Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Summer's escape

It has been a busy summer, for sure, but I don’t think any degree of engagement allows a blog writer to take the whole summer off.  I surely didn’t expect things to be that way, but so it has been.  In any case, I hope you missed me!  :-) 

A few thoughts about a summer that has, indeed, escaped: 

Back in June, I spent a week on Hog Island, one of my favorite places in the world, with jazz/new age/Grammy winning composer/sax player Paul Winter.  I’ve been a fan of the Paul Winter Consort for a long time and when I heard he was coming to the Audubon Camp, I volunteered in a hurry to guarantee a chance to get to spend some time with him.  

For the uninitiated, Paul Winter started as a jazz saxophonist in Chicago back in the ‘60s.  Somewhere along the line he came to understand the beauty of Nature’s own music and he made a genre out of adding recorded sounds of whales, geese, buffalo, river rapids, thunder, and the like into Consort compositions.  I have many favorite songs of his, but the one that comes to mind first is ‘River run,’ a lovely piece recorded acoustically in the Grand Canyon that begins with the trill of the canyon wren and uses the pulse of the Canyon as its heartbeat.  Great stuff.

At Camp, Winter facilitated a couple evening programs where participants brought various musical instruments, or at least something that could make a sound.  After talking about novel ways of hearing Nature, he invited four folks at a time to come to the center and play for and listen to each other in the dark, creating melody and harmony in a kind of call & response improvisation.  

Paul also shared stories of his various music projects, including his present multi-year, multi-national flyways endeavor that includes bird song with native- and Consort players-created music while contemplating bird migration from central Africa all the way into Europe and western Asia.  

I did get a couple chances to talk with Paul, but my favorite moment was when I was in the kitchen scrubbing  breakfast pots when I heard his familiar soprano sax playing out in the morning sunlight.  It had been cloudy most of the week, but finally on this morning the sun was warm and encouraging.  It gave me goose bumps to hear his ‘Sunsinger’ anthem played live that morning for the whole camp by the songwriter/soloist himself.  I feel pretty lucky to have had such a wonderful exposure to Paul and his music.

In early September, just about the time summer was making its official calendar exit for 2015, I received an email that would radically reset the course of the seasons for me.  

As with most of us, I expect, I had just received a slough of emails, mostly junk, and was scanning ‘froms’ to see if I needed to pay special attention to anything, or if I could just send all right to the trash.  One email looked ‘first class’ — a personal one intended for me — but the name was one I had not heard for a long time.  

Pretty interested, I opened it and was rewarded with a request to pick up a friendship that had lain dormant for fifty years.  You read that correctly:  50 years.  And yes, young readers, that was way before anyone invented email.  The correspondence the sender and I had had in the past was all in letter format, and if memory serves, much of it handwritten.   

The sender was Phyllis Kittel, known to me in my high school days as geometry teacher, Sr. Mary Harold.  During sophomore year, I worked with Sister in Backyard Peace Corps, a social action group she advised and I was involved in.  I don’t remember specific details much, but I had a good feeling about Sr. Mary Harold and by the next year when her community sent her to Chicago to work on a doctorate in mathematics, we exchanged letters for a time.  But before too long, contact was lost.  And so it had been until she sent me that email back in early September.

Turns out Phyllis had gotten in touch with another teacher of mine, who was also once a nun who had left the same order, who had returned to Detroit and continued her career teaching math, I’m pretty sure in public school.  Believe it or not, that former teacher, Kathy Schrader Downs, and I, had not lost contact over the fifty years since Carroll High School.  Phyllis asked Kathy if she still heard from anybody from Carroll, and my email address was passed along.  

I am frankly amazed at how lit up the e-conversation from Phyllis left me.  I still anxiously await a new message daily, and have had a great time listening to her life stories and going into more detail than necessary telling her about mine.  After all, I do want her to know I turned out okay and she had something to do with it.  In any case, it’s been fun.  

Based on this ‘find,’ I ended up writing an essay for an Advent publication that speaks of the grateful heart that comes with reconnecting with old acquaintances.  

Phyllis & I continue our communication while Cindy & I are planning a trip to Colorado for a visit next fall to Phyllis and husband, John.  Re-finding Phyllis after all these years has been, to revisit a literary theme learned from John Steinbeck back in high school, a pearl beyond price.

The last observation I leave you with today is about this amazing season we in the north experience known as autumn.  We recognize summer, then days get noticeably shorter and nights cooler.  Then we have frost, then a freeze, and in the process our yards are covered in leaves if you’re lucky enough to live in a neighborhood with trees.  We do and such a time is magical.  Today we brought in three young friends to jump in the huge leaf pile I had raked up just for that purpose in the front yard.  A good time was had by all, including the raker!  :-) 

Today’s elder idea:   For today’s final word on fall, I offer a verse from Emily Dickinson.   Thanks to Garrison Keillor’s ‘Writer’s Almanac’ for the idea.   [Franklin #935, 1865]

As imperceptibly as Grief
The Summer lapsed away—
Too imperceptible at last,
To seem like Perfidy—
A Quietness distilled
As Twilight long begun
Or Nature spending with herself
Sequestered Afternoon—
The Dusk drew earlier in—
The Morning foreign shone—
A courteous, yet harrowing Grace,
As Guest, that would be gone—
And thus, without a Wing
Or service of a Keel
Our Summer made her light escape
Into the Beautiful.

imagestop:  Paul Winter playing ‘Sunsinger’ outside the Fish House on Hog Island.   mid:  Sr. Mary Harold (1965), the once and present Phyllis Kittel.  below:  Three kids in a leaf pile.  :-)