Listen to the music

Recently, I had the good fortune to get away to Ontario for an extended weekend with a group of guys who play together in a folk band. One of them swims with our early morning Masters’ group, hence the invitation.

Now you need to understand that I am no musician. When pressed, I can pick out a few chords on a six-string acoustic guitar or draw of couple of bluesy tones from a Hohner harp; otherwise, I confess to being musically illiterate. But I hit the skids on a rough stretch lately, and the opportunity to spend several days in the pristine Canadian wilderness was just plain too good to pass up.

Besides, I knew several of the guys in the band peripherally. I had attended a number of their Friday evening gigs at a local restaurant, and when invited, even added my voice impromptu to a few numbers from time to time.

The morning of our departure we met at the home of the lead guitarist, some time between 9:00 AM and noon. (I quickly learned that the only time musicians pay any attention to is metered by an imaginary metronome.) I passed the hours chatting with one fellow in the yard outside. He assured me that everyone in the band was in some stage of arrested adolescent development. As we moved through the weekend, he charged me with determining who was stuck where. (Immediately I thought of Erickson’s developmental stage of identity vs. role confusion.)

Somehow we managed to cram five guitars, a fiddle, a mandolin, a squeezebox, numerous wooden flutes, harmonicas and percussion sticks into the minivan, as well as everybody’s personal gear, two fishing rods and a stack of CDs as high as the leaning tower of Pisa. Intense discussions ensued during the six-hour trek to Kingston. I learned a good bit of the personal histories of my compatriots; some went as far back as early childhood.

After crossing over the Saint Lawrence into Canada, we pulled up at a market in the environs of Kingston to procure sustenance for the four-day excursion. Leeks were among the first foods selected for inclusion in the menu, followed by grapefruit, cherry tomatoes, heavy cream, one raspberry pie, fresh-baked bread, blueberries, a watermelon, two pounds of bacon, two dozen eggs, and several cuts of meat, including chicken and beef kabobs. The bill came to $203 Canadian—not bad for a few days’ grub in the wilderness.

We arrived at the cottage on Big Clear Lake half an hour later. After unloading the van and firing up the gas grill, the boys in the band broke out their instruments and began to jam. Ten or twelve numbers later we broke for dinner, haphazardly cleaned up, then jammed again through the rest of the evening. I lent my voice to these latter numbers: “Midnight Moonlight,” “Margaritaville,” “Sloop John B.” That first night we turned in shortly before 1:00 AM.

The following morning someone put the two pounds of bacon in a huge cast iron skillet to fry. Shortly, the guitars came out; and the boys in the band were off jamming again. We ate, we jammed another hour or two, we made our way down to the lake and swam out to one of the closer islands to dive off the rocks and lay in the sun. Later, we took the canoe and a kayak out for a paddle to the far end of the crescent shaped lake before returning for lunch around 4:00 PM, musician time. More jamming; another swim, then jamming into the evening hours. This time I tried my hand at bass guitar. The boys in the band nodded their approval.

One fellow had brought along a computer printout delineating the times that the iridium satellites would be visible in the night sky. At some point he and I slipped outside to the deck to catch a glimpse of one as it flared overhead.

The following morning we went for another swim, then I had a wind surfing lesson. After struggling with the craft for half an hour, I hoisted myself out of the water onto the dock to watch one of the guys ride the sail-rigged surfboard back and forth across the expanse of lake in the morning breeze. Back at the cottage, we jammed until noon, had lunch, then decided to drive into Kingston to catch the last day of the Blues festival.

From the steps of city hall we watched a young couple—Elyssa Mahoney and Lucas Haneman—perform songs from their new CD Pull Me In across the street under a tent in the open air. After dinner we returned to the square to hear Watermelon Slim bend some bluesy notes from his harmonica with his band. Back at the lake we crashed in the cottage and slept straight through ’til Sunday morning.

We polished off the rest of the grub in a makeshift breakfast of watermelon, chicken thighs, sausages and fresh tomatoes, then jammed the rest of the morning away. I took a stab at the words to “Bobbie McGee,” while three guitars offered up strings of melodic chords. At some point I found a book on the shelf by the door and retreated down to the dock to read.

Out on the lake a loon bobbed in the wavelets, occasionally disappearing beneath the surface. Overhead, a herring gull screeched his greeting in a loud raspy voice. Up the hill behind me the sound of bluesy guitar music drifted down from the cottage deck through the tall stately pines. It was pleasant sitting out on the steps in the sun with the open book on my lap, listening to the tinny rhythms permeate the air.

It had taken four days, but I finally learned to hear to the music again. The skids were gone; once more, I was sailing on the wind. I must say, the harmony was superb.

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