Posted tagged ‘burry man’

Most Popular Urban Nature Stories of 2011: Numbers 10 – 6

December 30, 2011

Today and tomorrow, we’re celebrating another year of watching New York City’s urban wildlife by looking back at Out Walking the Dog’s Top Stories of 2011.  The articles include mastodons, chihuahua-carrying hawks, whales, coyotes, rodents, burdock, peacocks and the secret garden of St. John the Divine. Today I’ll count down from Number Ten through Number Six. Tomorrow I’ll cover Numbers Five through One.

Ladies and gentlemen, let the countdown begin:

Number 10:
In the Number Ten spot, we have a tie between two very different stories.

NYC Coyote Existential: Where Do They Come From and Where are They Going? explores recent scientific research behind the origins of the coyotes that are populating the Northeast and have begun turning up in NYC. Prompted by my own sightings of a young female coyote in Central Park, the story features several of D. Bruce Yolton’s marvelous night photos that capture the odd, dream-like quality of seeing a coyote in our urban world.

Seed Pods and Eyeballs offers a brief exploration of the marvelous Sweetgum tree with its ubiquitous (in Riverside Park, anyway) spiky seedpods, known as monkey balls, porcupine eggs and space balls, among other colorful names. I was inspired to write the post by a reader’s query about the starry eyes of a snowman in a photo from an earlier post.

Number 9:
Feeding Wild Animals: Squirrel Man Calls To His Friends
looks at the problems of over-population, habituation to humans, and disease that may be caused by feeding urban wildlife. But the story also observes the profound pleasure and connection to nature that many people derive from the activity.  Does the pleasure balance the harm?

Number 8:
The Burry Man, The Burry Dog and Burdock
is a personal favorite. After an unpleasant encounter with burrs in Riverside Park (the dog was covered in them), I researched burdock, and found the bizarre annual British ritual of the burry man. Check out the story for more than you ever wanted to know about burrs along with photos of a burr-encrusted dog and the marvelous real-life burry man.

Number Seven:
Saint John the Divine: A Secret Garden in Morningside Heights
is a photo essay of one of my favorite neighborhood spots in the glory of spring bloom. Free-roaming peacocks, bronze animals and more: read the story and plan a visit.

Number Six:
Whales in New York City
details the thrilling return of whales to the waters of New York, including the presence of a group of 30 to 50 fin whales just past the Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge.

Check back on January 31st – tomorrow!  – for the top five stories of the year.

Plant People: Green Man, Burry Man, Moss Man and Poison Ivy

November 30, 2010

In October, Esau and I were ambushed by burrs in Riverside Park.

Esau, the Burry Dog

The Burry Man of Scotland

In the wake of the Terrible Burr Attack, I researched burrs and discovered … the Burry Man.

Every year on the second Friday in August, the Burry Man walks through the town of South Queensferry in Scotland.  Early in the morning, he dresses in flannel undergarments and a kind of balaklava with holes for his eyes and mouth.  With his arms held out to the side, he stands patiently as attendants cover him with thousands of sticky burrs that he has himself collected. He takes hold of two staves decorated with burrs and flowers.

Then he spends the day walking through the town, guided and supported by two helpers and led by a boy ringing a bell.

Whiskey through a straw

At each pub along the way, the Burry Man is given whiskey which he sips through a straw inserted into the mouth opening of his burr-covered head. He cannot sit, turn his head, relax his arms or use a bathroom until the suit is removed at the end of the day.

“The task of being Burry Man is extremely demanding,” says the Edinburgh City Museum, “requiring stamina, a strong bladder, an indifference to the discomfort caused by more penetrative burrs, and a conviction that this custom should not die out.”

Portrait of a Burry Man

The Burry Man has been walking for centuries. The earliest documentation of the ritual dates from 1687, but the custom’s pagan roots probably reach back hundreds of years earlier.

What is the Burry Man and why does he walk?  No one knows.  One theory posits that he originally served as a scapegoat, carrying the town’s ill fortune and evil deeds in the burrs. He may have been driven away at the end of the day, or even killed as a sacrifice.

Another theory connects the Burry Man to the Green Man, a plant-entwined nature figure that some scholars trace back through the Middle Ages to ancient fertility gods.

Saint Mary's Church in England

Although clearly rooted in paganism, the Green Man appears frequently on churches and cathedrals throughout Britain and western Europe.

Le Mans Cathedral, France, c. 1240

The Green Man sprouts on many English pub signs.

Plant-human hybrid

And if you look closely, you may spot the Green Man right here in Manhattan

Happy Green Man on Riverside Drive

Meanwhile in the parallel universe of Gotham City, Batman’s nemesis, Poison Ivy, is surely a fine example of a  Green Woman

Poison Ivy, Batman's enemy

Once a mild-mannered botanist from Seattle, Dr. Pamela Isley, aka Poison Ivy, is now a ruthless eco-terrorist. Part-plant and part-human, her veins run with chlorophyll  instead of blood.

Poison Ivy battles Batman high above Gotham

Pure fantasy? Maybe not. Elyssia chlorotica is a sea slug that uses photosynthesis to make its own food. But animals don’t do that. Only plants do. Right?

Who goes there? Animal or vegetable?

Not so fast, Mr. Smarty Pants.

E. chlorotica is … well, just listen to the scientists on this one. Zoologist John Zardus recently told Science News, “This could be a fusion of a plant and an animal — that’s just cool.”  Or as another biologist said, ““Steps in evolution can be more creative than I ever imagined.”

Another distant relative of the Green Man is Robin Hood, the socialist nature boy who stole from the rich to give to the poor.

Robin Hood as The Green Man

Robin Hood’s familial relation to the Green Man may pass through Robin Goodfellow, or Puck, a member of the often malevolent faery tribe that ran rampant through the British Isles.

Later writers tried to blunt Robin’s proto-Marxist arrows by claiming he was not a commoner but a nobleman driven to criminal activity by the misdeeds of King John, Richard the Lion-hearted’s evil usurping brother.  Yeah, right. Like Shakespeare was the Earl of Oxford and Depression-era outlaw Pretty Boy Floyd was the Queen of England.

(As Woody Guthrie so eloquently put it in his song about Pretty Boy Floyd:

Some will rob you with a six-gun
And some with a fountain pen.

But that’s another story.)

Whether or not Robin’s green suit connects him to ancient fertility gods or their diminished descendants, the faeries and brownies, it certainly serves a pragmatic purpose as excellent camouflage for a wanted man trying to escape detection in the forest.  And for more extreme camouflage, check out Robin’s buddy with the animal ears below.

Robin shoots with Sir Guy by Louis Rhead, 1912.

Extreme camouflage brings us to the strange tale of Moss Man.

The hapless Moss Man after his arrest

When employees at an Oregon rock and gem museum discovered a man-sized hole in the wall, they called the Sheriff.  Deputies arrived at the scene with a tracking dog who led them into the woods behind the building. The Sheriff reports that the dog became “very interested in a particular piece of ground. The dog then bit the ground that in turn cried out in pain.”

That particular piece of ground was Moss Man, a would-be thief wearing a ghillie suit, a plant-like camouflage outfit worn primarily by hunters and Army snipers.

Inspired by dreams of Sniper School, Esau plays war games in Riverside Park.

I've got that squirrel in my sights.

Do ghillie suits hold the answer to the Pacific Northwest’s legendary Sasquatch?

Just another guy in a ghillie suit?

Odd word, “ghillie.”

The New Oxford American Dictionary defines ghillie as “a man or boy who attends someone on a hunting or fishing expedition.”  The word is Scottish in origin, which brings us full circle to the mysterious Burry Man.


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