i lived in florida. merely 14 miles from the gulf of mexico. for eight plus years. yet, i can count the number of times i went to the beach while i lived there. likely on two hands. i spent more time on the gulf before living there and after living there. just not during.
as a teenager and young adult i was at the north shore all the time. biking there, vw-ing there, boating, diving, fishing, walking, climbing the fence to take sunrise pictures – winter, spring, summer, fall. all the time.
in recent years i’ve yearned for the days on those long island beaches. and, though they are remarkably beautiful and warm and sunny and tan-producing (definitely not important anymore), i can’t really say the same for the florida beaches. i don’t find myself pining for them.
maybe it’s just my history with them. or, perhaps, the lack thereof.
the other day we went to the beach. on lake michigan. we walked and walked for a couple of hours, searching for hagstones and paintable flat rocks. then we settled down on a big log of driftwood in soft sand and sat and watched the waves. we wished we had a picnic lunch with us and a good book. it was that kind of day. the only thing that drove us out was hunger.
but we’ll go back, because the beauty of that beach was powerful.
when you live with someone who also likes to walk, you will walk anywhere. strolling in the ‘hood, hiking on the trail, trolling for stones on the beach. it’s the thing we do when all else stops – all work, all tasks. it’s the thing we do when we want all else to stop – all wistfulness, all thought, all worry, all out-and-out angst.
it’s funny to me that there was this big chunk of my life when i wasn’t walking, wasn’t hiking. just like this big chunk of my life when i wasn’t going to the beach – to stare at the waves, to watch gulls swoop and dive in the wind, to find the gifts of the air and the water – tuning into soul and energy, soothing and healing.
i’ve pondered, before, what would have happened had i walked. now i ponder what would have happened had i gone to the beach.
the chicago botanic garden spring field guide arrived. a really beautiful small magazine of images and quotes and information, i have kept it nearby to peruse from time to time. on the last page – under a stunning close-up photograph of the bud of an orange tulip poised to open – are the words “thank you for helping us thrive.” the text goes on to express appreciation for members who “allow our community of plants and people to flourish.” without members and their support, the garden would falter. instead, they are thriving. “come alive this spring at the garden,” they encourage.
there are moments – as an artist – that you feel truly alive…even more than other moments.
the moment the theatre audience stands at the end of your concert. and – maybe even more – the moment of hush at the beginning when first sitting at the piano, boom mic poised.
the moment – performing in the glaring sunlight on a flatbed trailer or in the artificial light of a wholesale or retail show – people come to the very edge of the flatbed or the edge of your booth to tell you that your music has comforted them in a time of sorrow or has accompanied them in a time of joy.
the moment you open email to find a message – someone has taken precious time to write to you – that says, “our favorite piece of yours came on dish radio and we danced!”.
the moment someone orders twenty copies of a cd to give to all their family members.
the moment someone writes to comment on the many-many words you have penned.
the moment someone comments on your cartoon “i can relate.”
the moment someone says, “you have no idea how much of an impact you make.”
that is true. we actually don’t. have any idea.
it is with an abundance of gratitude that i think of anyone who has supported my – and our – creative work in the world: purchasing cds or tracks or tickets to a concert, forwarding a blogpost or cartoon, hanging a painting, sending us a written card or a virtual coffee. you have helped us thrive.
when you wear the shoes of an artist, you are not necessarily aware of any dent in the air you have made. you are not aware of the seeds of thought or questions or perhaps, hopefully, goodness that are scattered in concentric circles or in the breeze around or after you.
this minute magazine is full of inadvertent wisdom.
“love in bloom” is the garden’s initiative june 3 – september 24. magnolias and redbuds, tulips and shooting stars, azaleas and irises start off the spring. “blooms aplenty.”
you’re an artist and you know that your life is different; it lacks the security – particularly financial security – of others’ lives. the moment you look at the total bill for one of your full-length recordings you are reminded. the moment you open your meager royalty checks – in these days of online streaming – you are reminded. the moments you ponder what’s next. you are encouraged by people to make another album, author a book, produce more cartoons, yet you know that any of these are without the good heart-and-mind-fertilizer of solid footing, as there is no promised return on your dedication or time or that vulnerability that comes with the territory. yet, i stand next to my piano and ponder the scraps of songs, i linger over the keyboard of my macbook, wordsmithing manuscript, i lay out the next smack-dab and write the next blogpost. blooms aplenty. yes. asking for help? not so much.
“we hope you find inspiration in the brilliance of spring,” on a page listing 80,500 bulbs planted-last-fall.
you’re an artist. and you hope there is inspiration – even an incandescent filmy thread – in your work.
“the woods are a recovery story of resilience and bouncing back…” writes the managing ecologist, woodlands.
the albums, blogs, manuscripts, paintings, cartoon strips – all recovery stories of resilience and bouncing back. we – artists – are on tiny trampolines in the world, trying.
“consider making a gift so that we can protect and celebrate the natural world for many seasons to come,” rounds out the garden’s “thank you for helping us thrive” message.
share. pass on. join. follow. gift. donate. purchase. download. consider coffee. consider being a patron to an artist – of any medium – who helps you move from one day to another, one season to another.
“discover the world of spring ephemerals. the garden’s mcdonald woods…ephemeral wildflowers make their brief appearance.”
we – artists – are ephemeral wildflowers, making a brief appearance in this universe, ready for anyone who wishes to catch a glimpse, to share in the synergy of our art.
“in years with little to no spring rain, ephemerals produce fewer flowers and less seed, which can impact their ability to bounce back in future years….if plants are healthy enough and if they have the right natural disturbances such as fire, they are resistant to annual variability in the weather and can adapt to longer-term climate change.”
“i want to know if you will stand in the fire with me and not shrink back.”(oriah mountain dreamer)
we – ephemeral artists on our tiny trampolines – need the rain. we need the fire. we need you to stand in the fire with us. we need your help.
at the front corner of my growing-up yard on long island was a forsythia bush. and many years, at the march of my birthday, i remember having my picture taken there. home. spring. there are few things that make me think of Home like forsythia does.
except for maybe the voice of my beloved daughter on the phone. she is forsythia for me. for just moments or for an extended conversation or – if i am fortunate – in person together, the sound of her voice, her zeal, is Home.
and except for watching the way my beloved son immerses himself in his music. his hands – now all-grown-up man-hands – moving dials and sliders, his voice and body dancing, his explanations – it’s forsythia for me. Home.
and except for the look across the room from david – the moment he touches his hand to his chest while in his gaze – forsythia. Home.
and dogga – at the door with his angel-babycat greeting me – thrilled, once again, to see us. forsythia. Home.
and the love and care and concern that are abundant in our lives – our family, our friends. forsythia. Home.
and the work we have chosen to do – create – music, paintings, many-many words, cartoons. forsythia. Home.
the may apples stood on risers in the forest, singing to spring, singing to any audience who might be there, singing their glorious song. just like a choir. unified. united. elated to be in harmony. creating four-part jubilation to be alive. making music.
the singtolive choir stood on risers in the sanctuary of the beautiful church, directly in front of the organ pipes. their joy was palpable and, if i closed my eyes as they sang their program of the great american songbook, i could imagine the record albums of my parents playing and the choirs of 33rpm singing into our living room. they were cohesive and gently exploring the expanse of the songs chosen for the evening. and then, at the end of the concert – this concert dedicated to breast cancer survivorship – the singers left the risers and came out to stand among us, the audience.
to say that their last song was touching would be an understatement. a trademark of this marvelous group, why we sing was exquisitely performed. we all had eye contact with singers surrounding us. you could feel hearts swelling and tears forming. they delivered this emotional piece like no other preceding it in the program. i whispered to david, “this is the stuff.”
there is a lot of choir music ‘out there’. for the decades of my career as a minister of music, i was shipped an enormous number of catalogs, of listings, of cds with samples of songs. and then, there were charts to study, trends in music. and then, arrangements and reviewing lyrics and the range of my singers – in note as well as in degree of difficulty. i reviewed all this music always seeking that which would resonate, that which would help a person’s heart and mind connect with their faith, with the questions they had in this world, with good intentions and their community. it’s not a small responsibility to choose that which a choir – any choir, any worship band, any ukulele band, any choral ensemble – will sing in public – no matter the venue.
heidi and i stood in front of thousands of people through the time we worked together, performing “celebrate sweet life” – our breast cancer survivorship programs. with audiences of 35,000 in new york’s central park to hundreds in a medical center to a few thousand in the chicago sun with lance armstrong’s tour of hope to a more intimate group in pjs at md anderson to sharing a long island stage with hillary clinton to oncology pharmaceutical sales conference in puerto rico, it was our privilege to share messages – of hope, of healing, of making a difference for each other, of being alive – with audiences all over the country.
there is a video from one of our performances that touches me each time i see it. it is a bit blurry, not captured with the best of equipment. yet, at the end, as the audience has risen to their feet, there is a man in the foreground. as heidi speaks her last words and i sing the last lyrics of one of my songs, this man wipes at his eyes, stirred. and each time – no matter how many times i have viewed this – i am profoundly moved.
the may apples – gleeful in their rising out of the eradicated forest, now clear of invasives and plants with ill intent – stand proudly. they are furled at first and one might think they are quiet, meek, hiding. but as the sun warms them they arise. they will give their performance their all, joining together as one umbrella of green. the trillium will watch in the forest as audience members. and then, pure white flowers will form under the may apple parasols. and the trillium will turn to each other and whisper.
in the moments of performances under my choir baton or concert stages under my feet, there has been nothing quite like thinking that someone out there is whispering to the person next to them, “this is the stuff.”
it is likely the heron’s. we have seen a couple together out there – gliding through the marshland, standing regally by the side of the pond, walking sedately. we hiked past the downy feather, that had likely fallen from where down is hidden beneath the heron’s outer feathers, and i went back, the talcum powder white capturing my attention on the trail. sometimes i pick up feathers – to keep them, beautiful signs of divine and freedom and flight. i left this one on the trail, tucked between the pine and the cone, its texture begging notice.
under the outer layer of my straight hair is an unruly curly layer. the days i do not blow-dry my hair, i am banana-curled, little-orphan-annie-curled, a combo-platter-no-real-sense curled. i personally have found it annoying. most women desire hair which they do not have – a different kind of hair – a different color – a different texture, thickness, bounce, volume. it is the way of this society.
instyle magazine did an entire month of articles on women and their hair. i read the initial article from 2018 and, frankly, found it somewhat entertaining. the most common uniting hair complaint is frizz, which, i must say, i have complained about a time or two. d has trouble understanding frizz as he is a non-frizz-haired guy (incidentally, with better hair than me – which doesn’t seem quite hair-fair). regardless, hair has become a tool of empowering for women, especially in this nation.
according to what i read, we can be flushed with excitement or nervous as all get-out, challenged beyond our perceived limits or drudging our way through the day – but, if our hair looks good, we feel good, no matter.
i wonder if the heron – in its elegant wisdom and intuition – has concerned itself with its feathers. or has it just simply concerned itself with its basic needs, its instinctual movements and rituals, its patterns and place in nature. is it thinking about its frizzy down feathers? i suspect not. compare that with the reported 81% of human women who feel more confident if their hair looks great.
according to the majority of human women – none of the hair products out there reeeeally work. everything promises to de-frizz, de-curl, celebrate the curl, straighten, give volume, grant sheen, untangle, combat thinning, retain moisture, eliminate split ends, make it bounce, make it stay still, give a hairstyle hold. but nope, none of it really works.
if you add perimenopause, menopause and post-menopause to the hair equation, you are faced with a variety pack of even more hair concerns. for me, that means that – despite all my deliberate blowdrying intentions for straightening my hair, the instant a hotter-than-hot hot flash swings by, i am frizzed. drippy hot, frizzed and curled – definitely not a jennifer aniston hair look.
“in order to cool their body temperature, great blue herons will partially extend and droop their wings and open their mouths while fluttering their throat muscles. much like dogs panting, this helps cool their body through evaporation. this behavior is called gular fluttering.”(nps.gov) the innate wisdom of the heron – gular fluttering. who knew?
so…if you see me – curly hair askew sneaking out from under a few straightened hairs trying to hold on to their straight – fluttering my throat muscles (is this synonymous with talking too much in humans???) – you will know i am post-yet-another-hot-flash and am channeling my internal great blue heron. please don’t comment on my hair.
there are days that the clouds form lower elevation mountains along the horizon and you are certain that land is not far away.
there are days that clouds – skybluepink, puffy white, ominous grey – float by, high in the sky or dipping down into the camera lens, and land – on the other side of lake michigan – is nowhere to be seen.
it depends on the day. it depends on conditions. it depends on tiny atmospheric changes. “air can reach saturation point [forming clouds] in a number of ways.” (noaa.gov)
we are reading john denver’s autobiography. it is a perfect example of all the conditions aligning for clouds to form, a perfect example of the fragility of saturation point. in a series of miniscule decisions, moments, meetings blessed by timing, john denver is catapulted into success. we are almost halfway through, reading aloud and relishing it. john’s music, his messages, his work in the world – most definitely crystals in the atmosphere.
we returned the measure to the library. we didn’t finish it. i look at the stack of books next to my side of the bed and realize that it is not necessarily a light-fiction-time for me, though i am quite sure there might be exceptions and i know that there are profound novels, deeply rich. this bedside stack is non-fiction, informative, questioning. it wasn’t that the measure didn’t seem a good read. it was more that it didn’t hold me, my attention. after the first couple days of blanketed-both-ends-of-the-couch reading snippets as there was time, the book sat atop the throw and just waited and – then – became overdue. the quarters accumulated for a few days and i thought we’d sit down to finish it, but we never did. eventually, we mutually decided to bring it back. and then we talked about it on the trail…why it didn’t seem to appeal to us right now.
i suppose there are times in life when all you need is a giant stack of romance novels or mysteries. maybe those times are periods of comfort – skybluepink times – when you are freer to languish, freer to relax into life. these are the times when you don’t see any horizon – the lake is endless and there are no looming summits to climb.
and then, there are other times in life – when escape would seeeem like a good idea – when, instead, the books you choose are steeped in reality, steeped in others’ challenges and successes, telling stories of grit and fortitude and good luck and the help and support of others, the stories of getting-there. the books ask questions you might ponder in sorting out next or the books outline ways to approach that which you are facing down. non-fiction is more of a unpredictable day out there over the lake, getting unexpectedly sopped by rain, seeing mountains to climb on the other side, wondering if the sun will ever shine.
john denver wrote, “i’d learned that powerful songs are powerful not because they’re pretty or bouncy or funny, but because they’re about the human condition and what we all aspire to; i’d learned those were the songs i loved.”
a pretty sky – or song or book – doesn’t hurt – in fact, it can fill one with much contentment. but only pretty skies could be suffocating. we need the rest – all the atmospheric conditions to really feel the yin-yang spectrum, to know we are truly living, to be reminded of how crystals in the sky are formed and to know the sun is shining – regardless.
and the snow fell gently in the woods, rendering it muted, like the tones of ansel adams’ pine forest, snow.
it was breathtakingly beautiful.
snowflakes slid from the sky, landing on our faces, our eyelashes, our hats and scarves and coats.
everything slowed – a 78rpm record playing at 33.
stretched out into slow motion, we stood and gazed up into the trillions of perfect flakes.
and, in the way of water – a balm, worries washed away and all that was left was peace. achingly gorgeous, we stayed in it, in the serene, a cloud, unwilling to leave the soft-focus-world moments, the snow sanctuary.
“know that the universe is always conspiring in our favor.” (paulo coelho)
and in the way that getaways slip into the wind, i know that this one will as well. time spent in the snowy up-north will slowly peel off and fly, seeds for the next time, the next few-days-away, the next memories.
this weekend we’ll have dinner with our son. he owns a new home – his first – and this will be our first actual viewing of it. i can’t wait! time spent with our adult children flies all too fast. already it’s been six months since i have seen our daughter; already it will be three months since we saw our son. their lives are busy and active and they are not in the same town. their homes have been anywhere from an-hour-and-a-half to twenty-seven hours away. it takes time and planning. and life is full of things – many things, for all of us – that take time and planning.
in what will feel waytoofast, our time spent together will zoom by. visiting and catching up and doing the yes-of-course-i’m-staring-at-you-i’m-your-mother will be followed quickly by goodbyes at the door and me, as ever, wiping happy (and wistful) tears as we drive away. and the tiny layers that comprise this time will feather, drifting into air streams where our mind searches for details and they are just a little further out than we can reach.
the wind brushes past us and time passes in its grasp. we – as ever – attempt to hold its filmy contrails, but time and vapor cannot be held. they are part of the wind that swirls and we simply are witnesses to its magic. we experience, we create memories, we stand next to those memories and gaze back as time’s half-life multiplies before our eyes. on friday, we are astounded by a long week’s end. on our 60th birthday, we are astounded by the six decades. as we sit at our child’s table, we are astounded by their maturity and place in the world, their mark.
we – and the stars – float in the basket of the hot air balloon of the universe and – if we are wise enough – glory that we are part of it.
and – up close – if you choose – you will see the foreleg of a winter-dressed pony, the extra cold-weather-coat trapping hair next to the skin of the horse, keeping him warmer. he is stopped, gazing at the distant field, ready to canter into it, the exploding of freedom of movement.
and you blink and it is a cattail. one of many in the field, waiting in the marsh through autumn and winter for early spring. as many as 250,000 seeds, white fluff sailing and transported by birds and breezes. and the life cycle continues.
it is winter in my studio. the rhizomes are gathering underground, together with the cattails. maybe around the spring equinox, maybe a bit later, the shoots will rise out of the ground – like a phoenix out of ashes – and new sprouts will grow and grow. the cycle germinates and pollinates and seeds will fly again. the birds and the wind and i will play for you – seeds and notes flying.
in the meanwhile, i wear my winter coat. it is keeping the heat in. it protects me. insulation for shelter in this long and cold winter, to shield in the storms, to brace in this fallow.
but soon, soon, with the sun and fresh air, the pony will run free.
we saved an article last sunday: “the best waterfall in every u.s. state”. from alabama to wyoming, we scrolled through to see how many waterfalls we had seen. there were aggressive falls and double falls, falls that trickled from natural springs and, of course, niagara falls. we have missed many. like the articles about the best small towns or best places to retire, it’s all about dreaming. a list of waterfalls.
we hike or walk many miles each week, either on the weekend or squeezed into the rest of the sun at the end of the weekday. yesterday and the day before we noticed a tiny waterfall on our trail. it didn’t make it to the list of “the best” but it gave us pause and we stopped to watch and listen. the sound of a trickling stream, the sound of a minute waterfall…both unquestionably sounds of peaceful flow. we drank it in. we stood together in a silent, still dance.
as i looked at the list of waterfalls, it occurred to me that it is not likely i will ever see all of them. there is much on our bucket lists and, though i can appreciate – very much – adding this list into the bucket, i also know that it’s not the award-winning, the listed, that will always touch us.
the best waterfalls – for me – haven’t been the grandiose waterfalls. though i can appreciate their grandeur, it is the waterfall you stumble upon in the woods, the waterfall that shows up just when you needed a waterfall, the waterfall that will never make the list that negative-ions you into a feeling of well-being.
when i was in my thirties and composing i started to dream. in my forties – composing, recording, performing – i was headed to niagara in my dreams. sometimes i’d watch the grammys and wonder. but the smaller waterfalls – despite their beauty, despite their ability to resonate or to bring peace, despite the number of times on “repeat” – will not likely show up at the grammys. nevertheless, they have fault-in-our-stars impact. even to one.
charts – the top 100, say – are compiled by detecting the songs played on a select panel of top40 radio stations. this is not objective, nor is it not machinated. many, many integrated, financial and complex symbiotic relationships go into the positioning of a song, the charting of a song. “the best songs” lists beget “the best songs”.
back in 2002 – waaaay back…up the waterfall, upstream, backaways – one of my songs charted on the secondary adult contemporary radio chart. “slow dance” made it up to #13. i was inordinately thrilled but, like many things, it did not come without a price tag. the radio promoter was steep, not to mention a little slimy. it’s a system and, at least back then, those guys had it wired. it wasn’t long before i realized that the charting did not help. it quickly flowed over the riverstones, past the boulders at the peak of the cliff and dropped – the waterfall never stopping for pause.
i don’t necessarily need to see the “best waterfall in every u.s. state”. instead, i think i’d rather see the ones that will invariably touch me, will give me moments to stop and drink them in. i’d rather see the ones that go mostly undiscovered. for even in their relative obscurity they are a gift and they count.