Saturday, October 9, 2021

"It's Like Thunder; Lightnin'"

“The thunder? Don’t be afraid. It ain’t nothing but God going bowling up in heaven”     Numerous parents to their little kids  

Over the last week I have seen some evidence of the fact that it is fall again in our cycle of seasons. Goldfinches have appeared at the backyard feeders in their dark grayish coloring rather than their summer yellows. The colors on brightly colored flowers in the flowerboxes in the neighborhood have faded, and there are some leaves from them on the ground. The trees in the ACME parking lot are now a lighter green, and there are other trees in the areas with some changes in the tone and depth of their color. The temperatures are cooler, and the early morning darkness is longer and more pronounced. All of these say, “Fall,” and that is good for me.  

   The maples haven’t started changing yet, however, and that is a little disappointing to me. We have a lot of maples in West Mt. Airy-sugar maples, Japanese maples, red maples, silver maples and more. When they change, it is always spectacular and dramatic-bright reds, deep oranges, bright yellows and more. And the sidewalks beneath the trees are magically transformed into colorful leaf-carpets that look and feel as if we are in another universe. It is not fully fall for me until the maples start changing,  and I am a bit impatient for that to happen.  

   But the natural phenomenon that is uppermost in my mind right now is the amazing thunder, lightning, and rain storms we had in this area on Tuesday night. I have not heard thunder that loud and with all of that deep rumbling since I was a little kid, and it truly shook me. I woke up several times from the booms, and then I heard the wind and the rain slapping against the house and the windows. The lightning flashes were intense, and it felt like being in a movie version of a Stephen King novel. And I was immediately taken back to glimpses of my childhood growing up in West Philly.  

   For most of my childhood I shared a bunk bed with my older brother. When thunder and lightning storms struck, I was scared and often cried. I would have visions of the house being struck by lightning and bursting into flame, or of trees flaring up and crashing into the house. Our parents, and sometimes my brother, would try to comfort me by telling me that thunder was not to be feared; it was God bowling or the Devil and God fighting. And lightning was God chasing the Devil away from Earth or some such supernatural happening. Those tales would often comfort me.  

  As I got older, outgrew the fear, and found out the science of what causes thunder, I was no longer scared. But my natural curiosity and love of history led me to seek out ways other times and other peoples made sense of thunder and lightning.  And as making sense and finding patterns in the world is one of the things that make humans human, every culture and time had well developed explanations for these events. Lighting was often a weapon of the supernatural: the ancient Hindus pictured lightning as a weapon of the god Indra, and the to the ancient Chinese, lightning was the domain of Dian Mu, the wife of the thunder god. She told right from wrong and could deliver justice. The Iroquois had a similar idea; Hinon, their thunder god, was fierce, but he often intervened to help humans see truth or to rescue them. The Hittites and Romans saw lightning as indications of things to come, and it even figured into Roman political and military decisions.  Thor, as many of us know from Marvel, was the Viking god of thunder, and the Vikings believed that thunder was him striking his hammer against an anvil as he roamed the sky. The Bantu in South Africa believed in a lightning-bird, whose power could foretell the future and heal the sick, but sometimes it could simply wreak havoc. It had to be handled by medicine men. Clearly, the strength and intensity of thunder and lightning meant that they had to connected to some very important things in each culture.  They were not to be ignored or downplayed: they mattered.  

  While I did not get much sleep Tuesday night, I am glad that I had the experience of being taken back to a bit of my childhood. I find it interesting and good for me to look back sometimes and see where I have been, where my early experiences took me, and how they have influenced who I am today. Of course, this does not mean I necessarily want to experience those type of storms again; I think Tuesday night’s experience can last me for a while...(smile) But it was good to recall a younger me and a simpler time.   

   (Here is a link to an article about how different cultures looked at thunder and lightning:  

 

Thursday, September 23, 2021

The Coming of Fall

 

DUKES FANS:   

  Fall is the flip side of Spring. So, Heads or Tails, we win either way. 

                                                                           Kevin M 

     Yesterday, was the first day of Fall in our part of the world. Those of you who have read these newsletters for a while know that Fall is special to me. I like to embrace it with open arms, marveling at the daily changes in the light in the sky, the cooler weather, the changes in the colors of the trees and plants around us, and the miracle and wonder of the Fall bird migration. I used to debate with myself whether I liked Spring or Fall best, until I realized that in Spring I liked Spring best and in Fall I liked Fall best. It was a “win-win” situation for me, and I didn’t have  to choose. 

      Unfortunately, at least for me, Fall hasn’t really felt like Fall yet. The late September temperatures have felt warmer than normal, and the trees in the neighborhood that usually start changing colors early haven’t started changing yet. It has also seemed as if we have had more  extreme and wetter weather for much of these last few weeks. The coming of Fall has not really seemed like the coming of Fall this year. It  has seemed different; strange; it has not quite felt like the Falls I used to know and expect. It has seemed a little off.  

    I was brooding about this for a while when I came across an article in Mondays’ Inquirer headlined, “What a Warmer Fall Means for Philly.  The article confirmed my suspicions; this Fall has followed a slowly developing trend of warmer and wetter Falls in the region. One of the effects of these trends has been delays in when foliage start changing. Peak foliage time can be pushed back  by a week or two, and for a state such as Pennsylvania, that could have serious consequences. 60% of the state is forest, and many areas depend on the tourist trade that comes from people traveling to rural  areas to see the peak colors of the season. These conditions can also lead to longer growth periods for invasive species and can even delay the  start of migration for some bird species. Scientists are now studying certain of these species to see if these changes in Fall conditions might affect their food supply and nesting choices. Nature is a system, and when something changes in one part of any system, it affects other parts of the system as well. And we are tryingunderstand what these changes may mean. 

  In the meantime, I will have to wait for some of my favorite neighborhood maple trees to change. I will be patient and keep my eyes out, and I will celebrate when it happens. I will also go birding tomorrow at Carpenter’s Wood and have a look at how this year's migration is going. Yes, it will be a slightly different Fall then I have known for a while. But it will still be Fall. And that will be good indeed! 

Tuesday, September 14, 2021

Early In The Morning

 

DUKES FANS:   

   “Come see me early in the morning, Baby 'bout the break of day...”    
               Numerous blues songs  
 

THE BEAUTY OF THE EARLY MORN 
 

   We have had some gorgeous weather these last few days. It almost always seems as if harsh, stormy weather is followed by days of incredible beauty and clarity with great skies and wonderful cloud patterns.  It has not been too hot and humid, and there have been some nice breezes. I have enjoyed these last few days and their peace and beauty. And for me, being able to notice and enjoy all of this always starts with me being out in the morning.   

    I am a morning person. Even though I have been retired from teaching since 2015, most days still find me up at 5 or 5:30 and out of the house within a half hour of waking up. It is simply what I do and need to do. I am better most days when I encounter the day as it is coming into being. Morning is a magic time for me, and I meet it best by early morning walking. I do not walk for as long as I was when I was younger, of course, but it is still important for me to walk early in the morning. I love the quiet and the calm that is so often there. There is little traffic, not a lot of people are out, and the world seems more navigable and peaceful. My thoughts seem clearer, and the rhythm of walking puts me in a different space. I seem to be able to notice things in the morning that I often do not notice at other times. I also often think thoughts that do not seem to come at other times. If I have been jammed up about something or worrying, morning walks usually help me work things out. It is not quite meditative, but walking in the morning often helps me.   
 

   Another thing I love about the morning is the changing light and the skies. Cloud patterns, seeing the moon still in the sky, moving shadows, the streaks the sun makes as it rises and shines through the clouds-all of these are things that both soothe me and make me marvel. Daylight Savings Time is still around, so it is slowly becoming darker at 6 AM than it has been for the last few months. And as we move through this part of the year, the sky is a little different each day. So if I am looking up and being aware, I can get a new treat each day. Watching the day come into being never gets boring for me.   

 Mornings are special to me; they hold promise and hope and quiet joy and comfort. Being out and about in the morning helps me ease into the day rather than being jolted into it. And if I let myself ease into the day, I usually have a better one.  Morning is a magic time for me, and I meet it best by walking.  

HURRICANE IDA  

We are, of course, holding those of you who are still recovering from the damages of Hurricane Ida in the light; it was an incredibly damaging and scary storm that wreaked havoc on a wide swath of the tri-state area and beyond. I do hope that your recovery processes are going as well as can be expected and that you are finding the help and support you need. Here is a link to Federal information:  


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Sunday, September 5, 2021

The Joy of Being a "Local"

 

DUKES FANS:     

“The magic thing about home is that it feels good to leave, and it feels even better to come back.” Wendy Wunder” 

      

THE JOYS OF BEING “LOCAL” 

    It is mid-August and the heat of a Philadelphia summer is making itself felt. I grew up in Philadelphia, so I am well acquainted with the way August in Philly can feel. As a young kid I liked it; running around the neighborhood playing ball, getting good and sweaty, swigging root beers and iced teas and feeling that all that heat and sweat meant I was enjoying all of life and being a hard-working little man. As I got older, of course, the heat and sweat started to wear on me more and more, and I eventually came to not like it. Getting out of the city during parts of August became an important part of my plans. When I married Penny, who also liked to camp and hike and birdwatch, we were both into spending a few weeks from the middle-to the end of August in upstate New York or New England and eventually Canada. We did this for most of our married life, and it was wonderful. 


    While I have always loved traveling, I am very fortunate in that I have also always loved being from and living in Philadelphia. Returning home from our trips was never a sad thing. I love Philly. I love the green of the city, the different neighborhoods that each have their own feel, looks, vibes and smells, and I love the walkability of this place. So coming back home after a vacation trip was not a “loss” or a “letdown” in any real way. Yes, returning home meant less hiking and birding, no tent camping and less hearing new music. But it also meant that I was in a place I am glad to call “home."


   I am thinking about because I have been feeling reflective of late, and I am realizing in a deeper way how grateful I am to be a “local” musician. I have done some traveling playing music, although not as much as I would have liked, and I always enjoy it. Through music I have gotten to see some places I probably never would have seen otherwise:Missouri and Oklahoma. Rochester, Syracuse, and Buffalo NY. Winchester, KC and Wichita, Kansas. Lancaster, Harrisburg, Penn State, and Pittsburgh, PA. And more. But this past month of playing has made me really appreciate being a part of the local Philly music scene and having all of the connections and roots that I have established here. It is people and places that matter the most to me, especially as I am older, and the gigs of the last three months have made that abundantly clear.


   The Dukes’ first two gigs this year were at Drexel Lodge in Delaware County and Kahn Park in Center City. They were both wonderful experiences. At Drexel Lodge people who hear us regularly at the Mermaid Inn came out, and it was so good to see them and to talk after 18 months of being away from them. The Mermaid is a place we have played at for decades; it is our “home away from home.”  And these are folks who I have come to know and dance with and share stories with and laugh with over all those years. Seeing them at our first gig after such a long layoff was a great surprise,and it filled me with joy. 


     Likewise, the Kahn Park gig was also a homecoming of sorts. I lived near Kahn Park for 9 years during the late 70’s and early 80’s. And at that gig there were a couple of folks with whom I used to hang out with way back then. There were also Mermaid folks, a former colleague, spouses of colleagues, and ex-students from my long teaching career in the area. Our soundman at that gig was Mike Blair, someone I have known since the late 1960’s when he was part of a coffeehouse I played at when I was just starting out. So there were aspects of my whole 50+ year musical career and my 40-year teaching career right in front of me. It hit me not just how long I had been playing and working in Philly, but also how many wonderful people and places I have known and how many meaningful and amazing experiences I have had during that stretch of time. Casn you say, "grateful'??


  This was also apparent with the Two John’s gigs over the last month or so. We played a couple of places we had never played before, and old friends showed up to make those gigs special as well. At the Stone House in Kimberton, PA Marc Grossman, an original Duke, and his wife, Amy, came out, and they brought some longtime friends of theirs.  The atmosphere and vibe was immediately set, and it was great playing and great fun. At the Attic Brewery, a great space in a re-purposed big Germantown factory and warehouse, Dave, a Dukes’ newsletter follower, and some of his friends and family showed up. As did a friend who had been part of a harmonica player’s group I used to be a part of over a decade ago. And he presented me with an original Hohner Marine Band harmonica from the 1930’s! Again, the playing itself was wonderful, but the presence and warmth of those folks made it extra-special. 


  So I, indeed, love being a local musician. There is tremendous joy playing anywhere and at any time, but playing in front of friends and people who I know from different contexts and who have known me for a long time brings a special feel-a magic of connection. I am grateful to have been here in Philly for all of these years; to have had so many fulfilling experiences and to have met so many outstanding people is a blessing indeed. Thanks so much to all of you for being fans, friends, colleagues, and more. And for bringing all of your spirit and energy to the gigs. It truly makes being a musician here an incredible experience. Thank you!!