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.

 

A Trickster’s Truth

As increasing numbers of people are coming to learn, Oakland, California’s FOX News Affiliate KTVU was pranked last Friday. After broadcasting false names for the captain and crew of the ill-fated Asiana Airlines Flight 214, the station attempted to deal with the ensuing furor by insisting that the National Transportation Safety Board had confirmed the crew’s identities.

In turn, the NTSB declared that no, indeedy, it wasn’t them – at least, not officially. It was their silly summer intern, some young fella who’d roamed just far enough off the reservation to allow a Bart Simpson-like joke to make it all the way to the national airwaves. Continue reading

Welcome to Abandon Ship Season

In theory, there’s no difference between theory and practice. In practice, there is. ~ Yogi Berra

It’s known by an assortment of names – grab bag, ditch bag, abandon-ship bag. Most sailors know they should have one, and nearly everyone understands it should contain something more than a fifth of Scotch, a Leatherman tool and a copy of The Old Man and the Sea.

When it’s time to deploy the life raft, it’s well past time to consider its furnishings. Coastal cruisers, circumnavigators,  casual visitors to Safety at Sea seminars and card-carrying members of the Offshore Racing Congress all know that flashlights, fish hooks and flares can help make a life raft a home. So can desalination tablets, signal mirrors, waterproof flashlights and a VHF, for that matter. Whether you throw in a spear gun and a spare sea anchor will depend on your budget and preferred cruising grounds, but no one quibbles over the need to preserve ships’ papers, insurance documents, passports and cell phones.

If everyone were prepared for the vicissitudes of life on the water, that’s what each bag would have – an assortment of practical necessities for sustaining life while awaiting rescue and the paperwork necessary to reassemble life back on land.  Unfortunately, not everyone prepares.  Sometimes, even the best preparation isn’t enough. Now and then the stories of what got saved, and how, become the stuff of legend. Continue reading

A Gunkholer at Heart

It’s a shorthand we use, these preferences that define our lives. We’re morning people, or night people. We drink coffee or tea.  Some favor the sweet things in life; others seek out the tang of salt or the sharpness of spice. Entire advertising campaigns play to people’s passion for the PC or Mac, and in the sailing world there’s no avoiding the question: are you a cruiser, or a racer? How a sailor answers that question will determine a good bit, from choice of boat to the weekend schedule.

Racers generally commit themselves to light and fast, preferring Kevlar sails and carbon masts to canvas and wood – if the budget allows. Spending hard-earned dollars on new technologies, they push technology to its limits. Others, coping with older and heavier boats, ponder their PHRF ratings and do what they can to maximize performance.

Still, whether their vessel is a Sunfish, a J-Boat or a fully-fitted cruiser, racers share a few characteristics.  They’re tweakers at heart, constantly adjusting sail trim, seeking the currents and anticipating the wind.  Demanding of themselves and one another, they’re often focused to point of obsession. In the end, their goal is simple – to get from point A to Point B first, and in the shortest possible time. Continue reading

Stepping Off the 8:15

 

Musically speaking, the 1960s were a “mixed bag”.  Tucked between the sweet securities of the ’50s and the tumultuous creativity of the 70’s, the decade  included everything from the Beatles to Bobby Vinton, Strawberry Alarm Clock to Nancy Sinatra.  Depending on your perspective, the decade’s nadir or zenith was that bit of fun and frolic held out at Max Yasgur’s dairy farm in Bethel, New York.  And even while Woodstock was taking place, a Canadian named Richard Bachman was writing lyrics for a song.  

Originally entitled White Collar Worker, his song sounded remarkably like the Beatles’ Paperback Writer.  Even the guitar riffs mimicked the more famous song.  The similarities were so obvious publication was out of the question and the song was put on the back burner for several years.  In 1973, it was pulled from the files, revised and recorded.   By then Bachman’s band had a new name – Bachman Turner Overdrive – and their re-worked song became the classic Takin’ Care of Business . BTO’s counter-cultural anthem still pops up from time to time – for years it provided an innocuous musical lead-in for Office Depot’s commercials – but in the 1960’s, no matter which side of the cultural divide you lived on, you knew the lyrics. Continue reading