A Season Of Turning

Woodworker, carver, sailor, musician: Gordon Bok is an American treasure. Until several years ago, I’d not heard his name and might have missed his artistry forever, had it not been for the graciousness of a reader.

We’d been exchanging thoughts on music, and 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. Since my introduction to Bok, his fellow musicians Ed Trickett and Ann Mayo Muir, and 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 once said, “and 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. There are good songs — even great songs — abroad in the land, 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 it’s more than easy listening for an easy afternoon. It’s a poetic way of stating an inviolable truth; in the face of all that life imposes in the way of difficulties, chaos, and fear, life itself goes on. As Bok tells it:

“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.”

Moving into Advent at a time when legislative wrangling, nuclear proliferation, urban violence, and generalized crass nastiness increasingly characterize our society, I can’t help but remember another old legend which finds echoes in Bok’s song.

Many years ago, I visited Stonehenge during the winter solstice and learned there that the word solstice itself is derived from the Latin solstitium: a combination of sun (sol) and stoppage (stitium). As the legend has it, at the moment of solstice it is not only the sun that stops. Those who choose a silent place, a quiet mind, and a stilled heart will hear the earth herself cease motion. Pausing as though to catch her breath, she waits for the sun to turn, and move, before joining him anew in their ageless journey toward the spring.

In this season of Advent, what the legends proclaim and the heart dares hope, Bok’s song affirms. Despite appearances, despite the world’s darkness in these winter-shortened days, the world continues to turn. Always, it is turning toward the morning.

Turning Toward the Morning ~ Gordon Bok (1975)

 

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.

 

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.” Continue reading