patrick's Day (but not you, Jackiesue nor anyone else who objects). And I will not celebrate anything orange!

Links to articles I sourced:


Friday, March 12, 2021

Remembering the Farm: Bob and Millie Graham, neighbours, friends and second parents

 A few years ago my brother sent me a picture from a newspaper article that showed aerial photos of two farmsteads, likely taken in the early 60s. One was obviously prosperous, buildings painted, yard neatly trimmed. The other looked anything but prosperous. It made me sad because I knew that yard as well as our own. It was the farm yard of our closest neighbours, dearest friends and second parents to us four kids. They were not rich in material goods but rich in the things that really counted: love, patience, honesty, kindness, and happiness.

Graham's farm yard in the early 60s. The house is gone now, burned down a few years ago.
What other buildings are left I do not know

Aunt Millie and Uncle Bob Graham, as we kids called them, lived 3/4 of a mile from us by road or a little more than half a mile if we walked across country, which we often did. They farmed two quarters of land, their home quarter being just east of our home quarter and the other being just south of our home quarter. For a long time, 40 acres of the home quarter was in pasture for a couple of milk cows and a team of chore horses. They always kept pigs which did very well for them. On that small amount of land they raised two daughters and farmed until they retired in the early 1970s to a small house in Wilkie.

Uncle Bob and Aunt Millie married in 1932. Their oldest daughter, Sadie, was born in 1935 and will be 86 this year (or 1934 and will be 87). When I first walked over to Grahams, Sadie was 17 and driving her parents Model A; I was coming 5 in the fall. I made her drive me home because I was too tired to walk back. Their youngest daughter, Mary, was born in 1937. Mary's wedding was the first wedding I ever attended and of course was quite curious about the whole thing. 

Uncle Bob (Robert) was the middle son of Archie and Margaret Graham, younger than Tom and John of whom I wrote last time, and older than Clarence and Clive. He was born in Scotland in 1907 and came with his family to New Brunswick. He came west a couple of times on the harvest excursion trains in the early 20s and when his family moved west he bought a farm close to my Grandparents Hingston. My dad was just a young teenager. He remarked that he did not quite understand Uncle Bob's excitement when he would announce the births of their babies. He learned in a few years when his own were born.

The farm equipment was by necessity small. I remember a 6' tiller, a John Deere clipper combine and a small Cockshutt tractor. Not sure of the number but about 30 drawbar horsepower. They drove a 1953 Ford pickup which was kept in a garage and never out in the weather. On the north side of the garage was a pump house and an ice well. The ice well was magic to a small boy. On a hot July day it kept food cool and miraculously yielded up home made ice cream from time to time.

Aunt Millie was a marvelous cook. Her Scottish shortbread, made only at Christmas was the best I ever tasted. She even made doughnuts which she shared with mooching little kids. She loved flowers and her front garden was always blooming with petunias. She had a set of hooks made from buck rake teeth welded to a centre post that always had pots of flowers hanging from it. Uncle Bob loved to tease, especially about the size of my feet. He said the only way I could get boots to fit was put my feet against a steer's rear end, grab his ears and peel the hide off backwards. I had a pair of enormous fleece lined army surplus flight boots for walking over there in winter. He warned me that if one of them ever got turned north I'd sure be in a bad way.

They had TV and we did not. A 50' antenna was needed to pick up the one station. Uncle Bob was an avid hockey fan and Saturday nights if we visited as a family, which we often did, we'd watch Foster Hewitt calling Hockey Night in Canada, followed by Juliette. Friday nights was The Flying Doctor, about an Australian bush pilot doctor. Sundays we would come over in the afternoon to watch Lassie and sometimes Robin Hood. For a few winters, CFQC TV every Saturday morning ran old classic movies. We were not allowed to go to shows but when Grahams suggested we watch these movies on TV, Dad figured they should be OK. I still love the classics like Robin Hood, National Velvet, My Friend Flicka, and Treasure Island. 

I followed baseball, especially the Yankees, and in summers, sometimes I would be given time off to walk over to Grahams and watch the baseball game on Saturday morning. There were 16 teams in those day and I knew most of the players. While we tried not to be a nuisance or get in the way, I am sure we tried their patience from time to time as we hung out at their place as often as we could. 

Dad bought a couple of black mares, full sisters, 1 and 2 years old, American Saddle Horse and Standardbred cross. They were for light chores but mostly because dad knew I wanted a real horse to ride, not just old plugs. Uncle Bob had a saddle which he loaned me. I was so excited. A real western saddle. And spurs. I used the spurs once but had read that unless you were skilled in the use of spurs you were better without them so I cleaned them up and hung them up. The loans were on condition that when I was through with them the saddle and spurs should go to his grandson Michael. Eventually they did.

A very comfortable ride

Aunt Millie and Uncle Bob allowed themselves one luxury and that was tobacco. Players Old Navy which came in cans. They had a little machine that made professional looking cigarettes and eventually even with filters. It caught up with Uncle Bob, who was diagnosed with lung cancer shortly after they retired. He spent some time at the Cancer Clinic in Saskatoon when I was a student in the mid-late 70s. I went up to visit him almost every noon hour. He was transferred back to Wilkie Hospital and when Bronwyn was born in 1976 we took her to the window of his room so he could see her. He passed away in 1977 at age 70. 

Aunt Millie lived a few more years in Wilkie then moved to Glaslyn to be close to her daughter Sadie. Aunt Millie passed away in 1992 at the age of 82. My dad was honoured to speak of his memories of the Grahams at her funeral. 

My brother Ross with Aunt Millie possibly early 1980s

If one thing could be said for Aunt Millie and Uncle Bob it was that they endured. They walked the talk. They suffered more than their share of hardships and heartaches that are someone else's story to tell, but they never complained and cheerfully faced each day as it came. My siblings can and should write their own memories. The Grahams left a legacy in the hearts of the four Hingston kids that I hope is some way reflected in our own lives from time to time.

Friday, March 5, 2021

Remembering the Farm: John Graham, blacksmith, welder, inventor, legend

 If there was one man, other than my father, who could take credit for keeping our farm operating in the 50s and 60s when I was home, it would be John Graham. John ran the welding shop for the Landis (Sask) Coop from 1951 until he retired. Landis was a village located about 5 miles from our farm. Especially in spring and fall, farmers including my father, counted on him to keep their equipment running and he did. You could buy parts but no one could afford them.

The welding shop located behind the Coop Garage looked like an abandoned building. There was enough scrap metal in and around it to keep the furnaces at IPSCO (as it was then) going for a week. The inside was dimly lit as much of John's work was on equipment outside the shop. It was uninsulated but I figure John was impervious to heat or cold. The shop was a fascinating place for kids but you daren't go in there. There was always something hot or sharp or welding sparks or acetylene flame. You stayed out of the way.

John was about the size and shape of a square bale, maybe a bit longer. I know because I have seen him several times climb inside a bale chamber to chisel loose a broken bolt or similar. He was black with grease and soot from head to toe. He loved people and people loved him. His one good eye always had a twinkle and he loved to tease kids. 

In 1966, spring was very late. I was home from university in April and dad told me to take the tractor and go and get a 16' rod weeder he had purchased at a local farm auction. The lane into the yard had been plowed out and the drifts were five feet high. I did not realize the lane narrowed in until it was about two feet narrower than the rod weeder. I was well and truly stuck in it and had bent the wings that stuck out to the side and drove the rod.  Nothing to do but keep going. Dad laughed and told me to take it to John. The rest of the year John told everyone I had been working summerfallow and got caught between two snow banks.

John was entirely self taught. He never finished highschool. His welding wasn't fancy but it held. He could rebuild shattered gears or make them from scratch on a lathe he built himself. He built his own forge,  a sheet metal roller, a power hacksaw, a 50 ton press, a concave grinder, an adjustable power threader, a sheet metal bender, a three speed drill press that would take a 1" bit, and a power hammer. He never used blueprints for the tools he built. He invented a roller machine for putting the curve back in cultivator shanks that were bent when the shovel caught on a rock. Dad needed that machine several times for our 14' Graham Holme cultivator. 

John was born in 1905 in Scotland on the estate of Earl Grey. His family emigrated to New Brunswick in 1909 where John at age 14 worked in a pulp mill. The family of five sons moved west in the 20's. His parents, Archie and Margaret, John and his older brother Tom farmed 2 miles east of our place.  He lost an eye to a steel chip in the 1940s working at the Palo salt mine and said it took him four years to be able to judge distance again. Archie and Margaret passed away in the 60s and the brothers continued to batch in the home place. When Tom died in 1981, John stayed on.

John never married though he admitted he always liked the girls. When he was young he could "work all day and dance all night but now I just work all day". I do not know exactly when John retired. He was still working at age 81 though he took his time and took a few days off once in a while. He passed away in 1994 at age 89. No one took his place. Nor could anyone. 

Tom (L) and John (R). 1975. John had a clean cap that day

John in his work shop 1985

John at home 1985 age almost 81 years

Information for this post came from articles in the Coop Consumer 27/05/1975 and the Biggar Independent 31/12/1985. These were provided by John's niece Margaret.