Sometimes coffee is the day’s glue.
That is all.
A Javan Rhino and an Amur Leopard sat next to each other atop a steep grassy bank, gazing out over the vast muddy river as it slid inexorably from left to right. Dead though the grass was, it felt soft beneath Leopard’s bum. He stretched and flexed his claws, taking pleasure in the anchoring sensation as they pierced down into the dirt.
The sky overhead had gotten nearly as yellow as the grass; the few faint wisps of cloud were almost indistinguishable from the daily parade of smoke and fumes and soot. From far beyond the horizon, just at the edge of earshot, Leopard more felt than heard a series of chest-deep thumps followed by what he thought might have been many dozens of howls, perhaps screams.
He flattened his ears back. “Rhinoceros, my friend, something has been bugging me of late.”
“Something has been bugging me, too,” Rino yawned, ears flicking in annoyance at the relentless flies that were buzzing around her head. “And I told you, call me ‘Rhino’. We are beyond formalities, now. Everyone is.”
The yawn was contagious, and felt good to Leopard. When his relatively youthful fangs and pink palate were again hidden from view, he growled a growl that was not half as serious as the worried look in his eyes. “Fine. Rhino.”
The water oozed past, appearing almost as lifeless as the grass.
“Well? Speak, child.”
“I’m not a child anymore, remember? I’m an adult.”
“Speak, adult,” the rhinoceros corrected herself.
Leopard balked, suddenly unsure of how to word what had been on his mind over the past hours, days, weeks, months, slowly building, slowly accumulating like piles or ash or plaque.
Rhino, all wise eyes and wrinkles, glanced sideways at the young leopard, but said nothing. After a while, she returned her attention to trying to land the perfect ear-flick in the hope that it might drive off at least one of her insectile aggressors for good.
“I guess….” Leopard trailed off, then began again. “See, okay. So, what’s been on my mind is this: If the world’s ending, then… well, then what’s the point, right?”
“What’s the point in what?” Rhino turned to stare into the young feline’s eyes.
“In anything. In doing anything, I mean.”
“You mean if the world’s ending, then nothing we do will be completed, so what is the point in even trying. Right?”
Leopard nodded, feeling a mixture of relief and moroseness at having finally given voice to the angst that had been plaguing him for so many sleepless nights.
Rhino nodded and returned her gaze to the far horizon. “Well, I guess it comes down to what you are.”
“What I am?”
“Yes. What you are. We are what we do, are we not?”
Leopard shook his head. “Sure. So they say.”
“And therefore, if you do nothing, you are nothing. So why not continue to be something for as long as you possibly can?”
“So you’re saying I should keep working? Keep on doing stuff? Even though everything is so absolutely fucked?” Leopard growled. Some of his irritation stemmed from the growing ache of hunger in his belly, but only some of it.
“Indeed, Daniel Jackson. We are what we do. And so the best we can do is to keep doing and therefore being the things we love. To keep on striving forward, keep on hoping, keep on working toward a better future. A better world.”
Leopard contemplated this for a long minute. During that time, at least two bodies floated past, and possibly a third, though he couldn’t be sure; the limbs, if limbs they were, were horribly scorched. “Okay, but then what about when the end comes? Because it’s coming. I can feel it. I can smell it.” He supressed what would have been a much too kitten-like whimper.
“Well, child… adult, I mean… if the end does come, then we die falling forward rather than backward. We die doing what we do; we die as we have lived: We die ourselves. We die in hope; we die in love. And in so doing, we are that. And that, in the end, is better than the alternative of not having tried at all. See?”
“Okay,” Leopard nodded, lifting his eyes again from the oily river to the distant horizon. “So, you’re saying I shouldn’t give up. I should just keep on going, regardless of what is coming.”
“What might be coming, yes,” she soothed.
“Okay. Thank you.”
Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve learned a few things.
I finally learned what it’s like to be sick with Covid. I also experienced first-hand, again, just how difficult it is to get a doctor’s appointment these days.
I learned that there actually are limits to the imagination, and that they can be felt most keenly while staring blankly at a computer screen after having been up all night racked by wave after debilitating wave of coughing fits.
I learned that “Comfortably Numb” can be introduced with a minor jig and sung in 6/8.
I learned that a trumpet can be played through a flashlight.
I learned that the pick-up in my guitar is a piece of crap. But then I always suspected that.
I learned that gravity is still gravity, but wounded pride can heal.
I learned that some people are greedy, selfish, and brazen.
I learned that some people are generous, kind, and considerate.
I learned that hot toddies taste best when you get the balance right between honey, lemon, whiskey, and cloves.
I learned that a bit of soy can take homemade egg-drop soup to the next level.
I learned that people do care, after all.
I learned that chocolate is at least as yummy today as it was yesterday.
I learned that the world is still turning, and that life goes on.
I learned that tomorrow is a new day.
What have you learned recently? :-)
Like most people, I learned in school that water covers more than seventy percent of the Earth’s surface. Having spent most of my life far from big lakes and oceans, however, I tend to think of the surface of our planet as being made up of mostly land. This is a subconscious image, and not one based on logic. It’s simply that when you aren’t often exposed to all that blue and grey and white and green of infinite water, vast though it is in reality, cannot compete with the trees and soil and roads and buildings and mountains of your normal surrounds when it comes to claiming real estate among the everyday images and thoughts in your mind. Now, out here in the middle of the South Pacific, having travelled for days in a straight line without any sight of land whatsoever, I can see just how faulty and inaccurate my mindscape has been.
I saw a rainbow this morning, forming in the sun off the tiniest of rainclouds. Had I not seen the curtains of rain with my own eyes, I’d have thought the cloud too small to bear enough water to precipitate. The swath of colour vanished before I could get a good photo of it.
As I stare into the endless waves—for until they dry up, which hopefully will be never, then they truly are endless—my imagination kicks into gear, conjuring up all sorts of deep sea monsters and googly things and underwater vistas. What is down there? Here, not all that far from the deepest trenches on Earth, what exists, still undiscovered? What continues to evade human notice, despite our very advanced gadgets and methods of perception? I hope with all my heart that the answer is, a lot.
We humans own too much, and thus take the world for granted. We have catalogued, and now monitor and control, far too much. And thus, we feel entitled in our knowledge. Just because we can do something does not mean we always should. We have seen, learned, and mastered so much that we have become arrogant.
And so yes, I do wonder what all is down there in the darkest depths of the ocean, as well as out there in the darkest depths of space. But part of me desperately hopes we never find out—or, at least, that this version of ourselves never finds out. Because with our current state of humanity, there’s a lot of ugliness and selfishness in us that we must either learn to eliminate or keep chained up. At the same time, there’s a lot of beauty in us to nurture, but it’s been obfuscated. Do we therefore, as we are now, deserve to learn more? To glimpse more? To see the depths, the last remaining wild places that have not yet been ruined by our greed?
Perhaps we can see some, but not all. I think we should spread the love; leave the rest of those wild spaces for something else to enjoy. Something, or things, non-human.
Which brings me to an interesting question: Does restraint go against our nature? Or only against habit? Is it our fundament to explore, to probe, to know, to grasp—and thereby, subsequently, to control, own, and eventually destroy? Or is that but a habit carved from eons of adaptation, the sole goal of which used to be to survive? Is the fight—the struggle to conquer and tame and survive and, indeed, the desire to thrive—hard-wired in us? Or can we learn to take stock and say, “Okay, we have beaten our once ‘hostile’ environment; we have conquered nature—the beasts, the elements, the great oceans, even most of the microbial lifeforms that constantly seek footholds in our bodies—so, is it now safe to change our mode of being? Change it to something, both in outlook and behaviour, that is far less—not only less, but far less—destructive, confrontational, belligerent, possessive, pigheaded, and arrogant?”
Sorry, pigs. I really don’t think there’s anything wrong with your heads. I have rather less faith in my own; “human-headed” should be the derogatory term, in all fairness.
If this obsession with having it all, exploring every last corner of the universe in order to conquer, possess, and control it, and so on, is hard-wired, then perhaps we really are a pestilence that does not deserve to make it through its own cesspool of greed and destructive (including self-destructive) trajectories.
If, however, this is a habit that can be curbed, a learned behaviour that can be amended and reversed, and if we not only have the capacity to change but can develop the actual collective will to do so, then there is a future for humanity. A place in the world, maybe even amongst the starts, albeit a limited place. Not a foothold, but a perch; not a launching point for more expansion and blight, but a society in better—much better—harmony with itself and its surrounds.
I am not advocating that we stop exploring or stop learning. I am saying that we must learn to become generous observers rather than selfish destroyers. We are not the only beings hoping to see tomorrow, after all. It’s time we learned to share.
Disclaimer: I tested positive for covid today and am feeling like rat shit. Please pardon any typos or confusing wording / sentence structure. Rather than proofread the above, I think I’m going to go take a nap. Stay healthy folks.
Also: If you like what you see on this blog, please feel free to sign up to the mailing list at the top (or bottom) of the page. I won't spam your email, I promise. You'll get occasional announcements (like, once every month or two, tops), about things like my upcoming novel release etc. Thank you :-)
“Only in America can you survive a mass shooting and go and make a friend who is the victim of a mass shooting and then go to meet that friend for lunch … and end up in the middle of another mass shooting event.” -- Ashbey Beasley, mother, and survivor of the Highland Park parade shooting (and now the Nashville Covenant School shooting).
Only in America indeed. 2+2=4, folks. If it walks and quacks like a duck, it’s a fricking duck. America has a PROBLEM, a disease, and that disease is the culture and tolerance of gun support and the fact that guns are WAY too easy to obtain. Period.
I was just going to post a black square for this week’s blog post, but the background is black and I couldn’t be stuffed changing it. So I posted the above instead. If I’ve offended you with what I’ve written, then your heart is in the wrong place, and you need to: Wake up. Find some compassion. And seek change; don’t bury your head back in the sand.
You have one place to live – this Earth – so do what you can to make it better and safer for all.
Have a good week.
Today we travelled from the Pink River to Deception Lake via a shortcut. Yesterday a warm front moved in, temporarily breaking the past week’s relatively hot, clear-blue-sky weather with some showers. I gashed my shin on a rock while dragging the canoe.
This morning we had a late but quick start; got breakfast in our bellies, broke camp, and packed the canoes in record time. We’re starting to get a system down. The first stretch was hard, up about a mile or so of very windy lake-like river, against the waves, though they weren’t quite as bad as those monsters on Wathaman Lake. We’ve been paddling against a south wind ever since Wathaman, in fact; it sucks.
We found the narrow spot in the high ridge separating Apex Lake and the Pink River, and after Brian & Jed scouted it, we decided it was doable. We took the packs first, leaving the canoes and other stuff where we’d beached them.
Here is the portage:
About 150 feet of boulders, then through spaced Jack Pines and Labrador Tea bushes until we reached a small pond with a cascade bubbling into it. No trails, of course; haven’t seen a human-made trail for over a week, since Reindeer Lake. We bushwacked around the right side of the pond and up a long, steep hill to a mossy rock crest—and boom, we discovered a moose trail. Too bad it was going the wrong direction.
Then it was a short, downhill, carefully controlled stumble with our still too-heavy packs through pines and cushy moss to the edge of a creek, which we put our feet in and walked through as the cold wet slippery path of least resistance through a big thicket of birches; then out and across another short boulder field to a beaver damn on Apex Lake [Note: While I was typing this from the handwritten journal entry, I did a double-take; indeed, my seventeen-year-old self spelled dam as “damn”. I’d chuckle but the subconscious mistake makes total sense, given how exhausted and irritable I probably was after that long slog!]
I carried the canoe most of the way, but then swapped off and Jed took it through the final boulder field. I was worried but he didn’t fall this time. Greg did, though; he fell with his canoe on top of Jed in the little brook on the other side, but they were both okay, thank luck. A twisted ankle out here would leave us seriously fucked. I think this might be the most remote part of our circuit, or close to it. I’m going to ask Brian in the morning.
It was a good crash portage, as crash portages go.
Apex Lake is about 21 meters higher than our last campsite on the Pink. Got hit by a fierce wind from a rain shower that caused a white wall of whitecaps to form and approach way fast from across the lake, so we made for cover. We were wind-bound for T.L. [T.L. = “trail lunch”] Had bannock with M&Ms. Hit the spot. The baker’s choc looked like someone had sat on each piece with a bare butt.
We paddled to the end of Apex Lake where the map showed a small creek flowing into Deception Lake, but all we found was a bog. So we portaged. I took a pack first, then came back and carried a canoe the whole way (half a mile). Through a big long stretch of the way, the moss was so thick and bouncy Dave started saying in a weird Kermit the Frog voice, “anal fungus boing boing!!!”, over and over, so that’s what we called the portage: The Anal Fungus Boing-Boing Portage. We also pinned the personal [I don’t remember what “the personal” was. Perhaps the name of one of the packs? The one with personal effects in it? It’s been too many years; I can’t recall.] with the name, “The Dung Beast”.
I paddled as Brian’s bowman across a few miles of Apex Bay in Deception Lake, a narrow arm of it. Went through a bunch of reeds that towered five feet high out of the water. Heard and saw a pair of loons in the waves beyond. It rained on us as we paddled; there were scattered showers all day.
I asked Brian about clouds. He’s very knowledgeable. He majored in sociology, ecology, and something else… botany?... at that college in Ashland, what’s-it-called [Ashland College], outside of Duluth. He grew up in Chicago though. He’s also lived and studied in Maine and in Seattle. He has this great story about climbing the Tacoma Bridge in Seattle and getting busted for it, but hey he got an amazing photo of the sunset from the top of one of the suspension cables.
We passed a rock with two seagulls standing on it, waiting out the rain apparently. It finally stopped, and the sun made a brilliant double rainbow. We saw an eagle playing in the wind, high up so he was silhouetted against the color bands. “Skaggs” (low, puffy clouds that cruise along the ground) also passed across the rainbows, and I was amazed and gawking. Wish I could have taken pictures. The sky was absolutely remarkable....
The sun got low, with thunderheads far off in every direction, and all this glorious light streamed across the maze of Deception Lake. We found a site and made spaghetti under the tarp, and watched the sun do its slow, shallow, midnight slant of a sunset. It took a long time but we just kept watching. Too tired to talk, so we all just sat there in silence. I felt a bit withdrawn anyway. It was very cold. I just read a bit of Coucy and am turning my light out now to get some Zs. [I can’t recall what Coucy was. Some author? Goodness, I’m losing my memory. But then again, this all happened thirty-two years ago....]
The old woman lifted her eyes to the horizon, but I had the distinct feeling she was gazing far beyond it, way deep into years past. For a long moment, they had a hint of worry in them, perhaps over the approaching weather or something much more personal, but then her usual folds of cheerful calm tucked whatever that had been right back out of sight.
Across the Wind River valley, the snow-splotched shoulders of the Absarokas rolled northward into the wilds of my imagination. I was sure there were grizzlies out there. And moose, and golden eagles. And bighorn sheep, too, probably. And perhaps things even stranger; things not often seen. Things ancient and dangerous—perhaps humanoid but not human, or maybe even some that were entirely bodiless.
After the silent moment was over, a mischief pulled up at one corner of Dot’s mouth. She leaned forward, elbows propped on the knees of her jeans with age-spotted fingers steepled, and glanced sidelong at me and my brother. “Okay, young cousins, here’s one not even your dad has heard before.”
Intrigued, my father—Dot’s first cousin—pursed his lips and hunkered down in a similar posture, the front feet of his camp chair grinding into the dry dirt. Unconsciously, my brother and I followed suit, as though pulled by invisible draw strings right into the landscape of Dot’s memory. My mother chuckled her good-humoured chuckle and sank back into her chair with arms folded and eyes closed, smiling face upturned to the warmth of the morning sun, just soaking it all in.
“Now, you boys may have noticed how the highway follows the river pretty much all the way up from Dubois.” A true local, she pronounced the town’s name not in the French manner, but with each syllable given the same percussive emphasis, like Doo. Boyce.Eyes wide with anticipation, we both nodded to show her we had indeed noticed.
“Well, if you keep heading on up that-a-way, northwest toward Togwotee Pass,” she pointed, “after about four and a half miles you’ll get to this stretch where the valley walls get really steep and the road has to stick quite close to the bends of the river. There are some very deep pools there, perfect for trout.”
My eyes lit up at the mention of what in my opinion was the whole point of driving all the way out here. That and getting to see the latest flies Dot had tied.
Our elderly cousin looked me and my brother in the eyes, back and forth, as if to make sure she had our attention. “Now, I’ve told you before about how trout like to hide in the shade under all those overhanging banks, facing upstream so they can dart out and nab any goodies they see floating by and then swim back into their safe spots to wait for the next one. And as I recall, you’ve even seen me tickle one before, though if memory serves, it was just a little one; not even eating size, so I had to throw it back.”
“You hooked your thumb in its gill, like this,” my brother remembered, referring to how Dot had gotten the trout out of the water and making a hooking motion with his thumb and then a sudden yanking over the shoulder motion.
We had watched as she had very carefully walked upstream along the bank, arm stretched and hand curled underneath it, very, very slowly, feeling for fish; upon finding one, she had “tickled” it by ever so gradually putting her hand around its body—fingers in a wide arch, wide enough to avoid actually touching and startling it—and then moving millimeter by millimeter up from tail toward the head. She had paused, waited patiently for the gill to open at the right angle, and then jabbed her thumb into it and, all in one motion, flicked the trout clear out of the water and onto the bank behind her. It had been the most amazing feat of “fishing” my young eyes had ever seen.
“Exactly right, young man,” Dot praised. “Well, one day last month, Henry and I were up that way flyfishing, but the pesky things just weren’t biting. We’d been at it three or four hours, and not even a nibble! It was baffling.”
A breeze kicked up, bringing all that wonderful sage and pine and dry mountain air right into my nostrils. I closed my eyes briefly, picturing the bends and currents of the Wind River in my mind.
“Henry had had enough, and he was being pretty darn clear about it, too,” she continued, ignoring the harumph from her brother Henry, who was sitting over on the other side of my mom. “But I’m about as stubborn as a trout myself, so I decided I was going to try the other method.”
She looked at us meaningfully. “Anyway, Henry was already heading back downstream, but I was up at one of those bends of the river where a big deep pool had formed, and dead smack in the middle of it I could see this rusted-out old car body, completely submerged where someone had driven it off the highway, probably going way too fast like I know you won’t be driving once you boys have your licenses.”
“Yes Ma’am,” we mumbled and nodded in response to the stern look she was giving us.
“Anyway, there was a lot of glare coming off the water at first, but as the sun went behind the clouds, I saw movement over in the direction of the car body. I took a closer look, and right there in the car—inside it, just hanging out, without a care in the world—was about the biggest brookie I’ve ever seen. Big old fish,facing upstream like they do, just cruising in place right there above the driver’s seat. I thought to myself, well will you look at that!”
“Well I’ll be damned,” my dad said.
Dot nodded. “So I decided right then and there I didn’t care how big and wise that trout was; I was gonna tickle him and bring him home for supper.” As she said this, she raised an eyebrow at her brother, as if daring him to say anything. Henry just smiled and hung his head, shaking it slowly back and forth.
“So I very slowly waded in. There were some brambles along both banks, and besides, I didn’t want to scare this big old fish; you don’t get that big and old unless you’re wise in the ways of survival, see. So I had to get into the water downstream from the big pool and make my way up. And I had to go right up the middle of the river, too, because the car body was against the far bank, so pretty soon I was chest deep and getting deeper. That water was cold! Snow run-off and all. But I was determined.”
I shivered, remembering how cold the water in the creeks and rivers around there could get even in the summer.
“By the time I got to the back door of the car, I was in almost neck deep. There wasn’t much current there, thank goodness. I was going as slowly as I could, careful not to dislodge any rocks on the bottom or make any other noises that might scare this big fellow off, and I could see he was still there, just weaving in place, back and forth, back and forth, back and forth.” Dot made a slow weaving motion with her hand.
“After a long time, I was finally up to the front door, almost even with his tail. I was starting to feel numb from the cold, but do you know what I was worried about?” She chuckled. “I was worried my shivering was going to scare him off. But I kept on concentrating, and slid my arm forward underwater along the bottom of where the window frame was. And still that big fish didn’t move. He just sat there, still facing up stream, like he was in a trance or something. So I kept going.”
She paused to take a sip of coffee, eyes back on the horizon for a moment. “The closer I got, the bigger the risk there was that he would sense me, so I slowed my movements even further, as you do. I inched on forward until I was at the door handle, and then I froze, just watching him. He didn’t seem to notice me, so I slid my arm in through the window—all this was underwater, mind you—and circled my fingers around his tail as wide as I could so he wouldn’t touch me. I had to move my hand with him as he wove back and forth, all the while sliding my fingers up along his body, slower than molasses. And still that big fellow didn’t notice me. So I kept going.
“I was halfway up, and I felt certain he could hear my heart pounding, so I tried to will it to stop. It wouldn’t,” she smirked.
“Three quarters of the way up his body, and still that big old fish hadn’t sensed me. I was starting to feel pretty excited. If I could pull this off, I thought, then this’d be the biggest trout I’d ever tickled in my life. And one of the biggest I’d ever caught, period.
“So I kept going, as carefully as I possibly could, until my thumb was right behind the old fellow’s gill. I froze again, and just waited, muscles cramping. I had to wait until his big left gill opened up just enough so I could get the end of my thumb in and hook him out. You only get one chance at these things, see. So I waited and waited, and then I waited some more.” She nodded gravely.
“And then my moment came. That big old trout opened his gill up wide, and I got ready. He opened it up even wider. I was tense. He opened it up wider still. And I was just about to make my move….”
She paused and took a long sip of her coffee.
I was sitting upright, literally on the edge of my seat. “And then what?”
A thoughtful look came over her features, and then Dot looked right at us, shaking her head. “And then he rolled the window up on me.”
Wonderful to see such a show of positivity, open-mindedness, unity, and love sauntering across the Sydney Harbour Bridge yesterday.
A friend recently suggested that I write a blog post on how music and knitting are related.
This juxtaposition of what seem to be, on the surface at least, vastly different pastimes immediately brought to mind an essay I once wrote back in high school, in which I compared Pride and Prejudice with Moby Dick. I somehow didn’t fail the class! But that’s another story.
A moment later, a second thought passed through the dense sands o’ me noggin. It was a much-repeated quote from Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time books: “The Wheel weaves as the Wheel wills.” But then those words are perhaps a bit more about fate and destiny than actual weaving. And besides, weaving is not knitting.
So, ignoring for now the inconvenient truth that I know virtually nothing about knitting, I am going to attempt to BS my way into a proper… or, at least, a proper-sounding… comparison. Please bear with me.
Okay, never mind; that bear is clearly not with me. It is walking away from me….
Er. Where was I. Oh. Right!
After mulling it over awhile, I felt a bit stumped, so I asked said friend, who is a knitter (knitmaster? knittist? knautist? knitwit? okay not knitwit…) what knitting meant to her. This was her reply:
“Knitting for me is meditative, a way to reset my mind while keeping my hands busy. It keeps old traditions alive and connects me with those who came before. It’s an act of creating order from chaos both in the knitted item as well as in ordering the chaotic thoughts in my head.”
Well, the first part of what she said, about how it’s meditative, made complete sense to me. After all, knitting involves repeating motions—doing the same thing, or very similar things, over and over and over. I could certainly relate from a music perspective; some of the most trance-like music I’ve ever heard is like that; the same melody is played, over and over.
A couple of examples are Appalachian old-time tunes or Central African soukous tunes:
In the case of the latter, the melody gets more complex as layers are added. I imagine knitting might be similar; perhaps when bringing in new patterns to blend with or on top of the underlying basic one, for example, or when new colours are brought in.
Sometimes when I play flute I’ll get lost in a loop, playing the same simple pattern of notes over and over. It can be therapeutic, honestly. Takes my mind off of things. Puts me into a dreamstate almost.
Washing dishes by hand can be like that, too. “A way to reset my mind while keeping my hands busy”. Indeed. In fact, if you substitute hands for feet, then hiking can be like that, too. You keep plodding up that trail, one step at a time, a slow methodical journey of rhythm, and your mind starts to wander. After a while, the destination ceases to be important; you are inside the repeating motion, in that space and moment, each step a loop, a stitch, a jog, a note, a beat.
I love the idea of an activity keeping a tradition alive. That makes me think of storytelling. Row upon row, loop after loop, the pattern is knitted—a pattern which, whether planned or improvised, is an echo of a thousand echoes down through the generations of knitters before. Like notes in a song.
Even highly improvisational jazz is a carrying on and expansion of traditions and sounds that came before. These communications—whether aural or visual—are all part of our human story. We use them to share love. We share passion with them. We share ideas and hopes and dreams with them. With them we also share peace, whether we know it or not. And it’s an infectious sort of peace, once you take the time to look at it or listen to it closely. Perhaps that is what my friend meant by “creating order from chaos”.
I’m suddenly thinking of art therapy. Even chaotic art can bring calm, but repeating patterns bring it more easily, I find.
Melodies, too, are stories that change as they are passed down through the generations. So many (all?) Celtic tunes as we hear them today are but new incarnations of earlier versions of themselves. The musicians who played them all those years ago, ancestors in the conversation line, so to speak, would take these melodies with them wherever they went, whether from one town to another or one country to another or what. You can hear clear similarities between a lot of Australian bush tunes and their Scottish and Irish and English ancestors, for example.
Sometimes the differences are slight, sometimes almost unrecognisably vast. Distance is shorter than it used to be; centuries ago, a few mountain valleys away might as well have been hundreds of miles. There’s nothing like snow-clogged mountain passes for keeping populations from visiting each other very often. And with these long periods of time between visits, the tunes that were shared at the last rendezvous changed, or different lyrics were added for whatever reason. I added some lyrics to a traditional Scottish song the other day, so that it would fit the situation I was in; I wanted to sing about some friends at the open mic and at the coffee shop. Who knows? Perhaps someone will dig up my version a century from now and think, “Ah, so this was an old traditional Katoomba tune.” Not likely, lol, but I imagine that’s how songs and tunes evolve over time. As well as knitting patterns, I would assume.
I may be wrong about this—see the end of this paragraph—but there is a knitting tradition in the highlands of Guatemala, too. The collars of the shirts men wear, as well as the skirts women wear, traditionally that is, are knitted in patterns that are passed down through families. Perhaps they are woven and not knitted. I apologize if I’m remembering wrong. Either way, though, it’s a similar phenomenon.
What the…?! Hey, that’s not a bear butt! But I digress. Bison with me; I’ll get back on track, I promise.
One mark of good knitting is consistency: Consistent width and length of rows, consistent diameter of loops, consistent tail lengths at breaks, that sort of thing. It seems to me that consistency can be just as important in music. Our ears tend to be drawn to the familiar. Sure, many people (including myself) love the avant-garde; many of us enjoy hearing completely and sometimes drastically new things. However, there’s a reason so many people sing along with songs they know (like that Tracy Chapman song at the open mic the other night—thank you, by the way!!!), hum along with tunes they’ve heard before. It’s a yearning for connection; a reaching out for the familiar. We want to be part of the family of sounds, of patterns, of colours. We want to contribute to the conversation. When we hear or see consistency and precision, it strikes a chord in us. It’s not the only sort of beauty there is, of course; roughness and inconsistency and unpredictability can be absolutely stunning, too. Raw feeling, unrefined intent, naked emotion. It’s all part of us. All part of the conversation.
Whether you yourself knit or simply appreciate the look and feel of knitted garments / cloths, and whether you play music or simply like to listen to it, you are part of this ongoing conversation of patterns, melodies, rows, notes, loops, rhythms, stories. We each create patterns and depart from patterns in our own way. Perhaps you like to cook; perhaps those are the rows and loops and harmonies that bring you alive. Or perhaps you prefer to sit on a clifftop and gaze out at the rolling mountains in silence; perhaps your way is to listen with your eyes to the faraway patterns of range after range after range. We all play patterns and knit tunes in our own unique way. What way is yours?
Okay, how’d I do? Do I get a BSer’s Award for this comparison attempt...? Even though it wasn’t all BS….
First of all, insomnia sucks. I don’t have it very often or very bad, but last night it took me forever to fall asleep. Those of you who have trouble sleeping have my sincerest sympathies. I hope it gets better for you soon. I also hope this godawful heat and humidity go away (not that it’s very hot or humid here in the mountains, comparatively speaking…).
So here we are, already one month into the new year. I had all these plans to start 2023 off right with being very Diligent and Organised, and that included full intentions to resume these weekly blog posts—but then everything fell apart in that department. I’ve sat down few times, meaning to write, but every time, either my mind has gone completely blank or I’ve started, stopped, started, stopped, sputtered some more, and eventually run out of gas. Petrol. Gas. Petrol. Thing.
Anyway, here I am, finally doing it. Originally, I was going to compare music with knitting, as suggested by a friend, but that one will have to wait (sorry!), because I’ve decided to write about something else today. Something that’s been on my mind a lot lately. Along with the interminable “earworm”, as someone recently called it, of a certain Pogues song that kept looping through my head over and fricking over, a certain subject kept surfacing in my thoughts last night: New friends.
We never used to have much of a social life, but in the past few years since moving here to the mountains, we’ve been meeting a lot of people. A large part of the reason for that is that we are now in a new phase of life; the kids are grown, the nest is empty, our schedules are not as full-on with work and parenting responsibilities, and so on. Life has changed. Another thing, I think, is that we are both more open to socialising, at this stage of our lives.
I find that as I get older, it becomes harder to make new friends. My tendency is to stick to my rut, travel solo along my groove, keep grinding forward, head down; consolidate my world, make things less complicated rather than more. In other words, to simplify. That urge is still very much alive in me, and I have to fight it. Why fight it? Well, first off, it leads to grumpyoldmancurmudgeonness—which I won’t deny, does hold a certain fascination and intrigue. But no; it’s because I know without a doubt that I need people in my life. I need peers, friendships, social situations, heart to hearts, yarn swappage. I need to be challenged, to have my mind opened, to learn. Mainly, though, I need people with whom I can sit down and have a laugh. For a long period of time, there just wasn’t enough laughter in my life, and with hindsight, I know that had to change.
Last month I wrote about how grateful I was feeling for various things, and I think I may have touched upon being thankful for new friendships, but I’ll stress that more now, because I really can’t stress it enough: I am truly grateful for all you new friends I’ve been making. You know who you are. Hell, I even made a brand new friend just this morning, at the coffee shop, and it absolutely brightened my day. Thank you, from the bottom of my heart. I look forward to getting to know you more! And to everyone else I’ve met these past few years, thank you for letting me be a part of your lives. It is a true honour.
I know all too well how easy it is to fall into the mindset, the attitude, that says making a new friend “takes too much work” or “is an emotional investment”. You get to thinking, I dunno; I just have soooo much on my plate already. Do I really have time for a new friendship?!
And when you quantify life, then the logical answer is probably always going to be No.
But that’s the thing. Some (most?) aspects of life should not be quantified, or even qualified. Sure, friendships take work, over time. But it’s not so much work as play, when you really think about it. Even when the going gets tough, the whole point of having a connection with someone is that you enjoy each other’s company and care about each other. Don’t feel like talking today? No worries. Let’s just sit and drink in silence together, or go for a walk along some track and say nothing. Or take a rain check. Or send silly GIFs to each other on messenger or whatever. Depth does not always appear deep on the surface.
Friends do come and go, of course. Life takes us in different directions, to faraway places. With some, we keep in touch; with others, not so much. That doesn’t always mean the friendship has faded, however. Some people you can pick up with years or even decades later, and it’s like no time has passed. This is cliché, but you do pick up where you left off. As you should. Or just take the opportunity to start another chapter and see what happens next.
I heard a record a long time ago, back when I listened to records the first time, by a guy named… I’m blanking, sorry. I’ll look it up. Anyway, the song was called something like “The Festival of Friends”. I imagine the singer (sorry, still blanking) was feeling similarly nostalgic when he wrote it. Distance is a sad thing. Emotional distance, geographical distance. The ultimate distance of passing. As I recall, he sang about such goodbyes as being only temporary—even with friends who had died—for they would all see one another again someday, at the festival of friends. It’s a nice thought.
So, what about you? Have you made a new friend lately? If so, I’m of the opinion that you should give that fledgling friendship a chance. It doesn’t have to explode in a roaring inferno of kindred spirit; it can be light-hearted, easy; if you want, you both can just let it simmer low and slow for months, even years. If you are patient and keen to know each other, then you really don’t have to stress over how much time or work or energy you need to put into the relationship, for you are already friends. And that is a wonderful thing! So, enjoy :-)
Life is short. Cherish the little things, even if it’s just a smile from a stranger. You never know where it might lead.
Here, I’ve found that song I was talking about a moment ago. I’ll leave you with it (below). Thank you for reading :-)
(Wow. I’m listening to it now. After all these years, I’d forgotten how beautiful this song is. Have a listen.)
Let me shout that again: ZOIKS!!!!
Can you frickin believe it’s frickin 2023 already?
Okay, enough frickins.
But seriously. Time flies. Especially the past few years. It’s been a blur. And yet, even just the beginning of 2022 seems so very long ago. Anyway, a very Happy New Year! I hope 2023 is a wonderful year for you all. Cheers! (the photo above is of a beer from my very first batch of homemade beer, hehe)
I’ve certainly made some resolutions, and aim to keep at least some of them, but today I’d like to talk about how grateful I am feeling.
I am grateful for all that I have, all that I’ve been given, and all that I am able to do, as well as imagine. To all the people in my life who have helped me become who I am and contributed to my path forward, thank you. I am also grateful to those groups and individuals who hindered me or knocked me down; without them, I would never have learned to strive and, eventually, to believe.
I am grateful for being able to live where I live and do what I enjoy doing. I am grateful for the roof over my head, for the food in my belly, for the relatively clean water I get to drink, and for the love all around me, both near and far. I am grateful for having family, and I am grateful for having friends. Thank you, all of you. I realize how fortunate I am. Sometimes I take my situation for granted, and at times I might even whinge about my first world problems, but right now I am feeling very appreciative of the fact that I am a lucky man indeed. There are plenty of people far less fortunate than I am.
Speaking of friends, right now I am feeling especially grateful for a certain new friend in my life, Paul, who shot a video of me awhile back during one of my weekly Wednesday morning gigs at On the Soul Side Café in Katoomba (and thank you, too, for letting me play there each week, Dave!). Paul has recently edited the video and produced it into something quite wonderful. He did this out of the kindness of his heart, and because it’s his hobby. I love it! It’s of a song I wrote last year, the first love song I’d ever written, called “Soul Raven Fire”:
Thank you, Paul!
Incidentally, I am also very grateful to have music back in my life. It is part of me; it fills my soul and has taught me how to imagine again. How to be young. How to feel, and how to love better. Thank you, Music.
I am grateful that my wife and I get to live in such a wonderful community. Thank you for having us, Blue Mountains. I am grateful to be able to afford to live in this part of the country. Hell, in this country, period. Thank you for having me, Australia.
I am also grateful for my roots, for where I come from. Without you, Roots, I would not be who I am.
Okay, this is starting to feel a bit sappy, as I’m writing it, lol. So, while there are many other things for which I am grateful, I’ll stop listing them. But mainly, I want to say, my heart is full. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. I am so very fortunate.
What are you grateful for? Have you paused recently to consider how lucky you are? It can be difficult to do when times are hard. I get it. But sometimes it’s good to take stock.
Have a great year everyone :-)
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