Bonnie and Me

I recently was gifted with a ticket to a Bonnie Raitt concert. It came from one of my closest friends, who has treated me a few times over the years for no reason in particular that I can tell, except that I am lucky to be her friend. We always have nearly front row seats. This venue was Edgefield, just outside of Portland, so we enjoyed the embrace of sky and sun, with gusty winds out of the Columbia Gorge to enhance our experience. The moon showed up bold and bright halfway through and cast a benevolent glow.

We didn’t need anything else to improve our mood, although lots of people were enjoying beer and wine, and smoking pot only a bit surreptitiously. Likely a lot of other substances were involved, from the looks of the exuberant women and keen-eyed men. My friend and I haven’t had a drink or drug in over twenty years. We had long ago partied our way in and out of concert halls and music festivals and only remembered about half of them. So we were missing out on nothing this night.

What we had tickets for was the promise of inspiration, joyful sass and a low down bluesy melancholy that only Bonnie Raitt can do the way she does, with her slide guitar finesse and her panoramic voice. When she lets loose an edgey crescendo, you stand up and cheer. When she lifts a tender note from the bitter depths, you weep or nearly so. As love moves into the limelight the cadence of desire builds longing. And when she struts across the stage, shakes that mane of red hair and teases the audience with a still-smoldering playfulness, you realize how long and winding a road it has been for her, and for you.

Her songs have likely chronicled many lives–hers, the other songwriters’, and ours. Mine, for certain. Her music has carried me and cleared my vision; it has offered me relief. When things failed, Bonnie’s music undid the ruin for at least a few moments. She wound me up and let me down easy and it was all because she sang what mattered most.

I remember first listening to her in the mid-seventies. I would have sought her out sooner but I was a late bloomer. I had been trained in and raised on classical music, so when I decided to act up and venture into the musical hinterlands, I fiercely attached myself to Joni Mitchell, Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, Judy Collins and Gordon Lightfoot to name a few, with a smattering of Moody Blues, Cream and Chicago thrown in. My older sister, living in Washington after a few years in exotic California, exposed me to a new variety of musicians, and Bonnie Raitt was one.

Despite having bought a couple of earlier albums, Bonnie’s songs are actually cemented in my memory druing the year 1979. I had come to the conclusion my first marriage was ending, despite hanging on to the last shred of hope. There seemed so little I could do to make sense of it. But I was a writer and writing it out was what I did whenever the kids were in bed, after the sun vanished. I would listen to the deer snuffling outside, eating our beautiful corn, drink wine and write poetry that illuminated too little. And I played music softly, hoping for a small miracle of one sort or another.

By then I had very limited emotional space within me for music. Complicated situations wherein I had given up the pursuit and pleasures of music had left me unable to hear most of it, as it caused vivid pain. But sometimes I gave in to my increasing hunger for music and listened to classical artists and symphonies and a few other carefully chosen musicians. Bonnie Raitt was one of the few who spoke to me, and enabled me to speak back. Alone in the house at times, I would sing with her. It felt alright even when it hurt. In fact, it finally felt like a healing when I listened to, then learned the song “Two Lives”. What I couldn’t quite say, the chorus said:

“Some said time would ease the pain, two lives love has torn apart;

I believe whoever wrote that song, never had a broken heart.”

Bonnie Raitt’s music helped me find the strength to grieve and move on. I played her albums The Glow and Sweet Forgiveness over and over that year. They got me through along with Bach cello suites (some of which I attempted to play on my beloved cello), and a few other treasures.

There were many other songs that reflected, cushioned or celebrated events over the next four decades of my life. “The Glow” was an ode to the terrible comfort of a drink when there seemed nothing else. “Nick of Time” speaks to our mortality and the surprising love that is found along the way. “Silver Lining” is sort of a hymn to me: despite madmen and fools, despite all that we fight for and against, we need to take the light and shine it all around, as “the light don’t sleep”. She sings: “The only things worth living for are innocence and magic, amen.” And she makes her  message perfectly clear in “I Will Not Be Broken.”

She probably sings about love the best, all the varieties, whether it triumphs or crashes and burns. And for me that is a good thing, as although I am as fascinated by love as anyone else, it has been a confounding part of my life, full of flash and bite, heat and shadows, and the long still points of no return. If there is one thing I have tried to write about and felt I have missed the mark too often, it is the mystery and mastery of love. But not Bonnie Raitt or her fabulous songwriters. Just play “Love Sneakin’ Up On You”, “I Can’t Make You Love Me” and “Wherever You May Be.” The list gets very long. I have heard them all by now, many times.

But the September concert with my dear friend is one that will stay with me. We have shared a lot over the years, including a love for this music. And, like Bonnie, I think,  we are both fighters who have learned when to stand up and when to step away; we have found some peace.  When dancing rises up in our bones and blood it may be with a sigh as well as a shout these days. We have done and witnessed some things hard to forget, had our lives hijacked and taken them back. We’ve found happiness easier to create than to wait for, and we laugh a lot.

So, we sit up–or stand–close at Bonnie Raitt’s concerts and hear about risking it all for love but not the loss of our souls. Being revolutionary in our everyday lives by having mercy and not giving up, by being fully present and accountable. Finding the silver inside the blues. And having fun for no good reason.

So I hang out with Bonnie just as much as I used in my twenties. She sings my tunes. And I still sing her songs in moments of solitude. And when the music comes–it roars awake as it always did, after all these years–I feel right at home again. So, thanks, Bonnie. I’ll be up front whenever you come to town again.

News from a Place Unnamed

It was the time of day when golden light beguiled and confounded. The lake’s surface shimmied as though a spirit danced but it was perhaps the wind, a swift freshening at end of summer. The fir trees ruled with subdued power as they always did. Birds alighted and sang within their branches; deer, squirrel and fox passed one another with barely a glance, then circled a massive cedar. A lone white butterfly looped around flowers and descended upon an inviting yellow petal. Light like a veil drifted between bushes and vines, mushrooms and ants, its glimmer reaching into the darkest crevasse. Roused from sleep, a luxuriant skunk emerged from its spot beside an ancient nurse log. Bright dust rose as a snake undulated across a trampled pathway. And there it stopped. Nearby a colony of ants ceased work. Three ravens closed their wings.

The air itself was still. All was captive in this moment, animal, plant, mineral.  Breath was withheld, sound made silent. And the opulent light reached far beyond itself, transmuting all so that everything-woods, water, creatures, sky-was an essence gleaming, and all of one thing.

From the distance travelled minute vibrations that stirred the earth; small and large creatures felt it move right through them like invisible sparks. And when it arrived in this place, the pulsing sound was unlike any that predators or prey had known. It rang out in a vibrant voice, but the voice was a kaleidoscope of music. It imbued the air as life permeated blood. Fragrance emanated from the sound waves, a strange, triumphant scent of all universal elements, an elixir spilled from some secret source unseen in these woods.

The light swirled the blues of the watery depths, and then, as though a magician’s hand at work,  revealed all colors known and unknown. In a flash of dark-to-light, a scrim fashioned of overlapping hues fell , and the greenness of the woods vanished. The trees rustled in agitation, then stilled again. Near the cedar, the lone deer dared to step forward, her eyes luminous, nose raised to the beautiful scent, ears flared and turning as though longing to hear the music once more.

And then she stepped closer to fox and squirrel, to snake, ant and skunk, her burnished fur grazing the cedar trunk. But her gaze held steady, even when a sleek white wolf appeared at the water’s edge. He turned his head to look at her, then lifted it high, his body perfectly at attention, proud and strong as a sentinel should be.

There, just above the water, they arrived, by fours and eights, by sevens and nines. Their caftans fell away from their tall radiant bodies as they gathered. They were indistinct from one another and yet they moved independently, each elaborate gesture like a sentence, while each unified movement told a bigger story. When beneath them a mammoth wooden boat skimmed the water’s surface, they descended to it. Their presence illuminated the spectral boat and the gentle waves it caused were limned with silver.

They were the Chalice Curators, travelers between all worlds, caretakers of the saddened earth, most esteemed teachers and messengers. Curates of life. Of souls. Many knew them as angels over the aeons–yet how they passed unnoticed until most needed was a mysterious thing indeed.

The wolf knew what the curates required, and so he walked to small wayside, a stick shelter erected opposite the cedar. He stood at the open doorway, head turned to a small person who now rose and stepped into the light. Q., the little one, the weaver. She was not much taller than the elegant beast who walked beside her. Her long hair was adorned with leaves and flower petals and her clothing made of softest moss. But she took sturdy, long steps; she was strong in this world, she knew that was often true. Still, it had been a trying year. The coming months would require much of her. Q. needed a little power.  A way to better see and do what she needed to do on this earth. For she loved it here despite the hard work, the confounding ways. She needed the liberating knowledge of the Chalice Curators, their most compassionate gifts. So Q. had called to them. And they had come as they had come once before, in the beginning of her days.

Q. grabbed the thick white fur and swung atop his back and he gathered speed, the rich, bright rushing past their bodies and softening their hearts. She saw the bemused deer and the others and waved to them. Then, as though it was the most natural event, wolf and girl rose and hovered over the water, then dropped into the travellers’ midst, into that flowering of light.

And the breathtaking brightness drew back across the lapping water. The air cooled. The countless trees adjusted their branches in the sudden shadows. The fox and all his companions melded into the inviting depths of the forest. But the deer ventured forth and stood at water’s edge, looking, looking. Nothing spoke or sang except the forest itself, and then the lake water and all the neighbors, friend and foe. She took a long sweet drink of the cool liquid, raising her head every now and then to see if the majestic boat would return, as it was so wonderful to see. But hours of earth time would pass before that happened, and the deer would be foraging in the twilight then.

The white wolf reappeared. He held back then stepped closer and drank at his leisure beside her. Quietly, they each went their separate ways and sought the comfort of the emerald forest. They would meet again when the Chalice Curators returned to them their young novice of Light.

(For my wondrous children and grandchildren)