Saturday, August 25, 2007

In Tune

I heard it in the wind last night,
It sounded like applause.
Did you get a round resounding for you
Way up here?
It seems like many dim years ago
Since I heard that face to face,
Or seen you face to face,

Though tonight I can feel you here.
.............Excerpted from Joni Mitchell’s “For the Roses”

I picked up my dulcimer last night. Light shining into it through one of the heart-shaped sound-holes illuminated the penciled signature of its maker on the inside of the back piece: Dennis Dorogi Brockton NY March 14, 1972.


I’ve played a number of dulcimers over the years, but none compares to mine’s rich, mellow tone. Dennis is/was a superb craftsman, and he built his dulcimers from old barn wood. The cherry in this instrument was already aged for perhaps a hundred years before Dennis worked with it in 1972. The one I bought was his cheapest model (all I could afford at that time), its lower price reflecting a lack of carved or inlaid ornamentation, not a lesser sound or structural quality. It also came unfinished. I had to do the finish sanding and apply a light oil to it myself.

I strummed out a little of “Pack Up Your Sorrows” and “Carey”, then picked and sang the beginning of “Vincent” (Starry, Starry Night) – stopped by the realization that the diminished chord at “but on that starry, starry night, when no hope was left in sight” isn’t to be found on a dulcimer fret board. Joni Mitchell’s “California” didn’t sound half-bad despite my rusty voice. The chords I had once figured out and known so well came back to me with surprising ease.
Encouraged, I opened my guitar case and pulled out the beautiful old Martin D18 (eat your hearts out, bluegrassers!). The softness of my once-calloused fingers was immediately evident. Damn. This would be painful. My right hand was stiff and awkward, so I strummed and sang the first two lines of John Prine’s

“I just found out yesterday that Linda goes to Mars

Every time I sit and look at pictures of used cars
She'll turn on her radio and sit down in her chair

And look at me across the room, as if I wasn't there

Oh My stars! My Linda's gone to Mars
Well I wish she wouldn't leave me here alone
Oh My stars! My Linda's gone to Mars
Well, I wonder if she'd bring me something home,”

but then bagged it and travis-picked my way through “Sound of Loneliness” instead (because there aren’t any high notes, and because I think my voice has about as much “lilt” these days as Prine with a Sunday morning hangover). Husband cheered me on, maybe enjoying his own memories of our early days together, a time when I sang fairly regularly in a downtown coffeehouse, maybe secretly gritting his teeth at the degeneration of my music but knowing how much it still means to me.


I sang “Follow Me”, the voice and fingers cooperating enough to bring a smile to my face. There are a few songs that always remind me of my partner in music way back when, and “Follow Me” is definitely one of them. Mentally I turned back the clock and considered some of the Richard Farina songs we used to do, but I had put the dulcimer back in its case, so instead launched into “Lyin’ Eyes” (but had trouble remembering a chord progression in the chorus) and then another John Prine/Steve Goodman tune, “Souvenirs”, saying “Take it, Steve!” when I came to the break, and laughing at my clumsy picking.

I sang “Circle Game” and some of “Both Sides Now”, then bits and pieces of a Nanci Griffith tune, “There’s a Light Beyond These Woods”, squeezing my left hand hard against the guitar neck for the four-finger and bar chords, too often missing the frets’ sweet spot.

Finally, fingers sore and voice spent, I put the guitar back in its case. I entertained the thought of doing this much more often, of actually practicing. I thought of my musical old friend. We’ve kept in touch, and in fact, he’s about to take off for Ireland to teach a workshop in “American Fiddling Styles” to some folks who have bow rosin in their DNA. (If they were interested, he could also teach them a few things on the mandolin, banjo, guitar and autoharp). What would he think if he saw my stiff hands and heard my cracking voice? And what would he say if he saw the aging strings on my beautiful instruments? I winced.

“Between the soft fingers and the arthritis, this is quite a challenge,” I said as I snapped the clasps on the guitar case and set the dulcimer aside. Husband replied, “That was great – the best, well no, maybe the second best entertainment there is.” We laughed, turned out the lights and climbed the stairs to bed.


Thursday, August 23, 2007

Tied to a Post

Sweet memory images
of a voice recalled,
a touch remembered,
given blog voice,
and then I toss, sleepless,
reliving the warm
rose-colored view
of years ago,
the intensity
of those feelings
with the strength
of their grasp.

Comments flatter and touch
as others dream back
their own memories buried.
We all steep in
my creation’s spell,
a universal heart
beating for passions past
or love lost,
until Today’s comfort,
Age’s mellowing
and Now’s love
hold sway,
and I write again,
a new post
releasing me

to resume
my life.
......finspired by "As Time Goes By" posted 8/17/07 and several of you who left comments

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Gimme Shelter

I recently visited two buildings.

The first photo shows a ceiling in the Great Hall of the Museum of Man in Gatineau (also known as Hull, the French side of Ottawa). Soaring, lofty, colorful, beautiful, and certainly not of the "everyday", this is a very wonderful place.

This second photo is of a place I stopped a day later in northern N.Y. Simple, functional, colorful and beautiful in its own way. Here is a home built in the style commonly seen in my part of the world, and this one happens to have been the boyhood home of "Farmer Boy", the husband of Laura Ingalls Wilder who wrote Little House on the Prairie.

I was alone here at the Wilder home because by the time I arrived the caretaker had gone home for the day. The late afternoon was quiet, lacking any sounds of civilization; moths and butterflies silently worked the wildflowers in the adjoining meadow. I walked down through the woods to the river, then returned to the house and peeked in the kitchen window at the dry sink, churn and other simple furnishings. Turning around, I spied a few cherries hanging red and shiny... and within reach... Eeeeewwwhh! Sour!!! (I guess that's what I deserve for pinching one of Almonzo's fruits).

Mankind is capable of some very nice work, and although I was awed by the beauty of the museum, I felt so very much at home at Almonzo's farm. Each building was carefully crafted, a monument to its era's artisans; the Wilder farmhouse has withstood the test of time, and I suspect that the museum's Great Hall will also.