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Steve West
I'm a writer, walker, and nature lover
Interests: walking, nature, and writing, reading (both good fiction and non-fiction), listening to music (particularly power-pop and alt-country), travel (particularly in the west)
Recent Activity
Ring out 2018 early with a very special concert with Brooklyn's Burlap to Cashmere. Pop Matters says "If there’s room in your pop heaven for Simon & Garfunkel, Cat Stevens, the Indigo Girls, and Fleet Foxes, you oughta make room for Burlap to Cashmere, mostly-acoustic choogaloogers with a thing for lyrics both inscrutable and sincere." Christianity Today says of its self-titled album that "the new album's natural production allows acoustic guitars to sound like acoustic guitars—an important detail since the band's world-music influences remain intact (a good thing). . . .The flamenco guitars and uncommon time signatures are captivating, and the melodies in "Santorini," an ode to Greece, sound like they were snatched right off the country's shores." It'll be a treat to have Burlap to Cashmere here in Cary on December 30th. Please join us. Get your tickets now. Continue reading
In just three days we'll be hosting Brooklyn's Burlap to Cashmere in full touring band for a concert in Cary! This incredible, Meditteranean-sound influenced band can rock as well as sing soft, sweet, Simon and Garfunkel-esque songs, like "Love Reclaims the Atmosphere," a performance of which appears here. Don't miss this rare appearance of the full band. There's still room. Get your tickets now. WATCH B2C perform "Love Reclaims the Atmosphere": TICKETS: Click here. Continue reading
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In just five days Brooklyn's Burlap to Cashmere will be in concert in Cary. I can't describe the energy of hearing this band live - captivating, moving, lyrically provocative. That's a start. Listening to them you hear some deeply thoughtful lyrics delivered with passion and zest. Yet I can't quite describe their Mediterranean-infused folk rock. You have to hear it. Now that Christmas is over, think about next weekend. What's happening? Not much, right? Avoid the sometimes madness of New Years Eve and come out on the Eve of the Eve for a concert followed by light food and drink. Meet the band. Meet some new and old friends. Sunday, December 30th. 7:00. Peace Church. Cary. Get your tickets here. And check out this fabulous band in an energetic performance below. Continue reading
Christmas is around the corner, true, but just beyond that, on the horizon, is a very special concert with Brooklyn's Burlap to Cashmere. Pop Matters says "If there’s room in your pop heaven for Simon & Garfunkel, Cat Stevens, the Indigo Girls, and Fleet Foxes, you oughta make room for Burlap to Cashmere, mostly-acoustic choogaloogers with a thing for lyrics both inscrutable and sincere." Christianity Today says of its self-titled album that "the new album's natural production allows acoustic guitars to sound like acoustic guitars—an important detail since the band's world-music influences remain intact (a good thing). . . .The flamenco guitars and uncommon time signatures are captivating, and the melodies in "Santorini," an ode to Greece, sound like they were snatched right off the country's shores." It'll be a treat - a Christmas present - to have Burlap to cashmere here in Cary on December 30th. Please join us. Get your tickets now. Continue reading
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In 1976 I was sitting in my dormitory room, a freshman at university, reading a 1971 book by Walter Trobisch, entitled Love Is a Feeling to Be Learned. That September I had moved in with a high school acquaintance, Rick, a stocky design school student who was the son of one of my mother’s good friends. It was an antiquated building, the oldest dormitory on campus. A clanging announced the onset of radiator heat; a Southern Railways train periodically roared noisily through campus a block away, rattling our single window; and goings on by the less studious echoed off the uncarpeted hallways. But I kept reading. The noise receded to the background. Trobisch’s prose was riveting. More booklet than book, Trobisch’s point was not novel and yet was paradigm-changing for me: Love is not merely or primarily a feeling but an action, verb and not noun. Scripture gets at it when it observes that God “set His love” on Israel (Deut. 7:7). God sets His love on us. In His case, it was His deliberate choice to love the loveless, to reach across time and space, the infinite to the finite, and love, with all that entails. When we set our love on someone, we choose, irrespective of feeling, to commit ourselves to relationship with them, to do the work of love. But I didn’t know that then. Until then, I thought of love as something you fell into and out of - a frustrating roller-coaster of emotion. Trobisch changed that. I still have the book 42 years later and, on recently re-reading it, marveled at its relevancy, frankness, and wisdom. More than that, reading this book or any book by Trobisch is a warming and resuscitative experience. A pastor and counselor, you sense that he is almost across the table from you, having a conversation with you and only you, the world dropping away. Still more, Trobisch evinces a willingness to get involved, reaching out of the pages of his book and across the decades to the reader - to the perplexed, despondent, and lovelorn. Evidence: In the front of the book, he writes this: “Some of the readers of this booklet may also feel the need of a personal conversation with a trustworthy advisor. It is certainly preferable to find such a counsellor in your vicinity whom you see often at regular intervals.” Then this amazing invitation: “However, in case you find no one, you may write to me and I shall try to help you by correspondence.” He signed his name, followed by his personal address: Lichtenberg 6, A-4880 St. Georgen i.A., Austria. I would write him if I could, if nothing more than to thank him. Rick is eating cold pizza for a late breakfast, fuel for tackling introductory calculus problems. He warned me: It’s an all-male dorm, yet there’s a girl in the shower, a sometimes live-in down the hall. I thank him. “How can you eat that,” I say. “How can I not,” he says. He teeters back in his chair and sips hot tea, before diving back into the inexplicable: calculus. I don’t think Rick has a girlfriend or dates, but I don’t ask him. “You may write to me and I shall try to help you.” This and other books by Trobisch had a worldwide publication. Many of them, beginning with 1965’s I Loved a Girl, were based on such letters as Trobisch invited. Who today would carry on such correspondence? Who today would make such an unselfish offer? Trobisch founded no ministry, sought no donations, charged no fees. He simply offered to help, if he could. Trobisch was born in 1923 and came of age in Nazi Germany. At 18 he was drafted and sent to the Russian front. He survived the Battle of Stalingrad, but was severely wounded. During that tumult, he embraced Christ, the faith in which he had been schooled at home. After recuperating, he was sent to the Russian front again, where he was wounded again and narrowly escaped. During recuperation in Vienna, he was able to study theology. Yet once recovered, he was sent to the front for a third time, this time in Italy, where he was wounded yet again. In recovery there, he became convinced of the evil of the Nazi empire. Recalled to Germany to defend the Homeland, he was captured by Americans. When he was found to be a theological student, he was released. He walked 300 miles to his home in Leipzig, through a country littered with the destruction of war. Finding that the communists of now East Germany were in control, he fled to West Germany. Ultimately, he completed his studies in the United States, at Augustana University, where he met his wife Ingrid. Walter and Ingrid accepted a call to Cameroon, in West Africa, in 1953, where he became a chaplain and teacher. It was there that he entered into a counseling ministry focusing on relationships, marriage, and sex. His correspondence with Francois and Cecile, two West Africans, became the letters that make up I Loved a Girl and I Love a Young Man. In them, youth world-wide found that the particular cultural context in which this couple’s problems arose were overshadowed by the universal experiences they shared with all. Returning to Austria for a study sabbatical in the 1960s, he was inundated by hundreds of letters from young people seeking answers. He answered them. Sometimes Ingrid answered them. Yet all were answered. “Happiness is only a part of love - this is what has to be learned,” wrote Trobisch. “Suffering belongs to love also. This is the mystery of love, its beauty and burden.” I put the book down on my desk and look out my dormitory window. In the park across the street, couples sit and talk, leaning in toward one another. Rick left for the cocoon of his design studio. In a few minutes William will come by for a visit, and we’ll talk of love and lack of love, of how to navigate relationships with women, of frustrations and trouble, much of our own doing. I don’t know what happened to Rick. I moved out after that year and lost track of him. I lost track of William as well. I don’t know if they married or remain alone. I don't know what they learned or failed to learn about love in the decades that followed. The next year I met my wife. I set my love on her. It’s still setting right there. I’m not nearly as wise as was Walter Trobisch. You probably shouldn’t write me for advice. But I can tell you that he was right: Love is a feeling to be learned. You learn it in the doing of it. Continue reading
Posted Dec 20, 2018 at Out Walking
This is my favorite song - what I consider the centerpiece - of Burlap to Cashmere's self-titled record released a few years ago. Shortly after hearing the record, some friends along with my wife and I attended a Burlap to Cashmere concert at The Arts Center in Carrboro. It was especially poignant and comforting, as at the time my mother was in hospice and, unknown to me, would die two days later. So, that concert, and this record, and this song in particular, have special meaning for me. Since that first time hearing Burlap, I have heard them four times - twice in my house, and twice in New York City. They are excellent musicians and wonderfully kind people, and love interacting with an audience, on or off stage. It'll be a treat - a Christmas present - to have them here in Cary on December 30th. Please join us. Get your tickets now. TICKETS: Click here.! Continue reading
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“I am always humbled by the infinite ingenuity of the Lord, who can make a red barn cast a blue shadow.” (E.B. White) Saturday Snow is in the forecast, yet the weather people hedge their bets, prognosticating winter weather so as to cover rain, freezing rain, sleet, or snow, to be vindicated in their predictions no matter what the Lord brings. A gray, cold sky is promising; even the birds have gone quiet; a blue shadow is over the land. A construction worker hammers away, and I hear in his frenetic tapping expectation. Advent. I put the kettle on for tea. I peruse the selections. Opting for a more radical course, I chose Holiday Chai. I’d like to say I know what chai means but confess I don’t. I look it up. “A drink of tea made with cardamon and various other spices,” I read. Cardamon? “The aromatic seed capsules of a tropical Asian plant, Elettaria cardamomum, of the ginger family, used as a spice or condiment and in medicine.” A chai is also “a shed or other aboveground building where a winemaker stores wine in casks.” A red barn, perhaps. “Elettaria cardamomum,” I say, aloud, and my voice sounds odd around such a phrase so early in the morning. Chai Holiday wasn’t bad. Like drinking a Christmas tree. The tree we bought a week ago is slurping water. Yesterday the well of the tree stand was dry. In little more than one day, it drank over four liters, measured out by the Diet Coke bottle I use to fill it. Then again, the cats have been hovering near the tree and have been known to drink its elixir. Cat chai. I need to check it. I let one cat out, with assistance. “You’ll thank me later,” I say. “Ciao.” She slinks away beneath the shrubbery. I went out for a walk alone. No one was around. Ambition seized me and I began working through a mental prayer list, yet I continually veered off the path of piety. I thought about the pine trees leaning toward my neighbor’s home and the impending winter weather. I found myself walking down the dirt streets of Kampala, Uganda, with Ugandan friends. I circled back to prayer, only to detour to lists and plans and wonderings, mixing the impious with the pious. I came in, settled in my chair, and read Psalm 121. “The Lord will keep. . . your life. . . . The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in.” The verse is an epigram in the front of a book I read entitled Picking Up. The author, anthropologist Robin Nagle, signed on with the sanitation workers of New York City for a first-hand report on their world. Her trashy book is staring at me from its perch high on the bookshelf. There are men on the roof. No, I am not delusional. Men are extending ladders onto our high roof and cleaning off the roof and gutters. Their work boots clomp up and down its incline. Pine straw and leaves shower from the eaves. High in the pines, squirrels scurry from branch to branch, busy putting away winter stores. A male cardinal alights in the tree outside my study window, cocking his head to look at me before taking flight. “Awoke early and lay still in the dark,” wrote E.B. White circa 1942, an unremarkable statement recalling an impromptu, unplanned stay in an inn found in a place with the unlikely name of China, Maine. And yet I identify here, 76 years later. I always awake early. This morning I awoke aware that for the first time in a couple of days I could breathe easily, having had until then a tremendous head cold. I lay there breathing thanks, grateful for the ingenuity of the Lord in giving us two nostrils, as in practice I have found that even though one may be occluded, the other will function. And that’s probably more than you wish to hear about that. “Lay still in the dark,” wrote White, “listening to the singing in the next room.” Two nights ago, after a showing of Disney on Ice with a far younger crowd, I sat in my study listening to my 24-year old daughter sing. That is a beautiful sound, liquid and pure, seeping in between the molecules of the drywall. I stopped my typing so I could listen and smile. That I get to be here, that I get to see and hear all this. It’s humbling, here, in the shadow. Continue reading
Posted Dec 9, 2018 at Out Walking
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"Tonight you had real musicicans." That's what one attendee told me. "Incredible night, incredible venue, one I will not forget." That's what another person told me. And what a concert is was! On both occasions when I have had Burlap to Cashmere in the house, tickets have sold out. 75 people willingly cram together in my home for this popular band. This is a band that really connects with an audience and stays around talking to each person until the very last fan leaves. That's rare. Now, however, you have a bit more room, better stage and lighting, and a full band for the first time in the area when the band plays at Peace Presbyterian Church in Cary on Sunday, December 30th at 7:00. What are you doing that evening? That's what I thought - nothing! Avoid the NYE crowds and come out on the Eve of the Eve. And hang around for food and drink afterwards and talk with the band. Get your tickets now for this incredible show by clicking here. What do they play? Songs from their entire repertoire, audience requests, and new tunes from Freedom Souls, their newest release. And a few bonuses: Covers like "Folsom Prison Blues by Johnny Cash, and "The Boxer," by Paul Simon, and perhaps even a little B2C Christmas cheer. Wise cracks. Confessions. "Family" ribbing (Johnny and Steve are cousins, and Teddy may as well be, as he grew up with them.) And the fans? Many die-hard, some new. All convinced that this is a great band. The first time I hosted this band, one couple called to apologize that they could not make the "drive FROM OHIO due to the rain." Wow. Others drove a couple hours in the rain. But all were excited to be here. What a chemistry this band has, what warmth, what soul, and what heart. Brooklyn and Jersey come South. HERE'S MORE: READ: For a band that many wondered what had happened to, the last few years have seen Burlap to Cashmere blow back into the national scene with gusto. In 1998 the band released the critically acclaimed debut Anybody Out There? After a whirlwind of tours, awards and an ever-growing fan base, they did what no one expected. They disappeared. And then, they were back. In 2010 the band headed into the studio with acclaimed producer Mitchell Froom (Elvis Costello, Paul McCartney, Sheryl Crow, Tom Waits). The result? A self-titled album of new, organic sounds with faith-tinged lyrics that won't leave your head. And with this year's Freedom Souls,they continue with that same organic sound with just enough tweak to keep us guessing, With its core lineup intact – singer/guitarist/songwriter Steven Delopoulos, guitarist John Philippidis, and drummer Theodore Pagano — Burlap to Cashmere returned with renewed focus, drive and energy. “There’s something about family and people you’ve known forever that makes the chemistry happen,” Delopoulos says. “There’s a sense of honesty and trust. That’s Burlap to Cashmere.” This is a band that has a deep and accomplished musicianship and a really distinctive sound. This is particularly apparent in the songs that incorporate their unique approach to traditional Greek rhythms, songs that recall the musical intimacy of Cat Stevens, Van Morrison, Bob Dylan and Simon and Garfunkel, coupled with Delopoulos’ introspective, poetic songwriting. Fans of modern troubadour outfits like the Avett Brothers and Mumford and Sons will find common ground with Burlap to Cashmere’s output, with the added textures of the Greek and Mediterranean influences further fleshing out the band’s unique take on 21st Century folk-rock music. WATCH B2C perform "Closer to the Edge"... Continue reading
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A couple years ago I wrote a review of Burlap to Cashmere's last album, Freedom Souls. I called lead singer Steven Delopoulous on the phone and had a good chat, distilling this review from listening to him. I think it gives a good insight into the soul of this band. "I still don't know how to write a song," says Steven Delopoulous, lead singer and songwriter for Burlap to Cashmere. "It's still a mystery, but still something I want to tackle."When Burlap to Cashmere burst into the Christian music scene in the late Nineties, they were in their twenties - a hardworking Brooklyn band fighting for every gig they got. A 1998 Squint/A&M debut, Anybody Out There?, garnered excellent reviews and better gigs, as well as an opening spot on a Jars of Clay tour. Watching a YouTube video of their performance of “Basic Instructions” at Creation Festival in 1999 is to behold a Greek version of an Avett Brothers/ Gypsy Kings mashup, band members full of movement, interacting with the crowd, and enjoying each other. This is family music, soaked in the sounds of the Mediterranean, mixed with a little Cat Stevens and Simon and Garfunkel, and simmered in the stew of what you imagine to be a big, lovable, sometimes loud Greek family, with profound lyrics that won't leave your head. But while this talented band made a good start, constant touring took its toll. So in the early 2000s, band members each went their own way, some to marry and have families, all to steady jobs. After an incident of road rage left lead guitarist Johnny Phillipidis in a coma for three weeks, it wan’t clear that they would ever perform again. Yet, after a miraculous recovery, in 2011 the three founding members — Phillipidis, cousin Steven Delopoulous, and Theodore Pagano regrouped, releasing a critically acclaimed self-titled album on Sony/Jive. They recently returned with a crowd-funded follow up, Freedom Souls. OnFreedom Souls Greek rhythms once again appear, whether in the “The Great I Am,” a lyrical statement of faith, or the crowd-pleasing closer, “Dialing God,” which has a rousing three-minute coda of dizzying musicianship. In between, there are familiar folk and country strains, as well as a few departures, as in the title track, with its lounge music vibe. And while their 2011 album was lyrically rich but often veiled in meaning, like fine poetry, Freedom Souls is driven by more overt expressions of belief. The opening track, “I Will Follow,” is both a statement of deliverance from sin and a commitment to follow Christ, with lyricist and lead singer Deloupolous lamenting that “I have followed my bones, I have followed this world/ But in the long run it seems it never cured my woes.” In a way, Freedom Souls hearkens back to the declaratory statements of their 1998 debut, strained through the crucible of life experience. Deloupolous attributes the lyrical freedom to this being a fan-supported record. With the previous mainstream release, the label wanted him to “dumb down the lyrics, even though I naturally write that way. I enjoy writing faith-based records because it’s freeing for me. There’s a lot of meat and potatoes in a verse out of the Bible, and I like playing with that.” If there’s a lyrical centerpiece here, it’s likely the folksy mid-album ballad entitled “Passover,” which while not instrumentally incendiary has the memorable musical feel of the last album’s “Closer to the Edge.” With it’s reference to “blood on the door,” Delopulous summons up that familiar scriptural narrative of judgment and deliverance to animate the prayer of the chorus,... Continue reading
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"Tonight you had real musicicans." That's what one attendee told me. "Incredible night, incredible venue, one I will not forget." That's what another person told me. And what a concert is was! On both occasions when I have had Burlap to Cashmere in the house, tickets have sold out. 75 people willingly cram together in my home for this popular band. This is a band that really connects with an audience and stays around talking to each person until the very last fan leaves. That's rare. Now, however, you have a bit more room, better stage and lighting, and a full band for the first time in the area when the band plays at Peace Presbyterian Church in Cary on Sunday, December 30th at 7:00. What are you doing that evening? That's what I thought - nothing! Avoid the NYE crowds and come out on the Eve of the Eve. And hang around for food and drink afterwards and talk with the band. Get your tickets now for this incredible show by clicking here. What do they play? Songs from their entire repertoire, audience requests, and new tunes from Freedom Souls, their newest release. And a few bonuses: Covers like "Folsom Prison Blues by Johnny Cash, and "The Boxer," by Paul Simon, and perhaps even a little B2C Christmas cheer. Wise cracks. Confessions. "Family" ribbing (Johnny and Steve are cousins, and Teddy may as well be, as he grew up with them.) And the fans? Many die-hard, some new. All convinced that this is a great band. The first time I hosted this band, one couple called to apologize that they could not make the "drive FROM OHIO due to the rain." Wow. Others drove a couple hours in the rain. But all were excited to be here. What a chemistry this band has, what warmth, what soul, and what heart. Brooklyn and Jersey come South. HERE'S MORE: READ: For a band that many wondered what had happened to, the last few years have seen Burlap to Cashmere blow back into the national scene with gusto. In 1998 the band released the critically acclaimed debut Anybody Out There? After a whirlwind of tours, awards and an ever-growing fan base, they did what no one expected. They disappeared. And then, they were back. In 2010 the band headed into the studio with acclaimed producer Mitchell Froom (Elvis Costello, Paul McCartney, Sheryl Crow, Tom Waits). The result? A self-titled album of new, organic sounds with faith-tinged lyrics that won't leave your head. And with this year's Freedom Souls,they continue with that same organic sound with just enough tweak to keep us guessing, With its core lineup intact – singer/guitarist/songwriter Steven Delopoulos, guitarist John Philippidis, and drummer Theodore Pagano — Burlap to Cashmere returned with renewed focus, drive and energy. “There’s something about family and people you’ve known forever that makes the chemistry happen,” Delopoulos says. “There’s a sense of honesty and trust. That’s Burlap to Cashmere.” This is a band that has a deep and accomplished musicianship and a really distinctive sound. This is particularly apparent in the songs that incorporate their unique approach to traditional Greek rhythms, songs that recall the musical intimacy of Cat Stevens, Van Morrison, Bob Dylan and Simon and Garfunkel, coupled with Delopoulos’ introspective, poetic songwriting. Fans of modern troubadour outfits like the Avett Brothers and Mumford and Sons will find common ground with Burlap to Cashmere’s output, with the added textures of the Greek and Mediterranean influences further fleshing out the band’s unique take on 21st Century folk-rock music. WATCH B2C perform "Closer to the Edge"... Continue reading
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It doesn’t have to be the blue iris, it could be weeds in a vacant lot, or a few small stones; just pay attention, then patch a few words together and don’t try to make them elaborate, this isn’t a contest but the doorway into thanks, and a silence in which another voice may speak. (“Praying,” by Mary Oliver, in Devotions: The Selected Poems of Mary Oliver, 2017) At lunch a few days ago, a friend said, “Look, you have four hours in a car. What do you do? You don’t want it to be dead time. You want it to matter.” He’s right. I want to pay attention. When I pull back the curtain on the single window in our hotel room, a rectangle of cool blackness fills in. There’s a sheen of water painted on blacktop, tree limbs shellacked with ice, a dusting of powdered snow on car tops. On the ridge above me the lit squares of apartment windows tell me someone’s home. Dreams flicker in the night. I want to pay attention. A man leans against a car, huddled against the cold, smoking a cigarette. A lonely car passes on an elevated road, taillights winking. A light pole leans in over the car park as if to say, all is well, light dispels the darkness, and then straightens, dutiful and mum. All is not well, I know. Sidewalks are broken, paint peels. Walls crack and cars rust. Weeds push up through cracks. Light wanes. Houses sit abandoned by roadsides. Rooms sit empty during long days, waiting for their people to return. And a million pines and oaks and maples stand in the chill air, waiting, Spring deep in their veins. Sometimes I think you can hear even the inanimate groan for redemption. Yesterday, in a moment of weakness, we bought doughnuts and while eating too many sat and watched a conveyer carry the unglazed holy ovals through the waterfall of sugar, yet a bearded worker plucked a few off the line and without emotion threw them away. My wife, who is tenderhearted toward even the inanimate, said, “Why is he doing that? What’s wrong with them?” What’s wrong with everything, I thought, a decidedly true yet too sober thought I did not share. Malformed and misshapen, I continued, following my rumination, born in sin and broken. All of which is a lot for a doughnut to carry, too much metaphor for dough. I want to pay attention. I’m not beyond making much of a few small stones or weeds in a field. Or lights in a window. Or a doughnut. On my desk: a leather wallet, fitted to me, made by Toyo, a leather worker, now 20 years old and rich with the memory of his Arizona shop; a collection of essays by E.B. (Andy) White, on the cover of which he sits on a hard bench tapping loudly away on a typewriter before a window open on the Atlantic, salt in the air and licking his keys; a small folded card with the handwritten name of Amber “It was my pleasure to tidy up the place,” the letters full and round and leaning back on their heels as if to say “do you have a problem with that?;” a coupon for one dollar off at a local restaurant, at the thought of which I feel my son who is 2000 miles away nodding behind me, knowing me and my ways. Reading glasses staring at me. A black rectangle I have just put to bed. Virgil Wander, a book that carries the scent of Lake Superior and rusting factories and a musty theater. Car keys splayed out, my house key inviting. A keyboard missing the number two button. And an index card bearing a verse that ends with “the upright shall see His face.” And so we shall, at the thought of which my melancholy lifts as light dispels darkness. I rise and look out the window again. New, unblemished snow covers the ground, and the light pole leans in and says “behold His face” - a promise which holds my attention. Continue reading
Posted Nov 17, 2018 at Out Walking
This is my favorite song - what I consider the centerpiece - of Burlap to Cashmere's self-titled record released a few years ago. Shortly after hearing the record, some friends along with my wife and I attended a Burlap to Cashmere concert at The Arts Center in Carrboro. It was especially poignant and comforting, as at the time my mother was in hospice and, unknown to me, would die two days later. So, that concert, and this record, and this song in particular, have special meaning for me. Since that first time hearing Burlap, I have heard them four times - twice in my house, and twice in New York City. They are excellent musicians and wonderfully kind people, and love interacting with an audience, on or off stage. It'll be a treat - a Christmas present - to have them here in Cary on December 30th. Please join us. Get your tickets now. TICKETS: Click here. Continue reading
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Lord, I curl in Thy grey gossamer hammock that swings by one elastic thread so thin twigs that could, that should break but don’t.

 * I do nothing. I give You nothing. Yet You hold me minute by minute from falling. Lord, You provide. (Denise Levertov, excerpt from “ Psalm Fragments (Schnittke String Trio),” in The Stream & the Sapphire) While I have downed a Lake Superior of iced tea in my six decades of life, the amount of hot tea I have consumed would, I estimate, barely fill a bathtub. Mostly I drink hot tea when in Africa, where ice is as scarce as gold. Everybody’s doing it there, one of the better legacies of colonialism. Here, not so. But today I awoke with a scratchy throat and, after a nap, told my wife I would take some hot tea on the veranda. Well, we don’t actually have a veranda, but I liked the sound of that word, “veranda,” which I read is not of European but Hindi descent. That’s exotic and makes up for the fact that I am drinking hot and not iced tea. Besides, piazza is a stretch; patio, too pedestrian. My wife brightened at the thought that I would be drinking hot tea and were he here my son would join her in her gladness. Somewhere, a trumpet sounded. She began to educate me on the finer things involving tea: the cupboard with its many kinds of tea, including Russian tea (“heartier,” I think she may have said), Five Roses (South African), and so on. She bid me smell that Russian tea, and I did, unscrewing the lid of its container and dipping low for pass, a sniff. “I’ll just have this,” I said, reaching for the English Tea. Black. Pekoe. (I need to look up “pekoe.”) I need to start somewhere. On the blue packaging it said “good anytime of the day,” which is a surprisingly optimistic statement for the English. I can’t really believe them, yet I’m in. On the veranda where I write, a single leaf just sashayed its way from twig to earth. Why did it decide at this very moment to let go? What wooden thread snapped? Then another, yellow; another, red. The backyard is like a brilliantly trashed urban back alley, overflowing in color. “This is a big lemon slice, so we can share it. If you like lemon in iced tea, you’ll probably like it in hot tea.” And yes, I allow as I probably will. If I like tea, that is, which I don’t much like, hot that is. I watch the teapot. The cat watches me. I don’t look at her. I know what is on her mind. Our copper teapot has long lost its whistle. Now, it just makes an airish sound, like me trying to unsuccessfully whistle through my fingers. Or a novice trying to play a saxophone. It’s lost its music. It soldiers on. “I think I’ll have it without sugar,” I say bravely. “You won’t like it. Try some honey.” I agree honey sounds good. Besides, it may be good for my throat, which is the only reason I’m drinking hot tea. That, and the veranda, just the thought of which makes me smile. The honey is reluctant. I tip the bottle up and squeeze, harder than I think I should have to. A drop appears, stretching slowly toward my waiting spoon. It’s taking its time, I think, and yet I fill two teaspoons, dive them under the tan-colored liquid, stir, and turn toward my wife. I tell her I am going out on the veranda, tea in hand. To write, I say. Something will come to me. I take a few books for inspiration. It feels very righteous, even if I haven’t even written a word. She reminds me to put the honey back in the ziplock plastic bag, and I do, cautioning me that I should make sure it is completely sealed because “if even a tiny corner is left unsealed, an ant will find it.” And I imagine a scout ant not believing his good fortune when he sniffs the stout honey smell wafting from that corner, the message he will bear for his queen. Yet not this time. The cat is still watching me, trying to catch my eye. I see what she’s about. The sun just dropped below a cloud, rooflines outlined against a graying sky. Red maple leaves are piling up. The window opens, and my wife’s head pops out. “Are you praying?” “No.” Well, maybe I am. Or want to be. Or should be. “Can I ask you a question?” Please ask me a question to take my mind off the blank page staring back at me. It’s our inexpensive intercom system, floor to veranda. I crane my neck up to meet her smiling face. We talk. We don’t resolve a thing, really, but I enjoyed the talk and think she did too. The sky darkens. I think of all that lies in front of me this week and all that drags behind me, and I begin to feel the weigh of left undone and still to come. The window opens again. “I have another question,” she says, smiling. And I think, so do I. I like questions. Someone is blowing leaves, with no regard for their kaleidoscope display. The cicadas have begun. The temperature drops. The gossamer hammock invites. So, here at dusk, I give in, rock in its grip, do nothing but be held by a heavenward thread that will not break. Continue reading
Posted Nov 5, 2018 at Out Walking
In just 57 days we'll be hosting Burlap to Cashmere in full touring band for a concert in Cary! This incredible, Meditteranean-sound influenced band can rock as well as sing soft, sweet, Simon and Garfunkel-esque songs, like "Love Reclaims the Atmosphere," a performance of which appears here. Don't miss this show. Get your tickets now. WATCH B2C perform "Love Reclaims the Atmosphere": TICKETS: Click here. Continue reading
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"Tonight you had real musicicans." That's what one attendee told me. "Incredible night, incredible venue, one I will not forget." That's what another person told me. And what a concert is was! On both occasions when I have had Burlap to Cashmere in the house, tickets have sold out. 75 people willingly cram together in my home for this popular band. This is a band that really connects with an audience and stays around talking to each person until the very last fan leaves. That's rare. Now, however, you have a bit more room, better stage and lighting, and a full band for the first time in the area when the band plays at Peace Presbyterian Church in Cary on Sunday, December 30th at 7:00. What are you doing that evening? That's what I thought - nothing! Avoid the NYE crowds and come out on the Eve of the Eve. And hang around for food and drink afterwards and talk with the band. Get your tickets now for this incredible show by clicking here. What do they play? Songs from their entire repertoire, audience requests, and new tunes from Freedom Souls, their newest release. And a few bonuses: Covers like "Folsom Prison Blues by Johnny Cash, and "The Boxer," by Paul Simon, and perhaps even a little B2C Christmas cheer. Wise cracks. Confessions. "Family" ribbing (Johnny and Steve are cousins, and Teddy may as well be, as he grew up with them.) And the fans? Many die-hard, some new. All convinced that this is a great band. The first time I hosted this band, one couple called to apologize that they could not make the "drive FROM OHIO due to the rain." Wow. Others drove a couple hours in the rain. But all were excited to be here. What a chemistry this band has, what warmth, what soul, and what heart. Brooklyn and Jersey come South. HERE'S MORE: READ: For a band that many wondered what had happened to, the last few years have seen Burlap to Cashmere blow back into the national scene with gusto. In 1998 the band released the critically acclaimed debut Anybody Out There? After a whirlwind of tours, awards and an ever-growing fan base, they did what no one expected. They disappeared. And then, they were back. In 2010 the band headed into the studio with acclaimed producer Mitchell Froom (Elvis Costello, Paul McCartney, Sheryl Crow, Tom Waits). The result? A self-titled album of new, organic sounds with faith-tinged lyrics that won't leave your head. And with this year's Freedom Souls,they continue with that same organic sound with just enough tweak to keep us guessing, With its core lineup intact – singer/guitarist/songwriter Steven Delopoulos, guitarist John Philippidis, and drummer Theodore Pagano — Burlap to Cashmere returned with renewed focus, drive and energy. “There’s something about family and people you’ve known forever that makes the chemistry happen,” Delopoulos says. “There’s a sense of honesty and trust. That’s Burlap to Cashmere.” This is a band that has a deep and accomplished musicianship and a really distinctive sound. This is particularly apparent in the songs that incorporate their unique approach to traditional Greek rhythms, songs that recall the musical intimacy of Cat Stevens, Van Morrison, Bob Dylan and Simon and Garfunkel, coupled with Delopoulos’ introspective, poetic songwriting. Fans of modern troubadour outfits like the Avett Brothers and Mumford and Sons will find common ground with Burlap to Cashmere’s output, with the added textures of the Greek and Mediterranean influences further fleshing out the band’s unique take on 21st Century folk-rock music. WATCH B2C perform "Closer to the Edge"... Continue reading
Hi Edwina. No, I don’t know that Judy ever found the poem. I asked a friend who had interviewed Myra before she died and who thought he had some of her unpublished poems, but no luck there either. The A over archives are housed at the University of Oregon in Eugene. Check here: http://archiveswest.orbiscascade.org/ark:/80444/xv68070. I cannot tell from the online description if unpublished poems might be included. Best wishes to you!
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Hi James. It certainly has been a long time! I hope you are doing well. You are still remembered for your many visits here to Peace Church in Cary. Blessings.
Toggle Commented Oct 22, 2018 on Call to Worship at Out Walking
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This morning, while my wife went off to a heathen art class (her words), my son and I attended church. While it is not an unfamiliar church, we visit only once a year . . .if for 37 years. That makes us regular attenders, sort of, or at least something other than just visitors. We were early. My son said, “Oh no, we’re early. I don’t like to be early. We may have to talk with someone.” I said, “It’s OK, maybe we’ll see Winston.” Winston is a pastor here who once impiously yet innocently used the word “HELL” in a conversation in the narthex of the church. I have admired him ever since. I even wrote him a letter after that. After glad handing with the doorman (and door-woman), I strode into the sanctuary and made my way to the front of the 500-seat room, to the second row, and sat. It’s a holdover of an old, somewhat contrarian habit dating from my children’s childhood - contrary, that is, to the observation that new people sit in the back of the church and will leave if there are no open seats. Not us! Plenty of room up front, particularly in the penumbra of the pastor. If we sit up front in a new church, the reasoning also went, they (and we) would pay better attention and they would better behave (the children, that is). Mostly, it worked. I was better behaved. I sat, yet my son informed me that I was sitting on the wrong side, motioning for me to move. Heavens. How could I forget? I did move. He was right. We sat down behind a man I did not recognize, with a balding head and a microphone attached to him. Oh, the new pastor. We didn’t speak. I don’t make it a habit of speaking to pastors prior to the sermon. I might distract them. They might forget the tightly coiled script in their heads and somewhere in the sermon forget an apropos anecdote, the punch line of a joke, or commit some Freudian slip. I don’t want to be a cause of expositional error. We sat mum. The music was. . . Well, never mind about the music. I took leave and rewound the clock to this morning. When I could sleep no more and could count the bedsprings so insistent were their jabs, I arose. It was 5:30. Based on what I was told by another occupant of the room, my electric razor, zinging behind the closed door of the lavatory, sounded like a lawn mower, and the quarter inch crack of light that beamed blindingly from the finger-high space beneath the shut door was much too much light, too too soon, on vacation time. So I left. Taking care with the door, I stepped out under a sky lit by a waxing 5/8 moon, turning right down the brittle asphalt path that encircles the property. Trust and obey, for there’s no other way, to be happy in Jesus. . . I’m mindful of rattlesnakes, though I’ve never seen one on this walk. The lead landscaper, a reticent man named Jeff, took down all of the Beware of Rattlesnakes signs because, as he was told, they “made people nervous.” He gave them to us, depositing them on our balcony with a plastic vase of purple flowers, a small kindness from a shy man. Occasionally we see him out on the property, in a rare idle moment, meandering along the path, a hand behind his back. He’s holding a cigarette but is embarrassed by it. My wife let’s him know that we’ll keep his secret. To the east there’s the faintest light behind the peaks of the Catalinas, highlighting a few brooding clouds, outlining the jagged peaks. Rabbits scatter as I walk, their white tails flashing. I planned to listen to music but unplug so as to hear the birds wake, the doves cooing, two spaced 15 feet apart on the telephone line, staring straight ahead, as if they had a spat during the night. Surely it will be repaired. Or, perhaps, they await the rising sun, like me, to see the colors of the mountains change, the cacti swathed in new light, the desert floor coming into sharp relief. And, can it be, that I should gain and interest in the Savior’s blood? Wondrous love, desert love. Somehow when I come here I am interested in everything - every tree, bush, and flower, every rabbit, range and river, dry or running wet - when at home the life in the world so often passes unnoticed. A runner overtakes me and passes. I turn up the road to the horse corral and stop. A coyote emerging from the corral path walks away from me, a hundred feet away, his body and head outlined against the mountain. He turns to look at me, his province invaded, and then moves away. Twenty feet more and he turns again to check my progress, before moving away into the wash. I round the east side of the property, muscle up the incline, pass the vacant tennis courts, pass out onto the road. At the patch of grass around the fountain, the sprinklers wet my ankles. Back on the sidewalk, the black of the night sky melds to indigo. A couple walk ahead, and I’m gaining on them, so I circle back to give them room, turn, and then they disappear down the sidewalk. I press on. Meeting an smiling older woman walking toward me, cane in hand, I tell her about the coyote. She wants to know how many there were. One, I say. She waves her stick, says “I’m not worried about one, but I keep the stick for if there’s more than one.” Lord, I want to be a Christian in my heart, in my heart. “A disciple is someone who has been captivated,” says the pastor, “by the most beautiful person of all, Jesus.” The moon blinks off. The sun peaks the corner of the Catalina’s. I turn for home, remembering all I have seen. Rejoice, the Lord is King. Continue reading
Posted Oct 21, 2018 at Out Walking
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“Between every two pines is a doorway to a new world.” (John Muir) Over 34 years ago, our patch of land was hewed from a mostly loblolly pine forest, a relatively young stand which grew up after the mature hardwoods that originally grew here were painstakeningly cut and the land farmed. The red clay dirt proved unsuitable for farming and was abandoned, and the pines, the eager first comers, grew their lanky trunks and green crowns, such as they were, until profit was in sight and the cutting began. I wasn’t here, of course, for the cutting, digging, and plowing and surmise this only from the relative youth of the trees and knowledge of the area. This wasn’t always suburbia; out on the edge of my memory, it was country, a land of red dirt roads and farm houses, clapboard churches and volunteer fire departments, fields of tobacco and woodlots. To his credit, the developer of this land cut as little as was needed. Some homeowners cut more. We didn’t, preferring forest to sunlight. Sometimes in strong winds the pines bend and wave and creak, aged denizens as they are. One fell after an ice storm, dropping parallel to our house, breaking our fence yet sparing our roof; it lay there like an apology, welcomed. No tree has ever hit our home. I like to think there is a collective gratitude, a wooden pact to spare their guests that indignity, all of which makes me think carefully about whether to take any down. In our front yard three of those pines lean slightly toward our neighbor’s home, threatening. They’re not much to look at, as what branches and green they have are near sky and all on one side, the side facing my neighbor’s home, like awkward, cock-eyed giants reaching for the West. A couple of weeks ago I called a tree man to discuss my problem. I expected a sympathetic knower of trees, a dispenser of palliative care, but he was matter of fact, all business. He never even touched the trees. Later I lay in the hammock under the trees. A hammock is a wonderful place to think. And I must think. I lay there thankful for tree-shade, for green against blue, for the aged trunks, for pine cones and tree pollen which is the dust of life, and the sap of the sage - for life so abundant in the trees. In Lives of the Trees, Diana Wells spends all of five pages on the ignoble pines - all variety of pines. Pines can grow in poor soils and adapt to very different climates. Their cones hang down and not up like firs. And those pinecones that littered my driveway after Hurricane Michael? They are the female reproductive organs of the trees. That explains why some cultures regarded them as symbols of fertility. Pine needles can be eaten and provide some nourishment, though, having tried some, I cannot recommend it. Pine bark can be used to make a kind of tea, though I haven’t tried that and won’t. Wells writes of Li-Li Weng, a seventeenth century Chinese artist and gardener who wrote “When one sits in a garden with peach trees, flowers and willows, without a single pine in sight, it is like sitting among children and women without any venerable men in the vicinity to whom one may look up.” Some respect is accorded age, even the age of a tree. In reassuring his people through the prophet Isaiah, God says “I will put in the wilderness the cedar, the acacia, the myrtle, and the olive. I will set in the desert the cypress, the plane and the pine together, that they may see and know, may consider and understand together, that the hand of the Lord has done this, the Holy One of Israel has created it” (Isa. ‭41:19-20‬ ‭ESV‬‬). So in God’s redemptive history, even the often misshapen, wopsided pine is exalted, made part of the greening of the desert, part of the comfort of a God who says “For I, the Lord your God, hold your right hand; it is I who say to you, ‘Fear not, I am the one who helps you’” (Isaiah‬ ‭41:13‬ ‭ESV‬‬). Knowing that, I can never look at a pine again without assurance that I need not fear, that the God who made the pines and held them up for all their years will hold me up too. “I believe the Bible has a forest of trees because trees teach us about the nature of God, says Matthew Sleeth. “Just like a tree, God is constantly giving. Trees have been giving life long before human beings had a clue oxygen existed. Trees give life, beauty, food, and shade. . . . No wonder God uses trees to instruct us about life, death, and resurrection. Trees, like God, give life even after death.” Sleeth says that trees are the most mentioned non-human living thing in scripture, a number that says “pay attention.” For love of neighbor, the trees may need to go. I’m neither a tree-hugger nor overly sentimental and recognize the utility of trees and the God-allowed natural calamities that fell many thousands of trees each year if not month. Yet it would be wrong not to pause before ending the long lives of these trees and recognize that they too are a kind of neighbor entitled to neighbor-love. The felling of a tree is not earth-shattering, and certainly will not register in human history nor, for long, in my personal history. Yet it is no small thing. It matters as much as a sparrow that falls from a tree. “[N]ot one is forgotten before God” (Lk. 12:6). I think I’ll call an arborist. An arborist may understand. Continue reading
Posted Oct 19, 2018 at Out Walking
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“Thank you for meeting with me today. After 34 years of work at the same place, I felt like I needed to explain a few things about my leaving” I looked up. To a one, the men and women who peered at me were aged, unsmiling, and slightly bemused. The one in the middle shuffled some papers. “Well, go on.” “On August 30th, I retired.” “Have you filed a proper motion? You can’t have a new trial without a proper motion and hardly ever then.”
 “Oh no, no, perhaps I misspoke [I didn’t]. I said retired, not retried.” “Hmmf. That’s not allowed.” “Your honor, perhaps it is more appropriate to say that I have changed jobs. . .
 “Well, do say what you mean.” “If I may. . .” “You may.” “As I was saying, on August 30th I left my job. The next day my wife and went to the coast. We had a great day on the beach. Sunny skies, ocean breezes, the waves breaking. Late in the day we swam in the ocean, splashed around until we tired, and then lay facedown on the beach, directly on the sand, our feet trailing in the water, promptly falling asleep. When I woke up, I felt a great peace. I said to myself, ‘This must be what its like to be retired.’” “Only you said try were not retired.” “Right, right. I’m getting to that. But first. . . That word, ‘retired,’ is actually related to a French word. . . “Well, that’s the first thing you said that makes sense. French people are good at not working.”
 “Your honor, please.” “Go on, go on.” “The word, 'retire,' refers to a movement in ballet. So, you see, to retire is really to engage in a kind of dance, a different movement.” “Nonsense.” “Oh no, it makes perfect sense. Life is like a dance, you see, and this withdrawal from my former work is simply a new movement, one part of the great dance, the dance of life.” “I thought you were a lawyer.” “In my former life, yes.” “And now you’re dancing to a different beat?” “You might say that.” “Well what is it you do now?” “I’m a writer.” Loud guffaws issued. They looked knowingly at one another, nodding their heads, and then turned to stare at me. I said, “Why are you looking at me like that?” “Well because writers don’t really work, do they? They just do a lot of navel-gazing and then spew out a bunch of rubbish, blabbering on about the meaning of a rock, for example, making something out of nothing. It certainly can’t be as important as your work as a lawyer.” “Perhaps not.”
 “Have you made any money at it?”
 “Not much.”
 “I thought not. Then why do it?”
 “I think I am called to do it.” “Who called?” “Well. . . Him.” I pointed up. “Oh, him. Well, far be it from me to argue with him. Higher court, and all that. . .Tell me about some of your scribblings. . . I mean, writings.” “Well, I recently wrote about a water fountain.”
 “Oh really. . .”
 “And a fence around my backyard. . .” “Thrilling.”
 “”The first car I owned.” “I know the world is richer for it.” “And I am at work on a book about an American missionary to Europe, Francis Schaeffer.” “Who? Never heard of him.” “Well, that’s the point. By writing about him, I might introduce him to a new audience.” “Well why don’t you tell us about a typical day at this writing.”
 “I’d love to. I get up at 5:45 and my wife and I walk for about an hour. Sometimes I see things I want to write about as I walk, like a telephone pole, a fox chasing a cat, the brook that passes under street before the rise of Kill Devil Hill. We often pray, but we get distracted. We follow the distraction. We pray about the distraction. Or maybe we forget to pray. Maybe we just talk. Maybe we’re just silent, deep in our own thoughts.” “Exercise is fortifying. I commend you.” “Well, not too quick. Sometimes we sleep in. But even then I’m thinking. I wake up and listen to the house, the sounds it makes, the whirring of the heat pump, the rain slapping the window, the purr of the cat, the birds waking just before dawn, a truck on the highway. . .” “Yes, yes, I get the point. What do you do next?” “After the walk, or after rising, I shower, dress for work (no pajamas or shorts, shirt tucked in), eat breakfast, and have a personal worship time. I read my Bible. I pray.” “Pray again?” “Of course. Only sometimes I miss.” “That’s bad, right? God doesn’t like that, does he?” “God loves me just the same. I missed out on time with Him, that’s all. Anyway, after that I go to work. I have an office on the third floor devoted to nothing but writing. I read a bit, do my research. Then I sit in my chair and stare out the window. I try to take myself back to the village of Huemoz, Switzerland, in 1957. As all the pictures I have are black and white, I have to add the color -- the wildflowers in the fields, or the white on the snow-capped Alps, or the yellow of the post bus that passes periodically on its way to Villars. I hear cowbells, laughter, and conversation - always conversation. Then I go back to my desk and write a line, or two, on my way to a page. A page a day, page on page, until its done. Bird by bird, as Anne Lammott says.” “That’s it, a page a day? That doesn’t seem very productive.” “Well, you forget about the rest of the page, the empty white space of the page, all that’s left unsaid. I have to make choices, you see, about what to include and what to leave out. People have to fill in the white with their own images, helped by the words I do include on the page. I guess it does look like a lot of nothing, but it’s not. John McPhee, who has done a lot of writing, said once he did his research for an article, on oranges I think, and then lay on the picnic table in his backyard for two weeks trying to figure out how to organize his material. It looked like he was doing nothing. But he wasn’t.” “I'll bet he took a few naps. Anyway, is that it?” “Well, I suppose so.” “What do you hope to get out of all this? Not money, I presume.” “Peace, I guess. Peace at being in the place where God would have me be, I suppose. Money if he gives it; the satisfaction of being in the right place, if not. I don’t write because it’s fun; it’s generally not. I don’t write because it’s lucrative; it’s seldom that. There are a lot of easier things to do - like being a lawyer. Or painting houses. I don’t love writing. John McPhee says that people who say that they love to write aren’t writers at all. If they were they wouldn’t say such ridiculous things.” “For God’s sake, man, you’re an attorney. Why waste your time and what talent you have on writing about trees or some obscure American pastor?” “Do you like music?” “Of course. Beethoven. Bach. Even the Gershwins.” “Well that’s why I write. When it all comes together, when the right words fall in place, it’s like a song. I read it aloud and there’s melody to it, a rhythm, a beat, some truly tiny distant echo of the song the stars made at Creation. It doesn’t happen much, but I live for those rare moments when I've done the best I can, and I stand back and say with all humility, how could I have written that? And then it has its own life and begins to talk to me and teach me.” “Well, you’re either delusional or on to something.” "I appreciate you hearing me out about this.” “It seems a foolish course to us, a huge waste of time and one with little money-making potential.” “I see how it appears.” “But we’ll consider what you said and let you know what we think. For now, carry on. Or should we say, dance on. And God help you. 
 
 
 Continue reading
Posted Sep 16, 2018 at Out Walking
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A few weeks ago my wife and I were cleaning out some closets or files (at the moment I’ve forgotten which) and discovered the pellet-pocked National Rifle Association 5 Meter BB Gun target saved from her happy years at Camp Yonalossee. Not a sentimentalist, she threw it away. I retrieved it and retained it, a reminder of her aptitude. It’s in a manilla folder marked “resources,” a place where I file clippings and salvaged memorabilia of uncertain use, items that portend meaning if as yet unknown. I pull it out of the folder and examine it again. Some shots went wide, clipping the edges of the target, yet a number hit their mark, I note, sobered by her eye, her resolute fire. She’s always had a good eye. In 1987 when we were in Kenya and Tanzania on safari, she spotted a serval cat at a distance of over a thousand feet without the aid of binoculars, identifying it for our guide, Elvis, who was impressed if initially doubtful. “Good eyes, Madam,” he said, after confirming her sighting with binoculars. Servals are shy cats, with overly long legs, small heads, and demure faces. They catch their prey by leaping up to ten feet high and pouncing with both front paws, and often play with their prey before eating it. I look sideways at my large cat, with her overly short legs, laconic eyes, and domestic demeanor, and I can’t quite make the connection. My eyes are not so good. I have been severely near-sighted since third grade, and now I have “floaters.” In the terminology of the retina specialists, they are caused by posterior vitreous detachment, something which happens as you age. The white matter of the eye tends to pull away from the back of the eye. The result is like looking through spidery webs, particularly noticeable when looking at a bright sky or light-filled windows. There’s no recommended treatment. They annoy but don’t impact my already-compromised vision. Remarkably, the brain has a way of filtering them out of consciousness, like the items heaped at the bottom of the stairs for weeks that you’ve meant to carry upstairs, yet haven’t. You eventually don’t notice them. Much. "Did you find her?, she said, referring to the fluid waif-like cat, sister to the large one. "I've looked everywhere," I say, and I did. At least I thought I did. First floor. Second floor. Under the beds, behind chairs, in all the usual hiding places into which only she can slither. I can't find her! But of course, she finds her, her lugubrious fur-covered gelato stuffed in a crack behind the bed. Eyes do not fail my wife. With effort, the cat is retrieved, pried from the carpet. Perhaps I could have seen her, but my eyes have been trained to inattention, it seems, lazy and impatient. In one of his memoirs, Eyes of the Heart, Frederick Buechner lets us peer into his Magic Kingdom, his palace of memory. Looking around the various photos and other memorabilia of his study, he summons up voices from the past, let’s them speak to him and he to them. It’s as if he pulls out his file called “resources” and examines an item at a time, letting it speak and give up meaning. He concludes it this way: What is magic about the Magic Kingdom is that if you look at it through the right pair of eyes it points to a kingdom more magic still that comes down out of heaven prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. The one who sits upon its throne says, “Behold, I make all things new,” and the streets of it are of gold like unto clear glass, and each of its gates is a single pearl. So that's it. If we have the eyes to see, Buechner is saying, then everything points beyond itself to something greater. Yet when I train a BB gun on life, I don't always fare so well. Things are not quite in focus. The spidery webs of brokenness born of detachment occlude my vision. I often miss the mark and go wide. Yet with the graces of Word and prayer, I begin to see more of the Kingdom. I glimpse the heaven in and beyond the world. What is it that the Apostle says? Having the eyes of your heart enlightened, that you may know the hope to which he has called you. That’s my target. That’s the serval cat in my sights. That’s the Reality beyond my occlusion. I just need the eyes to see. Continue reading
Posted Sep 10, 2018 at Out Walking
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I love cleaning the fountain, I said, which if not precisely true, is not false. I do it for her. I am under her spell. We are doing it together. The fountain has three copper pieces: a bowl circular yet fashioned in waves; a centerpiece of four cattails surrounded by leafy fronds; and a motor covered by a hand-sized cup. Oxidation has blued the copper, giving color. Water presses upward and drops to the pool below, spare music for the afternoon. She is directing me, and I am trying to keep my mind on what I am doing, which is no small thing, as the sound of the water is dream-inducing. First, she says, you lift the centerpiece with cattails and fronds directly up out of the water, taking care to lift by two fronds so as not to bend the piece. And stay upright, she cautions, and take care, as one of the fronds might put your eye out. I lift it, eyes averted from its nakedness, and place it flatly on the walk, lifeless and inanimate. Returning, I help her scoop water out of the bowl, using the cup that covered the motor. She pulls up pine straw, baring earth, and shows me how she pours the water just so and then covers it, so it all looks undisturbed. (I make a note that this is more complicated than I first imagined.) After many scoop-scoop-scoops, copper on copper, splashing of water, I scrap bottom. To remove the rest of the water, she says, you gently cup your hands under the sides of the bowl and tip it forward, like this she says, demonstrating, so as not to crack it. A healer, she shows me the thin lines of adhesive applied to previous cracks, copper-love. I cup and tip it, tenderly, as holding a baby. She hands me a brush. She demonstrates how to brush the sides and bottom of the bowl carefully, removing the slime. I take over. She sits on the steps at our door, coaching. I like the rhythm of the brushing, the ease of the cleaning, the new clarity of the copper beneath. My mind wanders, as it is wont to, while she watches. We are wandering the dusty streets of Tubac, in southern Arizona, walking by the many artisans, just above the oft-dry Santa Cruz River. The fountain was born in Tubac, fashioned by a metalworker named Lee Blackwell, we later recall, the copper mined in the mountains nearby. Sometimes, rather than shop the artisans, I give her space to shop at ease, without the company of my impatience, and I walk the nearly six miles of the Juan Bautista de Anza National Historic Trail, which is a mighty name for a dirt walk beside a river that mostly hides beneath the desert. When you finish that, she says, we’ll rinse it. I finished. I rinsed. I walk the trail from Tubac, just below the Presidio, the site of the original Spanish garrison, winding through the cottonwoods, willows, and mesquite, watching for rattlesnakes that love the heat of the day. Once, she came too. I took her hand and helped her over downed trees and between the slats of a fence. Sometimes, I just took her hand. Once we rinsed the bowl, we moved to the centerpiece, pulling pine straw and debris from its innards, taking care, of course, for our eyes. As we could, we scrubbed, lightly. Then, carefully clasping two fronds in hands, I set it back down into the bowl, seated it. She cleaned the motor. She is nothing if not thorough. She instructed. I listened and nodded, imagining the calls of the birds along the Santa Cruz, the crunch of the compacted desert sand underfoot, the solitude of the walk. I cross the river, which trickles in the Spring, and make my way to the mission at Tumacacori where the Holy stills ghosts its ruins, where she will drive and pick me up. Now we fill it, she says, and we sit down side by side on the few steps that lead to our door. We are quiet. I feed the hose around the handrails, and we listen to its filling, so full together. Continue reading
Posted Aug 19, 2018 at Out Walking
Beautiful images and, I am sure, memories, Gary. Thanks for sharing.
Toggle Commented Aug 5, 2018 on Watch This at Out Walking
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“For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.” (‭‭Colossians‬ ‭1:19-20‬ ‭ESV)‬‬ Two boys are playing catch in the newly shorn forest behind my house. I hear the slap of ball on mitt, an indecipherable exclamation here and there. From the periphery of my vision, movement: arms waving, gesticulations, sighs. Then, laughter. The ball arcs high. Poet Ted Kooser writes about such common things, yet under his pen the ordinary becomes luminous. An inhabitant of the Great Plains - a region that coastal elites often contemptuously regard as flyover country - his poetry shines a flashlight down into the people and places of the region. It might be a fence that garners his attention: The red fence takes the cold trail north; no meat on its ribs, but neither has it much to carry. And reading that brief observation or, better yet, sounding it out with an out-loud reading, you hear the tension of unburdened freedom and yet aloneness, a person striking out into the cold solitary and yet resolute, even defiant. Or it could be a change in the weather, read by animals, as in You will know that the weather is changing when your sheep leave the pasture too slowly, and your dogs lie about and look tired; when the cat turns her back to the fire, washing her face, and the pigs wallow in litter. And so on, and so on. The geese are too noisy, says Kooser, and swallows fly low, skimming the earth, and the swan flies at the wind. They know. Kooser is saying watch the animals and they will tell us. And that’s mostly what he does in these poems: he watches the human and nonhuman creation. Reads the clues. Catches glimpses of underlying meaning. A siren. Two female cardinals sit side by side in a nearby tree, the bright red male nearby. Wife and concubine? Cicadas interject. Birds twitter. A jet descends, followed by the sound of a single-engine prop plane. Traffic hums in the background. The wind stirs. In “In An Old Apple Orchard,” the wind is personified: The wind’s an old man to this orchard; these trees have been feeling the soft tug of his gloves for a hundred years. Now it’s April again, and again that old fool thinks he’s young. This afternoon, the wind barely lifts his finger to rustle the branches above my head. He naps on the forest floor, like a cat splayed out and dreamy, his periodic twitching and restlessness moving the tree bough ever so slightly, his soft hand the lightest brush against my skin. Or maybe Kooser animates an ironing board, as in “Song of the Ironing Board,” letting it speak in its steamy, heated used-up voice: So many hands lay hot on my belly over the years, and oh, how many ghosts I held, their bodies damp and slack, their long arms fallen to either side. I gave till my legs shook, but then they were up and away. Thus the lovely soft nap of my youth was worn down. But I gave myself and was proud. And with that, the wind he stirred, like he heard in the iron’s song some longing for more, and brushed more boldly across my neck, threw a puff even in my face. For a moment, he thought himself young, and it April, and the earth new. On two facing pages of Kindest Regards, Kooser’s latest collection of poetry, the titles juxtapose the epitome of the mundane: Dishwater. Applesauce. There’s more on the following pages: A Jar of Buttons. Sparklers. Old Dog in March. Shoes. Laundry. Ladder. There’s poetry in titles, even in just naming. A blower interrupts my reverie, modulating with its fanning motion, with its reminder of work undone. Traffic hums constant beneath the twitter of the aviary. An empty, unoccupied house is a vacant stare into my backyard. The wind wakes, exhales. Why poetry? Why something so small, so obscure, and so useless? Because, says Kooser, were he to comment on his observations of the ordinary, “the good works of the Lord are all around,” and the “cross is only God knows where.” The poet goes looking. We can look over the shoulder of the God-conscious poet and see hints of the divine in the stuff of life. Says Kooser, in “The Red Wing Church,” There’s a tractor in the doorway of a church in Red Wing, Nebraska, in a coat of mud and straw that drags the floor. A broken plow sprawls beggar-like behind it on some planks that make a sort of roadway up the steps. The steeple’s gone. A black tar-paper scar that lightning might have made replaces it. They’ve taken it down to change the house of God to Homer Johnson’s barn, but it’s still a church, with clumps of tiger-lilies in the grass and one of those boxlike, glassed-in signs that give the sermon’s topic (reading now a bird nest and a little broken glass). The good works of the Lord are all around: the steeple top is standing in a garden just up the alley; it’s a henhouse now: fat leghorns gossip at its crowded door. Pews stretch on porches up and down the street, the stained-glass windows style the mayor’s house, and the bell’s atop the firehouse in the square. The cross is only God know where. Kooser looks at the works of God dispersed, at the steeples and pews and bells displayed in Creation. It’s still a church. God knows where the cross is. It cuts across His good works. It stands over all things. That’s why I am here, outside, in the humidity and heat of the day, listening to the slap, slap of a ball on mitt, to the planes overhead, to the cicada-cries, to the wind tapping on my bare knees, saying did you see, did you hear? Did you hear the sermon in the wind? Continue reading
Posted Jul 29, 2018 at Out Walking
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“The Lord is good to all, and his mercy is over all that he has made.” (Ps.‬ ‭145:9‬ ‭ESV‬‬) Last night there was a wind off the Atlantic that hummed and whistled through the balcony doors. Then, a gust brought a flapping of the unsecured storm shutters where they had been hastily opened in a driving rain that greeted us midway down the coastal plain and endured well after our coming. I put down the book that I had taken to bed, opened the whistling door, and secured the shutter. Rain-chastened, I returned to bed. Earlier in the afternoon we had watched a woman come to the ocean edge in a steady downpour, try unsuccessfully to open an umbrella, and finally settle into a chair wrapped in a towel to watch the waves slap the shore. Another couple were doing the same, both presumably drawn by something elemental, nameless, their thoughts ebbing and flowing like the tide, first expansive, then contracting, their eyes searching the frothing waters. Other than these, there were no others. The beach lay fallow. In the book I lay reading, Draft No. 4, writer John McPhee’s memoir on the writing process, he says that a “lead” for a nonfiction article “should not be cheap, flashy, meretricious, blaring.” I had to get over that he did not bother to put “and” after the last comma in that series, something William Strunk would not allow. He is John McPhee, after all. I also had to look up meretricious, an annoyance. (It means “apparently attractive but having no value or integrity.”) He says the lead “should be a flashlight that shines down into the story.” That makes me think of the Psalmist who said ““Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (Ps.‬ ‭119:105‬ ‭ESV‬‬). God’s Word, a flashlight to eternity. The wind whistles eternity. Out in the dark the Gulf Stream swirls. Sand, the broken down and weathered granular fragments of quartz and other rocks and minerals, moves while we sleep, creeping toward the mainland, accreting on the sound side, eroding on the ocean side. Ocean dark meets the dark of sky at an eternally receding horizon. Out on the ocean a light marks a fishing vessel alone at sea. A flashlight that shines down into the story? “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth,” is about the most promising lead imaginable. Questions form. Who is God? Other than God, what else was there before the beginning? Did God always exist? How did he create? What did he create? To what end did he create? The lead shines down into the great story that follows. Under the dunes blanketed with cordgrass, there are warrens of rabbits sleeping, emerging just before dawn to nibble at the grass, flopping easily, silently until the sun rises. A mockingbird lets go songs in the night. The rain stops, but the air is sopped with water. McPhee, on interviewing: “You can develop a distinct advantage by waxing slow of wit.” To some, I would add, this comes natural; others, it takes practice. One law enforcement agent I once knew presented as Mayberry’s Goober in uniform, yet wasn’t: criminals talked freely with him and were helped on their way to jail. I look around for a handy interviewee, yet all slumber. Slow of wit, I interview the night. A feral cat plies the moonless night. Mice, wary, retire early. A lone beachcomber meanders in and out of the tide, drunk in thought. The light on the ocean blinks against the night. Where dark meets dark at the horizon, the dim outline of thunderheads lean in. Eternity whistles in the wind. McPhee again: “Block. It puts some writers down for months. It puts some writers down for life. A not always brief or minor form of it mutes all writers from the outset of every day.” But you’re not a writer, you think, thank God, and yet every person faces block in the often small and yet sometimes incessant demon that says “you can’t do it” can’t get up can’t talk with that person can’t change one more diaper wash one more pile of clothes listen to one more unhappy client. Can’t. His advice? Write your mother. Dear Mom, I write, scrawling my thoughts into the night, there’s a brawl in the sandy lane of the beach access road, and I can’t sleep due to the beat beat beat of the party next door, and did I mention that I took up surfing for my 60th (catch a wave) birthday and that I’m sitting on top of the world? And that the sand of barrier islands is a great metaphor for the of the temporal ever-shifting circumstances of life and the seagrass-planted dunes a hedge against the feral? I didn’t think so. “Is it wrong to alter a fact in order to improve the rhythm of your prose ?,” says McPhee. And then, “I know so, and so do you.” Oh mercy. Chastened, I withdraw the light on the sea, feral cat and retiring mice, rabbits in their warren, and beachcomber that I conjured from the night. And the drunken brawl and party next door and surfin’ safari prevarication. I apologize yet add, “they could have been.” Part of me wants to rise out of bed and on a midnight walk fact-check this bit of prose before withdrawing it. Even ring up the local surf shop (hey dude) and reserve a lesson. Because it could have been and maybe is or maybe will all come true. Sigh. I turn off the light. The other shutter flaps. I leave it. Yet sleep hesitates. I continue my letter to the night. I think about a light on the ocean, tiny in the darkness of sea, about a man on the sand casting great hopes against the flood of night, about the resoluteness of the few perched on the ever-shifting sand, arrayed against the fury of the waves and wind, about the near-silent footfalls of the feral cat and the shushed quiet of the dune mice, about the mockingbird’s operetta, about the great mercy of a God who shines a searchlight into our eternity, who is kind in all His works. I omit the “and” before the final comma in that series, McPhee-like in my rebellion, before sleep comes. Continue reading
Posted Jul 22, 2018 at Out Walking