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jcavicch

United States

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On Singing the Wind Songs

July 24, 2015

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In the bamboo forest, one tree has toppled. I have no idea how long ago but now—for what was story, and what was photograph, and what I truly saw are all inseparable now—the other trees are sprawled out under its weight. And every summer, though only for a few years, it was the challenge, an early verse in a long song.

I was a toothy kid in a tiny town, where the houses all stand a skip apart, where I’d been seeing everything since birth but was only just now beginning the knowing—those early summers and winters where I was discovering the wonder of being lost.

I still see myself weaving through the sweaty maze of the weedy growth until I find the spot, where the sturdy stalk disappears into a pitter of waxy leaves. I reach way up and grab hold of the rod, the green pungency in my nostrils, spicy and thick. Here is the brown base, gritty under tingling fingers. Here the wobbling tree is green and the stalk has a ring, a ridge at the end of a segment, and I shuffle my feet, reposition for better grasp. And sometimes like an accident, the wind gets rough. And when the wind gets rough it picks up the little Village of Cream Puffs and blows it away off in the sky—all by itself.

In the winter bamboo, there is a labyrinth of caves and passages. Hiding, I am in the heart, though the edge is possible too; before me are only the immediate green poles and snow. But it’s here that I curl, draw knees in tight, lean against bony bamboo, jointed even then like skeletal fingers protruding.

The hide and seek, the soggy knees and the clumps of snow that drop on eyelashes, nose tips, toes. I shuffle my pins and needles foot over dead brown leaves matted, under white bright snow above. There’s just a hush, and a quiet stillness; bated breath and thawing nose that drizzles into this cavernous, disorienting space.

If you go to the public square in the middle of the village you will see a big roundhouse. If you take the top off the roundhouse you will see a big spool with a long string winding up around the spool.

Now whenever the rough wind comes and picks up the village and blows it away off high in the sky all by itself then the string winds loose of the spool, because the village is fastened to the string. So the rough wind blows and blows and the string on the spool winds looser and looser the farther the village goes blowing away off into the sky all by itself.

Soon there are other soft and padded bodies hiding within these woods and it is now my turn to be without. I do the seeking; looping with tramping feet into tracks ahead of me, more feet in tracks behind me, and footprints above on the snowy roof of those sacred chambers. I’m up where there are sinkholes where you might lose yourself in the hollows below and there are also poles for balancing with the snowy clouds above. Here we shift our weight, now on top of so many bamboo trunks, now on top of this single one beneath my fingers, which stretches so far and crosses that one and intersects these hundred others.

Back on the earth, I am weaving again, and the leafy wet curtain of leaves anoints me as I rejoin the cathedral. Here a dark shape, amorphous and unclear—foot, elbow, or head?—but distinctly human. This part is all a blur, the part where you remember the tune, but not the exact words, though it doesn’t really matter because it still carries you to the chorus that you love to belt out, love to hear the sound of your voice singing it, the shape of those so familiar words in your mouth.

I may yelp with glee, or sound out a triumphant “A-ha!” or call to the others, “I found her!” but finally I collide with this other polyester body, those familiar laughing eyes. Like wavering, uncertain fingers over a forgotten keyboard, we’ve found the keys (or perhaps not, but hand comes plummeting down on the notes despite.) We are proudly laughing, remembering that the cathedral and the holy silence is just a beat in this game, as are now the joining hands, the coherent recounting of “I thought” and “we saw,” “and darlin', darlin', stand by me.”

Then at last when the rough wind, so forgetful, so careless, has had all the fun it wants, then the people of the village all come together and begin to wind up the spool and bring back the village where it was before. In the late night cold of a cracking old house, we are all huddled under the puffy white comforter, historic as the sky. Dad is reading again from The Rutabaga Stories. The gentle voice of Wing Tip the Spick hushes softly in dreams, bubbles and surfaces with a force of her own. She, our little relation, comes from a long ways off.

***

The age of the houses was not as important as the breadth of the trees in Washington Grove. The houses were measured by lifetimes—Mable Dean’s old house, where the Pachiones used to live—and centuries—built in 1840, rolled across town on logs in 1910, and planted on Grove Road since. But the trees were immeasurable. They are the forces that hold down the streets and that pride their homes—the classic house whose porch for a maple was built around. And always a grave event when the winds grew too strong and an oak tree’s roots finally gave way and it toppled, lay uprooted on the ground; up-rooted and down leafed.

In our ‘town within the forest,’ we started at the railroad tracks and ended at the highway past the field.  And on the fourth of July, the mayor drives the tractor through it. She leads the raggedy parade of barefoot children and ‘eccentric’ folks and the one old lady who sometimes brought her ancient cat on a star-spangled pillow.

Now the people in the village all understand the winds with their wind songs in summer and winter. And they understand the rough wind who comes sometimes and picks up the village and blows it away off high in the sky all by itself.

What are the wind songs of the people in my village?

In the town hall, eight sides and echoing, the gray haired ladies open their mouths and sing, songs from the old American songbooks—it’s delightful, it’s de-lovely—and they swayed together, strolled together. And at Christmas, the town gathered to watch Pat Dibella’s Grover Express, taking us back in time to the Chautauqua days, where David Rapkevien plays his balalaika, and the Strother girls sing their harmonies and every year it was the Lord of the Dance (dance, dance, wherever you may be).  Even Missy and Joli warbling drunken Christmas carols as someone hassles the piano—we younger actors huddled and giggled in the corn room nearby—is joy to the world.

One year Leigh Partington, jittery and verbose (my ceramics teacher), sang alone. Someone had turned all the lights off, and we heard just her voice in the back of the hall. She came walking forward, deliberate and somber; I wonder as I wander out under the sky. Then outside McCathran Hall, some days in late night summer, we’d gather around the campfire instead of sleeping in our tents. Tom Clifford in the flickering flames would sing blues and soul and the weepin’ willow stands there, limbs all hangin’ down until we were all singing too. 

And there is Craig English, for whom the world becomes layers, stencil after stencil in his screen-prints where the streets are sometimes purple. Jim Fletcher paints the road signs, a spotted frog on ‘Grove Avenue’ just outside my house: Rana Palustris. Chuck Kershaw photographs it all, recognizing wrinkled grins and cluttered back porches.

At town potlucks, for any reason at all, it is again a marvelous mosaic. Amy’s thick, thick chocolate brownies and David’s glazy sugar cookies and Annie’s heaping basket of donuts. In the heart of the array is always Beirget’s rhubarb pie from the stalks in her garden.  And of course from the Strothers, a plate of stuffed grape leaves.

The town legends are triumphantly recounted in the streets. There was the saga of the Humpback Bridge; the year the gnomes from under the bridge starred in a summer camp movie. Then there was the heroic struggle to save the lower fields from the impending inter-county connector—when the meadow midges marched in the 4th parade. And the developers who built new high-end condos atop the spring that fed our Maple Lake; Pat Dibella wrote and directed us in a musical extravaganza with vaudeville caricatures of the Toll Brothers.

Even in the bamboo summer days, we had begun noting the wind songs on the pages of our Squirrelly Times newspaper.  Pages where George Paine taught us how to peer through the lens of his camera, taught us how to never change or alter, how to find the image in what was there. Pages where Nicho chronicled all that he saw in the woods and by the park, the fox family in the field, and the snapping turtle in the pond. And he brought offerings of bird’s nests and deer skulls to the doorstep of the Cavey kids’ house, just left them there to be discovered.

 

I contemplated, as I ran the road that stretches in a ring around my college campus, that all this was lost. The loss of wonder. My sneakers thudded on thin, snow-dusted pavement, and—as is usual when I am running and my breath is bated and I can never quite think straight, but rather in loops and spools and reckless leaps—began on a track of circular nonsensicals. People say they get their greatest ideas while running. They say that is when a mind can be cleared. But the waxy tip on the end of my shoelace makes a soft tick with every step, and I can’t stop hearing this unrequited metronome.

I’ve never been so wonderfully lost since the days of the bamboo forest. Any human, considering herself to be post-child, who returns to these childhood places—the caves and crannies and small little nooks which had held such vast and wondrous mystery then—will surely see the heart-gripping disappointment of their smallness. Now my shoulders have hunched too high, and I focus on lowering them.

And worse still, when home for break last week, I had walked past the bamboo forest. I was on my way to work. My heart wasn’t gripped. My lungs didn’t stop for woe that they were not filled with the living green and the dying brown, though now they are burning with fatigue. My eyes, they slid aside, like an acrobat’s foot on a too slick pole that has lost its footing and begins to topple. Then, the passing had meant only an exhalation, a sigh that was too wearying to even contemplate.

I’ve now come full circle around campus, and I’m meeting my old tracks in front of me, and behind me there are two. Two pairs of tracks lay side by side (I’m not alone); there’s the past me and the passing me, and I’m beside myself. I’m wondering if I should weave in, back to the dorm.

 

But then I am eating the salad. We are alone with Cole Porter and Carl Sandburg and some crowding potted fern in the third floor of the science building. But first I pause. I shut my eyes. I taste. And on my quaking tongue the pepper is a burning campfire. There sprouts a weedy arugula forest. A small globe of tomato bursts, and unfolds lightness into a bright clear sky. The umami of a walnut lays the soil, and a soft egg floats the billowing clouds.

Rolling and reeling I go through this land. I am a living spool with my village on a string, floating where the wind blusters and belts. This was never once grounded and so will never uproot.

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