The Carol of the Guardians

Common or Eurasian Kingfisher – Alcedo atthis (Wikimedia)

Christmas traditions vary from family to family and culture to culture, but nearly everyone who celebrates cherishes at least one or two. Some have been passed down for centuries. Others are newer, but no less beloved: a certain Christmas Eve dish; a favorite cookie recipe; a must-see movie; candlelight services at midnight.

My own celebrations recall the traditions of my Swedish family: cardamom seed buns and pickled herring; strings of cranberries on the tree; bayberry candles, and sweet, tinkling angel chimes.  Pink and lavender trees, Mannheim Steamroller, and Elves on the Shelves have their place, but I prefer my family’s older ways, and probably always will.

Still, something new occasionally emerges from the clutter and cacaphony of our commercialized season to attract my attention. Some years ago, a snippet of song stopped me as I shopped in a local grocery. Light and rhythmic, it lilted through the store: a memorable melody with indecipherable words sung in an unfamiliar language.

Eventually, I found the source of the song and learned its extraordinary history.

Riu, Riu Chiu” is a part of the Cancionero de Upsala [sic], also known as the Cancionero del Duque de Calabria or the Cancionero de Venecia, a volume of mostly anonymous Spanish music printed in Venice in 1556.

The only known original, held at the library of Uppsala University in Sweden, either was “highlighted by Rafael Mitjana y Gordon in 1904” or “edited in 1909 by Rafael Mitjana,” depending upon which source you consult. Despite uncertainties about the date, Mitjana’s spelling of ‘Upsala’ is correct, since the name of the town wasn’t changed to ‘Uppsala’ until the major Swedish spelling reform of 1906.

That a collection of Spanish songs, printed in Italy, should end up at a Swedish university appears to be one of the more delightful accidents of history. The volume may have been acquired as war booty when the Swedish army plundered Prague in 1631, or 1648, although how the manuscript traveled to Prague isn’t clear.

In any event, “Riu, Riu Chiu” is part of a collection titled:

Villancicos de diuersos Autores, a dos, y a tres, y a qvatro, y a cinco bozes, agora nvevamente corregidos. Ay mas ocho tonos de Canto llano, y ocho tonos de Canto de Organo para que puedam aprouechar los que, A cantar començaren. Venetiis, Apud Hieronymum Scotum, MDLVI.

This translation not only clarifies the collection’s contents, it sugggests its broad appeal :

Villancicos from divers authors, for two, and for three, and for four, and for five voices, now newly corrected. There are also eight tones of plainchant, and eight tones of organum for the benefit of those that are still learning to sing. Venice, by Hieronymus (Girolamo) Scotto, 1556.

Two other songbooks, the Cancionero Musical del Palacio and the Cancionero de Medinaceli, contain all the richness and variety of the Spanish Renaissance in their collections of compositions for instruments and voices. On the other hand, the Upsala collection has preserved fifty-four villancicos.

Over time, villancico has come to refer primarily to Christmas carols, but the songs, rooted in village life, were much like our folksongs. Sung in Castilian Spanish, Catalan, and Galician-Portuguese, most of the villancicos were secular, but twelve in the Cancionero de Upsala were meant for Christmas, including “Riu, Riu Chiu,” attributed to Mateo Flecha the Elder.

Just as Swedish spelling reforms cause difficulty for people dealing with early documents, changes in the Spanish language have left room for interpretation when it comes to the lyrics of “Riu, Riu Chiu.”

Hugh Keyte and Andrew Parrott, editors of The New Oxford Book of Carols, tell us that:

“Riu, riu chiu” was a traditional call of Spanish shepherds when guarding their flocks in a riverside fold. Elsewhere, the catchy tune is found in a variant form with a secular shepherd-song, and it may derive from a genuine example.

Jula Karolaro, on his Yuletide Carols site reports that “Riu, riu chiu” is the call of a nightingale, or the call of a shepherd to his sheep. As he puts it:

The first line in Spanish is ambiguous, as to whether the riverbank is protecting a nightingale, or a shepherd is protecting his flock at a riverbank. So in both translations, I equivocated a bit in that first line by vaguely referring to a “riverside guardian”.

Lisa Theriot, in notes accompanying her own translation, says:

“Riu, riu, chiu” is meant to be onomatopoeia for birdsong, though the type of bird is still under debate. Leading candidates are the nightingale, for the beauty of his song, and the kingfisher, because of the concept of guarding the riverbank.

After listening to recordings of the kingfisher, Lisa found herself favoring its role as the anonymous bird. Well acquainted with the kingfisher’s call, as well as its willingness to aggressively defend its territory, I’m more than happy myself to consider “Riu, Riu Chiu” the “Kingfisher’s Carol.”

Whatever questions remain about the history of the villancico, we can be grateful for the graceful translation of the lyrics provided by the San Francisco Bach Choir, and the happy transmission of the melody through the centuries.

Today, versions of the carol abound. Everyone from Chanticleer to the Monkees have given it a whirl. But in this age of overly-produced recordings, the simplicity of the version offered by the Capella de Ministrers, an early music group formed in 1987 in Valencia, Spain, brings life to a timeless song of the season.

Cancionero de Upsala/Cancionero del Duque de Calabria ~ Atríbuido a Mateo Flecha el Viejo
Riu, riu, chiu
la guarda ribera
Dios guardó el lobo
de nuestra cordera
Dios guardó el lobo
de nuestra cordera.
El lobo rabioso
la quiso morder
Mas Dios Poderoso
la supo defender
Quizo la hacer que
no pudiese pecar
Ni aun original
esta virgen no tuviera.
Riu, riu, chiu…
Este que es nascido
es El Gran Monarca
Cristo Patriarca
de carne vestido
Ha nos redimido
con se hacer chiquito
Aunque era infinito
finito se hiciera.
Riu, riu, chiu …
Pues que ya tenemos
lo que deseamos
Todos juntos vamos
presentes llevemos
Todos le daremos
nuestra voluntad
Pues a se igualar
con nosotros viniera.

Riu, riu, chiu
The river bank is protected
God has kept the wolf
From our ewe lamb
God has kept the wolf
From our ewe lamb
The rabid wolf
Wanted to bite her
But Almighty God
Knew how to defend her
He willed to make her
Unable to sin
Even original sin
This virgin did not have
Riu, riu, chiu…
The one who is born
Is the Great Monarch
Christ the Patriarch
Clothed in flesh
He has redeemed us
By making himself small
Though he was infinite
He became finite
Riu, riu, chiu…
Now we have
What we desire
Let us go together
To present him gifts
Let us all give him
Our will
For he came
As our equal
Riu, riu, chiu…

Comments are welcome.

A View to the East

The simplicity of a country Christmas is undeniable.

Twisted and threaded through twin pieces of rusted rebar that serve as mailbox supports, the plastic garland is older than the children tumbling from the school bus. Still, its shabbiness hardly is noticed by the mail carrier, or by the slippered woman trudging down the lane from her house. Perhaps, she thinks, there will be a card.

From a distance, the garland appears perfect: full and fresh. From a distance, even plastic communicates the determination and joy pulsing in the woman’s heart. In this house, she thinks, we will celebrate. We will mark the season. We will share our joy.

Farther down the road, a simple wreath adorns the broken gate propped against the fence. Its ribbon flutters in the wind, attracting attention, drawing the eye over the gate and into a pasture. There’s a brush pile, and some uncleared cedar. A few trees, bulldozed and left to die, wait to be added to the pile. No cattle roam, no stock tank or pond offers refreshment — not even a piece of rusted, broken-down machinery offers resistance to the despondent wind sighing across the field.

With no house in sight, the wreath seems slightly odd until the eye travels beyond the brush pile to the single, spreading oak hung with drops of red, silver and gold. The ornaments are the size of basketballs, or even larger; they would have to be, to be seen at such a distance.

It must have required a team of youngsters to get them into the tree. Swinging in the breeze, beautiful in their simplicity and striking in their isolation, they whisper their poignant reminder – in this emptiness, beyond this fading light and behind this unworked land, lies human presence.

At night, the country shines. As darkness overcomes the fields and hedgerows, a star flickers into life atop a windmill: a reminder of the unseen herd that gathers at the tank. Curves of colored lights mark the end of a lane. A fire flickers in the distance. Where homes cling more closely to the frail web of blacktop linking them together, the shimmer of lighted trees or occasional twinkling nets flung across bushes light a path for homebound travelers.

For eyes accustomed to the insistent glow of city celebrations, country lights seem frail and faint: the singular star, the barely visible flicker of presence impoverished and insignificant. For those who equate Christmas with lavish celebration, obsessive consumption, and elegant gluttony, the modesty of a single star can evoke pity, or contempt.

Strangely, equating Christmas with extravagance often leads to complaints; there are too many obligations; too many demands; too many expectations. Somewhat ironically, the commitment to extravagance can end in a sense of impoverishment: a conviction that there never will be enough money, or energy, or time to celebrate properly, and that any effort to create the perfect holiday inevitably will fall short.

The Christian church, of course, always has offered an alternative to the extravagance and angst of the holiday season.

Despite being nearly forgotten and often dismissed as irrelevant, these dark December days, these days we love to fill with light, and chatter, and exhaustion, constitute the forgotten season of Advent.

A modest season, shy and uneasy with extravagance, its days are meant for emptying: for lying fallow, for waiting. To embrace the darkness in which the dimmest star can shine; to shiver in a cold destined to be filled with the warmth of human presence; to acknowledge human limits in the face of infinite longings, is to discover Advent. Simple and unadorned, occasionally austere; and determinedly ordinary, Advent nurtures one of the rarest of gifts — celebration on a human scale.

One of most beautiful tributes to Advent and perhaps the most modest of all Christmas songs was written by Eleanor Farjeon (1881-1965). Published as Carol of Advent in Part 3 of The Oxford Book of Carols (1928), People, Look East is set to BESANÇON, an ancient carol which first appeared in Christmas Carols New and Old (1871) as the setting for Shepherds, Shake Off Your Drowsy Sleep.

Farjeon, a native Londoner and devout Catholic, is best remembered for her poem Morning Has Broken, often sung as a hymn and popularized by Yusuf Islam (formerly Cat Stevens). A prolific writer of children’s books and Hans Christian Andersen award-winner for The Little Bookroom, her poetry is remarkably plain, and yet perfectly suited for musical settings.

I’ve always been touched by Farjeon’s admonition in People, Look East. “Make your house fair as you are able,” she says. If it lies within your means, trim the hearth with a candle or two. Set the table with your best dishes, and smooth out the best cloth you can find. Dress a tree with pinecones, or twine a bit of garland around a fence or mailbox. But don’t frustrate yourself trying to outdo the neighbors’ lighting. Don’t exhaust yourself in kitchen or malls. Above all, don’t try to fill your heart’s void with gifts, or attempt to replicate a past that never was.

And, as you prepare your house, prepare your heart as well to celebrate as the world herself celebrates: guarding an empty nest, walking the fallow field, keeping watch under darkened skies for stars flickering into life. In the midst of the world’s extravagant preparations, take time to raise your eyes and look to the horizon, lest you miss the most modest of comings.

 

“People, Look East”  ~  The Deller Consort
People, look east, the time is near
Of the crowning of the year.
Make your house fair as you are able,
Trim the hearth and set the table.
People, look east
Love, the guest, is on his way.
Furrows, be glad, though earth is bare
One more seed is planted there.
Give of your strength the seed to nourish
That in course the flower may flourish.
People, look east
Love, the rose, is on his way.
Birds, though ye long have ceased to build,
Guard the nest that must be filled.
Even the hour when wings are frozen
Evil flesh in time has chosen.
People, look east
Love, the bird, is on his way.
Stars, keep a watch when night is dim,
One more light the bowl shall brim.
Shining beyond the frosty weather,
Bright as sun and moon together,
People, look east
Love, the star, is on his way.
Angels, announce to man and beast
Him who cometh from the east.
Set every peak and valley humming
With the word, the Lord is coming.
People, look east
Love, the Lord, is on his way.

Comments always are welcome.
While I didn’t intentionally schedule my move to a new home on the first Sunday of Advent, and although I didn’t set out to have an eastern exposure in my new home, both of those things happened. An edited version of this post, previously published, seemed to fit the occasion.

Moon Lake Legacies

Moon Lake Casino Pier ~ Featured in “A Streetcar Named Desire”

Tucked between Yazoo Pass and the Mississippi River, a few miles north of Clarksdale and a little south of the Helena, Arkansas bridge, it sat alongside Moon Lake, an oxbow good for fishing, if not for navigation and commerce.

Far from a typical bed-and-breakfast, Uncle Henry’s Inn and Restaurant provided its guests with a spacious gallery, a west-facing view over the lake, no scheduled activities, and plenty of solitude. Not every lodging encourages sitting and thinking, but, whether by accident or intention, Uncle Henry’s did.

Established as an Elks’ Lodge in 1926, the place was purchased in 1933 by a local named William Wilkerson. Known as the Moon Lake Club, it became a Prohibition landmark famous for good food, high living, and assorted illegalities: primarily forms of gambling. Connections to the Chicago mob led to a loss of respectability, but locals eventually cut those ties, and the Club prospered as a family destination for dancing, dining, and swimming. 

In 1946, it was purchased by Henry Trevino, the foster father of Sarah Bates Wright, and became Uncle Henry’s Place. In time, the Club seems to have passed out of the family’s control, but in 1986 Sarah entered into litigation that led to her reacquisition of the property.  After extensive renovations, she and her son, George Jr., re-opened the restaurant and inn, maintaining Uncle Henry’s name in honor of her step-father.

By the time I arrived, the place had become a little shabby and quite a bit quirky, imbued with fading elegance and filled with piles of indiscriminate memories. A combination of dust, torn draperies, and the occasional skeletal mouse quietly fading away behind a sofa made it easy to imagine Uncle Henry’s as a prototypical Southern Lady: temporarily down on her luck, but genteel and dignified nonetheless.

Obviously, Uncle Henry’s was a treasured part of local lore and legend, not to mention local life. As guests gathered for dinner, the room filled with regular customers who’d been coming for so many years the waitress knew every answer before asking, politely: “Will you be having the usual this evening?”

Somewhat later, when I mentioned Moon Lake to a pair of fishermen eating breakfast in the Cleveland, Mississippi Huddle House, they stopped eating and grinned. “Did you stop by Uncle Henry’s?” one asked. When I allowed as how I’d not only stopped but had lingered for a few days, the other man said, “Well, it’s not the Holiday Inn, that’s for sure. But it’s a whole lot more interesting.”

It certainly wasn’t the Holiday Inn. George hinted at that himself when I called for a reservation after a late, impulsive decision to attend Clarksdale’s Juke Joint Festival. Every motel had been booked for weeks, and most had waiting lists, but when  I called the humorously-named but perfectly respectable Shack Up Inn, the proprietor said, “You better call up to Uncle Henry’s. I believe I heard they had a cancellation, and they might be able to put you up. Of course, they might not, but you call George. He’ll tell you how things are.”

As it turned out, Uncle Henry could put me up and George did tell me how things were. “Now, you know this isn’t the Hilton,” he said on the phone. “We’re old and comfortable, but you’re not going to have that wi-fi business or a jacuzzi in your room.”

After my arrival, he added another caveat or two. “There aren’t any keys to the rooms,” he said, “so be sure you’ve got the right one. And don’t take a shower except before five and after ten at night, because sometimes water leaks from your shower down through the ceiling into the dining room.”

Despite the less than perfect accomodations, I was willing to adapt, since Uncle Henry’s had a couple of things going for it no Hilton or Holiday Inn could dream of matching — it had played host to William Faulkner and Tennessee Williams, another pair of Mississippi boys who’d done really, really well for themselves.

I hadn’t intended to land in the lap of Faulkner and Williams when I decided to head to the blues festival, but that’s exactly what happened.

Faulkner frequented the Moon Lake Club as an adult — sometimes sharing time there with Williams — but Tennessee Williams’s connections were forged in childhood. His early impressions and memories, combined with the extraordinarily colorful history of the place, helped him transform the Club into the Moon Lake Casino in dramas such as Summer and Smoke, Eccentricities of a Nightingale, The Glass Menagerie, Orpheus Descending, and A Streetcar Named Desire.

Sitting in the gallery one afternoon, re-reading Williams’s plays and pondering what it must have required for him to transform this sleepy Mississippi world into works of dramatic art, I happened upon quite a different piece: an essay titled, The Catastrophe of Success.

An addendum to a copy of The Glass Menagerie I’d tucked into my bag, the essay originally was published in a 1947 edition of The New York Times, three years after the Chicago opening of The Glass Menagerie and during a time when Williams finally was receiving recognition as a serious playwright.

In the languor of those Mississippi afternoons, I found the essay particularly resonant — not only because I was in the playwright’s own country, but also because his words resonated with all the clarity and force of a plantation bell.

Most of us hope to succeed in one way or another, but Williams did succeed, and did so marvelously well. As he reflected on the circumstances of his life and career in the essay, the authority implicit in Williams’ words is undeniable, and worth considering.

Plantation bell ~ Uncle Henry’s Place, Moon Lake, Mississippi
The sort of life that I had previous to this popular success was one that required endurance, a life of clawing and scratching along a sheer surface and holding on tight with raw fingers to every inch of rock higher than the one caught hold of before. But it was a good life because it was the sort of life for which the human organism is created.
I was not aware of how much vital energy had gone into this struggle until the struggle was removed. I was out on a level plateau with my arms still thrashing and my lungs still grabbing at air that no longer resisted. This was security at last…
You cannot arbitrarily say to yourself, I will continue my life as it was before this thing, Success, happened to me. But once you fully apprehend the vacuity of a life without struggle you are equipped with the basic means of salvation.
Once you know this is true, that the heart of man, his body and his brain, are forged in a white-hot furnace for the purpose of conflict (the struggle of creation) and that with the conflict removed, the man is a sword cutting daisies, [once you understand] that not privation but luxury is the wolf at the door and that the fangs of this wolf are all the little vanities and conceits and laxities that Success is heir to – with this knowledge you are at least in a position of knowing where danger lies…
Then what is good? An obsessive interest in human affairs, plus a certain amount of compassion and moral conviction that first made the experience of living something that must be translated into pigment or music or bodily movement or poetry or prose or anything that’s dynamic and expressive – that’s what’s good for you if you’re at all serious in your aims.
William Saroyan wrote a great play on this theme, that purity of heart is the one success worth having. “In the time of your life – live!” says Saroyan. That time is short, and it doesn’t return again. It is slipping away while I write this and while you read it, and the monosyllable of the clock is Loss, loss, loss, unless you devote your heart to its opposition.

Re-reading Williams’s essay today, I imagine the scent of dogwood and azalea, the dark, moody flow of the great river, and low murmur of mist-shrouded voices.

Across the Helena Bridge, juke joints glisten in the rain, and from the shores along the river a plaintive, tremulous cry falls and rises like riffs of breeze across the Delta.

Rocking in the early evening gloom, I hear the clatter of a small boy’s feet running headlong across the gallery toward an unimaginable future, surefooted as any child still certain of his world. “Time is short,” he shouts back across the decades, his words twining like unstoppable vines through sweetgum and magnolia.

Hearing his voice, I stop my rocking. Planting my feet on boards that creak and complain like the bones of time itself I rise, my thoughts turning toward creation, while the clock ticks its loss, and the heart counts its gain, and life begins anew.

 

Comments always are welcome.
Today, George, his mother Sarah, and many of the locals who contributed so much color to Uncle Henry’s have passed away, and the Moon Lake landmark no longer is in operation. Needless to say, the memories remain.

The Poets’ Birds: Flight

White-faced ibis (Plegadis chihi) ~ Brazoria County, Texas
(Click image for more detail)

Despite his prolific output and the award of a Nobel Prize in 1971, I’ve only recently come to appreciate the work of Chilean poet Pablo Neruda. Despite decades of acclaim for his poetry, publications in English represent only a small portion of his oeuvre, apparently due in part to the difficulties of translation;  I simply hadn’t come across them until I found them on the internet.

The details of Neruda’s life are fascinating. A committed Communist and political activist, he returned to Chile in 1953, following some years in exile. Eventually, he began producing less ideologically influenced love poetry, as well as nature poetry celebrating every aspect of the world in which we live.

 In their book Earth Tones: The Poetry of Pablo Neruda, Manuel Duran and Margery Safir note that Neruda began trying to speak to everyday people simply and clearly, on a level that anyone could understand.  In his examination of quite common, everyday things, they say, “Neruda gives us time to examine a particular plant, a stone, a flower, a bird, an aspect of modern life, at leisure. We look at the object, handle it, turn it around, all the sides are examined with love, care, attention. This is, in many ways, Neruda at his best.”

In his poem “Bird,” he offers his attention to their flight in a remarkable and wholly memorable way.

It was passed from one bird to another,
the whole gift of the day.
The day went from flute to flute,
went dressed in vegetation,
in flights which opened a tunnel
through which the wind would pass
to where birds were breaking open
the dense blue air –
and there, night came in.
When I returned from so many journeys,
I stayed suspended and green
between sun and geography –
I saw how wings worked,
how perfumes are transmitted
by feathery telegraph,
and from above I saw the path,
the springs and the roof tiles,
the fishermen at their trades,
the trousers of the foam;
I saw it all from my green sky.
I had no more alphabet
than the swallows in their courses,
the tiny, shining water
of the small bird on fire
which dances out of the pollen.

“Caía de un pájaro a otro
todo lo que el día trae,
iba de flauta en flauta el día,
iba vestido de verdura
con vuelos que abrían un túnel,
y por allí pasaba el viento
por donde las aves abrían
el aire compacto y azul:
por allí entraba la noche.
Cuando volví de tantos viajes
me quedé suspendido y verde
entre el sol y la geografía:
vi còmo trabajan las alas,
còmo se transmite el perfume
por un telégrafo emplumado
y desde arriba vi el camino,
los manantiales, las tejas,
los pescadores a pescar,
los pantalones de la espuma,
todo desde mi cielo verde.
No tenía más alfabeto
que el viaje de las golondrinas,
el agua pura y pequeñita
del pequeño pájero ardiendo
que baila saliendo del polen.”

 

Comments always are welcome.
For more biographical details of Neruda’s life and politics, the Wikipedia page is useful.
For a history of his development as a poet and critique of his work, see the entry at The Poetry Foundation website.

 

Turning Toward the Morning

“Hawkins on the Wentworth” ~ Bronze casting, Gordon Bok

Woodworker, carver, sailor, and musician Gordon Bok is an American treasure. When I find myself pondering the maelstrom of changes currently sweeping through our lives, I often return to his music as to a touchstone, grateful that, in an earlier time, the graciousness of a reader introduced me to his life and his seemingly unbounded creativity.

Al and I had been exchanging thoughts on music. In an emailed post-script to our discussion he added, “I can’t think of a better song than Gordon Bok’s “Turning Toward the Morning.Pointing me toward Albany, New York’s WAMC 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. Having been introduced to Bok and his fellow musicians, Ed Trickett and Ann Mayo Muir, I couldn’t help wanting to hear more from their rich repertoire. Drawn from an historic sea-faring culture, redolent of seaweed and salt, their net-hauling songs and ballads of the Maine coast evoke a world whose broad outlines would be recognizable even to Gulf coast shrimpers.  It’s a world that informs Bok’s original compositions, as well as his retelling of folk tales rooted in cultures from around the world.

Listening to his music, 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 once said. “There was nothing that came out of it that I could feel – you couldn’t put a coat of varnish on it.”

After much reading and listening, I still agree with my friend. Good songs continue to be written, and the great songs endure, but there’s no better song than Turning Toward the Morning. Like a small-boat day on the water, it’s easy and rhythmic, perfectly designed to soothe away preoccupations and care.

But “Turning Toward the Morning” is more than easy listening for an easy afternoon. It’s a poet’s way of stating an inviolable truth: that in the face of all that life imposes in the way of difficulties, chaos, and fear, life itself goes on. As Bok tells it, the song was born of personal experience:

“One of the things that provoked this song was a letter last November from a friend who’d had a very difficult year and was looking for the courage to keep on plowing into it. Those times, you lift your eyes unto the hills, as they say, but the hills of Northern New England in November can be about as much comfort as a cold crowbar.
You have to look ahead a bit then, and realize that all the hills and trees and flowers will still be there come Spring, usually more permanent than your troubles. And if your courage occasionally fails, that’s okay, too. Nobody expects you to be as strong as the land.”

In this time when political wrangling, deep division, fearfulness, lack of trust, and generalized crass nastiness increasingly characterize our society, Bok’s song affirms what faith proclaims and what hearts dare hope: that despite appearances, despite the coming darkness of our winter-shortened days, the world continues to turn. And always, no matter the depth of darkness, it is turning toward the morning.

When the deer has bedded down
and the bear has gone to ground
and the Northern goose has wandered off
to warmer bay and sound,
it’s so easy in the cold
to feel the darkness of the year
and the heart is growing lonely for the morning.
Oh, my Joanie, don’t you know
that the stars are swingin’ slow,
and the seas are rollin’ easy as they did so long ago.
And if I had a thing to give you,
I would tell you one more time
that the world is always turning toward the morning.
Now, October’s growin’ thin
and November’s comin’ home,
you’ll be thinkin’ of the season
and the sad things that you’ve seen.
And you hear that old wind walkin’,
hear him singin’ high and thin,
you could swear he’s out there singin’ of his sorrow.
Oh, my Joanie, don’t you know
that the stars are swingin’ slow,
and the seas are rollin’ easy, as they did so long ago.
If I had a thing to give you,
I would tell you one more time
that the world is always turning toward the morning.
When the darkness falls around you
and the north wind comes to blow
and you hear him call your name out
as he walks the brittle snow.
That old wind don’t mean you trouble,
he don’t care or even know,
he’s just walking down the darkness toward the morning.
Oh, my Joanie, don’t you know
that the stars are swingin’ slow,
and the seas are rollin’ easy, as they did so long ago.
If I had a thing to give you,
I would tell you one more time
that the world is always turning toward the morning.
It’s a pity we don’t know
what the little flowers know
they can’t face the cold November,
they can’t take the wind and snow.
They put their glories all behind them,
bow their heads and let it go,
but you know they’ll be there shining in the morning.
Oh, my Joanie, don’t you know
that the stars are swinging slow,
and the seas are rollin’ easy, as they did so long ago.
And if I had a thing to give you,
I would tell you one more time
that the world is always turning toward the morning.
O, my Joanie don’t you know
that the day is rollin’ slow
and the winter’s walkin’ easy, as it did so long ago,
and if that wind should come and ask you
“Why’s my Joanie weepin’ so?”
won’t you tell him that you’re weeping for the morning.
Oh, my Joanie, don’t you know
that the stars are swingin’ slow,
and the seas are rollin’ easy, as they did so long ago.
And if I had a thing to give you,
I would tell you one more time
that the world is always turning toward the morning.

 

Comments always are welcome.

 

I Hear That Train A-Comin’

I’ve never before posted a public service announcement, but that’s precisely what this is.  UP4014, the Union Pacific “Big Boy” locomotive that recently re-entered service in tandem with UP844, is back on the rails, celebrating the 150th anniversary of the Transcontinental Railroad’s completion with a last run through several states, called The Great Race Across the Southwest.

After a tour through the midwest, the engine returned to the Union Pacific Steam Shop in Cheyenne, Wyoming for maintenance. Currently located in Los Angeles, it will move on tomorrow to Beaumont, Indio, and Niland, California. For the next month and a half, it will make stops in Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Kansas, and Colorado before returning to Cheyenne at the end of November.

The complete schedule can be seen here. My own plans are to see it arrive in Hondo, Texas with friends, catch it on the move between Flatonia and Eagle Lake, and then make a stop at Houston’s Washington Avenue Station for an up-close-and-personal look at a bit of living history.

Many of you will have read my previous post about UP4014 and UP844 titled “Double-heading to Cheyenne.”  This fine video, showing a portion of the current tour, is only one of many produced by people who already have had the privilege of seeing the locomotive at work. I wish all of you could see it in person, but for those who live anywhere near the route, I suspect even the briefest glimpse will be worthwhile.

Comments always are welcome.
To follow the progress of UP4014 both graphically and by Twitter posts, please visit the convenient Union Pacific tracking page.

 

The Poets’ Birds: Dabblers

Whether Kenneth Grahame meant The Wind in the Willows to be for children or adults has been debated, but the timeless tale of animal friends and their adventures along the Thames, in the Wild Wood, or on the Open Road has enchanted readers since the book’s publication in 1908.

I missed meeting the main characters — Ratty, Mole, Badger, and Mr. Toad of Toad Hall — as a child, but once I began sailing, I discovered one quotation from the book appearing on nearly every boat: embroidered on salon pillows, hanging on bulkheads, incised over companionways, or silk-screened onto tee-shirts. Taken from the first chapter of the book, the saying’s appeal to sailors seemed universal:

There is nothing – absolutely nothing – half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats.

Eventually I read on, and found equally memorable passages to enjoy. After being introduced to the entertaining dabbling ducks at various refuge ponds — the mallards, northern shovelers, teals, and pintails that tip tail as they forage for food — the sight of their antics evoked one of the book’s most charming exchanges, between Ratty and Mole.

“Ratty,” said the Mole suddenly, one bright summer morning, “if you please, I want to ask you a favour.”
The Rat was sitting on the river bank, singing a little song. He had just composed it himself, so he was very taken up with it, and would not pay proper attention to Mole or anything else.
Since early morning he had been swimming in the river, in company with his friends the ducks. And when the ducks stood on their heads suddenly, as ducks will, he would dive down and tickle their necks, just under where their chins would be if ducks had chins, till they were forced to come to the surface again in a hurry, spluttering and angry and shaking their feathers at him, for it is impossible to say quite all you feel when your head is under water.
At last they implored him to go away and attend to his own affairs and leave them to mind theirs. So the Rat went away, and sat on the river bank in the sun, and made up a song about them, which he called “The Ducks’ Ditty”:
All along the backwater,
Through the rushes tall,
Ducks are a-dabbling,
Up tails all!
Ducks’ tails, drakes’ tails,
Yellow feet a-quiver,
Yellow bills all out of sight
Busy in the river!
Slushy green undergrowth
Where the roaches swim–
Here we keep our larder,
Cool and full and dim.
Everyone for what he likes!
We like to be
Heads down, tails up,
Dabbling free!
High in the blue above
Swifts whirl and call–
We are down a-dabbling
Up tails all!
“I don’t know that I think so very much of that little song, Rat,'” observed the Mole cautiously. He was no poet himself and didn’t care who knew it, and he had a candid nature.
“Nor don’t the ducks neither,'” replied the Rat cheerfully. “They say, ‘Why can’t fellows be allowed to do what they like when they like and as they like, instead of other fellows sitting on banks and watching them all the time and making remarks and poetry and things about them? What nonsense it all is!’ That’s what the ducks say.”

However ambivalent the ducks may be about Ratty’s little song, for those of us who enjoy dabbling in poetry — or anything else — the ducks’ ditty is both amusing and instructive: a worthy combination. I’m glad Grahame recorded it.

 

Comments always are welcome.