Today is a good day. I woke up in less pain that I usually do, the wind is blowing and we are waiting for nasty weather to descend, and I am brewing a rather strong pot of coffee. It is the the beginning of April and I am faced with temperature drops equivalent to the biggest roller coaster drop imaginable!! It was 76 degrees yesterday only to reach a possible 34 today! April is typically a month of anticipation in my world. I love the coming of Spring, the blooming of the trees, planting flowers, cleaning up winter’s wrath, but more importantly I look forward to the first weekend of May like the very breath of life. Beltane. The name for the Gaelic May Day Festival. It is usually celebrated the first of May, but is halfway between the spring equinox and the summer solstice, and celebrate we did….and we will do.
Years ago, around 1993, my dad started talking about the drought that had overtaken the High Plains. We hadn’t had rain or measurable precipitation for months, the ground was gaping huge cracks, ponds were dry, farms burned up, livestock thirsty and in his mental travel, he decided we needed to reconnect with our roots. Mine happen to be Irish and Scottish. My grandmother remembered the stories of coming to America from Sligo during the Starving Times, and often told of the trials of the immigrants. I was very aware of my heritage. So it wasn’t a far stretch to reach out into the celebrations of Spring and the idea of coming together to pray for rain. Dad had decided that the only thing to do was to dream up some cryptic message asking for people to come to the town square at midnight on St. Patricks. He didn’t tell anyone what he was doing, so for a couple weeks he would send out these crazy messages to peak the interest of the town. It was really hilarious when I think about it, but desperate at the same time. Trego County was burning up and there was no sign of relief in any weather forecast. So, with an old potato cart, a couple of flags, dry weather and sincere prayer we descended on the town square. I picked up my Gram at 11:30 and we drove downtown, for awhile it was just Gram, me and Ian. As we sat waiting and she says, “Honey, I have no idea what your daddy is doing, but whatever it is, it might just be crazy enough to work.” As many as maybe 100 curious onlookers trudged out to the square at midnight to circle the potato wagon, listen to my father’s reasoning and stories, each person took the mic and said the name of their first immigrant ancestor who came to America and the year if they knew it. I was in awe, Germany, Sweden, Russia, Ireland, Czechoslovakia, Denmark, Norway then it was my turn, “James Cleland, Edinburgh, Scotland 1735”. It dawned on me the importance of knowing truly where you came from so that I might honor those who quite literally paved the way for me to be right here, right now, today. In that old car with my Gram, I was looking at four generations…it was then that my desire to study genealogy was born. So it goes…. We joined hands, and the local Lutheran Pastor prayed, and as he did, almost magically, the sky started to weep. A gentle rain fell on the shoulders of the disheartened people and the thirsty earth that provides for them. The canon blasted from the top of the city building step and the ricochet was heard for miles! Quite a show, really!! Cleland couldn’t do that again if he tried!! It was unforgettable.
Shortly after the potato cart came Th’Gatherin’; a 25 year history of hundreds, sometimes even thousands of people from across the world, making the pilgrimage to Western Kansas, in the middle of a field all with the same goal. They gathered together to celebrate the Light Half of the year, the coming of spring, the renewal of the spirit. They played Scottish Highland Athletics, ate, listened to wonderful music, visited with strangers, purchased goods from the tinkers, and built lifelong friendships.
For one day, everyone was equal….the same…..We continue this day to tie ribbons on the tree to remember and celebrate those who didn’t make it through to the next year, we pray for a better year and we walk through the fires to release the negative energy that engulfs us and tries to bury us in the darkness of winter. It is healing. It’s cathartic. We dance, we sing, we take time to listen and we count our blessings. Dad always thought it was truly important to lay in the grass and look up at the sky, thinking about how small you are on this planet. We are nothing but a insignificant spec on this earth with the ability to create change. You are your own changes. If you don’t like what you see, change it. I think it’s funny because I can remember clearly Th’ Gatherin’ in 2000 when he asked us all to lay down. Most everyone actually did. Now, the really smart folk call this “grounding” and for a price you can buy some machine that replicates the pull of the earth! Ha! Go lay in the grass!! It’s cheaper, it’s real!!
If you are one who was lucky enough to attend Th’ Gatherin’ and find yourself in a funk each spring, needing to Gather….DO IT! Get your friends, cook, drink, play, listen to good music, tie your ribbons, pray and be thankful!! It doesn’t matter where you are, you are the change!! Start your tradition and remember those who can’t be with you. It’s important! May 5th, Saturday, is when we would have had Th’ Gatherin’…..What will your tradition become? Enjoy.
“If you want to Dance, dance. If you want to Play, play. If you want to Eat, eat. There is NO SCHEDULE.” ~~ James “Seamus” Cleland 1936-2014
Thank you Dad, for always dreaming.
Until then…. peace, love, Gather