Why women invented beer

Ninkasi, Sumerian goddess of beer.

Yesterday an article in the Food and Drink section of Huffington Post caught my eye: “According To History, We Can Thank Women For Beer.” It details the role of women in the invention and development of brewing going back at least 9,000 years. But it never answers the question that immediately arose in my mind – “Why did women invent beer?” Here’s my theory.

Why Women Invented Beer

In those days the hunters had to range so far to find
a mammoth the whole clan would have to come,
leaving behind the sheltered valley rich with berries
and nuts, the river teeming with fish and mussels -
out to where there was nothing but wind and moss,
snow blown sideways across the endless steppes.

Then a year came when there were no mammoths,
not a track, no dung, nothing. The men pogoed
for hours around the fire, chanting their hunt songs;
the shaman babbled, wailed, shook the magic rattle -
all to no avail. And so, half-starved, footsore, the band
dragged themselves back to their bend in the river.

That lean year the clan ate anything they could find:
roots, bugs, even the grasses the wild horses grazed.
Being barely edible as was, a woman boiled it, added
a little wild honey so the children would eat it too,
and set it aside for later. But she forgot about it
until the batch went bad, bubbling and stinking.

So when himself came back grumpy, hungry, with
his game pouch empty, she said “Well, there’s this;
it’s nasty, but it will fill the hole in you.” Having eaten
worse – raw snails, rotted fish – he choked it down.
Later he began to laugh at nothing in particular
and rolled around with the children in the dirt.

This being so unlike him, she made another batch,
gathering all the seed-heads she could find.
He shared the brew with his hunting brothers,
who spent the whole night hooting around the fire,
dancing and showing off. When morning broke
none of them felt much inclined to take up the hunt.

And so settled life began, and agriculture. The men
began to build fences and walls and huts. Women
planted, harvested and brewed, and the place beside
the river became civilization. The Sumerians knew
her as Ninkasi, goddess of beer. In ancient Egypt,
she was revered as Menqet. And the rest is history.

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Another old poet has died

Donald Hall, 14th U.S. Poet Laureate, 2006-2007. Photo: Library of Congress

The poet Donald Hall died this week. Never say he “passed away;” he loathed euphemism. Though we never met except as a reader does, upon the page, I felt a kindred spirit at work in him. Being the age of my father, you might say Hall was the sort I wanted to be when I grew up – should that day ever come.

I liked his dedication to place, firmly planted as he was upon the farm, Eagle Pond, where his great-grandfather settled in 1865. And I loved the clear intent to communicate in ordinary language to ordinary people that his work displays. He believed that plain language sufficed to convey the most complex mixtures of thought and emotion.

“Everything important always begins from something trivial,” Hall said. Though he often achieved it, he did not insist on depth as a key value for individual works of art. To be beautiful was sufficient to justify any poem. And as I age myself, I appreciate being witness to his own journeys through love and loss, and to his ripening acceptance of the necessity of mortality, even his own.

As a writer, he said, “I expect my immortality will last about six seconds after my funeral.” In that, I expect, he was incorrect.

Here’s a poem for Donald Hall.

Another old poet has died

for Donald Hall

Another old poet has died, no surprise,
being made of meat, not stone.

But such is death doubled, taking
what unpenned works along.

The reader must begin again, seeking
some younger and stranger voice

that might elicit from him a grunt
in the silence of the library,

that might make him whisper
in wonder, “How perfect, how true.”

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The harbinger

Archive Photo of the Day: Antoni Zaborek Wildlife Photography‎

Archive Photo of the Day: Antoni Zaborek Wildlife Photography‎

In May of 2015, I wrote these words in the Listening Post:

“Whenever I see a trillium, I want to stop and breathe, to do nothing but be in the presence. And then I want to write a poem; I want to consider perfection, purity, evanescence. A trillium is a thing seen that points to things unseen. I haven’t written that poem yet…”

This morning it was time to write that poem.

The harbinger

Winter wrecked the woods again.
Broken beeches lean upon the pines.
Snapped limbs loom over underbrush
and little bones litter leaves
below the bole where waits the owl.

Having longed so long for snow to go
the heart now hurts to count the cost
of what’s revealed and what was lost.

And yet, there’s ease in sultry air
when stripes of sun strike everywhere
to free the reek of rain-soft duff.

There, down the bank, a harbinger–
a gleam beside this cold rill roiled
with runoff, thick with snags–
a thing seen points to things unseen:
the pure, fleeting flag of trillium.

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The harbinger

Archive Photo of the Day: Antoni Zaborek Wildlife Photography

In May of 2015, I wrote these words in the Listening Post:

“Whenever I see a trillium, I want to stop and breathe, to do nothing but be in the presence. And then I want to write a poem; I want to consider perfection, purity, evanescence. A trillium is a thing seen that points to things unseen. I haven’t written that poem yet…”

This morning it was time to write that poem.

The harbinger

Winter wrecked the woods again.
Broken beeches lean on the pines.
Snapped limbs loom over underbrush
and little bones litter leaves
below the bole where waits the owl.

Having longed so long for snow to go
the heart now hurts to count the cost
of what’s revealed and what was lost.

And yet, there’s ease in sultry air
when stripes of sun strike everywhere
to free the reek of rain-soft duff.

There, down the bank, a harbinger–
a gleam beside this cold rill roiled
with runoff, thick with snags–
a thing seen points to things unseen:
the pure, fleeting flag of trillium.

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Twenty-five below

Photo: Max Pixel, public domain

Photo: Max Pixel, public domain

Calling it cold doesn’t quite cover it. One more night into the double-digits below zero and then finally the temperatures will start to go back up. It’s been a long time to just call it a “snap.” Mostly, folks just hunker down or venture out only as far as the drive to start the car – (if it will start) – then back in to warm up while the engine warms up, too.

But it can also have a mysterious allure, especially at night, in the clear air under the big moon, that can draw one out the door. Here’s a new poem for a bone-cold night.

Twenty-five below

I walk out into dope-slap cold
clad in a space-suit of layers
under sparking stars, bold
beside an arc lamp moon.
All silent, but for creaking snow
and cracking trees which loom,
making unintelligible gestures,
black against midnight blue.

Somewhere I saw it written,
in the hieroglyphs of frost
which crept across the window,
in the snow code mice write
in panic under shadow
of the owl. Some message only
moonlight unveils, only walking
wakes, only cold makes plain.

Breathing daggers, exhaling smoke,
I shamble across the back yard
casting about for the arcane sign,
to find a doe a-shiver in the sumac
who startles back into pine.
Startled, too, I step back toward
the distant porch light’s shine.
I could catch my death out here.

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Leaving for work in November

Photo: Pauline Eccles, Creative Commons, some rights reserved

Photo: Pauline Eccles, Creative Commons, some rights reserved

Whether you love your work or not, it can be hard to get started some days. And never more than during the dimmer  months of the year. I can only conclude that that’s why God made coffee.

Leaving for work in November

Not yet dawn, but already geese racket
on the river, marshaling their convoys
for the next stage south.

The leaves are all down, but for a few
bright tatters that will emerge in sunrise
like an empty street after Mardi Gras.

Homeless deer nose through the leavings
of the apple tree while my coffee brews
and the news honks away on the radio.

After the curtain falls on fall and before
it rises on winter is too long
an intermission, November.

The house lights come up in gray sky
over brown ground slick with rain.
I blink the world back into focus.

The geese all rise at once, loud and full
of purpose, up the aisles of air, guided
by some lodestone in the brain.

I keep to my seat, thinking,
one more cup of coffee, one more,
and then I’ll go.

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Eclipse voyage

Captain Radio Bob aboard the liesure research vessel Little Queenie. Eclipse expedition, August 21, 2017.

Captain Radio Bob aboard the liesure research vessel Little Queenie. Eclipse expedition, August 21, 2017.

On Monday while Brian Mann was soldiering up the heights of Mount Marcy with eclipse glasses and sound kit, others from the station were embarking from Morristown aboard Radio Bob’s leisure research vessel Little Queenie to experience the eclipse from the downstream end of the Thousand Islands. Here is a poetical postcard.

Eclipse voyage

Having basked enough for now
I walk off into pine shadow, leaving
the boys to snorkel around the boat.
At a picnic table the others swap
turns peering into a small hand-held
device made from a box of Raisin Bran
and other common household products
while the moon bites into the sun.

The dimming light has gone strange,
like the golden hour, David says, but not.

At the upstream end of Sparrow Island
the anchor of the Lillie Parsons trails
its chain into dancing water.
Standing there, I imagine the squall,
the chancy currents where she grounded
in 1877, imagine the chain leading 65 feet
below to where her 500 tons of coal
strew like dark stars across the bottom.

I view an image of the eaten sun
through a lattice of my fingers;
through the lattice of the past,
I see the schooner break its bones
upon the rocks. Until upstream
a laker sounds five blasts, dispelling
reverie, eclipsing this pinhole
view through space and time.

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Marginalia

Growing up in the North Country and with family well inland in Pennsylvania and Indiana, I was twelve before I ever saw the ocean. I couldn’t get my mind around it. I still can’t, but I find myself drawn there whenever the opportunity arises.

So I spent the week before this with my wife in southern Maine, along one of our favorites stretches of the land’s margin.

ogunquitpano
Along The Marginal Way in Ogunquit, Maine. Photo: Dale Hobson

Marginalia

Shorebirds run back and forth in time
with the surf that gains a few inches
with each pulse of rising tide. Benches
along The Marginal Way are full today –
finally some sun and that unbroken view
from here clear to the curve of the earth.

What is near is sweet: sun, wind, rock
breaking water, water breaking rock,
plains of marsh grass, bright beach rose
and gnarled cedar, your arm around me,
the cries of gulls, the trill of songbirds.
But my eyes seek beyond the breakers.

The ocean drags at me as the moon
drags at the sea. Just to see is to be
immersed; just to hear to be in synch.
“Attention,” Mary Oliver writes,
“is the beginning of devotion.” And
my attention is drawn to distances.

Winding our way back, I drift in
and out of our conversation, distracted
by the one word the Atlantic booms
without ceasing. I break upon the edge
of understanding it, only to fall away.
The sea, too, finds its limit at the shore.

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Spring of the World

We’re in the fleeting thick of it now—trillium time, apple blossom time. It is only a moment in the wheel of the year, so savor. How quickly a square of chocolate melts in the mouth and is gone. What if you could only have one once a year?

Trillium print by T. Ellen Fisher, c. 1900.

Trillium print by T. Ellen Fisher, c. 1900.

Spring of the world

When the heron is home,
when trillium light the path,
when apple petals dust
the yard and all the leaves
are young, I remember–
we were built for Eden.

This pure cumulus white
against a piercing blue,
light like honey poured
out over rolling hills—
yes, yes–I remember
how it was in Eden.

Would that it could stay,
not boil off into summer,
nor burn with autumn,
nor freeze the long dark.
We were built for Eden
but had to have the world.

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Grateful for April

The long tail of winter is tough on me, not least because I never know when it is done having its fun. And this winter has been tougher than most, one of relentless tumult in the country and the world — raised voices, uncertainty, tense encounters and waiting upon the unpredictable next thing. But mostly — a long, dark, cold, biding time.

There is one moment, however, that signals a sharp divide between winter and the more blessed seasons to come. There may be more weather in the offing, but something, unquestionably, has busted loose.

Photo: Paul VanDerWerf, Creative Commons, some rights reserved
Photo: Paul VanDerWerf, Creative Commons, some rights reserved

April Light

All day warm wind withered the late fall of snow,
runoff sheeting over still frozen ground, down
a hundred runlets toward the river. A gray day
with low clouds ripping north on bluster from the south.

Yesterday sunny and cold, today cloudy and warm—
weather upside down. All night long south wind
moans, as I read by the bedstand light, sleepless, uneasy,
as if something in me knows what is about to happen.

It starts with a long, loud crack, then grinding, booming–
the whole reservoir welling up, breaking the back of the ice.
The spillway chock-a-block with jostling slabs and roaring water–
ice-out, like a hammer through a plate glass window.

Come morning, I go to see. Snowdrops by the foundation wall
forecast fairer days. The trail down the bank is a slash of mud.
Fast black water churns under a pale sun, milky in clots with slush.
A full-grown cedar hangs by its roots halfway over the dam.

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