Songlines

The East and West MacDonnell Ranges stretch out for hundreds of kilometres on both sides of Alice Springs. The traditional owners of the Alice Springs area, the Arrernte people, believe giant caterpillars called the Yeperenye became the Ranges – they entered this world through one of the dramatic gaps in the escarpments of the area.

While in Alice Springs we stumbled our way around these giant caterpillars, spending a lot of time in Simpsons Gap. We found it fascinating how we could walk for hours and always end up in what seemed like the same place. To the untrained eye it can be overwhelmingly disorienting with the extreme heat, blurred vision and an eerie stillness in the air.

However, the day we arrived everything was in full bloom and fresh cool water was in the rock pool. Some of the dead tree trunks showed the remnants of fire, presumably from a sacred ceremony.  I though about the stories I had heard about the ancient Aboriginal songlines, also called dreaming tracks.

From what I had learned, these (paths) songlines are recorded in traditional songs, stories, dance, and paintings. By singing the songs in the appropriate sequence, indigenous people can navigate vast distances, citing landmarks, waterholes, and other natural phenomena. However, songlines are more than just a pre-goggle maps way of navigating the aired land. The songlines also carry the history of the land and of their people in harmony with the land. They believe the footprints of their Creation Ancestors are on the rocks and learn from their elders the sacred sites, the stories, song, dance and with them the Tjukurpa (the Dreaming Law). Thus, the songlines are acts of remembrance, involving mind and body. Through the songlines the Aboriginal people continually recreate the Tjukurpa connecting them to past, present and future.

I could feel the history of these ancient people under my feet and respectfully I treaded lightly. I felt welcomed though, welcome to take time to reflect on my own history and faith. As I sat under a giant old gum tree, precious memories of my own Grandma Grace’s songlines came to mind.

I meditated on all the ways that she passed on tradition and story, of self and of God, singing in her beautiful angelic voice, sweet old hymns about the paths set ahead and those who have gone before us. She sang of a Creator God who longs to walk with us, to talk with us and to tell us we are not alone. Oh! To know we are not alone!

I remembered her voice in the stillness. As tears rolled down my cheeks, a song began to flow off of my lips and I joined her in harmony singing.

I come to the garden alone,
While the dew is still on the roses,
And the voice I hear falling on my ear
The Son of God discloses.
And He walks with me, and He talks with me,
And He tells me I am His own;
And the joy we share as we tarry there,
None other has ever known.

He speaks, and the sound of His voice
Is so sweet the birds hush their singing,
And the melody that He gave to me
Within my heart is ringing.

And He walks with me, and He talks with me,
And He tells me I am His own;
And the joy we share as we tarry there,
None other has ever known.

I’d stay in the garden with Him,
Though the night around me be falling,
But He bids me go; through the voice of woe
His voice to me is calling.

And He walks with me, and He talks with me,
And He tells me I am His own;
And the joy we share as we tarry there,
None other has ever known.

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Our Epic City Hike

One sunny afternoon, early August, we took an epic city hike. That’s right, I said city hike. We love our nature hikes and have been on all sorts of amazing hikes, from Tent Rocks in New Mexico, the Singing Saguaros in Arizona, to the Mississippi Head Waters in Northern Minnesota. We’ve also been to many awesome cities around the globe but the city hike in Sydney was extraordinary!

syd-hike-jpgOur hike began just after lunch and took us home by dinner. We started off at St. Johns Anglican Church on Glebe Point Road and walked north to the Sydney Fish Market, had a quick look around and I say quick because we couldn’t quite handle the smell. We kept walking north to the Australian National Maritime Museum, where we walked the docks and caught a glimpse of all of the tall ships before heading east over the foot bridge into the heart of the city. The city was grand with its tall buildings but it was the gardens that really caught our eyes.Sydney was definitely not a concrete city as the common spaces were beautifully orchestrated with trees, flowers and ferns.

We made our way north towards the Sydney Opera House, where we sat for a bit, soaking in all of the sights and sounds. Their were birds in the air, ships in the sea and people hustling here and there. Honestly, we could have sat there on those steps for hours and hours watching the world dance and interact with each other. But alas, the day was getting on and we were only half way. We began our trek south past the Governors house through the Botanical Gardens where we took a little coffee break at the gardens cafe. The coffee was average but the opportunity to sit for a moment and catch our breath was worth the stop.

Once we had our legs back under us we kept on towards the Art Gallery of NSW. We spent a good hour in the gallery, (which is free to enter, by the way) we spent our time specifically in the basement, which is where the temporary installments are displayed. After the Art Museum we started to make our way home via St. Mary’s Cathedral on through Hyde Park where we caught a bus the rest of the way home. All up our day cost us $30 for coffee and the bus fare. Had we wanted to spend more time in the Maritime Museum we could have paid for the family pack at $75 but decided to save that for another day.

img_1727Being based in Glebe for six weeks, and it’s location was ideal for our grand city hike. The assurance of a warm and comfortable home to come back to and catch our breath made all the difference in the amount of energy output we needed to walk the 10 kilometers throughout the city.

I had made a delightful dinner ahead of time, so when we returned we just flopped down in our seats, enjoyed dinner and eventually the boys found their way back into to their favorite position.

The memory of this day is special not only because Sydney proved to be a beautiful city to hike but because we experienced it together, as a family. Our little nephew was even able to fly up from Melbourne to join us. We cherish these moments, savory them, every single one.

 

 

Portland, Maine So Far, Yet So Close.

We met singer/songwriter Connor Garvey, one cloudy morning in Austin Texas. He came to our bus with our folkie kinfolk, The Lovebirds and Matt Nakoa to have breakfast. His bright smile and zest for life caught our attention as he shared his story of growing up an Irish kid near Portland Maine. We found out that we shared a few mutual friends and fellow muso’s, Putnam Smith and Heather Styka. So, between the rest of the breakfast crew there was much laughing and joking with reference to what we all decided to call the Maine Mofia. After breakfast we exchanged information and hoped to visit Connor when we passed through his state.

IMG_3773The weather was unusually hot when we arrived but Connor welcomed us with a cold fruit smoothy and that same bright smile. After we settled the bus, we all put on our bathing suits, hopped on our bikes and rode to the little town beach near his house.

I almost don’t want to tell people about this beach because I don’t want to spoil it for the locals but Willard Beach is a soft white sandy beach and has great views of the Casco Bay Islands, plus you get to watch the ships and boats come in and out of the harbor. The only down side was that the water was about 55f, the coldest we’ve ever felt, maybe even colder than Barton Springs in Austin, TX. None the less, it was refreshing. And, Connor, an avid surfer, jumped in no holds bar, as did our son, Banjo and swam their little hearts out.

IMG_3705Later that evening we drove an hour northeast to Durham, ME to visit our mutual friend, Putnam Smith at his log cabin in the woods. The last time we saw Putnam was five years prior in Green Bay, WI. So, we were excited to see and hear about all that had transpired in life, love, and music since our last visit.

He took us on a tour around his garden and showed us his 100-year-old antique letterpress, explaining the intricacies and process of creating his CD artwork with the press. Then he made us a lovely dinner and we shared songs late into the evening. Putnam is an accomplished banjo playing, songwriting, old-world troubadour fresh from the 19th Century and it was a delight to swap songs and be invited into his experience.

IMG_3772The next day we met up with Craig’s old band mate, Andrew and his family for dinner. These fella’s lived and played music together back in the late 90’s, in a world punk band called Ballydowse. Those were significant years in Craig’s journey and during that time his friendship with Andrew was meaningful and important. As life moved on, throughout the years, Craig would remember his friend fondly, but at times, the distance between them seemed so far away. And yet, here they were, just like yesterday, stories intertwining finding that close bond once again renewed.

The neat thing about seeing an old friend, who we haven’t seen in years and years was finding that although life looked completely different from before there was still that sweet common thread that once wove us together and that was a beautiful thing.

We spent the next few days hiking Fort Williams, sharing delicious meals, and catching up on story, enjoying the goodness of friendship and as we pulled away a little piece of our heart stayed behind.

Portland is a pretty cool city, that’s for sure, but Portland with all of these kinfolk as inhabitants is even cooler. It’s a place that feels like home and we are so grateful for our time and friendships there.

America’s Favorite Drive

IMG_2015There is something special about taking a long leisurely drive, over rolling hills, through the forest, stopping here and there to breathe in the fresh air. We set out on a Friday morning, rolling from Asheville, NC on the famed Blue Ridge Parkway. Our destination was Gatlinburg, TN and according to Google maps the drive was meant to be 86.5 miles/2 hr 10 min. However, because we wanted to take our time, experiencing the Blue Ridge Parkway at a slow-pace, our drive ended up being 6 hours total. As we meandered, we took in the stunning long-range vistas and close-up views of the rugged mountains and pastoral landscapes of the Appalachian Highlands. At Highway marker 109 we stopped off just past Mt. Pisgah, for a quick hike up Frying Pan. The hike was about 3/4 miles straight up to the tower. It took us about 45 min but the views were amazing.

We continued on towards Gatlinburg, stopping a few more times, to explore some of the Parkway’s stunted hardwoods and flora, includes various grasses, shrubs (including rhododendrons and dogwoods), hemlock, mixed-oak pine forests and spruce-fir forests.

IMG_2169The transition into the Smokey Mountains was noticeable as the foliage and elevations changed. The Blue Ridge Parkway runs atop the mountains, where as, once we entered the Smokey Mountains, the highway began to descend deep into the valley and surrounding forest, running along the river.

We stopped one last time for a quick hike at Clingmans Dome in the Smokey Mountain National Forest. This hike climbs about a 1/2 a mile to a look out tower. About half way up we spotted a Black Bear and her baby cubs. The park signs warned that approximately 1,500 bears live in the park, which equals a population density of roughly two bears per square mile. We kept our distance and kept walking to the top. Clingman’s dome is a 70’s space aged tower and offered some pretty fantastic views. Funny how sometimes getting to the top of the mountain isn’t enough, rather we long to go that extra bit to the top of the tower, on the top of the mountain.

Tennessee-Gatlinburg-Rocking-Chairs-Music-LAfter our hike we spent a few hours dining and walking around Gatlinburg. This crazy  mountain town is a fantastic version of the county fair mixed with every bizarre tourist attraction you can think of, including things like Ripley’s Believe It or Not Museum, Wax Museum Putty Golf, folks sipping on Moonshine while watching a bluegrass band, and all the ice cream, cotton candy, fudge, fried foods and any other sweet treats you desire. After a long leisurely day over the mountain and through the woods, soaking in all the goodness that nature offers, Gatlinburg was a bit overstimulating. Still, it did the job in refueling us and getting us on our way back to Asheville.

All up we’d do this 14 hour day again. Thankful for opportunities to explore and experience all of the beauty in this great big world.

The Australian Alps

Mount Buffalo National ParkAustAlpsRegionMapPositioned in southwestern part of the Australian Alps is Mount Buffalo National Park. Boasting 77,000 acres of striking granite boulders, rock formations and waterfalls, it is a fantastic place for bush hikes and is filled with plenty of wildlife such as Lyrebirds, Eastern Rosellas, wombats and swamp wallabies.

The Aboriginal Traditional Owners of Victoria are the Mitambuta and Taugaurong and they identify the Mount Buffalo National Park as their Traditional Country.  Declared a national park in 1898, Mount Buffalo is rich in history and is loved by bushwalkers, adventurers and birdwatchers alike – and by those who just want to take in the clear mountain air.

It’s free, family friendly and worth a day or more of exploration.

Over The Hills And Thru The Woods

216285_4304624772516_1857801823_nAs I was growing up, there was an emphasis on Christmas family gatherings, specially on my mother’s side of the family. For as long as I can remember until my late twenty’s we drove long hours through blizzards on icy roads. All making our way to Fisk Street in Muskegon, Michigan. It was a modest home filled with all of the smells and sounds of Christmas.

My Grandmother was a quilt maker and made all thirteen of us grandchildren stockings. She would fill them with all sort of goodies, including toothbrushes and home-made slippers. We’d make up plays and musicals in the basement while the Aunties and Uncles played card games. And of course, we’d share a traditional dinner.  Some years, we would go to the Muskegon City Rescue Mission to serve the Christmas meal to those with no place to call home. There was the occasional ice skating escapade and in later years, we would include a jaunt to the local movie theater to see the latest Christmas block buster.

Then my grandmother died and everything changed.

I suppose it’s probably pretty normal, the natural progression of time. As the grandkids got older and started having their own children, the aunties and uncles began to nurture their own traditions with their immediate families.

It was a pretty good run. I was in my early 30’s when the Christmas of my youth passed away, always to be remembered and cherished but never to be replicated.

SiblingsI’m the oldest child in my immediate family. I have a brother and a sister. My brother and his family live in Wisconsin.  My sister and her son live in Colorado and our parents live in Arizona.

This year, we all made the trek to Colorado for our family Christmas, and for the first time, in a long time, we were all in the same place. We decided to converge in Estes Park, Colorado.

Our five days together were beautiful, incorporating some of the old, as well as, each individual families traditions. We wrapped presents, made cinnamon rolls (the gluten-free didn’t go over as well as I had hoped), papa read a story about the Christmas child and nana carried on her mother’s tradition of all of the little stocking stuffers for the grandkids. We went to see the Hobbit at the local movie theater, enjoyed ice-skating, hiking and playing our favorite card game, Hand and Foot. Technology made a strong appearance this year with Minecraft as a favorite among all of the cousins, I-Phone’s posted photos to Instagram and Facebook, updating all those who cared to have a gander at our family fun. It was a beautiful week together.

There is a longing in all of us to replicated what is good in life. That’s what traditions tap into, right? However, if there is any lesson learned from past experience or from our nomadic journey, it would be that each moment, each experience, is its own. If the future holds another go round, we will embrace it fully. We cherish these moments, savory them while they are happening, all with a healthy understanding that we know not what tomorrow brings.

Rocky Mountain National Forest

The Singing Saguaro

Tucson, Arizona was once just a dot on the map for us, but after this past weekend, it’s quickly becoming a favorite. With its breathtaking Catalina mountains, darling historical district just adjacent to a thriving downtown and home to the University of Arizona, Tucson has a fantastic mix of arts, music, food, and sport. It’s a small enough city that the local endeavors stand out but large enough to find your own niche subculture. If there is one word to describe Tucson, it would be artisan.

Happy CampingWe had a few performances in Tucson, including an evening at Monterey Court. A formerly an old run down motel, owners Kelly McLear and Greg Haver redeveloped Monterey Court into an artisan enclave.

The stage was lovely, the food was amazing, specially for a reuben fanatic like me, and Greg was a very gracious host. We had a small but kind crowd come out despite the cold temperatures. And the icing on the cake was a little treasure of a vintage camper Christmas ornament that one of the local venders left behind.

The Hollands! at La Cocina, Tucson, AZWe also performed at La Cocina, Tucson’s venue with a menu. La Cocina sits in the heart of the historic district and has a warm, festive, communal feel. In fact, the reason we wrote them about a performance was because of their self-proclaimed sense of community.

Liz, our server and bar tender for the night was especially welcoming and made us feel like part of the family. A few more faces came out, as it was a little bit warmer than the night before. One kind face stayed through the whole show and introduced herself after. She had heard of us through our friend and comrade, Seth Martin! I immediately hugged her and invited her to dinner at our campsite the next night. What a pleasant surprise to find kinfolk in this fantastic city.

Catalina State ParkWe parked at the Catalina State Park for three nights. We paid $27 a night and had water and 50 amp electricity. The park was well cared for, with friendly guides/officers, hiking trails, and the bathrooms were pristine.

Our friends Jamie and Max stayed with us for the weekend, as Max joined us on bass/guitar at our shows. It was truly the highlight of the weekend having guests on the bus again. We actually met Max two years ago our first time through Bird City. He was living at the Kineo Community House and jammed with us during our impromptu performance at the house. Max married Jamie 10 months ago and it was so refreshing having newlyweds on the bus. Two hands are better than one and the Perry’s work well together. They added a sense of balance to our first weekend back in the saddle, so to speak. We shared story, meals, hikes, a fierce game of Settlers of Catan, Ticket to ride and made music.

A second highlight to the weekend was our hike in the spectacular Saguaro National Park.    We actually started in the State Park and hiked on the border of the National Park, but the Saguaro Cactus were everywhere. The beauty of this area was found in breathtaking mountain range with its the subtle greens and browns, and an occasional orange hue thrown in. There were horse trails as well, which made the hiking even more romantic.

The Singing Saguaro

At one point the sun was wafting between the clouds when I noticed a large Saguaro at the base of a massive rock wall, above that was the mountain range. As the clouds moved the sun would cast a light rolling up towards the large cactus and hold like a spot light for just a moment, and I imagined a tenor singing a ballad of love and passion. The sun would continue to elevate up the rock face and a golden hue would shine, continuing on the sun beams rose up into the mountain where a choir of smaller Saguaro sang the final verse. I sat and watched about three rounds of this movement, before our group lead on. I’ll take that memory to the grave as it was a little taste of heaven.