Grounding

 

Arrived!

Arrived!

Six months ago I arrived at last in the land of fire trees, apples, and volatile weather. Coming home to Vermont came with an increased awareness of my responsibility for my own happiness. While I was living in New Mexico or Colorado or Montreal or wherever over the past eight years, whenever I was having a tough time it was easy to blame it on location. It would all be better in Vermont, I would think.

Moving back to Vermont meant that there would be no more it would all be better land of maple rainbows and fluffy single-payer bunnies that I could think on. It meant that if I became unhappy, it wouldn’t be because I wasn’t in Vermont. It meant an end to the “grass is greener” mentality. I knew when I crossed the state line that it was now fully in my hands to keep the grass watered on my side.

First glimpse of foliage on the final stretch home - upstate NY.

First glimpse of foliage on the final stretch home – upstate NY.

Despite Easter snow showers six months later, my grass is still green and thriving. I have realized that I was, in fact, right for all of these years: things are better for me in Vermont. Even in -24 degree January weather. Even when it is still snowing in April. Even when the community I’m building isn’t localized in one convenient town. Six months later through one of the coldest and snowiest winters on record, there hasn’t been a single day that I’ve regretted my decision to move back. This is home. This is center.

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A rhythm to the road

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Yoga to soothe and reenergize

If I’m not listening to something on the car stereo, I love listening to the lull of the road. Strips of rough pavement separate the smoothly paved parts, and the car thumps predictably between the two like a baby carriage over cracks in the sidewalk.

There is a rhythm to traveling. When you hit the right pace, days flow by while time is suspended, not essential in the way it is essential when other people are counting on you to be somewhere at a certain time.

This rhythm varies by trip. On this trip, the pace I liked best was two nights in each location. One night to get my feet grounded, one night to explore. Enough to take a breath without diluting the mystery a new locale holds in the air.

It is a bit trickier to find this rhythm when on tour.  It takes some of the flexibility and spontaneity out of the traveling to have booked gigs on specific dates – although it is a tradeoff balanced by the benefits of meeting such wonderful communities along the way.  I could only keep that pace up for so long, however, and two weeks ago in Asheville I crashed. I was inexplicably exhausted, and slept like a teenager for four days. I suppose I can only say – it happens.

Tea shops are great for this kind of fatigue – I spent two days in Dobra Tea in Asheville. So are kind friends who let you stay in their houses longer than planned (thank you, Rick!). So are blank journal pages and yoga pants.

I keep pushing on. Keep pushing north.

Joy: A Waterlogged Travel Log

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Morning joy and dance in the Blue Ridge Mountains

Yesterday I put my feet in the ocean for the first time in over a year. Technically it was the Potomac river, but it had sand and seashells and strong waves and felt like the ocean except for the fact that you could see land on the other side of the water.

A few days ago while camping in the Blue Ridge Mountains, I encountered a fog so thick I had to stop driving.

When I go to bed every night, my sheets feel damp and the pages of my book are clammy.

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Mist in the Blue Ridge Mountains

I’m still drinking water like I’m in the desert. I’m visiting lots of public bathrooms.

In short, water is everywhere. I keep warily eyeing the trees and ponds and rivers that I see now on a daily basis. I don’t trust them. I half expect them to disappear. I suppose after four years in the desert, I can’t quite let myself believe that I am really back in the forests to stay. That no one is going to make me leave.

That I may once again think that it is unremarkable to be surrounded by green things.

Social Justice in the Buckle of the Bible Belt

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Kentucky dirt roads

“What were your impressions of today?”
“My impressions are that if I’m not careful, I might move to Kentucky.”

Almost as soon as I crossed over the border from Tennessee, the landscape changed. There were more hills. Thicker trees. It reminded me of home in Vermont.

The weekend was spent drinking tea, eating garden-fresh veggies, walking, and discussing matters of social justice. Berea is a unique place. A small city of about 14,000, it boasts a lively artistic community, the first abolitionist church in the south, and the liberal arts Berea College. It is a hub of progressive thinking located in the buckle of the Bible belt.

On Saturday afternoon we went to a panel on community policing and police brutality. It was hosted by Berea College students and featured four community panel members, including the city mayor and the chief of the Berea police department. The dialogue in that room was incredible. There were high tensions due to recent events in Ferguson, MO, which is just under six-hour drive away. This being the first meeting between the Berea police chief and the Berea college students, it could have been an ugly conversation. In fact, I’d say that in most communities it would have been an ugly conversation. But there was a stronger force held in the room than anger or frustration or sadness or fear: respect. All parties ultimately respected themselves and each other to such a degree that real, productive dialogue could occur.

I couldn’t help but think back to events that I have witnessed in Albuquerque over the last several years, with a police force that now has a national reputation for excessive brutality. There is so much anger in Albuquerque over the killings at the hands of APD officers. How could some of the earlier conversations gone differently if all participants agreed to the same rules of conduct that were followed in Berea this past Saturday? Could they be implemented now, or is there such a thing as it being “too late” to expect respect?

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Sunday afternoon concert by Dr. Javier Clavere

On Sunday morning I attended the worship service at Union Church, where Rev. Kent Gilbert (also my wonderful host for the weekend) preached a powerful sermon on forgiveness. Stakes were high here, too, because the church is working hard to pass a fairness ordinance in the city that would protect LGBTQ individuals against discrimination due to perceived gender identity or perceived sexual orientation. The final public hearing on the ordinance was Tuesday. No one knows how the city council will vote.

These kinds of communities are so inspiring. Rev. Gilbert told us in his sermon about how back in the early days of Union Church, many men couldn’t attend the Sunday service. They were too busy riding shotgun around the church – literally, riding around with shotguns at the ready – in case anyone decided to attack the anti-slavery church in a slave-holding state. Shotguns aside, how much have our politics really changed?

I left Kentucky wondering when I could return. And I haven’t even mentioned the new English Country Dance series, the Berea College professor who played all of Mozart’s sonatas in a weekend, or the lively contra dance in Lexington. All of these things make up what a community should be: joyful living, plus a fierce drive to work towards social justice and equality for all. Someone get me an “I ❤ KY” tshirt or something, because I’ve gone ALL fangirl.

Texas Part 1: The Austin Allure

Rich MacMath calling Austin

Rich MacMath calling before me at the Austin dance.

The Hancock Rec Center was already buzzing with activity when I arrived for the dance. A group of people milled about on the wooden floor, waiting for the lesson to start. Rich MacMath started the lesson by getting everyone to laugh, and it only got better from there.What. A. Dance!

The dancers were experienced, responsive, and joyful. The music was energetic and fun. The house band changed throughout the evening as players came and went, skillfully led by Max (fiddle) and Earl (mandolin).  And when it was my turn to call, this crowd gave me the warmest welcome I could have asked for on my first night of my tour.

What can I say? I love Austin. This is a welcoming, funky, sultry city. My host, Elise, graciously welcomed me into her home where we chatted over coffee about music, politics, travel, family, and change. The first night I arrived we went to an old-time jam (scroll down for a recording!) and took a nighttime drive around the city. She gave great recommendations of things to do, and we even got to work together when she played in the contra dance band.

Oh, and did I mention: HONKYTONK. I two-stepped. Is that even a verb?

Austin, I love your strange antiques-shop aesthetic, your warm residents (and residences), and your commitment to having a good time. Thanks for the wild ride. I hope to see you soon.


Clip from Tuesday’s old-time jam: