I keep thinking of the immortal line by Wendell Berry: “Be joyful though you have considered all the facts.” This is wise advice, and not always easy to do.
Truth is, I’m sick to my stomach at the state of the world. We’re all horrified by what Putin has done and can’t but help feel helpless and angry. Angry enough to make us want to lash out. Let’s hope someone finds a way to pull him back from the ledge he’s created. Like things weren’t troubled enough already! Let us do what we can to help the Ukrainians in need and hope there is a resolution that brings both peace and justice.
In this issue:
And yet, there’s this: The other day, with the temperature in the fifties, I went out and watched hundreds of bees from my hives do their “cleansing flight” – airing themselves out after months of being cooped up inside. It’s one sign (with the snowdrops outside my studio door) that spring is on its way. It’s the first time in memory all my hives made it through the winter.
Gradually, carefully, I’m starting to perform again. I’m doing some zoom shows and workshops for schools but am scheduled to perform at a couple of festivals this spring and doing some local performances. Not many. A few. We’ll see how rusty I am. You can check out my schedule here.
Stories about Trees
Years ago, I had an idea for an evening of stories about trees. I would talk about four or five different trees I’ve known, and my experience with each of them – the tree in my yard growing up (a climbable crabapple), the tree I fell out of and almost killed myself (sycamore in a neighbor’s yard), the willow tree in our backyard that played a part in my song “Moon and Me”, and a couple of others. Never did it. But I keep coming back to it and am thinking about it more now, especially with all the research done on trees in the past thirty years, and my (our) growing understanding that trees are absolutely essential to our survival. I’ve been talking with three of my dearest storytelling friends, Clare Murphy, Dovie Thomason and Kevin Kling about a night of tree stories. And then, several months ago, I read To Speak for the Trees by Diana Beresford-Kroeger – a stunning memoir about her life with ancient wisdom and biochemistry and trees. (There’s a great article about her this past month in the New York Times)
I’m determined to work on a set of stories about trees, and hopefully my storytelling compatriots and I can come up with something for the stage.
Do you have a story about a favorite tree? I’d love to hear it. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Books - What We're Reading
In addition to the To Speak for the Trees mentioned above, I highly recommend This Is Happiness by Niall Williams. It’s a beautiful coming of age story that takes place in the late 1950’s in County Clare Ireland. The language is gorgeous (I listened to it first – GREAT reader- and then read it) and it’s a very moving, lyrical story. Williams is a wonderful writer.
I’m currently in two reading groups. In one, we’re reading Anna Karenina. I’ve read it before, and it’s a different book from the one I read in my thirties. It couldn’t be that I’ve changed. It’s almost too big to talk about. A soap opera, for sure, but more than that. Do I like it? Hmmm. Sometimes it’s amazing, sometimes…not so much. Kind of like life. You would think I could be more articulate, but it’s one big bucket of worms. What stand out to me is its Russianness – the contrast between the city and the country, between St. Petersburg and Moscow, the confusion about whether Russia is part of Europe. All things, as we witness the tragedy in Ukraine, that have not been resolved.
In the other group, I’m reading the new translation of The Odyssey by Emily Wilson. It’s pretty interesting style-wise, since she’s translated into iambic pentameter rather than dactylic heptameter (I know, I know – but it feels different). It’s very straightforward and to the point. Again, it’s a book I’ve read several times before. As a storyteller, I find myself seeing how Homer (whoever he was) chooses what he’s showing and uses a storyteller’s devices throughout the piece. And now I see how rascally Odysseus really was. Not your standard hero, but somehow his ambivalent character has survived for thousands of years. And for those of you who are put off by the notion of reading some dense, musty old classic, it’s not like that – not a difficult read at all.
Here’s one last thought on old books, read again. When I was in high school and college, I, like many others of the period, was completely enamored of Herman Hesse. Siddartha, Steppenwolf, Narcissus and Goldman. I read them all. Some counter-cultural bubble I was living in (hmm, maybe still am a little, no, forget that…) And to me, his best book was The Glass Bead Game. So, I’ve just re-read it. Huh. It hasn’t aged well for many reasons and for this older guy, was really a labor to get through. I think the spiritual aspect of the books appealed to me, but I guess you never read the same book twice – this didn’t hold up.
A Story in Verse
Finally, to leave on a dumber, more upbeat note, here’s a poem I wrote a little while ago about my son Dylan and my memories of him in Little League. It’s spring and hope springs eternal in the human breast.
A Catcher’s Tale
While cleaning out the attic
A little while ago
Sorting, wondering, choosing
What to keep and what to throw
I came upon a box of things
From the bedroom of my son –
Papers, books and trophies
And honors he had won.
And at the bottom of the box,
Wrapped in a strap of cotton
I came upon the strangest thing
That I had quite forgotten.
The very sight of this old relic
Set my mind aglow
And soon I was remembering
Those many years ago.
My son signed up for Little League,
Much to his dad’s delight
For I played baseball as a kid,
And so it seemed but right
That my son too would follow me
Upon the diamond’s grass
But little did I e’er suspect
Just what would come to pass,
When on that first day his team met
The coach lined them up and asked
If someone there would volunteer
To don the catcher’s mask.
While other boys did hem and haw
Mine did not hesitate,
He raised his hand and said he would,
Unworried of his fate.
It seemed to make some sense to me
Because I knew my son.
He liked to throw, he liked to catch
But didn’t like to run.
Perched behind the plate at home
He wouldn’t have to hurry
And use his gentle, winning way
To soothe the pitcher’s worry,
And so that day, yes I was proud
As we turned to go
And then the coach called out to me,
“There’s something you should know
“If Dylan wears the mask and glove,
The tools of ignorance,
Then it’s also true that he must wear
A certain something ‘neath his pants.
“He is but a lad of nine
A bright future growing up
So if he’s going to crouch behind the plate
He has to wear a cup.”
“A cup? A cup! Surely you jest
He’s just a little boy.
A cup doth seem like overkill
That we need not employ.”
“Well, dem’s da rules,” the coach replied
“You can look them up
We need a man behind the plate
And he needs to wear that cup.”
And so we found ourselves in megastore
A’roaming down the aisles
I told a clerk about our quest,
He couldn’t help but smile.
He said, “Of course, although
The boy is just pup.
By the looks of him, a lad so young,
He needs a junior cup.”
He led us past the bats and balls
And other sports equipment
And stopped and pointed at the rack
Saying “Here’s the latest shipment”
It was but a wee small thing
He held up to our sight
About an English muffin’s size
He said, “This looks just right.”
I paid the bill, we headed home
My son now had the tools
To safely sit behind the plate
And protect the family’s jewels
At home my wife said, “That’s your job,
You show him I can’t bear it.
This whole thing was your idea
You show him how to wear it.”
He put it on, it was a curse
Fashioned by some evil tailors
And then I knew why catchers
Do waddle ‘round like sailors
A bow-legged stride, a crabbing gait
The cup did surely ask for
But least when he sat behind the plate,
He would not face disaster
And so the season did begin
With Dylan in the crouch
But with every pitch he tried to catch
Never ever spoke an “ouch”
Dylan had a trusty eye
He caught most throws they pitched
Though he sometimes scratched and pulled his pants
To get at where it itched.
And though some balls did bounce and skip
He never was abused
And the hidden piece of plastic
Ne’er had cause for being used
Until one fateful day,
the season near its end,
My son stepped into the box to bat
And faced his closest friend,
A kid who had a fastball
That left the batters crying
Only nine, that kid could throw
Like a Clemons or a Ryan,
Dylan grabbed his crotch just like a pro
At that thing that made him itch
Then faced the pitcher, tapped the plate
And waited for the pitch
And then his good friend Davey
Readied for the throw
He went into his windup
And let the baseball go
The crowd all cheered, the birds all sang
The infield chirped and chattered
And now the leather covered sphere
Sped right toward the batter.
But it didn’t cross the rubber plate
Nor bounce upon the dirt
Instead it hit my darling boy
Right there where it hurts.
Too late to dodge, too late to duck
He took it straight full on
And even as it ball arrived
Someone cried “His future’s gone!”
And at the sight, a cry sailed forth,
The men all wept and moaned –
Even the dad that served as ump
Let out a gruesome groan.
The men all held their private parts
And sang a mournful tune
One fell off the bleachers
In sympathetic swoon.
But as the men all screamed and gave
Their empathetic gasps
A shot rang out like cannon fire
Across the summer grass.
It echoed off the bleachers
It rumbled o’er the crowd
Rebounded off the snack bar
And soared up to the clouds
The ball bounced from the batter’s box
Off the young intrepid hitter.
It bounded cross the infield
Towards the shortstop it did skitter.
The crowd all watched the batter
And we figured on the worst
Dylan flipped the bat, stepped from the box
And trotted down to first.
It took a good long moment
For those who watched it there
Do understand there was no need
For a trip to urgent care
Dylan now stood safe at first
A grin upon his face
And when the crowd looked on that smile,
It was a happy place.
Some stood up and cheered him
A joyous, glad refrain
Though some still bent in agony
In sympathetic pain.
Some fathers in the bleachers
Were nothing but a mess
And to this day some still carry
Their post-traumatic stress.
It must be said, though, some women there
Did not squirm or wiggle
Instead of showing empathy
A number laughed and giggled.
And when the game had ended,
When things were said and done,
The men all present stormed the field,
Each and every one.
They gathered ‘round my darling boy
Asking, now how is it?
Dylan pushed back his baseball cap
And said, “It didn’t hurt a bit.”
And so I held that plastic piece,
Thinking of my son so brave.
And while most things I did throw out
There’s one I gladly saved
To pass on to a grandson
If one should chance appear
And if one day he wants to catch
I have protection here.
For the world is filled with danger
Unkindnesses and hate
The world is filled with fastballs
That might debilitate
You never know what’s coming
Or if your number’s up
But if you’re wise and want to live
You’ll wear some kind of cup.
©2022 by Bill Harley – all rights reserved