Catch and release


Willow wants to chase the ball, but she wants to protect the ball. She won’t give it up.

But you can’t chase the ball if you hold onto it with all your strength.

Let the ball go, let it fly – then thrill to the chase.




She walked, slowly, across the tattered page, pried up the corner, and turned almost casually into a pirate.

“I never meant to break the law,” she said, “and then they made it illegal for me to be who I am. Next I knew my life was chaos and disorder.”

She held up a book.

“I read about dystopia not to understand what’s coming but to see and navigate the here and now,” she said.

“Is all of this dystopia?” her companion asked.

“It sure ain’t utopia,” she spat. “It ain’t the best we could be. It ain’t all we are going to be.” She took a look around and said, firmly, “No. No, we’re gonna get out of this place, if it’s the last thing we ever do.”

Listening booth: ‘Floodplain’ by Sara Groves

floodplainOnly two musicians are left who compel me to have their new music as soon as it is available. One is Brian Wilson, Beach Boy and iconic composer. The other is singer-songwriter Sara Groves. It’s been a great year, first with the release of Wilson’s No Pier Pressure and now with the oncoming release of Groves’ Floodplain, “officially” due Nov. 6 but available now for download and pre-order.

Derrick Jensen is attributed with the quote, “Writing is really very easy. Tap a vein and bleed onto the page. Everything else is just technical.” That’s how Sara Groves writes. She pours her soul into intimate lyrics and melodies that expose her heart, her spiritual struggles, her doubts and anxieties and triumphs over herself, tapping into something universal, providing the comfort that someone else has gone through all this, too.

It has been four years since Sara Groves produced an all-new album (She put out a collection of past beauties with four new songs a couple of years ago), so Floodplain arrives like a friend offering a tall, cool drink from a spring after a long, long walk in the desert. Yes, I teared up during the opening notes of “This Cup,” the album’s first song, when her soft and crystal-clear voice returned.

How many hours have I spent, watching this shining TV,

Living adventure in proxy in another person’s dream?

How many miles have I traveled looking at far-away light,

Listening for trains in the distance in some brilliant other life?

This cup, this cup, I want to drink it up,

To be right here in the middle of it,

Right here, right here, this challenging reality’s

Better than fear or fantasy.

The story of how this album was made, told in a note that accompanies the pre-release package, is as touching as the dozen heartfelt and lovely songs: Paralyzed creatively by “depression and serious inertia,” Sara was approached by a couple of friends (Steve Brewster and Matt Pierson) who said they’d been offered free use of Jon Phelps’ Northern California studio, and they proposed getting together for a “band camp.”

“The whole premise was What if … what if we just played, without any expectations or pressure. No record labels, no deadlines, we could just take our time without being on the clock. If something came of it, good, but if not, it would just be a great experience.” To make it work, they asked Sara to bring along some new songs, unfinished songs, covers, whatever.

A couple of days in, it became clear that her friends had come together to help her “get unstuck enough to make a new record.” And it worked, brilliantly. It’s been a long time since Sara has sounded this free and fresh and her songs sounded so pure.

“We’re going on an expedition, looking for lost time,” she sings on a key early tune, tapping her veins and sharing all those struggles and triumphs as she always has, but in the quiet of that Northern California studio, the songs shine with the love of friendship, her colleagues’ generosity, and a gently rediscovered confidence,

In “Second Guess Girl,” she visits the uncertainty behind the front we all put up and all we encounter in the world: “Is this time for a speech or for silence? Are you calling for peace or defiance?” In the title song she writes about how “some hearts are built on the floodplain,” always risking the stormy waters of hurt but willing to take that risk.

In the midst of the storm, she recalls Moses and his people’s journey through the desert, when food is said to have appeared every morning: “There’s enough for today; there’ll be enough tomorrow.” And she recalls “I’ve Been Here Before” and made it through to the other side, an encouraging thought when the whirlwind strikes again.

It wouldn’t feel like a complete Sara Groves album without a musical update on her now 20-year marriage to her husband, Troy (“I Feel the Love Between Us”) and the joy of being a mom (“Signal,” in which she is amazed by the young man who is her older son).

Sara Groves shares so much through her music that she feels like a friend, even though I’ve only been privileged to meet and talk with her for barely a half-hour through my work as a journalist. It’s always reassuring that her journey has the same ebbs and flows, doubts and fears, triumphs and tribulations, that we all experience. I find myself rooting for her and heartened that she made it through the storm to produce another collection of gems. I pray that she feels comfort in the knowledge that she gives such beauty to us, her fans, supporters, cheerleaders and, yes, friends.

In the first few days of discovering cherished new music, it’s hard to make a judgment, but my first exposure to Floodplain feels like the burst of awe and delight and insight that I felt on first hearing Conversations and Add to the Beauty, Sara’s earlier works that I count among the albums I would take with me to the proverbial desert island. I love all 11 records, but those two and now Floodplain are probably my favorites.

A conversation between a dot and the universe

conversation between a dot and the universe

NASA photograph

On a little dot in an infinite universe, inside a little shelter near a drop of water, careening through the deep on an infinite journey, a little speck among billions picked up implements of communication and thought, “What shall I offer the universe today?”

“You dare to presume you can offer me something of value?” barked the universe with a great imposing roar. All that was missing was the crack of thunder and a loud voice insisting, “I am the Great and Powerful …” “You dare?” the universe repeated.

“Yeah, I dare,” said the little speck. “I see you out there, Universe. You go on forever and ever, and I am a little speck among a multitude of specks traveling through you on a dot among an unimaginable multitude of dots, but I dare.”

“You cannot make a ripple in a puddle of water.”

“Maybe not. But I can move a grain of dust from here to there, and in a lifetime maybe I’ll shift a handful of soil and sustain many other specks like me for long enough.”

“Why? You are almost nothing and meaningless.”

“I can coast on a wind of meaningless or scratch out a quest for meaning,” said the man. “Which journey will get me farther?”

What if it was all up to you?

what if it was all up to youWhat if we woke up and were not afraid, not sad, not meek, ready to do what needs to be done, to pursue happiness with life and liberty and vigor?

What if we woke up and the power to change our lives was in our own two hands?

What if we woke up and found the means to make today better – not just tomorrow, but today – with the past consigned to the past where it belongs?

What if we woke up and there was time for everything?

What if we woke up and fixed what needs fixing, learned what needs learning, and did what needs doing?

What if we woke up and there were no bucks to pass, just a certain knowledge that it’s up to each of us to make our lives better?

What if we woke up and no one was responsible for our lives but the person staring back from the mirror?

What if we woke up and got busy making the world a better place?

Guess what? It’s all possible.

Wake up and get started.

Every step is a nano-journey

a series of nano-journeysIt all seemed so clear. The path was laid out. He saw the man he needed to be. He felt the right words form in his head, and his heart responded.

He saw the expressions of understanding on other faces, the nodding heads, the palpable excitement of joining together on a path of peace and prosperity and doing the right thing. All he had to do was follow the path and improve his life and the lives of all he knew and encountered.

And then he sighed and stay fixed in his chair, knowing he had to get going but not going anywhere. Just another job to do first, just a few more tweaks to the idea, just a few more minutes or hours of sleep, and the moment passed. The status quo would do for now. Wouldn’t it?

He closed his eyes and held the coffee cup in both hands, mentally flipping the files around, turning pages, looking for – what WAS he looking for? the train of thought that would get him back on track? the project he knew was best suited for this moment, these circumstances? Did he want to do anything at all but to savor the moment, appreciate the journey that took him to this place and this time of contemplation?

Some moments were pregnant with the excitement of beginning, others were filled with the exhausted satisfaction or the frustration of a completed task or an uncompleted mission.

A beginning, a journey and a resolution: Everything had those three components. He savored the start and the finish but had little memory of the journey – what he needed was to savor the long in-between where the beginning was past and the finish was still to come, because the long in-between was where we spend most of our lives.

The solution was as simple as thinking of it as a series of nano-journeys. Every step has a beginning and an end – literally every step.

He could savor every single step when he thought of it that way: Here is the rising out of the chair – I’m up! Here is the walk to the door – I’ve arrived at the door! Here is the opening of the door and the step outside – I’m on my way!

The longest summer ever, Part 2

IMG_3885The year seems to fly by so fast. The years seem to collect so swiftly. And yet April 15 is such a long time ago. We visited the landscape place to buy plants around May 1, and so much has happened since then.

We gave the plants a new home, and they thrived (or didn’t). The days grew longer and warmer, and now they grow shorter and warmer. Soon they will grow shorter and cooler, but gradually, slowly.

A day is a long time: Look how much we did yesterday. There’s no need to despair about how fast time is passing; time passes at the same pace always.

The day that seemed so long when we were children is still just as long. There is still time while you have the breath and the consciousness to do what you set out to do.

A life is a collection of these long days stacked one upon the other. Some towers prove to be shorter and smaller than others. Yours is not as tall as some and not as short as others. But within each day is the time to make the difference you intend to make – or at least the time to try.

And in the trying is the root of the doing. Push through the muck and the formlessness, and the form will finally appear. Sift the gold-filled waters and the nugget will shine through.

A day waits to be seized! Reach out your hands and close your fingers. There. Was that so hard?