Saturday, October 31, 2015

Samhain, the Original Halloween

[Note: This is a re-post from 2009. It's my best essay on Samhain, so I figured I bring it out again this year.]

Samhain (pronounced SAH-wen) was the Celtic New Year, signifying the end of the growing season and the "death" of the earth until it would be reborn in the Spring. Death as a natural part of the cycle of life is the central theme of Samhain and is at the root of all the symbolism in the holiday. The celebration of Samhain was such a major part of culture in the British Isles and parts of northern Europe that the Church appropriated and "Christianized" it, thus creating All Hallows Eve, which with the passage of time became "Halloween". With the reemergence of ecologically inclined earth-based spirituality, Samhain has been gradually coming back to some importance. And yes, I'm one of those people who celebrates Samhain rather than Halloween.

As I said above, Samhain is all about the recognition of death as a natural part of the cycle of life. Seasonally, it represents the "death" of the earth. The final harvest of the last of the crops - mostly gourds and root crops like beets and turnips - took place now. Many of the fruits set to dry to last the Winter - raisins and sultanas from grapes, figs, prunes from plums, etc. - are ready now, and many baked goods that use these are baked, like barmbrack (Irish: Báirín Breac), which is a Halloween staple in Ireland, where symbolic objects like pennies and rings are baked in the bread for children to find as prizes. Livestock is also slaughtered now to provide meat for the Winter and to thin out the herd so that it, too, can survive the "dead" months.

Another aspect of the death theme of Samhain is the belief that the border between the physical and spiritual worlds is at its weakest now. This has both positive and negative aspects. The negative aspect is the possibility that spirits with evil intent can roam the world of the living at will and spread panic. The tradition of carving gourds (although it was originally turnips that were hollowed out and carved) with diabolical faces and lit from within by candles came from this; the intent was to scare off the evil spirits.

The positive aspect of this weakened border is the possibility of communication with loved ones who have passed on. Seances are often held during Samhain, and tributes to those who have passed during the preceding year. The most beloved of these tributes is the Dumb Feast or Dumb Supper, where the table is set for both the living and the dead, with pictures and personal objects of the deceased placed at their place at the table, and the favorite foods of the deceased served at the meal. The meal is eaten in silence, which is only broken at the end of the meal when a toast is made to the deceased and stories from their lives told. The meal starts out solemnly and ends up in joy.

I love Samhain, possibly because I also love Autumn and Samhain is the very essence of an autumnal celebration. You all know my fascination with cemeteries and stonecarving, and it's usually around Samhain that I do a lot of visiting and taking pictures in historic boneyards. All in all, it's a lovely season for me, and a nostalgic one, too.

© 2009 by A. Roy Hilbinger 

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

A Rainy Fall Morning

The remnants of Hurricane Patricia are passing through the area, and the rain from her adds an extra bit of atmosphere to the drama of the turning leaves.

© 2015 by A. Roy Hilbinger 

Friday, October 23, 2015

Colors of the Season

Autumn is a second Spring when every leaf is a flower. – Albert Camus

I saw old Autumn in the misty morn shadowless like silence, listening to silence. – Thomas Hood

Now Autumn's fire burns slowly along the woods and day by day the dead leaves fall and melt. – William Allingham

There is a harmony in autumn, and a luster in its sky, which through the summer is not heard or seen, as if it could not be, as if it had not been! – Percy Bysshe Shelley

Photos © 2015 by A. Roy Hilbinger, taken in the Dykeman Spring Nature Park, Shippensburg PA

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Sunday Morning

Another Sunday off; time to take a walk in Nature to feed my soul. Fall color is advancing, the temperature is dropping, and the sky shows the turbulence of the changing season.

And home again in time for lunch!
© 2015 by A. Roy Hilbinger 

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Fading, fading...

Today is the last day of my vacation, and tomorrow I go back to work. My leisure time, like the Summer, is fading away. I did my Sunday walk through town and the Dykeman Spring Nature Park, looking for signs of the advancing Autumn. I found much evidence that the season is advancing.

The big Maple across the street in the gazebo park is lighting up for the season
Branch Creek between the ball fields
The Birches by the north duck pond are among the first of the big trees to turn
Autumn leaves drift down
to float upon the water;
Summer fades away.
© 2015 by A. Roy Hilbinger 

Thursday, October 08, 2015

Another Hike on the Rail Trail

I went for another long and leisurely hike up the Cumberland Valley Rail Trail yesterday. I went up to Oakville, which is just about the halfway point on the trail at just past the 6 mile marker; that made yesterday's hike around 12 miles (19 km). Not quite as grueling as Monday's hike, because being built on a former railroad bed it was a lot flatter, with no rolling hills. Still, I was footsore at the end, and even though the hips didn't ache this time, I still needed a nap when I got home. But I also found some interesting sights along the way. Come and see what I saw!

Entering the Rail Trail from the undeveloped section by Shippensburg University
Fungus growing on a dead branch lying next to the trail
Hmmmm... It seems the History Department could use a proofreader!
A feral cat snoozing in a patch of sunlight next to the trail
A Marbled Orbweaver spider busily weaving her web alongside the trail
Looking north from the trail
Looking north from the trail at another spot
Cows are even more curious than cats. These came up to the fence to say hello as I passed by.
Harvesting pumpkins in a field near the rail trail
© 2015 by A. Roy Hilbinger 

Tuesday, October 06, 2015

Farms, Fields, and Mountains

Yesterday I finally got to take a hike I'd mapped out a year ago but never got a chance to take due to weather and illness. When I decided to schedule my vacation time for this week one of the top things on my agenda was this walk through a part of the farm country on the other side of I-81 that I hadn't covered yet. The area I wanted to see was farther south and west from my usual routes, down Olde Scotland Road to Two Turn Road (don't you love that name?), over Two Turn to White Church Road, back up White Church Road to Mainsville, and then home. According to Google Maps that's 13 miles (21 km), much of it walking up and down the typical rolling hills of Central Pennsylvania, so by the time I made it back home I was tired and footsore. But oh what a gorgeous day for hiking it was! Lace up your boots and come see what I have for you.

A view of South Mountain from Olde Scotland Rd.
Feed corn, the ultimate reality of Central PA
Barn and silos on a hilltop farm along Two Turn Rd.
A view of South Mountain from Two Turn Rd.
A farm off White Church Rd.
An old farm on White Church Rd.
Approaching the village of Mainsville, with South Mountain in the background
© 2015 by A. Roy Hilbinger 

Sunday, October 04, 2015

A Sunday Morning Walk in the Wetland

I'm on vacation for nine days, from this weekend through next weekend. It had been raining since late Thursday, and yesterday was just too wet, cold, and windy, so my first day of vacation was spent lounging around the apartment and going on a Netflix marathon. Today is still a bit chilly and overcast, but the rain has moved off and the wind has died down. So this morning I did my Sunday "church" visit to the Dykeman Spring Nature Park. It was a soggy walk, but that added all the more contrast between lights and darks in the landscape. And more Fall color is appearing in the leaves. This is shaping up to be a spectacular Fall this year. There will be more hikes in the next week, so keep coming back to see what I've been up to. But in the meantime, tie on your boots and come with me on a walk through the Dykeman wetland.

Each of my walks starts with a pause at Branch Creek to see if there are any Great Blue Herons fishing. Not today!
Entering the Dykeman Spring Nature park along the Dykeman Walking Trail
The view south from the railroad tunnel on the Dykeman Walking Trail
A scene on the trail through the Dykeman Spring wetland
Another view along the trail
The view of Branch Creek from the red bridge on the Dykeman Walking Trail
My "church" of a Sunday morning - the north duck pond with red pew
The red bridge over Branch Creek on the Dykeman Walking Trail
The view north from the railroad tunnel, on the way home
This study in contrast caught my eye as I was heading home on the Dykeman Walking Trail
© 2015 by A. Roy Hilbinger