Monday, March 22, 2021

A New Spring and A New Beginning



Behold, my friends, the spring is come; the earth has gladly received the embraces of the sun,  and we shall soon see the results of their love! 

                                                      SITTING BULL

   This is a magic time for most of us; the time that winter has faded away and the world formally begins again. This is spring, the vernal equinox, and the time for new beginnings. We associate spring with new beginnings because we see this happening all around us. Snowdrops and crocuses are appearing on lawns. Trees and flowers are starting to bud. Animals are preparing for mating and giving birth. Gradually there are more and more hours of daylight. This is the time when we make icons and symbols of many things that harken to freshness and birth-baby chicks, lilies, eggs, rabbits, and lambs. It is a time of return, rebirth, and renewal. It is spring.


    For most of human history spring has been not only the start of the earth’s actual year; it has also the start of the human calendar year.  The idea of the year starting in January is a relatively recent idea, and it does not align with what nature shows.  For most of our existence we humans have had to figure out how to work with what nature gives us in order to survive. So human societies reflect the real world around us in our important activities, rituals, and symbolic practices, especially when the messages from that real world are so obvious and strong.  And for most of our history, what we call “spring” was what started the “New Year.” We do the important human things in conjunction with the natural cycles, for we are joined with the workings of the earth. Earth gives us the clues and we respond.  Spring is really the start.


    It is as if the earth is saying, “OK! Let’s go; let’s do this again.” And we humans do that in myriad ways, some big and some small, We literally “clean house,” as many of us are doing spring cleaning now, and literally sweeping out the old and letting in the new. We change our wardrobes, buying new clothes and wearing fabrics that have a brighter and lighter color scheme. We start gardens and plant seeds in the hopes of watching both new and returned growth in our surroundings.  We take the potted plants we brought into the house last fall back outside and into the sun.  And we participate in the myriad religious and mythic rituals that focus on stories of rebirth and renewal, be it Easter, Passover, the Persian house cleaning and fire-jumping ritual of Noruz, or the April Buddhist celebration of the New Year. The whole universe seems to be “starting over,” and offering renewed hope and promise and another chance to perhaps do things just a little better. Universally, we embrace being reborn, looking forward, and working toward the future.


 Spring does feel a little different this year. After a year-plus of pandemic fear, lockdown, closed or limited venues, new schedules, and new communication methods for everyone, this spring arrives with a special sense of hopefulness and possibility. It is fitting, perhaps, that the first day was a relatively warm and sunny one.  It felt especially hopeful and brighter, and there is a chance that things are changing in some pretty important ways. After numerous mix-ups and problems, it seems as if the vaccine rollout is working much more smoothly, and people are looking forward to a return to seeing each other; to hugging, dining together, and much more. We humans are social animals, and while we did make some wonderful adjustments to the COVID situation, most of us simply want to be able to see friends, family, and pals in the ways we used to see them before. We want a re-birth of our old human ways of being and doing, and this may well be the time for that to happen.  


    So here’s to Spring! Here’s to the universe providing us an opportunity to witness the quiet miracle of rebirth and a chance to make it a part of our beings. It is quiet and it is a regular occurrence. But it is in no way ordinary. It is a repeated miracle that we are fortunate enough to experience once more. Enjoy.

The Dukes on YouTube
Here are two videos of the Dukes at The Kennett Flash and World Café a few years ago;

Monday, March 8, 2021

The Maagic Of Lgiht


DUKES FANS:                     


  Puxatawney Phil, the famous western PA groundhog, came up over a month ago and let us know that winter would be hanging around for a bit. He saw his shadow, which according to the lore, means we in PA would have to wait at least more weeks before we can experience the warmth, growth and energy of another spring. Of course, Phil’s predictions are subject to question: Groundhog Day is February 2, and there are always at least 6 more weeks until the vernal equinox and the true beginning of the spring season. But I love the lore of Phil; I am a fan of many folkloric and cultural traditions, and Phil grew out of the German cultures that came to Pennsylvania in the 1700's. I love the ways different cultures around the world all experience and ritualize around the same universal human experiences, and I enjoy finding out about them. It reminds me of our humanness and how we are all the same beneath the surface. We have to face the same world with the same conditions in it, and we have to make some sort of sense of it all. Ritual, stories, customs and folklore are ways of doing that.  For me, though, Phil is in no way a real indication of spring.  Spring is too meaningful and wonderful to depend on a groundhog. For me there is no more reliable and powerful indicator of spring than the changes in the sky that take place at this time of the year. The changing presence of light tells me where we are in the wonderful everlasting cycle of seasons.

 I am an early riser; I am usually out walking around quarter to six in the morning. I am also a lover of night skies, and in winter the sky is so intense and so dramatic And it is still there when I walk in the morning. That combination of walking early and the intense presence of the winter night sky regularly bring me quiet joy and comfort. I love watching the slow change in the locations of the constellations over the course of a winter, and I love watching the moon cycle through its phases. Both of these celestial happenings seem so much starker and definite in winter. Watching them as I walk can both soothe and amaze me.

 I do start to get a little tired of winter by mid-February, though, and that is when something else wonderful happens. Watching the day come into being earlier and earlier as winter passes its halfway point is quietly fascinating. It is lighter when I start my walks now, and the sky at 6:00 is not quite as dark and dramatic as it was just a few weeks ago. The constellations are not as bright, and the light of the coming new day is visible earlier and earlier. It is a different sky now; we are relentlessly transitioning from one season to the next.  I notice the way shadows shift, the way light is reflected off rooftops and grass, and on some mornings I get to see this wonderful and eerie rolling fog moving over some of the larger expanses of grasses and streams. I like to walk either north up to Chestnut Hill, or west deeper into Mt Airy and there are beautiful gardens and large expanses of grass in either direction. I love the quiet of this time; the stillness and the grandeur. It is that evolving awakening of early morning light that announces the coming of spring to me, and it is much more powerful than Phil.

Part of me misses the old winter night sky; I almost go through a brief mourning period. Then I notice that at around 6:15, if I am looking southeast, I can see a bright reddish-orange flush or streak against the horizon. And above the housetops and trees, the coming day seems just roll out into being, And if I am out for a nice long walk like I was this morning, I can watch the sun gradually become more and more visible as the daylight surrounds us. Also at this time of the year I can look to the northwest sky and still see the moon. Both the sun and the moon: out together. That is a glorious way to start the day. 

 So while I like the story of Phil and know that its origins are with Candlemas Day and the hedgehogs in Germany during the Roman era, it is those changes in the light that most alert me that spring will be here soon. It lets me know where we are in the cycle, and it is undeniable. And while I am out and noticing that returning light, I also look at the lawns and notice the snowdrops and pansies making their first appearance of the year. I also gradually notice more and more bird activity as species that have been around all winter get more active, and other ones are coming back and again being heard.  Spring is slowly unfolding, and watching and hearing it come is an absolute joy.  Yes, I still miss the winter night sky, and I probably will for a while. But I can also welcome this new sky, the one that tells me this marvelous cycle is still in play and that it has different joys and wonders in store for all of us if we pay attention. And that is very good, indeed.

American Blues Scene interview:

American Blues Scene is an online publication that features reviews of music and concerts, reports on blues developments, and interviews with musicians. I was interviewed for the mid-January edition and here is the link:

 Please read it and let me know what you think.

The Dukes on YouTube
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