Monday, April 7, 2014

F Is for Fox Fables!

#6 on the April 2014 A-to-Z Blog Challenge.

  F: Fearn, Alder in the Scottish Gaelic alphabet.

Alder's the "King of Water" because it grows by/in running water, becoming hard as iron if immersed in water—which is why many buildings based in swampy areas were built on rafts or piles made of it, from the Bronze Age on and most famously Venice. It's a faery tree, turning from pale to red-orange after being cut, used in water-troughs, pumps, lock gates, and clogs for farm workers.
The only decidious tree with cones, its blossoms yield a green dye—perhaps brigands like Robin Hood’s merry men availed themselves of it, to better hide in the mysterious depths of boggy woods. Certainly, many Celts believed the faery folk were garbed in green, also the better to hide from human eyes. Alder wood is poor fuel—unless made into a charcoal yielding so intense a heat that it was used in forging weapons, and later, in the making of gunpowder, with stands (carrs) planted handy to the factories. Farmers  learned centuries ago that alders leave soil more fertile (from the nodules on their roots that fix nitrogen in the soil); today it's helping in the reclamation of industrial wastelands.

Fox-headed Walking-Stick
Fables are a genre of stories in which animals are the main characters. Aesop didn’t create the only fables! Some of my favorites Scottish ones star one Gilmartin Fox, a trickster as so many clever foxes are, who can sometimes shift his form to other creatures/items such as a magical boat or walking-stick.

There're several tales in which Fox tricks Wolf, the best known ones about losing his tail or in “Tops & Bottoms,” out of the harvest of their joint crop, first potatoes and then wheat, and a keg of butter mutually owned. You can find versions of those and others in Sir George Douglas’ Scottish  Folk & Fairy Tales on the Sacred Text site. 

In another fable, Fox is tricked by a duck he has caught for his dinner. The duck, made clever by desperation, asks if Fox is going to say grace.
“Oh, aye,” says Fox, closing his eyes and crossing his paws, making it easy for the bird to slip from his grasp, and by the time Fox opens his eyes, his prey is halfway down the loch, well out of reach. “Fra noo on, I say grace after I eat ma meat!” vows Fox, loping off to find something else. 

The two I tell most often are “The Twa Foxes & the Creel o’ Herring," and “The Fox, the Dog, & the Fleas.” In the latter, Fox has spent the night with Dog, after swearing that he will steal/take nothing away with him the next day. Soon after dawn, escorted to the brook/boundary of the farm, Fox scratches, and Dog says triumphantly, “Noo I can beat you, for yir takin’ ma flees wi’ you!” Fox looks at the burn (brook) and asks how far into it the farmer owns. The dog indicates one third of the way across. Fox hops over the stepping-stones to the middle, taking a twig with a tuft of sheep’s wool on one end into his mouth from an eddy. 
Delicately, slowly he steps into the water. Deeper and deeper he goes, as the fleas scurry from his tail to his back to his head, until, only the end of his snout above water, they scramble onto the twig. Then he gently opens his jaws, and off go the fleas. As the dog gapes after them, Fox leaps to the other bank, points out that he’s kept his promise, and off he goes….

A famous Scottish proverb is: “There’s meat and music here,” said the fox as he ran away with the bagpipes.

May you find some meat in these tales, and in fox folk-songs too!


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