Letters

October 20, 2005

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

October 20, 2005

Hello from Nowhere Farm,

A Stray Dog’s Life is Good Enough For Me…

Today is Friday, October 7, 2005. There’s a different kind of chill in the air today. It’s a gray day, breezy, and wet through and through with gentle rain. Change is afoot. The grass is green. The grass loves this cooler weather. The leaves of the maples are starting to turn now in earnest. The golden rod isn’t quite as brilliant as it was a few weeks ago, when it sugar-buzzed with pollen-drenched, disbelieving bees.

Our garden looks like a fall garden – the zucchini and cucumber vines and sweet corn long dried up, a few ripe tomatoes and peppers still hiding here and there, butternut squash lying conspicuously about. I picked the last few, ripe watermelon yesterday. They’re not as big as some of the 35 pounders we hauled out earlier, but they feel and sound ripe. So we’ll sit on the porch swing some evening soon and see what we’ve got. That was a childhood memory I enjoyed reliving – bringing in a heaping wheelbarrow full of ripe watermelon.

My father tells me there is no food so good as the food grown in your own garden.

But soon the frost will come, and the cycle of life will turn once again. The ground will lie fallow for awhile. Rest. We’ll hunker down for our first winter on Nowhere Farm.

For a long while, we knew another day would come eventually. And it did. I wrote the following to a few family members and close friends Tuesday morning:

Goodbye to a Friend…

Hey all,

I wanted to let you know that Karin and I got back from taping a radio show Sunday night to discover that Willow was failing. She had stayed overnight with a friend who she loves while we were gone, but had a rough time. We ran some tests yesterday, and she has issues with her stomach and lungs and kidneys. She had lost most of her hearing in the last 4-6 weeks. Seems like the light is fading from her body. She’s unable to eat anything except for a little broth, and she can’t seem to even keep that down.

She’s very weak, but still has a spark in her eye. Miraculously, Willow surprised us at 10am this morning and got herself up, gulped down some water and looked at us as if to say, Let’s go. We all (Karin, Willow, Elroy and I) had a nice walk on the farm. For 15 minutes, she shook off her troubles and got lost in what she loved. When it was over, she lay down, and it soon became even more clear that she was dying. In a final act of kindness, we’re going to take her into Cincinnati this afternoon and say goodbye, spare her the hours or days of further suffering.

It was almost 10 years ago to the day that she came into our lives, and we can’t imagine the last decade without her.

I still remember the Fall day 10 years ago that Karin and I drove into the country to meet with a Weimaraner breeder. She interviewed us for hours and let us see her dogs and talked about what would happen if we bought one of her dogs — it would have to be co-owned, and “finished” — made into a bench champion etc. We couldn’t afford any of it, and were wondering, how would we do all this and make our music?

But the woman warmed to Karin and finally said, You know if you’re just looking for a companion, a neighbor of mine just picked up a beautiful Weimaraner that was running on the highway. She’s been posting signs, and taking out ads to see if anyone claims her. If nobody does, you might be able to help out with giving her a home. She’s a great dog, but she’s been on the run for awhile…

A week later, this amazing, athletic hunting dog was in Karin’s apartment. I can’t begin to describe the joy this development brought. From the moment we laid eyes on her, we couldn’t help but grin at her intelligence, energy and just the stunningly beautiful way she was put together. Her past, prior to the day she found us, remained a complete mystery.

Yesterday, Karin was waiting at the vet’s office with Willow while he did an emergency C-section on another dog. A woman walked into the waiting room and said to Karin, Do you remember me? Ten years later there she was — the breeder who had connected us with Willow. It was one of her Weimaraners that was being operated on and she brought out one of the little puppies with its eyes still closed — the cycle of life and death right there in the room.

It was almost like God saying, I gave you this animal, and I’m still here. It’s ok.

A friend said that dogs awake to their last day with gladness in their hearts.

We had always prayed that we wouldn’t get a call somewhere on the road informing us that Willow was gone. We wanted to be able to say goodbye. This is what the answer to that prayer looks and feels like. Lots of tears, lots of joy.

Love from Ohio,

Linford & Karin

We knew the day would come and it did.

I had never seen an animal put to sleep. A few friends stopped by beforehand to say goodbye, and of course Robert, the man who became like a brother to us by visiting the Grey Ghost and taking Willow to the park and walking her and playing with her every single day that we were away on tour in the last decade. (With the exception of the few adventures/near disasters when we took Willow along with us.) We realized that Robert had never once turned us down – never said, I can’t make it, there’s a foot of snow on the ground, I’m too sick, or that weekend won’t work for me. Not once in ten years. When Robert walked into the room in those last moments of her life, Willow struggled to her feet one last time to give him the props he so deserved.

A few friends shedding tears with us… Tears of joy and sadness – they come from the same place. Everyone said goodbye. Then it was just Karin and I and Willow and the vet that had patched her up from time to time. (We used to joke that there was a different scar for every year that we’d known her.) She was completely relaxed. Her body was tired from holding it all together for us. Earlier we had both spoken with her at length. Karin held her as we drove the hour from the farm into the city. When I told her she was going to lie down and go to sleep and go chase some squirrels, she looked at me with gratitude and relief. And in a few seconds she was gone. When I saw her at complete rest like that I knew we had done the right thing. Her work here was done.

Ten years ago, when Karin realized that she had a powerful hunting dog on her hands, she decided communication was of the essence, so she took Willow to puppy school and worked with her on the basic commands – Sit, stay, lie down, OFF! (a general command meaning, Back away, don’t eat that) heel, etc. Willow was a quick study, but the command that was used to let her know she was free from obligation was “Release.” Karin whispered that to Willow repeatedly in her final hours. That’s the command that Karin has been using as we try to let go now. Release.

There are some who would argue that a dog’s life is insignificant. But God so often chooses to use insignificant things in significant ways. In the grand scheme, we’re all insignificant until love shows up. She was a spark for us, and life is a bit dim right now without her.

What am I mourning? I’m mourning the end of the special connection I saw between the woman I love and her very first dog. I’m mourning the fact that I’m getting older. Ten years ago, when Willow arrived, we had no idea what to expect. It was the start of a new adventure. Now we look back at another chapter of our lives that has ended.

Willow was good for us. She helped us have a semblance of a routine. It was contagious to watch how she insisted on doing what she was born to do.

We write these songs because we want to feel things deeply and listen well to our lives. So in times of loss, maybe we feel a bit more than we wish we did, and this makes it exceptionally painful. We know the day will come when we’ll look back with only gratitude and fondness for the ten years we woke up together. I guess no one notices the moment a dog becomes part of the family. She was a true kindred spirit somehow.

Good Dog.

***

Road Trips, Rose Hips and More…

You all have been good to us again this year. So many memorable nights of music and good vibes…

We had an unforgettable evening down by the river at Coney Island’s Moonlight Gardens in late August. Soon after, we drove to the Northeast, visited some of America’s great cities. Those of you who attended the concerts wrapped your arms around us with welcome. Thanks for all the good memories and after dark gifts.

It occurred to me that you thought we were deep and it turns out we’re not deep. All we do is write simple, slightly off-kilter love songs and gather a few people together and sing about love. We’re not that deep. Songs about simply wanting to love well those closest to us. Songs about wanting to love those people that have hurt us, and those we’ve hurt. Songs about wanting to love what we cannot name, what we have yet to see. Songs about being in love with the reckless beauty of the sky, the lay of the land, the grin of a child. Songs about failing to love more deeply, about being partially blind to what we want to see more clearly. Songs in which we wonder out loud if we’re in love with God, or simply in love with all our unanswered questions.

On clear nights when we have friends visiting we have a little game we play. We walk toward the barn and gather under a pole in the yard that has more or less the equivalent of a street light on it, a light which silvers the blades of grass and makes the maple trees glow in the dark. We tell everyone to look up, and we count to three slowly, very slowly, and then flick the light off and the entire farm is bathed in black. The stars swim instantly into precise focus. And it seldom fails to take our breath away. And it looks like a vandal took a pitchfork and just pricked the daylights out of the membrane sky.

Dark, dark, dark…

But then do you have days, certain days, when you know you’ve been given so much, probably much more than you deserve, more vast good than you’re even aware of, and yet you can’t muster up the strength to kick the melancholy out of the house? What is that about? Those days when we can’t access our joy. Voices in our heads telling us lie after lie after lie.

–We’re failures.
–We’re mediocre.
–We’re lousy friends.
–We’re lousy partners.
–We’re wasting our lives.
–We’re alone out here on this fuckin’, ramshackle, ragged, broke down, heartbreakingly beautiful farm, and it’s all a pile of crap.

I think of these thrown days as emotional tantrums where I commit every significant sin in the space of a few hours – the sin of ingratitude, the sin of wanting it all, the sin of not loving myself and therefore finding myself incapable of loving anything or anyone.

Have you heard about this Japanese scientist who tapes labels to jars of water? The water with the encouraging, affirming labels (you are beautiful, I love you) makes lovely molecular snowflake-like crystals, the water with the bad labels (I hate you, I wanna kill you) turns snaky brown.

Our own bodies are something like 90% water.

What are we doing to ourselves with our own thinking?

We need to try to be good to ourselves and each other.

Fall back…

If you squint your eyes at the distance, you can almost see the end of a year looming. So we’re heading back out, finding the slow curve of headlights on the highway, lost at sea, happy together, on the verge. Hope you can come along for the ride.

Please join us (see overtherhine.com for more details, or e-mail OTRhine@aol.com):

Saturday evening, October 22, 2005: we’ll be playing at Paste Magazine’s Rock-n-Reel festival in Atlanta (Decatur), Georgia. The folks at Paste magazine have brought some much-needed fresh perspective into covering music and culture in America. This is their first attempt at hosting a film and music festival. Check out pastemusic.com for much more. (Over the Rhine plays at 7pm-ish after the inimitable Erin McKeown, and before the ultimate slow burn band, LOW.)

Sunday evening, October 23, 2005: Road trip anyone? How about taking a drive through the Fall colors and meeting us at Blue Cats in lovely Knoxville, Tennessee. Kim Taylor opens.

Thu Oct 27: Wheaton IL, Wheaton College — Coray Alumni Gym… One of Bono’s stops on his cross-country speaking tour, and didn’t Frederick Buechner guest on the faculty for a spell?

Fri Nov 04: Dayton OH, Canal Street Tavern – One of the coziest, most legendary listening rooms in North America. Always a favorite. Three nights!

Sat Nov 05: Dayton OH, Canal Street Tavern

Sun Nov 06: Dayton OH, Canal Street Tavern

Sat Nov 12: Columbus OH: Grace Central (An evening of words and music with Linford Detweiler.)

Thu Nov 17: Kent OH, The Kent Stage – A ragged old theater with a haunted piano and red velvet seats. This performance is part of the renowned Kent Folk Festival.

Fri Nov 18: Belleville OH, Belleville Opera House – A first for us… Come find us in this small Ohio town, and we’ll just have to see what happens now won’t we?

Sat Nov 19: Grand Rapids MI, Calvin College Fine Arts Center – A beautiful venue on a campus that takes its music and culture seriously. This one’s definitely worth a drive as well.

And looking ahead to our Christmas Tour, mark your calendars now! We’re talking hot mulled wine, Salvation Army Store faux-fur coats, scarves flung exuberantly over shoulders, rosy cheeks, take-me-out-of-the-cold warm-on-the-inside music, All I Ever Get For Christmas is Blue. groups of friends stumbling forward together laughing outloud, scribbled back pocket poems, dinner before the show, we do it every year,

OVER THE RHINE CHRISTMAS DATES

Thu Dec 1: Akron OH, Lime Spider

Fri Dec 2: Ann Arbor MI, The Ark

Sat Dec 03: Chicago IL, Old Town School of Folk Music (2 shows, early (7pm) and late (10pm)…

Sun Dec 4: Des Moines IA, Vaudeville Mews

Tues Dec 6: Minneapolis, MN, Details coming soon…

Wed Dec 07: Madison WI: High Noon Saloon

Fri Dec 09: Indianapolis IN, The Music Mill

Sat Dec 10: Columbus OH, Little Brothers

Thu Dec 15: Nashville TN: 3rd & Lindsley

Fri Dec 16: A town in Kentucky near you, Details coming soon…

Sat Dec 17: Cincinnati OH, Taft Theatre. We’re ending our year at home and invite all to join us for this special show at a 2600 seat historic theater. ***Please note: Karin and I are planning extra activities for December 18 as well – a 1pm reading & upright piano performance by yours truly, and a special candlelight, wine & cheese catered, Q&A acoustic performance by Karin and Linford at 5pm. (Both additional performances will be held at St. Elizabeth’s Cultural Center (A Cathedral of the Arts) in Norwood, Ohio.) We wanted an opportunity to spend a little more time together this year. Throw a little rendezvous. MORE DETAILS SOON. Please plan on spending the extra day with us if you’re so inclined.

Yours truly,

Linford (&Karin)