Letters

July 27, 2005

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

July 27, 2005

Nowhere Farm

Hello,

It’s a breezy July Wednesday morning, and a breeze on our little farm is a significant gift. First of all, we haven’t seen a car all morning, so the air is well worth breathing deeply. It’s a sensation closer to drinking than breathing.

Second, the locust trees have been an unexpected surprise. Earlier in the spring they were covered with sweet-smelling white blossoms, but now they have deep green, leafy branches with a knack for wrapping themselves around armloads of wind and not letting go. They bend surprisingly low, and lean into each other seductively, sharing windy jokes and whispers. (Karin almost changed the name of the farm to Locust Grove, we’ve been so taken with them.)

Third, the wind makes waves in the fields. The soybeans just curtsy self-consciously, but the wheat is transformed into a muted golden ocean that ebbs and flows. (Kim Taylor suggested that for our next video, Karin and I run towards the wind-blown wheat in our vintage bathing suits – beach gear in tow – and snorkel around in the wavy fields. Perhaps the occasional hand-operated folk art fish would rise up during a chorus.)

Fourth, the wind in the pine trees sounds like the holy spirit arriving, passing through, moving off to participate in whatever God is trying to get done. I’ve been reading Lauren Winner’s book, Girl Meets God, and she, thinking outloud, suggests that the holy spirit is what quiets all the other voices in our heads so that we can occasionally hear what God might have to say.

Finally, we’ve had some brutal heat here in the Midwest the last several days, and it’s wonderful to feel the air move. They say every wind has its weather, and we’re hoping some rain will blow in for the garden a little later. Right now, the sun is still bright, but there is the foreshadowing of rain in the sky, something subtle.

My mother and father came down for their first visit, and they grew up on Amish farms, so we were nervous about how our little place would look to them. My father walked over to our fence by the garden and within a few minutes had the bobwhite quail answering his whistles. He said he heard birds that he hadn’t heard since he was a boy. We worked the garden together, planted some more sweet corn, transplanted some watermelon and squash plants. He was genuinely excited about the richness of the soil, the view, the peacefulness. I guess I had forgotten how much he loved birds and their songs. He made field recordings with a reel-to-reel tape recorder when we very young, and played his discoveries at the breakfast table while we kids leaned over our hot cereal.

This winter we’ll find a good spot near the kitchen window for my father’s handmade bird feeder, and next spring we’ll start to find nooks for his bluebird boxes. We also want to see if we can lure some purple martins, see if we can convince them that they should make Nowhere Farm their home.

My mother spotted the apple tree in the front yard, and said, There’s no way we’re letting those apples go to waste. So we sat together under one of the ancient maples and peeled and quartered, and she helped us make several batches of lightly sweetened home made applesauce. She also brought a big bag of fresh oak leaf lettuce from their garden and made my favorite home made dressing, and between Karin doing her thing in the kitchen, and my Mom pulling out a few specialties, we ate like our farm had been transported to Southern France.

We’ve seen things out here. Bloated, blood-red moons on the rise. On a dark night, the milky way spilling down the center of the sky – somebody get a mop. We’ve seen a thousand acres of waist-high fireflies – no wonder people believed in Elves moving secretly across the night.

Karin’s got our porch decked out with many a colorful potted flower, each of which she has a knack for naming precisely (my own memory is pretty much shot at this point). So the butterflies flutter by and wow us with their extravagances, their fine art wings, their swallowtails. And the hummingbirds will thrum by in high gear, and hover on a dime, and dip into the blooms to extract their elixirs, the sweet stuff of life, from Karin’s potted flowers.

Then there’s the rain out here across the fields, the gentle, soaking rains or the crash-bang, bust-the-sky storms, the trees turning their leaves inside out to drink, the mist lying across the fields on newly wet evenings.

The sunsets, different every evening, turning the fields colors that we can never imagine in advance.

We are rich, but none of this belongs to us. Karin says, The only things we own are the moments. Everything else is like a book borrowed from the library: it will all be returned.

My oldest brother Conrad and his wife Kathy and their five kids came down for a visit. The kids pitched their tent in the maple grove. We played badminton and increasingly cut-throat croquet and picked black berries and dumped spoonfuls of fresh berries on our pie and ice cream. Jonathan, Conrad’s oldest son, caught the largest large mouth bass of his life at a nearby pond in one of the fields, a bass longer than his elbow to the tip of his fingers. He’s been crazy about fishing ever since he could maneuver around on all fours, so it was great to know that this visit will be forever etched in his fishing memory. He was visibly shaken with joy when we stopped back to check on him, but he did manage to more-or-less document the fish with the family video camera before he tossed it back.

But what about the dark underbelly of all this beauty? It was a bad year for ticks this spring, so we’ve had to be vigilant with the dogs. Ticks will hide between their toes, or find an unsuspecting spot on a wagging tail. I missed a tiny tick that got a good grip on the nape of my own neck overnight. The bite still itches even now, a month later. I had to go to a country doctor and drive down a long farm lane and wait in the waiting room on old church pews and look out the window at the pond with Canadian geese walking about, suspicious heads held high as if a nurse might approach one of them unannounced and try to hook a wing up to an I.V.

A large hawk flies in to Nowhere Farm almost daily, lately crying the saddest cries. We don’t know why it’s so sad. Perhaps it is tired of all the killing. The black birds get nervous, and the hawk will leave us neat piles of plucked black bird feathers after her meals, and once the severed head of a young possum on one of our paths, eyes still open, looking both ways.

I’ve had to learn the elusive art of killing poison ivy – 12 and 15 foot award-winning vines, Magnum P.I. – woody, hair covered vines thick as misshapen baseball bats, leaves full of warts and oily secretions. The huge ivy vines twice as tall as me are the queens, and they’re usually surrounded by knee or waist-high younger plants – the protective pawns – all waiting to make us itch.

And when it got hot and the air got very still and close this last week, the horse flies came buzzing around doing fly-by’s. The dogs get jumpy and snap at them violently. These are Arnold Schwarzenegger flies about an inch long – a sort of cross between a common housefly and a Hummer – with fluorescent green racing stripes on their eyes and zebra stripes across their bellies and a scissors where their mouths should be for cutting through skin and hide and sucking blood.

Nests of helpless baby birds tumble out of trees during storms and sometimes we try to feed the sad, injured nestlings for a few days while they’re waiting around to die. And the birds, born with more music than they know what to do with, fight viciously with other birds of different colors to defend their little pieces of earth, their territory.

There’s the occasional snakeskin in the attic above the kitchen that makes us nervous, worst case scenario being we open the silverware drawer one morning and lose Karin. And of course when you’re raising vegetables, any number of bugs will long to infest whatever it is you’re trying to grow. Beetles were rioting on the sweet corn tassels yesterday morning, and our tremendous pumpkin vines (sprawling with pumpkins the size of cannon balls) are starting to get a bit mushy brown near the roots. I saw a large green caterpillar covered with white larvae, that I think were eating the caterpillar, while the caterpillar ate our tomato vines. Hmmm.

Karin pulls the shameless, mating Japanese beetles off of the rose bushes she planted, in her first flower bed out here, near the front of the house. Clouds of insects sometimes throw themselves at the lighted 170-year-old night windows of our house.

It’s a bit wild out here around the edges.

There’s a dark side, but we root for the beauty of it all. And we believe the reckless beauty that surrounds us will somehow win the day. We build our occasional fires after dark with a few friends, and try to figure it all out. We help each other laugh.

So we’re out here. And while the farmers eye their fields of corn and harvest their wheat and grow enough soybeans to give a truck full to seemingly every man, woman and child in America, we grow a different crop. We hope this place will be a new home, a place to retreat to after working city to city, a place in which good music and new words can grow and thrive – music and words that can be of use to us and our friends.

There are a lot of unknowns out here, and we need those unknowns to keep it interesting.

We wonder outloud what Autumn will be like. The first snowfall: everything completely still for miles.

Re-establishing our lives on Nowhere Farm pretty much consumed every resource we could muster, but we did manage to take much-needed, much-loved breaks to continue playing our music, namely the new songs on Drunkard’s Prayer, as well as songs that have been around for awhile. Again, our thanks to the many of you who made these evenings so memorable for us.

We were surprised at the few thousand people who showed up for our concert in Louisville for WFPK’s Waterfront Wednesday, in spite of stifling heat and the fact that Bob Dylan and Willie Nelson were playing half a mile away.

We played another packed midnight show at the Illinois Cornerstone Festival, and of course we always love those sold-out Chicago crowds at Schubas.

And speaking of rooting around for beauty, we’ve got more dates coming up that we wanted to let you know about. We love this new chapter on the farm, but we look forward more than ever now to our trips from city to city to fill a room somewhere for an evening with music. Kim Taylor will be joining us once again. We hope to see you.

So here we go:

August 26, Friday, THE DAME, LEXINGTON, KY – a rock club next to a kickin’ Chapeau shop. Good music and a new hat for all.

August 27, Saturday, CONEY ISLAND MOONLITE GARDENS, CINCINNATI, OH. One of our all-time favorite venues. Join us at this historic and lovely outdoor amphitheater in front of a hometown crowd, beneath the stars, down by the muddy river.

September 2, Friday, LITTLE BROTHERS, COLUMBUS, OH. It always surprises us how much love shows up in this room, the quintessential dive.

September 3, Saturday, CLUB CAF´┐Ż, PITTSBURGH, PA. The coziest room we’ll play all fall. Get your tix early, it will sell out in advance.

September 4. Sunday, JAMMIN’ JAVA, VIENNA, VA. One of those great East Coast, coffee house listening rooms. This show also tends to sell out in advance.

September 6, Tuesday, JOHNNY D’S, SOMERVILLE, MA. Our first show at this venue. Don’t know a thing about it. Hope to see some familiar faces though.

September 7, Wednesday, MERCURY LOUNGE, NYC, NY. Yes.

September 8, Thursday, TLA, (THEATRE OF LIVING ARTS), PHILADELPHIA, PA. A big deal for us to return to this larger venue. Thanks Philly for giving us a shot. C’mon out Lancaster folks, etc.

September 9, Friday, IRON HORSE, NORTHAMPTON, MASS. Last time we made an after show pilgrimage to Emily Dickinson’s house.

There’s more to come, but if you want to mark your calendars well in advance, we’re planning another triple header for the first weekend of November at Canal Street Tavern in Dayton, OH. And the Christmas tour is taking shape: Two shows at Old Town School of Folk Music in Chicago on December 3rd, and our homecoming concert at the stunning Taft Theater in Cincinnati on December 10th. Hope you can join us.

We’ll be sending out some short notes in coming days about some summer sales at overtherhine.com. And we’ve got a few surprises up our sleeves. More on that soon. Stay tuned.

The journey continues. Days of joy, sadness, beauty, dreaming, hard work, tedium, restlessness, longing, confusion, laughter, clarity, tiny victories, peace.

Thank God for music.

And thanks for listening,

Linford Detweiler for Over the Rhine