This is a little more personal than I’ve gone thus far and a great deal nerdier.  Don’t judge me.  Today I’m thankful for J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle Earth legendarium.

I’m a bigger Tolkien nerd than I generally care to admit in person.  I don’t speak Elvish or wear costumes (some lines will never be crossed) but I did attend midnight openings with university friends, and I know why Fëanor’s sons are important.  I think I was ten the first time I read The Hobbit.  Gollum frightened me so thoroughly that I couldn’t reread those parts of the book for several years.  I finished Lord of the Rings (the first time) somewhere around thirteen.  I don’t know why specifically, but his works struck a chord and have been important to me for a long time.

John Ronald Reuel Tolkien was born in South Africa and fought in WWI, surviving the Battle of the Somme.  He became a professor of Anglo-Saxon at Oxford University.  He was great friends with a number of famous contemporary writers, including C.S. Lewis.  He produced several well-regarded translations of Old English epics.  The man was an enormous lover of languages, which is one of my favorite things about him.

Fangorn Forest is my favorite section of LOTR.  I’ve also read many of the extended works.  The Silmarillion is breathtaking.  Tolkien’s concept of creation as a divine piece of music was deeply appealing to me.  I think I’ve made my love of music transparent.  As a student of geography I find the depth of fantastic history and culture he created awe-inspiring.  He knew where his peoples originated, and how they developed.  This is the story that stuck most with me from the Silmarillion.

Island Hopping

This is another oblique one.  Today I’m thankful for Polynesian navigators.

Some of my academic background is in geography.  The idea of “place” underlies more concepts than most people ever consider.  My particular interest is migrations – how mass human movements affect the places they visit, often leaving physical and cultural traces lasting thousands of years.

When European explorers “discovered” the Pacific Ocean (it is the largest body of water on earth, after all) they also found hundreds of settled islands, covering huge areas of ocean.  Many of the islands are very remote, several days’ sail from each other.  The Europeans couldn’t fathom how Pacific Islanders had found their way to all of these rocks amid the water.  The peoples of the Pacific developed a sophisticated body of navigational skills and knowledge wholly unrelated to other navigational methods anywhere.  At the risk of sounding geeky, it’s an incredible accomplishment, and really, really cool.

Only slightly related, but it was a fun film, the music geek in me enjoys the harmonies, and my language nerd side finds the Tokelauan lyrics fascinating to hear.  I claim no rights to anything.

Not The One In California

Today I’m thankful for Pasadena, Newfoundland and Labrador.

I’m tickled that this place exists.  I’ve been to Pasadena, California.  I stayed there while attending a conference in Los Angeles.  It’s a beautiful city full of flowers, fantastic old buildings and very tasty food.  It’s warm all year long AND the home of the Rose Bowl (if that’s your sort of thing).

I know that Newfoundland is known for being scenic and culturally rich.  It isn’t, however, warm year round.  Still, the folks who founded the town thought highly enough of their home to name it after a truly lovely place and that is awesome.

Cake Or Death

Today I’m thankful for Eddie Izzard.

Everything I’ve found indicates Eddie prefers masculine pronouns so those are what I’ll use.  I really enjoy his stand-up.  I’ve got a loopy sense of humor and deep appreciation of the absurd.  He specializes in both.  His take on why the Church of England didn’t have an Inquisition still makes me laugh and I first heard it 5 or 6 years ago.  It’s a not entirely impossible explanation.

I do not own this video and make no claims otherwise.

Redeeming Her Miles Middle Ages Style

Today I’m thankful for the singular woman who was Margery Kempe.

Margery Kempe is known for producing the first autobiography in the English language.  She was also a fearless woman who birthed many kids, went on pilgrimages alone (in the 14th century no less), claimed to be a mystic AND was accused of heresy.  Accounts say she had the questionable gift of endless tears.  For someone who was basically a medieval housewife Meg got shit done.  I’m still trying to figure out my taxes.

Almighty Wikipedia is a good place to start.  I’m a fan of the summary by the ladies at Frock Flicks (all of their material is protected by copyright-I’m linking for informational purposes only).

Picking Oneself Up Off The Ground, Head First

This is a strange one but bear with me.  Today I’m thankful for cephalophores.

Cephalophores are a particularly colorful category of saint.  The word “cephalophore” roughly translates from Greek:  “cephalos” (head) and “phoros” (bearer).  They’re usually commemorated as people who were executed by beheading, but who didn’t die before picking up their heads from the ground and marching along to some singular spot, demanding to be remembered for this particular action.

I’ve always had a soft spot for the odd and absurd and I think this meshes nicely.  So take a moment, lift a glass to St. Denis, and remember that cephalophore is a great Scrabble word.


These Boots are Made for Walkin’

Today I’m thankful for a sturdy pair of boots.

I live in a region with cold, snowy winters and stormy, muggy summers.  A good pair of boots is protection against both snow and rain.  They’re comfortable and look presentable with most of my clothing.  I love boots.  They’re utilitarian.  They keep my feet dry.  I can tuck my pants inside them so they don’t get ruined by salt in the winter.  Go ahead and laugh at the inanity.  However, a solid pair of boots, a quality soup pot and a multipurpose kitchen knife can solve a number of basic needs.

Only tangentially related:  Sir Terry Pratchett (RIP), author of the wildly funny Discworld series, used boots to explain economic inequality (source Discworld & Terry Pratchett wiki).  I had similar thoughts about garden sheds.


Making Myself Feel Smart

Embed from Getty Images

Today I’m thankful for languages.  No, really.

I studied French in high school.  I remember enough to be understood and I use my phone to practice.  At university I took Russian.  I was very tired of French.  I can ask, in Russian, the location of the train station but I won’t understand the answer.

Languages fascinate me.  I don’t go to the extent of tracing the history of every diacritic, but seeing how words evolve from common roots is truly interesting.  It shows the evolution of ideas, when groups divided or came together.  Learning another language exercises the brain and broadens a person’s horizons.

I’m a native English speaker.  English is a stepchild language if there ever was one.  First it was just another Germanic language, but then the Norse came and give it all sorts of North Germanic influences that made it unique.  THEN the Normans invaded, who had originally spoken Norse but changed to French, and they had a massive impact, leaving Latin and Romance traces everywhere.  As English speakers spread their particular varieties starting including traces of native languages.  English in India is influenced by hundreds of Indian languages.  Spanish is a large player in the United States.  Even in New Zealand Maori has had a large impact.  I think it’s cool, that languages are adapted to circumstances as they arise.  It isn’t a formal progression.  It’s messy and organic, like the rest of life.  They evolve!

I’m trying to learn some Italian.  It’s easier to speak quickly than some others.  In Finnish it seems like every word is 30 letters long, but they are fun words.