One Million Redwoods

I ran across the One Million Redwoods kickstarter  today. The thing that really brought me on board is that, besides the fact that this project is already underway, they are not just planting redwoods, but the whole forest community. They understand the difference between a tree farm and a forest, and they are doing the desperately needed work of reforestation that will save us all, if we do enough of it in time.

Trees are the cheapest, fastest carbon sinks we have to hand. They are proven technology, the planet’s own way of locking up the surfeit we’ve thrown into the atmosphere over the last few hundred years. More than that, trees and humans are interdependent. We breathe each others’ exhalations–literally. We need forest products for so many things, food and fuel and the houses we live in. Our bodies and our waste products can feed the forest, if we do it properly. We are happier and healthier living around trees–we are so dependent that even when we cut down the forest to build our cities we plant replacement trees. Our relationship is so obvious and natural to us that we don’t even see it any more, even when it’s all around us.

We are beginning to die because we have cut down so many trees. The planet is getting hotter and drier. Fire, drought, extreme weather events are increasing. The oceans are changing as they absorb the excess carbon and acidify. It’s time to give back, and this project is one way to do so. I don’t know how to replant a forest. I know it needs to be done, and for me this is very close to home. I am watching many of my home groves die. Sudden oak death is ravaging California right now. I don’t know what to do—no one does.  At the moment, the best we can do is not spread it. I have three oak seedlings in pots in my back yard that need to be destroyed because they have it. My potted laurel tree is a reservoir, so it too will have to go. So supporting the work of people like For The Wild is a way to support that learning process for us as a species, and to help build a seed bank and nursery for the future. This is one time when money will actually make a difference. These people have a week to raise the last 23% of their goal. Their rewards are pretty cool too. They include tree dedications, online classes, family legacy groves, and trips to the redwoods.

A goddess demanded that I plant trees. Sadly, my work does not lie along those lines. I’m a singer and a writer. I plant seeds of knowledge and awareness and that is why I’m posting this right now. At work, I talk about ships, one of which is the last of the Pacific Coast lumber schooners. She was built of Douglas fir, to mine out the forests of the West Coast. She helped to build the cities of the West Coast out of the cathedrals of living wood that we should have had the sense not to destroy. Her existence is an opportunity to explain that great mistake, and to ask the people who come to visit her to think about the forest she was once part of. She carried lumber once, now she carries memory, responsibility, and the seeds of the future.
We call trees natural resources. What kind of mindset does that imply? Forests are communities, not storehouses, and the way we treat these beings is already determining our own survival. We have forgotten that when we take, we need to give something in return. Please consider supporting this organization, a tree planted in your name is an investment in the future. I hope someday a tree will be my tombstone, of sorts, my body returned to the land that it was borrowed from.

I offer you a song, a few thoughts on what the city I live in now is, and what it could become:

Y Mabinogi: An Ancient Tale Retold For Our Time

Sun on the cliffs seen from the top of the falls at Pistyll Rhaeadr
Pistyll Rhaeadr, Wales

The scholarly retellings of ancient tales can be hard going. The path to the past is often overgrown, the thread of the story difficult to follow as it passes over unfamiliar ground. Far from being work, Damh the Bard’s new album Y Mabinogi makes an ancient Tale new again. I know I’ll be listening to this many, many times, not just for knowledge, but for pleasure and inspiration–as I wait impatiently for the other branches of this tree!

I got lucky the first time I read the First Branch of the Mabinogi. The instructor in the Celtic Literature class I’d taken on a whim really understood these tales, and one of the ones she selected for the class was the First Branch. She taught us that these stories were passed on the breath, from poet to poet, meaning and understanding as vital to the telling as the words and events. She traced the path for us, from the filidh of Ireland and Wales to the bardic schools where the skills of memory, poetry, and philosophy were taught, where a tale written down was a tale killed. She taught us of the changes wrought by the first Christians who arrived in the same era that Viking invaders began killing the living libraries that held that knowledge, how the poets and priests learned from each other, and put the words they had in the cold storage of vellum and ink so they would have a chance to survive. She also showed us how to unpack that knowledge, to make it live again, and to tease out the meanings that lay hidden in the Tales. We all lived for those classes, to spend one evening a week with red-eared hounds, goddesses of sovereignty in the form of horses, or hags, and Tales chosen with care, to complement and illuminate each other. During her office hours, a line always stretched down the hall. When I listened to this album her wisdom and learning came to mind.

Damh the Bard understands these Tales in his very bones. His new album, Y Mabinogi brings the First Branch of the Mabinogi to life for our time. It is as close as we’re ever going to come to that spellbound tribe around the fire, listening to a gifted poet tell the tales that inspired a people, showed them who they were and how to live lives of connection with their past, present, and future. On his breath floats the wisdom and the beauty of the living tale, and somehow he straddles the past and the present to bring it to life again for our time. In our Now, it’s time for all of us to gather around fires, in concert halls, and yes, around iPods and speakers to share the stories of all peoples. We are living in an amazing moment in time, where we have a chance to experience the living threads of story that make up the wisdom of our whole world and learn from them all. We needn’t fear difference when we have the chance to celebrate it, and Damh’s inspired telling of this pan-Celtic Tale is something to savor, to be carried away by.

These tales were never meant to be hard work, at least in the listening. They were the movies, novels, and albums of their time. They were teaching tales, political commentary, serving as the warp of familiarity that a trained member of the Druidic class could and did use to weave the messages the people and the nobles needed to hear. The different recensions of each story that have come down to us, separated in time, snapshots of a particular era, show the remains of this process clearly. The differences in time and place are in the process of being woven together to give us a clearer picture of the Celtic world and how it changed, but the work is hardly finished. There are still many manuscripts that have not been studied, translated, remade. What might we learn as people are inspired to do the work of scholarship by beautiful retellings like Y Mabinogi?

These Tales can and should be made new again–we are lucky enough to live in a time when some of them have been. Morgan Llywelyn’s novels, for example, are excellent retellings of the Ulster cycle, the coming of the Milesians, etc. OBOD’s courses, among others, use them as teaching tools, as they were in the past before the cultures of the Celtic world were shattered, their living libraries of inspired and highly trained poets killed. What Damh has done, however, seems to me to be a recreation of the kind of performance the oral tradition might have produced–tales that could hold a people in thrall for an evening, or a series of evenings, each installment weaving them closer together in a shared experience. These stories are layered, revealing more to the listener each time they are told, and as a person or a tribe grew in wisdom, the stories grew and changed over time.

The Tale is always the same, but the emphasis and point of view has to change to fit the time it is part of. It has to be relevant to the listener in order to become part of us and whisper to us the insights we need to gain from it. This album has that power. Damh has not only produced an incredible piece of entertainment, he has drawn deeply from the source of inspiration to give us a new version of what each generation had, up until the time these tales were put in written form, and so frozen in time. The path to their power and the passion they inspire became harder and harder to reach as times and languages changed, and the cultural body of knowledge necessary to make sense of them became the province of a few specialist scholars. Luckily for us, the incredible flowering of the nineteenth century and the Celtic Twilight brought us people with the skill and the will to unpack these stories for their age, and inspired enough people to learn their nearly lost languages, to study the remnants of glosses and other materials the last generations of poets had left behind, to bring these stories through to our age and put them in the hands of a new generation of inspired poets. Damh has brought a medieval telling of this Tale into the 21st. century, and given humanity a new snapshot of our understanding of this ancient story. He has edified us, and honored the people who first committed these Tales to writing for a future they would never know.

Massive gnarled oak hanging over a trail at Point Reyes
Point Reyes, California

Tam Lin

Ballads were the movies, newspapers, and classrooms of their time. Easy to remember and self contained, they could be taken anywhere and brought to life with nothing more than a single voice. They passed from singer to singer, carried on the breath, and some of them have endured to the present time, long after they ceased to be a central carrier of knowledge. We haveFrancis James Child to thank for the fact that so many of them, in so many different forms, have made it to us. This version of Tam Lin was assembled from his collection.

Deeply magical and Pagan to the core, this ballad is one of my favorites. Janet is definitely a blood red rose. She isn’t afraid to go wander the forest alone, and she isn’t afraid of what she finds there. She went looking for Tam Lin, wanting to see for herself what the fuss was about. The story is a fantasy, couched in the language of myth, where Beauty rescues the Prince, for once. She chooses her own path throughout, and at the end of the tale, we still don’t know what shape her life will take when we leave her with Tam Lin in her arms, newly taken from the Queen of Faerie herself. That is another Tale, after all.

You never know what you’ll find wandering in a wild place. Very few of us have an adventure as dramatic as Janet did, no matter what the news would have us believe, but wandering does change us. It doesn’t have to be done in a forest, or even in a physical location of any kind. A gathering where we know no one, a library’s shelves, or our own imaginations will take us to the unexpected.

Even wandering in our own neighborhood can be rewarding. If nothing else, we’ll have a deeper knowledge of the place we live in and a stronger connection to it. Something as simple as knowing where the blackberries grow and not being afraid to taste their sweetness is an adventure available to all of us. Even here in the heart of Oakland I can find them. How many of us know where the city parks are, and go to them?

Where do you wander? What adventures do you have?

Next Stop: Robert Burns

Blood Red Roses

Amazing just how tiring standing in front of a mic laying down tracks can be. No, it’s not an album yet, but it will be soon. Blood Red Roses is the title track, and it kind of encapsulates the album. You know who your mother was, and your grandmother, but how about your great-grandmother? How about female ancestors from farther back? Why is this? Why does the line of blood go through the father alone? These are things we don’t often think about, let alone talk about, and when we do, the conversations usually generate more heat and noise than light.

This song takes the long view. It goes all the way from the Paleolithic to the present. It just struck me one day that the earliest sculptures of humans yet found are of women–and they are faceless. When we finally saw our planet–the organism we are all part of, it, too, is of course faceless. We will never truly know what those first artists were thinking, but for me, living at the time when we first saw our planet as a whole, those two images are linked. Were the carvers thinking of deity? Of all women? Or something else entirely? Those images are all found in Eurasia, another fact the significance of which we don’t know and may never know. The mystery is a gift in and of itself. We are not all-knowing, and right now, I think we can use a reminder of that fact. It might make us think before we act, and see what we can learn in the process. That’s what humans do, after all, when we’re at our best.

This song started life as a sea chantey, also called Blood Red Roses.

The next track on the album is also a pan-European story, that comes to us by way of Wales. It’s the tale of Blodeuedd, and I posted it here.

Next time: Moving forward in time our next stop is the ballad of Tam Lin.

Flower Face and the Owl

Image

Transformation can be tough.

The way Blodeuedd was treated in myth has always bothered me. Created specifically to be a wife to a boy who was also in a sense created without consent, I saw her as more slave than woman. I hated the magician Gwydion for his lack of awareness and for using his power to create playthings for the amusement of himself and his cronies without a thought for their desires and their basic rights.

This song came out of he time I spent meditating on Blodeuedd and asking her what her side of the story was. I wrote it years ago, but was unable to finish it until I went to my first Druid Camp, Anderida Gorsedd, which revolved around the Fourth Branch of the Mabinogi. There I met Kristoffer Hughes, who was not only kind enough to teach me how to say the names in the story as close to properly as an American can manage, he deepened my understanding of the story to the point where I understood what Blodeuedd had been telling me. And why Gwydion couldn’t be anyone but who he was.

Only part of one verse had to be changed, in the end. The story I was told had been very simple, only Blodeuedd’s creation and her return to where she had come from. It was complete in itself, as she is. When I had asked for the story of her life with Lleu several times, as I considered it the meat of the story, she sang me her answer:

You silly little mortal,
I decide the tale I tell,
I decide the shape of it,
This time it’s mine!

I had to leave it at that, and I did, until last Fall.

One of the things I didn’t understand about the Fourth Branch was that it is all about impulsive action. No one in the story is blameless. Everyone does something dumb, and while everyone ultimately pays for it, they are also transformed into more than they would have been otherwise. Did they learn their lessons? As well as any of us do, I suppose. The story leaves that question to the individuals involved, where it truly belongs.

Rock Springs Is Dry

I feel like the one person the serial killer has freed so she can tell the world what happened. Only there’s no one to tell. No “crime” has been committed.

I went up to Mt.Tamalpais on Tuesday to get water from the spring. It’s something I do every few months, having living water on hand is something that appeals to the Druid in me and it’s a great excuse to go up and spend some time in the forest. This time the pipe was dry. I’ve never known this to happen before. I’ve been drinking from this spring since my teens and even on the hottest day in summer the mountain has always had a cool drink to offer.

It’s January and the pipe is dry.

The dry pipe at Rock Springs

It’s January and it looks like *August.*

The path to Rock Springs

I know droughts are part of life. That’s the story we keep telling ourselves anyway. But this one is part of a pattern. The climate is changing, catastrophic events are becoming the norm. In other words, this isn’t a catastrophic event, this is a catastrophe.  A slow one, so we can fool ourselves into saying it’s an isolated incident. We can avoid noticing what’s going on all around us. We humans have managed to throw enough carbon into the atmosphere and cut down enough trees to deform the jet stream.

This is a worldwide problem, of course, though we in the developed world have so far been lucky enough to escape the worst effects of it. Lucky enough, in fact that I can be so shocked when the beginnings of desertification appear on my own doorstep. We have dismissed the droughts in places like Ethiopia, Somalia and Syria as normal, if we’ve noticed them at all. Those places have always been deserts, as Sam Kinison, among others, have said. It’s a problem that we in the developed world have created, and we’ve taught the rest of the world to follow our example.

We’ve caused this, and this is the biggest blessing of all. We did this, and we can undo it. We know what needs to be done, and it’s well within our capabilities. All it will take is hard work, and it can even feel good if we choose to let it.

I wrote a song on my way back down the mountain. The long slow curves of the mountain road became a tune, and the terror I felt became a chant. When I hit the parking lot of Good Earth in Fairfax, to fill my water bottle, the verse began to break through with the ludicrousness of the fact that I had to ask two separate people in two different parts of the store for a source of cold water. Bottled water or any number of cold packaged drinks had stared me in the face from the moment I walked in the door. Back up the mountain I went, pulling off at turnouts and singing the bits into my iPad. A full first verse and scraps of the second and darkness was falling. Butt-in-BART-seat back and forth over the next day and it was done. I offer it to you as a warning and a call to action.

The Springs of Tamalpais

DISCLAIMER: The drain pipe of the Rock Springs fire hydrant is not potable according to Marin Municipal Water District. Consume at your own risk. I drink it, I’ve never been sick, but I am a nut. And that’s the saddest commentary of all, to me. Our springs and creeks are not safe to drink and we don’t even realize how insane that is.

Busking in Ireland

Busking on Grafton Street

 
This is partly inspired by a recent post by Nimue Brown, which had some excellent points to make about the quality of the audience and its effect on a performance, but mainly it’s about the fact that I’ve just come off Grafton Street in Dublin, having barely made the price of a pint. I’m in Farrington’s now, a place that serves Irish craft beers and good food. And has free wireless. It may be the last chance I ever get to be here, so I’m taking it. 
 
I’ve played Grafton Street the last two days, as well as a pretty amazing session in a pub on Monday night. Both days on the street I’ve done a whole lot better monetarily, but really, no time spent on the street is ever wasted. 
 
It never depends on your audience. I always, always look in the mirror first. The reason I did crap today was that I broke one of my cardinal rules. I played for tips. I did not play for the love of it, and I deserved to make shite. Yet I did catch ears. It’s funny, people on the street often don’t want to be caught listening, at least at first. It’s kind of like hooking a salmon. Let them stand off to the side if they like, and keep feeding them beauty. They’ll often come around. Sometimes all you get is a tip, sometimes you get conversation. Sometimes even a chance to pass on a bit of knowledge. 
 
Audiences and performers are two halves of a whole. The ancient Irish knew that. There was a blessing on the teller of the tale, who told it fully and completely, and on those who listened completely, to the end. This was, and is, how the knowledge moves forward in time. 
 
I played at Emain Macha earlier this week. I stood up there completely alone and played “The Pangs of Macha” to the land it was tied to, the sky, and the sea surrounding the island of Ireland. It was good, but it wasn’t enough. When a gaggle of kids and parents came up to the hill, I asked them if they wanted to hear the story of the hill. It seemed no one heard me, and I was willing to let it go. They didn’t come there to hear me. I offered an opportunity, no more, no less.  But one man in that group heard me. He wanted to hear the tale and he spoke right up, made the kids sit down and listen. 
 
After I was done, the kids got up and kept rolling down the hill. But some of the adults thanked me. They got it. I also found out that rolling down the hill was a tradition, later when I no longer had the chance. All I knew at the time was when I saw fathers and their children rolling down Emain Macha, laughing their joy, that the curse was over at last. I didn’t need to catch every ear, after all, only the ones who needed to hear the story. If busking hadn’t made me fearless, I, an American, would never have dared to approach a group of Irish people and offer to tell them their history. The very idea! 
 
The session was another gift from the street. The man on the street, as it were, showed his worth again. I asked for directions near the bus station and he saw the bodhran on my back and pointed me not only to Grafton Street, but to O’Donoghue’s, and the Monday night session. On the way down, I told myself that if they didn’t like what I was doing, I knew the way back to the hostel. I’d already been given the brush-off in Inverness, I was prepared to get the same here, but I was going to try, at least. 
 
Tommy was in the back with a guitar and he was welcoming from the start. His mates, who arrived later, were the same. I was a little rusty and uncertain at first, but they made me welcome and I was soon in the swing of things. The other American there, who had a fiddle and was invited to play, wouldn’t, till almost the end. These guys really wanted the Americans to jump in. The pub was full of us and they did the best they could to even get people to sing choruses, which they wouldn’t. We have lost our voices, sticking plugs in our ears and being intimidated by skill instead of inspired by it. 
 
That night was magic for me. Yes, the happiness of the audience was part of it, as well as the easy acceptance of the regulars, but it was busking that made it possible. Tommy told me, when I was first called on to sing, that I wouldn’t get silence, just to jump in. I hadn’t expected it. I didn’t even want it. I wanted to catch ears, and catch them I did. I don’t even remember what I sang first, but the second tune was General Guinness, and it got me a free pint of same. I didn’t pay for drinks the rest of the night. And we got the other American to take out her fiddle in the end. You could tell she was thrilled and so was I. I hope she got hooked. We all can and should make our own music. 
 
And I am going to finish this pint and see if Temple Bar is kinder than Grafton Street was. I will not be playing for tips this time

No Drum–No Problem!

If I’m ever in a strange city with no friends and no money, I’m going to start with a stretch of pavement and a hat.

I decided to busk last Saturday night. I was on my bike, and I hadn’t brought anything with me because I expected to go straight home. I even had to borrow a dollar bill from a coworker because I had exactly forty-six cents in cash on me and it is helpful when busking to let people know what’s expected of them. Am I a random nut who feels like music, or am I trying to make money? I think a blend of the two is the real answer to the question, but presentation is all. So I stuck my bike helmet on the floor, parked my bike behind me, and went to work.

It was a great practice session, and that was fine. I didn’t go home with nothing, but I didn’t make all that much. There aren’t many people in Montgomery Station on a Saturday evening, and I wanted to see what would happen as well as try out some songs I’m learning. I’ve decided that I’m getting in a bit of a rut, here. I’ve found some good places and decided what the “good” stations and times to be there are, as well as what songs draw the best tips. That’s useful information, but the combination of limiting playing spaces and limiting repertoire is a bit, well, limiting. Strictly from a monetary perspective, if I’m bored, I don’t get tipped–and I don’t deserve to be!

The lack of a drum is now becoming almost an advantage. There are very few songs in my current repertoire that can’t be done without it, and having the freedom to move makes me realize just how little I could move when I had that instrument tying up my hands. I had to split my attention between playing and singing. Now that I’ve accepted the slight diminishment of the soundspace I can occupy with just an unamplified voice, I’m no longer wearing myself out in half an hour. I played for about that long on Saturday without even a bottle of water. In fact, it was the lack of water that determined the length of my set. I also get to interact with the people passing by more. I wasn’t exactly hiding behind the drum, but I didn’t realize how much it could get between me and the rest of the world. Even when I go back to using it it isn’t going to be the largest part of my set.
I wonder a bit just how much instruments in general have this effect. I know I’m lucky beyond measure to have a voice that can do what mine does. I am in awe of the skill and talent of many of the people who come to open mics and draw beauty out of their instruments in a way I really can’t. We all have to do what we’re called to, and I am a singer, first and foremost. I have a friend who keeps telling me that I have to get an instrument. I keep telling her that I already have one. With the magic of Garage Band I can even sing against myself. No, what I need, if I need anything, is other singers and musicians. That will happen in its own time.

I’m feeling more ready every day to be off on my adventure. September really is the best time for this to happen, and I’m approaching the point where I’m truly ready to go. I’ve never really been in another country, a day or so in Canada when I was in my teens hardly counts. I want to be confused by the different money, and not know where I am, and so discover things I never would otherwise. This is one of the things I loved about sailing in tall ships. We’d get into port and there we would be; no transportation, and no idea where we were. We’d do some things in groups–we always managed to find the bars, for example, but I had some of my best times simply exploring, and getting the things I needed in an unfamiliar place. I’m more than ready to do that again.

For now, I have a lot of work left to do. Aside from properly planning and making the requisite reservations, I need as much repertoire as I can cram in my head. I need the old album online, and hopefully the new album as well. I need to decide  what gear I still need, and which drum to take.

I’d be happy to take my smaller drum, but it hasn’t got much of a voice. It was a cheapio I picked up from a friend who wasn’t happy with it. I thought I could lower the tone with oil, it was as dry as a bone, but that didn’t work. I also couldn’t get my hand behind the crossbars, so I moved them out. That helped, but the tone is still much too high. It may be the depth of the frame, or it may be just the drumhead. In any case, the next step is reheading it. That is a job I’ve only done once, on the drum I’m currently playing. It did make a cheap drum sound much better, but I’d hate to waste a goatskin on a drum that wasn’t worth it.

Add another project to the list…

Only Steal From The Best

We’re all having to do more with less right now. The fat times are behind us, and we are all having to hone our craft. What does this have to do with stealing? It depends on your point of view, as so many things do.

The old Tales, read closely, are all about point of view. Is it Deirdre’s fault the men of Ulster fought a bloody battle, or is it theirs? Who raises the sword? Who causes it to be raised? Did Medb cause the Men of Connaught to be strayed and destroyed because she was female, or is that just the way many a cattle raid turns out? As my grandmother said, “It depends on whose ox is being gored.” The place of gender in Irish culture, and the culture itself was changing in that time, and the versions of the Tales we have reflect that.

I was listening to the radio last Sunday and a wonderful segment came on. It was about a book called “Steal Like An Artist,” by a man named Austin Kleon. The segment can be heard here. Through the miracle of ereading, I was once again able to download the book to my iPod from the public library before the show was even over. We live in such magical times! I have tools now that I could only dream of when I first started busking.

Kleon’s point was that we are all the product of our influences. We all create based on the work of others. Without the Tales written down over a thousand years ago by people whose faces I will never see, whose names I will never know, I wouldn’t have the stories of Deirdriu and Blodeuwedd to draw on. Without the recordings of Steeleye Span, Capercaillie, and many others to draw on, I wouldn’t have had voices, patiently playing the same tune over and over while I sang along until my voice could do the same things theirs could. If we surround ourselves with the best that our culture has to offer, we, too, will be able to offer our best in return.

Stealing is both a bright line and a slippery term. To take someone else’s work and claim it as my own, that is stealing. To admit that my work is built on the work of others, that is homage and the simple truth. Retelling the old Tales, for example, is a long and venerable tradition. They need to be fit to the spirit of the age they are told in if they are to have their true power. The versions we have, after all, are the Tale as told at that moment in time, not a timeless perfect version to be held up as the Definitive Work. It is the work of the storyteller and the scholar to read the older versions and understand the context in which they were told in order to grasp the essence of the Tale, to separate the nut from the husk. Morgan Llywelyn, to give but one example, does this beautifully. To read her novels is to be led to the heart of the Tale, and back to the source of it, if, like me, you don’t ever want the story to end. Give someone the passion for knowledge, as she does, and you light a fire in the head. Who knows where that will lead?

To bring it even closer to home, I am listening to an album right now, called The Dance Goes On, by a duo called Blanche Rowen and Michael Gulston. I fully intend to learn a number of songs from it simply because they’re already half in my head and won’t let me be until I learn the rest of them. I urge you to give them a listen and then run, do not walk, to buy your own copy. You see, I want to learn how to light such a fire in others as they have lit in me. I’m listening to it now, and have been since I got it. I know that my first album, limited as its circulation was, did that in at least a few people. I replaced a few tapes for people who played them to death and get occasional requests for a CD of it to this day. To me, that’s the highest compliment I could receive, and it brings the fire home to hopefully make the next recording even better.

Songs don’t live unless they’re sung. They live on the breath, and in the moment they are heard. I hope to leave this world knowing that my songs are on the lips of others, and so I too give life to the songs of others. But I credit, and I buy recordings, so the artists can continue to make music. To me, that’s the bright line. Besides, it’s so embarrassing to be caught.

We are so rich, in this beautiful and terrible age we live in. We have the wisdom of the ages at our fingertips, and such power that we can destroy ourselves. If we do not truly step into our power and the responsibility that goes with it, we may not have a next generation to gift our wisdom to. The chain of beauty may truly be broken. What a wonderful time to be alive! What a chance to make the art that may play a part in bringing us though this time into the next age! It truly does all depend on your point of view.

Bare Voiced Busking

The first time was like shouting into the wind. I felt invisible and unheard and I did stupid things. My hands were empty, would anyone listen to me without my drum? I lasted half an hour before my voice began to break. My tips were about what they would have been with the drum. I was catching ears, getting compliments, even during rush hour in a space people run past on their way to everywhere.

I know better. Acoustically I was in one of the best spots in the system. All I had to do was sing to the opposite wall, not ten feet away. We all do these things, we let little things throw us off balance and we work against ourselves.

This injury is akin to a final exam from the Universe, or that’s the way I’m going to look at it, anyway. It means it’s time to take my craft to the next level. I’m much more dependent on the drum than I realized, and it’s time to see how far I can go without it. It’s time for my art to be carried on the breath, my voice, and it’s past time to get my tinwhistle skills back into shape.

The next times were much easier. I tried out several spots, and so had some basis for comparison. I can still play most of the spots I used before. My take is about the same as it ever was, the only real issue is adding in repertoire. That is only a matter of time and practice. The list grows every time. Oddly enough, a lot of the songs I thought absolutely required a drum really don’t. Follow Me Up To Carlow, one of the bloodiest war songs I know, works just as well with just a voice. All I have to do is remember that I don’t have to fill the whole space, I just have to sing. The attendant in the kiosk at the other end of the space I was in made a point of coming across the station to tip me so I must be clearly heard over there.

Slowly my drum hand is coming back. I don’t plan on taking a drum with me to the station for a while yet, but I can work out beats and teach them to my partner, who is learning to play with me. I should be able to record again, and get everything in my head onto the hard drive. The album is back in the realm of possibility. There are definitely things I’ll never do again, but thankfully playing the bodhran is not yet one of them.