An oak graveyard


There is a beautiful piece of land at the end of 290 just before you hit HWY 10. But for as long as I can remember, it was marred by miles and miles and miles of dead trees, miles of beautiful oaks devastated by oak wilt.

Passing this oak graveyard on the way to 10 used to make me sad.

Maybe it’s because I’m somewhat of a gardener, but I felt the pain of this spot keenly. I would imagine how lush and gorgeous these trees once were, how majestic this land used to be. Driving past these dead trees, seeing them droop there on rolling hills, like piles of dried sticks, felt shocking.

I used to try and imagine how expensive or complicated or impossible it would be for owners of this land to take some kind of action, to maybe cut down what must be thousands of trees, to somehow protect the remaining healthy ones? What would you do? Try to treat the remaining thousands left healthy with some sort of oak wilt medicine? Cut down the thousands of trees that have died?

For some reason, I always mentally obsessed each time I drove past this particular spot on my way to Marfa, or Big Bend, or Santa Fe, or California. But admittedly, it’s been a while.

So imagine my surprise this time, while driving west on 290 almost to 10– I couldn’t find the oak graveyard. I anticipated the spot like I always did, looking for the first dead oaks to signal the approach of the graveyard and preparing for the shock. But, I couldn’t find it.

I saw some dead, gnarled branches and stumps, some piles of cut wood, but I also found regrowth, a resurrection of sorts. I saw sprays of green from seemingly dead limbs. I saw new green tops on an old dead stump. It felt like I was witnessing a miracle, and I was. This was a visual representation of one of the most basic principles of life on our Earth: Death and rebirth.

In the classic Tarot card deck there is a card that scares most people when they see it misunderstanding it’s true, esoteric meaning—the ‘Death’ card. It rarely represents actual death, but really means the ‘ending of something as we know it’, and the beginning of a new cycle. Much like Dumbledore’s pet phoenix in Harry Potter, sometimes we have to accept endings (painful and dramatic) because new life needs to sprout from the old.

Yes, some of those trees never came back to life, some had to be cut down, some trees became hosts to parasite plants, cedars or wild grapes. Some stayed dead-looking, gnarled and brittle and lifeless. But for some of those oaks, their roots were strong enough to survive what must have felt like a death, only to come back to life a different shape, one leaf at a time. We need to remember this as we look around us at the world, and see endings.

Life will renew itself.

It’s a basic truth.

The Orbit of the Sublime

Recently my friend Carrie sent me something powerful, written by a nun, Sister Joan Chittister: “I have a parrot who does not sing. . . She screams for whatever she needs—But when I sing to her, or play music for her, she stands stark still and listens without making a sound. She just perches there. Almost breathless. Almost frozen. It’s totally out of character—and totally understandable—at the same time.

I watched her over and over again and then I got it: I do the same thing myself.

This felt like really beautiful and interesting timing.

While Pat and I were locked in together at home (because all his tours cancelled) we decided to make a record. We were just finishing what’s called ‘mastering’ and needed to check how the songs flowed together, so he would put the songs in different orders he thought might work and download the files to his phone. Then we’d go for a long drive through the hill country and listen to it on his car’s good speakers. Yesterday we did it twice, and the day before, twice.

Yesterday’s last drive back home happened to coincide with the setting sun and the most astounding orange sky. It felt like we were in a bubble, far removed from anything earthly or mundane.

Music. Exactly like Sister Chittister described it in her post: “It gives us balm. It touches our souls. It saves us from the straggle and cacophony of the world. It takes our noisy, crowded lives and quiets us in the orbit of the sublime.“

Quiets us in the orbit of the sublime—a poetic way to describe what happens to us when we listen to music.

Every living thing responds to music. I’ve seen photos of elephants rocking back and forth while a lone pianist serenades them, cows ambling across a meadow to a trio with violins playing Brahms next to their fence. I’ve seen excited macaques monkeys crawling all over a musician in a temple in Thailand.

There’s even a clear difference in the growth habits of plants having only silence in their environments or music. Plants prefer music, especially soft classical. The number of leaves increases, the number of flowers increases and seeds sprout faster.

Music is a true time machine—nothing can take you back to a moment in your life like a beloved piece of music. During this Covid shutdown, we have had no live music, no concerts, no jazz combos in dark clubs. But I know many, many musicians producing some stellar music in their quarantine, in their home studios.

This is why I know years from now, when we are looking at this virus thing in our rear view mirror, we will revel in the luscious abundance of music produced in 2020. This will be our silver lining. “Indeed, music is where the soul goes to put into notes what cannot be said in words.”

Tell it, Sister.

In the Orbit of the Sublime

Recently my friend Carrie sent me something powerful, written by a nun, Sister Joan Chittister: “I have a parrot who does not sing. . . She screams for whatever she needs—But when I sing to her, or play music for her, she stands stark still and listens without making a sound. She just perches there. Almost breathless. Almost frozen. It’s totally out of character—and totally understandable—at the same time.

I watched her over and over again and then I got it: I do the same thing myself.

This felt like really beautiful and interesting timing.
While Pat and I were locked in together at home (because all his tours cancelled) we decided to finish our record project. We were just finishing what’s called ‘mastering’ and we needed to check how the songs flowed together. Pat put the songs in different orders he thought might work and downloaded the files to his phone. Then we went for a long drive through the hill country and listened to it on his car’s good speakers. Yesterday we did it twice, and the day before, twice. Yesterday’s last drive back home happened to coincide with the setting sun and the most astounding orange sky. It felt like we were in a bubble, far removed from anything earthly or mundane.

Music.

Exactly like Sister Chittister described it in her post: “It gives us balm. It touches our souls. It saves us from the straggle and cacophony of the world. It takes our noisy, crowded lives and quiets us in the orbit of the sublime.“ Quiets us in the orbit of the sublime—a poetic way to describe what happens to us when we listen to music.

Every living thing responds to music.

I’ve seen photos of elephants rocking back and forth while a lone pianist serenades them, cows ambling across a meadow to a trio with violins playing Brahms next to their fence. I’ve seen excited macaques monkeys crawling all over a musician in a temple in Thailand.

There’s even a clear difference in the growth habits of plants having only silence in their environments versus music. Plants prefer music, especially soft classical. The number of leaves increases, the number of flowers increases and seeds sprout faster.

Music is a true time machine—nothing can take you back to a moment in your life like a beloved piece of music. During this Covid shutdown, we have had no opportunity to experience live music, no concerts, no jazz combos in dark clubs. But I know many, many musicians producing some stellar music in their quarantine, in their home studios. This is why I know years from now, when we are looking at this virus thing in our rear view mirror, we will revel in the luscious abundance of music produced in 2020. This will be our silver lining. “Indeed, music is where the soul goes to put into notes what cannot be said in words.”

Tell it, Sister.