The Pickling of Sam McGee

(with apologies to Robert Service’s “The Cremation of Sam McGee)          
 - Ian Ross, November 27, 2008


There are strange things done in the midnight sun by the men who whiskies make;

      The Highland trails have their secret tales that would make you shiver and quake;

The Northern Lights have seen queer sights, but the queerest they ever did see

      Was that night on the edge of a Grampian ledge when I pickled Sam McGee.

 Now Sam McGee was from Ayr, you see … a Lowlander through and through.

      But he left his home in the South to roam in the Highlands, where whiskies brew.

He was always cold, but that land of gold-en whisky held him in thrall;

      He’d always shout, “No claret or stout … for me, just whisky, that’s all!”

 On a Christmas Day we were making our way through the snows to our whisky still.

      Talk of your cold! through my kilt’s brief fold it stabbed like an icicle’s chill.

Regimentally dressed, onwards Sam pressed, up the trail to the mountain’s pass;

      But the wind whistled low and froze him below, like a monkey made out of brass.

 Sam turned to me, and “Cap,” says he, “I’ll cash in this trip, I guess;

      And if I do, I’m asking that you won’t refuse my last request.

It’s the cursed cold, and it’s got right hold … but it’s not being dead that pains.

      I fear being laid in an icy grave - so pickle my last remains.”

 A pal’s last need is a thing to heed, so I swore there would be no forbearing;

      If Sam should die from the cold then I would preserve him … just like kippered herring.

So we started on at the streak of dawn; but God! how he groaned pitiably,

      And before nightfall a corpse was all that was left of Sam McGee.

 Now a promise made is a debt unpaid, and the Scots have their own stern code.

     So I hoisted him on to my back like a pack … my God, what a heavy load!

His head by my ear seemed to whisper and jeer: “You may tax your brawn and brains,

     But you promised true, and it’s up to you to pickle my last remains.” 

The trail was bad, and I felt half mad, but I swore I would not give in;

     Till I came to the edge of that Grampian ledge, where our still has always been.

And I looked at it, and I thought a bit, of my side-kick’s frozen status;

     Then “Here,” said I, with a sudden cry, “is my pickling ap–pa–ra–tus.”

 Some gorse I ripped from the mountain tip, and I lit the boiler fire;

     Some peat I found that was lying around, and I heaped the fuel on higher;

The flames just soared and the still’s coils roared … with the whisky flowing free;

     And I filled a vat in no time flat … and I dumped in Sam McGee.