How people, plants, and pests pull together

Leaning in and Branching Out

How people, plants, and pests pull together
How people, plants, and pests pull together
Episode Trailer

Communities. Forests. Families. All of these different ecosystems contain a lot of different components that weave and work together. And as people, plants, and pests carry on and creep around, rich and sometimes unlikely collaborations emerge. In this episode, with the help of Karine Polwart, Colin Farrell, and Steve Nardone, I’ll explore how friends, neighbors and families can blend; how humans and trees need and inspire one another; and how we also rely on birds, bees.. and rats.

____________________

Thank you to everybody for listening. And a special thank you to this month’s underwriters: The Irish & Celtic Music Podcast, John Sigler, Randall Semagin, Ron Kral, Isaiah Hall, David Vaughan, Susan Walsh, Matt Jensen, John Ploch, Tom Frederick, Paul DeCamp, Suezen Brown, Jonathan Duvick, Gerry Corr, Mike Voss, Sean Carroll, Isobel McMahon, Bob Suchor, Finian McCluskey, Rick Rubin, Ken Doyle, Chris Armstrong, Ian Bittle, and Chris Murphy

Episode 74-Leaning in and Branching Out
How people, plants, and pests pull together
This Irish Music Stories episode aired August 31, 2023
https://www.shannonheatonmusic.com/episode-74-leaning-in-and-branching-out

* * * * * * *

Speakers, in order of appearance
>> Shannon Heaton: flute player, singer, composer, teacher, and host of Irish Music Stories 

>> Karine Polwart: Scottish songwriter, folk singer, and storyteller based outside of Edinburgh.

>> Colin Farrell: Manchester, England born fiddle and whistle player and composer, living in Florida

>> Steve Nardone: President of Nardone Electric Company

>> Nigel Heaton: young announcer for Irish Music Stories

* * * * * * *

>> Shannon: I’m Shannon Heaton. And this is Irish  Music Stories. The show about traditional music, and the bigger stories behind it. 

Like how we need trees. And how people like Karine Polwart are finding fresh ways to celebrate them.

>> Karine: Trees are there omnipresent <laugh> for the whole arc of human history. 

[ Music: “The Cypress/Le Jig Áti-toine,” from Silver

Composer/Artist: Hanneke Cassel ]

>> Karine: We know that trees provide oxygen for us as well. So we understand that trees are part of the kinda living, breathing mechanism of how everything keeps us alive.  

>> Shannon: The garden of Irish music is also chock full of complex, important connections. And fiddle player Colin Farrell values its diversity.

>> Colin: We need each other, because it’s important to get relationships with each other. You know, have the craic with each other, chat about life. And you lean on each other, you know, learning different tunes. You’re hearing people playing different things. It’s just very important. The community is very important in Irish music.

>> Shannon: Communities. Forests. Families. All of these different ecosystems contain a lot of different components that weave and work together. But it doesn’t take much to establish a complex network.

Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “The creation of a thousand forests is in one acorn.” This doesn’t really acknowledge soil, fungi, microbes, rain, and oxygen, and animals who bury more acorns… But, poetic license. Just a few voices can quickly multiply, amplify, and resonate.

Like if I play a tune all by myself: a single Irish flute playing the Maids of Mitchellstown, an Irish reel, I can convey melody.

[ DEMO ]

And I can also find a pulsing cadence, which can offer some rhythmic dimension.

[ Music: “Maids of Mitchellstown/McFadden’s Handsome Daughter,” from dearga

Artists: Matt & Shannon Heaton and George Keith ]

And then if my friend George Keith joins me on the fiddle, and he’s also really trying to drive that rhythmic train, along with Matt Heaton on the guitar doing the same, the conversation has more threads.

So if George and Matt and I go down the road and we play the tune with a few friends; or if we teach it; or if we travel and share it outside our Boston music community (and other players are doing the same, because Maids of Mitchellstown is a well known tune), well, maybe it gets around even more. Maybe it inspires new compositions or dance steps, or gets just one more player into Irish music. And the more that people share the music—and play it together—the more the tradition lives. In the hands and hearts of people. Who breathe oxygen. That’s filtered by trees.

As people and plants and pests carry on and creep around, rich and sometimes unlikely collaborations emerge. In this episode, with the help of Karine Polwart, Colin Farrell, and Steve Nardone, I’ll explore how friends, neighbors and families can blend; how humans and trees need and inspire one another; and how we also rely on birds, bees.. and rats.

[ Music: “Pound the Floor,” from Production Music Made for Irish Music Stories
Artist/Composer: Matt Heaton ]

Yeah. Rats. Whose numbers are soaring, thanks to warming temperatures and increasing urbanization. Though country rats are also on the rise. Which is not optimal. Because rats can pass on diseases and infections if they bite us, if we breathe in or consume things they’ve touched, if parasites from  their bodies jump to ours. Uhhhhh.

[ Music: “Grupai Ceol Memories,” from Production Music Made for Irish Music Stories
Artist/Composer: Matt Heaton ]

But studying rats has also helped us understand and combat diseases. Apparently their brain cells are structured  the same as ours, and rats behave in a lot of the same ways that humans do with parenting, learning, and responding to stress.

Rats are also major players in the forest, because they bury and spread a lot of seeds, which end up germinating. And they’re an important food source for bigger woodland predators. Rats help keep forests active and healthy, which is good for all oxygen breathers, like flute players, and fiddle players, and guitar players. And all that oxygen is good for people recovering from diseases that rats can cause. 

But the rat problems can mostly be avoided by keeping our homes free of holes and rot, and by being mindful about trash disposal. A little personal responsibility goes a long way. Just like using fire. Or AI. How we do and use stuff can bring the band together. Or it can blow it up.

[ Music “Vivienne’s Jig,” from In Transit

Composer/Artist: Jamie McClennan ]

When Viviana and Violetta Bonini were just 15 years old, World War II air raids slammed Livorno, just 40 miles from Barga, a little parish in the province of Lucca in Northern Italy. Steve Nardone would meet these twin sisters years later, when they moved next door to his family in Medford, Massachusetts.

>> Steve: In Italy, Germans moved into their house. They had to move down in the basement, and the Germans occupied the first floor. And then one time they were out hanging clothes and bullets flew by them and ended up hitting the exterior of the house.

>> Shannon: Vivi and Vi, these identical twin sisters,  and their three older sisters and parents survived four years of fighting. They leaned on one another while some of their fellow Tuscans were executed, and homes and buildings were destroyed.

Which meant fewer inhabited spaces. Less trash, so less food for rats…

Eight decades later, I met with Steve Nardone, adopted nephew of the Boninis. 

>> Steve: Real Italian people will say to me “It’s not Nardone, it’s Nardon-e.” They put the little hand gesture in there. Hahaha!

>> Shannon: Steve runs Nardone Electrical Corporation. He works with his brother, and we spoke in their office about Viviana and Violetta, whom I’d met when they were in their 80s.

>> Shannon: So they survived the war in Italy, and then they all moved to Pennsylvania first?

>> Steve: Yep. Father passed away. And five of them moved to South Border Road. Haha.

>> Shannon: Amazing. Right on that place where I would see them?

>> Steve: Right.

>> Shannon: The daughters who’d moved to America (one had stayed in Italy) moved with their mom to Medford, Massachusetts in about 1959 and quickly became friends with the Nardones next door.

>> Steve: Yeah. There was, you know, five women in the house. So my father took care of handyman stuff around the house. And they became part of our family. 

Me and my brother stayed over there a lot. Saturday mornings they would go and buy me a dozen donuts at Pauline’s Donut Shop in West Medford Square. Haha.

[ Music: “John’s Theme” and “D Chimes,” from Production Music Made for Irish Music Stories
Artist/Composer: Matt Heaton ]

So when they moved in, I was just born. The story is my mother brought me over there before she brought me home <laugh>, because they were just very close. My parents would always be over there. They would always have a cocktail after work too, I think. Just one, that’s it. Relax from the day’s work. They all worked very, very hard. They were very good at their professions, I know that.

[ Music: “Awyr,” from Soundtrack

Artist: Rhodri McDonagh

>> Shannon: Vivian and Isabelle worked at General Electric. Violet was in charge of the East Coast payrolll at Pitney Bowes. Genevieve had a big job working with medical and scientific equipment. And Caterina and her daughters kept the household running by leaning on their neighbors. And on one another.

     

>> Steve: They all had jobs within the house. Isabelle was the cook. Vi & Vivy were the gardeners. They all took hand in gardening, but Vi and Vivy, that was their main job.

>> Shannon: That garden. It was across the street from the Middlesex Fells Reservation, teeming with pollinators and trees that to help temper the intense heat and drought of summer. Vivi and Vy gave the birds and bees the goods. And in exchange, they had the best vegetables on the block.

>> Steve: It was gorgeous. You know, tomatoes, cucumbers, they grew everything. I would hear the metal watering cans, you know, at 6:00 AM.

>> Shannon: And did they feed you out of the vegetable garden?

>> Steve: Oh, yeah. They would have soup at every meal, something that my family never did. But it’s just that part of Italy that they came from. I guess that’s what the culture was. 

I was always a fan of veal cutlets, so they would always make ’em for me. Although I guess the secret was that it really wasn’t veal. It was like roast beef or something, but they always told me it was veal. <laugh> 

>> Shannon: When I met Vivi and Vi they were in their 80s. They were the last survivors of the family, and I’d see them walking around the neighborhood. They were always dressed identically.

>> Steve: The twins, they used to make their own clothes. But Genevieve was always in charge of making sure they looked good. She was the fashion person. So she traveled a lot, Genevieve. She went to seminars and did lectures all over. She’d been to Japan. I mean, she’s been around the world. Back then that was a big deal back then, you know?

Shannon: Well, they had an extraordinary sense of style. And I used to see them frequently walking to church almost every day. 

>> Shannon: Vivy and Vi walked all over the neighborhood, leaning on each other.

>> Shannon: They would wear the flower dress, the purple coat, the hats. I mean they were extraordinary outfits, and always matching.

>> Steve: Right. Everything matched. Yeah.

>> Shannon: Was it always like that?

>> Steve: Yep. Always.

>> Shannon: That’s unusual. It was an unusual thing and a beautiful thing to see them wearing these striking clothes. And to see them leaning on each other.

>> Steve: Well, they did that because they liked to. But also, Vivian was ill. You know, she couldn’t move too well.

>> Shannon: Well, and it was a pretty steep journey to the church there, to St. Francis.

>> Steve: Yes. And every morning they would walk the other way to Lawrence Memorial Hospital and get a paper. Yeah, they went there every day.

[ Music: PIANO Bb meditation ]

 >> Steve: They had a lot of parties in the house, they had a lot of friends. You know, a lot of barbecue cookouts in the backyard. They would sing and play the piano in the basement. You know, they would teach us songs and …

>> Shannon:  Any particular songs you remember?

>> Steve: Um…they’re on the tip of my head…

>> Shannon: When Steve told me about the trip he and his brother had taken to Italy, back to the Boninini’s home town of Barga, he remembered one of the songs

[ Music: “Evviva la Torre di Pisa,” from Rikscio

Composers: Nino Casiroli & Paola Marchetti

Artist: Jenny Luna ]

>> Steve: I was 11. My brother went with us, and he was seven. We landed in France. We took a train down through Switzerland. Then we took a train down through Lake Cuomo, Venice. And then we stayed in Barga for a week or two weeks. We gained a lot of friends right away, even though it was only a couple of weeks.

They were just, you know, the nicest people you would ever meet. And it’s just terrible that there’s no family left. But, you know, that’s the way things go sometimes.

[ Music: “Air Tune,” from Roots of the Banjo Tree

Composer: Liz Carroll

Artists: We Banjo 3 ]

>> Shannon: Viviana Bonini passed away in 2011. Nine years later, in 2020, Violetta’s obituary called her the cherished daughter of the late Samuele and Caterina Bonini. Dear sister of the late Florence, Isabella, Genevieve and identical twin Viviana Bonini. And loving aunt of Stephen Nardone and his wife Marie, and Gerald Nardone and his wife Susan, and great-aunt of Kristina, Stephen, Matthew, Alexis, Olivia and Alexander Nardone.

>> Shannon: They cared for you when you were younger.

>> Steve: Yeah, they cared for us. And then it worked out, it was a circle that we cared for them

>> Shannon: It’s beautiful that you became family. And of course you work with your family today, You guys run this company together?

>> Steve: Yep. Yep, that’s right.

Neighbors, traditional musicians, trees – when you grow a little network, you lean in..  and you share what you’ve got.

Thank you for listening to what I have to share here—and here’s my my kid Nigel to thank this month’s Irish Music Stories supporters:

>> Nigel: Thank you to the Irish & Celtic Music Podcast, John Sigler, Randall Semagin, Ron Kral, Isaiah Hall, David Vaughan, Susan Walsh, Matt Jensen, John Ploch, Tom Frederick, Paul DeCamp, Suezen Brown, Jonathan Duvick, Gerry Corr, Mike Voss, Sean Carroll, Isobel McMahon, Bob Suchor, Finian McCluskey, Rick Rubin, Ken Doyle, Chris Armstrong, Ian Bittle, and Chris Murphy.

[ Music: “Starry Lullaby,” from Live Concert

Composer: Shannon Heaton

Artists: After the Morning ]

>> Shannon: Thank you so much, To help underwrite an Irish Music Stories episode, and to find playlists and links, please head to IrishMusicStoires.org. You’ll also find a link to a video of the Brotherhood Tree, which is a massive Coast Redwood over 2000 years old.

When I visited Humboldt County, California, I took a hike in Redwoods State Park. This park wasn’t established until 1921, but it’s got five of the 10 tallest trees on earth. There’s one that’s over 336 feet tall (that’s 102 meters). It’s 1,764 years old. 

But even the smaller, younger ones are huge. And I was amazed to learn that they have very shallow roots. The roots only go down like 10 feet. But then they spread outward. And that’s how they stay upright. In a grove, all the trees twine their roots together. This keeps them standing and allows them to take in and manage nutrients collectively. It allows them to communicate.

These enormous ancient beings have survived for at least 20 million years by leaning on one another. And by leaning on mammals. And mushrooms. The fungi that live in the soil weave with tree roots to create this mycorrhizal network which is an underground system that connects individual plants together. So that when there are distress signals in the community, the trees, especially the Hub trees or Mother Trees with the most connections, can send protection and support wherever it’s needed the most.

Redwoods have been able to weather tough times. Their bark is thick, and their leaves are high above the ground, so they are less susceptible to insect or even fire damage. But above all it’s the community management—all of the trees working together. Like the Boninis, redwoods lean on each other. And they rely on bees, bats, moths, beetles, and dragonflies who move pollen around, disperse seeds, and fertilize and clear insects and weeds. And trees also need humans. We give them food in the form of all our exhaling. 

And in return, they feed us oxygen….

[ Music: “Redwoods in Winter,” from dearga

Composer: Shannon Heaton

Artists: Matt & Shannon Heaton ]

…And fruits and nuts, which feed us, and which feed some of our other food, and which keep the pollinators happy, so they’ll come and fly over to our gardens. They give us shelter, wood for homes and furniture and paper, and musical instruments. They affect and filter the rain that falls from the sky. They offer comfort, inspiration, and shade. 

Without trees, outdoor music sessions would be very unpleasant. And, well, eventually we would all die. And on the long road to no oxygen, we’d face extreme droughts, heavy rains, frequent flooding. It would get hotter, colder, messier. We need forests. We need the trees. We can’t cut them all down. We need more of them.

In the 1880s, conservationist Elizur Wright said that the prosperity of the United States depended on the health of its forests. You can learn all about Elizur’s crusade to protect the Middlesex Fells Reservation in episodes 72 and 73, “The Fruitful Fells.” 

Elizur wrote this essay, Voice of a Tree. It was first printed in the Boston Transcript in 1883. He’s speaking as a tree. And the first link, “The sun unlocks the frozen sod” — it’s like a poem. It’s really like a song.

[ Elizur’s poem — first lines sung to the melody of The Banks of the Clyde ]

The sun unlocks the frozen sod,

And sets the rivers free :

And lo, half way from man to God,

The sun gives glory to the tree [original words: Stands worshipping the tree. ]

Spoken:

I, who now address you, am a tree.

I want your friendship. I want it for your sake as well as mine. 

I do not speak for myself only, but for all my kind to your kind, 

for the vegetable world to the animal world. 

Let us henceforth be true friends, for such we naturally are. You all have the advantage of us trees, in that you move about, have teeth, axes and saws. Use them, but not to your own hurt.

Let me just whisper in your ear, my kind friend, that what is our food is your poison.

I hope you do not despise your own posterity; or if you neither have nor hope for any, that you have a kind regard for the posterity of your brothers and sisters, for the multitudes of conscious, thinking beings who will inhabit Boston and its surroundings a hundred years hence. 

Almost 100 years later, Ted Geisel AKA Dr. Seuss wrote the Lorax, the iconic story of how plant, animal, and human behavior affect the weather and the landscape. 

[ Music: “Triumph Theme,” from from Production Music Made for Irish Music Stories
Artist/Composer: Matt Heaton ]

He wrote it while developers were tearing down eucalyptus trees in his own neighborhood in California. 

We’re still tearing down trees. Sometimes it’s for fuel wood or smaller scale farming. So teaching people about sustainable agriculture and forestry could help. But most of the damage comes from big biz: ranchers, loggers, miners, fuel companies, developers, and corporate farms plunder lots of resources, and often times they ignore regulations. Or they lobby, and they bribe, and intimidate, and rewrite the rules. And the rich get richer and the poor get heatstroke.

That’s what the Occupy movement was about, right? Protesting against top earners calling the shots and getting most of the goods. It started with students on college campuses, and then Occupy Wall Street in 2011, Occupy London, and then there were anti-capitalist protest sites everywhere. 

One of the biggest Occupy camps that popped up was at St. Paul’s Cathedral in the center of London, on top of Ludgate Hill. The original Old St. Paul’s was first built in the 2nd century, which means the oldest living redwood is still older. But St. Paul’s has weathered a lot, too. It was damaged in the fire of 1666, and they had to demolish the original structure and redesign it. Then in 1940, when the Bonini family was hunkered down in Tuscany, 28 bombs hit St. Paul’s. But it wasn’t destroyed. St. Paul’s Cathedral became a symbol of survival and resistance. And it’s where a camp of 150 tents clustered, for Occupy London. It’s where Karine Polwart set her song King of Birds

[ Music: “King of Birds,” from Traces

Composer/Artist: Karine Polwart ]

At Ludgate Hill
on the cracked and blackened cobbles of the town
the ashes fall to rest
As the tiny King of Birds he flutters down
to build a citadel
to light glory in the dark
and from hell
to breathe hope in every heart 

>> Shannon: Your beautiful song King of Birds—you wove together a few different themes in that one?

>> Karine: The device that I used to tell that story was an old folktale called the King of the Birds. And then there was something in the kind of mythic nature of that and the symbolism of that, that I felt applied to that situation. It’s about the power of…  it’s about small power. And about how big things don’t always dominate it, though, as a matter of fact, it can seem on a day-to-day basis that they do. It’s like, where’s the chink in all of that? And where’s the possibility of something different?

[ King of Birds last verse ]

 
At Ludgate Hill
where the towers of smoke and mirrors bruise the sky
the pilgrims huddle in
as the tiny King of Birds begins to cry
the people start to sing
to light glory in the dark
to ring the bell
and to breathe hope in every heart 

 

>> Shannon: Hope can be a delicate flame. The activists in the Occupy movement were trying to stoke interest about social and economic injustice. But they had little appetite for working with established groups and government. Because, well, groups in power usually get there by courting big business and wealthy supporters. The Occupy people were fed up, and they wanted to resist and make something new.

Seems like Gen Z is taking a different approach, like with this lawsuit in Montana where 16 kids just sued the state for supporting coal, oil, and gas. They said it created pollution-fueling climate change and deprived them of their right to a healthy environment. And they also wanted it on record: an official, legal declaration that fossil fuels contribute to climate change. 

They won. And their victory paves the way to lots more lawsuits.

[ Music: “Triumph Theme,” from from Production Music Made for Irish Music Stories
Artist/Composer: Matt Heaton ]

There are many ways to ignite passion and change. File a lawsuit. Write letters and organize public meetings. Make a podcast. Or write some music.

[ Music: “Shady Spot,” from Blue Skies Above

Composer: Shannon Heaton

Artists: Matt & Shannon Heaton ]

For decades, Karine Polwart has channeled her activism into songwriting. Trad style. In her traditional style songs she’ll often lace together symbols and places that extend beyond her modern day home near Edinburgh.

>> Karine: I think our job as musicians—we’re not politicians, and we’re not lecturers. My job is something else. My job is more about coming at it from a sideways perspective. Trying to think about these big universal issues, and grand global issues, and figures, and locate them in a way that’s meaningful to me and the people that live around me.

>> Shannon: Well and having that local, that immediate approach; but also the broader connective approach might offer a little perspective, maybe some hope?

>> Karine: Well, maybe. And I think hope is kind of important. Not in a kind of cheap, trite way, but as in ‘what have we if we don’t have any hope of something better?’ And I don’t mean something better in some kind of utopian way. I just mean, here’s the circumstances that we’re in and here’s the circumstances that are unfolding. What are we gonna do about it? 

Traditional songs give you lots of clues about what things used to be like,  and then imagine what happens next. If you go with that wee kinda detective eye, there’s actually loads of rich information about the kind of impact that we’ve had.

>> Shannon: Yeah. Well, so birds and bees and trees and humans all need one another. And we’ve really disrupted the balance with our human activity.

>> Karine: These are big problems. We also occupy the ecosystem, but at the minute we kind of call all the shots, don’t we? Clearly that’s not working very well.

>> Shannon: It doesn’t seem to be working well.

[ Music: “Strawberry Blossom/Mulhaire’s,” from Coral Suits

Artists: Dana Lyn & Kyle Sanna ]

July 2023 was the hottest month on Earth since scientists have kept records. More and more heat waves, wild fires, droughts, floods, tornadoes, tropical storms. And extinctions. And hot oceans. Ocean water off the tip of Florida and the Mediterranean Sea has gotten so warm, that marine scientists are saying coral reef mortality could hit 100%. 

Without coral reefs, we’d have no marine life. No fish. And no marine plants, which give us even more oxygen than trees. And yet conservative politicians in the Unites States have just released plans, should their presidential candidate take over in 2025, to eliminate the Environmental Protection Agency and the current administration’s climate change policies. They want to drill for more fossil fuels. 

Understanding this proposal, in this hot, smoky summer feels more confusing and complicated to me than understanding the carbon cycle. Which is complex.  But basically there’s just a lot of carbon that’s stored deep in the ground. So the way that we start working as the team we’re designed to be is to replace the trees that we’ve torn down, and especially protect the existing trees and coral reefs, because they’re both oxygen producing machines. And they both play vital roles in reducing and controlling carbon.

So how do we humans work together, so that we can lean on the trees? And so that they can lean on us? How’s there gonna be this collective buy in on the importance of planting, and preserving, and supporting regulations that serve all of us? Like how does that work now, when discussing global climate change (when mentioning science) can have such a polarizing effect? 

This partisan mythology thing — this increasingly hostile, combative approach to building egos, and protecting identity, and making sense of the world—it is not cool. And we need to cool off a bit. Cuz it’s getting hot. Trees can help. In every way. They are bigger, older, and only helpful for us. 

>> Karine: I mean trees are in the ether, aren’t they? <laugh> I mean, it’s a funny thing to say, like trees are there omnipresent, <laugh> for the whole arc of human history. But they’re having their moment now, aren’t they? I think it’s something to do with that fresh understanding of trees and how they connect with the kind of mycorrhizal level under the ground.  

And also, trees are the most tangible thing in many of our landscapes. The biggest beings, you know, in our landscapes are trees.  

[ Music: Heartwood instrumental interlude ]

 

>> Shannon: You’ve written a lot of tree songs, yeah?

>> Karine: Yeah. I guess the first of those came through a collaborative project called Spell Songs, which I’m absolutely delighted to be part of. It’s a collective of seven musicians that includes the Gaelic singer, Julie Fowlis, the songwriter Kris Drever, and the amazing Senegalese kora player Seckou Keita. And all of the music that Spell Songs makes is inspired by two brilliant people, Robert McFarlane, a nature writer, and Jackie Morris, a visual artist. 

[ Music: “Hometown Lullaby,” from Production Music Made for Irish Music Stories
Artist/Composer: Matt Heaton ]

>> Shannon: The Lost Words and The Lost Spells—These two books by Robert MacFarlane and Jackie Morris—feature words that the Oxford Junior Dictionary scheduled to remove from new editions… to make room for terms like broadband, bullet-point, and voicemail. The Spell Songs Collective used Robert’s poems or “spells” to write songs  naming these endangered words: acorn, dandelion, weasel, wren, fern, heartwood.

[ Music: “Heartwood,” from The Lost Words: Spell Songs

Composers & Artists: Karine Polwart, Seckou Keita, Julie Fowlis, Kris Drever, Rachel Newton, Jim Molyneux, Beth Porter, Robert Macfarlane & Jackie Morris ]

>> Karine: Heartwood comes from a spell that Robert McFarlane wrote. He wrote it for a group of protestors in the northern English city of Sheffield, where the local council was taken down thousands of trees indiscriminately. They’d given over control of their trees to a private company who were literally just excising them from the city streets. And the song emerged from that. And it’s written from the point of view of the tree addressing the axman who’s come to cut it down.

[ music continues ]

>> Shannon: Well it’s a beautiful song. And it’s a stunning book. It’s so beautiful the way that it looks, the way that it feels. It’s really large. And you get to sit with these few words, you know, these words that were chosen to be vacuumed from existence. 

>> Karine: Vacuum’s a good word, because they’re chosen to be vacuumed. You know, every word, and every creature, or plant, or animal has like three pages where you get a real sense not just of the creature, but of the place that it lives. And yeah, hese spells, they sit on your tongue in a totally different way than other kinds of language. 

And I think it just tapped into something. And it’s something about grief, and fear, and a real sense of like, that loss is happening. And that something needs to be held and looked after. 

[ Music: “Acorn,” instrumental interlude from The Lost Words: Spell Songs

Composers & Artists: Karine Polwart, Seckou Keita, Julie Fowlis, Kris Drever, Rachel Newton, Jim Molyneux, Beth Porter, Robert Macfarlane & Jackie Morris ]

Jackie Morris, whose visual work is the whole underpinning of the book talks about art as a form of protest. It’s a very quiet kind of protest, because it’s not telling you what to think. But it’s presenting something to you with absolutely, you know, copious amounts of space for you to think about what the relevance to that is, to your life. 

And we were gifted not just the words, but the images. Because the images fed into the songs as well. Some spells were literally lifted off the page and transformed into music. Some formed a kind of, like, imaginative stimulus. And some songs were kind of foraged from lots of different spells.

[ music swells again ]

>> Shannon: Any other tree songs you wanna mention in particular?

>> Karine: I had a beautiful project actually connected with the Royal Botanic Garden in Edinburgh, I live just half an hour south of Edinburgh. And I was given an artist in residence post with my friend Pippa Murphy. We went on a visit just before lockdown happened to the Palm Houses there. They’ve got these amazing Victorian Palm Houses. They’re like massive glass houses, you know, where plants have been brought from all around the world. 

[ Music: “Celtic Grooves,” from Production Music Made for Irish Music Stories
Artist/Composer: Matt Heaton ]

And this is kind of from, you know, Britain’s colonial era. So there’s a kind of very dark underpinning and story to how all these plants came to be in Edinburgh, where they were never evolved to live. Nevertheless, right in the middle of the Palm House was a palm which was the oldest plant in the garden. (Technically they’re not trees, they’re more like grasses. But people relate to palms in similar ways that people relate to trees, because they have this grandeur and this stature to them.) 

And anyway, the oldest plant in the living collection was having to be brought down because it had outgrown its home after more than 200 years. It was literally brushing the top of the glass and poking through the glass. This palm that should have been growing on the coastal fringes experiencing hurricane conditions, <laugh> instead was in an Edinburgh hot house. 

So the tree had to come down. The gardeners in the garden were gutted about the idea of the tree being taken down. There was this palpable sense of real sorrow, and real affection for this tree. But they had no place to put that, because they were scientists. And it was like, it was just a thing that had to be done. So we created a wake for the tree, a living wake on the eve of its cutting down. We wrote a few songs from the point of view of the palm itself, talking about its own experience of getting to Edinburgh and living in Edinburgh, and just what it had witnessed in its life. 

[ Music: Windblown,” from forthcoming album

Composer/Artists: Karine Polwart & Pippa Murphy ]

>> Karine: It was very much writing from the imagined perspective of the palm. And I realize now that that’s a thing I keep going back to <laugh>.  

>> Shannon: Imagining the souls of plants, and creatures, and other beings—and using that as a way to deepen connections with the natural world, and the spirit world. It’s a key feature in indigenous tribal cultures and religions. The term animism wasn’t coined until 1871. But it’s a pretty old way of looking at the world.

>> Karine: Animism is really, really common in other cultures. And I think you know, it was common in Scottish culture historically. But it’s been excised from our way of thinking now. But I think it’s really useful. And there’s something very freeing about adopting an animistic perspective, because you’re relinquished from the kind of hectoring voice of a human. You can kind of take this totally different tone and overview of a situation.

>> Shannon: Karine created this spoken word piece “I Burn But I Am Not Consumed.” She wrote it from the point of view of the Island of Lewis—from the rock that underpins the whole island. It’s the homeland of Donald John Trump’s mother Mary Anne MacLeod. In the song, Karine pits temporary power against the lasting might and fortitude of the rocks and waves.

 

[ Music: “I Burn But I Am Not Consumed,” from Laws of Motion

Composers/Artists: Karine Polwart, Steven Polwart & Inge Thompson ]

I burn but I am not consumed is a motto of the Clan MacLeod of Lewis. That’s where Mary Anne McLeod Trump grew up: in a Scottish Gaelic-speaking home. She immigrated to the U.S. in 1930, about twenty years before the Bonini sisters came here from Italy.

When Mary Anne’s son Donald became President of the United States he enacted 472 administrative changes to the country’s immigration system. Most of them came from sweeping presidential proclamations and executive orders that dismantled and reconstructed many elements of the U.S. immigration system.

But the rocks on the Isle of Lewis still stand.

[ Music: “G Chimes,” from Production Music Made for Irish Music Stories
Artist/Composer: Matt Heaton ]

>> Karine: There are many, many areas of contest in our world. But the one that affects us all universally is that we only have this one place to live in. We all inhabit a space and a place. But some of us have more access than others. It’s not equitable, what our kind of relationship is to place, and land, and environment.

>> Shannon: It’s not equitable. It’s not equitable. And when you write songs in response to, like, frustrating injustice… how and when do you decide to write a topical song?

>> Karine: When an issue dominates things so much, it can be overwhelming, like how to kinda get a handle on it. But for me, it’s always thinking about, okay, here’s where I live. And what is the resonance here and now? And I live here in the southeast corner of Scotland. 

So the story around, for example, Donald Trump and his development here in Aberdeenshire, in this really fragile place of shifting dunes—you know, it was a place of unique scientific interest up in the northeast near Aberdeen. He has literally altered the landscape of part of my country <laugh> in a way that’s not positive. And he’s ruined a lot of people’s lives in that area. And his mother comes from Scotland! So I wanted to tell a story about him that had a very particular Scottish point of view. 

>> Shannon: And the song has a few very particular phrases in Scots Gaelic, including “Oh ma bairn, mo leanabh,” which means oh my baby, my dear, my child.

[ More verses of I Burn… ]

>> Shannon: Yeah. Great device. And it feels very rooted, very deep <laugh>. .. So what about rats?

>> Karine: <laugh> Good question. <laugh>  Rats is one of the few creatures that absolutely gives me the heebie jeebes! 

It’s really interesting, you know. We’re blind to some creatures, aren’t we? Some are beyond the pale. But actually when you think about it intellectually, you can appreciate that they’re necessary. You know, the job that flies do when they break down waste. But you don’t want them eating a decomposing pigeon in your chimney <laugh>, do you know what I mean?

>> Shannon: <laugh>

>> Karine: We’ve got limits on what we can… what want on our domestic space. And I get that, I totally get that. 

>> Shannon: Woof. I totally get that, too. No rat or mouse in the house, please. Or in the toaster. Antrim born flute player Brendan Mulholland wrote this tune, which we just played together, called The Mouse in the Toaster.

[ Music: “The Mouse in the Toaster,” from Whirring Wings

Composer: Brendan Mulholland

Artists: Matt & Shannon Heaton with Brendan Mulholland ]

>> Karine: If you want a benchmark for how to write about human domination of the landscape, one of the best things ever about that is Robert Burns’s To a Mouse:

[ Music: “Little Bird Lullaby,” from Production Music Made for Irish Music Stories
Artist/Composer: Matt Heaton ]

I’m truly sorry, man’s Dominion

Has broken nature’s social union

And justifies thy ill opinion

That makes thee startle

At me, thy poor, earth-born companion,

And fellow-mortal!

And he’s addressing a wee mouse, because he’s just dug up this mouse’s nest. So there you go, Burns like 250 years ago was already on the case in terms of this whole idea of like just how powerful we are as humans and how much we mess up the lives of other creatures. 

>> Shannon: The mouse descended from the same species as the rat, though the two became distinct animals just after the age of dinosaurs. Both can cause similar damage to buildings and to humans, though rats are usually considered more dangerous, aggressive, and gross to have around. And rats repopulate even faster than mice.

[ Music: “Pound the Floor, from Production Music Made for Irish Music Stories
Artist/Composer: Matt Heaton ]

Rats live everywhere except the Arctic Circle and Antarctica. Thanks to people moving from place to place and transporting food and goods, the modern rat has been hitching rides on ships, like the ones Mary Anne MacLeod and Vivian and Violetta Bonini took when they came from Scotland and Italy.

Some transplanted rats have set up in forests. They’re pretty comfy in hollowed out logs or underground burrows. They eat plants and other small animals. They’re part of the fabric of the forest. Seems like a pretty good life for them there.

But it’s the urban areas where rats find the most food and shelter. Office buildings, warehouses, apartment buildings, restaurants, hospitals, homes, sewers: these all cater to rats whose purpose is to survive and procreate. And once they do have pups, they tend to stick with their babies. Rat families form very tight bonds. And they usually team up with other families—a mischief of rats greets one another, shows affection, and huddles together, even when it’s warm.

Like birds, primates, and bats, rats enjoy the group hang. So do humans. And for Irish music humans… well, the whole thing would be a very different game without all the connections and musical huddles.

>> Colin: Community’s very important in Irish music. I mean, you can play on your own and never, ever play with anyone. But you’re gonna be missing out on a lot of things.

[ Music: “Square Pint Polkas,” from On the Move

Composer/Artist: Colin Farrell & Friends ]

>> Shannon: Colin Farrell lives in Florida now. But he’s been playing fiddle with other people since his early days in Manchester, in the North of England. His Irish born parents made sure there was always traditional music in the house.

>> Colin: As early as I can remember, I can just remember Irish music in the house and instruments lying around. There’s five in our family, five kids, two brothers and two sisters. I was in the middle. They say the middle ones are the special ones, don’t they? Is that true? Hahaha.

Yeah, I just grew up surrounded by music. And then we were taken to lessons. It was more of a social thing for us when we were kids. It was meeting up with friends. And you know, you’re learning music, but it wasn’t really focusing on “you have to do like this, and you have to hold it like this.” The social aspect of it was the thing that I enjoyed more so than the practice, and learning, and all that. 

You know, it’s nice to sit at home and play on your own. But it’s a lot nicer to sit in a group of people and play together.

>> Shannon: So without your siblings and without other musical friends that you made, do you think you would’ve been playing the music?

>> Colin: Hmm. I don’t think I would be, without all my friends playing and getting out. Yeah, if there was no one around to play with, I don’t think so. It’s so important to have people around. Shane, my only brother who’s living over here in America, we still see each other quite a lot and play music together. It’s mainly when he needs something. <laughs> You know, can you record something for me or, or…

>> Shannon: Can you come over and help me fix my front porch?

>> Colin: Haha, yeah.

>> Shannon: When he’s not building porches, Colin plays music with lots of different people. That last track was from his debut SOLO album (with tons of special guests, including his siblings). He’s got a new album with Three Flew West … in fact it starts with a tune called King of Birds. He also play with flute player Kevin Crawford in small groups, and with the band Lúnasa. 

[ Music: “Headford Junction,” (third tune in set) from Cas

Composer: Colin Farrell

Artist: Lúnasa ]

>> Shannon: How long have you played with the Lúnasa guys?

>> Colin: Probably nearly 13 years now.

>> Shannon: Yeah, so that’s a different kind of family, you know, when you’re working with a group that’s like a tight-knit kind of a thing.

>> Colin : Yeah, yeah. That’s been an amazing collaboration, working with the guys.  I love collaborating. Yeah. I’d encourage people to get out and play with as many people as you can.

Shannon: Yeah. Probably expands your imagination a bit.

Colin: Definitely. And your repertoire, and you hear new songs and tunes you’ve never heard before.

Shannon: And how much of collaborating with other people is about music and how much of it is about stuff away from the music.

Colin: You’d think the music should be a high percentage of that. But I’d say it’s equally important that you enjoy each other’s company. I couldn’t think of anything worse than going on tour people that you weren’t very fond of.

Shannon: Or even sitting down in an evening and playing tunes together. If you have a little bit of rapport outside of the jigs and reels, it goes a long way, doesn’t it? 

Colin: No, definitely. I’d much rather have a good mix of music and friendship than just all about the music.

Shannon: I mean, it would be really great, in the world if people believed in collaboration. And believed in giving each other a little bit of a break and having a good time. It seems like a pretty good m.o. for life.

Colin: Yeah. It’s just really important to get out and play with each other.

[ Music: “Hometown Lullaby,” from Production Music Made for Irish Music Stories
Artist/Composer: Matt Heaton ]

>> Shannon: When you go and play tunes with all sorts of humans, there are some risks. Lots of different personalities and voices out there. And it can be tricky to coordinate. Colin and I had just attended the Acadia Trad Festival in Bar Harbor, Maine, where there were some really BIG sessions. But just like society in general, it is possible to work together and compromise, even when you have a lot of different people.

>> Colin: The weekend there, we had some sessions in huge rooms with 35-40 people playing. And it was amazing. Some of the nicest sessions I’ve had in a long time. Just you know, people were listening and just, it was lovely.

>> Shannon: It was lovely. Mm-hmm. Well, and isn’t it just sort of like life. You know, when you bring a bunch of people together, you’re gonna have disparate voices and maybe some people are just going to be more consonant and more appropriate, and other people are just gonna wanna sit in their own…

>> Colin: Yeah, some people can be controlling, and it just ruins it for everyone. <laugh>

>> Shannon: Yeah, it ruins it for everyone. <laugh> If you encounter someone who’s really eager to participate in an Irish music session who might be playing like a really loud guitar or just maybe not clued in to some of the social or musical things. Like, what do you say?

>> Colin: I’d say I, I think it’s very important to listen. Yeah, I don’t mind, I have no problem in saying to someone if they’re ruin in a session.

>> Shannon: Good for you.

>> Colin: Cuz it’s awful for anyone, you know?

[ Music: “John’s Theme,” from Production Music Made for Irish Music Stories
Artist/Composer: Matt Heaton ]

>> Colin: I teach a guy this morning. He goes out to a session on a Sunday. I said did you enjoy it? And he said I didn’t this week, because there was a guy banging on this djembe drum <laugh> the whole way through the session. And I said, did you say anything? And, he didn’t. Yeah… it can be frustrating.

[ Music: “D Chimes,” from Production Music Made for Irish Music Stories
Artist/Composer: Matt Heaton ]

>> Shannon: Learning to listen, and learning to speak up, and learning when to speak up (and when to keep your mouth shut). This all takes practice. I hope my kid can learn better than I have. 

Music can be a great way to learn about the art of listening and the science of taking turns. But in order to get kids—or anyone—into playing traditional music, you need other players. And those players need places to play. Like, tunes in the kitchen is great. It’s my favorite! But you’re not going to encounter anyone new that you already know in your kitchen, at least usually not. That’s why it’s great to have some public presence: have some sessions in bars, ideally with a a few strong and welcoming leaders. Maybe have concert series that eventually end up building up a community. Maybe a radio show that features traditional music: that might entertain people, and bring in a few new listeners… and also help to build the community. And also, music schools help, like Comhaltas Ceoltoiri na Eireann. Comhaltas has been organizing instruction and events since 1951. 

Building any kind of network—and one that can really sustain people—involves a lot of moving, connected parts.

[ Music: “Lady Lavery’s,” from Make a Note

Composer/Artist: Colin Farrell & Friends ]

>> Colin: Where you are in Boston is, I think the music scene amongst the young kids is thriving. Because there’s such a community there. Because of that they’re getting out to play with each other in sessions and there’s gigs. 

>> Shannon: So in Florida, where you live, do you get a chance to play with other people down there?

>> Colin: There is a session. They call it the every other Wednesday session. So it’s only one once every couple of weeks. And then there’s a couple of sessions out on the coast. But we should make more of an effort really. I should make more of an effort. 

>> Shannon: Are you afraid to go out because you’re afraid you’re gonna get eaten by an alligator?

>> Colin: <laugh>  Actually there’s probably one outside the back garden. There’s a little pond. You always see them around. 

>> Shannon: Really? Oh my God. 

>> Colin: Any body of water in Florida, you’re nearly gonna get an alligator in.

>> Shannon: Wow. What about rats? Got any thoughts about rats?

>> Colin: Don’t really like them too much. But we don’t get them down here, thank God. 

>> Shannon: You don’t get rats in Florida, no? 

>> Colin: I mean, I’m sure there is a few around, but you very rarely see them

>> Shannon: Do you have any tunes about rats?

>> Colin: <laugh>. That’s funny you asked that. So I have a tune I wrote called The Mouse in the Kitchen. Do you know that tune?

>> Shannon: I like it. It’s a really nice A jig, right?

>> Colin: Yeah. So, but that tune should have been called The Rat in the Kitchen. Because <laugh>, when I was living at UL in Limerick, I was living in a house. One of the last straws of living in that house was I was down eating my breakfast in the kitchen one day and a rat scurried across. And so I moved out, I think the next day. But I wrote that tune that day. But I couldn’t call it the rat in the kitchen. Well, I could have, but I just thought the mouse in the kitchen sounded nicer.

>> Shannon: Yeah, it does. It sounds a little less aggressive.

>> Colin: Yeah, yeah,

>> Shannon: Yeah. But we need the rats. We actually do need them.

>> Colin: Oh, really? 

>> Shannon: We do. We rely on them for a lot of things. They help keep the forest healthy, we rely on them for medical research, and they’re just part of the ecosystem. They’re kind of important. Did you record the Mouse in the Kitchen?

>> Colin: I don’t know if I ever did.

>> Shannon: Would you play through it once?

>> Colin: Yeah, I can play it right now if you want.

>> Colin: The Mouse in the Kitchen. [plays tune]

[ Music: “Mouse in the Kitchen,” from Living Room Session

Composer/Artist: Colin Farrell ]

>> Shannon: Lovely! It’s a good tune. And maybe by writing new tunes, maybe it’s just like a little ripple effect. Maybe it’s a little drop in the bucket to keep the ecosystem of Irish music vibrant. To keep it living.

Colin: Yeah, I always encourage people to, to try and write a tune. You never know unless you try. It’s good for your head as well – for my head, just to have something like that to have it working more than it.. for me brain cells

Shannon: Yeah, It’s good to just give yourself a little creative deadline.

Colin: I just encourage it. To get out and write ‘em.  I mean it’s important to have a good repertoire of Irish traditional music though as well. There’s no point only knowing two, two jigs and reels and then writing 50 tunes of your own <laugh>.

>> Shannon: Well, even if you wanna write 50 tunes or ballads of my own, in a trad style, I think it would probably really help to know the classics. So that I’d know what conventions I might want to follow or break. So I’d learn how to be concise and tell powerful stories with few words. So I could situate my stories or my melodic ideas in some kind of context. Something older and bigger than just me. So I can hear and inhabit stuff that people have been experiencing together for a long time: with song lyrics or even tune titles. I Buried My Wife and Danced on Her Grave, the Mother and Child, the Wheels of the World.

Well, there’s another essential reason to know a pile of common tunes. Or common ballads. Or dance steps. 

(And I get that not everything has to be practical and full of specific intentions. Like… just enjoying a melody for the sake of that one moment of beauty. Of course, that alone is a thing of merit…)

But still with traditional folk music, the purpose is the folk. Sharing this music with other folks, who are living, you get this link with people who’ve played and shared this stuff before. Because even though there are printed and recorded collections, sharing and teaching music directly (by ear) is still the most important way it gets passed around. It travels from one person to the next, and one decade to the next. And the music multiplies and mutates. 

[ Music: “Pound the Floor,” from Production Music Made for Irish Music Stories
Artist/Composer: Matt Heaton ]

It’s how traditional music lives. How it survives. 

And in exchange for keeping traditional melodies, and stories, and forms alive, all of us who practice this music get comfort and joy, The music is fun. We make lots of friends when we   meet and play music in community. In and out of the trad music circle, we players, singers, composers, and dancers lean on one another. We push each other. Encourage each other. When tragedy strikes, we send support where it’s needed most. When dissonant elements threaten the group (or society) trad folk often mount responses. We can be protective, ready to speak up and appeal for more appropriate behavior, encourage more listening, try and tap into a bigger, older, greater current.

Traditional music isn’t just about melodies or dance steps. It’s about doing stuff together. It’s about remembering together. It’s about lifting, driving, and leaning in. Like the Boninis did walking up hills and singing around the piano. Like the redwoods do. Like the rats do. 

[ Music: “Belle, from B&B
Composer: Shannon Heaton  

Artists: tricolor ]

We need each other. We’ve always needed each other. That’s why there are 400 year old songs about weddings, funerals, and childbirth. And nestled in all of those songs and tune names are people. Living in the world, with birds, rocks, streams, and trees.

>> Karine: You know, I’m part of a community of musicians in my village. And we meet and play in kitchens. And there’s Ceilidhs that happen in the village. And that feels like a really important way of knowing people. 

I think there’s something about traditional music in particular. It’s essentially collaborative. People learn to make music in communal spaces. That’s the normal place for traditional music to be alive. Or to be alive in places like weddings and funerals. Do you know what I mean? Marking people’s big events in their lives. 

So there’s something important about collaboration and about it being embedded in community that feel like really important things to have an eye on. 

>> Shannon: Being involved with something collaborative, that brings a LOT of different people together, is a pretty amazing workshop to be part of. 

[ Music: “Meaning of Life,” from Production Music Made for Irish Music Stories
Artist/Composer: Matt Heaton ]

And the insights from the music sessions and the epic ballads have resonance in the bigger world. There’s a lot about compromise, and safe keeping, and reverence for the natural world. There are rich, clever symbols—smart, engaging stories that stretch anybody ready to listen and learn. Traditional music can elevate people.

There are also some dumb songs. And there are mean musicians who behave poorly. And who don’t make room for others, or don’t listen. But this is a small, niche community. So it’s not impossible to stand up to that kind of nonsense. Or to ignore it. 

Well, dealing with clownish, boorish people… and figuring out how to lean on one another… how to share the fun and the responsibilities… feels like good plans in and out of the trad music bubble. Seems like humans need to work better with other humans, and with the trees and critters and pests. Seems like we need to be more protective of our world, for the sake of everybody in it. But not everybody sees it this way. Not sure what would rearrange that stalemate. I guess we’ll find out.

My kid and I have been reading The Inquisitor’s Tale by Adam Gidwitz. It’s kind of Canterbury Tales-ish. And at one point one of the central characters hears something that starts to change what she’s always believed. I’m reading at the top of page 180, “Jeanne fell silent. She stared at the broad boards of the floor. Inside her, grand castles of comprehension, models of the world as she had understood it, shivered. She could not decide whether to let them crumble or to try desperately to save them.”

Nigel and I haven’t finished the book. Like Irish music and like the human race, not sure where it all goes from here. Will we all just root down further in our own little areas, make our personal foundations deeper (even if the ground is contracting and sinking)? Or will we extend our networks and branch outward? And share nutrients with whoever needs then most.

>> Colin: I mean, you can’t just be stuck playing with the same people forever and ever. You have to reach out and play with as many as you can. You know, the music is important. But you know, if you’ve got a tune out of it, that’s great. But it’s just, there’s a lot more than just learning a tune.

[ Music: “Onora’s Jig,” from Away with the Birds

Artist: Three Flew West ]

>> Shannon: This episode of Irish Music Stories was produced by me, Shannon Heaton. Thank you, Steve Nardone, Karine Polwart, and Colin Farrell for your gorgeous stories and your wonderful music. Thank you, Joel Corriveau for additional engineering.  Thank you, Matt Heaton for listening to my story ideas, and for all the production music. Thank you Nigel for acknowledging this month’s sponsors. And thanks again to this month’s sponsors. For playlists and transcripts and to kick in to help make more Irish Music Stories, please visit IrishMusicStories.org . 

Outro

>> Shannon: Okay, so do you use the term broadband? 

>> Nigel: No

>> Shannon: Do you know what it means?

>> Nigel: No

>> Shannon: Do you use the term Voicemail?

>> Nigel: No

>> Shannon: Do you know what it is?

>> Nigel: Yeah, it’s like when you record your voice talking.

>> Shannon: Do you use voicemail?

>> Nigel: No

>> Shannon: What about acorn? Do you know what that is?

>> Nigel: Yeah, it’s the little nut from the tree that the squirrels eat.

>> Shannon: What about fern?

>> Nigel: It’s the plant. It’s like spiky. It’s like plants that were around since the dinosaurs.

>> Shannon: What about wren?

>> Nigel: The bird that they like stick on the stick and then walk around with it while doing blackface.

>> Shannon: What about a rat?

>> Nigel: A rat? It’s like a little skittery creature that loves cheese. And it tastes really, really good.

>> Shannon: Eeew! 

>> Nigel: Hahaha 

Companion Chapters

Related essays

Bonus Content

Related videos

Companion Chapters

Related essays

Cast of Characters

Episode guests in order of appearance

Shannon Heaton

FLUTE/SINGING/PODCASTING

World-reared, Boston-based flute player, singer, composer, teacher, and host of Irish Music 

Scottish songwriter, folk singer, and storyteller based outside of Edinburgh

Colin Farrell

FIDDLE/WHISTLE

Manchester, England born fiddle and whistle player and composer, living in Florida

Steve Nardone

ELECTRICAL

President of the Nardone Electric Company, and nephew of Viviana & Violetta Bonini

The Heaton List