A sign of… something springing.


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Yesterday morning, after a really fun show with the trio in Rockport, MA the night before, Shawn and I woke up in the home of our fantastic hosts and were lucky enough to experience an ocean sunrise. We took a short walk to the water’s edge and spent some time savoring those precious few moments in its presence before we had to rush home for the next thing.

I could easily spend the rest of this blog post riffing just on the ocean – the feelings, emotions, memories, and sensations that it stimulates; the billions of years of life evolving on this planet starting out there in those deep and mysterious waters; the motion of planets and moons being expressed right before our eyes.

What I wasn’t expecting was the presence of about a dozen robins, living happily in the trees there at the start of our walk.

‘Robins?!’ we both exclaimed to one another, having to remind ourselves of the fact that it was January 8th in the northern hemisphere. Yep, it’s winter alright.

It’s almost like there’s something going on with the climate…!

I noticed my attention wavering and my mind spinning a little bit, pondering the changing climate, the impact that human activity is having on this planet that is home to countless species of life, feeling sad and angry. Robins are a sign of spring, dammit! These robins are a sign of something else springing.

And then my attention returned to our walk on the path, and then on the rocks, and then the beauty of the scene that we witnessed at the water’s edge. I’m so grateful for this life, for this chance to be aware of anything at all!

On our walk back to the house, I stood for a while under the trees and watched and listened to the robins, and also the Carolina wrens (another bird species whose range is expanding). They all appeared to be healthy, doing what birds – what living beings – do.

Life adapts – or not.

Then we bid a grateful farewell to our hosts and got in our fossil-fuel-burning car and made our two-and-a-half-hour drive home to prepare ourselves and our gear for a Zoom concert, to sing and play and share about our joy and awe.

And this morning, I am remembering a song I wrote a few years back:

If I can take one mindful breath
If I can take one mindful step
I may never know what kind of change the world will see
But if I can take one mindful breath
If I can take one mindful step
Then I can remember that change begins with me

May we all take mindful breaths and steps on this one beautiful planet that we share with all living beings.

‘Boring women have immaculate homes.’



It was a slogan that my mother proudly carried on a keychain, and a favorite of hers.

As this might suggest, she kept house only as necessary, i.e., when – GASP! – there were people coming over!!

Yes, the dishes were routinely done, and by hand – she often joked, ‘My dishwasher is six feet tall and has a beard’ – and the ashtrays and cat boxes were dumped and dealt with as needed, but I rarely saw her with a duster in her hand. The toilets and tubs were scrubbed ‘when they got bad’. And she certainly didn’t do windows. Old newspapers got stacked up, often for weeks or even months at a time; recycling was scattered about and put off until Dad could get to the dump on a Saturday morning.

But at the prospect of visiting company, she would become even more a bundle of nerves than she already was, hurrying around the house to catch up with the mountain of tasks that had been accumulating, vacuuming this and wiping down that, and thinking out loud the entire time.

There was one time of year when this routine, such as it was, would coalesce, and that was leading up to New Year’s.

I don’t recall anymore if it was a Scottish/British thing, or just a Mom’s family thing, but she didn’t partake in the spring cleaning tradition that so many others observe in this culture. She was instead taught by her mother that it’s bad luck to not have your housework done by New Year’s Day. So, I have lots of memories of my mother the week after Christmas, doing what was still called ‘the spring cleaning’ – windows/mopping/polishing/reorganization.

Of course, once I was old enough to carry an old rag and a bottle of Pledge, or tug a vacuum cleaner around the house, I helped out too – but my room stubbornly remained the cluttered mess that I enjoyed.

And this all had to be done by just before 7pm ET, which was when the phone on the kitchen wall would ring and my Granny on the other end would turn up the radio or TV in her living room in Scotland to transmit the midnight ringing of Big Ben over the phone line to my mom, who would stand motionless with the receiver to her ear, weeping the tears of homesickness.

This month marks 16 years since my mother’s passing, and also nearly 30 years since I moved out on my own to figure out what kind of housekeeper I would turn out to be (hint – I’m not boring).

Happy New Year, dusty or scrubbed as you are!

Coming and going.


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On this morning after Christmas, I am contemplating this quote from Joseph Goldstein:

‘It’s impossible to count on things staying the same, staying the way we want them to stay—because everything is always becoming otherwise.

On the precipice of a new calendar year, this seems especially appropriate.

And he’s right – it’s impossible. And it’s also painful.

So much of my own suffering stems from my wanting things/moments/experiences to stay the same, to grasp at the pleasant, to push away the unpleasant, to capture beauty in a jar and hold onto it for dear life. And all of this is a guaranteed strategy for unhappiness and dissatisfaction.

Here are just a few things that came and went in my awareness this past week that some part of me hoped could last forever:

  • this year’s Charlie Brown Christmas tour
  • a flock of evening grosbeaks
  • that gorgeous sunset on the solstice
  • that bag of curry-flavored popcorn
  • singing in three part harmony with few dear old friends

Of course, the flip side of all of that is a list of things that came and went that I was eager to put in the rear view mirror:

  • an argument with a loved one
  • a headache
  • my worry about the winter storm
  • my annoyance with an aggressive tailgater

Every day, every moment, I am reminded that everything that arises will pass away, including my reactions and responses to those phenomena. It is the nature of all things. It’s painful and it’s beautiful.

As the day to swap out our calendars draws near, I’m reminded also of that U2 lyric: ‘Nothing changes on New Year’s Day.’ In one sense, this is correct: a new calendar year is an invitation to reflect on the past year, to plan for the new one, to resolve to change habits. In another sense, it’s not correct – everything is changing all the time, and each day or hour or moment can be framed as the start of a new year, a new slate onto which I can write my life. I can write words of dissatisfaction and unhappiness. I can write words of gratitude and joy. I can write words that are simply observations of what is happening: I feel dissatisfied/unhappy/grateful/joyful.

However you’re feeling in this moment, I wish you a clear slate, colorful chalk, and a long and beautiful life in and about which to write.

Hark! These tired angels sing…


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‘Is my life today what I pictured a year ago?’

I had thought to write about something entirely different this morning – Christmas caroling, actually – and that built-in WordPress prompt got me thinking…

So, is it?

Sitting here at this table, looking at this laptop?

Looking past the screen at several inches of new snow through which the birds and red squirrels are now digging for their sunflower seed breakfast?

Watching the sunlight come up over the hills behind the house and light up those pines and birches just so?

Sipping the coffee that Shawn just made moments ago?

Listening to a Benny Green/Christian McBride/Gregory Hutchinson live-stream recording from earlier this year?

Feeling joyfully fatigued from another weekend on the road creating and sharing music and memories?

DAMN, this is nice.

But is it what I pictured a year ago?

Honestly, I don’t think I pictured anything too specific a year ago. I knew I was planning to be touring New England with Shawn and Craig with the Charlie Brown Christmas show. What I didn’t know for certain is that we would all have our health, our wits, and our skills intact, that we would shoulder through all the storms, literal and figurative, that we would be here at all to do any of it, and continue to deepen our connection to and love for and trust in one another. There is, of course, never any guarantee of any of that, for any one of us.

But yeah, this current moment, this frame in time, here and now? I’ll take more of this, please and thank you.

And thank you, dear reader! And Merry Christmas, Charlie Brown! And happy holidays to one and all. Whatever you celebrate – if you celebrate – I hope it brings you joy.

The gravy of gratitude.


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Anything I want to be better at – piano, guitar, singing, songwriting, cooking, birding, gratitude, mindfulness – requires practice.

I’m slowly getting better at birding. I was so excited to spot this big flock of bohemian waxwings on Thanksgiving Day up in Gorham, NH!

I’m getting pretty good at gratitude, too.

My gratitude practice used to be this: at the end of the day before bed, I’d write down a few things for which I was grateful that day on each page of a 4ishx3ish composition notebook. One little page per day.

Over time, the daily exercise moved from pencil and paper to simply contemplating these things before turning in for the night.

After years of practice, I find that, no matter how sour my mood, I can almost instantly tap into a feeling of gratitude for even the smallest thing, like, ‘I’m grateful that I’m wearing my favorite socks right now.’

I think of any skill as a delicious gravy, and my brain is the biscuit into which it is (hopefully) settling and improving.

Many of us gathered this past week around food and connection to family – and perhaps the sharing of their gratitude – on a day that is set aside for these things. Then, many of us got swept up the very next morning – with Thanksgiving dinner still in the belly – in the hustle and bustle of Black Friday, spending money on things, looking for deals, perhaps pushing past others to get this or that for this person or that person.

Many of us have gotten a lot of practice being consumers in our lives. And many of us are ‘good’ at it.

I wonder – does the skill of being a ‘good shopper’ lead to a more satisfying life? That’s a question we can each quietly ask ourselves, and then listen carefully for the answer.

I also wonder – wouldn’t it be amazing if we could, as a culture, move away from these practices of acquiring stuff and instead creating and sharing more meaningful experiences? To bring more reflective practices into every day, week, month, year, moment of our lives? To cultivate more gratitude, more sit-down meals with loved ones, more connection to one another and to our experience in each moment?

Let that gravy sink in.

Still here, still thankful.


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Winter weather suddenly arrived here this week, and with it, a flood (or a flurry, if you will?) of questions:

Where are all my gloves and hats?

Is it time for a new winter jacket?

How are my tires?

And again: Am I ready for this?

And there was another arrival this week – about a dozen evening grosbeaks, eager for food. And they’ve stuck around, too! It’s been awesome to watch them. Every day, about mid morning, they all show up, eat for a while, and then disappear.

The birds are always ready for anything, so long as they have enough to eat.

Ah hell, me too.

Yesterday marks 24 years since my father’s death. That seems impossible to me. I’ve now lived more than half my life without him. That seems impossible to me, too…

…because it is impossible.

Yes, he’s been gone physically – and though I don’t believe, as many do, that I will see him again or that he’s still with me in some metaphysical sense, I do believe – dare I say, know – that he is still right here. In half my genome. In my humor. In both my taste and ability in music. In the values I hold dear. In the mirror.

And my mother is equally still here, too, in those same places. And I thought of her immediately when those grosbeaks arrived. She loved feeding the birds, and in particular enjoyed the many grosbeaks that visited the yard when I was growing up. In my rebellion, I pretended not to notice. It wasn’t until the last couple years that I finally fell in love with the birds, too.

This week, many of us will gather with loved ones to eat too much and shoot the breeze. Every day of the year, every moment of the day, there is so much to be thankful for – family, friends, birds, memories, shelter from the cold, winter tires, home-cooked meals, even grief. Happy Thanksgiving.

Hey me! Hey you! How are we?



It’s a question I find myself asking on the regular:

Am I ready for this?

Whatever it is – prepping breakfast; tonight’s performance; writing a blog; temps in the 30s; the Friday morning phone interview; driving to Massachusetts; the first faint flakes of snow that drifted like campfire ash in the morning air; responding to a text from a friend in the hospital – I find it’s good to check in with myself, before doing anything, to ask myself with genuine curiosity and care: How are you doing?

Just asking the question can help calm any nerves or doubt I might be having. It can also bring me into closer contact with that anxiety, and by doing so, allow that anxiety to express itself in the body, and then quickly subside. I have found that it’s a helpful practice.

‘How are you?’ is a phrase so commonly uttered by most of us in initiating conversation with others that I sometimes wonder if we have lost touch with the meaning of the words.

On our long drive home from Texas recently, we stopped for the night at a cheap motel somewhere in upstate New York. I walked into the office to check in, and an elderly gentleman greeted me with a nod of his head.

I said, ‘Hello.’ He replied, in a small, gentle voice, ‘Hello.’

I asked, ‘How are you?’ – and with genuine surprise in his voice and in his raised eyebrows, he answered about an octave higher, ‘WHAT?!’

I was startled! I chuckled and asked again, ‘How are you this evening?’

He relaxed a little and smiled, nodding his head and answering in a heavy Indian accent, ‘Very well, very well, thank you.’

The shock in his ‘WHAT?!’ has stayed with me ever since.

Being genuinely curious about the well-being of ourselves and others and then expressing that curiosity is one of the simplest acts of lovingkindness that one can practice. Try it! Ask yourself – with curiosity, and with regularity – how you’re doing. And when you ask someone else how they are doing, really connect with the meaning of that phrase, with the intention behind it. You might be surprised at the answer!

The view from Mt. Junk Mail


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When you’re away for most of October in a very important election year, the mail really stacks up.

When I picked up a month’s worth this past week, I was handed a small box containing just a couple of relevant items, while the rest was a stack of campaign mailers a few inches thick.

I was quickly reminded of that image from The Onion a few years ago humorously depicting a plow truck keeping the roads clear of campaign signs.

As I was leaving the post office, I noticed one of the recycling bins in the main lobby was stuffed full of them. Plopping this mountain of mail on my passenger’s seat, I felt so astonished – and so depressed – by the amount of paper, ink, time, attention, and money devoted by each campaign to each of these mailers. By the little evidence I’d just seen, it seemed certain that very few of these mailers went out the door with their recipients. And I wonder – of those that did, how many were read or even noticed before getting tossed into the recycle bin or the wood stove? My mind zoomed out, trying to calculate all the mailboxes in my town, and county, and state… How much is any of it truly moving the needle?

So much waste. And so much sensationalism in the language. It’s exhausting!

Picking up the phone has been no solace lately, either. I’ve been receiving at least one call a day from someone named ‘Potential Spam’ or ‘No Caller ID’, no doubt wondering if or how I will vote on Tuesday.

The texts have been far more frequent. Being registered as ‘Undeclared’, I receive them from each end of the political spectrum. So-and-so is destroying America! or So-and-so will destroy America! One text urged me to text three friends right away and remind them to vote. Another one sent a slight shiver down my spine, addressing me by my name, referencing my physical address, and telling me that ‘public records suggest you may not have voted yet.’

Rest assured, spammers of the world – I plan to vote on Tuesday, because I want to live in a world in which everyone who is able to vote not only exercises that right, but who cares about that right being protected for everyone, even – especially – for those with whom we disagree.

And all the while, as the mailers and calls and texts keep arriving, I’m longing to experience the healing of divisions; the honoring of everyone’s humanity and dignity; a shared willingness to listen; the prioritizing of love and reason; a shift in every heart and mind towards kindness and compassion; widespread, unabashed acknowledgement of our interconnectedness; a commitment to right relations with this beautiful world and all who share it.

May it be so.

Planet Family.


It’s quite a word.

I don’t know where to start.

I suppose the beginning works.

The short version is: I’m the only child of a couple who moved the three of us and a few cats and dogs from Kansas to Maine, a place neither had ever seen. Regular readers and listeners of mine know most of the story already, but I’ve never really written much about what that word means to me.


Honestly? Given the context of that big move to Maine? It has always seemed like an alien world. A world of my parents’ stories and flashes of my own earliest memories. Disembodied voices arriving a few times a year from across the globe through the rotary dial phone that hung on the kitchen wall. Christmas cards with school photos of cousins tucked inside. There was a small handful of in-person visits from my Grannie and cousin Sam; my Grandpa Bill and Uncle Aeryk (the latter whom I’ve been closest since elementary school); brief convergences of other family members upon the deaths of my both my parents. Otherwise, family to me always meant: me and Mom and Dad.

When I was 18 and curious, I made a pilgrimage to Kansas to meet some Piersons. In the years since, there have been more phone calls and emails, more interactions on social media, more attempts to bridge the gaps left by time and distance.

And then one afternoon this past week, I knocked on a door in Houston that opened onto a home that had, just last year, been left a little emptier by the death of my Uncle Chuck, one of Dad’s five brothers. I hadn’t seen my Aunt Mary, nor my cousins Kyle and Chuck Jr., since I was too young to remember any of it.

And here they were. In the flesh. No longer stories or curiosities from my past.

At first (in the privacy of my own mind) I kinda freaked out. What am I doing here? I thought. I’m imposing. I’m a stranger to them. We had conversation. We had dinner. I played with the dog. I imagine we were all feeling a bit awkward and curious.

After a fitful night of sleep in their home, and some meaningful conversation over coffee the next morning, Shawn and I shoved off for errands and for our show in Galveston.

On Saturday night, Shawn and I performed in Houston, and there were some Piersons in the audience. My cousin Andrea, whom I’d also not seen since childhood, laughed, ‘All these Piersons in one room! And not for a funeral!’

And for the first time in ages, I sang lyrics that were about my folks – my family – and there were people in the audience who know the characters in the story, who know what it’s like to share a last name with folks who are scattered across the earth.

Shawn and I spent two nights in the quiet comfort of my Uncle Aeryk’s house, reconnecting and sharing laughter and curiosity and sorrow.

In the hours and days since, I’ve been recalling something my friend Alfred once said to me: ‘There is the family you are born into, and then there is the family that you choose. Sometimes there’s overlap.’

And then I’ve also been thinking, Aren’t we all family? All 7 billion of us?

May we all find ourselves in the nourishing company of those we can call family.

Up a not-so-lazy river.


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Rivers have loomed large this past week in my awareness. As Shawn and I made our way down to Texas from our last gig with Davy in the D.C. area, we made a brief stop in Memphis to pay homage to the history of that city. We walked up and down Beale Street, taking in the sights and sounds (such as they were on a Wednesday afternoon); the names of the many legends on the Brass Notes Walk of Fame; the starkness of W.C. Handy’s little shotgun house; the overt influence that New Orleans had (and surely still has) on that place.

When we arrived in Memphis, it was a hot and sunny afternoon. After we’d been exploring for a while, the sky in the west grew very dark with a coming storm. We got back to our car in the nick of time and drove ourselves and our lunch in a downpour to a park that overlooks the Mississippi, where I took this week’s photo.

As we sat in the car and ate and looked out through the storm, I imagined the many folks in another time who made their way up that mighty river, landing and settling and filling the city with their music and their customs and whatever else they could carry with them on those riverboats.

This past week, there’s been a lot of rain back home in NH and ME, and the lazy rivers of home have been raging and swelling beyond their banks and boundaries, tumbling over the very rocks that have shaped them, and that will continue to be shaped in return.

I’ve also been thinking of the many folks in Fort Myers along and at the mouth of the Caloosahatchee, who will be cleaning up from the devastation there for a very long time to come.

Drop by drop, everything will eventually be carried to the sea, to the place from which all life on our beautiful Earth home originated. Isn’t it awesome to be able to experience any sliver of it in the meantime?