While the weather has been utterly grotesque lately, Marcia and I have still diligently prioritized our daily perambulations, using online weather resources to find windows of opportunity for fresh air and foot work whenever they open. My pedometer tells me that we’ve managed to hoof it at least five miles on 26 of the past 30 days, which has been a key component of our mental and physical health program since the dawn of the dread. Whenever we are able, we head way out into the countryside for our walks to avoid the more cavalier citizens in our community who think social distancing is for sissies, and masks (or the lack thereof) are for political purposes. But occasionally the rain-free time available for walking is brief enough that we just have to head out from home, walking our own neighborhood. We always go out with face coverings, are always respectful of others’ personal spaces, and quickly move defensively when we encounter those who just blither up on us, obliviously. It has certainly been nice to see spring properly sprung over the past month, at least in terms of leafage and greenery, if not in terms of balmy air and sunshine. As always, I snap scenes that capture my attention, and as usual, I share some of them with you below. While the trails themselves aren’t happy, it makes us more so when we walk them. (Note: pics can be clicked for full-size viewing).
A couple of weeks ago, I published a post inspired by the Jethro Tull song “Inside,” sharing a collection of images shot from within the confines of our apartment as we sheltered in place. Today I heard another song that seemed apt for our times, and served as inspiration for a different set of photos: “Outside Cats (We Are Already In Hell)” by The Wasted. It’s darker fare, as is much of the canon penned by its creator, Stephen Gaylord. When I left Albany, I included Steve and his various bands in my “things I will miss most” list, noting:
Stephen Gaylord writes deeply-emotional songs about often-flawed individuals, and his work is frequently rooted in the rural culture of his native Kinderhook and its environs. He has offered these riveting compositions onstage hereabouts for the better part of two decades with Beef, The Wasted, and as a solo artist (under the pseudonym Gay Tastee), and I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone write or sing music that hurts as good as his does. Marcia and I both count his heart-wrenching “Beautiful Brand New” among our favorite songs, ever, and Beef’s “Spavid Story” provides the greatest description of the creative urge to rock that I’ve ever heard, including the classic couplet: “We never listened to the reasons why it didn’t sound right / We was fuckin’ around on a Friday night.” If I had to pick a single album to stand as the soundtrack to my 18 years in Upstate New York, there is no doubt that it would be The Wasted’s We Are Already in Hell, a loosely-conceptual masterpiece of insightful lyrics and brilliant riffs, featuring a killer performance by the band (Gaylord, Kelly Murphy, Dave Reynolds) from soup to nuts. I will never hear this record without being transported back to a place where “there’s a certain shade of red the weeds down by the creeks will get between the Catskills and the Berkshire hills / and if you’re from down here you shouldn’t need to ask if it’s a theme park or a labor camp.”
Here are the lyrics to “Outside Cats,” if you’d like to sing along:
skipped out when he figured out that we ain’t but
specks of shit in the universe
left behind an empty vodka bottle
with a poorly written note inside
for leaving me with my moron mother
in the ignorance of indigence
and everything I learned from someone else
well bred well read enough to know the difference
that we are already in hell
and they don’t come and go like outside cats
all the priests and the teachers
they could never answer that
once we’re all meditating mendicants
who’s gonna wanna shovel all our shit
and set the table so I can set and think
about dead presidents and philosopher kings
and how they’re killing each other
while the food runs out
and the choirs of street urchins sing
that we are already in hell
It feels like that sometimes these days, doesn’t it? Still and all, one of the ways that Marcia and I try to keep the hellish overtones at bay is by taking a daily walk or two, turning ourselves into outside cats, meow meow meow. We always go out masked, and generally we head way out into the countryside to get away from the blithering idiots who congregate on the city paths and trails around our apartment, unmasked, disrespectful of personal space, unwanted vectors for possible contagion. Bad neighbors! Boo!
As always, I snap pictures when I ramble. So here’s a sample of our outside views from corona time, appreciating the beauty, sounds and smells of nature, perhaps more so than we ever have before. I’ve also been converting these and other recent images into new headers for the website, as the old photos up there had gotten stale for me, whether or not you actually noticed them there! (Note: The horse photo is Marcia’s. We applauded them for their excellent social distancing).
One of my favorite songs by my favorite band (life time division) struck me as apt and timely this week. Not all of its lyrics are in full compliance with social distancing requirements (sorry Jeffrey, you can’t come over for tea, after all), but the idea of re-learning how to appreciate the inside with one’s beloved while the outside is so far away certainly resonates. Give it a listen, then read on below?
All the places I’ve been make it hard to begin
To enjoy life again on the inside, but I mean to.
Take a walk around the block
And be glad that I’ve got me some time
To be in from the outside,
And inside with you.
I’m sitting on the corner feeling glad.
Got no money coming in but I can’t be sad.
That was the best cup of coffee I ever had.
And I won’t worry about a thing
Because we’ve got it made,
Here on the inside, outside so far away.
And we’ll laugh and we’ll sing, get someone to bring
Our friends here for tea in the evening,
And Jeffrey makes three.
Take a walk in the park, does the wind in the dark
Sound like music to you?
Well I’m thinking it does to me.
Can you cook, can you sew? Well, I don’t want to know.
That is not what you need on the inside, to make the time go.
Counting lambs, counting sheep
We will fall into sleep
And awake to a new day of living
And loving you so.
(Lyrics by Ian Anderson, copyright 1970)
While we’re relearning how to appreciate the inside, Marcia and I do make an effort to walk outside at least five miles every day for the health benefits (mental and physical) that effort provides. We’ve taken to driving to the countryside beyond downtown Des Moines because, frankly, many of our neighbors’ blatant disregard for social distancing and respect for other peoples’ personal space borders on the appalling. No wonder Iowa’s confirmed case curve is still climbing steeply, and no wonder we’re forecast to be one of the last States to be able to come out of confinement safely. Those conditions here and in other States closely correlate with certain policy approaches taken by a certain political party, but I certainly don’t need to go down that soul-sucking rabbit hole here, do I?
As regular readers know, I do so love to take me some pictures, and as I spend more time in our apartment, I find myself looking at my shortened landscape and still seeing scenes to snap and share. Here’s some shots taken from the inside (we have views from our apartment), as well as a few outside shots, taken on our walks, the quiet urban and exurban landscapes speaking for themselves, with no other humans around to do so.
Click any image to see it in full size.
I think this is probably a nice ending for this series, as I head into my final month as a Chicago resident. Ten posts, ten pics each, hopefully worth 100,000 words of stories. A nice visual archive of my time here, focused on the city itself, not on Marcia and I as protagonists within it. Such a beautiful, inspirational place. I will miss snapping it as often as I have over the past four years! Here are the earlier installments of this series:
Those of us who count ourselves as “tree people” generally don’t leave our interest in trees at our work sites but are also awed and moved by them in our personal lives as well. We look for and admire great trees in the cities, fields and forests where we work, live and travel, and then we also seek out opportunities to celebrate trees in books, art, music, and in all of the other myriad of creative arts.
On one of our recent snow days, I bundled up and walked over to the Art Institute of Chicago – my favorite place in my favorite city, hands down – and wandered around the various galleries there as I often do. In the 19th Century European Art collection, I saw a wonderful painting that I’d not noticed before by Albert Bierstadt, depicting a glorious stand of birches around a rocky waterfall.
And then I decided to have a full tree day at the museum, walking through every gallery, seeking out great trees in the collection. It was a wonderful way to re-experience galleries that I’ve seen more times than I can count, looking through a different lens at paintings, decorative arts, sculptures, and more. I found abstract trees, photographic trees, and impressionist trees. I was awed by the ways that artists were inspired by trees over centuries and around the world. I shared my findings on social media, and they were widely liked, commented on, and retweeted.
A couple of weeks later, I was home again and the song “The Trees” by the BritPop band Pulp came up on my stereo. Once again, thinking about trees, I decided to have a tree music day, going through the 14,000+ songs that I have on my computer, looking for great ones about trees, woods, forests, and more. I posted my 25 favorite tree songs on my personal website and once again got loads of comments, feedback, and response from others about their favorite tree songs. People just love tree art, in all of its forms.
I recommend you have your own museum tree day, or make a tree song playlist, or look at some other creative idiom through tree lenses. It’s truly rewarding to actively consider how the trees we care for professionally enhance our lives beyond their scientific and landscape value.