Greetings from Maine. My home away from home. (I have a few.)
There is a yearly gift I offer, to the muses of art and music, to that of friends seldom seen, to places I hold dear but do not occupy on the daily. Most years these offerings come easily. Other years, in eras of difficulty or “the in between”; hard times of cocooning to become our better selves, these posts -dripping with honesty and true love – are harder to give birth to.
On the one hand, as my dear flute-sister-friend Ellen so eloquently put it, :
“Sometimes, when something is close to perfect, there is not much to say, it is complete as it is.”
On the other hand, I simply can’t let this year’s return to the Swannanoa Gathering go unwritten, undocumented. It had been 3 long years since we’d all been together making music and mayhem. On yet another hand, how to even begin?
So I’ll just begin with the loss of a legend. I had the off chance to have a quick meet up and brief flute lesson with the great Seamus Tansey in the “before times” while in Ireland in late 2019. He was a force to be reckoned with and I knew I was shadowed in the light of greatness in our couple of hours together. It was surreal to say the least and I am so glad to have met him.
I received word just before Celtic Week that Seamus had left this realm for greener pastures, and god-speed to him as he navigates the great beyond. He brought many gifts to the music. So as our week began at Swannanoa, he was on my mind a good bit.
To say that I was a tad anxious about attending a “gathering” in the midst of yet another round of Covid’s latest shenanigans, would be putting it mildly. But I trusted my loved ones at camp and we had a plan. A plan that included mostly keeping to ourselves, mostly keeping out of doors when at all possible, sadly avoiding indoor concert options (most of us at least) and basically just doing what we had done in our bubbles for the past couple of years.
“This fear is a terrible chore. If only we had enough sense to let it give way to love.” ~The Shins
There was still a distinct culture of covid-based fears upon our arrival, especially amongst the staff. I quite literally found myself walking away from the annual orientation to quell the panic bubbling up amidst the all too understandable rhetoric coming down to us from on high. But we had our plan, we knew our risks, we orbited outside of the center of things. We dove in.
Through the week some moments float to the surface. Some better documented than others:
Finally meeting Alia, soon-to-be daughter in-law to some of our Swannie loved ones, whose work with Hannah online is shaping culture to be more loving, understanding and inclusive. They are brilliant and if you are on instagram and consider yourself an ally for anyone in the LGBTQ+ community, they are a hopeful follow.
Receiving a tear-inducing compliment from an old Swannie connection that basically amounted to “you and your work, your postings online, basically got me through the pandemic.” I was deeply moved to hear this and did come to tears, which to be fair were quite close to the surface all week anyway. Here’s to more of us putting small, thoughtful, hopeful things out into the world. Never question the power of love. Thank you Kate.
Plucking up the courage to ask the somewhat recognizable but clearly incognito Rising Appalachia gals if they were indeed themselves. They were so gracious and, yes, it was indeed themselves – out at band camp with their mama. Learning new things, being vulnerable. I sent a snapshot of myself with them to my own girl and we had a mama/daughter love moment over music and the vulnerability of life in general. They are lovely. so is their mom.
Daily cocktail hours celebrating each day, and near the end of the week, the anniversary of my dear friends David and Ellen. We even played their wedding march together with our teacher and friend Nuala Kennedy.
I met new friends over my little multi tool which just happens to have a wine opener on it. Madeleine, Ann Marie, Alicia, TJ, et al, so glad to have met you all! Let’s do it again next year. Later we all sang and played while mountain storms danced around us.
There was a full moon, and much mystery surrounding it.
There were even some howling wolves afoot, though I am still looking for footage. Thankfully, Nuala chased them away from the door.
There were evening sessions with beloved instructors who share the love of this music with us and with each other with such generosity that we marvel.
I attended piping classes which was low-level terrifying for this still-new piper self.
My fellow pipers in class were welcoming and kind and our instructor Cillian was the picture of patience and poise. (One needs these in a room full of pipers.) Outside of class I was grateful for the encouragement of not only my flute teachers but of old musical friends as well, championing my new efforts. Would that all humans were so encouraging of one-another in all new endeavors. Just think what we might accomplish!
There was seriousness of purpose. And a lot of noise.
There were new polkas which caught the ear of some local towhees:
We were slowly, and ever so sweetly, reminded of who we were meant to be. We were reminded of what we are worth, especially when we have a tune in our hearts. We were reminded of what we are made of and who we deserve to be.
This is what art does really. It connects, it channels, it swells and sweeps us into new ways of being. And let’s face it, we need new ways. The other day it was 106° in Paris France. It’s been in the 90’s here in Maine.
While at the Swannanoa Gathering I met a writer (and whistle player) who’s written a beautiful book (she’s written a number of them actually) that is on the surface a fairy story for the young adult set. But like so many books in the YA realm, this book flows into deeper truths. About how we are treating the world and one another. It’s beautiful and I plowed through my first reading of it. I now revisit it with wider eyes seeking deeper truths. Always seeking.
Because here is what I believe, the forces driving climate change and all of the heart break lying therein are, on the one hand, of course our responsibility. And yet, they are not, not exactly. We are a small part of such a huge set of systems, that the only real thing to do is push for systemic change. Which we must do.
So that leaves us with our day to day. In the face of such enormity, what can we do? Like really?
Well, VOTE. That’s one thing. Set aside all other agendas and vote to save one another. Our country in particular is in deep, deep trouble.
Beyond that, and this merely comes from my quiet corner of things, we must dig deep down to find ourselves and one-another. We must risk asking hard questions and be ready to receive difficult answers outside of our little egos who might like to explain and correct and think we are “right”. We must look to the youngest among us and trust them when they tell us of how to move ahead. We must step aside. And listen.
And in the day to day, we must trust the art. Trust the making of music. Trust and come home to reconnecting with those who make our hearts sing. We must trust the drifting of our world into a minor key. Trust the beauty and difficulty to be found there. We must turn off the noise sometimes and just step outside ourselves to find the answers to difficult questions.
Above all, and this is merely a note to self, we mustn’t lose the joy in our lives. It’s easy to do isn’t it? With the never ending stream of news and difficulties around the world. We must try and hold both truths in our hearts. That we are at once, in deep and existential trouble, and that at any given moment, we carry the very human tools of laughter and connection, art and music and wordsmithery, and are capable of making meaning out of mayhem.
I am so deeply indebted to my yearly pilgrimage to the Swannanoa Gathering which reminds me of all of these things. Most especially the making meaning out of mayhem bit. I’d not be the writer, artist, musician, human being I am without all the things I’ve learned there, all the wonderful people I’ve met there who have become a family of sorts. For all of this, I am deeply grateful.
****To current patrons, this is a “public post” as a gift to my old and new swannanoa buddies who may or may not follow my posts on the regular. To anyone new who likes what you’ve read here and who might want to read more and/or support the work that goes into it, I’ve been posting more often via Patreon. This allows me to pay my tech bills which is a wonderful thing.
Here’s the link: https://www.patreon.com/amybogard?fan_landing=true
Till next year swannie siblings. I love you all.