PAT NEAL: Celebrating Robbie Burns Day

Today is Robbie Burns Day — a celebration of literature, music and fine cuisine.

Robert Burns was an 18th Century Scottish poet and lyricist, who wrote in a state of abject poverty, defiance and despair.

He spared no one. The church and the devil, peasants and lairds were flogged with Burns’ withering satire and comedic vision. He mined new depths of self-pity.

While ploughing the rocky fields of his farm, Burns penned some of the most tender expressions of human affection for people in their struggle for survival, framed within an apology to a mouse he had made homeless with his plow. His was a fellowship to all no matter how small.

Born on Jan. 25, 1759, he died in 1796, deep in debt, disease and obscure ignominy.

After his death, Burns became known as a peer of Shakespeare. He influenced literature and music from Byron to Beethoven to John Steinbeck, who used a Burns poem for the title of his book “Of Mice and Men.”

People, to this day, still sing the Burns song “Auld Lang Syn” as part of a New Year’s celebration.

Across the pond in Victoria, Robbie Burns Day is a week-long party with concerts, readings and dinners.

The centerpiece of any Robbie Burns Day dinner is the haggis. This traditional Scottish dish epitomizes the phrase, “waste not, want not,” using heart, liver, lungs, oatmeal, onions and spices stuffed in a sheep’s stomach and steamed to perfection.

Served with a mash of rutabagas and potatoes, care must be taken to prick the haggis to release the pent-up steam before the thing explodes.

A Robbie Burns dinner takes planning. With supply chain issues, sheep stomachs are not available at this time.

I had to make do with an elk stomach, which I was assured would be a part of a front page spread on the Saturday Peninsula Daily News’ Elk Season Edition with the headline: “Pat Neal Shoots Legal Elk!” but it must have got lost in the newsroom.

That’s OK, I know they’re just jealous.

Stuffing an elk stomach with innards is a chore. Getting it in the oven was a feat. Just then, a demented shriek of terror pierced the gloaming.

A celestial green light had been observed in the Northern sky. A comet! A harbinger of evil tidings since ancient times.

The Babylonians blamed a comet for their Great Flood.

The Mongols called a comet the “Daughter of the Devil” for bringing storms and frost.

The Inca said a comet foreshadowed Pizarro’s brutal invasion.

In Europe, a comet presaged the Black Death.

The Pope excommunicated Halley’s Comet for being an instrument of the devil.

This latest comet to pass by Earth, known officially as C/2022E3(ZTF), is returning after its last visit 50,000 years ago.

In this age of conspiracy theories, superstitions and ignorance, comets are more alarming than ever — causing questions to be asked. Would the comet cause something worse than all the hard knocks on humanity put together?

Might happen. Conjectures were startling.

One theory maintained the comet could cause the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife to close the steelhead season. Something had to be done.

“Burn the witch,” the diners chanted — until I explained the difficulties of getting a fire started in the rainforest in winter.

“Sacrifice the virgin,” they demanded — despite the improbability of finding a virgin this far upriver in winter.

Just then, there was a muffled explosion. I forgot to prick the haggis!

The oven door blew open, splattering the kitchen with various and diverse gut meats.

The haggis was ruined.

We dined on hot dogs instead.


Pat Neal is a Hoh River fishing and rafting guide and “wilderness gossip columnist” whose column appears here every Wednesday.

He can be reached at 360-683-9867 or by email via

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