In which John Joe Badger takes a walk in the forest, only to find a tiny door, from behind which drifts a delightful and strange music.
And lo!! It is a tiny shrew, playing the relatively obscure Northumbrian Pipes. She is a lovely wee thing, very shy, and so John Joe, being shy himself, merely listens for a time outside her tiny door, then moves on, allowing her to go on playing in peace.
What have you found in the forest lately? Are you really listening properly?
Outside it blazes a midwestern summer. Inside, cocooned, I write letters to pen pals, grateful in knowing that notes and small treasures will be back and forth in the weeks and months to come.
While on route to Bloomington, Indiana over the weekend, I work on one such little treasure to mail, a knitted crown, fit for a queen.
I hope she likes it, and never loses her youthful moxie.
We are welcomed to Bloomington by old walls, hand hewn, washed with time.
We are welcomed with love.
Our eldest, living, working and studying in this delightful Indiana college town, keeps his distance from us, of course, in true pandemic style, while also sharing with us the things he loves most about his new home town.
We thoroughly enjoy the time there, shadowed as it is by the all of everything. We bike, hike, sweat, take photos. It feels a world away.
Sometimes, in the heat of the day, we escape to our little cabin to nap in the cool air for a bit.
Smoke keeps the bugs away, mostly.
The weekend continues with dreadful temperatures but delightful company. We take to the woods for an early hike.
It is quiet but for birdsong and an occasional fellow hiker. The green is soothing to our citified souls.
This little adventure is a bit of a test run. Not only do we want to touch base and deliver some home cooking to our boy, but we want to measure the state of things outside of our home here in Ohio.
Aside from trips to the grocery store and my occasional visit to the concertina shop to get some part-time work done, we don’t really do anything. This weekend we find ourselves at a restaurant for the first time in months (out of doors, and the staff wear masks and there are plants dividing the spaces, it feels safe…. I think).
I am remotely comfortable with this set up and it all bodes well for our eventual (hopeful) trip north later this month. But the hum of worry stains everything. It just does. Everywhere we turn, there is the threat.
But carry on we must.
and follow the path of those in the know.
Learn what needs learning.
Seek the edges and toe them accordingly.
Our society is so keen on the avoidance of the proverbial elephant in the room. Perhaps we might do well to say what needs saying.
“It’s enough to be walking with you.”
edit: When I wrote “more soon” above yesterday, I didn’t really mean THIS soon. Last night we saw news of outrage and protest in Bloomington after a horrific event. Here is the article:
It is week 34 of my illustrative journey with John Joe Badger, an intrepid, though somewhat shy, uillean pipes playing creature. This week finds John Joe discovering that his long awaited B whistle from one Jerry Freeman has finally arrived after much anticipation which will allow him to play along with his favorite recordings. This will, in turn, possibly improve his pipes playing in the long run.
So much to learn as we await the arrival of the new half-set from Mickey Dunne which will include DRONES.
We are abuzz with excitement over it all to be sure.
“In today’s rush, we all think too much… seek too much… want too much… and forget about the joy of just being.”
~Eckhart Tolle *
I don’t know about y’all, but I’m feeling the rush and pull of a return to normalcy which I’ll admit, I am not quite yet in favor of.
“Normality is a paved road: It’s comfortable to walk, but no flowers grow.
~Vincent van Gogh *
For those of you who follow my online doings, the noise of the world has gotten to be a bit much for me personally and I have opted off the social media channels until further notice. While we cannot and mustn’t turn our backs on a troubled world just now – the news of things as they are happening in real time – we CAN turn down the noise of it all online in order to dig deeper into what is really happening out there, what can actually be done, and how we feel about it all. Sure one might get a chuckle now and then over on the socials, but true reality is a bit more difficult to find. And so I seek it in deeper wells.
I’ll be honest, I needed a break – have done for a good long while now.
And so I am taking one. Officially. I am hopeful it might be longer than the usual month off which happens now and then in normal times.
I celebrated this returning to myself, this coming home really, by building a fire last night. Humidity is creeping back up as of today, but in recent days past, the magic of a cool summer night’s mystery has been in rare form.
We are grateful.
We wear a crown of midsummer and watch the garden flourish.
“With life as short as a half taken breath, don’t plant anything but love.”
While not everything planted will be in top form this season, the garden’s beginnings give me hope for better days.
I suppose if necessary, we could live off of pumpkin and swiss chard alone, if we had to eventually. Perhaps not all is lost.
Life carries on.
A great June greening gathers further in.
“We must not allow the clock and the calendar to blind us to the fact that each moment of life is a miracle and mystery.”
~ H G Wells
The daily post continues to be a source of great day to day joy. Today we received the long anticipated “Views from Quarantine” zine project from Ireland-based artist and child-art psychotherapist Simone Westerkamp (also long time friend and musical pal). This zine is filled with offerings Simone gathered from artful friends and family scattered around the globe. We, Tony and I, are thrilled to have been a small part of it. In this era of grief, sadness and strife – in epic proportions, to be sure – beautiful small things are a keen reminder of the scale and importance of our own humanity.
“Never regret anything you have done with sincere affection; nothing is lost that is born of the heart.”
~Basil Rathbone *
The summer’s slowing, with my yearly work offerings no longer viable, affords a delicate space for quiet wonderment. There are Rainier cherries now at the market once more, which I love. When I can settle my brain and nerves down enough, I am drawing more in this in between time and space. I am grateful for these crumbs of validity in such tumultuous times.
I’ll admit I am not ready to re-enter the rat-race. I did not belong to it in the first place. This I must remember as the traffic time into my part-time work begins to once more give me pause.
We have our sights set to venture home to Maine later in July. (God willin’ and the creek don’t rise, as they say) Once there we will keep ourselves to ourselves, which we normally do anyway, and I promise we will do this all safely. I look very much forward to cuddle piles of hugs with my god-child and her sister, and our dear friends, their parents. Even as introverts, we are missing the humanity of a normal social existence. I am counting the days.
This is a strange new world we live in. Some people seem to be carrying on like nothing has changed, like it is an insult to their American-borne freedom to be asked to wear a mask in interest of the safety of others. Most near and dear to me of course, continue to be diligent and do what is necessary to keep things safe for everyone. We live life in the day to day just now. Plans are difficult to commit to with things changing so fast in real time.
In the end, time will tell.
As for us, we soldier on. Listening to books, reading books, doing puzzles, keeping to the work online as needed. Tonight we go to meet East-Coast cousins arriving new to town. Socially distant, of course.
Take care of each other, get hugs when you can.
****some of the quotes above (*) have been saved over time from a wonderful offering on the Book of Faces called Ravenous Butterflies. Go give em a follow if you are currently riding the waves of the socials. They are a bright light on a dark platform.
Since the beginning of the era in which we found ourselves in a state of lockdown and isolation, a few of us faithful session-goers loosely affiliated with the Riley School of Irish Music community have gathered weekly on zoom to have a few tunes, check in with one another and have a bit o’ craic (i.e. chats, jokes, catching up, sharing stories – a crucial part of a good session.) As with all things coming at us on the mycelial network ad infinitum these days, zoom is an imperfect way to connect musically. But we take what we can get.
Somehow, I have managed to find myself as moderator each week for these online gatherings. I attempt to keep proceedings least awkward as they can be, making sure those who have something to say or play get a chance to do so. It’s a good job for one with long internal antennae and I do the job gladly week to week so that our beautiful community will be there when this whole pandemic eases and we can be together properly once more.
I jokingly call it the Dog and Pony Show because sometimes it feels that way. But at the heart of it all, it’s a sincere offering to my musical mates. It’s just hard to be social.
There are a lot of people out on the interwebs putting together online shows and bits of shows to put together with bits of other shows to keep the music and the communities surrounding it all alive. It can be frustrating sometimes to be sure (such as when the neighborhood lawn mower starts when the recording begins! *kevin*) but the gifts in return are wonderful. I do my small part with our little session here in town (and we sometimes have old friends in from Ireland which has been lovely!!) The professionals continue to do their best to keep us tapped into the tradition properly along the way as well. And we must support them.
Go donate to Tune Supply if you love traditional Irish music, or any place your favorite artists and musicians might be hanging out online doing their work. Reach out to them, buy some gift cards or a painting or a song or tune, an essay or a poem. Artists are still working, making the world a more magical place.
It’s what we do.
Join us at the Riley School for session each Saturday from 4-6 pm EST (message me for the link), or consider taking a class from one of our esteemed instructors sometime! Hope to see you there.
In the meantime, here is this week’s Twist of Hemp illustration featuring John Joe Badger, and some new friends from the dog and pony show. It’s week 33.
It is a discombobulated time. I for one feel a bit unmoored and adrift of late. (Perhaps we all do.) It is the season for journeying but I, like everyone just now, find myself rooted to home. Still the journey must go on. And so I go inward.
A new book, just for me. I return to old practices. With no inclination to share.
These past couple of days give the gift of a break in the weather, a lifting of humidity and oppressive heat. The break in weather affords the gift of a bit of hope, at least for me. A backing off of the blue dog which has been hovering at the doors of my heart lately. I make a mindful choice to hit a reset button.
An online music festival provides unexpected glee with workshops in flute and pipes. One instructor speaks of tunes as poetry and palindromes, the other talks openly of the magic of this music, some of it “old and outside the laws of the land.”
I am reminded of my place in the world.
“G is not a tone, it’s a place.” ~Conal Ó Gráda
I’ll admit, it all made me a bit weepy. I am deeply missing my musical mates these last months. I shall just work on my craft and connect how I can.
The noise of the online world feels unbearable as I wade through the news of the physical world day to day. I find myself online less and less in an attempt to situate myself in reality to offer up my best self to the world. This is as it should be. Plenty of times have I vowed to spend less time in the hall of mirrors of the social networks, and always I seem to drift back. Just now however, it is more of a drifting away from that hall and a journey inward, in lieu of summer’s teaching travels.
We have harvested lovely bundles of scapes in recent weeks. Garlic, sent to me from a dear one in Maine, planted last fall as we began the new bed out back – The Before Times. It all seems so far away, muted by the mists of time, dappled with a light we will not see again.
Scapes are like the “flowers” of the garlic plant. Up and up they rise and curl.
Eating them, lightly sautéed, with an egg at breakfast, I taste the garlic to come. It is essence of future garlic.
“While they are indeed a delicacy of early summer, we do not harvest scapes merely for their culinary flare. To harvest these showy curls is to send the energy of the plants down below into the ground to the very base of the garlic – the bulbs – which we will harvest later in the summer.
I see a strong metaphor here for our own meandering growth. It is lovely to flower and curl and show up in the world. But we forget to cut these flowers off now and then to allow for real development below ground.”
This is where I find myself, metaphorically speaking. I need to grow the bulbs. It is summer, and in a normal summer, one might find me off to New Mexico to teach, or to North Carolina to take in some music workshops. And often, I am too busy with these adventures to be spending much time online. This is as it should be.
This summer I devote that time to a more inward journey. To work on my art outside of the constancy of the online world and its performative pressures. To play and experiment. To read books, both for fun and escape as well as for the ongoing journey to educate myself.
It is entirely possible we may find ourselves in Maine later in July. Fingers crossed. We shall do so if we can do so, safely. This potential gives me hope. As does the deep pool of a new book, filled with good paper, some new ink for an old pen, and time to dive into it all without an audience.
But don’t worry, I’m not going far from here, this little corner of the internet that I call home. Til next time……
It is summer. And with summer comes the heat of the season, and if we are lucky, perhaps the occasional cone of ice cream. This summer brings with it all kinds of new stressors beyond heat and humidity, and decisions much weightier than merely what flavor to choose at the scoop shop. We all know this.
John Joe Badger is taking a few moments away from all of the weightiness and is treating himself to some ice cream. Though it is a small thing indeed, he has decided to put his few dollars down behind the big ideas of a good company. Ben and Jerry’s ice cream.
I might not be as bold and loud with proclamations and performative (read social media postings for some) as Ben and Jerry’s, but rest assured, I am doing the quiet work over here. And hopefully, also continuing to make my art which has always felt like the boldest thing I can do in this world.
What’s your favorite flavor? And what are you doing to treat yourself kindly in between and amidst the very important work which needs doing? We must be in this for the long game, yes? Yes. Let us know.
ps. John Joe (and I) love mint chocolate chip and black raspberry chip generally, locally speaking. In the Ben and Jerry’s realm, Cherry Garcia and Chocolate Therapy. Yum!!!!!
I debated even posting a John Joe Badger drawing this week.
Where does my work illustrating anthropomorphic creatures even fit in to the fabric of things just now? I went for a long walk to do some thinking, and I kept coming back to the idea that the music that John Joe, and I, play is steeped in at least a couple of concepts connected to the times at hand.
And so, I sat down to draw a badger.
Irish music is joyful to the ear to be sure, and yet when you read Irish history, there is so much strife, oppression and “troubles” along the way. Music may have provided some solace to a country facing dark and challenging times. The tunes are a small something. Sometimes.
The troubles of one country aren’t the troubles of another of course. But maybe musical solace is something we can share.
The second concept I keep coming round to is that of listening. In the world of Irish music, there is no greater skill really than to listen. You can be a fab player of all the lovely tunes available to you, but if you don’t listen to the other players and to the players of history, your session experience will not be a successful one. The best sessions, the ones where we feel that deep sense of community and tuneful camaraderie, are the settings where each member of the musical community are listening, deeply listening to one another, while also listening to the history that got us here.
We find ourselves at a time in the United States where deep, communal listening is necessary. There are many ways to do this. There are many ways to protest recent atrocities and to amplify the voices of African-Americans who have for too long been sidelined.
Since John Joe Badger is primarily an illustrated character, I share with you this:
Children’s literature can shape young minds who will shape the future. Let us feed their minds with books that inspire a future we can be proud of.
I’ve barely published a thing. So I barely have a voice, really. But I believe in the power of story and of the drawn image. I believe in the idea of change and that this change can be driven via inspiring imagery.
This weekly John Joe illustration is my small offering, in this space, just now.
If you read this blog regularly and want further reading and deeper ideas on how to dig in and do the hard work, I suggest digging into the following:
This is Week 30 of my little series. Depending upon the state of things, John Joe and I may go on a bit of a hiatus until fall when things like velvet waistcoats, hot tea and strolls in the forest come back into fashion. But we may surprise you and keep going. I do not know.
Either way, through it all, the tunes and the tea will still be flowing. In hard times, joyful tunes and aromatic tea are a balm for the senses of a sensitive creature.