An Item For The Inventory

  I read a poem this morning by Wendell Berry, a writer who has, for months now, had me under his spell.

              “I keep an inventory of wonders.”

              Such would be admirable work for us all and reminds me of a phrase I have shared previously from Eugene Peterson, one which describes the mindset and perspective of the truly alive — “adorational attentiveness.”

              Among a recent addition to my own inventory of wonders is a small bird that has become a full-time overnight guest just outside my front door. A few months ago, I noticed a curious something hanging down from a roll-up awning on one end of my porch. It looked like a piece of string, maybe threading from the awning, just a couple of inches long. When I moved closer to see what it was, a small, very startled bird fluttered away (and scared a rather large human in the process). I doubted that the creature, a Carolina wren, would ever return but, when I looked the next evening, he was back. The bird flies to the tube-like end of the rolled up awning, tucks his small body in so as to get out of harm’s way, and leaves only  tail feathers as evidence of his presence there.

              Every night, the bird returns. How he found that small haven is a mystery, a wonder, to me, but he is welcome company and, as long as he keeps returning, the awning, not so long ago on a list of old, run down things to throw away, stays put and rolled up tight.

 

                                         

The Long Ride Home

            i call it ‘the long ride home,’ the drive after telling Gary good-bye at the airport when he leaves home for a long trip away. On every occasion that he has gone to Costa Rica, Spain, Jamaica, Bosnia, Macedonia, Peru, Afghanistan – each from months to years at a time – his travels are preceded by the uneasy waits at the airport, the forced and somewhat awkward conversations, the last brief, hesitant prayers, the final hug, and then the long ride home. We fight back tears, or don’t, and have little to say for a good while. i would have thought that the experience gets easier with so much practice but it doesn’t.

            My dear white-haired Mom and i just said good-bye to Gary, who’ll return to Afghanistan later tonight. (Dad has been in Kenya and won’t be home till tomorrow, a scheduling snafu that saved him from today’s farewell.)

            In addition to being my best friend in life and my business partner at the farm, Gary is a mentor and, in many ways, a prophet and priest to me. It is a joy to have him around and to be his neighbor. While he’s been home these past eight months, our occasional travels together – pheasant hunting in South Dakota, touring the gardens of Keukenhof, Holland, and hiking in Montana – have deepened our friendship and have been a pleasant mixture of theology, humor, storytelling, sightseeing, and introspection. All of that to simply say that telling him good-bye is a big deal to me. …

            Yesterday, i asked Gary to share some thoughts, maybe a word of challenge, with the Porch Gang men’s group that has met for 9 or 10 years at my house on Thursday mornings. He chose an interesting passage of scripture for doing so, from Ecclesiastes 7:2, “it is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting.” The words, even without Gary’s reflections on them, are quite thought provoking. This week, they were especially poignant to us in light of an accident that took the life of a very popular 16-year-old high school student last weekend. Gary encouraged us to embrace the hurts – big and small –  that come in life, reminding us that, among other things, they make clear that the world is broken, that we are small, that there is comfort if we look in the Right Place, and that ‘this ain’t home.’  So, with his words still in my ears, i accept the ‘long ride home’ as one more part of the ‘long ride Home.’  …  If you are a praying person, i’d appreciate your prayers for Gary as he lives and works in Afghanistan.

 

            (Incidentally, last summer, when Gary turned 50, i did a short video and song for the event. i’ll have it up on my video in the next few days.)

Mountains in Montana

              After almost 2 months at home, i’m back to road work again and just returned, late last night, from 5 days in Montana – one to play music, 4 to travel with my brother Gary (who returns to Afghanistan in a couple of weeks). A happily-anticipated reunion with friends Tom and Diane Morgan in Big Fork, a pleasant musical evening with a hundred or so of their friends, and then 4 leisurely days of driving through Glacier/Waterton National Parks added up to an easy ‘return to work’.  Two days of hiking, where laughing did more to take my breath away than the actual physical exertion (my brother is a funny guy, and my favorite person to hang out with), and lots of driving at very slow speeds, gave Gary and me the chance to enjoy Rockie Mountain scenery, both U.S. and Canadian, that one must see to appreciate. While i am perpetually on the hunt for song material, there are times. like this one, that i try to forget that i’m a songwriter and simply enjoy what’s around me.  At some future time, maybe a memory will surface and turn into something musical. (The picture below was taken from our moving car in Waterton National Park in Canada. See what i mean about beautiful?)

              While on the trip i read two books i’d highly recommend: Silas Marner, by George Eliot, and My Bondage and My Freedom, by Frederick Douglas. 

This and That

             i’ve spent a lot of my time the last several days digging holes. Really. The work is being done in anticipation of planting trees before next spring. Jack of all trades, BJ Baxley (the one from A Day With Bobby Joe, on Tap the Kaleidoscope) worked with me last week, breaking brick hard ground with his back hoe. Since then i’ve been replacing top soil and adding compost to the holes so that, when young trees are planted there, the ground will be conducive to growth. July heat has meant some sweaty days but has also meant deep sleep at the end of the day. i work with no noise – no music, radio, conversation. It means that i have good time to pray and to think and to turn my brain off.  And twenty or fifty years from now, there might be something beautiful – oak, poplar, sycamore — in these presently un-treed fields. i’ve loved my time at home these past few weeks.                   Went to Columbus yesterday for visits with friends (a regular practice this summer). An elderly woman, a Mrs. Tharpe, approached me at a Starbuck’s and asked if i knew the location of a local residence for old folks. She lives there and was lost, apparently due to a failing memory, and couldn’t remember how to get home. i called and got directions, then lead her the couple of miles to her destination. She was grateful. “i know where i live; i just don’t know how to get there.” There’s a world full of souls like that i think. That’s why Jesus’ people are called ‘sent ones’ – to help folks find the way to the place their hearts know they are meant to be.

              New CD is about done.

New CD Nearing Completion

              I’ve spent much of last week on the pleasant task of finishing the CD begun back in February. In what can best be described as alchemy (‘transformation of base metals into gold”), Ben Shive of Nashville has done wonders, with the help of friends there, to the tunes we chose to work on for this still-untitled album. …  Ben has been sideman for Andrew Peterson for several years, is a married father of four, is remarkably musical and, much to my delight, is a skilled wordsmith. Check him out at www.benshive.com and particularly his new CD, “The Ill-tempered Clavier.” …   The tracks we’ve been working on are now being mixed and, we hope, will be all done by end of July and available shortly thereafter. I really like the way the songs are coming together. They’ll be mostly brand new (having never or only once or twice been sung in concerts) and i am looking forward to sharing them this fall. When I gave the songs to Ben, they were like threadbare children. They’re dressed up now in a way to make a daddy proud. Stay tuned.

Work and Waterbugs

Reporting in from summer at home. Every day i’ve spent at least a couple of hours outside doing manual labor. Can hardly wait to get out there each hot afternoon. Today’s (Saturday’s) to-do list, read as follows: cut sweet gums (meaning, using lopping shears to knock down a thick growth of saplings, hundreds of them, just west of my house in what should be a pine thicket; a task that has already taken days and will take a good number more), move stumps behind house (meaning just that, moving oversized firewood stumps that have been piled up behind my house for a couple of years; maybe 20 of them), weedeat for Dad at their house, cut and split firewood (meaning the continuation of chainsawing a downed red oak tree into firewood length and splitting pieces with a maul), and trim vines around the house porch. …  By 5:00 this afternoon, i had cut sweetgums for a couple of hours and pretty much finished with the cutting and splitting of firewood.  …  i’m exhausted and happy. Seems like pretty uneventful work to write about but, really, it is as satisfying as writing a song. Maybe you can explain it. … 

   Interesting image: splitting firewood in the suffocating heat of June. …

  The forest is good company to keep and full of the noticeable.

              A line of poetry, fresh read, by Wendell Berry stands out to me:

              “I sing

              Where the water striders walk like Christ,

              All sons of God.”

A Meaning of Marriage

Caleb married Amanda yesterday. My nephew has a bride, she a husband. At the rehearsal on Friday night, brother Gary and i played a song written just for them, in which we excommunicated Caleb from the BOB, the Brotherhood of Bachelors. It was, fear not, a happy song. In the course of typing it up on the computer, i accidentally hit a wrong key. …  It’s interesting how the mistaken word is sometimes so much more appropriate or descriptive than the one originally intended. i meant to type “wedding” but got “weeding” instead. It seems to fit pretty perfectly. Marriage is a garden, a more complete human, in the making; from the outside looking in, matrimony is a tool, a good one, for exposing, rooting out, replacing the unfruitful with something good. I’m praying that these two find the work pleasant, rewarding and as painless as possible. Thankfully, the weeds are young ones and, hopefully, have shallow roots

A Message in the Branches

i’m at day four of 7 weeks at home and, even with the heat, am thoroughly enjoying the sense of being settled. Travel makes it hard for me be fully here and also keeps my stomach full of butterflies, something that i thought i’d be over by now. So far, i’ve had things i want to get done each day but there’s no rush, no deadline, no need to wear a watch. This morning, after the weekly porch gathering here at my place, i wrote a song for my nephew Caleb’s wedding rehearsal party tomorrow night (may be we’ll video it for the site), picked blueberries for an hour or so, practiced tomorrow night’s song with Gary (he’ll play banjo), and then spent most of the very hot afternoon cutting down hundreds of sweetgum trees with hand held lopping shears. i’m happily worn out just now, ready to read a bit and to quietly end a full, tiring, pleasant day.

              One thought occurred to me as i worked outside today. This time of year, snakes are something to always be on the lookout for. There are sticks everywhere on the forest floor just now and no small number of them look very snakish. More than once, i found myself jumping back at what i thought was reptile, when it was in fact only tree branch. Even dropped the shears one time and ran when i was convinced i heard a rattle. The longer i worked, the more comfortable i got, and the less vigilant i was. No, i didn’t see a snake or get struck, but it did occur to me —  as long as all the sticks look like snakes, i’ll be OK because i’ll be careful. When all the sticks look like sticks, or worse, when i stop paying attention to them at all, i’m in trouble. …  i believe Annie Dillard uses a phrase – sensible to conditions – that describes an awareness of the world around us. A little caution, in this jungle we live in day to day, is a wise state of mind. Never know what venomous thing is out there to catch us unawares.

Thanks

Quick thanks to folks who shared Saturday and Sunday evening with Bebo Norman and myself in Columbus. Columbus is where both of us grew up. Hamilton is about 20 miles north of there. The River Center for the Performing Arts is a remarkable venue. Fill the room with people who love one another, who love the same things (which just happen to be the right things), and who listen with their hearts and it’s hard to have a bad night. Bebo accurately pointed out though that playing for hometown people is a bit unnerving because they’ve grown up with you and know so much about you. The typical scenario of “blow into strange town and look your best for a few hours before blowing out of it again” doesn’t work very well when you know you might bump into many of those same people in your day-to-day stay-at-home life. The folks we played for this weekend though, knowing as much as they do about us, are forgiving, gracious, and were delightful to be with. If you happen to have been one of them, thanks much.

Blog

Agrarian writer Wendell Berry has been encouraged to get a computer, to ‘help’ him with his writing. He responds that it would be to get a solution for a problem he doesn’t have. … This blog just might that same thing for me, but in a nod to the marvels of technology and as part of an intervention to deal with website stagnation, we’re giving it a go. At this point, i’m really quite excited about the prospects. … My objective and earnest intention is to write frequently, in small bites, about goings on, books read, songs written, conversations encountered, and people met. If you’ll stop by every few days, i’ll try to have something new for you to chew on. Thanks much