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Archive for December, 2011

Happy New Year

December 31st, 2011

And so it is that another year passes. As sneakily as the last. And as suddenly as the next. All over the world, people will dance and drink and demolish themselves before the great ticking hands of time, awaiting the very moment of annual change when lips will meet, strangers and lovers alike, and for one second all will be equally intoxicated and alive.

What a year, they all will say.

For me, it has been a year lived deep in the art of survival. I wrote with hunger for the page. I sang when I was given the stage. I made a record and a book I believed in. I lost some and gained some. I spent the year in love and on the road. I learned the perpetual lesson of sorrow and the strength it can produce.

Out there in the world, there has been turmoil and revolution. Still the power of money is inarguable, though a million kids slept in tents and marched against it. Still injustice clings to the backs of the poor and underfed, though they filled the squares and toppled Dictators. Still the clatter of violence dirties up the television screen. Still the earth shakes cities to the ground, spews fire and dust, and floods streets with the sea. Still the massive wheel of capitalism turns. Still we know it isn’t right.

Yet, another year. Perhaps this will be the one: a year of collective resolution. To do or die. And perhaps, I’ll make another record.

Cheers.

p.s. Stay tuned for the next entry in my Winter Short Story Series, coming after New Years, and hopefully before the world ends.

Highway 11, Eastward

December 13th, 2011

Hi Folks,

Here’s the third installment in my little Winter Short Story Series. Scroll down to catch the earlier installments. Enjoy and feel free to share…

Highway 11, Eastward

There was something about that road. The way it pushed defiantly through the dark. The way our Jeep chased its own pale headlights futilely. The way my father cut the curves out and drove a straighter line down the centre.

“It’s better for the deer,” he said. “Gives them a little more room.” But we never saw any deer. I imagined the foxes and the owls, concealing themselves in the trees, watching us lumber past in a panting steel heap.

“Nobody lives up here?”

“Sure they do,” my father answered, like he’d been there before but I knew he hadn’t.

“Nobody uses this road, then.”

“Lucky road.”

“Boring road.” I slumped to lean my head against the window. My father’s old compass swung from the mirror where I’d left it hanging when it got too dark to read the face. I flicked it with my finger, sending it sailing into my father’s line of sight.

“Watch it,” he scolded then steadied the compass and the wheel. “What’s your problem?”

“Nothing.” That word was the bastion of my teenage vocabulary. It meant everything and… nothing.

“Can you tell how far it is to the next town?” There was husk in his voice. Not anger, just a sort of flatness.

I pulled the crumpled road atlas from behind my seat and flipped to “Ontario”. There it was: that massive slab of land, drawn out in blue and green. Measured, charted, named. The centuries of survey and exploitation spelled out on that one page caused any sense of mystery and reverence leftover from the influence of Lake Nipigon to drain from me. My father and I were just tourists after all.

I traced the thin line indicating Highway 11 eastward from the jagged-edged Lake Nipigon, searching with an eager flashlight for the nearest dot of a town. Three, four, four-and-a-half finger widths away. We would need to drive on, even though I wanted badly to go hide with the foxes or else dematerialize and travel fast as a sound wave to the end of that highway where I was sure there must be some solid, unnatural thing that would ground me once again in ugly urban distraction.

“I really gotta pee,” I lied.

“Can’t you hold it? There’s nothing out here.”

“Girls can’t do that.”

“You used to all the time,” my father said. I was afraid of drains when I was a kid. I was convinced little mice lived inside toilet bowls and under the porcelain tank covers.

“Well I can’t.”

The Jeep slowed till our tires crunched onto the graveled shoulder and stopped. I leapt from the car into the thick brush that insulated the ditch and in three swift strides was engulfed in blackness. The night air lay damp and cold on my forearms where I’d shoved my shirtsleeves up to my elbows. There was no sound but the low idle of the Jeep in the distance behind me. I could have been in a desert or a dry river bed or walking on the blank plain of a third dimension. I could have been in Russia or The Andes or Mississippi. My defeated eyes blinked, powerless.

I loved it. Just to be alone there.

But I would have to turn, to stumble back through the trees, to climb the embankment toward the stuttering headlights, to settle back into the car and lie again to my father that I’d peed in the forest bravely when the truth was I had only stood there in the darkness and wished to be free.

“Alright then,” he said when I got back in the car.

“I think I was made for some other world,” I said.

My father smiled at me. “Well, I hope so,” he said. And we drove eastward toward a little town and a crooked motel.

The Compass

December 1st, 2011

Winter Short Story Series: Entry #2

My father’s compass hung by a red string around his neck, the little needles flitting about as he walked. As kids, we’d beg to play with it. The manic dance of the needles made us laugh and we’d spin in circles urging it on. My father would retrieve it quickly and place it back around his neck, adorning that small instrument with a grand significance in our minds. It was just like my great-grandmother’s Dutch music box, the hand-whittled miniature canoe, and the many things that grown ups declared important by placing on high shelves or in locked cabinets. They were out of our reach, beyond us.

At night, when his work in the woods was done, my father hung the compass on a tiny nail by the porch door. It would swing like a pendulum: north, northeast, north, northeast, until finally it rested and so did he.

That day at Lake Nipigon, watching my father stare out at the water, the compass came back to my mind. The largest of forces resided in that palm-sized instrument. The heat and weight and pull of the earth all exhaled through its tiny needle.  The Lake too, shifting with the mood of the air and the tow of the moon, seemed infinitely larger than its physical limits. It was all so big and beyond us. Some things, I guess, will always remain on that high shelf.

When the darkness began its advance across the Lake, we retreated to the Jeep and turned back toward the highway. Trees hugged the road, brushing the windshield as we passed. I was happy to feel the instant claustrophobia of it, happy to be reacquainted with a smaller nature – where root and tip were visible, measurable and wholly comforting. The headlights spread their warm glow into the trees and slowly the silence between us eased.

“You still have that compass?”

“Which one?”

“The one.”

“You should always have one on you. I’ve told you that before, haven’t I?” My father slowed the Jeep as we crested a hill then let it roll easily onward.

“Yeah. But where’s the one you always had?”

He shrugged. “There might be one in the glove box there.”

I tugged at the handle, gave it a few bangs with the side of my fist, and the compartment swung open. The little light splashed onto a collection of pens, batteries, a mini flashlight, two rolls of pennies that I picked up, considered, then replaced, a scuffed pack of chewing gum, and a grease-stained manual booklet. A bit of red string peeked out from underneath it.

I fished the compass out carefully then pushed the glove box shut with my knee. I held it in my palm for a long moment. The corners were still rubbed with spruce gum from years before, when time after time, my father had grabbed it from around his neck, his gloves still wet from the sweating skin of a newly cut tree, and held it at eye level to cut a line through the woods. I clicked the black cover open to reveal the compass face.

“What do you want that for anyway?” my father asked. “I know where we’re going.”

“I know.”

I lifted the compass in my palm, rocking it side to side. The needle danced and I smiled. North was behind us.

(to be continued…)