"Anthem" by Leonard Cohen

"The birds they sang at the break of day
Start again, I heard them say
Don't dwell on what has passed away
or what has yet to be...

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That's how the light gets in"

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Newborn (1980)

Newborn (1980)
Originally uploaded by musicmuse_ca
My daughter was born 28 years ago today. It was a difficult and dark time in my life. I was in a violent relationship that I couldn't escape from. When I did try to leave, my family turned their back on me. I had no resources and no where to go.

I made a promise to my daughter when she was born that whatever it takes, I would protect her from the misery I grew up in. I kept that promise to the best of my ability. Now she is a beautiful young woman who is following her dreams.

This shot was taken of her in my arms after 2 days in labor. Believe me it was worth it. She was my shining star then and now.

I am so proud of her.

Happy birthday baby!

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Linton Church

Linton Church
Originally uploaded by musicmuse_ca

Approaching Linton Church
(photo taken by Beth Kotkin 9/2004)

"He who is tired of Linton is tired of life”
-ancient saying from the Scottish Borders.

The church at Linton in the Scottish Borders is the oldest surviving building used for continuous Christian worship in the Borders area. Before the Normans arrived (and my ancient ancestors with them), it was the site of Celtic Christian worship for many hundreds of years. Records of the Linton Church date back to 1127 and before. Some say St Cuthbert himself established the church here not long after going to Old Melrose in 651 to become a monk in the Celtic Christian tradition.

My ancient Somerville ancestors were laid to rest here for almost a thousand years in the churchyard of this tiny Norman Church.

I took this shot of the side view of the doorway where the Somerville Stone has survived for over 800 years. It celebrates the legend still told in the Borders area (which is the origin story of my family line in Scotland) of one John Somerville, dragon-slayer, who won the lands and barony of the Linton area in reward for his great deed.

I will be posting about the dragon-slayer here in due time.

For now, I will share an excerpt about this same John Somerville, from later in his life, from the book, "The Memorie of the Somervilles". "The Memorie of the Somervilles" was written by Baron James Somerville in 1679. In writing this book, he preserved the oral traditions and stories passed down for 25 generations from Sir Gualter de Somerville who came with William the Conquerer from Normandy in 1066 with the Norman Conquest of England.

The book was later edited and widely published by Sir Walter Scott in 1814, who had heard these family stories when staying with his (Somerville) grandmother in the Borders during his childhood summers at the family home.

The contents of this book have been a most valuable resource for tracing the legends, stories and genealogy of my most ancient ancestors in Scotland. Just recently, I was able to find a copy published on the web that is now in my possession (thanks to the University of Wisconsin, my alma mater, for scanning this and making it freely available to download). And it is why I started this blog, to share the pictures and stories that I have been uncovering for the past 5 years, since my mother's death.

The following excerpt is about John Somerville of Scotland (the legendary dragon-slayer) and his father, Rodger Somerville of England. It relates some of what ensued after Rodger joined in the Magna Carta Rebellion against England's King John in 1213. As a result, he lost his lands, and sought refuge with his son in Linton:

"His father, Rodger, "adhered to the rebellious barons about the latter end of King John his reigne" (1213) His Manor of Stocton in the County of Wear (Zear) was given to Henry Deedaly. Rodger fled to Scotland to his son John's house at Lintoune. He was able to see his two eldest grandsons, Robert & William, and died 1214 at 94 years; buried at Lintoune Church. Robert & William are both 7th generation from Gualter de Somerville, who came with the Conqueror."

Sunday, February 17, 2008

It was 40 years ago today...

Yearbook (1968)
Originally uploaded by musicmuse_ca
These shots are from my 1968 High School yearbook. It has been 40 years from that terrible year until now, 2008.

I remember that time well. I have no nostalgia for the '60's. Coming of age as a young woman during this time was difficult. I have never seen a portrait of the 60's on TV or in the movies that did not romanticize what was an agonizing, terrible, bloody and murderous time for those of us who lived through it. In 1967, when I was still in jr high school, I attended my first anti-war rally in NYC, protesting the Vietnam war.

The year these shots were taken, 1968, brought the My Lai Massacre, as well as the murders of both Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy, and riots in the streets. I had been too young to understand what it meant when President Kennedy was assassinated in 1963, other than a day off from school. But the murders of our leaders in 1968 hit me hard and my generation hard. I was in utter despair that we would ever stop the killing, or find the leaders who could inspire us to do so again.

I did not give up and I continued to protest. What else could I do? My friends and neighbors were dying. The final blow was Nixon's narrow election in 1968 with his so-called "secret plan" to end the Vietnam War. None of us in the anti-war movement believed him, and it took years of protest and action to eventually end that war. And we did.

Today we have another endless and senseless war on our hands, in Iraq. Brought to us by the same senseless policies and even some of the same people as the Vietnam War.

But today, I have hope again for the first time in 40 years in a National Leader to inspire us and unify us to move forward in a positive direction. Barack Obama is the first national leader in 40 years to bring this message of hope to us all. He reminds me of Bobby Kennedy in the way he inspires so many of us to take action.

In his New Hampshire primary speech, he said to the nay-sayers that told him not to give us false hope:

"In the unlikely story of America, there has never been anything false about hope."

His simple slogan speaks to me: "Yes we can"...
..."to justice and equality"
..."to opportunity and prosperity"
..."heal this nation"
..."repair this world"...

We cannot afford to wait another 40 years for this kind of message. I know I won't have them. And I am not sure our country can afford it. I am ready to join another movement for change. I hope the country will come along for the ride this time around.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008


Originally uploaded by musicmuse_ca

 Linton Church graveyard
(photo taken by Beth Kotkin 9/2004)

This rural graveyard can still be found at the small Kirk at Linton. The church is located down an unmarked one-lane dirt road in a remote area of the Scottish Borders.

I made the long journey to this little church when I turned 50. I came to find my ancient maternal ancestors who have been buried here for almost a thousand years.

The shot shows a view of what was once the Linton Loch. The Linton Loch once included 1000 acres of marshland that was home to hawks, falcons and many other waterfowl. The loch waters dominated the village of Linton and was fed by the river Kale for many centuries. It is lost to us, a victim of excessive drainage and other “improvements” in the 19th century. The birds of prey are mostly gone now and farmlands now cover the former lake bed.

But the stream known as the Kale Water still descends from the Cheviot Hills and winds it way just south of what is left of the village of of Linton to join with the river Teviot, just as it did a thousand years ago when my ancestors built their stronghold here. Salmon and trout can still be found in the river Tweed, though not so abundantly as in times past.

None of the old-growth oak and the ash forests are left that once covered this whole area during the 12th Century. The Jedforest which grew from the Cheviots along the Jed Waters and over all of the hills south of Linton on the border of Scotland and England is a pale shadow of what it once was.

During more peaceful times, these forests were first cleared by the industrious monks of the Border Abbeys to make way for the Cheviot sheep which you can still see grazing in the Cheviot Hills. Later, during the bloody Border battles between Scotland and England, the English cleared what was left of the ancient forests to keep them safe from the wild men, outlaws and independence fighters who once took refuge here.

The graves of my ancestors lie undisturbed now, and the causes they died for are long forgotten.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Birds of Prey

Mt Shasta
Originally uploaded by musicmuse_ca
According to the ancient Celtic beliefs of my ancestors, the raven was said to be a sign of death due to its’ association with the Celtic god Bran (or raven in Welsh) the Blessed, god of death and rebirth who was associated with the underworld.

Ravens were at their greatest power during Winter Solstice and were symbolic of the life crises necessary to clear the way for change. Two years later to the day after my song with the raven, my own mother fell ill and died suddenly at the age of 80 in New York City, her home for over 55 years. In the Spring after my mother’s death, I wear the raven necklace around my neck in honor of my own raven story.

As I drive through the high desert plateau, I am traveling through part of the 38,000 acres known as the “Badlands” of Eastern Oregon. I suppose that the name comes from the extreme summer heat, but this is early in spring and not too long after the rainy season. It is cool and comfortable, and the high desert landscape is rich with flowers, trees and wildlife.

From out of the Aspen trees on the right side of the road, I see a flash of white. Into my line of sight flies the biggest bird I have ever seen. I slow down to get a better view. I can see the talons, and then the the body and finally the head fly right in front of me across the road. It is a bald eagle, black feathers with white head and a white tail.

The wingspan is enormous. It is incredible that such a large bird can get into the air at all, much less fly with such grace. My heart is beating fast as I watch the eagle fly off into the sky to my left. It has flown in front of me so closely that I feel I could have almost reached out my hand and hitched a ride.

In the Celtic beliefs of my ancestors, eagles were revered as oracles because of their keen farsightedness. Because they fly so high, the eagle was the symbol of the sun god Bel, who also had powers of healing. The traditional Scottish spring festival of renewal and rebirth, Bealtuinn (Beltane), was named for him and means “fire of Bel”. Eagles were also associated with the renewal and rebirth of the Spring and the Summer seasons.

It is a thrilling and hope-filled encounter that has brought to my mind the life of my ancient Scottish ancestor, the Royal Falconer, whose story I have been uncovering in the months since my mother’s death.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Minstrel Girl

Dancing with the Wind
Originally uploaded by musicmuse_ca
As I am driving down on the Eastern side of the Cascade Range in Oregon, I am wearing a Raven necklace I just bought at the store at the Warm Springs Reservation. The necklace represents the Native American tale of Raven who stole both the sun and the moon for the people from the Sky Chief’s home.

As the story goes, through magic, he transformed himself into a leaf that was swallowed by the Sun Chief’s daughter. He gestated in her womb and became her baby. After he was born, he managed to trick the Sky Chief into first giving him the moon and then the sun to play with. He accidentally bounced the moon out of a hole in the sky so that the people below could see by its light in the blackness of night. He stole the sun outright, bringing daylight through this same hole to the dark world of the people below.

I feel almost as grateful as those ancient ones as I drive from the weekend of gray clouds and rain into the sunny skies of the high desert.

But this is not the real reason why I am wearing the necklace.

I am wearing it in honor of an unusual encounter I had with a raven on January 1, 2001. I was in a favorite spot at a music camp in the redwood forest of the Coast Range near Big Basin State Park. The park was a densely wooded area in the Santa Cruz Mountains. It was clear and crisp, and the sun was shining brightly in the cool winter skies. I was singing, accompanied by my guitar, for some friends seated outside under the Coast Redwoods and the Knobcone Pine trees. While I sang, a large jet-black Raven perched in a pine tree nearby and sang along with me. As I finished my song, he called out to me with a loud caw-cawing, growing louder as the song came to an end.

For the rest of the day, my raven friend followed me from cabin to cabin, listening for my singing and joining in again and again with his unique raven harmony.

I felt it was a sign, but did not know of what.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

The Trail to the Edge of the World....

Where to begin? Anywhere will do really, because all of the threads weave together in anyone's life. But maybe starting with my journey North a few years ago is as good a place as any to start...

It is mid-May, 10 days before my 49th birthday, and I am driving on Oregon Highway 97 south, on the sunny side of the Cascades east of Bend. I am in the high desert area at the northern limit of the Great Basin region of the American West. It is sunny and cool this time of year with the sky clear and the bright light of blue you can only see at these higher elevations.

I can see the white mariposa lilies, the violet lupines and the yellow monkey flowers which dot the side of the roadway as I drive by. I haven’t seen any of the red Indian paintbrush yet, it may be too early for them. I decide to pass by the turnoff for Crater Lake. The high country is still snowed in, so I change my route and continue on to Klamath Falls through the aspen forest of the Deschutes National Forest.

I had spent the past weekend at a camp in the rain-forest at the foot of Mt Hood. At lunchtime on Saturday, the sun broke through the clouds briefly, just enough for me to walk through the moss-covered trees that hung over the river that ran through the camp. Other than that one hour break, I spent most of my time indoors due to the almost constant rain.

But I found myself still longing for the sun, so I chose this route in the hopes of getting warm and dry again.

I had stopped earlier in the day at the Warm Springs Reservation, and enjoyed the sagebrush, scrub, juniper and rock landscape that has become so familiar to me after more than 20 years in the Western United States. The Warm Springs Reservation spans over 600,000 acres and is home to the Wasco, Pauite and Warm Springs Tribes. It gave me a comforting feeling to get out of the car and stretch my legs and walk the land of dry rocks among the the spring waters on the Reservation of the Confederated Tribes.

I felt a connection to the tribal ancestors, which gave me some of the courage I needed to begin the journey to approach mine. In this medium, I am going to try to share what I have found, how I found it and some of what it has meant to me along the way.

I am hoping my family may be interested in having this record preserved. If not, at least I will have this for me and my readers, and that is enough.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Reflections on a Rainy Day

It is time to put my toe in the water here, and get this thing started. I'm not sure what this is going to turn out to be, but I felt the need to give this a try.

For now, it is a work in progress and it is time to begin.

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