We are returned safely from travels and settled in, but more on that later……
Recently we heard from Mickey Dunne over in Limerick, Ireland that the half-set of uilleann pipes he is carefully crafting for me is nearly complete. I am very sad that I cannot go to Ireland this fall to collect them in person, meet Mickey and thank him properly. But this is just the way of things, and we soldier on.
Meanwhile, I am as a new parent preparing a nursery with all the necessary accoutrements for the new arrival. This week’s Twist of Hemp offering finds John Joe Badger diligently shopping for all the necessities and sundries so that we will be ready when the pipes (with drones!) finally arrive.
It is week 39 of our weekly adventure, John Joe and I. I am slowly learning a few tunes but still feel clumsy and more at home on the flute. Making a drawing for this series each week helps me keep track of how long I’ve been at this pipes thing while reminding me to just have a little fun with it along the way. It’s been a very long time since I purchased a proper instrument outside of a whistle of delryn flute here or there. I am nervous about it all and trying just to treat it like an investment. In myself, in the music, in the world.
These covid times can mess with our heads if we allow them to. What are you doing to keep yourself sane, grounded and invested in the world? I’m learning tunes, painting and drawing and walking many miles.
Skies – sunsets in particular – have been magnificent. Reminding us of our small place in the world.
Evening jaunts on the boat allow us a break from the heat on shore and affords us quality time together (at once more than we can handle and never enough – how I love this chosen family of mine).
At times we must dock the boat near the little local general store to stock up on supplies. And sometimes we forget our masks and must improvise which results in iconic fashionry.
In this time of fear and uncertainty, we see others and wish them well, while also hoping they never come too close.
The light here in Maine, from a painter’s perspective, is perfection. I take source photos for later use. Balancing the time here, trying not to be selfish. As usual, I would split the artist side of self off to go work in the corner all week bathed in paints while the rest of human self could dive into a book or a group activity in earnest. But the art always calls and there is no splitting. And so here we are. I do the best I can.
It is a gorgeous day outside, and I have a paddleboard planned with my dearest, long time friend (she birthed both my babies with me back in the day, so you get the depth of our connection.) Later, some socially distant music is planned with a fellow Irish musician local to these lakelands and I am grateful to find a tune here in the wilds, so far from home.
I realize that home is only as far away as the next tune, the next friend, the next dip into some paint of any kind.
I am home the minute I can center into a bit of music, or a puddle of paint, or a beautiful fireside conversation with loved ones (while a mysterious mink waterly wanders by with nary a splash.)
There has been daily practicing of the pipes, as the lady pipers group has done a tune trade this summer and my job was to learn a tune from my “tune fairie” and record said tune to share with my mystery tune-provider.
It was terrifying. Honestly.
But I did it, as I am keen to do this. To learn. To find my small place in this tradition. Even as an American with only distant ties to the motherland of this music, even as an adult learner with so very little musical knowledge. Even as merely an artist. Something about all of it makes just sense.
And so I dive in. Best I can. We have limited time, always. Especially when on vacation. Especially when on vacation during a global pandemic. I know this.
This limit is why I paint. Why I play. Why I write.
There is a recent article in Downeast Magazine about Miss Rumphius, a favorite book of mine about bringing beauty into the world as one lives one’s life. I highly recommend it….
It’s the ocean side of this journey, and we couldn’t be happier. It being Tuesday, I have a John Joe Badger drawing to share with you, of course. His journey and mine are interwoven in music and adventure and so, this week’s illustration features oceanic imagery and the stories I love.
Today’s swim found us meeting with high tide and so the dip into the sea was a simple one.
My god-daughter and I stole away from the co-working space, aka home, for the day’s swim and conditions were the best yet. There is nothing like a cold dip and then drying out on warm stone.
I never tire of the view off the coast here. Islands upon islands leading out to the Atlantic ocean proper, all of them offering magical little inlets, coves and wharves which are so picturesque.
I can’t capture all of them, but I capture what I can.
There is a magic to the Atlantic ocean – ancient, mysterious. No matter which side of the pond one finds oneself on.
John Joe Badger finds himself practicing his pipes every day on this trip to Maine (as do I). And he finds himself enjoying the company of friends as well.
We are keen to make contact with seals at some point perhaps and it looks as if John Joe already has.
He plays the tunes he knows for his new friends. Always trying to tap into the magic that the music, and the sea, provide.
Two of the videos above I gleaned from the blog of a favorite artist/writer/friend Terri Windling. *here* is the link. If you want a dose of magic and escape on the internet, go subscribe. It’s always beautiful and worth the time. The other, from Ronan Browne, is a perennial favorite of mine and an air that I play on the flute and am learning on the pipes. It’s a haunting thing, an oceanic melody and I never tire of it.
Thanks, as always, for following along on this escapeful journey of ours.
This evening I was walking the lone, remaining dog up the drive. She doesn’t care for a long walk really, being fully deaf and mostly blind, but she does still like a good ole sniff along. I spied some neighbors walking by. A mother and adult son by the looks of it. They were thick into conversation, and looked up just in time to wave to myself and little Charlie from afar. And I got to thinking about the silverish lining of these strange and grief-full times in which we find ourselves just now.
Today would have been Full Day One at the Swannanoa Gathering and to be quite honest, I have been a bed of ready tears since the day before yesterday. I had texted my friend Peter on Saturday about the snacks and tunes and books-on-tape we might have shared along the drive south together on Sunday if we had been able to actually go.
Then Sunday morning, the waterworks really began as there were videos available from the Celtic Week Staff (only temporary, so click *here* for now, but not forever…) to wish us all well as we weather this heartbreaking non-time.
Thankfully the weather here locally was remarkably reasonable so I went for a hike and a little bicycle ride with the Hub and tried not to think about what we’ve lost this year.
It didn’t work.
I still had a good sob in the bath upon returning home, in spite of a day well spent in good company.
Grief is a funny country. It doesn’t follow the rules of polite society. It’s prickly territory.
Having had a dance with griefs big and small over the years, I figured, let’s just dance with it again and see what happens. As I communicated with all of my favorite summer and musical soul mates we talked of how fortunate we all are to have one another, if but from afar. To have this music in our lives to give us strength in hard times. We are all sad not to be together this year, but we are all hopeful that we will persevere toward better times. We know what we have here. And we are grateful.
So for now we work on our craft, learning new tunes, new instruments maybe. We weather this grief, personally, collectively. We know our loss of this week together is just one small loss in the Grand Scheme. But we grieve anyway.
There are plans to gather online in coming days, weeks, months, as best we can and we solider on with the help of our loved ones who seem to know how hard this is.
Case in point, I was drawing late this afternoon and heard the distinct sound of Irish music coming from outside. And wouldn’t you know, my Hub, knowing how difficult this has all been on me had set up a little ‘beer tent’ in the back yard in honor of Swannanoa. It’s the most thoughtful thing.
I think about that mother and son from my neighborhood and wonder if he, as a young person, is perhaps stuck at home unexpectedly with his parents in this wild, pandemicly charged time. Might they be getting to know each other in new and unexpected ways? I do not know. But maybe.
Small, unexpected silver linings in what is indeed a very dark time in the world.
As for me, I’ve seen more of my garden this year than in years past and I am glad of it, even if it means the work I do in the world will not look as it has in the past, at least this year. Even if it means my adventures have been tamed for the season. I am glad of the time here at home, fraught as it has been with worry about The State of Things.
Do I wish I were with my musical mates this evening down at Swannanoa? Yes, of course I do. But instead, here I am in a different sort of time, trying to make sense of things as they are. Blooming where I am planted.
In a couple of days we will make the quiet drive to Maine. Stealing away like thieves in the night. Before departure, I’ll get the garlic out of the ground for the season, and engage a neighbor to water the rest of the plants while we are away.
I’ll admit to be a bit anxious about the journey. There are no plans to engage anyone or anything once there, besides our extended family. We know how fortunate we are to even have this option of ‘away time’. And this is another prickly level of things. To allow grief for the things in our lives that aren’t happening this year, and joy for the things that are, amidst the complexities of the world at large.
We must make space in our hearts for all of it. To be at once missing wistful tunes in misty mountains outside of Asheville while also making fervent calls to government representatives. To doodle gentle creatures while gardening as if our lives might depend upon it. Perhaps they may yet. We mustn’t lose our capacity for complexity in these times. We must remain richly invested in all of it. The good when we can find it, the difficult when it confronts us, the grief-ridden – especially as a collective of human beans.
In a long ago chapter of our early days together, we were faced with a number of long deployments due to Tony’s work in the Navy. Fortunately, these were in peaceful days and the dangers were relatively few. But nevertheless, the separations were difficult. I used to have a system of whining about it all that gave space for the grieving without wallowing in it. A couple of days of feeling pitiful, with allowances for ice cream for breakfast, an extra bottle of wine or what have you. And then, I’d wipe my tears, and get back to the job at hand. The time eventually passed, possessing its own arc and way. This pandemic is a bit like a long and terrible deployment I think. We have no idea how long it may last. I think it’s vital to let ourselves whinge a bit now and then about the waves of losses that have come in the wake of this thing. To be a bit weepy for a day or two in the midst of it all is far better than to armor up completely under the guise of “being strong” or feeling like our small griefs do not count when others have lost so much more. Armor is not good for an open heart.
I hope y’all are keeping safe and sane in these difficult times. We will get through. Together. Seek joy where you can. Lean on one another. Send letters. Have a good sob in the tub now and then. But don’t lose faith all together.
Here’s one more lovely thing as well. I am ever so grateful for music.
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?
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 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!!!!!
In this brave new world of zooming here and there and everywhere, we are confronted with the giants among us, musically and culturally speaking. We have opportunities to hear from them about their musical journeys and to learn from them in classes in the online sphere.
These opportunities can have a badger feeling rather small sometimes, but take heart John Joe! We must all start somewhere, yes?