Monthly Archives: September 2008

Don’t Fence Me In!

Hedge apples are the fruit of the Osage Orange tree, but unfortunately they aren't very tasty.  Too bad, because they are everywhere in the early fall in the lower Midwest.

Hedge apples are the fruit of the Osage Orange tree, but unfortunately they aren't aren't edible. Too bad, because they seem to be everywhere in early fall in the Midwest.

Devon, England, has some of the most ancient and renowned hedgerows in the world. I haven’t been there in person, but Paula of Locks Park Farm in Devon (link below) took her readers on a virtual tour of the hedgerows on her farm.  You could almost hear the song thrush singing in the trees as we “walked” along the path.  It was a sunny day after weeks of rainy weather in the Devon countryside.  In her photographs, the rose hips, crab apples and elderberries are explosions of color among the green leaves.  Somewhere dormouse nests (Alice in Wonderland!) are hidden in the hedges.

I told her we have “old” hedges here, too — not a thousand or more years old, of course.  One hundred and fifty years old is an ancient hedgerow here in the Midwest.  Our hedgerows consist mostly of Osage Orange trees, Maclura pomifera, which were planted densely together to confine cattle in the days before barbed wire.  Because these trees are so durable, they still mark the pastures, even though fencing is now used.  Paula describes her county’s hedgerows as part of a patchwork field system and imagines ours as vast fields, which in the Midwest is often true.  There’s a Cole Porter song that begins “Oh, give me land, lots of land under starry skies above, don’t fence me in.”  Everyone from Bing Crosby to ABBA has sung it.  (Videos below.)

Osage Orange thorns make a menancing hedge.

Osage Orange thorns make a menacing hedge.

Osage Orange wood is very dense and prized for bows, tool handles and other uses.  It’s sometimes called ironwood, because it’s so hard to cut. Other plants, including varieties of dogwood shrubs and wildflowers such as goldenrod and sunflower, grow among the Osage Orange trees, providing homes for wildlife.  The trees were named for the Osage Indians of the area, for the color of the wood and for the fruit, called hedge apples, which are about the size of a large orange.  They aren’t toxic, but they’re not a good food source, either.

Hedge apple "harvest" on the curb.

Hedge apple "harvest" in my neighborhood. Hedge apple cider, anyone?

Extinct animals such as the giant ground sloth and the mammoth from 10, 000 years and longer ago may have eaten hedge apples, but now only squirrels seem to find any part of them nutritious.  They tear apart the apple to get at the seeds, leaving a mess.  A few other animals, such as horses and cattle, will eat the fruit, but it’s not very good for them.  

In my neighborhood, Osage Orange trees grow in a wild area at the edge of the landscaped areas, and the hedge apples fall on the street and are smashed by passing cars.  To learn more click on all about the osage orange tree.

To read Paula’s beautiful post and see the gorgeous photos of the Devon hedgerows click on “our amazing hedges.”  A video of Bing Crosby and the Andrews Sisters singing “Don’t Fence Me In” is below the photograph of a partial hedgerow in my neighborhood. Beneath Bing Crosby is a video of ABBA singing “Don’t Fence Me In” on the Dick Cavett Show.

Sunflowers, goldenrod, dogwoods and other plants grow in the hedgerow.
Sunflowers, goldenrod, dogwoods and other plants grow in the remnants of a hedgerow in my neighborhood.


Filed under Animals, Biology, Bird-watching, Environment, Europe, Gardening, History, Humor, Kansas, Life, Natural History, Nature, Personal, Photography, Random, Science, Travel, Uncategorized

Robert Plant and Led Zeppelin

Robert Plant and Alison Krauss (above) with T-Bone Burnett perform their version of Led Zeppelin’s “Black Dog” at Starlight Theater in Kansas City on Tuesday, September 23.  At the bottom is Led Zeppelin’s version of “Black Dog” in 1973.

On August 20, 1970, in the last days before I headed off to college, some friends and I drove two hours to Oklahoma City to see Led Zeppelin at the State Fairgrounds Arena.  It was a long trip, but worth every mile.  (Although I didn’t do the driving.)  “Whole Lotta Love” was a hit by this time, but like the Grateful Dead, Led Zeppelin focused on the whole experience.  It wasn’t about one song.  The band members resisted releasing their music as singles and avoided television appearances, preferring that their fans experience the music as a total performance, which we were thrilled to be doing. 

Alison Krauss and Robert Plant at Starlight Theater in Kansas City.

Alison Krauss and Robert Plant at Starlight Theater in Kansas City.

I fell in love with Led Zeppelin in January 1969 when the first album was released.  It affected me the way no other music did before nor has since.  I’m definitely a Led Head.

I didn’t have enough money to buy the first album myself, so I split the cost with my sister.  I wisely decided to buy the second album (October 1969) on my own (with my meager earnings as a cashier at Mr. Steak) when I realized there might be a problem sharing the first album when I left for college.  I’ve bought every album since, then duplicated the same in compact discs and have purchased every other variation produced.  I’ve helped in my small way to make the Atlantic Recording Corporation very successful.

That Led Zeppelin’s history coincided with my formative years may have had a wee bit to do with my adoration. That band was the soundtrack to my young life.

Despite my enthusiasm for Led Zeppelin, it was never about the band members themselves. I didn’t pay attention to their antics or what they looked like.  When the band broke up in 1980 after the death of John Bonham, I followed Robert Plant’s career.

Led Zeppelin in 1969 at the beginning of the band's career.

Led Zeppelin in 1969 at the beginning of the band

At first, I was hoping Plant would continue the heavier sound of the band, but he was more whimsical, more lyrical, perhaps because he’s a singer.  Anyway, I was hooked.  I recognized in Plant’s work, despite the differences, the fusion of so many of the elements and musical styles that had made Led Zeppelin the biggest band in the world in the 1970s.  They played not just rock, but Celtic, Arabic, classical, reggae, blues, folk and country and a dozen other genres.

I’ve seen Robert Plant four times, including once with Jimmy Page and this latest concert with Alison Krauss.  Some critics were perplexed when Plant joined with Krauss, but I said: Hey, you don’t know Robert the way I do!  It’s totally Plant’s style to combine his own multifaceted work with Krauss’ country and bluegrass music.  At his concert with Krauss, he mused that he wasn’t sure what their musical fusion was called, but he said it was definitely “smokin’,” and he was right about that.  Plant is an amusing guy, too, and his witty comments are known as “plantations.”

Robert Plant.

Robert Plant.

Led Zeppelin reunited for a concert last year in England with John Bonham’s son Jason as the drummer and is planning a tour in 2009.  Robert Plant has made a statement that he won’t be the singer, however.  That’s crushing news.  If he changes his mind, I’M GONNA CRAWL for a WHOLE LOTTA LOVE even if I have to make a MISTY MOUNTAIN HOP on a STAIRWAY TO HEAVEN and even if it means GOING TO CALIFORNIA, because I’m just a LIVING LOVING MAID who would find it a HEARTBREAKER if I had a COMMUNICATION BREAKDOWN and was a FOOL IN THE RAIN if I missed the show.  Remember fans, YOUR TIME IS GONNA COME because HOW MANY MORE TIMES can we be DAZED AND CONFUSED and find it TEN YEARS GONE, and we still haven’t seen the concert.  THANK YOU for letting me RAMBLE ON.

You can read the history of Led Zeppelin by clicking here and on Led Zeppelin’s official website.  Also for news of what Plant is up to, go to Robert Plant’s official website.  Maybe he’ll change his mind about not touring.


Filed under Entertainment, Humor, Life, Music, Personal, Random

Generation Tattoo



Sinizen, a reggae band, is featured on the cover of "Rock n Tattoo" magazine in April 2010. The link to the magazine and the band's website is at the bottom of this post.

Sinizen Grass Roots Culture.


Go to FREE DOWNLOAD of Sinizen’s new album (at left) by clicking on Grass Roots Culture.

When I was growing up, the only “person” I knew with a tattoo was Popeye the Sailor Man.  Now, I can’t go anywhere without seeing one or more tattoos on one or more people. 

It won’t be long until at least half of the population has a tattoo. The Pew Research Center reports that 36 percent of people age 18 to 25, and 40 percent of those age 26 to 40 have at least one tattoo.  Like in many trends, rock  and rap musicians led the way with tattoos.

One of the hazards of getting a tattoo is that you might change your mind.  Angelina Jolie has had a few tattoos removed or covered over. Here she's had the geographical coordinates from the locations where her children entered her life.  This tattoo imperfectly covers an old tattoo of Billy Bob's name and a dragon, which now looks like a bruise. There are probably a few more coordinates on her arm by now.

One of the hazards of getting a tattoo is that you might change your mind. Angelina Jolie has had a few tattoos removed or covered over. Here her children's geographical coordinates cover Billy Bob's name and a dragon, which is still partly visible.

Soon the public won’t see tattoos as shocking and cutting edge, but as mundane.  My father, an aviation engineer, said that when engineers start doing something “wild,” then it’s just about to go out of style. So let an engineer with a tattoo be your barometer for the end of the tattoo trend.  Clear skin will then be the rage for rebels.  (Well, maybe not.)  

Tattoo trends themselves go in and out of fashion.  Neck and hand tattoos are more popular, but the “tramp stamp,” the tattoo on a woman’s lower back, is becoming passe, the local newspaper recently reported. 

At my hair salon a while ago, a manicurist asked me about my daughter’s first solo trip to visit friends in California.  I told her: “She had a great time.  Best of all, no piercings and no tattoos.” 

Ryan is a member of the band Sinizen. He's also an artist. The link to his website on redbubble is in my blogroll at the right under Shameless Promotion.

I hadn’t gotten the word that this woman was now the proud new bearer of a “tramp stamp.” I just assumed she’d agree that “no tattoos” was a good thing.  I also didn’t know that my daughter had, in fact, gotten not just one but two tattoos in California.  Two tiny stars on one foot, one matching a star on her best friend’s ankle. Not only am I not on the cutting edge, I’m also out of the loop.

I don’t care. No tattoos for me, thanks.  I don’t like my freckles. Why would I want more marks?  And once it’s inked, it’s permanent! (Although tattoo removal is a growing industry!)  That first girlfriend you’d love to the end of time?  Now, you have to ink over her name with a giant dragon.  Did you and your BFF get matching roses on your shoulders?  Now, you find out she’s a skunk. About those Japanese characters that were supposed to say “Love and Peace”?  They actually say “I’m a stupid tourist.”  That dolphin on your belly?  Now it’s a whale.

With a dozen or so tattoos, Angelina Jolie is more inked than most people her age, but almost 40 percent of Americans ages 26 to 40 have at least one tattoo, according to Pew Research Center.

In our society, we may see tattoos as marks of rebellion or outsider status, but there was a surge of tattoos in the Victorian Era, led by two English princes, including George, who later became King George V.  Read about it in the Victorian Era. Tattoos hold different meanings in different societies. In some, tattoos are signs of status or membership in a group, club, clan or criminal syndicate. Some tattoos are meant to frighten or even to attract. 

“Hey, gorgeous, I’m crazy about those blue lines on your chin.”

Maori man.

Maori man.

Tattoos could be useful, too.  Tattooed sailors could be identified when they washed ashore. Tattoos also had more sinister uses when they marked prisoners.

Tattoo is a Polynesian word, and some of the most elaborate tattoos were created in New Zealand and Borneo.  In the early 19th century, a Maori named Hongi was introduced to King George IV, who admired his tattoos.

Whatever else you might think about tattoos, you might agree that many tattoos are incredibly beautiful as art.

Sinizen’s website.

Tattoo n Rock Magazine.

You can read about the history of tattoos at The Tattoo Museum.  An article about tattoos in the New York Times can be read here: Tattoos Gain Even More Visibility


Filed under Art, Entertainment, Family, History, Humor, Life, Personal, Random, Uncategorized

Sunflower Season

A bee loaded with bright yellow pollen works the huge head of a sunflower in a vast sunflower field near Quapaw, Oklahoma.

A bee loaded with bright yellow pollen works the huge head of a sunflower in a vast sunflower field near Quapaw, Oklahoma.

Kansas is the sunflower state, but we had to go to Oklahoma to find these vast sunflower crop fields (pictured above and at the bottom) near Quapaw in mid-September. 

The sunflower crowns the seal on the Kansas state flag.

The sunflower crowns the seal on the Kansas state flag.

Heading south on Highway 69 in Kansas, we passed mile after mile of green soybean rows and the brown stalks of ready-to-harvest feed corn.   Cattle and horse grazed in lush pastures.  It was the kind of perfect late summer day you want to bottle so you can release it in January.

The small yellow heads of wild sunflowers cheered us along the roadside and in fields that had escaped mowing and grazing, but it wasn’t until we crossed into Oklahoma that we really saw SUNFLOWERS –brilliant yellow that stretched as far as I could see.  Thankfully, I was wearing sunglasses, or I’d be blind today!

A Cloudless Sulphur butterfly nectars on a wild sunflower in a vacant lot.

A Cloudless Sulphur butterfly nectars on a wild sunflower in a vacant lot.

The sunflower is the state flower of Kansas, so I’m sure it was the first flower I ever learned about. Helianthus annuus, the annual sunflower, comes in 60 species.  Some species can grow as tall as fifteen feet.  The flower heads can be small as buttons or be as large as dinner plates.   I don’t think I’m biased, but the sunflower has got my vote as the most useful flower in the world.  If you can think of a more useful one, let me know.  (I’m making my case below.)

Native Americans discovered and domesticated the sunflower as early as 2,300 B.C. The earliest example of a fully domesticated sunflower was found in Tennessee.  The Incas used the sunflower as an image of their sun god, and the sunflower is regarded as the floral emblem of Peru.  Native Americans grew and used the sunflower for both food and oil.  They made a yellow dye from the flower heads and fiber from the stalks.  

The oil can be used for cooking, soap-making and even in the manufacture of paint.  I’ve used oil paints with sunflower oil, rather than linseed, in art. Domesticated sunflowers are grown ornamentally and for crops — seeds, oil and high-protein cattle feed. You can eat the seeds or make butter out of them.  The leaves can be used for cattle fodder.  Sunflowers even produce latex.  No part is wasted. 

Many birds love sunflower seeds, and some crop varieties have been developed with drooping heads to make it more difficult for the birds to get at the seeds.

Sunflowers in Fenway Victory Garden in Boston.

Sunflowers in a plot in Fenway Victory Gardens in Boston.

There are the weedy types that thrive along roadsides and in uncultivated areas that provide essential habitat for wildlife and insects.  Sunflowers are also good nectar and pollen sources. Some wild types creep into crop fields, where they’re popular with bees and butterflies, but not farmers.

Many composite flowers — the actual flowers are crammed together in the head — are called sunflowers, including some perennial species. The petals — or rays — can be yellow, maroon, orange or even other colors.

The Spanish introduced the sunflower into Europe in 1510, and sunflowers are now grown throughout the world.  Russia is the leading grower, followed by Argentina, the United States and Canada.  During the 18th century in Europe, members of the Russian Orthodox Church helped to make sunflower oil popular because it was one of the few oils not prohibited during Lent.  This could explain why Russia leads in its cultivation.

The seeds are used as chicken feed — and perhaps not coincidentally, two famous chicken restaurants in Pittsburg, Kansas, are not far from Quapaw– Chicken Annie’s and Chicken Mary’s.

Sunflowers grow in the demonstration garden at the National Agricultural Center and Hall of Fame in Bonner Springs, Kansas.

Sunflowers grow in the demonstration garden at the National Agricultural Center and Hall of Fame in Bonner Springs, Kansas.

The tuberous roots of the Helianthus tuberosus, the Jerusalem artichoke, can be eaten.  Now called a sunchoke, the old Jerusalem name of this perennial sunflower came from the Italian word for sunflower, girasole.  I’ve never tried a sunchoke, but it sounds interesting, if not delicious.

To learn more about sunflowers, click here.

Endless fields of sunflowers near Quapaw, Oklahoma.

Endless fields of sunflowers near Quapaw, Oklahoma.


Filed under Biology, Conservation, Entomology, Environment, Gardening, History, Humor, Insects, Kansas, Life, Natural History, Nature, Personal, Photography, Random, Travel

The Mystery of the Black Swallowtail Butterfly

Black Swallowtail butterfly at Powell Gardens, Lone Jack, Missouri, 2007.

What I thought was a Black Swallowtail butterfly at Powell Gardens, Lone Jack, Missouri, 2007. Rachel (comment below) says it's a Pipevine Swallowtail.

One day a week ago the bronze fennel was teeming with Black Swallowtail caterpillars.  The next day, they were gone.  Where did they go?  Off to the woods forty feet away?  I worried about them struggling through the grass to complete their life cycle.  It’s a dangerous world.  Birds, lawnmowers, children chasing balls, other insects. 

Black Swallowtail.

I thought this was a Black Swallowtail, but Rachel (comment below) says it's the dark morph female of the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail.

Were those caterpillars the last of the year?  I thought so until today when I found a single fairly large caterpillar on the fennel, which was almost chewed clean of leaves.  A tattered looking Black Swallowtail butterfly sailed in and circled the fennel.  I was hoping it would lay some eggs or at least make a nectar stop at a flower. I even had my camera! But the butterfly sailed off again, ignoring my butterfly bush, the phlox, the coneflowers……

Dottie of St. Louis, Missouri, commented on my Monarch Watch post about her certified Monarch waystation.  She follows the process of the Monarchs very closely, photographing them and raising them.  She talks to schoolchildren about the Monarch life cycle. She also “raises” Black Swallowtail caterpillars on fennel and parsley but says a Black Swallowtail chrysalis is very hard to find.

Following the life cycle of a Black Swallowtail has one “hazard” — the caterpillars spray a stinky odor when you touch them. Dottie says her granddaughter doesn’t mind. It makes her giggle. I was slightly tempted to “pet” the caterpillar on my fennel today just to check it out…… 

One butterfly enthusiast confined many very hungry Black Swallowtail caterpillars to a screened area and captured the entire cycle in a photo chronicle.   Here is the photo chronicle of Black Swallowtail butterflies from egg to adult.

Powell Gardens, which is about a half hour east of Kansas City, schedules butterfly events and has a large area devoted to plants that attract butterflies.  The photograph at the top of the page was from a visit I made there in 2007.  The website is Powell Gardens.  To learn more about creating a certified Monarch waystation go to Monarch Watch.  My other posts on butterflies and caterpillars can be found through the search box or by scrolling down.

Is this the last Black Swallowtail Caterpillar of the year?  The fennel plant has almost been chewed clean of leaves.

Is this the last Black Swallowtail Caterpillar of the year? The fennel plant has almost been chewed clean of leaves.


Filed under Animals, Biology, Conservation, Education, Entomology, Environment, Gardening, Humor, Insects, Kansas, Life, Natural History, Nature, Personal, Random, Science, Uncategorized

Cloudless Sulphur Butterflies and Caterpillars

A Cloudless Sulphur butterfly visits a sunflower in a vacant lot near a big box store.

A Cloudless Sulphur butterfly visits a sunflower in a vacant lot near a big box store.

Who doesn’t love a pretty quartet of wings?  The flashy appearance of the Monarch butterfly’s brilliant orange and black wings is so perfect for Autumn.  And those white polka dots on black?  Very stylish and classic.  (The design also signals to birds — don’t eat me, I’m toxic!)

Monarch butterfly.

Monarch butterfly.

Black Swallowtail butterflies are gorgeous, too.  Black, yellow, iridescent blue.  The perfect color combination.  And those fabulous swallowtails! Definitely au courant.  I’m like a fashion photographer coaxing these beauties to show their best side as I chase them all over the neighborhood with my camera. (Click on the photos for a larger view.)

Black Swallowtail.

Black Swallowtail.

I’ve almost overlooked the less spectacular Cloudless Sulphur butterflies.  They’re understated, even plain.  They don’t have fancy swallowtails.  These small to medium-sized yellow and white sulphur butterflies can look like flower petals or leaves fluttering from a tree, which gives them an advantage in eluding birds that might want to eat them as they hunt for nectar, mates or a place to lay eggs.

A ten-year-old boy pointed to this Cloudless Sulphur caterpillar, saying it was in the "J" phase. It was one of the caterpillars hanging out at the Monarch Watch open house on Sept. 6, 2008, at the University of Kansas.

I saw this Cloudless Sulphur caterpillar hanging out at the greenhouse at Monarch Watch at the University of Kansas. A ten-year-old boy told me it was in the "J" phase as it prepares to pupate.

The males are a clear yellow above and yellow or mottled with reddish brown below.  The female is lemon-yellow to golden or white on both surfaces.  Both have mottling, which makes them look more like “moth-eaten” leaves.

Last summer was the first time I really noticed a Cloudless Sulfur butterfly. Certainly, I’ve seen them, but they aren’t showy.  The little yellow butterfly flitted in almost under my radar.  I saw one moving from blossom to blossom in my impatiens bed.  It unfurled its long proboscis into the narrow throat of each impatiens bloom. 

Cloudless Sulphur caterpillar starting to pupate in the greenhouse at Monarch Watch at the University of Kansas.

Cloudless Sulphur caterpillar starting to pupate in the greenhouse at Monarch Watch at the University of Kansas.

As the seed pods formed, I realized, hey, I was there at their conception.  I’m sort of their Godmother Nature. I’d plant these seeds instead of buying impatiens, thereby saving money and also bringing the cycle full circle.

When the pods seemed mature, I carefully gathered them.  The pod explodes when it’s touched.  That’s why they’re called impatiens — they’re impatient to get moving and germinating. 

But more about my impatiens project later — this is the Clouded Sulphur’s story.  Yet, you can’t separate pollination from butterflies and other pollinators. According to the Pollinator Partnership, almost 80 percent of the food we eat requires a pollinator.  A large number of these are insects such as bees and butterflies.

As more land is paved and more acreage tilled for crops, there are fewer places for pollinators to live.  About 30 percent of the Monarch butterfly’s summer breeding area is in croplands, where milkweeds — essential for Monarchs to eat — used to thrive, according to Monarch Watch.  Herbicides in crop fields have killed off a lot of the milkweed. Monarch Watch helps people plant milkweed in their gardens for the caterpillars to eat.  They also suggest nectar and host plants that many butterflies and their caterpillars will like.

Herbicides and frequent mowing along roadsides also have reduced habitat for wildlife. The Kansas Department of Transportation has reduced mowing along several of its highways to restore the prairie and move away from brome grass, which is poor habitat.   I enjoyed some of this restored roadside prairie on recent trips in the Flint Hills of Kansas.  What would the neighbors say if we restored our yard to prairie?  It’s a thought.  Wild blue indigo, the orange flowers of the butterfly weed and scores of other flowers among the grass are a beautiful sight.
Dennis Toll writes beautifully about the Flint Hills, including its many flowers, on his blog Flint Hills, Tall Grass.
Cloudless Sulfur Butterfly and an insect rival compete for space on a sunflower. A for sale sign on the lot means all of the insects may soon be out of a home.

Cloudless Sulfur Butterfly and an insect rival compete for space on a sunflower. A "for sale" sign on the lot means all of the insects may soon be out of a home.

The restored roadside habitat also fosters a higher diversity of native bees that are essential for pollination, according to Chip Taylor, director of Monarch Watch.  “There are dozens and dozens of species of bees, most of them small and not obvious to people,” Taylor says.
“Create a culture of appreciation for diversity,” Taylor suggests. “Change the vegetation in your garden to plants that foster pollinators.” 
Several butterfly enthusiasts have suggested useful butterfly websites.  Deb D. recommended the forums at   Mike of Clover Cove Farm, an herb farm near Nashville, suggested Butterfly Gardening and Conservation, which focuses on several types of butterflies.  His solution when caterpillars eat your herbs?  Plant more herbs!
Kristy G. of South Carolina inspired me to find out more about butterfly metamorphosis when she wrote about a swarm of Black Swallowtail butterflies that had devoured her parsley.  She wanted to know how she could follow their progress from caterpillar to adult.  More about that in a later post.
The Pollinator Partnership provides a wide range of information, including what plants will attract pollinators in different parts of the country.  Another good information source is Monarch Watch at the University of Kansas.  You can sign up for an emailing list and also participate in activities.  Check out my post on Monarch Watch.  Also check out the video on the Cloudless Sulphur Butterfly Metamorphosis.
A Cloudless Sulfur butterfly chrysalis looks like a leaf in the greenhouse at Monarch Watch on the campus at the University of Kansas.

A Cloudless Sulfur butterfly chrysalis looks like a leaf in the greenhouse at Monarch Watch on the campus at the University of Kansas.


Filed under Animals, Biology, Conservation, Environment, Gardening, Humor, Insects, Internet, Kansas, Life, Natural History, Nature, Personal, Photography, Random, Science, Uncategorized, University of Kansas

Avast, Me Hearty! It’s Talk Like a Pirate Day!

Robert Newton as Long John Silver.

Robert Newton as Long John Silver.

Arrgh!  Get ready to walk the plank if you don’t talk like a pirate on September 19 — the  annual International Talk Like a Pirate Day.

No one talked more like a pirate than Robert Newton in his role as Long John Silver in the Walt Disney production of “Treasure Island” (1950).  The scene in the video above is when Jim Hawkins first meets Long John Silver.  Of course, Robert Louis Stevenson put these words into Newton’s mouth.  (See “Shiver My Timbers” link at the bottom of this post.)

Newton created the theatrical Pirate patois and is considered the “patron saint” of International Talk Like a Pirate Day.  Because of Newton’s iconic performance as Long John Silver, nearly every actor playing a pirate has adopted some version of the same faux Cornish accent that Newton invented.  Even the voice of Captain McAllister in the cartoon series “The Simpsons” is based on Newton’s portrayal of Long John Silver.  Newton successfully used his pirate persona in several later movies, too, such “Blackbeard, the Pirate,” “Return to Treasure Island” and “Long John Silver.”  The Who drummer Keith Moon considered Newton a role model. (Not a very good role model, I’m afraid.  Both Newton and Moon died early.)

Walk the Plank!

“Walk the Plank!” if you don’t want to talk like a pirate.

Johnny Depp with his swishy pirate stylings as Captain Jack Sparrow in “The Pirates of the Caribbean” may be one actor who strayed from the Newton mold and fold.  Depp credited Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards as his muse, but you can see a little of Newton in Depp’s version of a comically genial pirate hiding a devious heart.

The Walt Disney version of “Treasure Island” was one of my favorite childhood movies.  It was one of the first Disney movies to be shown on television when it was first broadcast in 1955.  I saw the movie when “Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color” re-broadcast it in the 1960s.  I remember it best, though, when it was one of the free movies shown on Friday nights during the summer at our small town’s football stadium.  I fell in love with Bobby Driscoll, the young boy who played Jim Hawkins.  I think I was more in love with the idea of adventure and tropical islands and hidden treasure.

I’m a committed landlubber, but there’s something insanely exciting about jumping on a creaking, swaying little ship and heading off into the unknown on the vast and treacherous ocean.  I can live vicariously through the sailors’ adventures without the risks and claustrophia.   I’ve gone into a replica of The Mayflower and can’t even imagine being trapped below deck for months. I’m getting off topic here…..

Shiver My Timbers!  It's fun to play a pirate.

Shiver My Timbers! It’s fun to play a pirate!

I did get over my sailing ship phobia long enough to sail on the wooden sailing ship, Lavengro, off of Maui to watch humpback whales and snorkel near the sunken volcano Molokini.  I learned a little sailor lingo there, like “lowering the boom” and what that actually means. “Watch out or you’ll get knocked overboard!”

International Talk Like a Pirate Day was started in 1995 by John Baur (Ol’ Chumbucket) and Mark Summers (Cap’n Slappy) to be celebrated on September 19, the birthday of Summers’ ex-wife so it would be easier for him to remember.   To find out more go to International Talk Like A Pirate Day which has links to everywhere you could possible want to go in the Pirate realm, including the official site, Robert Newton’s sites, Treasure Island.

Ol' Chumbucket and Cap'n Slappy, founders of International Talk Like a Pirate Day.

Ol’ Chumbucket and Cap’n Slappy, founders of International Talk Like a Pirate Day.

The link also provides some tongue-twisting Pirate jargon, some of which comes from Robert Louis Stevenson’s book, “Treasure Island.”  Stevenson invented many so-called pirate sayings, such as “Shiver My Timbers,” so that they would sound menacing but wouldn’t actually be obscene to his young readers.

Other seafaring movies I liked were “The Bounty” starring Mel Gibson (1984) and “Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World” (2003) starring Russell Crowe.  I also enjoyed the eight Horatio Hornblower made-for-television movies (1998-2003).

About “Shiver my timbers.”


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