Three amigos

Visits with two old musical friends; one you’ve never heard of, but should have —Michael Hoppe (WATCH VIDEO) and one who has probably been part of your cultural consciousness for years — the legendary Robert Plant. Such good men, both of them.

There is something about performing musicians — the good ones, the humble ones — that fascinates me. Their relationship to their audience is so immediate that there can be no disingenuousness in their presentation. And they, in turn, are buoyed and lifted by their audiences, so there is an immediate feeling of mutual gratitude that those of us who create at a distance from our audience never experience in quite the same way.

I feel fortunate to call these men friends. Old artists tend to tell the truth in their art, and these men are truth tellers of the highest order. Best of all, they are only old chronologically. One of the great benefits of being in the arts — something you never truly appreciate until most of the tread has been worn off your tires — is that all art, at heart, is about curiosity, discovery, and close observation of the world. And anyone who has these never truly gets old, but just leavens the passions of youth with the wisdom of age.

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Spring in Minnesota — a Mother’s Day reflection

May has come to Minnesota, and, surprisingly, it has taken me by surprise.

The symphonic grandeur of spring in the Pacific Northwest had caused me to completely forget the quiet crescendo of spring here in the Midwest.

There, spring was celebratory and explosive — all bright colors, flowers bursting forth in rich profusion, pink cherry blossoms blanketing the streets like the chapel train of a wedding gown.

Here, spring is less celebration and more resurrection — a Lazarus season, with the world quietly blinking its eyes as it peers forth from the slumbering, moribund earth.  The bone grey fingers of the trees slowly cover with green buds, the animals come out tentatively, the brown grasses start to show whispers of green, and the silent sky day by day fills with a growing chorus of birdsong.  It does not burst upon you; it builds slowly, just as night turns slowly into day.

Perhaps most surprising is the way the trees here gradually fill out and become a protective canopy over our lives. In the Pacific Northwest — and, in its own way in northern Minnesota where we used to live — the pines stand self-contained and solitary, pointing skyward with an almost palpable indifference to the human.  Even where they join together to form tunnels and pathways, their focus is upward, and any human or animal activity that takes place beneath them does so on its own terms, with no feeling that the trees care for them or have any concern for the lives taking place beneath their branches.

But here the elms and maples and oaks and all the others spread their branches almost maternally over the streets and boulevards.  They seem to look down on you rather than asking you to look upward.  They make you feel cared for and protected.

I’ve always loved trees in an unreflective way.  I had favorite trees as a child, special trees as meeting places, trees I loved to climb and branches where I loved to sit.  I knew nothing of their various species or place in the ecological order.  They were just my companions, sometimes recognized, sometimes taken for granted — and, like so much else in life, never truly appreciated until, for some reason, they were gone.

As I got older, I wrote about them, I sculpted them, I got to know them in ways both intimate and abstract.  But always I felt their presence in my life.  Now we are back here where I was born and raised and I am feeling their presence strongly once again.

There is no doubt that I miss our Oregon home.  The abundance and profusion of the Pacific Northwest makes you feel like you are living in a garden.   But here, where the landscape is subtler and the vegetation more nuanced, the trees rustling in the breeze and the dawn chorus of birdsong outside the window make their own special music.  It may not be symphonic, but it builds and crescendoes in a song of gratitude that has you waking with a smile on your face and thinking, “Damn, it’s good to be alive!”

And who could ever ask for more than that?

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