Thursday, December 24, 2009


Growing up at St Matthews Cathedral in Dallas (Episcopal) was in retrospect an idyllic exercise for which I hold many fond memories. I first attended the Cathedral School for Boys in Dallas and then on to St. Marks School of Texas after Cathedral’s merger with Texas Country Day. I don’t know the inspiration or motivation but I somehow ended up as a treble boy chorister singing in the Cathedral Choir at St. Matthews and then at St. Marks which had a much closer relationship then with St. Matthews Cathedral than they do now. The fact that St. Mark’s though Episcopalian-oriented is non sectarian and now has their own chapel probably has everything to do with that. Their charter, however, requires that an ordained Episcopal priest lead the services in the St. Mark’s chapel. By the way, our uniform at St. Mark’s in the 1950’s was military (Army) khaki (long pants and shirts, web belt, slide release brass buckles and black shoes – all spit and polish. Today the uniform is gray shorts or pants with white oxford shirts for grades 1–11 with blue oxford shirts for seniors - less tense.

I sang in the choir at St. Marks under the brilliant tutelage and leadership of iconic Choirmaster L. F O’Connor for several years and was a member of that famous choir invited to stand in for the Westminster Cathedral Choir while they went on world tour. We were the first choir outside the UK to be so invited. I went on to St. Dunstan’s in Providence, RI where I was one of the two mainstays a capella soprano soloists (Billy Duquette was the other and better of the two) under the very able leadership of Choirmaster T. James Hallan who was also the Music Director at Lincoln School and St. Martin’s Episcopal Church in Providence. I think it a shame, yea injustice, that there are no more references to Hallan on the Internet given his absolute genius and lifetime of dedicated tutelage and successful mentorship of young men and women. I owe him a lot. Though he would certainly disagree, he should be canonized for his efforts.

At St. Marks we sang (they still do) the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols (inspired by the Choir of King's College, Cambridge) as well as their then famous Boars Head Dinner replete with the obligatory roasted boar with apple in mouth which was carried into the candlelit banquet hall on a huge silver platter all to the strains of the medieval Boar’s Head Carol, “The boar’s head in hand bring I, bedeck’d with bays and rosemary.” The Boar was the iconic and ferocious monarch of the Great Britain forests, a palpable threat to man and the unquestionable symbol of evil (just ask the folks in one neighborhood in Loma Linda, California who recently engaged a 200+ lbs. tusker!). Serving the boar in this ceremony which dates from the 14th century was the great metaphor – the triumph of Christ over evil.

I vividly recall how my Robin Hood era, maternally-tailored costume (with tights) made me itch something terrible. Mother Betty Buxton said that the home where we actually ate a full, multi course authentic medieval dinner (no spaghetti or egg rolls here) while performing a variety of Christmas music was a huge north Dallas mansion with Flemish tapestries on the wall. The spectators were parents and Friends who occupied the gallery that overlooked the spacious dining area. I remember it as a much smaller though still impressive version of the Biltmore House’s Great Banquet Hall. What a wonderful memory… There has to be some video somewhere… By the way, if you haven’t done the Biltmore House Christmas Tour in Asheville, North Carolina then you cannot count yourself as having led a full life - yet.

Though just a very young neophyte chorister at Cathedral School and St. Marks, St. Dunstan’s afforded me the opportunity to grow and shine as a sometimes soprano soloist and that included my infamous role and performance as the female lead (all boy’s school) for their Christmas production of Babes in Toyland at Brown University.

While at St. Dunstan’s and later at Lenox School I remember singing many songs/carols that inspire me to this day. One of those songs and the focus of this post was Christina Rossetti’s In the Bleak Midwinter. Rossetti wrote a Christmas poem for the American magazine, Scribner’s Monthly in 1872. Like many of our Christmas traditions, it is essentially contemporary and assumes that Jesus was born on December 25 in a winter landscape. While we know better now, that sentiment evoked more poignant images of a couple struggling against even greater odds with their new, divinely inspired baby. It worked.

That poem has been put to music many, many times with the most notable and beautiful tune written by Gustav Holst who was living in the English village of Cranham at the time and appropriately in a house now called “Midwinter Cottage.” Holst wrote the exquisitely poignant and hauntingly quiet and peaceful tune for the 1906 edition of The English Hymnal.

Another tune (similar to Holst) was composed several years later in 1909 by Harold Darke, then a student at the Royal College of Music who was to later achieve fame as an acclaimed organist and Director of Music at King's College, Cambridge. While Darke’s song has met with some favor of late, I think it much more complicated than the Holst version. I find the melody distracting as it varies from verse to verse. No surprise that I personally don’t like Darke’s version as Holst seems to suit my mostly melancholy mood and the predictability of a more somber, flowing reflection. The choir at All Saints Episcopal in Atlanta, Georgia under the direction of the multitalented organist and choirmaster Ray Chenault (and wife Beth) has sung a contemplative Midwinter (sitting) as a communion hymn and choral interlude while folks were partaking in the Eucharist. It was always a beautiful, quietly fluid and fitting accompaniment for meditation and prayer.

I guess I also feel a little miffed that anybody in a copycat mode (OK, OK) would have tried to improve on perfection (several others have also attempted to do so). Indeed, In the Bleak Midwinter has proven to be one of the most popular Christmas carols of all time, witness the BBC Music magazine's 2008 poll of the world's leading choirmasters and choral experts who voted it (Darke’s version) the top Christmas hymn, ever. There has been some controversy over the selection with many feeling the judges were more impressed by the complexity of the tune in contrast to what mere mortals might choose. And that brings us to the point of this post – to share some of the more popular versions, all Holst save two, so that you can appreciate and judge the song(s) and the two versions for yourself. Both are beautiful.

Both settings of In the Bleak Midwinter have been recorded by what is a veritable pantheon of who’s who of popular recording artists from around the world including but not limited to Sarah McLachlan-Darke (2006), James Taylor (2006), Bert Jansch (1974), Moya Brennan (First Lady of Celtic Music - 2005), Julie Andrews (1982), Robin Gibb (2006), Dame Kiri Te Kanawa (1994), Corrinne May (2007), Charlotte Church (2000), Sissel Kyrkjebo (2006), Cyndi Lauper (1998), Allison Crowe (2006), Frida (ABBA) 2004, Sarah Brightman (2008), Olivia Newton-John (2008) and as well as by many choirs and groups including the Robert Shaw Chamber Singers (1993), Moody Blues (2003), Chanticleer–Darke (1995), Steeleye Span-Maddy Prior (2004), the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, Paul Hiller & Theater of Voices (1994), Paul Coleman Trio – PC3 –(2002), Aled Jones (2005), The Choirboys (2008), Celtic Woman - Máiréad Nesbitt (2007), Lichfield Cathedral Choir – Darke (1996), Gloucester Cathedral Choir (2003), Choir of King's College Cambridge (2005), St. John's College Choir, Cambridge (1986), Worcester Cathedral Choir (1993), Choir of St. Mark’s School (2003) and many, many more. Of course, many of the choirs sing both versions of Midwinter to especially include the Choir of Kings College-Cambridge.

A lot of singers from different genres attempt the same songs, each with their own physical and mental interpretations, nuance and style staying aloof or with more or less personal emotion, passion and expression in their performance becoming one with the music, the message and its cultural context. The difference in the approaches determines whether one is music or noise… eye of the beholder stuff. Most of these dynamic performers have become part of the history and tradition of Midwinter because of their passion and fervor for the music, the lyrics and their ultimate motivation – the celebration of the birth of Christ. And, that’s what it’s all about.

Now please understand that this is a long piece and intended for those with patience and anticipation, a love of Midwinter and an appreciation for the history of the piece. If you can’t stay the course and review some of the artists we have featured (thanks to YouTube) then you can opt out and just listen to one track. This particular Celtic Christmas CD (surprise, surprise) has 16 different artists/groups singing a portion of the Holst setting of Midwinter. The artists include Allison Crowe, Cyndi Lauper, Moya (Màire) Brennan, Crash Test Dummies, Gregorian, Bert Jansch, the Pipettes, James Taylor, Polifonico Monteforte, Westminster Cathedral Choir, Wells Cathedral Choir, St Philips Boy's Choir (Libera), Royal College of Music Chamber Choir, Holland Boys Choir, Julie Andrews and John Fahey. It’s well done and interprets The Story across many musical genres. We do pray that these hyperlinks hold and remain active in YouTube.

If you’ve gotten this far, congratulations! The
first individual recording (again, all thanks to YouTube) of Holst's setting is sung by one of England's great cathedral choirs at Glouchester Cathedral (Cathedral Church of St Peter and the Holy and Undivided Trinity). This massive Gothic cathedral’s foundation was laid in the 11th century on top of an older abbey that dated to 678 CE. I’m used to High Church (smells and bells) and the extraordinary music programs like Gloucester. Take special note when the congregation joins the choir in song. It is an exhilarating musical experience. This is an extraordinary offering from an extraordinary church.

We immediately switch from Gloucester in south west central England north 124 miles northwest of London, the west midlands and the Gothic Cathedral at Lichfield and home to the world famous Lichfield Cathedral choir which historians reflect dates from the year 1200 CE. Lichfield concedes that their current Choral Foundation traces back at least as far as 1315 CE. The first cathedral to be built on the present site was in 700 CE by the Saxons, followed by the Normans in 1085 CE onto the present colossal Gothic structure with its distinctive and unique three spires, begun in 1195. The Lichfield Cathedral Choir has cut many records, CDs and music videos among them their 1996 CD Christmas from Lichfield which was preceded by their 1995 video which we offer today. Lichfield gives us a robust view of Darke’s setting of Midwinter. Their music program is unparalleled.

From British High Church to American icon James Taylor who in his James Taylor at Christmas album offers a hauntingly and painfully
beautiful version – pure vintage James Taylor.

Back to the Anglican Church and The Choirboys who are comprised of English cathedral choristers from across England so we can suppose that members will have only a brief time (in human years) to participate as such given the predictability of that painful trek to adolescence and the inevitable breaking of the voice and the loss of their treble status. I experienced that as I went from treble/soprano to alto to tenor to baritone and oblivion. At the end I was mouthing the words at the insistence of the choirmaster and then worked my senior year as one of the Sextons at Trinity Church in Lenox, MA. The ignominy of it all - all the kings men and all the kings horses… My pilgrimage from choir stall in the Chancel to the congregation proper was demoralizing (as Mother said, “Ghastly”) especially when combined with so many other changes that were happening in my life… As a baritone in the Chorus I did rehearse Handel’s Messiah the other night over at the Anglican The Chapel of the Cross in Dallas (like riding a bicycle…). My thanks to the generosity and hospitality of superb mezzo soprano Nicole de Martimprey.

As you will see, the present Choirboys are at least second generation and are perfectly outstanding in their 2007 offering of Midwinter from their The Carols Album.

It seems that the soprano voice, female or choirboy is the perfect fit for this melody proof being the English born but New Zealand raised rising star Camilla Kerslake who made this song a part of her first album (Camilla Kerslake) in 2009. If she has ever had diction problems in the past, she now appears beyond that and nails this version of Midwinter which is worthy of your ear… Pray that we all hear more from this Lady with the only caveat being that she keeps away from her makeup case. She’s very attractive and doesn’t need any help. Watch her vocal technique - the way Camilla enunciates and mouths her words. That’s the correct way – the way we were taught at St. Marks.

So this song is only for soprano? Chanticleer, the extraordinary San Francisco based full-time classical vocal (a cappella) ensemble answers that question. Founded in 1978 to sing Renaissance vocal repertoire this group has travelled the world and gained an unparalleled reputation for their interpretation of music from all genres – no different their version of Midwinter from their 1995 Sing We Christmas album which reached #6 on Billboard’s Classical chart. Gang - it doesn’t get any better. This may be where all good trebles go when they transition to maturity.

While we suspect that Camilla Kerslake probably has some Celtic DNA we are assured that is a certainty with our next several artists of that genre. They represent the best of the lot and we are pleased to feature them. Born in Manitoba and now living in Ontario, Loreena McKennitt is pure Canadian Celt- of Scottish and Irish parentage. Her music is grounded by her appreciation and passion for diverse cultures with her heroism showing mightily through. She is a composer, musician (Celtic harp, piano and accordion) and singer with numerous original works which celebrate many cultures of the Celtic Journey. Loreena McKennitt’s (on harp) In The Bleak Midwinter is a powerful instrumental piece from her 2008 holiday album A Midwinter Night's Dream where she successfully recaptures, “some of the frankincense and myrrh” of the music of the winter season. I have most of her albums and intend to collect and enjoy them all. I’d bet the farm that Celtic Harp Champion, the incredibly talented, late Jan Pennington would be the equal of Loreena. Enjoy.

If you start invoking the Celtic harp can the fiddle be far behind? For me that means either Scotland’s Master Fiddler Alasdair Fraser of Valley of the Moon fame, Cape Breton’s Natalie MacMaster or Ireland’s Máiréad Nesbitt of Celtic Woman. Since I can’t find a version by Fraser or MacMaster we reliability put our good faith in Nesbitt that animated knock out, drop dead gorgeous All Ireland Fiddle Champion and violinist/fiddler for PBS phenoms Celtic Woman. Her offering of Midwinter with violin is beautiful and haunting. Holst would approve of the energetic and inventive Celtic lass from Tipperary who dares you to not get involved in her music. Some say that she’s just as good on piano and we would wonder how long Celtic Woman can challenge her. Kind restores your faith in the Almighty, Eh?

I share the same birth year as Bert Jansch - one of my favorite all time Scottish singer/songwriters (Glasgow) who takes the Scots perspective in folk revival to its highest point. Sometimes referred to as the British Bob Dylan or perhaps Dylan is the American Bert Jansch? Bert’s unique gravelly almost gruff voice and brooding, plaintive sometimes almost mumbling style is immediately recognizable and for me is the template for all successful Scottish singers. Bert has always done it his way and as a veteran of the booze wars and multiple heart bypass surgery, he has been there, done that and is now reinvigorated and better than ever. This innovative and accomplished acoustic guitarist brings me back to my youth but keeps me squarely in the present. His interpretation of Midwinter (originally released as a single in UK in October, 1974) is absolutely superb and as one reviewer recently stated, Jansch is, “damn near perfect.” I sure would like to see what a contemplative and serious Alex Beaton could do with this hymn.

The 1960’s saw the formation and evolution of the iconic soft rock English band, The Moody Blues who offered us many popular hits including Knights in White Satin which I could sing in my sleep. I love the Moody Blues – Blue Cathedral! The on-off-on again seemingly spiritual Moodies play into their sometimes melancholia by recording Midwinter on their October 2003 Christmas-themed album appropriately entitled December. Their always moving songs included originals such as John Lennon and Yoko Ono's 1971 anti war, anti Vietnam future standard, Happy Xmas (War Is Over). The Moodies left the Holst Midwinter tune alone which pretty much reflects Justin Hawyard’s love of and early influence by The English Hymnal. Well, you make up your mind.

We stay in Britain for a while longer to ponder the great and indomitable Dame Julie Andrews and her incredible body of work which has garnered for her every conceivable recognition including designation as one of the "100 Greatest Britons" sponsored by the BBC and selected by the public. Puts her in pretty good company that includes Winston Churchill, William Shakespeare, William Wilberforce, King Henry VIII and my personal favorites Sir William Wallace and Robert the Bruce though the latter would most assuredly prefer to be remembered as among the Greatest Scots. But, back to Julie - her holiday album, Christmas with Julie Andrews was originally recorded in 1963 (rereleased in 1982) before 1998 throat surgery took her voice from us. She has started to sing again of late but her range is limited. At that, it’s still better than most. Her Christmas album is considered by many critics to be “the best ever” with Julie’s vocals and the magnificent orchestral setting. Of note, it contains Midwinter (Julie’s favorite) and I think that just Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious!

We move across the North Sea to Norway and Sweden and find Anni Frid Lyngstad (Frida) of Abba fame and many popular hits including Dancing Queen and Mamma Mia. Though she is no longer actively pursing a career in music she has left a legacy of many hits and, yes, an abbreviated (one verse) recording of Midwinter in her live TV special with Jon Lord in 2004. Frida proves that she like the song is timeless. She brings her great voice and incredible good looks (still) back for all to ponder and appreciate.

It seems a lot of good things are coming out of China these days. First there was those giant pandas Ling-Ling and Hsing-Hsing, ping-pong players, bankers to the United States and now we have the incomparable Corrinne May (born Corrinne Foo May Ying in Singapore). Corrine may be the key to get Taiwan and mainland China back together – she’s that good and sings on a Taiwan label. One of her favorite singers is Sarah McLachlan and that’s reflected in her timber and presentation. A little breathy bit of Sarah Mclachlan and folk-flavored Carole King is in Corrinne though she remains her own very talented performer. Her interpretation of Midwinter is superb and perhaps one of the best of all time and believe it or not, happened at the local Peets Coffee & Tea, her favorite haunt in Tarzana, California. We hope that many get a chance to experience this extraordinary performer. You will want to listen and feel her Journey. As two recent reviewers stated, “Oh my, healing tears…” and “Her songs, her words, her music, her voice lifts, comforts and heals in infinite measure.”

No, we can’t leave out Canadian superstar Sarah McLachlan who has been such a positive influence in the music industry including her ongoing Lilith Fair tour, which starting in the late 1990s, showcases female musicians. Sarah believes in being involved and giving back totally, witness her many philanthropic activities which are well known beyond her home in Vancouver. Sarah is important to this piece not only because of her incredible talent, but also because she sings the Darke version of Midwinter – and incredibly so on her 2006 album, Wintersong. Amusingly and probably deliberately her title of Midwinter is “In a Bleak Midwinter” as opposed to "the". When you Google the two songs the only one that comes up "a" is McLachlan’s. Rosetti wrote the poem as “In the Bleak Midwinter”. Interesting as it’s either a gigantic screw up or a McLachlan gambit (probably the latter). Whatever the reason, no doubt that Sarah is an Angel.

Our Midwinter world tour takes us to New Zealand and then back to England for the performance of Midwinter by Dame Kiri Te Kanawa. Dame Kiri performed with incredible emotion and feeling with Michael George and the massed Choirs of Coventry and Lichfield Cathedrals in this superb 1994 UK concert. Dame Kiri is of Māori and European ancestry and raised in a Maori home. Her operatic career is legendary and her honors, “as lang’s me arm.”

With Aled Jones we engage yet another one of the Seven Nations – Wales. Jones is the former standout and world renowned treble from Bangor Cathedral who now as an adult though a natural lyric baritone he sings Midwinter as a tenor on BBC’s inspirational Songs of Praise on December 25, 2005. You can see Aled’s choral training in his enunciation and the clarity and honesty of his presentation. He’s all grown up though I can still see him as the Lead Soloist at Bangor Cathedral. Beautiful, aye. Well done.

Much to my dismay I had never heard of Danielle Vaughn before I started researching this post and that’s a loss for me. Now you know her and can appreciate her body of work including this amazing video of
In the Bleak Midwinter from Danielle's 2009 CD Noel. The song is the star and focus of attention in this video devoid of all modern video manipulation save its mere existence. She is a classically trained pianist, singer and songwriter who appears to listen to the beat of her own drummer after benefitting mightily from a multi cultural, non traditional upbringing. They can’t hide Danielle’s soulful and solitary interpretation of Midwinter. Part of the inspiration has to be those Utah mountains around Huntsville. Well done

Just when you thought that it couldn’t get any better, it does. We saved the best for last. We go back to Scandinavia and to my Norse Brethren. Sissel Kyrkjebø aka Sissel is the wonderful Norwegian soprano who contributed the haunting vocals for Titanic and sang the stirring Olympic Hymn for both the Opening and Closing Ceremonies of the 1994 Winter Olympic Games in Lillehammer, Norway. While Enya, Annie Lennox and the awesome and incredibly attractive Emiliana Torrini (Gollum’s Song) contributed to Lord of the Rings, it was Sissel who was invited to go on the 2004 world tour as featured soloist for a full orchestral performance with choirs all dedicated to the music from the The Lord of the Rings films. As the featured soloist Sissel performed
Midwinter with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir on the occasion of their 2006 Christmas concert which was aired in December 2007 on PBS. In Norway this song is called I En Steingrå Vinter and can be found on Sissel`s 2009 CD Strålande Jul. We of the Kingdome of Räknar and The Might of Right are well pleased as the King of Norway Knighted Sissel into the Order of St. Olav (1847) in 2006 for her contributions to music and as an ambassador for Norway (the youngest ever recipient of this revered honor). Sissel may very well be the best soprano in the world today…

So, which version do you prefer and what artist nails it for you? As I ponder Christmas 2009 Midwinter brings me back to that true meaning of this holiday whether it be celebrated in summer, fall, spring or Winter. I’m thinking of Family and Friends and how blessed I am to be able to celebrate life with them all to the strains of this beautiful carol. One year ago today beloved step mother Ellen passed to her great reward and we do miss her. The Might of Right dedicates this post to Ellen who loved Midwinter. Last night we participated in the “Greening of St. Matthews Cathedral” here in Dallas. We contributed to yet another great tradition and readied our house for the Christ Child. We hope you have a Merry Christmas!


Ned Buxton

Friday, December 18, 2009


This 2009 Christmas season I continue to note many sincere Christian folks of good will waxing teary-eyed and eloquent about the sacred traditions of Christmas and their two thousand year old pedigree? Many of those beliefs are born of ethnocentrism, an incredible leap of faith, ignorance of thousands of years of history, commercialism and what appears to be a continuing dumbing down of America. Given that most of us seem to be losing the real meaning of Christmas, I thought it appropriate to repeat and expand on my Christmas post of 2007 in my ever continuing effort to set the record straight. As one fellow writer once said, “Don't get your feathers in a ruffle.” This isn't a debate on whether the birth of Jesus really happened. It did. This is not an argument that Christmas is paganism wrapped in a bow. Whenever and wherever the birth of Jesus happened, it’s good news and offers hope for all Mankind…

Despite the fact that this topic has been long debated - even by the Ancients, when it was broached several years ago in more public forums on the Internet it was considered volatile in many quarters and at the least very controversial. With the ground now broken the debate and scholarship is beginning to be more widely accepted. The Internet is crammed with legitimate sites that appear sensitive to offering substantive information about the real origins of Christmas. The other day I heard an ad on KRLD radio in Dallas where Chip Davis of Mannheim Steamroller was waxing right on and eloquent on the real origins of Christmas traditions all the while selling his extraordinary
Mannheim Steamroller Christmas 25th Anniversary CD Collection.

Mind you, I don’t want to debunk Christmas - no Scrooge or Bah Humbug here. Rather I want to shine the light of day on the origins of the holiday and ultimately straighten our path. I love Christmas and its OK to continue where we are going, but let’s take a peek back at the real history.

In a great irony we have the formerly anti-Christian Romans to thank for the start of the evolution of December 25 as the celebration of the birth of Jesus aka Christmas. Despite the evolution of this holiday there remains significant pagan and secular symbolism. For starters we know (In the Bleak Midwinter aside) that Jesus wasn’t even born in December! No, there was no snow on the ground and modern Biblical scholars and historians who have done the math in an historical context using the Bible and other documentation estimate that Jesus was born anywhere from 4 BC to 2 BC maybe in September though no one really knows for sure. There are many sincere theories though no legitimate sources reflect December 25 as the Nativity.

Pagan cultures all over the world have traditionally celebrated the winter solstice as a feast day, the precursor of the beginning of deep winter and the rebirth of the Sun. Indeed, Bronze Age archaeological sites to include many stone circles/henges like Stonehenge in England, the Ring of Brodgar and the Stones of Stenness in the Orkneys in Scotland had their footprints aligned with the sun of the winter solstice.

The symbolism of the year as reborn fits nicely with the celebration of the birth of Jesus, The Son emanating from the rebirth of The Sun. It’s an easy segway that leads us to many other celebrations of new beginnings to include Hogmanay's Redding (cleaning) tradition in Scotland and the North Country.

Indeed, this correlation was not lost on several early Christian writers to include the former pagan and martyred Saint Cyprian of Carthage who connected the rebirth of the sun to the birth of Jesus in the mid third century when he wrote, "O, how wonderfully acted Providence that on that day on which that Sun was born . . . Christ should be born."

Roman Emperor Aurelian laid the foundation for the modern tradition of Christmas by establishing December 25, 274 A.D. as the Festival of the Sun God. Early Christians who were being ruthlessly persecuted reputedly used the festival to celebrate the birth of Christ without being detected. In many modern quarters Aurelian is known as “The Father of Christmas.”

Some agenda driven, intellectually bankrupt naysayers like William J. Tighe have tried to unsuccessfully convince us that Aurelian chose the date in an attempt to, “create a pagan alternative to a date that was already of some significance to Roman Christians” despite the fact that pagan cultures had reserved and celebrated that date for thousands of years based not on some incident of historical import but the winter equinox. Tighe’s suspect scholarship and use of “appears” and “was almost certainly” is no justification for his theory. Indeed, most scholars agree that it was the other way around; that the Christians lifted many elements of the Mithraic theology and incorporated it into their own ritual. To early Christians, the childhood or place and manner of the birth of Jesus was irrelevant as The Resurrection, the Kingdome of God, was at hand. That postponed, they had to build a complete history of their, "beginning." This is the stuff of a whole other treatise which I may engage at a later time.

Of course, we ultimately need to thank Roman Emperor Constantine I who after attributing his victory over Maxentius at the Tiber River in A.D. 312 to a Christian sign, “converted to Christianity”. Constantine then lifted sanctions against Christians, returned confiscated property, built many churches and may well be more of The Rock than Peter. It was Constantine who made Christianity the official state religion and convened the first Council of Nicaea in A.D. 325. Without his protection and patronage one wonders how Christianity might have evolved or whether it would have survived. Otherwise, we might all be worshipping Mithras? Even with his fervor, Constantine was a politician to the end, hedging his bets and playing both sides against the middle, not being baptized until he was on his deathbed.

Though Constantine worshipped the full pantheon of Roman gods and especially the Roman Sun God Sol, the symbolism noted earlier was not lost on him. Constantine was one sharp guy who saw great benefit in using Christianity to unify his empire by bringing it under the banner of one religion.

Constantine was intent on blending the existing pagan traditions with the new Christianity. He knew that he wouldn’t be favorably received if he took away two of the more popular Roman holidays – the Mardi Gras-like celebration of Saturnalia (December 17-24) and the Dies Natalis Solis Invicti, "the birthday of the invincible sun" and the inclusive celebration of the birth of Mithras, the Persian god of Light (December 25-Jan 1) which was embraced by many upper class Romans and especially, the Roman military.

A significant side note: In a not too surprising coincidence, December 25 was Mithras' birthday before it was Jesus’, Mithras healed the sick, made the lame walk, gave sight to the blind, raised the dead and before returning to heaven at the Spring Equinox, had a last supper with 12 disciples? Hmmmmmmm

The Mithraic and Christian cults were very similar both in appearance and in the character of their ritual. Indeed, the similarities between Mithraism and Christianity are so numerous that it cannot really be denied that the older cult influenced the more recent one. Early Christian priests alarmed with the similarities with their liturgy could offer no better explanation than to surmise that the Devil had gone back in time and planted the belief system so as to confuse the Christians of the day.

The initiates of Mithras, the sun-god, believed that he was born of a virgin in a cave on December 25, and was worshipped on Sunday, the day of the conquering sun. Mithras condemned evil, practiced baptism and consumed the sacraments of bread and wine. He was a savior-god who exceeded Jesus in popularity in ancient Rome. He died and was resurrected in order to become a messenger god, an intermediary between man and the good god of light, and the leader of the forces of good against the dark forces of the god of evil. Hmmmmmmmmmm…

The Mithraic Holy Father wore a red cap, robe, and a special ring, and carried a shepherd's staff. All Mithraic priests were called ‘Father’ not unlike Christian priests who adopted the same title. Mithra's bishops wore a mithra, or miter, as their badge of office. Christian bishops also adopted miters. The Mithraic mass involved the eating of a sun-shaped bun embossed with the sword of Mithra, which was a cross. The Catholic communion wafer continues this Mithraic tradition, and the structure of the old Catholic Latin Mass closely mirrors the Mithraic mass. And for you naysayers, this is not myth rather part of the documented historical record. Hmmmmmmmmm…

Back to the origins of Christmas - Saturnalia was a hedonistic celebration where normal Roman social order was turned upside down and Romans paraded in the streets wearing masks (and sometimes little more), costumes and animal skins and practiced ritual which continued later in Europe evolving into the Mummers tradition. Emperor Constantine merged these pagan festivities with the new Christmas holiday though many of the pagan celebratory traditions from these festivals continued unabated. They just had a new label. Gifts were exchanged and Families and Friends gathered to drink and feast – traditions that are resoundingly familiar to us today. By the 12th century the remnants of Saturnalia were formally incorporated into what we now know as the “Twelve Days of Christmas.”

In 350 CE, Pope Julius I reaffirmed that Christmas would be celebrated on December 25 and like Constantine I was sensitive to the still Roman pagan majority’s penchant for the debauched celebrations of their non-Christian past (a bitter pill goes down easier with a little sugar). The first mention of December 25 as the celebration of the date of Jesus' birth is found in an early Roman calendar from A.D. 336, well before Pope Julius’s proclamation. OK, so now we know that Christmas is a pagan-influenced holiday fraught with considerable political ramifications. The rest is a matter of history with many elements of our Christmas being incorporated from many cultures around the world.

Several hundred years before the birth of Christ, the Druids used mistletoe to decorate their homes and celebrate the coming of winter. The Druids believed the plant had special healing powers for everything from female infertility to poison ingestion while the Scandinavians thought of mistletoe as the plant of peace and harmony. The Norse associated mistletoe with their goddess of love, Frigga, who rode in her cat-drawn chariot (they were Norwegian Forest Cats) and whose tears became the white berries of the mistletoe. The custom of kissing under the mistletoe is believed to originate from this belief. Contrary to the end and not surprisingly, the early church aggressively banned the use of mistletoe for Christmas substituting the use of holly. That failed and we now have the tradition of the mistletoe and holly.

Remember the Yule Log? Yes, on the occasion of the winter festival called Yule they were lit to honor Thor, the God of Thunder, with the belief that, “each spark from the fire represented a new pig or calf that would be born during the coming year. Feasting would continue until the log burned out, which could take as many as twelve days. In pagan Germania (not to be confused with Germany), the equivalent holiday was the mid-winter night which was followed by 12 "wild nights", filled with eating, drinking and partying. As Northern Europe was the last part to Christianize, its pagan celebrations had a major influence on Christmas. Scandinavians still call Christmas Jul. In English, the Germanic word Yule is synonymous with Christmas, a usage first recorded in 900."

The early Christian Church strictly prohibited the decoration of their houses with evergreen boughs perceived then as “Pagan”. While the modern celebration of Christmas continues to incorporate the pagan symbols of the evergreen tree (the green symbol of the renewal of life), they have long been a pagan tradition dating back to prehistory.

While some might try and convince you otherwise, the ancient Romans may have had the distinction of having the first decorated “Christmas tree” as they decorated trees with small pieces of metal during Saturnalia through to its ultimate conversion to Christmas.

Technically, though, the modern Christmas tree originated in the Alsace region of western Germany in the 16th century. German Christians decorated fir trees with flowers, apples, candles and colored paper in celebration of Adam & Eve Day on December 24th. The decorated Christmas tree known to the Germans as Paradise Trees didn’t catch on throughout the rest of Europe and the United States until well into the mid-19th century. The great irony is that bastion of pagan ritual in some more politically correct towns and villages in the United States has now evolved into a Christian symbol and rejected as such on the basis of separation of church and state, surely amusing the spirits of our pagan ancestors and most assuredly our founding fathers who could have cared less about Christmas.

United States President Franklin Pierce arranged to have the first Christmas tree in the White House in 1856 while it was President Calvin Coolidge who started the National Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony on the White House lawn in 1923.

Today, the Christmas tree has become accepted by Christians, by people of other faiths (many of my Jewish Friends have adopted Chanukah Bushes :), and even for those who do not follow an organized religion. It has become a popular late-December tradition and part of our present-day culture, commercially inspired or not.

Lastly, we tackle the image of today's Santa Claus, a folk figure with multicultural roots. Santa Claus, while not religious, has become an important symbol of Christmas throughout the world.

As a member of that eclectic group of folks known as The Kingdome of Räknar, a Scottish-Norse society (I do also celebrate my French-Norman-Viking) roots) I appreciate that Odin, the Norse God has been recorded, at the native Germanic holiday of Yule, as leading a great hunting party through the sky. There are many historical references to Odin to include Snorri Sturluson’s 1220 CE epic, Snorri’s Edda, an Icelandic collection of poems and stories from Norse mythology. In this saga Odin is described as riding an eight-legged horse name Sleipnir that could leap great distances giving us to immediately compare Sleipnir to Santa’s reindeer. It gets better, still. Odin's appearance was hauntingly similar to that of Saint Nicholas, usually being depicted as an old, enigmatic man with a long white beard and conical hat.

According to writer Phyllis Siefker, author of the wonderful book, Santa Claus, Last of the Wild Men: The Origins and Evolution of Saint Nicholas, Spanning 50,000 Years, “Children would place their boots, filled with carrots, straw or sugar, near the chimney for Odin's flying horse, Sleipnir, to eat. Odin would then reward those children for their kindness by replacing Sleipnir's food with gifts or candy. This practice survived in Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands after the adoption of Christianity and became associated with Saint Nicholas as a result of the process of Christianization and can be still seen in the modern practice of the hanging of stockings at the chimney in some homes. Children still place their straw filled shoes or stockings by the chimney every winter night, and are rewards with candy and gifts.” Hmmmmmmmm.

Despite this rather familiar and (to some) alarming reference to Odin as a Santa Claus figure, many historians give the original Santa Claus nod to St. Nicholas, the 4th century Turkish saint who was known for his generosity to the poor. Nicholas was imprisoned and tortured for his good works by the Romans and it was only the intervention of Emperor Constantine I that saved his life. Saint Nicholas’ persona ingratiates himself to the role as Santa Claus as the patron saint of children.

There were many other personalities whose characteristics and traits ended up in Santa Claus. Some of these personalities include Cronos, the Greek Father God who was worshipped at harvest time; the Holly King, an important deity in Celtic and Norse mythology; Freyr, the Norse fertility god who, "bestows peace and pleasure on mortals"; the Tomte/Nisse a shape shifter and small, elderly man (red elf) often with a full beard known for giving gifts to children at Christmas and, indirectly, Thor, the Norse god of thunder and sometimes benevolent protector of human kind who rides the sky in a chariot drawn by two goats, Tanngrisnir and Tanngnjóstr. Now enter Julbock or Julbukk, the Yule goat, from both Sweden and Norway, who derives from and had his beginnings as a carrier for the god Thor. Now he carries the Yule elf when he makes his rounds to deliver presents and receive his offering of porridge. Hmmmmmmm.

So we can see when Early Christians embraced the Yule holiday, they replaced the old gods with new characters like St. Nicholas but retaining many of the more magnanimous and supernatural characteristics of their personalities.

The Dutch, when they weren’t plugging holes in their dikes, kept the legend of St. Nicholas alive. With thanks to California State University at Northridge, “In 16th century Holland, Dutch children would place their wooden shoes by the hearth in hopes that they would be filled with a treat. The Dutch spelled St. Nicholas as Sint Nikolaas, which became corrupted to Sinterklaas, and finally, in Anglican, to Santa Claus. In 1822, Clement C. Moore composed his famous poem, ‘A Visit from St. Nicholas,’ which was later published as ‘Twas The Night Before Christmas.’ Moore is credited with creating the modern image of Santa Claus as a jolly fat man in a red suit.” While Moore’s authorship was lately controversial it now appears there is no controversy at all.

Who do we really thank for our “Christmas stockings hung with care”? We look to the Dutch again and to their former colony of New Amsterdam (now known as New York City) where the custom evolved from shoes to the hanging of socks or stockings at the fireplace.

Santa Claus as the fat, jolly man in his red and while suit and boots (wonder what his cholesterol numbers are?) is the image long maintained and reinforced by song, radio, television, and films. It would appear that the modern persona of Santa Claus survives from the Claus as portrayed by Clement Moore, illustrated by Thomas Nast of Harper's Weekly and later depicted in the Coca-Cola Company’s early 1930’s Christmas advertising.

The bottom line of all this is that Christmas is a collage of customs and traditions derived from cultures all over the world. The tradition has been distilled, synthesized and commercialized to its present form even to the degree that many of us have forgotten the real reason for the holiday. We sure can’t thank the very sour Plymouth Rock Pilgrims or the Puritans for the holiday as they did everything they could to suppress and crush it even to banning the holiday in Massachusetts. The holiday was suppressed in Scotland until the 1960’s, as a subversive “Catholic holiday.” I know Scots Families who didn’t start celebrating this holiday until the 1970’s! They made up for it with Hogmanay!

So what’s Christmas all about in 2009? In our over the top, ridiculously politically correct time it seems that we can’t say Merry Christmas any more, rather the more PC, Happy Holidays. I’m not one that wears my religion on my sleeve, so in my more private mode I do not choose to address that issue. I’m comfortable in my own skin with my own beliefs and faith. It’s OK by me if folks want to tread their own paths.

Some say, “Well, it’s all about the children.” I absolutely agree with that though I surely want them to learn the basis for our celebration; that it’s just not about presents. I experienced that sense of anticipation on Christmas Eve though I never lost sight of the real meaning of Christmas. My Mother, Brothers and I spent the greater part of Christmas Day in church; me singing in the choir (in many a Midnight Christmas Mass), John as an acolyte and Mother as the jack of all trades and eventually becoming Acolyte Mother at St. Martin’s Episcopal Church in Providence, Rhode Island. The true meaning of Christmas was already indelibly etched in our hearts and minds – and remains so.

As an adult, the ability to research and comment on the multicultural aspects of Christmas with the caution to not get too proprietary about a holiday that has seen contributions from non-Christian cultures all over the world, puts yet another slant on the holiday. Since we have apparently lost sight of the true meaning of Christmas, the great irony is that we need to get back to the basics and that includes the one-time pagan symbols that were so eagerly embraced by the early Christian church, disowned and then reinstated by them. Yes, these symbols remain in our domain to this day.

That will lead us back to greater truths and the reality of our faith. For me Faith (as can be validated by one Episcopalian priest) is not easy. I have to experience - to see, feel and touch every aspect of my beliefs. For me the pagan symbols and evolution of Christianity do not diminish my experience. I suspect that they all came from the same source and that they were the honest, righteous attempts by Man to explain the ultimate mysteries of Life in his environment. How can the symbols of hope, peace, harmony, mercy, the renewal of life, helping the poor and respecting children be bad especially during what is already a bleak winter? I know the Might of Right of it in my mind and soul and will always celebrate my rebirth by embracing the true meaning of the Christmas holiday.

Let this holiday to include embracing the Jolly Old Elf be the catalyst to further our efforts to enhance our commitments to our Families, Friends, Community, Country and the World by being the best that we can be. That means becoming one of those thousand points of light and allowing Christmas to be the occasion for renewal and the hope that better days lie ahead.

Merry Christmas!


Ned Buxton

PS: The art above was crafted by the very talented fellow Scot and member of the Kingdome of Raknar, Harry Blair of Greensboro, NC. Harry provided the drawings for Santa, Scotty and Christmas Eve Last penned by this writer many years ago featuring Rural Hill Farm in Huntersville, NC and as a tribute to the late Ralph Payne of Glasgow, Kentucky fame. Merry Christmas, Harry!

Friday, December 4, 2009


Once again WE THE PEOPLE are the focus of “major” stories – how we handle and manage the flow of information/news into our lives – and determine what is pertinent – and NOT. The revelation that Tiger Woods has been engaging one or more (accentuate more) relationships with other than his wife, his celebrity notwithstanding, is unfortunate and disheartening but, frankly none of our business. If some celebrity obsessed folks demand (usually glorying in the sound of their own voices) that Tiger because of his celebrity now has to do this and that and that they have a RIGHT to any and all details regarding his affairs or any other intimate details of his personal life, know them for who they are: voyeurs, holier than thous, wannabes or just plain primordial slime. Then there are those of us who are just plain curious. If anyone finds Tiger’s behaviors unacceptable and Tiger not worthy of forgiveness, they don’t have to follow his performance on the golf course, offer or retain him as a spokesperson, purchase the products he endorses or support his charitable causes. The piper will be paid...

The self righteous and faux indignant folks that constantly stir the pot and intrude into the personal lives of any citizen are generally motivated by money and profit, their own desire for celebrity, another self serving agenda or maybe for their own amusement? The tabloid “gutter” press that parses, suggests or misdirects, prints an ugly truth or just plain fabricates stories in order to sell news, or the TV networks that keep generating filler material for their morning and evening news are doing it because it sells. That’s how they make money.

Now WE make all that possible because they think that we want it (most do) and will therefore buy the products their advertisers manufacture and sell. Bottom Line: We have a choice in these matters. We can choose to ignore this poppycock or we can jump into the fray and further fan the flames. Too many of us are choosing the latter option as no doubt many folks would really like to know if wife Elin really whacked him and, really, how many? I hope that by offering my perspectives I don’t become part of the problem though with the number of ladies in TigerGate approaching "staggering" and the outer limits of obsession, that sentiment is apparently moot.

But, it kind of makes you wonder when his alleged and not so mathematically challenged and less than sincere and apparently obsessed, first woman scorned, mistress and former reality TV star conveniently surfaces and sells out her former lover with a voice mail and other incriminating evidence of their affair [“enjoying 20 sexual encounters - the final meeting taking place in San Diego, California in October (09)”]? Ca Ching! While I am not judging Tiger, it would appear that an incredibly naïve Woods never found any real refuge there (or anywhere else) and was totally deluding himself when he should have been home “taking care of business” and honoring his marital vows.

Might of Right was pleased with the usually poignant and right on perspectives of Tim Cowlishaw, the Dallas Morning News’ (DMN) lead sports columnist and regular panelist on the ESPN sports talk show Around the Horn. In his
Shame On Us column in yesterday’s DMN Cowlishaw offered to the world that Tiger doesn’t owe us any explanation, period.

Ed Willes, sports columnist with Canadian Canwest’s The Province in a sometimes tongue in cheek, gentler and kinder perspective,
Tiger Burning Not-So-Bright, asks more questions than he answers while also hitting the nail on the head by offering rightfully about Tiger and his brand that, ‘It's about the aura. It's about the mythology. It's also about the presumption he's a pretty-good guy.”

Seems that we are as equally delighted to bring someone down as we are quick to raise them up. Tiger is apparently just a man (like the rest of us – flawed) albeit one with an extraordinary, unique ability. Given his most recent admissions he may be more like us than not and maybe a reason why we should embrace him all the more.

While not a Metallica fan, I am reminded of the lyrics of their 1991 Holier Than Thou hit.

No more

The crap rolls out your mouth again

Haven't changed, your brain is still gelatin

Little whispers circle around your head

Why don't you worry about yourself instead?

Who are you? Where ya been? Where ya from?

Gossip burning on the tip of your tongue

You lie so much you believe yourself

Judge not lest ye be judged yourself

Holier than thou

You are

Holier than thou

You are

For all of his flaws and transgressions it does appear that Tiger is a “pretty-good guy”, witness his successful and dedicated efforts in raising millions of dollars for charity. He has a major if not herculean undertaking in recovering his marriage, learning from his mistakes and, hopefully, reasserting and regaining his role model status, especially with our Youth.

We will find out Tiger’s true mettle if and when he plays in his next tournament where millions of folks (many not fans) will be scrutinizing his each and every move. Let’s all allow him the opportunity to get out of this bunker and shoot yet another birdie. Whether or not Tiger recovers or ever plays golf again is the real story. The reality is that this also puts the PGA in a major quandry and tenuous situation. Hard to imagine the game of golf without Tiger Woods.
Good luck, Tiger.


Ned Buxton

Sunday, November 29, 2009


That good and talented Doctor of American Literature, Professor Linda Westervelt of the University of Houston waxes poetic and calls it Diamonds and Rubies – the headlights and tail lights of traffic going to and from somewhere on some major roadway. This last Wednesday, the day before Thanksgiving, for me it was Interstate 45, the primary artery between Dallas and Houston, Texas. The traffic was wall to wall - a solid ribbon of cars for those 247 miles from far north Dallas to downtown Houston where these two great cities were seemingly swapping populations. From afar it looked like a solid mass, a slithering serpent, a train winding its inexorable way: an organized coherent, sentient self to and from two of the major cities of our country. Well, it wasn’t.

A closer look inside the belly of that serpent reveals that there were, responsible and not so responsible drivers - sober and drunk/impaired, frenetic and anxious folks driving too close, too fast or too slow, lane changing to the point of danger, lots of craziness - meaning that you had to be extra vigilant in order to assure your arrival – even survival.

There were surprisingly few visible police though the occasional red and blue flashing lights only revealed the remnants of several auto accidents along the way. I did see some familiar Texas Department of Transportation (TXDOT) vehicles monitoring the roadway. Nice to know that we were being watched (The Eyes of Texas) though even with the threat of stiffer fines a less visible law enforcement was the cue for some folks to drive even more irresponsibly. The biggest initial hurdle was just getting out of Dallas and the Central Expressway corridor which lived up to it name as one of the largest parking lots in North Texas…

In 2008 we were told that our Thanksgiving tradition of traveling over hill and dale to grandmother’s house would take a major hit - there would be less of us on the road. Well, we know that due to the economy, air traffic was down (still is) with folks choosing to pay utility bills, mortgages and put food on the table and stay at home. By 2009 with more stable gas prices we appear to have opted for cross city, cross state or cross country dashes by automobile. For example, a fellow worker left Dallas on Thursday morning for New Orleans to be with Family – a 523 mile, eight hour trip – leaving at four in the morning and arriving around noon. That is a special Family… Motivation aside, it would have been a wonder if our roads could have accommodated any more vehicles.

According to the American Automobile association (AAA) more people traveled this year than last – with some 38.4 million Americans trekking at least 50 miles from home for the Thanksgiving weekend with the average distance being an impressive 815 miles. In our widespread Texas that computes to a 7.5% increase over last year.

While travel by air is diminishing some of that is due to rightsizing and decreased capacity witness some of the horrific delays recently encountered by the airlines. Along with the automobile, travel by train, boat and bus is expected to increase and may be yet another harbinger that the worse is behind us.

No doubt that basics will remain the priority and that travel is now seen as a luxury item. Even with that it would appear that most folks are trying to find way to be with Family and Friends for Thanksgiving. Whether you are American, Canadian, Scottish, Russian, Chinese, German, et al these cultures place a high premium on the celebration of Family so this evolution back to the nuclear hearth is not surprising. The pendulum does swing back and forth with even the anticipation of the sights and sounds of the holidays stirring mostly pleasant feelings in all of us.

I wonder if the current economic situation might prompt a continuing priority to embrace Family and Friends. Seems that this is all about reconnecting, building positive relationships and a return to basic positive core values and where we (should) have been all along. The trip to Houston was great and the opportunity to share the holidays with Family and Friends was especially enriching, enjoyable and meaningful even as an active spectator in Houston’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. For us here in Texas travel is an integral part of everyday life. Whether it costs more or less, I am always going to find a way to be with Family and Friends during the holidays.

Let’s all go out and create some meaningful holiday memories. I am going to at least wish Brother John best wishes on a significant rite of passage. Anybody up for helping serve a meal at a homeless shelter or visiting a senior center? Yes, they’re Family too.

Diamonds and Rubies, Aye,

Ned Buxton

Friday, November 20, 2009


Some knowing that I studied anthropology and specifically Mesoamerican cultures including the Maya under Tom Koehler at Ole Miss have asked for my opinion on, “This whole 2012 thing.” Well, its all about fear and money… Some people would have you believe that they have some academic or divinely inspired insight - that they are anointed entities that are privy to that ultimate experience – our collective passing and the end of the world. We need note that Armageddon fanatics have been predicting the end of the world for all of recorded history and however enthusiastic and persuasive, they’ve all been wrong. My recent review of twenty plus end of the world scenarios was another, further insight into Man’s gullibility. For the record, the calendar pictured above is not Mayan, rather Aztec an adaptation of the Mayan version. I just like it and for me the Mayan stelae are not as attractive… Sorry.

I have watched with both amusement and disgust all the nonsense/idiocy and hullabaloo about the year 2012 which brings me back to all the bogus Y2K hype. Aside from some movie producer/directors, writers, mystics, tea leaf readers, Cultists, Nostradamus wannabes (he never mentioned 2012), conspiracy alarmists, New Age astrologers and entrepreneurs, seemingly legitimate religious fundamentalists (no, the Bible doesn’t mention 2012 either), literalists of all shape and form and others that can’t seem to fit into mainstream culture, most of us seem to have it right. No, the earth isn’t going to be destroyed, there isn’t going to be some metaphysical transformation or the attainment of an earth shattering higher consciousness and those newspapers that remain will still be written at the seventh grade level.

What’s really disturbing, however, is that this hysteria does have some folks very agitated and frightened – even to the point of considering suicide reminiscent of a Jim Jones choreographed rapture (don’t drink the Kool-Aid). Be assured that this scenario is all western inspired and has nothing to do with the Maya, their culture and amazing calendrical system. Indeed, many contemporary Maya to include Guatemalan Maya Elder/Priest Apolinario Chile Pixtun have expressed dismay with the hocus pocus of 2012 and the inappropriate reaction by many, mostly in western communities.

Google “2012 End of the World” and look at the mush that’s available on the Internet. Read some of the blogs, threads and the countless folks that have bought into the hysteria. Cornell University’s, Ann Martin, who runs the “Curious? Ask an Astronomer” website, has reported communication from fourth graders declaring that they are too young to die and Mothers grieving that they will not be able to see their kids grow up. NASA authorities report numerous similar stories. Gees!

So, who’s allowing these people to buy into this scenario? Well, the Christian Fundamentalist “rapture driven” prophecy seems to fit very nicely with the movie’s theme. Seems some in this realm might also be taking advantage of this free PR to prepare the “Faithful” for the opening of the sixth seal and the ultimate Rapture. It would also appear that the producers of the movie 2012 or any one of the gamesters, writers or other folks in the secondary market (wanna buy a t-shirt?) stand to gain economically from stirring the pot. Yes, once again it’s all about money.

Some folks make a good point and say leave it be reflecting that this is just another Darwinian exercise which will purge the really stupid and gullible from our society - a “naturally self-correcting system.” Sounds like a plan…

Lending even further ridicule to this issue was the recent story featured in the Dallas, Texas version of the on line newspaper, which revealed that Balloon Boy hoaxer Richard Heen of Colorado believes that the world is going to end in 2012 and allegedly perpetuated the balloon stunt in order to raise monies to build an underground shelter to protect his Family from the onslaught of a number of 2012 disasters including, “an exploding sun”. Now if true that’s a good definition of ignorant optimism or a futile attempt to justify his actions. He probably should have saved his balloon as the “predicted” tsunamis would probably render his underground shelter somewhat suspect. Of course, if the sun were to go super nova (it’s predicted to do so in around 4-5 billion years) then nothing would help.

I saw one Internet headline declaring that biblical scholars are now wondering, “Is 2012 is really the end of the world?” The psychology of even posing that question is an old sensationalistic trick and attempt to introduce curiosity and credibility into the debate. Interesting that a so called Christian is posing a question based on supposed non Christian belief system. Heck, even the History Channel in a recent show pondered, “Is 2012 the year the cosmic clock finally winds down to zero days? Shame on them. To be fair there are as many or more sites on the Internet debunking the 2012 myth. Good for them…

By anyone’s count (long or short) there are now over 200 books capitalizing on this hysteria including, The World Cataclysm in 2012, Apocalypse 2012, 2012: The Return of Quetzalcoatl, The Maya Factor: Path Beyond Technology and How to Survive 2012, among many others.

If you really want to make sense of what is mostly nonsense I can recommend a few folks that include Joel Achenback, staff writer with The Washington Post who has nailed this whole issue with his offering which he repeated in his Personal blog. I heartily recommend his post entitled, How to Survive 2012.

Achenback has identified and sourced other credible folks that include Astronomer Edward Krupp of the Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles who debunked 2012 in the November issue of Sky & Telescope magazine and David Morrison, senior scientist for NASA's Astrobiology Institute and the objective science based author of a NASA online feature called Ask an Astrobiologist.

Allow me to also include Associate Professor Kathryn Reese-Taylor of the University of Calgary's Archeology Department who teaches archaeology and is the author of several articles on the pre-Hispanic Maya and co-author of Landscape And Power In Ancient Mesoamerica. Reese-Taylor is a voice of reason who has warned of the misinterpretation of Mayan culture and reinforces that the Maya never predicted the end of the world indicating that there are Mayan references to well beyond 2012, including one to the year 4772 AD.

Dr. David Stuart a Maya scholar and Professor of Mesoamerican Art and Writing at the University of Texas at Austin confirms that 2012 is, "a special anniversary of creation," and further states that, "The Maya never said the world is going to end, they never said anything bad would happen necessarily, they're just recording this future anniversary on Tortuguero Monument Six."

From what I hear the movie appears to be a visual masterpiece (I haven’t seen it) it has been panned as less than mediocre by many critics who laud the eye catching special affects but cringed when any dialogue took place… Seems we can’t have one and the other. Many critics criticized the movie reflecting that its ultimate end didn’t come soon enough. I do not intend to see it…

Sony Pictures spent millions (and will probably make that back and then some) on their pre release hype that included the description of the fictitious Institute for Human Continuity (IHC). The HIC was featured on a 2012 teaser website where we learned it was founded in 1978 and charged with the perpetuation of human life after 2012. HIC created seven free floating space stations, numerous lunar colonies as well as subterranean cities. Not having seen the flick we can assume the development of spaceships (arks?) to transport folks to the space stations and the earth’s moon. Color me a romantic but this somewhat reminds me of Noah’s Ark (what no lions and tigers, Oh my?) and maybe more appropriately the often imitated and iconic Battlestar Galactica where space ships ferry Humans to safe havens on other hospitable planets. Whatever….

Tom Deliso of offered the following observation prior to the Y2K debacle. It certainly sums up my perspective on this whole issue.

“It is no secret that humanity has been a slave to fear and the lower passions. What makes those fears and passions even harder to overcome is the fact that, over the centuries, humanity has been brainwashed by various doom and gloom predictions, made by people that just wanted to make a name for themselves at any cost. These very smart predictors went about and played upon humanity's innate flaw for creating havoc and distress and feeding the frenzy year by year, in the hopes of gaining some kind of recognition, power, or control.”

He was right then and now.

Bottom line: the hype of 2012 (movie or otherwise) is all poppycock and “disaster porn.” Don’t sell your house and/or give away your possessions; don’t do in your spouse, children and pets. You will still be around on December 22, 2012 ready to go to work and pay taxes and engage all the great to mundane activities and tasks that make life what it is…. just another turn of the page. Please remember that the Maya were smart but not to the degree that that they could even predict or prevent their own demise over a thousand years ago. They were done in by their own hand and had little control over or appreciation for their environment.

And if you feel that there’s a sense of déjà vu here, it’s probably because so many have predicted this event so many times before. I guess that in 5 billion years when the sun finally does go super nova whatever is left of humanity will stand up and utter, “Aha!”

In keeping with probable Maya intentions, let’s use 2012 as yet another excuse for the positive celebration of life – the achievement of another significant milestone in the Human calendar and the opportunity to salute our ancestors and encouragement & inspiration for future generations.

And, hey, Happy Baktun 13 and, yes, I used to have a cat named Quetzalcoatl.


Ned Buxton

Saturday, November 14, 2009


“I am taking part of my lunch hour to write you a letter. My telephone has been busy all morning, telling me of the increasing demoralization of business and industry and the crumbling of all commodity and security values to absurd levels. Unemployment is growing rather than diminishing and manufacturing plants of every character are facing either drastic curtailment or shutdown. All these matters raise very serious problems affecting the economic structure of our country and the world and with them must necessarily come problems which have grave consequences upon the social fabric. There are now relatively few rich men left and that select and limited group find the value of their accumulations shrinking daily and the prospect of tremendous income and inheritance taxes imminent.

I tell you these things first, as a matter of general business information and second, so that you may consider them as factors in the working out of your own program of life and philosophy.

Civilization has previously gone though major depressions both ancient and modern. We had four or five hundred years of depression in the Dark Ages, after the fall of Rome and since the advent of the modern industrial age, immediately following the Napoleonic Wars, we have had two or three periods of deflation probably as bad as anything we have gone through thus far. Nevertheless, it may be a long time before we return to the standards of the Golden Age, the decade which followed the World War. The men with the best training, serious purpose, dependable character and a capacity for hard work will have the best time in our lifetime, at least.

You must realize and I believe you do, that you have passed out of the college boy phase and atmosphere and are no long justified in regarding yourself as a playboy. I am of course, disappointed that you are not to have the experience in Labrador, with its combination of service and contact with that “primitive life” which prevails on the vast majority of the Earth’s surface.

If will be a misfortune if you do not have some definite experience with that kind of manual labor by which most men live. You will not understand your fellow man or be able to lead them unless you have a sympathetic viewpoint based on experience. I spent at least three summers working on your great grandfather’s farm, between the ages of fifteen and eighteen and I am glad that I did. A hayfield is a good test of mental and physical guts on a pleasant August afternoon…likewise, the potato patch and the long rows of corn where the weeds flourish. Wrestling with a tumbled-down stone wall involves a resistance fully as stiff as anything you can get out of the young gentleman from Tufts. All your ancestors have wholeheartedly contacted the handles of both a hoe and a shovel.

Mr. Wyman (Walter S. Wyman, then President of New England Industries) who is recognized as the outstanding business man in the state of Maine, tells me that when his son was graduated from Harvard, he got a job with a road gang and swung a pick for six months, when he was promoted to foreman of the gang, wholly without any assistance or influence from his Father. I think that pleased Mr. Wyman more than anything his son has done subsequently.

Mr. Wyman has a very large farm at Winthrop, Maine. He employs about thirty men. He told me that if you wanted a job on this farm, he would be glad to give it to you. I don’t know of any other job available. It is possible that I could ask some textile friend to give you some apprentice job in a textile mill, but I don’t think you would find it as agreeable as outdoor work - or as beneficial. Bobby Goddard is going to work for a month in one of our mills in Maine in the city of Lewiston and while I believe you should be anxious to have some similar experiences later, I would not recommend it for this summer, unless all other possibilities fail. If you wish to spend one month of the summer at military camp, I certainly have no objection but I think you will agree with me that the time has gone by for playing the young gentleman of leisure in any fashionable watering place until you can do so on your own.”

When I first read this letter a couple of weeks ago I realized that it could have been written with a few tweaks here and there and in a more contemporary style to represent reaction and analysis of the most recent downturn in the US and world economies. In fact, this letter was written on May 4, 1932 when the United States was in the midst of an even greater financial crisis precipitated in part by overheated, overvalued markets, the subsequent Great Crash of 1929 and the policies (some say wrongheaded) of the Hoover and Roosevelt administrations. Yes, there’s a lot of controversy about those policies… Whatever your perspective, the United States and the World were in desperate straits in 1932.

The taxes the author of this letter was referring to were the huge tax increases precipitated by the Revenue Act of 1932 which raised income tax on the highest incomes from 25% to 63%, doubled estate taxes and, likewise, raised corporate taxes by almost 15%. Believe it or not this act even included a "check tax" that placed a 2-cent tax (over 30 cents in today's dollars) on all bank checks. Many feel that ill advised fiscal policies like this stifled investment and helped to further deepen the depression with most conceding that this was a herculean bipartisan effort.

Whatever the origins, it caused a continued panic among the most wealthy in this country and what was left of their money wasn’t looking for opportunity, rather preservation. History confirms that the S&P 500 bottomed in mid-1932 and then like the phoenix soared nearly 75% in the next three months though basically went sideways thereafter for almost a decade. We know now with our capacity to look backwards that the Great Depression did not technically end until 1941 and the start of World War II giving further credence to the fears and counsel of the writer of this letter.

In keeping with that most popular Bing Crosby 1932 song of the year, Brother, Can You Spare A Dime?, 24.9% (12M+ unemployed) of US workers in a labor force of 51,250,000 (total population of 91,810,000), put that scenario in a much darker context given our recent and seemingly more mundane excursion to just above 10% where 15.7 million (M) are unemployed out of a total US labor force of around 154M (US population - 308M). Still impressive numbers but it all points out that we have been here before and will surely be there again.

The writer wasn’t as enthused as an ill-advised Hoover who communicated to businessmen in 1932 his confidence and assurances that the depression wouldn’t last and that, "Prosperity is just around the corner." Hardly anyone believed him and Franklin D. Roosevelt’s 1932 landslide presidential victory (472 to 59 electoral votes) confirms that most voters felt that Hoover’s approach was, “too little too late".

The author of the letter was my Grandfather, Colonel G. Edward Buxton, Jr, and the recipient was one Coburn Allen Buxton Sr., his son and my Father who was then a student at Babson Institute in Wellesley Hills, MA, near Boston. Yes, Colonel Buxton was the same Man who offered his sage (as he put it “Dutch Uncle”) advice and counsel to one Sergeant Alvin York prior to his heroics. His words then and those above are timeless and hopefully not wasted as they apply equally to the current generation of young men and women. Colonel Buxton put his Brown/Harvard learning and work experience on the line, always worked hard and walked the walk.

By the way, the reference to the stiff resistance of the young gentlemen from Tufts alludes to my Father’s participation on the Babson Varsity soccer team (aye, The Beavers). Tufts College (now University and home to the remains of Barnum’s Jumbo the Elephant) was then, as now, a traditional and formidable adversary in athletics.

Though his business reputation had been honed and polished as a journalist and newspaperman with the Providence Journal, the textile industry beckoned and Buxton assumed senior management responsibilities (VP and Treasurer 1920-26, President 1926-1935) with the new B. B. & R. Knight Co. which at one time with 22 mills, was the largest producer of cotton products in the world. With headquarters in New York City, they owned many textile plants and brands in New England to include Dan River and the still famous Fruit of The Loom labels, among others.

Colonel Buxton, even as a national depression loomed, was elected President of the National Association of Cotton Manufacturers on October 28, 1927. He assured and prepared the 500 delegates of that body’s annual convention, thusly.

“Today finds us working and planning to meet changing conditions. To the utmost of our abilities, we are adapting our equipment and organizations making them more flexible; endeavoring to create better methods of merchandizing; getting in closer touch with our markets; recognizing the consumers demand for individuality and personality and style and beauty in color and outline and weave and standards of quality. Such changes come about very gradually, no matter how great the energy behind them.”

Of course, the Great Depression followed and prompted the steep fall of cotton prices that further rippled into a general industrial malaise that contributed to reduced consumer spending and confidence in the economy. Sound familiar? The special significance of Buxton’s contribution during this period was that he cajoled, educated and then successfully managed/guided Knight and other companies with a minimum loss of facilities and the preservation and maintenance of thousands of jobs. Buxton’s focus was always the preservation and integrity of American industry and the status of each and every worker. He understood that the individual worker was the backbone of our economy. His effort was courageous and heroic and he was rewarded with continuing and ever increasing management responsibilities.

From 1932 to 1939 while still president and later Chairman of the Board of B. B. & R. Knight Co, Buxton was elected president of a group of five Maine textile plants to include Androscoggin Mills, Bates Manufacturing Company, Edward Manufacturing Company, Hill Manufacturing Company and York Manufacturing Company, all owned by New England Industries and affiliated with the New England Public Service Company. His Friendship with Walter S. Wyman, President of New England Industries pompted the “Maine” remarks in his above letter.

Buxton successfully guided Knight and those Maine mills through the maelstrom. Following the end of that assignment in Maine, the Lewiston, ME Journal reflected that, “Colonel Buxton had come to Lewiston in the depths of the depression, in trying days and times that have left their mark indelibly. Colonel Buxton’s efforts were heroic in keeping the mill wheels turning and in promotion of their products. He was genuinely interested in the civic problems in the cities where the mills were located and understood the meaning of good will.”

Would that we had more astute Colonel Buxtons who could actively counsel and advise us to keep our attention on our narrow but necessary path. Given all the current distractions, maybe we should require at least one year of mending stone walls and manually tending the fields in the hands-on Amish style? The activities which require contact with the handles of both hoe and shovel (no harrows, please!) are builders of integrity for the young men and women who will ultimately lead our country. Engaging the “primitive life” will allow for the best training and definition of serious purpose – where they can develop a dependable character and a capacity for hard work. Aye, those who successfully find and “negotiate that course will have the best time in our lifetime, at least.”

All too often folks in the 21st century want to transition from classroom to boardroom with no real training or seasoning – that incredibly naïve immediate gratification thing. Earn your degree, have a plan and then follow it. Yea, this is basic stuff. Your degree may open doors, but from there the real work starts. Earn the attention and respect of your fellow workers many from different cultures by mastering your tasks (however mundane), achieving your goals and work objectives by contributing and performing at the highest level. Be a great communicator, facilitator and build consensus for your tasks and perspectives. Understand that all jobs are important and significant to a healthy organization. The chairmen of my last two major employers started working in their respective companies as a mail clerk and retail representative. Example set.

So, Ladies and Gentleman of the future, plan well and note that the advice offered herein is still valid. It may very well be that given the current conditions all of us, young and old, will ultimately head for the fields with hoe and shovel in hand. And Me? I think I'll head for Labrador.


Ned Buxton

Sunday, November 8, 2009


The tragic and untimely death of the beautiful and talented Canadian folk musician Taylor Mitchell, 19, of Toronto reminds us once again that we are but fragile and transient visitors on this planet. Taylor was engaging an innocent daytime foray, hiking solo along on the Skyline Trail in Cape Breton Highlands National Park in Nova Scotia, Canada when she in a so called “unprecedented and a totally isolated incident” was inexplicably mauled by two coyotes. Canadian Conservation Officers and Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) hunted and put down two of the animals and killed a third large male who appeared human habituated and was demonstrating aggressive behaviors.

In a previous Might of Right post Critters In Our Midst (3/21/09) we noted the marked resurgence and expansion of many native species including the bobcat that have been slowly reclaiming their former territories and all to the chagrin of the human beings that now live in those areas. The mass slaughter almost to extinction of native fauna that was the mantra of a less sensitive (“brutal and heartless”) population a century ago has now turned to a more tolerant society, yea, even sponsorship of native species that has allowed the bobcat, bear, mountain lion, wolf, raptors and others to regain at least part of their former range. It has artificially allowed the wily and opportunistic coyote to expand well out of its traditional range. And that ironically puts them in direct conflict, competition if you will, with many of those more highly educated, tolerant and “civilized” members of Homo sapiens that seemingly, instinctively allowed for that rebirth.

The other day a young female red tailed hawk slap dab in the middle of densely populated far north Dallas took a gray squirrel out of the oak tree in the front yard, dispatched it on the lush St. Augustine lawn and after an interval of about ten minutes flew off with squirrel (expired) in tow all to the horror of the other squirrels in the tree (especially one) and the chagrin of a fancy Lady in a flowery shirt and white pedal pushers walking two small white poodles down the sidewalk. The point is that nature in all its primal state is being engaged all around us. Like it or not the dance of life and death and the balance of nature is integral to all lives including our own. We are all connected, an integral part of that choreography and the wildlife cited heretofore are our neighbors. Perhaps we/they need to be closer still…

Residents of other north Texas communities like Plano and Frisco who have been complaining about the local wildlife to local animal control authorities have been dismayed with their response: a hands-off, part of the landscape approach. Collin County, Texas authorities have been trying to educate residents on how to assume more responsibility for their children and pets. It seems, and rightfully so, that the message is all about coexisting with the native wildlife. That same approach appears to be the mantra throughout the United States with the assumption that wildlife was here well before we moved in and, yes, they have a right to remain here.

I remember several years ago in Huntersville, North Carolina where the Catawba Valley Scottish Society’s herd of West Highland cattle (those hairy coos) at the historic Rural Hill Farm was thought to be in danger by bands of marauding coyotes that had taken down scores of Angus calves on a neighboring, much larger farm. We all prepared to engage the enemy with some of the more stalwart male, testosterone-infused members unpacking our rifles and readying ourselves for a vigilante coyote tour of our 265 acres. That call never came. It seems that the “ladies” in the herd have an incredibly strong protective maternal instinct and armed with those very impressive horns used them against several coyote interlopers whose carcasses were proof of the cattle’s ability to protect themselves. There were no worries after that.

Maybe, just maybe, the restoration of the balance of nature might be the answer to control populations of those very few hybrid, human food-conditioned, maybe diseased but definitely Human-habituated and opportunistic canines and other predator populations that can present a danger to Man.

The use of guarding animals like livestock guarding dogs (LGD) is an ancient practice in existence for millennia (2,500 to 9,000+ years) in Europe and Asia (and now the US and Canada) where they protected sheep and other types of livestock. We have also seen donkeys and llamas used effectively as guarding animals. So, while LGD and other guard animals may help protect hearth and home to include pets and children in mostly suburban/farmland/ranch situations, we obviously can’t take our very large LGD or donkeys or llamas with us while we go hiking. In fact if you take a dog on the trail with you it might even attract attention and be perceived as a threat by wolves, coyotes or bears. The majority of national parks do not allow dogs on any hiking, walking or backcountry trails.

We could allow for the reintroduction and recovery of other canid populations like the Gray Wolf that places the coyote at the top of their hit list and would substantially reduce coyote populations like they have in Yellowstone (by 50%) and Grand Teton (33%).

Reintroduction of the Red wolf in Tennessee wasn’t successful but fared much better in northeastern North Carolina. Hybridization with Coyotes, however, appears to be the primary threat to the Red Wolf’s survival with (not so ironically) hybridization the main factor in the Red Wolf's initial demise in the wild. Some folks think this makes an even greater case for a more widespread reintroduction of the Gray Wolf though some might offer that we are just trading one “problem” for another.

We can probably take other precautions while on the trail that would allow our survival in case of a confrontation. Those options might include carrying a weapon like a gun (pistol or rifle) and Congress has been lately debating that issue. In reality they probably wouldn’t help if stowed in your pack and weapons in national parks and wildlife areas except by those authorities licensed to carry them would probably only get you in major trouble. How about a stun gun? They appear to be legal in most US states (with limitations) though they are illegal in Canada especially Parks Canada where Taylor Mitchell was attacked. They appear to also be illegal in US National Parks.

Some Friends have suggested the use of wasp spray with its concentrated, long range spray as a defense against a predator, human or bear/coyote/wolf/dog though the thought that this might provoke them all the more entered my mind. also reflected that wasp spray is probably illegal as a defensive (or otherwise) weapon. The label on at least one product states that “It is a violation of Federal law to use this product in a manner inconsistent with its labeling.” Bottom line: It’s not legal for other than its intended use – killing wasps. Apparently these insect sprays use pyrethrins which apparently pose a greater danger to humans than initially thought. Now this generally assumes use against a human being and not a dog, coyote, bear, etc. Check with your attorney and proceed with caution.

Another option is either Bear or Dog Pepper Spray (not the old Mace) which does come in models that offer long and accurate concentrated sprays that appear to be the equal or better than wasp spray (up to 40 feet). That said, US Federal law prohibits the carrying, possession or use any form of bear spray, pepper spray, mace or any other irritant gas spray in US National Parks? We have seen this law overridden by superintendents such as Grand Teton National Park Superintendent Mary Gibson Scott who has encouraged its use as a non lethal self defense alternative. Apparently when pepper spray is marketed as a wild animal repellent, then the possession and use thereof is legal when locally approved.

In Canada bear sprays are regulated by Health Canada and their Pest Control Products Act. Health Canada has requested that a seemingly uncooperative Canadian Customs consider bear spray as a pesticide (not a weapon) and ignore the $10 exception limit. Apparently Canadian Customs has acquiesced. So, pepper spray marketed as a bear deterrent by the manufacturer and so declared will pass through Customs though it would appear far more hassle free to just buy the product in Canada.

If you are going to use Pepper Spray make sure that you carry it so you can quickly retrieve it. Pepper spray buried deep in your pack does little good when a predator is attacking you. Hang it on your pack or your belt and when you are approaching an area that could present danger, have it ready to use.

Some folks have recommended the use of strobe lights and siren/electronic noise devices (Ah Wilderness!) which have been somewhat successful and probably does nothing more than startle the predator. But, that’s OK if it gives you time to make good your escape.

Well, after all that I guess that the ideal scenario is to avoid placing ourselves in jeopardy and the necessity to employ a defense whether it be pepper (bear/dog) spray, stun guns, wasp spray, etc. I suppose that’s the tail wagging the coyote for that would mean cloistering ourselves in our homes and not engaging life. No matter what we do short of exterminating these animals will prevent their ultimate and continuing recovery and expansion. The coyote is an evolutionary work in progress and I have asked myself whether they could have progressed to this degree had the Gray Wolf survived. I don’t think so.

It would appear that many species (natural or reintroduced) will continue to habituate themselves to Man and these incidents will likely continue and even escalate in frequency. A cursory review of the Internet shows Coyote–Human incidents and interactions underreported and certainly on the rise (more later).

Our unfortunate reality is that while we have been sleeping, the rules have changed. We can no longer escape and strike out into the wilderness to cleanse ourselves - to regain our sanity - to soothe our souls from the monotony and tedium of our everyday work worlds without taking such heroic precautions that it potentially demeans the intent of that effort. Heck we can’t even walk, run or bike on city or suburban trails without a higher vigilance and making provisions for self defense in our violent and many times desperate society. If one of our heretofore mentioned canids doesn’t present a threat, then perhaps a fellow Homo sapiens might. The age of innocence is gone forever.

We can’t count on the Wilderness as an idyllic Thoreau-inspired haven. Our Wilderness areas are now highly managed and are just barely surviving the encroachment of Man. In fact, the ultimate recovery of the wilderness may very well be the harbinger of our own ultimate demise. Anybody for an afternoon of hunting and gathering? The anthropologist in me says that something’s gotta give and that something is probably us. My early responsible experiences in the wilderness are no longer reality, instead the memories of a bygone past – and not a pleasant entertainment – rather, a startling reality that should scare the hell out of all of us. We need to restore some balance…

Taylor was an environmentalist, “passionate about animals” and she strode into a popular Canadian national park with youthful exuberance and misplaced confidence in and naïveté of that environment. We mourn her passing and pray that her death will mark the adoption of more mature perspectives about our native wildlife and our environment as a whole. Taylor Mitchell’s Mother, Emily, when she was made aware of the intent to kill the coyotes involved in her daughter’s killing commented, “'Please don't, this is their space.' She wouldn't have wanted their demise, especially as a result of her own.” She continued, "We take a calculated risk when spending time in nature's fold -- it's the wildlife's terrain."

While true, I don’t completely share this incredibly generous and compassionate plea. Those coyotes appeared to be well beyond the pale and should have been put down as they would have likely repeated those behaviors (see Dr. Geist below). When a species like coyotes lose their fear and wariness of Man and become conditioned to our presence that generally spells trouble for them and us.

I also still wonder if this is really, “their space” and just another human manipulated aberration and species outside their native range in the same class as the Russian boar in the southeastern United States, the zebra mussel in the Great Lakes, the gray squirrel in Europe and the starlings in New York. For those of you out there that denounced the killing of the coyotes, just remember they blatantly and without provocation attacked Taylor while other hikers were nearby. We don’t need to be Kum By Ya stupid when a situation is clearly out of control.

This attack appears to be part of a classic, predictable, deliberate targeting process used by wolves and coyotes and we all need to be aware of this habituation-exploration model. The Might of Right directs your attention to Dr. Val Geist, retired wildlife biologist and Ph.D. Professor Emeritus of Environmental Science at the University of Calgary in Alberta, Canada who has identified seven classic stages
leading up to attacks on people by wolves and coyotes. Dr. Geist had determined via interviews with hikers and Cape Breton National Park staff that the coyotes of Cape Breton National Park were already in the latter phases of this process with the end stage being attacks on Humans. So, I ask, were warnings posted and hikers carefully educated on the dangers? I don’t know the answer but pray that all cautions be taken from this point on whether it be on Cape Breton Island or in Frisco, Texas.

Frankly, we created this problem and that becomes apparent when we realize that recovery and reintroduction are quite different than expansion. In the mid 1800’s the range of the coyote was primarily limited to the American West and Northwest including open prairies and grasslands, sagebrush lands and brushy mountains As we have noted, the larger and more powerful Gray Wolves primarily occupied the forests and kept coyote populations well in check.

The highly adaptable and enterprising coyote, however, has evolved in the Americas by taking full advantage of human activities and that especially includes the substantial reduction of Gray Wolf populations to expand their range throughout the United States, Canada, Mexico and Central America. They are now found in all their traditional haunts as well as forests, deserts, islands (including Cape Breton Island and Newfoundland), agricultural areas, and most urban environments. They have mated with dogs and gray/red wolves and may eventually upset that DNA applecart. On Cape Breton with its limited prey populations the coyote has already put the Canada lynx, rock vole and Gaspé shrew in jeopardy.

The presence of coyotes on Cape Breton Island was but the harbinger of their continued migration that now includes Newfoundland and Labrador. Seems that the coyote arrived there in the mid nineteen-eighties from Cape Breton by crossing the Gulf of St. Lawrence on the winter ice pack. We suspect that the coyote will do well in Newfoundland (no Gray Wolves) while Labrador may be the northern most migration possible as they will most certainly run into a healthy Gray Wolf population and the southern most migration of polar bears.

It appears that we have three options here. The total extermination of the coyote or any predator species that poses a risk to man, the present coexistence/management scenario or an apathetic comme ci, comme ça stroll where we let it all go and trip the light fantastic back to our primal past….and let an altered nature take its course. Of course, that will probably happen whether we consider it an option or not. Whatever option we engage, an increased vigilance (no
“Sunnydale Syndromes” please) and understanding of our environment is absolutely necessary.

I do concede and agree that the wilderness and the rest of our planet belong to all forms of life. While Taylor’s passing may prompt us to responsibly recalculate our environmental paradigms and understand the ultimate consequences of our presence on this planet, I am reminded of two Friends who successfully traversed a long stretch of the Appalachian Trail and made calculated provisions for their safety and protection against predators – human and canid. It was nickel plated.

The next time I hit the trail I might opt for a Cromack and my (imaginary) pet Gray Scottish Wolf Badb Catha of Ackergill to wit,
A far croonin' is pullin' me away As tak I wi' my cromack an wolffis to the road.

Rest in peace, Taylor Mitchell and God Bless You.


Ned Buxton