Bicycle Diaries: Getting through winter

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Getting through winter

with the Chaffinch Map
of Scotland

As the snow falls, the ice thickens, and The Windy City gets windier, a young roller's thoughts turn to springtime ... oh, so very, very far away! But Strange Maps has just the thing to get one through the long night of winter. The poem below was written by Scottish national poet Edwin Morgan in 1965. Although it looks deceptively simple, it's an amazingly multi-layered combination of poetry, cartography, ornithology, and linguistics ... with just a hint of Scottish nationalism.
This poem is a map of Scotland, or at least those areas in Scotland where the chaffinch is endemic. It shows the different names used in Scottish dialects for chaffinch, varying from chaffinch in the north over shielyfaw in the middle to britchie in the south. It is interesting to note that the generic term finch is an onomatopoeia, raising the intriguing possibility that the regional variation in human dialect terms for chaffinch somehow mimicks the dialects in the birdsong itself. Which conjures up the fairy-tale notion of animals (i.c. birds) initiating humans in the secrets of language.
As my old man used to say,
If Winter's here, Spring can't be far behind...

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