Letters

May 8, 2005

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

May 8, 2005

Hello fellow travelers,

Hello from Nowhere Farm.

I sit in the morning sun of a Sunday with my thick, cream-colored mug of Karin’s fresh-brewed coffee. Here I am on the back porch of our new 170-year-old house. I look out across hundreds and hundreds of acres of undulating farm fields at a woods full of spring. Out here you don’t merely notice the seasons changing, you live the change from the inside out.

The grey wet world of winter that had us wearing three layers inside this old farm house while we ripped up crooked floors and dug out crawl spaces with shovels and buckets has been overtaken by a new world filled with every shade of green, full of fresh air and light and life as far as the eye can see. The only sound this morning is the considerable birdsong that comes at us from almost everywhere. We’ve heard killdeer, redwing blackbirds, cardinals, robins, sparrows, the noisy confabulations of grackles and starlings.

When we ate supper yesterday evening around a small table under the old maple trees, purple martins wheeled around the chimneys and then discovered us and came down to our level doing fly- by’s three and four feet off the grass as if to ripple the wine in our glasses with the breath from their own wings past our ears. (Or maybe they were chimney swifts, but we thought we saw blue.)

The birds are everywhere. They nest in the eaves of the house and we hear the hoarse squeaks of the hungry young.

***

We got our piano moved in the day before we left for the West Coast. I played it in the old room at the end of the house and listened to the sound of the wide-plank hardwood floors and plaster walls and divided light windows built before the civil war. The piano sounded good, full of history. We can make music here. And then I walked out on the porch, and there, listening less than a foot away from the back door was a motionless, sprawled, five-and-a half-foot black snake with bands of brown diamonds. I cannot tell you the primal chord that this struck. I say five-and-a-half-feet, because he wasn’t quite as tall as me.

Luckily Karin was away and it took me three garden tools to dispose of the old fellow, and there I was apologizing while I killed him, and I had to write about the experience for most of the rest of the afternoon. I wrote the black snake the best poem I could write for ending his life. I hope it’s a good poem.

My friend Brandon said that coexistence is an ideal that cannot always be realized. “If it hadn’t been day three, and if he hadn’t been a foot from the back door…”

“But the fact that he was listening to me play the piano, a sound he may not have heard all his life, a curious serenade coming from what would soon kill him…”

“I have to make this farm safe for my family, for the ones I love…”

Snakes get a bad rap. I’m really glad I didn’t meet him while I was lying under the house in the crawl space, barely able to roll over on my own stomach. (Every plumber and electrician out here seems to have his own story about the snake in the crawl space. Our own electrician would sometimes send in his teenage daughter. She was fearless when it came to dark, unknown spaces and would run wire anywhere.)

There are powerful metaphors at work that make me secretly mourn his blood on my hands.

***

It’s almost too beautiful here to write. But I hope not. Is it harder to give the world a little something beautiful when you’re in the thick of it, when there’s a redwing black bird at waist level every 100 feet or so along this gravel road we walk together as the sun sets? When the sound of the breeze in the pines sounds like the Holy Spirit? When trees I cannot name in the distance are covered in blossoms, each a bouquet several times my height? When a pair of Canadian geese fly by and honk their hello’s while we’re having dinner under the trees?

Karin is giving Willow a bath with the hose in the yard. Elroy got up and went over and lay down behind a stone wall. He’s hoping that it’s not his turn next. The dogs are confused. They think we moved to a park and will have to go home soon. The first week we were out here, even though we were working some of the longest days of our lives, I kept thinking we were on vacation and would have to go back to the city soon.

The house has a ways to go. Even now, our only source of water inside is a utility sink in the laundry room. We have a toilet but no bathtub yet. A refrigerator but no kitchen sink. One late evening after a long sweaty day of moving, we ran a hose from the laundry sink out to an apple tree covered in white blossoms. Karin had bought a chrome handheld shower which we put on the other end of the hose. I climbed a stepladder and wrapped the handheld shower around a branch, climbed down, went inside and turned on the hot and cold water. A perfect shower came straight down out of our apple tree, what looked that night like the world’s very first tree, a tree drunk with the perfume of its own budding. The moon was coming up over the roof of the house, the sky was awash in stars. It took me my whole life to realize we were all born to bathe out doors in the open air.

The farm is full of simple pleasures.

***

Our tour of the West Coast was very memorable thanks to all of you who found us for those evenings of music, much of it from our new CD Drunkard’s Prayer. And it was memorable thanks to the towering redwoods we drove under driving south from Eugene on Highway 101. And memorable thanks to the rocky beaches along the coast covered with scrubbed driftwood in every imaginable shape, some of the world’s best sculpture washed up haphazardly on a beach, lying there free, no admission, on the edge of an art gallery of waves on fire for miles toward a setting sun.

I’m working on a new song that’s almost done. One bit of the refrain is:

This world’s so beautiful
I don’t know where to begin.

This world’s so beautiful
I can’t tell what shape it’s in.

You all filled the rooms we played in Seattle all the way to San Diego with expectation and energy. We were way overdue for a trip out west. Thanks for giving us such a warm welcome back. You were undoubtedly some of the best audiences we’ve played to in over 10 years of touring. Thanks for the many tiny treats: the flowers, wine, cigars, books etc…..

We couldn’t have moved out to this farm without the community of friends that gathered around us and helped pack, helped work on this house, helped us move, helped us tour. We couldn’t have moved out to this farm without the community of all of you who have discovered our music and helped give it a life. We thank you all. We have been blessed with so many good and generous people.

***

This week we’ll be heading to Florida for four shows, and then a week from today, we’ll be playing Atlanta. We do hope you’ll come by and share some of these songs with us. We’ve got a very gifted group of musicians out right now, and the songs feel very much like living things. You can burn a painting and it disappears. You can’t burn a melody. A melody is one of those unseen, eternal things that we can’t touch with our hands. Thanks to Rick and Devon and Kim for their good company and musicianship, and thanks to our crew: Chris, Drew and Ryan. (Good luck Ryan with your new chapter.)

Stop by overtherhine.com for the particulars on shows this week in Jacksonville, West Palm, Stuart, Orlando and Atlanta. Some of these places we’ve never played before and aren’t quite sure what to expect. We hope to see you. We’re looking forward to it.

When we work, we travel from city to city. Now when we come home, we disappear, leave the city, breathe deep, slow down a little. It feels like the best of both worlds. There have been many moments when we were overwhelmed, a bit afraid that we had bitten off too much–too many unknowns. But now we’re here at Nowhere Farm, and this hard-won moment is drenched with peace and rejuvenation.

Thanks for listening and may you all discover your own doorway to true joy,

Linford for Over the Rhine

PS You can still order our new CD, Drunkard’s Prayer, through overtherhine.com. Our sincere thanks to all of you who pre-ordered. That was a huge help to us. Most everyone got their CD on or before the release date as planned, but one shipment of Drunkard’s Prayer was lost and our label couldn’t track it down for love nor money, which resulted in a delay. We apologize to the few who had to wait. We also ran out of stock on a few items because of the overwhelming response. We really appreciate your generosity. Just to clarify, it wasn’t the staff of Pastemusic.com that was at fault. And we really do feel like we’ve got the few remaining bugs worked out at this point for the future. Our audience is growing, and it’s hard to keep up sometimes. Thanks again and we hope to see you soon somewhere down the road.