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

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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.

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(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?

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(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.

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(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

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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.

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(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.’

Questioning the definition of insanity.

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As an ever-so-slight chill has crept into the evenings here in New Hampshire, birds are starting to return to the feeders outside our kitchen window, after several weeks of no visitors, and it’s been awesome! Chickadees, goldfinches, blue jays, and even a couple of ambitious woodpeckers have begun frequenting the tube feeder again. Food is plentiful for our bird buddies in the summer, so it was expected to not have any visitors for a few weeks—but with the slow and steady return of longer nights and shorter days, the natural world is responding and getting to work, and I’m happy to be able to spy on those efforts from the kitchen table.

I’ve been getting a kick out of this chipmunk who lives just outside the kitchen window, too. He’s been determined as hell to get at the feeders, and he hasn’t got it figured out yet, but he keeps trying all the same. I notice that he’s been using the same approach—running up the pole, attempting to jump from the pole to the feeder—again and again, and getting the same result—falling to the ground—again and again.

It reminds me of something that someone in an Al-Anon meeting said to me years ago: ’If you keep doing what you’ve always done, you’ll keep getting what you’ve always gotten.’

It also reminds me of that old saw about the definition of insanity, which is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result each time.

And yet—sometimes doing the same thing again and again can bring a different result. Practicing a passage of music (or meditation or drawing or cooking or anything else) can yield more facility and more ease over time, and a deeper understanding of the processes at play.

Like that chipmunk, I’m doing the same thing again and again, which is wondering how things will unfold for our upcoming touring plans. Does it make more sense to go on the road, or to stay home? Is it more reasonable to have trust in the current situation, or to be more cautious? The soft breeze of optimism upon which so many of us had been floating seems to have dropped me straight to the ground, and there are moments when I feel immobilized by anxiety about determining, and then doing, the right thing. The idea that my livelihood, the very thing that feeds every part of me, body and spirit, could put me and others in harm’s way, is heartbreaking.

So, I’ll keep doing what I’m doing, which is keeping my ears and mind and heart open to both the inquiries and to the possible answers that bubble up. I’m sure that the chipmunk and I will have success soon enough.

The sequel that nobody wants.

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It’s been exciting – and also challenging – to be back out in the world playing gigs. Like so many other folks, I’m figuring out my way through it all, trusting my two jabs, trusting every unmasked face, trusting my sources of information.

Shawn and I played our regular summer bar gig last Thursday night, which found us reuniting with an old dear friend (and some precious, fully vaxed hugs), making new pals, and meeting up with other folks that we haven’t seen since before COVID (hereafter referred to as B.C.).

On a set break, I spoke with someone I hadn’t seen in ages who was there with a group of friends, all smiles. She told me how great it was to experience live music again – and followed this with the phrase that’s been gnawing at me these last few days – ‘now that COVID is behind us.’

Immediately, I pushed back, though in a friendly way. ‘I’m not so sure about that. I think we are very much still in it.’

‘Well, yeah, you’re right,’ she admitted with a sigh.

I get it. Everyone is done with season 1 of ‘COVID-19 – The Pandemic’ and season 2 is dead on arrival. Everyone’s exhausted with news-cycle-whiplash. Everyone’s eager to put it all in the rear view mirror…

…except that it is always now – and right now, many of us are still suffering and dying from this terrible virus, and many of us are still wishing it weren’t so. The sources I trust, the sources to whom I have willingly outsourced my knowledge on this topic, are painting a worrisome picture, and no amount of wishful thinking will render it any less so. There is no canceling this thing. Right now, it is with us.

Only this breath, now, is certain – and yet, how certain is that? I can’t know when I will draw my last! And though I’ve been breathing the entire time I’ve been typing these words, and while washing the breakfast dishes and playing at River’s Edge Tavern, it is easy to forget that.

So for now, I’m taking the bookings, still imagining the squares on my calendars filling up with music and joy and connection with familiar and unfamiliar faces and hearts, and also accepting the uncertainty of it all – and trying to connect as fully as I can with as many breaths as possible in the meantime, and remembering to watch the goldfinches at the bird feeder, too.

Spitballing (part 1)

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I could write about how beautiful the sunset was the other night, and how the still water of the pond perfectly reflected it.

I could write about how grateful I am that a couple of people I love came through a car accident this week unscathed.

I could write about one of the four moose I saw in Pinkham Notch on Thursday night – the one I nearly hit with my car!

I could write about how awesome it was to meet and spend some time with some folks in person that Shawn and I first met online last year during a live-stream.

I could write about the vegan dark chocolate sweet potato Needham candy we had for dessert last night. (It was absolutely delicious!)

I could write about the photo that Shawn texted me of a hummingbird that passed right before his face and visited the flowers next to his chair outside. (I’m bummed that I missed it!)

I could write about both my excitement and my anxiety about getting back on the road and touring with the Acoustic Trio next month.

I could write about how much I enjoyed watching our housemates’ dog rolling around in the grass the other day.

I could write about all of these things… but I suppose I oughta choose just one of them and focus on that.

Maybe next time.

What are my hands up to right now?

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It’s so awesome – and so overwhelming – to be back out in the world making music in front of living, breathing humans.

Three gigs out in the world this past week, in addition to all the other balls in the air – bookings into the end of this year and next; creating content for Patreon; working on new songs; studio time; rehearsals; phone calls and Zoom meetings. And keeping up with all the practices that keep me sane, like yoga and movement, meditation and writing, practicing my instruments, spending time with family and friends.

This moment of what feels like a rebirth is one that I’ve been longing for… and now that it’s here, I am grateful and a bit overwhelmed. Been sleeping like the dead every night, after clicking out the light and noticing my head suddenly buzzing with new stimulus after a year and a half of relative same-ness.

I read with such sadness and frustration that COVID is on the rise in every state, and particularly in younger folks. I remember being 20-something, thinking that nothing could harm me. Now, 20-something years later, I’m fully vaxed and I still wear my mask to the grocery store and the post office. I’m noticing the helpless feeling that creeps in when I read the news, and then noticing it pass away as I focus on the next task:

Hands on the keys.

Hands on the banjo.

Hands in the warm soapy water.

Hand holding a fork or a spoon or a pencil.

Hands folding the clean towels.

Knowing – really knowing – what my hands are up to, how they’re feeling, being mindful of every movement and sensation, is a very powerful part in my daily practice. Whenever I start to feel overwhelmed and anxious, I notice the feelings, notice the tingling in my arms and my rapid heartbeat and my shallow breath, and then notice my hands. They are small and able and strong. They have work to do. I am grateful for that work. I will do the work for as long as I’m able.

Soon, as ever, the storm cloud passes, and I’m back at it.