Solstice ~ A Time for Turning

Woodworker and carver, sailor, musician, rememberer – Gordon Bok is an American treasure. You may know his work.  Two years ago I’d not heard his name and might have missed his music forever, were it not for the graciousness of a reader.

The topic under discussion had been music, and in an emailed post-script he added, “I can’t think of a better song than Turning Towards the Morning.”  Pointing me toward WAMC in Albany and their Saturday night broadcasts of the “Hudson River Sampler” he said, “I can almost guarantee you’ll hear something by Bok, if not this Saturday, then next Saturday for sure. And something by Stan Rogers as well. But you’ll also hear songs you’ve never heard before and will want to hear again.”

He was right. Since my introduction to Bok, to his fellow musicians Ed Trickett and Ann Mayo Muir and to their rich repertoire from an entirely different sea-faring culture, I’ve not stopped wanting to hear more. I’ve learned net-hauling songs and ballads of the Maine coast. I’ve marveled at Bok’s original work and delighted in his preservation of folk tales rooted in world-wide cultures. I’ve wondered at Bok’s pathway through life and been touched by his simplicity and kindness. I’ve even laughed at certain similarities between us.  “I didn’t understand what my father did because he worked in an office,” Bok says, “and there was nothing that came out of it that I could feel – you couldn’t put a coat of varnish on it.” (more…)

Published in: on December 20, 2012 at 8:50 am  Comments (67)  
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The Power of the People

Never mind the traditional excesses of Thanksgiving, the horrors of Black Friday or the panic of the pre-Christmas rush. For afficionados of the sport of people-watching, the up-coming holiday season is the best season of the year. With crowds of impatient adults and captive children navigating the stormy seas of covetousness and retail madness from now until New Year’s Day, amusement should be easy to find.

In fact, I’ve already been amused. During a swing through our local Target store, I found myself waiting in the checkout line behind a child and his mother. The boy appeared to be about three, and he was fussy.  Hanging on to his mother’s skirt with both hands, he circled around and around until he found a comfortable spot, sandwiched between his mother and the cart. 

Peeking out from the folds of her skirt, he looked past us to the vibrant displays of candy and merchandise across the aisle. Using one hand to point to something, he tugged on her skirt with the other to gain attention.  Busy sorting through her purse, his mother ignored him while the rest of us started paying attention. (more…)

Published in: on November 18, 2012 at 3:40 pm  Comments (95)  
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Bean Counting

As June edged into July, the summer increasingly seemed marked by “that sort” of day – disjointed, frustrating, compelling, anxiety-ridden, tiring and tiresome days.

There was plenty of heat in Houston and elsewhere being measured with thermometers. There was even more heat rising around the country that didn’t seem to fit into any known scale – heated words, over-heated emotions, simmering anger and pot-boiling rhetoric. While terrible thunderstorms – even an uncommonly strong derecho – raged across the Eastern Seaboard, there was enough political and social sturm und drang to make even the most avid Wagnerian happy.

More than once, while contemplating apocalyptic imagery from the Colorado wildfires and apocalyptic language from political commentators of every persuasion, I found myself thinking of a favorite poem written by Kay Ryan. Poet Laureate of the United States from 2008 to 2010, Ms. Ryan represented the U.S. at Poetry Parnassus, a festival held at Southbank Centre as part of London’s Cultural Olympiad. (more…)

Keepers of the Light

After more than thirty years, the place names of South Texas feel familiar as my own. Boca Chica, Cavallo and Copano. Carancahua. Tres Palacios. Espiritu Santo. The bays and passes, the long southward slope of the coast, the gritty beaches and wind-bent oaks embrace and hold the history of a rich and complex world.

There are stories and legends, told and re-told by the grandchildren and great-grandchildren of those who lived them. Artifacts of an earlier time lie bleached and scattered like bones across the landscape. Spanish anchors turn up behind plows. French cannons surprise ranch hands in the field.  Tiny settlements cling to life, rooted in and named for the explorations of such men as René Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle, shapers of a land they barely understood.

At the water’s edge, the shadow of Indianola lingers. Wiped off the map by twin hurricanes, the port’s ghostly tide of immigrants ebbs away into forgetfulness.  Marvelous ships sleep mired in the bays and the Matagorda lighthouse, that great, silent sentinel, offers relief and guidance to those uncertain of their course. (more…)

Published in: on November 19, 2011 at 1:16 am  Comments (68)  
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