Silence is the language of the beginning of a song, before it rushes out of my throat, before the sustain pedal clicks, when I hold an intruding melody to my chest for the first time.
Silence is also the language of the end of a song, when I’ve emptied my heart.
It’s the missing word for what’s missing at the end of a performance, when the seats are left empty and there are no more words and whispers.
It’s the final tune that follows me into sleep, and vanishes at the sound of my voice the morning after.
There is the silence of a winter’s afternoon, falling in the darkness of the house, which I have just broken with a single note.
It’s the sound of the track down the road from here, before there’s a train.
And then there’s your silence, which I think of as the love letters you will never send me.
Who brings the silence? What for? It is always perched on the branch of my voice. If I only knew where it came from.
“He leads me beside quiet waters.” — Psalm 23:2
Home again, and I put on my boots to shovel snow from, well, everywhere. We have about a foot of it. I’m glad I’m not that broken tree although it looks sublime.
A north wind whistles softly and cold. Snowfall jewels my hair.
Now two crows throw their voices into the gray air. Two notes of music that have escaped the February songbook.
The winter quiet and white light make me feel peaceful now, a contrast to the writing and recording schedule I was ravaged by the past two weeks.
Last night, driving in, I couldn’t wait to be home to see my children, D and B’s sweet faces, and Dakota the Husky. Not that I’m ever immune to their loveliness. I love being with them. I love doing nothing and everything with them. I love our quiet winter weekends. I like it quiet. I like to be around the people I like and love.
I love my art. I like that it lends itself to paying the bills. I don’t have to wreck my art for that purpose (too many musicians do). That would be a tragedy. Even the parts of the work I don’t like … help me recalibrate myself.
I love what I do, and I love why I do it. I don’t do it for fame or adulation. I do it to have the kind of life I have set up for myself.
My relationships with my children and that husky (and just a few close friends) make my life great. The triangle of faces pressed to the iced window when I drove up last night … the only wedge that can open the cold heart of winter.
Which came first, memory or voice?
Early in life, you find certain voices that speak to, nourish and guide you. What I always remember about my childhood is my grandmother whispering to me, telling me secrets, dreams, and about the old country.
When you become a singer, you find your voice in whatever it is that stirs the house of your heart. In mine I hear:
Floorboards creaking, the way they ache.
The steely timbre of thunder rattling the walls.
The tap, tap of rain on the roof.
Perfect sunlight angling into my little studio, fingering the house with its own acoustics.
Twilight sobbing down the side of a solitary barn out back.
A rhythm in my own breath that says I’m living.
* * *
It’s a niagra of sounds, it’s any sound that shares my hunger, my thirst all day to hear and sing more.
Maybe you hear a song, maybe you don’t; it’s a choice we all make. I’ve lived in many houses and left remnants of song in every one of them.
I’ve learned to practice myself in little things —
This afternoon I’m loosening old strings until there’s no tension left, and with wire cutters cutting through all the strings one at a time, down near the sound hole.
Next I’m removing the tone pegs from the rear of the bridge where the string disappears into the body, and unwinding the strings from the tuning pegs.
I’m locking new strings in place now, trimming the low E, followed by the low D, then the treble strings as I go … inserting string in post, tuning string to pitch, wrapping down the posts … pushing the tone peg down into the hole, ensuring the groove is facing toward the headstock, and pulling up on the ball end until it catches.
E A D G B E. My fingers begin to pluck single notes, random at first and then combined.
I’m plucking out the gallop of a new song now. It wafts through the house. A hover like grace appears.
And suddenly, little things … are big things. It’s the little things that seem to be saving me today.
“If you are faithful in little things, you will be faithful in large ones.”
– Luke 16:10
There’s so little that I want to do in this life, other than what I do.
If I didn’t have singing and songwriting, I’d probably never leave my town. I’m creatively restless but I’m content in every other regard.
I would still have had a little following, still had faith … and hope, and love (and my share of scars). I would still have trusted my unknown future to God.
I would have surfed more, maybe.
I would have lived quietly … much like me, with less deep contentment.
Maybe it’s possible to live without making up songs. But to die without it … how painful I would find it.
Driving home from a show late at night with the windows down offers its own music if I’m paying attention:
A frozen lake breaking apart in the middle of winter …
The angular song of an unseen screech-owl …
Half-crying stars out on the interstate, semis blowing their horns below …
The sound of the highway brushing against the car window, with daylight
still miles away.
A train blazing the tightrope strung across the interstate doesn’t sing her song so much as murmur it beneath her steely breath in a whisper bordering on an ambient hum. Her words, those sparks flying off into the still dark fields, remind me that I’m held aloft on a tightrope myself, and the rest of my life is far below me. For this moment I know where I’m going, just like that train, but who knows about tomorrow?
The owl, the stars, the train: Life is filled with sweet message bearers, bringing and imparting grace. You have only to wait, they will find you. And when they do, you will keep searching for them everywhere, for years, while right beside you, the tracks they are leaving resemble notes of a mysterious song.