Friday, May 1, 2009

The Best Lore in Canandia

Dear Friends,
The Hard Taco song for May is called, "Blankety Blank." Don't be afraid to listen to it at double speed. 

In my travels, I found myself deeply moved by the rich folklore tradition of our neighbors to the North.  For the digest this month, I am reprinting excerpts from my favorite compendium of Canadian folk legends ("Grandma, Where Do Igloos Come From?") and my favorite book of Canadian ghost stories ("The Bloody Puck").

The Newfoudland Bull Moose: Twenty miles west of St. John's, there is sinkhole that is believed to be the home of a spectral bull moose named San Yarnford. Once every hundred years, San Yarnford emerges from the recesses of his dank basin to let children stroke his antlers and to warn them of the perils of playing too close to sinkholes. 

The Leaning Trapper: There once was a trapper who roamed the vasty wilds of Labrador. He was a simple man, and he believed that iron snares were an indulgence. Instead, he would sleep at a 45 degree angle, propping his shoulders with a stick. Inevitably, a beaver would brush against the stick and knock it over, causing the sleeping trapper to fall on the animal. The more the beaver struggled, the sleepier and heavier the trapper would become. In honor of this legendary trapper, it is now customary for every trading post to be guarded by two sleeping men propped on sticks. 

The Silent Howls: A wealthy French furrier offered a woman nine pure white huskies for her hand in marriage. When she accepted, the huskies immediately set upon her, and tore fissures in her trunk and limbs. She slowly regained her constitution over many months, during which time her only companions were the wretched ice chiggers who spoon-fed her a slurry of nutrient plaster. When she was finally strong enough to lift her head, she slew the nine huskies and fashioned a fanny pack from their nine snow white dewlaps. If you walk the shores of Port Alice on a still night, you can still hear the spirits of the nine huskies, trying in vain to howl without their dewlaps.

The Wendigo: The Algonquian Indians believe that there are feral people with unnatural size who live in wooded areas and eat other people. It is believed that this is based loosely on the Winnebago Legend, in which the feral people park recreational vehicles in wooded areas and eat other people. 

The Purloined Skull: In the early days of McGill University, a heady young chess enthusiast wrote in the margins of his journal, "I have discovered a rook that can travel diagonally as well as linearly. I must share this with the scientific community at once before they com..." The last word trailed off at an angle, almost as if the author's skull had been taken mid-sentence. Nobody knows who purloined his skull. Was it an anatomy professor?  A spurned lover? A Fraternal Order of Ivy League Chess Reactionaries? Could I convince you that the true answer is... all three, working in cahoots?

The Golden Chin: A Micmac warrior lost his chin in battle, and replaced it with a chin of gold. His four younger brothers were envious of the golden chin and used guile to wrest it from him. The warrior saw through their deceit, however, and never removed his chin. One day, the youngest brother handed the warrior a piece of parchment enumerating the deeds of their ancestors. So afraid was the warrior that the document would blow away that he placed his golden chin on top of it as a paperweight. At once, the younger brother seized the chin, and ran off into the gulches. To commemorate his own folly, the humbled warrior commissioned a replacement chin made of Atlantic cod.

The Fox and the Magic Clasp: It is said that Glorious Jim the Prospector was tracking an elusive ingot through the marshes of Fort George when he came upon an axe wedged in a tree trunk. He knew that if he removed the axe, he would be crowned King of the Loggers, but he was not strong enough to do so. He stayed with the axe through the winter's night, neglecting shelter, neglecting food, and forgetting the precious ingot he had been following for so many days. When his fellow prospectors found his frozen body the next morning they gave him a traditional prospector burial, which consisted of sifting his remains through a pan. To this day, nobody knows why this legend is called "The Fox and the Magic Clasp."

With warmest regards,