Friday, September 22, 2017

Here's Autumn?

It's the Autumnal Equinox for those of us living in the Northern Hemisphere. Down South, below the Equator, they're welcoming Spring. At the moment, here in the North Country, the temperature is 84℉ and it "feels like 91" because the dew point is 73. This would be fine weather for a month or six weeks ago but not for the "first day of Autumn."

the "grand passage" can bring skies full of ducks
the "grand passage" can bring skies full of ducks
Photo by J. Harrington

Minnesota's duck season opens tomorrow. We've sat in duck blinds on openers in unseasonably warm weather that was much cooler than we're experiencing today. It's a very strange feeling, especially for those of us who've sometimes watched ice freeze around our decoys late in the season. We'll be very curious to see if tomorrow morning sounds as if a latest world war is being fought a little behind the house, or if today's duck hunters will wait for more traditional duck hunting conditions, when the skies in our neighborhood may look more like the photo above. If you're interested in discovering more of what we mean by traditional, see if you can lay your hands on a copy of any of the volumes of Gordon MacQuarrie's Stories of the Old Duck Hunters. Actually, see if you can find and read all of those volumes. The Superior WI area and the St. Croix Valley are the settings for most of those tales so you should feel pretty much at home.

Since tomorrow is supposed to have about the same weather conditions as today, we think we'll use it for some trout fishing scouting (unless the Better Half has other plans for us). It's been too many years since we've visited what once were very familiar haunts and hour or so's drive south of where we're currently living. This weather could make it be a good weekend to see if those haunts are still there and how much they may have changed. If this "global warming" weather pattern continues, we may even seriously consider exploring some of the waters open to Winter trout season later in the year or early next.

We sincerely hope that each and every one of you have a wonderful Autumn pursuing whatever local, outdoor activities are closest to your hearts and compatible with the weather, no matter how unseasonable, or seasonable, it may be.


Why not write something for those
who scratched out improbable livings here?
Someone has managed to sow
This broken field with stones, it appears,

So someone’s scratching it still,
Although that Japanese knotweed has edged
The tilth. Two wasps in the child
Attempt to catch sun on a rail of the bridge.

The old local doctor has passed
At almost a full decade past ninety.
He never seemed depressed.
Seventy now, if barely,

I consider the field again:
Someone will drag these rocks away
But they’ll be back. The air smells like rain,
Which is fine, the summer’s been much too dry.

Nothing is left of the barn
But some rusty steel straps in some nasty red osier.
The stone fence still looks sound,
But even there the knotweed steps over.

Hadn’t I pledged an elegy
To the old ones who worked here? You couldn’t claim
They thrived, exactly, but maybe
They likewise scented good wind full of rain,

Lifted eyes above this old orchard
To the cloud-darkened hills and found their support
Somehow, somewhere. No matter,
They kept going until they could go no more.

The trees’ puckered apples have gathered
A flock of birds, and as they alight,
They’re full of unseasonable chatter,
As if to say that all will be right.

The old ones I promised a poem
Must have said it too. It’ll be all right.
I never knew them. They’re gone.
I say it out loud, It’ll be all right.

Caledonia County, Vermont

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Please be kind to each other while you can.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Freedom Highway!

On a cool, September evening, not a hot August night, Rhiannon Giddens, not Neil Diamond, in The O'Shaughnessy, not a ragged tent, the Better Half [BH] and I attended a real, live, and very lively, performance of a contemporary version of Brother Sister Love's Traveling Salvation Show. [Henceforth in today's posting, comments and observations are strictly attributable to “Yr obt svt." The BH in no way should be presumed to be included in any use of an editorial "we."]

That editorial "we" hasn't been so moved, so engaged and seen such presence and looseness combined on stage since about 50 years ago when we were in the audience at Janis Joplin's concert on a hot August night in Harvard Stadium. [The first link in this posting takes you to an NPR review of Giddens' Freedom Highway album, including samplings of her singing.] If you haven't yet heard her and you enjoy folk, blues, country, or Americana, you really owe it to yourself to at least explore her singing. We still can't figure out where, in her relatively tall, thin body, she hides such an awesome voice, but it's there somewhere and we're glad and grateful.

Rhiannon Giddens Freedom Highway

Many of the concert's songs evoked youthful nostalgia and provoked rethinking of today's political-social-cultural environment. We haven't, quite yet, returned to days such as the one in mid-September 1963, when white supremacist members of the Ku Klux Klan bombed a Southern Baptist church, killing four young black girls. For now we have spared ourselves horrors such as those captured in Richard Farina's song Birmingham Sunday, which Giddens performed hauntingly last night. Almost as a counterpoint, she achingly sings a rendition of the song, She's Got You, first recorded and made popular by Patsy Cline back in the early 60's. We can't decide if we should be surprised that the range of Giddens' material almost matches her phenomenal vocal range.

Rhiannon Giddens Tomorrow Is My Turn

We came of age, so to speak, during the 1960's civil rights and subsequent Viet Nam War protests. Songs like Freedom Highway (a 1965 civil rights protest song written by Roebuck Staples and the title track of The Staple Singers' album of the same name) and Birmingham Sunday are deeply embedded in the seed banks of our memories. After last night's performances, we find ourselves wondering if we've become so out of touch that we don't recognize any topical songs enjoyed by younger activists in today's struggles, or if such music is missing and its addition could contribute to more successful, progressive outcomes for contemporary efforts to create a saner, more just and caring world. Does the Occupy movement or have "theme" songs? Not yet, maybe not ever, according to this story on HuffPost, but maybe sometime, "we" hope?


Make and be eaten, the poet says,
Lie in the arms of nightlong fire,
To celebrate the waking, wake.
Burn in the daylong light; and praise
Even the mother unappeased,
Even the fathers of desire.

Blind go the days, but joy will see
Agreements of music; they will wind
The shaking of your dance; no more
Will the ambiguous arm-waves spell
Confusion of the blessing given.

Only and finally declare
Among the purest shapes of grace
The waking of the face of fire,
The body of waking and the skill
To make your body such a shape
That all the eyes of hope shall stare.

That all the cries of fear shall know,
Staring in their bird-pierced song;
Lines of such penetration make
That shall bind our loves at last.
Then from the mountains of the lost,
All the fantasies shall wake,
Strong and real and speaking turn
Wherever flickers your unreal.

And my strong ghosts shall fade and pass
My love start fiery as grass
Wherever burn my fantasies,
Wherever burn my fantasies.

April 1955

Thanks for visiting. Come again when you can.
Please be kind to each other while you can.