Notes from a morning in Portland, Oregon, during which I continue to be perplexed about the fact that people make sporrans — Scottish manbags/kilt accessories — out of animal heads, after a visit to the Kilt and Thistle Shoppe in Salem.
The next day at the Fresh Pot coffeehouse in Portland, I scroll down the Kilt and Thistle’s MySpace page. Under a video of Darth Vader playing the bagpipes, comments such as “Keep on piping, bro!” and “I love sporrans, too, hu-rah!” appear. Another exclaims, “I wish more guys weren’t too scared to rock the plaid, it’s near impossible to find a hot kilted guy.” Such are the hardships Scotophiles face in Oregon. There are also comments from the Brotherhood of the Kilt and from the Scottish “Holigans” Society. Up top it states, “Kilt and Thistle rocking some kilts.” My favourite comment reads, “Ah, i love you kilt and thistle with your tartan bounty and rich heritage!” Tartan bounty, hu-rah!
I find this all exceedingly amusing, but I am distracted. I keep thinking about those sporran faces I saw yesterday. I surreptitiously take out a leaflet I picked up at the Kilt and Thistle and hope that noone sitting either side of me is an animal rights activist. Rows of wee furry faces stare up glassily at me. Some look fierce. Some look miserable. Is there any line drawn regarding the kinds of creatures that can be origamied up into sporrans?
I think back to Mrs Duncan’s very definite tone of regret that they can’t import arctic seal sporrans from Canada. So, there is one line, at least. Unlike its neighbor to the north, the U.S. draws the line at arctic seals. They don’t however draw any lines when it comes to taste. I am astounded at the sight of dyed green skunk sporrans, and by mini-kilts for cans or bottles. While William Duncan at the Kilt and Thistle was reluctant to admit that women were allowed to wear kilts, your six-pack of Budweiser or bottle of Shiraz doesn’t have to do without.
Craigie Sporrans of Punta Gorda, Western Florida, is a “full mask” sporran making company. I scroll through their site, past the sporraned faces of Icelandic sheep, Tibetan lambs and possums, past the “Angora goat Ultimate.” Even after yesterday’s sight, my eyes still widen at the snarling bobcat head sporran. If you want a badger “with open mouth,” it’ll cost you an extra $85. The raccoon full mask sporran is $400, extra, of course, for one with its wee mouth open. This one’s gaze is disconcertingly similar to the expression on the enormous beastie I tripped over as it was feasting on an aged pumpkin in my yard recently.
People shuffle into seats to my left as I load yet another sporranerie’s wares on screen.
“The last weeks, I’ve just been decompressing,” says the hippy-ster to my right.
“I’ve been going to sleep with the sun,” answers her enthusiastically dredlocked companion, nodding understandingly. I try to angle my screen so they can’t see the ranks of massacred woodland creatures that line my laptop screen.
I glance back at the page that has just loaded. To my simultaneous delight and consternation, I realise that those accordioned alligators are in fact alligator head sporrans. Complete with teeth. I am speechless, which is just as well, considering the people sitting to my immediate right. Who wants the noggin of an eleven-foot-long swamp predator to keep their car keys in? This takes tartan bounty to, well, a new low. Do people hunt their own gators and have ‘em sporraned up as a sort of Scottish-American take on hunting trophies? I may have to call up the Craigies, put on my best Sarah Palin accent and enquire.
Now the two beside me are talking about mutual friends called Space Monkey and Muse.
“Monkey was evicted the same day as she lost her job. Her boss called her a vampire.”
The guy with the dredlocks whistles. “I’m not sure about her energy.”
I glance surreptitiously at the purple and silver clad woman to my left and see her nod her knotty head knowingly, “Yeah, her energy is just tarnished.”
Among all the American sporran masters, I find one Scot quietly rustling up examples of tartan taxidermy. Dave Lamont has a badger full mask sporran on his site, complete with front feet. It looks like it’s giving itself a wee frightened hug. It looks small and meek. I’d like to give it a hug myself. On another site I find a disconcerting sporran nest of three mink heads, a roadkill-esque muskrat and a couple of squinty-eyed silver foxes. Sporranmistress MacPherson does surprising mallard and hare numbers.
Back in Western Florida, as well as sporrans made from the heads of swamp-dwelling carnivores, the Craigie people have a lot of badger options. Two pages of them, in fact, the second entitled “Additional Badgers,” which, for some reason I find terribly amusing.
I imagine visiting the sporranerie and asking, “And do you have any additional badgers?”
I’m not sure why I find this superfluity of Floridian den-dwelling mammals so entertaining, perhaps Mr or Mrs Craigie can shed some light on that for me as well. I’m smirking and getting looks like I’m the weirdo from Space Monkey and Muse’s companions.
I was recently in Florida, stuck on a minibus down the Florida Keys with five hung over drag queens and an off duty conch shell, and had no idea such creations were adjacent.