One of the fun things about living on Vashon is the seemingly astonishing number of quirky traditions that have built themselves up over time in this small community. One that I stumbled into in a rather backwards fashion is the annual Burns Society supper.
All over the world, groups of Scots and Scot lovers, and poets and poetry lovers gather on a Saturday night near the end of January to raise a glass and pierce a stuffed sheep's stomach in honor of Robert Burns, the ploughman poet.
Now, I happen to actually be of Scotch decent, but I only came to find myself a guest at this table through the back door of Mark's musical abilities. Although unfortunately descended from the scurrilous British, Mark was nevertheless invited to sing at the lauded Vashon Burns Supper some five years ago now - and was instantly hooked. I heard about it for two years from him, then a third from both him and my mom who accompanied Mark his third year.
Finally, in 2009, I gave in to my curiousity and joined in the fun. And, I don't think I'm breaking any secret order rules by sharing a little about what goes on and encouraging any Scots or Scot lovers, or poets or poetry lovers to find or start a Burns Supper of their own. Kudos and thanks to Dan Brown for sharing his great photographs of a tough-to-photograph event!
The evening begins with a cocktail hour - 100 folks show up in either evening wear or some level of Scottish dress - we probably have 6 or 8 folks in full Scottish attire. A veritable army of volunteers have transformed our local hunting lodge into a fairyland of tartans, flowers, linen tableclothes, and candlelight. Other volunteers have prepared homemade appetizers traditional to Scotland, including delectable smoked salmon and Scotch eggs. Still more volunteers, musicians, provide instrumental sounds that float softly around the chatter and laughter. Wine and beer flow freely and conversation pauses momentarily at one point while we are treated to an exhibition of the Highland dance.
Then the gong sounds and it's time to find your name on a - beautifully decorated, of course! - plate down one of the four long tables. As the evening evolves, we diners are treated to one sensational song or poem after another, performed entirely by people eating alongside us. (It should be interjected here that the sheer volume of talent on this tiny rock is staggering). Hours pass and courses are served and cleared.
After the soup, it is time for the Entrance of the Haggis. Now, this is where I'm liable to lose a few of you, but I just have to state up front that before my first Burns Supper, I had managed to live a long and happy life 100% void of any meals involving sheep stomach. But. But, it's my duty to say honestly that it's not completely vile. Served alongside neeps and taties (that's just Scottish humor for turnips and potatoes), a variety of other goodies (including, this year, a nod to the vegetarians in the room!) and then the grand finale, culinarily, for me - for me, a non-sweets-lover at that - sticky toffee pudding. Bliss in a dish.
Nearing midnight, we stand, a single shot of scotch whiskey in our hand, and toast the life and loves of the man who brought poetry down from the mountain of weath and titles and gave it simply so that the simple man could own it too.
A treasured evening, inspired by an inspring if deeply flawed human, and brought about year after year by many, many people dedicated to his ideals of living life to the very fullest, in the very best of company.
Thank you Vashon Burns Society. See you next year.