Cycles of freezing and thawing.


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Within moments of taking this photo on Sunday morning, the view changed entirely. The sun appeared from behind the house and began touching the tops of the trees, and I sat gazing out the window, watching the clouds part and the chunks of fresh snow fall helplessly to the ground. By the time we left the house for a visit to Gorham, nearly every trace of Saturday’s snowfall was gone.

On our daily walks around the loop, we’ve noticed the bigger frost heaves on the paved road starting to smooth out one day, and then seize up the next as the temperatures swing wildly within each 24 hour period of early spring.

I have been enjoying the whole mess of it, and noticing the parallels in my own experience. The shine from our recent seven days on retreat seems at times to have faded entirely – and then other times, the gem of that beautiful experience is polished anew by a single moment of awareness of the simplest things, like: the first step in moving from one room into another; tension in the shoulders suddenly releasing upon noticing it; the memory of a dear friend who died three years ago; a pair of goldfinches at the bird feeder; a fragment of a song looping through the mind; pondering a to-do list and a plan for later in the week; the sound of delight in a friend’s voice on the phone; the sounds and sensations of warm running water at the kitchen sink; wondering what to blog about; looking at the above photo and remembering how quickly it all changed.

Each thing that happens, no matter how small or significant, arises, and is known, and then passes. Each one of these occurrences is a chance to thaw the frozen heart and mind, to shine up the gem in each of us, the one that sparkles with the wisdom that is always available in every moment. All we have to do is look, and notice what’s here.

What to say?


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What to say after a week away in the noble silence of retreat, where every thought, mood, action, reaction, sound, sensation, and moment arrives just as it is?

What to say after being in such close contact with the experience of mind and body for seven days?

The question of the week was: What is awareness noticing right now?

And it’s a question that has been continuing to float gently through since we returned home, into moments of joy and frustration, of exhaustion and elation, of ordinary-ness and extraordinary-ness.

There really isn’t anything to say, or even to do. The day, the hour, the minute, the breath, the thought – each of these things is arising, being known, and then falling away. Simply notice what there is to be noticed. That’s it. Easy peasy, right?


It’s quite an undertaking, to show up for life in this way, to do something that is so simple, and yet at times so difficult.

Awareness is noticing the one photograph I took when the retreat was over (above); noticing the memory of the snowstorm that brought nearly 24 inches of snow to the retreat center; noticing the bright clear blue sky outside the window as I type these words; noticing the flavor of coffee in the mouth; noticing the memory of yesterday’s lovely community sing; noticing the memory of those few dozen red winged blackbirds I heard and watched on my daily walk around the loop while on retreat; noticing a sadness arising upon remembering a bit of news I heard from someone yesterday; noticing tension in the shoulders and then its gentle release as soon as it’s noticed. And on and on the practice goes.

What to say about any of it? It’s all just happening on its own, moment after moment.

And I’m noticing that I have nothing else to say about it, because I’m noticing that it’s time for breakfast.

A bumper crop of warmth.


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Shawn and I are on our way home now from a short run of shows in North and South Carolina, where we encountered all kinds of warmth, both from the weather and from the hearts of those who came out to see us.

To our thin New England blood, the temps in Bluffton, SC on Saturday night were especially delightful – it was 82° and sunny when we arrived a little early at the venue!

We met a lot of New Englanders in our travels this weekend, many of whom moved south to escape the very wintry conditions that were actively bearing down upon our New Hampshire home and informing some of my onstage banter. The crowd on Thursday night in Elkin, NC collectively gasped when I told them that our beloved Mount Washington made the national news last month with a record-breaking wind chill of -101°! And I spoke to the Bluffton crowd specifically about the snowstorm that was happening right as we were performing for them, giving everyone a shudder.

And of course, as I was speaking and singing – and looking out the venue windows at the moss hanging from the trees – I was reminded that we would soon – very soon – find ourselves back in our little home, shivering at the cold that our bones have been eager to forget, and preparing for what’s next.

And what’s next is – we’re headed on silent retreat. If all goes to plan, we’ll be entering the silence for a 7 day retreat that starts this Wednesday in Massachusetts. I’ve been looking forward to this so much. As you may already know, I’ve extensively explored previous retreat experiences in this blog – and if you don’t know, go here to get caught up here.

But before that, there is getting home. I’m typing these words as we are pointed north on I-95, and we’ll likely be home by suppertime.

And it’s gonna feel cold when we get there.

And someone in the audience on Saturday night in Bluffton was thinking about that, too.

After we had played our encore to another standing ovation and the crowd began to clear, a woman and former New Englander (whose name I’ve forgotten, and I’m awful with names – forgive me if you’re reading this, lovely lady!) approached me straight away, beaming, and she said, ‘I put all the love and joy from the performance into my knitting tonight and I want you to have this!’ and she placed this beautiful, soft, warm, comfy new hat – pictured above – on top of my head. I couldn’t believe it! I thanked her and gave her a huge hug. Shawn laughed as he looked on and said, ‘You couldn’t have known that Heather’s favorite color is purple, and you couldn’t have known that she has quite a collection of knitted hats!’

I have mused before that my job, at bottom, is giving and receiving joy. I was reminded this weekend that it’s also giving and receiving warmth. I’m looking forward to wearing this hat on retreat this week, and remembering the warmth of kindness and love that isn’t registered in mercury, but in the memories that live in the mind and heart.

Just like that –



Just like that, the birds are greater in number – hungrier and more talkative.

(It’s like a switch got flipped one night and here they all are, readying for spring.)

Just like that, the front yard is full of sparkling white diamonds.

(Just a moment ago, the yard was a blue blanket expanse reflecting the sky above – then suddenly, the sunlight is out from behind the house and it renders each new snowflake into a tiny prism.)

Just like that, the six hour drive to Morristown is over.

(The world is a 65 mph roar of cars and pavement and people – then an off ramp dumps us off and within minutes, we are silent and motionless in an empty church parking lot.)

Just like that, the soundcheck is over.

(The Sohmer baby grand is loud and fierce, and my voice and Shawn’s bass are filling in around its edges. Then suddenly, the sanctuary is silent again, ready for the muffled conversations of concert goers and volunteers.)

Just like that, my dear friend Dotty is standing right in front of me!

(She was a voice in my left ear the other day, and now I’m standing here hugging her tightly and both of us are smiling!)

Just like that, my coffee cup is empty.

(And just a few moments before, I was breathing in the steam, savoring each warm, buttery sip.)

Just like that, a new song has taken shape.

(I’ve been kicking this can around for months! Wow, I love this groove…)

Moment after moment, all day every day, there are transitions that are as profound as they are ordinary. Recently, I’ve been practicing being more aware of those transitions – opening and closing doors; standing up from my desk; picking up the phone; checking my inbox; putting away the dishes. I’ve been trying to view each one as an invitation to look a little more closely, to notice what I’m thinking about as I put the plates away, or as I chop this onion, or as I open the car door, and noticing how that thought is coloring how I feel. Am I worried about anything? Eager? Excited? Sad?

Just like that, I’m done with this blog post.

The seeds of songs.


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I know it’s an overused analogy, but it’s true – songs really are like seeds, and you have no idea how – or even if – they will find fertile soil, take root, and push their way up towards the sun.

Last week I wrote about how one of my songs is doing just that, and I taught and shared that same song again at this past Thursday’s session of the Daily Antidote of Song. That action seems to have put some other things in motion, one of which is an invitation to lead a weekend-long singing retreat whenever schedules can align to make that happen. Really exciting!

In looking back over the past week, there were other signs of song seedlings taking root.

I had a couple of really enjoyable rehearsals for two very different musical projects – one for this week’s Mardi Gras show, and another with Leah for our Peaceful Means project – both of which were deeply inspiring and invigorating. What a thrill to work with drummer Jared Steer for the first time and to hear how ‘The Gumbo’s Too Hot‘ took root in his mind and expressed itself through his chops! (Craig – have an awesome vacation this week, buddy! We miss ya!). And then to work on originals with Leah and continue planning the release of our debut recording later this year, a song from which Leah shared recently in her work as an NVC trainer and was asked, ‘I’d love to be able to use that song for meditation. Is it available anywhere?’ Not yet, but it will be! Another thrill!

The other day I went looking through a song notebook for something else, only to rediscover a song I’d started writing last fall that I’d kinda forgotten about, and spent about an hour coaxing that one a little further out of the ground.

I had another studio session this week with my dear friend Jan who is finally recording a collection of her songs, some of which she wrote decades ago! There’s one song of hers called ‘Deep Beginning’ that I have fond memories of singing with her and with Circle Voice Singers, the community singing group we were both members of over 20 years ago. Another thrill indeed to put down the backbone of this particular song, and to plan for and imagine the voices that will soon be added to ours in the magical space of the recording studio!

Four of us convened at Davy’s the other night to flesh out, jam on, and record several versions of an instrumental that the composer (Davy) has plans for. It was so fun and freeing to show up, plug in, sit down, read down a chart, and create groove after groove with three of my favorite musicians and humans – something for the seed stores.

I’m surely thinking along these lines this morning because the first day of spring is in view, and the hours of sunlight are steadily increasing; the birds in our yard are singing more, eating more; the sunlight is stronger; the pace of everything in the natural world seems to be ramping up. And I’m helplessly – joyfully – being pulled along that current of life, singing as I go.

Changing the world a song at a time.


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It’s easy to lose heart in a world as noisy and chaotic as ours. There is so much work to be done, and so many able hands and hearts needed to do it all.

When you’re in the line of work I’m in – which I described yesterday to the community sing circle Bernice and I led here in Conway as ‘spreading joy around’ – it can get really disheartening sometimes. Am I singing these songs just for myself? I have asked myself in more quiet, more tired, more depressed moments. After glancing at the news at any given hour, meaningful music making can sure seem like a Sisyphean task.

My friend Davy Sturtevant once wrote a song that briefly gives voice to this frustration that songwriters often experience with the lyric, ‘We’re changing the world a song at a time / in the land of the never was.’

Yesterday at the sing, I shared a song of mine that I often teach at our community sings called ‘These Hands, This Heart.’ Since we had a bunch of new-to-us folks in the circle, I introduced the song by sharing my vision for it. I explained, ‘I have always pictured folks marching in the streets singing this song – not in anger, but in nonviolent, peaceful demonstration in support of some worthy cause.’

Our friend Bets, whom we hadn’t seen in ages, was in attendance yesterday, and as soon as I’d finished introducing the song and was about to start singing it, she burst out, ‘It’s already happening!’ I paused for a beat, and then she told us all the story of how she participated in the Poor People’s Campaign in D.C. last June. Remembering my vision for the song, she told us that she taught the song to a busload of folks from Maine who were traveling down to join the thousands of others who were converging upon the nation’s capital. ‘We were singing it all the way,’ she told us, beaming as she shared the story.

I was speechless for just a moment, and I nearly burst into joyful tears.

Each of us can change the world – one song, one heart, one mind at a time. It’s the belief that spurs me on every day that I’m lucky enough to make music for a living.

These hands will do the work
These feet will carry me
These arms will be welcoming to what these eyes can see
This heart will stay open to the possibility
And the love in this heart will set me free

A bouquet of beautiful moments.


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Rolling east now, both filled up and drained out by this year’s Folk Alliance International conference in Kansas City. In my current sleep-deprived state, I am listing just a few of the many standout moments:

– Hearing Neeta Ragoowansi, FAI’s new executive director, speak about the importance of empathy and kindness, and her challenge to us artists to ‘work to not be the best *in* the world, but to be the best *for* the world.’

– Humbird’s stunning performance, and in particular, hearing her sing in her poised, gentle, and beautiful way, ‘I will help the strangers I meet.’

– Hugging my friends Pete and Crystal for the first time since before the pandemic.

– Our friend and amazing fiddler Scotty Leach walking in and taking a seat during our official showcase set and my heart leaping with so much joy and surprise that I nearly forgot the next line of lyrics!

– Both of us gratefully receiving several hundred dollars worth of free health care courtesy of the Blues Foundation’s HART Fund.

– Kelly Halloran’s kick ass, impromptu fiddle solo on ‘The Get Up and Go.’

– Scotty Leach’s equally kick ass and impromptu fiddle solo on ‘What Else Can I Do?’.

– Martin Shore’s beautiful film about New Orleans, called ‘Take Me To The River‘.

– Shawn and I accompanying Ken Whiteley and me singing a swingin’ version of ‘When You’re Smiling’ on the hotel’s Yamaha baby grand, just for us.

– Hearing a quote from ‘My Funny Valentine’ from the vibes player in the intro of a Steve Goodman tune as performed by my new favorite band, Sussex.

– That soaring trombone solo during the Latin jam in the Garden Terrace!

– Experiencing the incredible textures and rhythms of the Brazilian group Dendê from just inches away.

– Harry Manx’s tremendous style and sense of humor.

– Shawn surprising me with a gift of a beautiful new percussion instrument from Nigeria, from one of the exhibit hall vendors.

– Antonio Lopez’s singing his heart-stopping song ‘The Truth We Tell’ in that round on Saturday night.

– A new friend and fan named Connie getting up from her chair and stepping out into the hall to yell at everyone to be quiet because she was trying to hear me sing ‘Lines and Spaces’ 😆

– Our team and collection of favorite humans—Louise, Bruce, Nora, Bernice—supporting us fully and completely with their love, hard work, presence, and enthusiasm.

As my buddy Seth Walker sang on Saturday, ‘I wanna have more days like this (and more nights like that).’

The truly important questions.


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It’s corny, I know – and I can’t possibly be the only one – but for the last couple of days I’ve been singing:

I’m goin’ to Kansas City / Kansas City here I come

As I type this, Shawn and I are in our car somewhere between home and the Folk Alliance International conference, which starts on Wednesday. We’re goin’ to Kansas City to perform an official showcase there, several late night showcases, and to gather and connect with others around the warmth of community and music.

In recent days, I have oscillated quite reliably between ‘excited-for-Christmas’ and ‘nervous-for-the-big-test’. We both did a lot of woodshedding, packing and repacking, and worked on preparing ourselves fully for this opportunity. Each movement a step on the path.

Then the inevitable questions bubble up. Not ‘Should we do this song, or that song?’ or ‘How are the tires?’ or ‘Should we leave Sunday or Monday?’ Nah, those questions had come and gone.

I’m talking about the truly important questions, like: ‘Do I have enough clean underwear and socks?’

As a wise person once pointed out, the journey of fifteen hundred miles begins with a single load of last minute laundry. Or something like that.

Whatever is on your itinerary, may all your socks and undies be clean and ready for the journey ahead!

The puzzle of calculating risk.



On a recent walk to the pond, Shawn and I noted the appearance of the first bob house of the season.

‘Geez,’ I said reflexively to Shawn, ‘that seems risky to me.’ We had both just turned a moment before to look down the stretch of the pond and notice the large gaping mouth of dark frigid open water just yards from where the ice fisherman was set up.

‘I’m sure they measured the ice, ‘ Shawn said quietly, ‘otherwise they wouldn’t be out there.’

Of course, I thought. Not everyone is as risk averse about this sort of thing as I am.

‘I really want to walk across the pond this winter once the ice is more fully formed,’ Shawn added, another idea that shivers my limbs.

It’s so fascinating how our feelings and needs lead us all on such a variety of paths – the ice fisherman wants to catch fish, and maybe seeks the peace and solitude of the bob house; Shawn wants to walk across a frozen body of water, seeking that same peace and solitude, and also fun and beauty; I want to simply stand on the beach, where there is plenty of peace, solitude, and beauty for my risk-averse bones.

That calculation of risk never ceases. If all goes to plan, this afternoon I will drive an hour to a gathering of folks who are hoping to learn from me in a music workshop offering. It’s still snowing as I type these words, and so the calculations are being run. When will the snow stop? Will the roads be clear enough?

A week from now, Shawn and I will be driving to Kansas City to the Folk Alliance International conference, where we have an official showcase this year. There’s always a risk in that long of a road trip – or any time spent in a car, really – and yet I feel as confident in all of those calculations as the ice fisherman does in their own.

The travels of both body and mind are plenty enough to keep us all curious, that’s for sure! So whatever you’re up to today and every day, I wish you safe and happy travels, both internally and externally.

So many ways to celebrate in so few days.


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I turned 47 this weekend, and to mark the occasion, I posted this photo on my social media, remarking that it had been forty years since it was taken. Though I don’t really remember the moment from the inside, there are so many memories that were conjured by the photo: the excitement of being a kid; the taste of cheap chocolate frosting; Seamus, our Irish wolfhound, hoping desperately for a taste; being nervous about sitting next to a cute boy; the unbelievably loud wallpaper on the dining room wall; the hiss of the radiators throughout that old house; my dad’s old Minolta that he kept in the dining room closet and brought out for these kinds of occasions; remembering how much I loved that shirt I was wearing, the one with the hearts all over it.

Just like that – forty years come and gone, like the birthday candles I blew out with a wide-eyed, Dizzy Gillespie expression on my face.

Forty years later to the day of the snapping of that photo, I found myself sitting in a beautiful barn in western Maine, witnessing the marriage of two people I’m just getting to know. The groom is a friend of Shawn’s, and now becoming a friend of mine. The ceremony was simple, sweet, and heartfelt. I sat with Shawn and two dear friends. I ate food. I met new people. I reconnected with old friends and acquaintances. I blew bubbles. I danced to whatever the DJ spun. I played some blues on an old Acrosonic in a quiet corner by request of the groom. I drank tea and spilled some on my dress. New deposits in the memory bank. It was an awesome way to celebrate life!

I hope that forty years from now, the newly married couple will look back at their wedding photos and savor the memories conjured by them – the warmth and presence of their friends and family; the promises they made to one another; the sparkle in each other’s eyes. And I also hope they realize how quickly – and hopefully, how beautifully – the previous decades have flown by.

There are so many ways to celebrate the fact that we’re alive, and we only have so many days in which to do the celebrating. So, get out on that dance floor before the music stops!