San Diego Highland Games

San Diego is just choc full of people importing collectibles to a desert vista. Water is piped in from San Fransisco, the salmon from Chile, and the Scottish heritage from the Scotland. None of these come in small droves, either -- it is always cheaper to import in bulk. As such, the smallest unit of Scotsman is a clan, outfitted in the family plaid and flag and on annual display at the San Diego Scottish Highland Games. The public learned of clan lineage firsthand from local, used-to-be foreigners in customary dress.

Scottish people, fans of Scottish people, and the electrogoth all enjoyed the beautiful weather and plaid.

Some, though actually Irish, were only clansmen for 139 minutes.

Now, the games. History, history, thistory. At various times, the Scots were actually banned from using weapons. No swords, no spears. They were reduced to butter knives and sporks. But to keep their soldiers piqued, the clansmen would train and compete with rocks and sticks. Though the commentator loosely associated each event to a military act, they all served to demonstrate the athletes muscular prowess and speed. Aside from foot races, the rest of the games focused on throwing things. Throwing things far would be aimed at oncoming enemies. Throwing things high would go over castle walls, again to enemies. The caber toss is a story unto itself. I'm not pulling this out of my ass -- he is.

The "heavy weight for height" event actually weighs 56 lbs. After generating some momentum between the thighs, it really becomes an amazing front deltoid lift. No giggling over muscular men in windblown kilts. None! Stop!

Up and over. Higher it goes.

When throwing the weight for height, near vertical momentum is the goal to cross the weight over and around the bar. To err on the short side may wipe your hopeful smile off your face, including most of your teeth, jawbone, and clavicle to follow.

Throwing heavy rocks far made each clansman a mobile cannon. Heave!

Similar to traditional shot putting, athletes had to stay behind the wooden block to commit the rock. This was one of the Scots favorite magic tricks. Now you see it...

...and now you don't.

The hammer throw was also being held on the same infield as the rock putting. You can probably realize why the Scots eventually did away with the early game of hammer catching.

"I'm not disagreeing with you, Don. My only contention is that your sock tassels should coordinate with your loafer tassels when appropriate. Oh, and your bootleg dagger is showing."

He had really short legs, and was one of the few to grace the conservative full-length kilt common in the 1920s.

There were four groups touring the stations together. Three different groups of men, and one of women. Well...somewhat women.

The left chin was reserved for classical violin. The right, for rock.

And from demi-plie, turn into a first arabesque. Curtsy and bow.

Once you've mastered the highland hammer throw, it really disturbs your golf game thereafter.

When sheer power couldn't subdue an enemy onslaught, music could always sooth them, and the imagery adorn in Celtic verse of lost love encounters would surely send them back home in tears.

Ah, those blasted pipes. The commentator for the athletics had quite a few jokes at the pipers' expense. Allegedly, if you can't play the games, you play the pipes. While originally tuned to pitch an army into warlike fervor, the bagpipes could also double as a canvass sippy-cup.

"Wait a second, this isn't a tri-deck hookah at all..."

Last years winners for the Highland Games oversaw this years festivities. Competing in the games takes a lot out of you... almost 40 years out of you.

A Harley kilt. Serial No. 1.

The sheaf toss is another game to throw objects for height. That's sheaf, not sheep, for as the commentator explained, if the athletes went around throwing sheep, PETA would here in an upset. The sheaf is a bail of hay, typically wrapped in burlap bag. The sheaf is tossed using a pitchfork, and again the goal is up and over a bar. This is the alleged military value that followed: you run up to a castle wall, you light the sheaf on fire, throw it over the castle wall, and then there's flaming sheaf on the other side of the wall. Genius, actually. Aided by a pitchfork, an unflamed sheaf could easily clear a 25-foot castle wall. The flaming sheep, rather, were used for an entirely different purpose than wartime mongering.

The kilt was not the only traditional Scottish garb at the fair.

To ensure a healthy balance between throwers and throwees, the 15lb baby toss is biannual event at the highland games. This fortunately young lass will soon aspire to heave her younger siblings in the years to come.

Scottish, and generic food native to the United Kingdom was another highland game. Who could eat haggis the longest?

My lunch: a shepherd's pie and lemonade.

The caber is a unique spectacle, as most don't even know what the point of the game is, let alone the metric. The caber itself is a long wooden trunk, whose length and girth varies to increase difficulty. Difficulty includes merely handling the thing, as Shannon Hartnett (11-time WORLD champion for the Scottish Highland Games) demonstrates by slowly creeping to the base of the plank.

Once you manage to pick up the trunk, the next goal is to shoulder it forwards to gain momentum. The amount of forward and speed is irrelevant.

The caber is then tossed end-over-end away from the athlete. The ultimate goal is to have the colored end that was once in your hands rest at 12 o'clock away from you. Typically, if you could throw the caber high enough to flip without touching the ground, you'll have a straight throw. If it nicks the ground, or is not a wholly vertical toss, the caber will rest at something less than perfectly straight, and point are retracted for how crooked the caber rests. Allegedly, the caber toss was loosely tied to an athlete's ability to generate a log bridge over a river. Flipping the opposite end to rest on the other bank as far and straight as possible would lend itself to the best bridge. Thicker logs for stronger bridges, longer logs for wider rivers.

A hush falls over the...colorful... crowd.

Although great for swordplay and arrow deflection, none of the following helmets were DOT Snell approved.

Dessie! It's the Buchanan plaid!

A closer view on how to toss a caber.

The follow through.

A perfect toss. 12 o'clock straight.

A big smile after winning the event.

A full gamut of cabers.

"Wow, she makes my caber toss."

"I can't believe you just wrote that. Who says that?"

Kilts don't come with pockets.

Well, you can tell by the way I use my walk, I'm a woman's man: no time to talk.

The pipes and drum corps compete like any other marching band. Points are given for musicianship and poofy drum mallet showmanship.

Drumline. Nothing funny.

Product of China. Do not eat.

"'re not watching. Watch -- Mom!"

The other men were only modestly impressed by the size of his caber.

It's not a skirt, it's a kilt. It's not a bonnet, it's his sun hat. Just you worry about keeping that caber moving forward.

The SAAA judges kept close eyes on each athlete. Corked cabers, gender bending, performance enhancing haggis: they had seen it all.

Piping up in unison.

Another event is the sheepdog competition. The dog itself is an indirect catalyst for success, as four sheep must pass through a multi-event obstacle course spanning particular fences and pens under a time constraint. This was just one event. The dog had to shepherd the sheep through a fence cross. The sheep must go in one side, crawl straight through together, be collected on the other side, and pass through again the opposite way. Then, the sheep must pass through the left and right sides the same.

The sheepdogs were not necessary Scottish.

I herd you! I herd you!

Firstly, sheep are dumb. Sheep were directed by keeping an eye on the dog. If it stood upright the sheep would veer away and run depending on how close the dog stood.

However, once the dog laid down, the sheep would continue on their trajectory, forgetting why they were moving in the first place. Thus the standing dog would angle the sheep between the fences, and then drop to ensure that the sheep would pass through, and not one of the adjacent gateways.

Most every herd had a leader. Once the dog could coax the leader to move on, the others would follow.

In this example, the others were grabbing a snack while the leader figured out what to do.

I don't know why people thought I was Scottish.

Another of the games. This was "weight toss for distance", where 56 lbs were hurled frontwise.

A closer look at the sheaf (sheaf! sheaf I say!) and the delicate placement of the pitchfork tongues to ensure a quick release on toss.

Again, Shannon Hartnett demonstrates the proper wobble to launch a sheaf.

Being a lighter weight to toss with the benefit of a pitchfork, quick shoulders and legs win the flick.

Once airborn, you just sit back and watch the physics at work. Shannon truly is the commander-in-sheaf.

It takes quite a bit of muscle and coordination to launch a sheaf into orbit...

...although an operatic howl accompanied by pitchforkery is enough to startle even gravity's mettling fingers.

If you think the mandolin craftsmanship was beautiful, you should have heard her lady's touch on the strings.

A fine fiddler as there ever was.

Haggis on the menu! I love haggis!

How every boy must cope with high school virility.

After a tall day of Scotch, it was time to drive safely home.