The next time I’m wandering around the United States of America and a starling poops on me, I won’t blame the poor starling, no, I’ll blame Shakespeare. I know you’ll probably scoff at this but every time a starling dumps on you in America it’s Will Shakespeare’s fault. You see, in 1890 an American drug manufacturer called Eugene Schieffelin suggested that every species of bird named in Shakespeare’s works should be represented in America. Schieffelin belonged to the American Acclimatization Society, a group that aimed to help exchange plants and animals from one part of the world to another. In the 19th century, such acclimatization societies were fashionable and supported by the scientific knowledge and beliefs of that era, as the effect that non-native species could have on the local ecosystem was not yet known. The only bird species that wasn’t already there was the starling, so in 1890/91 he released 60 and then another 60 into Central Park, and in consequence there are now 200 million in North America and have since become a major pest in the country.
Starlings aren’t the only thing that there are (or were) a shortage of in the United States, there’s also a shortage of Rowan trees, at least outside of the northern latitudes. It’s also known as Thor’s helper, Whispering tree, Whitty, Wicken-tree, Wiggin, Wiggy, Wiky, Witch wood, Witchbane, Witchen, Witchen Wittern tree. Many of these can be easily linked to the folklore surrounding the tree and it’s handy to know all this if you wish to piss off the TSA.
You see, I know this because a friend in North Carolina asked me to bring her the berries from a Rowan tree (very common in UK) the next time I came over on my wanderings. She was into Wiccan and said that it would protect her from harmful spells, I rolled my eyes at that but I duly obliged, went to Wimbledon Common, filled a plastic bag with berries from a Rowan tree and put it in my hand luggage. I got to Rayleigh and the nice TSA man spotted the berries and immediately hauled me to the side. You could see his eyes light up, convinced I was smuggling some kind of drug.
He called over his supervisor and assorted attendants (it was a quiet day!) and I felt a bit of an idiot trying to explain to them all that the berries were for a witch in Rayleigh who needed protecting from bad magic spells.. I felt I had stumbled into a Harry Potter movie set..I’m trying to explain to these Muggles that witches actually do exist and are alive and well in Rayleigh, North Carolina.. You could see them looking at me and thinking, “REALLY? and I’m the Queen of Sheba!” I put on my most sincere angelic face and tried my best to convince them I wasn’t an international drug smuggler but they weren’t having any of it. I thought, “great, I’m going to spend the next two weeks in the clink keeping my butt very close to the cell wall”.
Eventually they actually rang up my friend and chatted to her.. She persuaded them to let me through simply because (a) she threatened religious discrimination (b) Rowan Berries weren’t actually on a proscribed list anywhere but more importantly (c) she threatened to cast a bad luck spell on all of them… I’m going to remember that the next time I’m smuggling in some weed.. I mean Herbal Tea!