Saturday, May 5, 2012

Happy Birthday Sandhill!

Today's a party day. I have to use my whole hand to count the ways…

1. Cinco de Mayo
On the hemispheric stage, it's Cinco de Mayo. While that holiday is nominally a celebration of Mexican pride and heritage (marking the anniversary of the unexpected defeat of French forces at Puebla in 1862—as opposed to a unified effort to get an even amount of Hellman's on every sandwich at the picnic), in the US it's mainly an occasion to break out tortilla chips, salsa, and pitchers of margaritas. Olé!

2. Kentucky Derby
On the national sports scene, today's the 138th running of the Kentucky Derby, dubbed the Greatest Two Minutes in Sports (unless you count a couple of first round knockouts involving Sonny Liston). Held every year in Louisville KY (where motel rates go up by an order of magnitude for the weekend), two weeks of pageantry (and imbibing mint juleps) culminates in a 1-1/4 mile thoroughbred horse race at Churchill Downs. 

The Derby is also called the Run for the Roses and is the first jewel in the Triple Crown, where three-year-olds (mostly colts and geldings, but now and then a filly will make the field) vie for everlasting fame and gobs of money (not the least of which are the stud fees if the winner is a stallion) if you can win all three.

You get extra credit is you knew that the next two legs of the Triple Crown are: 
a) The Preakness Stakes at Pimlico in Baltimore (the Run for the Black-Eyed Susans), which is a 1-3/16 mile race (one gets the impression that a committee was involved in establishing the length) contested two weeks after the Derby.

b) The Belmont Stakes at Belmont Park in Elmont NY (the Run for the Carnations) which is a 1-1/2 mile marathon (for most contestants this will be the first time they will have been asked to run that far and it's not unusual to see a horse gas out the last furlong) held in June, three weeks after the Preakness.

—The Power of Eleven
Although all three races were being contested by 1875, there have only been 11 horses able to win all three, and no horse has pulled it off since Affirmed in 1978. The current drought of 34 years is the longest stretch without a Triple Crown winner since Sir Barton first accomplished this feat in 1919. Interestingly, there have been 11 times since 1978 that a horse has won the first two legs, only to falter at Belmont and see the brass ring slip away. It's tough to do.

3. Sandhill Farm's Anniversary
Moving down in scope from national to local, today we celebrate Sandhill 38th birthday. (Oddly enough, we're exactly 100 years younger than the Kentucky Derby—the cosmic meaning of which escapes me for the moment.) We try to do this on whatever Saturday falls closest to May 8, which was the actual day in 1974 that the four founders (Ed Pultz, Wendy Soderlund, Ann Shrader, and me) arrived on the land as callow and starry-eyed 24-year-olds.

Our tradition is to have an all-skate party where friends, family, and people passing through on their way to Los Angeles get together for merrymaking starting after lunch and continuing into the night. While the noshing and drinking start right away (we may bust out a round of both margaritas and mint juelps, as a nod to #1 and #2 above), we'll do a maypole ritual mid-afternoon, followed by a massive potluck. Somewhere after the meal there is likely to be live music and dancing, and down by the pond there will be multiple rounds in the sweat lodge starting around dusk.

For years now I've been the one who tends the sweat fire and it's come to represent an elemental ritual (fire, water, earth, and sky) that I protect as an opportunity to slow down for a day and enter an altered state (noticeably augmented by high gravity beer) to reflect on what the last year has wrought as well as what the next might bring.

It's amazing to realize that Sandhill has now reached an age where it's been on earth longer than most of today's celebrants. It's been a long and incredible run.

Though it has rained every day this week, the sun shines as I type and it looks like we're catching a break with the weather today. Our anniversary comes at a propitious time in the cycle of the seasons—it's warm enough to enjoy being outdoors (predicted high of 88), yet the first mosquitoes have not yet hatched. It's going to be a good day.

4. Tosca's Birthday
Moving from the local to the personal, my daughter-in-law turns 32 today. Happy birthday, Tos! 

Back when Ceilee & Tosca first met (in Columbia MO) it was occasionally awkward to get them to come up for anniversary because celebrating Tosca's birthday trumped driving 150 miles for a potluck and the chance to dance around a maypole. 

This year Tosca and family are at home in Las Vegas and I'm sure they've planned a lovely day there to mark the occasion.
5. Beltane
Finally, on the widest possible scale, it's a pagan cross quarter day: Beltane. While this is generally celebrated May 1, we shamelessly fold it into our anniversary (and was the inspiration for our maypole ritual). 

It's roots are mainly Gaelic and Scottish, marking the advent of summer (just as Samhain, or Halloween, marks the end). It is halfway between the vernal equinox and the summer solstice and ushers in the arrival of heat and the departure of frost. It is a time of fertility and hope—when anything can happen. Even a party in northeast Missouri celebrating the possibility of ascendant cooperative culture. 

I invite you all to take a moment to pause today and join with me in raising a glass and drinking to that prospect. L'chaim!

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