Empty houses and full hearts.

Tags

, , ,

(A lovely little spinet that I got to know this weekend)

The acoustic trio was back out on the road this weekend, playing a short run of shows that included stops in Chicagoland and just west of Ann Arbor. It’s been exciting and strange to be out on the road again, and while I have enjoyed, and will continue to enjoy, live-streaming, seeing and performing for folks in three dimensions again and watching the corners of their eyes tugged into smiles above their masks has been tremendously satisfying and nourishing.

In the time I refer to as B.C., I had no qualms about asking friends and fans about sleeping in spare bedrooms, on couches, sometimes on floors. It’s part of the touring experience – one of the many perks, in fact. This time around, I was feeling rather sheepish about reaching out and asking for what really amounts to a huge favor. We are still living through a pandemic, after all, and maybe folks would rather not be asked if three musicians can stay in their home, and not have to say ‘NO’ to someone that they would otherwise say ‘YES’ to, because they are feeling understandably uncomfortable. Hell, *I* felt uncomfortable, too! What extraordinary times we are living in.

I did put out a couple of feelers, and so did my Chicagoland buddy Joe Jencks (thank you Joe!), and much to my delight, he reconnected me with someone I already know who has an apartment right in the city. She was going to be out of town anyway, and why yes, we could stay there. Holy moly! An apartment all to ourselves in one of my favorite cities, quiet and clean and comfortable, and I even got to play some rags on her spinet on Saturday afternoon. What a gift.

We performed on Sunday afternoon in Hudson, Michigan, and I’d alerted some friends in Ann Arbor ahead of time, one of whom said she would be out of town, and that we were welcome to stay in her home afterwards… which is precisely what Shawn and I did last night. While Davy headed back towards Erie to be with family, we relaxed our travel-weary bones in the peaceful quiet of my friend’s empty house, surrounded once again by evidence of a full and well-lived life – and by love and support, filling our hearts to the brim.

This morning, the early morning light coming through the backyard oaks is especially clear and sweet, and all I can think is, I am a lucky so-and-so.

Finding – and letting go of – the elusive rainbows.

Tags

, , ,

Shawn and I hiked up to Champney Falls this week to take in some spectacular fall foliage. As much as I might be tempted to complain about the traffic this time of year, I understand it. I mean, really, who wouldn’t want to come here to take in such beauty if you’re able to make the trip? The yearning for beauty and awe is universal.

I’ve been struggling this week with a lot of emotional ups and downs. A strong network of supportive loved ones and a disciplined self-care regimen have both been my rocks. An important part of my self-care is getting out into nature, and this hike was just what the doctor ordered – stunning to the eyes and easy on the body.

One of our favorite parts of the hike is a place that I call ‘the cavern’ (pictured above). It’s a destination for rock-, water-, and good acoustics-loving hikers. It’s so fun to sing in this spot, especially in the drier seasons when you’re not competing with the sounds of the falls!

On this particular day, at this particular hour, with the sun shining down into the cavern just so, a small rainbow would appear, then disappear, then reappear, changing with just about each step. I found myself not paying any attention to where I was stepping, only focused on keeping the rainbow in view. This choice ended up biting me in the butt shortly after, when my wet boots proved to be too slippery on some of the mossier rocks, almost falling at one point! And hey, that’s par for the course for me, a lifelong klutz. I’ve always joked about how ‘I am fine motor, not gross motor’, and my dad used to often jab me with, ‘We should’ve named you Grace, kid.’

In trying to hang onto beauty, I miss out on ways to tend to other needs, like safety. Everything is about balance, physically and mentally. Those little rainbows that bubble up here and there with each step are waiting, like last week’s roses, for the right conditions to appear. It can’t be forced, at least not without some imbalance.

And when they do appear, wow, is that special!

And then a cloud passes by and the sun is now behind that white pine and the rainbow is gone – for now. Until the next one appears, I’ll try to keep my boots dry.

I know this rose will open.

Tags

, , ,

There has been a Rose of Sharon at the corner of the flower garden outside our kitchen window for as long as I can remember. Being the black thumb failed gardener that I am, I never knew what it was until our landlord-housemates told us this summer.

‘It’s never bloomed,’ they told me. ‘The conditions have to be just right for it.’

Every year that we’ve have lived here, it’s been the flowerless place where birds wait their turn for the feeders, where chipmunks hide from hawks and neighborhood cats, and where hummingbirds and butterflies stop with curiosity before moving on to other parts of the yard. Its slightly darker green leaves have fanned themselves in the sun and wind along with every other living creature in the yard, plant and animal alike. I’ve enjoyed many moments gazing upon it, wondering when, or if, it would ever bloom.

Finally, this summer, dozens of tiny, tight, pink buds appeared at the ends of its many branches – an embodiment of hope and promise. It was so exciting!

And every morning, I would check to see if any had opened – and each day, with a sigh, I’d notice that none had not. And each time, I would notice a contraction in myself – the disappointment that comes with clinging to the idea of being rewarded with beauty after a long period of both doubt and curiosity.

So, I decided to stop looking one day, and thought, Well, one of these days, the buds will either open or they won’t.

And then just the other day, I happened to look, when I went out to check on our spider neighbor, and there it was – an opened bud. A much brighter pink color than I would have imagined, and somehow smaller, too. I immediately took the photo and texted it to everyone else in the house: One of the blooms opened!!

And then, standing there in the yard, I began softly singing to myself a familiar melody from the UU hymnal, composed by Mary Grigolia:

I know this rose will open
I know my fear will burn away
I know my soul will unfurl its wings
I know this rose will open

Since then, all the other buds have remained tightly closed, which makes the open one so much sweeter.

The conditions, after all, have to be just right for it.

One of the first to feel the cold.

Tags

, ,

On a solo walk to the pond this week, I saw three guys bringing in the dock at the public beach. They had tools, a boat, and know-how, and I and a few other onlookers stood for a spell on the beach and watched them work. All of us were there in the stunning warmth of sunshine, under the impossibly blue dome of sky and with barely a hint of fall color in the trees surrounding us. It seemed unbelievable to me that it was already time for this annual ritual, even though signs of it have been apparent for weeks.

Really what I was asking myself as I stood on the beach in the 70° sunshine is, Where did the summer go?

When I was a kid, summer seemed like an almost agonizingly long expanse of time, an enormous canvas of time to paint with swimming and practicing and reading and whatever else floated by and grabbed my attention. I was oblivious to the chill in the air that August slowly rolls out to us every year, and focused instead on the heat and the unstructured out-of-school boredom, and the many creative ways to beat or avoid them both.

Now in my 40s, I feel right to my bones how short the summers are here in New England. I am one of the first to feel the cold now, one of the first to go digging for sweatshirts and scarves at the slightest hint of any breath of air that feels remotely chilly.

I understand more and more those nuthatches and titmice who have been reliably emptying the feeder every day this past week. They’re preparing for the cold to come.

In another month, perhaps sooner than that, there will be snow on the summit of Mount Washington, visible to all of us down here the valley. Some time after that, I will be able to walk on the very surface of the pond that still now so beautifully reflects the surrounding landscape.

For now, though, like a slow-moving house cat, I will soak up every available moment in the sunny warmth.

You can’t go home again, but you can drive by and click through.

Tags

,

I heard through the grapevine that the house I grew up in is for sale again. I hadn’t driven through Hebron in several years, so I took the chance recently to do just that.

I was over in Lewiston/Auburn (or what many of us called ‘The Dirty Lew’) one day a couple weeks back, visiting a friend and working on her songbook project. While I was in town, I stopped at the health food store that got me started on my journey into plant-based eating, bought a few things. I ordered Indian for dinner from a place on Lower Lisbon, and while I waited for it I sat and looked at kids playing in Kennedy Park, which shines like a jewel now. I can’t believe I used to live here, I thought. Look how much this place has changed.

I drove by my old apartment building on Elm. It’s still ugly and gray, still sagging here and there, though the doors and windows look like they’ve received an upgrade. I stopped briefly on the side street and looked up at my old second floor living room window, and six years of my early adult life flashed before my eyes – boyfriends and neighbors and old jobs and paying rent every month to a French man in a cowboy hat.

From there, I made my way towards Norway for community sing. I crossed the river and passed the Auburn Mall, where I spent hours wandering around with my mom, and later with friends, eyeing things I could never afford, spending all my spare money instead on cassettes at Musicland.

The route home took me past Lost Valley and Wallingford’s Orchard, over Jackson Hill Road and then Center Minot Hill. I took each turn as if I’d never left, hugging every curve of the road like an old pro. I zipped past Slattery’s store, where I once worked as a teenager, selling cigarettes and soda and slinging fried egg sandwiches and stocking shelves with overpriced canned beans and tuna. Then I was on the home stretch on 119, thoughts and memories bubbling up and popping before I could even notice them all. Hey, where’s my buddy Scott’s old trailer? and Oh wow, look at that new place and Geez, they cleared that nice area to build storage units…

I slowed down coming up the hill towards Burnham Road (now named with a green DOT sign for the folks who live, or maybe by now once lived, at the end of what was in my youth just a long driveway), past the fire station, and then slowed as I pulled over across the street from the old homestead. I turned off the car and allowed the silence to rush into my ears.

The house, gray when I lived there, is as white now as the ghosts that some probably believe there – not me, though. The ghosts are all in my memory. I sat and ate a little of my takeout, admiring the big maples that are still standing, though trimmed severely from when I was a kid.

When I got home that night, I realized that if the house is for sale, I bet I could take a virtual peek inside. I looked up the listing to find 50 photos of rooms and hallways that felt familiar and foreign all at once. New paint, new fixtures, new furniture, new life. Even the attic got a super duper upgrade into the spare bedrooms that my parents and I always knew that it could be, and not just the hornet’s nest hangout and Christmas-ornament-and-everything-else-we-don’t-know-what-to-do-with-stuff-that-can’t-stay-in-the-garage storage area that it was while we lived there.

I clicked through the photos again and again, feeling a little like I was spinning on a slowly turning carousel. Where is my old bedroom? I kept wondering.

Oh cool, they kept the tin ceiling in the kitchen! Look at those nice new fixtures. And look, they installed French doors between those two rooms, nice. Oh, I’m so glad they kept all that beautiful trim around the windows, and the floors too. Okay, yep, there’s my parents’ old room. Oh wow, look what they did to the upstairs bathroom! (What Mom and I always called ‘Dad’s library’)

Hmmm, I still can’t find my old room!

Then I finally spotted it – it was the still-silver corner radiator that finally gave it away, the one that rarely worked properly, positioned as it was by the window that overlooked the lilac bushes and the vegetable garden. My old bedroom, where I spent so many hours of my young life reading and writing and singing and worrying and learning and figuring out and forgetting so many things, is now a mostly empty room with a strangely red floor, a desk, a beanbag chair, and, hilariously, the unforgivable presence of a Dallas Cowboys rug (wow, that would’ve frosted my father’s ass, ha!).

I thought I would be sad to see and discover all of this, and actually it’s been so liberating and life-affirming to see things change and grow and improve (even if they root for what my dad would’ve declared ‘the wrong team’), and it’s also been really fun to be able to show my old house to Shawn, and to share the stories and memories that have bubbled up. It’s also been interesting to imagine who will buy the house, and what changes they will make, and what happiness and grief they will experience within those walls.

It won’t be me buying the house, though, that’s for sure!

Pondering what’s on the menu.

Tags

, , ,

(our new neighbor)

This spider has been living in the jungle-like flower garden outside our place for the last couple of weeks, and she is gorgeous! And wow, by my evolved primate standards, she is brutal. I have watched her wrap up her prey with such precision and speed into her sticky silk. It’s breathtaking.

Having the opportunity to watch this spider so closely has been awesome! In fact, I am sitting in a chair just to the right of her web as I type these words. Every morning when I put out my bird feeders, I make sure she is still there and has survived the night.

When I have watched her reconstruct her web, or sit so perfectly still for so long, or ride the waves of the wind from the center of her web, I have been completely amazed and awed by it all. And I admit that I have felt such sadness when I have seen an insect caught in her web.

In particular – earlier today, I noticed that she had caught something quite large – probably a moth – and was holding it close to her, and I suppose for that reason she had not yet bothered to wrap a couple of smaller catches in silk. One of these little flies appeared to be dead, and the other was still struggling, flapping its little wings again and again, certainly hoping it would break free.

And here I was, watching it, wondering if I ought to try to free it, thinking, How can I just stand by while this little creature suffers? And then, rolling my eyes at myself: Where do I get off thinking that I know something that this spider doesn’t know? And then, being a Star Trek fan, it brought to mind, not without a slight chuckle, the prime directive.

So… I didn’t do anything. I just watched and breathed and noticed how I was feeling – sad, excited, and curious. Is the spider gonna put that thing out of its misery or what? and Poor thing and Wow, what an amazing opportunity to watch this whole thing up close.

For twenty years, I have been eating a plant-based diet (with honey as the only exception, and a brief excursion back into, and then shortly back out of, local cage-free eggs in recent years). It’s the choice that has aligned most closely with my values and has been most supportive of my health and well-being for two decades. I don’t tell anyone else they should do what I do. It’s none of my business.

Spiders eat flies. That’s what they have evolved to do. That’s what they have to do. It’s none of my business.

Each conscious creature – spider and human alike – is following what moves them toward keeping every part of themselves alive and well.

I am really joyful and grateful for the chance to watch any of this unfold, and to bump up against my own cherished beliefs and remember what drew me to them in the first place. And, of course, keep rooting for all the spiders and flies, and people, too.

Which one of them didn’t like coconut?

Tags

, ,

(the view from the top of Black Cap Mountain)

The coming arrival of fall is apparent here in New Hampshire, and its drier, cooler breezes were most welcome on a recent hike we took this past week to the top of Black Cap Mountain.

On the way back down the mountain, Shawn and I started chatting at some point about food, and the subject of using coconut in something bubbled up. Then, a random rumination floated across my mind: ‘Dad didn’t like coconut at all… or, wait… was it Mom that didn’t like it?’ I didn’t speak this thought out loud, as the subject of our chatter changed and then eventually fell silent as we took in the beauty of the forest around us.

Later on that night, as I was getting ready for bed, I thought of it again, trying to remember which one of my parents really did not like the taste of coconut, and I felt a deep sadness wash over me for a moment when I realized that an intimate detail of their likes and dislikes seemed lost to me forever.

I do remember how much my mother hated the taste of coffee, and of peanut butter. And how much my father really hated the taste of anything mint – even toothpaste – and of licorice. She loved cashews and cantaloupe. He loved raw onions and pickled eggs.

I’ve written plenty about grief before, about how it comes out of remission in these strange and unexpected ways. This whole thing about the taste of coconut may seem silly – until you realize that it confronts you with the preciousness of these memories, and with the impermanence of memory and of life itself.

Then a cascade of worrying thoughts can carry me down some mournful path: What else have I forgotten? What else will I forget in time?

And then – the call of a chickadee in the woods, or the crunch of stones under my feet, or the feeling of the breath coming and going and supporting my hiking and grieving and singing and remembering – something brings me back to this moment, to this chance to be grateful for the fact that my parents ever lived to either like or dislike coconut, and for the fact that I can remember and forget anything at all.

The see-saw of celebration and grief.

Tags

, , , ,

(The high end of the see-saw – photo by Jen Deraspe)

As I sat down to type these words, my heart was feeling full from leading an in-person community sing in Maine on Sunday afternoon. Bernice and I are bringing our work back out into the 3D world, and it’s cause for celebration! For some of us, it was the first time back in the warm embrace of shared vocal harmony, and all of our cups were overflowing.

When I got home and checked messages, I heard back from dear friends from New Orleans who are not in their city right now, who are wondering and worrying about what awaits them when they do return after the hurricane passes.

Then, another message arrives – photos taken at the sing, depicting happy, joyful humans creating and nurturing harmony and connection.

Then, a quick look at the news brings my seat on the see-saw back down – the pandemic, the wildfires, Afghanistan.

Life sometimes feels like a never-ending series of emotional roller coasters, like some strange theme park of the mind that slowly, sometimes agonizingly, lifts us up to the briefest moments of joy, and then in a flash sends us plummeting back into grief and despair. It can be a tough thing to remain open and caring, to be vulnerable, to turn towards suffering in the world.

Keeping in regular touch with the things that fill our cups – music, art, meditation, nature, knitting, reading, whatever it is that speaks to our hearts – is the key to remaining balanced, so that when we do get a little motion-sick from the ride, we have something to anchor us and nourish our hearts as we navigate how to respond to it all.

Yesterday, we sang a song that has helped keep me steady over the last year, and I offer the words to you now:

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

May it be so.

Noun – verb – repeat

Tags

, ,

Camper packed

Miles driven

Turns taken

Site acquired

Anchor dropped

Raindrops tapping

Knife chopping

Onions sizzling

Dinner eaten

Dishes washed

Kettle whistling

Tea steeping

Cards shuffled

Hands dealt

Dreams flashing

Sun shining

Nuthatches laughing

Goldfinches calling

Chipmunks snapping

Muscles stretched

Coffee steeping

Lines written

Ideas flowing

Guitar strummed

Notes hummed

Bees buzzing

Walks taken

Heartbeat slowing

Lungs breathing

Footsteps crunching

Loons calling

Water shimmering

Children swimming

Grandparents watching

Dogs chasing

Dragonflies dancing

Men fishing

Crickets singing

Sun setting

Colors shifting

Photos taken

Silence savored

Memories stored

Spirits rejuvenated

Gratitude restored

The stories behind the sounds behind the stories.

Tags

, ,

(Friday night sunset at the pond)

As I sit outside and type these words, I am surrounded by sounds – a growing chorus of crickets; the mesmerizing sounds of a hermit thrush just south of the yard; the laughing call of a nuthatch, not too far from the thrush; a neighbor mowing his lawn; the din of a nearby window A/C; a far-off fire truck siren; the clacking of my fingers on the laptop.

Each sound is an invitation to curiosity:

I wonder how many crickets are singing right now? Dozens? Hundreds? How many more will join in?

Will the birds find their mates?

Is the neighbor enjoying his time mowing, or is he worrying about things in his life?

Is someone in the room that’s being air-conditioned, or is the room sitting empty?

Where is the fire truck going? I hope everyone is okay.

And the sounds of typing. Small and snappy and satisfying, giving voice to curiosity, and to longings and aspirations. Telling the story behind the sound behind the story. Spiraling down into the heart of things as far as I can go and then back out again.

I’ve been doing a lot of typing lately – working and answering emails and journaling, responding to the outpouring of support of the decision the guys and I made last week to cancel our southeast tour this month. I’m sad as hell, but I love what I do and the people that I do it with and for too much to risk going out on the road in this latest surge of the pandemic.

Other things are coming off the calendar as well. A private singing retreat that I’d been really looking forward to in early September has been cancelled, and I’m seeing more folks pulling back on travel plans and gatherings for the time being.

So, with hours and days opening up the rest of this month and into the next, there is time now to pay attention to the sounds that have been living in my mind and telling stories of their own – old songs that could use a polish, new songs and works in progress that have been vying for my attention. For the next little while, when I’m not working on other projects, I’ll likely be at the keyboard or with a guitar in my lap, doing what I once heard Maya de Vitry call ‘some diggin’ in the air.’