Letters

April 1, 2012

OVER THE RHINE
P.O. Box 12078
Cincinnati, OH 45212

April 1, 2012

Hello again friends,
 
It has been good to watch the many tiny miracles we refer to as ‘spring’ reveal themselves yet again here on Nowhere Farm. The buds and blooms (and birds) arrived early this year. As March now winds down, and the crescent moon climbs higher in its dark and curving dance with Venus and Jupiter, we are reminded that the world still has its surprises. Those surprises continue to be both tragic and wondrous.
 
Close long time friends are told that two of their children are struggling with rare genetic illnesses that will likely become progressively challenging. The prognosis is not encouraging.
 
The old maples around our farmhouse wave in a display of red buds.
 
Our godchildren struggle to navigate the sometimes troubled and ugly terrain of public high school. We root for them.
 
Daffodils bloom uproariously in the ditch.
 
Everywhere you look the world is broken and beautiful.
 
We marked the 4th anniversary of my father’s passing this March 15, and I have to admit I have not done particularly well. The mockingbird that followed me around the farm that first summer in his absence has appeared only briefly this spring and quickly flies elsewhere. Grief feels incomplete.
 
But we try to sing our way through. We’ve been recording simple versions of our new songs here on the farm, and my father certainly makes his appearances. For example:
 
Well the hallelujah chorus used to make my Daddy cry
I still wonder ‘bout the ruckus angels make up there on high
In the meanwhile there are measures we can take to get us by
Lay me down next to you in Ohio
 
Yes, we try to sing our way through.
 
There are two musical projects taking shape in our midst that we hope will be revealed this year. And yes (thanks for asking) we will most likely try once again to make these records communally with you, our extended musical family. (That is if you’re willing and still feel like betting on the muse.) We’ve been scheming about ways to make the whole experience fun and hopefully somewhat unique. More soon on all this.
 
(And if you have any ideas or suggestions, drop us a line: otrhine@aol.com). (We certainly were humbled and blessed by your collective generosity in making The Long Surrender.)
 
Yes.
 
In the meanwhile there are measures we can take to get us by:
 
Karin and I are seeking stages off the beaten path to try out some of the new songs, to hear the new songs in the context of some of our older songs, to feel how they breathe in a room in front of an audience…
 
Which brings us to you.
 
Join us for some bare-boned, warmly-lit evenings of music as we try to get at the heart and soul of the matter.
 
Hope to see you.
 
Peace like a river, love like an ocean,
 
Linford (and Karin)
 
+++
 
Acoustic Evenings with Over the Rhine
 
EASTER WEEKEND:
 
Good Friday, April 6, San Rafael, CA, Marin County Civic Center Showcase Theater
Saturday, April 7, Santa Cruz, CA, Kuumbwa
Easter Sunday, April 8, Sacramento, CA, Harlow’s
 
Thursday, April 12, Ponte Vedra, FL, The Ponte Vedra Concert Hall
Friday, April 13, Stuart, FL, The Lyric Theatre
Sunday, April 15, Tampa, FL, David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts
 
Friday, April 27, Decatur, GA, Eddie’s Attic
Saturday, April 28, Duluth, GA, Red Clay Theatre (Atlanta Area)
 
Friday, May 4, Evanston, IL, SPACE
Saturday, May 5, Evanston, IL, SPACE (Chicago area)
 
See overtherhine.com for much more…
 
Please share this letter freely. Orphaned believers, skeptical dreamers, you’re welcome. You can stay right here. You don’t have to go.
 
Thanks.
 
+++
 
And now for something a little different, for those of you who would like to read the fine print, here is a draft of a poem I wrote not too long after my father died. My uncle Rudy, mentioned in the poem, has also been laid to rest.
 
Enjoy.
 
LJD
 
+++
 
 
Slowly the land reveals itself
To us.
 
We learn to recognize
The difference
Between a starling
And a female redwing
Blackbird.
 
Slowly the land reveals itself
To us.
 
We learn to recognize
The difference between
A honey locust
And a black locust,
A chokecherry
And a wild black cherry.
 
Slowly the land reveals itself
To us.
 
***
 
Our neighbors
Nurse hundreds of white pine seedlings
In the warm diffused light
Of a greenhouse.
During the first twelve months,
The trees, each in their own individual pot,
Grow to the height
Of not quite half an inch.
 
We stand
And fall silent
By folding tables
Spread with a miniature forest.
 
***
 
Slowly the land reveals itself
To us.
 
We learn to recognize
The difference between
Killing time
And resting.
 
***
 
As we tend
Our once-neglected farm
We tame it by cutting
Meandering
Walking paths
Everywhere.
 
But we leave the edges wild
With thistle, goldenrod,
Dogbane, pokeweed.
 
Let the songbirds
Have thorny hidden places
For their wild melodies.
 
I walk the paths
In the deep silence of the after dark
And feel a wild relief
Of anonymity.
 
I disappear.
 
***
 
Walking through my old neighborhood
In the city,
My father once remarked,
Ah, this is my favorite tree:
The sweet gum.
He leaned on it for a few moments
As if leaning on an old friend.
 
It hadn’t occurred to me
That I should have a favorite tree.
 
***
 
The beech tree has a plain name,
But its bark is smooth as a
Woman in the woods.
 
Once, my father told me that when
He and his brother Rudy returned to the family
Farm in Delaware, they saw on the old
Beeches there, words they had carved
With Barlow blades as boys
Fifty-some years earlier: the names of girls
They thought they loved,
And their own names
Waiting for them still,
Preserved like benign childhood wounds
In a diary of dappled sunlight.
 
When I last saw my Uncle Rudy,
I asked if those beech trees were still there.
He said, Oh no, and fell silent,
And his eyes glassed over.
He peered deep into the distance
And held his noble mouth
Like men do,
Who will not weep
In the face of the grim indignities
Of old age.
 
***
 
I planted a young beech tree this spring
On the edge of our woodlot.
I dug the wild thing free
With a spade, carried it home
Out of an old falling down fencerow
By the creek.
I hugged the root ball wrapped in burlap
To my chest like an infant in arms
And nodded hello to the May apples
As we passed by.
 
The breeze rustled the beech leaves
Like a tiny sail
And made of us a small boat
As we steered across the field
Toward home.
 
Now we watch the transplanted beech tree.
It’s been touch and go.
It’s always difficult, isn’t it:
Getting favorite things to grow.
 
***
 
I spoke recently with an intelligent,
Well-read American friend
(Who I like and admire)
About a trip he and his family
Made to Red River Gorge in Kentucky.
Sitting there in the springtime
Surrounded by
Vast stretches of deciduous forest
And the stern silences of steep cliffs,
It occurred to him and his family
That they weren’t
Quite sure what to do with themselves.
Eventually they got in their car
And felt relieved to go looking for a
Pizza Hut out along the highway.
 
It occurs to me now that going to the woods
Without knowing any of the many names
Of its inhabitants
Must be about as interesting as going
To a beautiful library
Without knowing how to read.
 
How hard have we worked to acquire
Our fresh ignorance?
 
***
 
After Daddy died, I was surprised to find
I needed to know the names of trees,
The names of birds and weeds
Gone to seed.
 
John Detweiler could no longer
Do the naming for me.
 
I spoke the names myself for once and found
New vocabulary for my wilted grief.
 
It just so happens
It was Red River Gorge
That became an open book to me.
It was there for the first time that I began
To call the towering
Tulip poplars by name. And the sourwood,
The redbud, the dogwood.  
I walked beneath the tall umbrellas
Of large leaf magnolias and by banks of blooming
Rhododendron. I learned the difference between
Staghorn and winged sumac.
I watched the chinkapin oaks
Sway in their exchange of high secrets,
Felt the soft swish and hush of the low branches
Of hemlocks on my bare arms along cool creek banks.
I grinned to myself past thorny patches
Of devil’s walking stick,
Touched the bark of sugar maples, red maples, silver maples—
Whose leaves still squint toward the ground.
 
And far up on a ridge, finally,
I walked beneath a lone beech tree,
Leaning toward me.
 
Surely the lone beech tree spoke something
In the deep silence
Of its shade,
As I leaned on it
Like a new friend,
And felt its uncarved skin.
 
***
 
The young beech trees cling to their
Leaves in the fall
And long after other trees are bare,
As you drive by the woods,
They will seem to twirl
Like girls in pale skirts
Dancing there.