Sitting on a bench a little apart from the revelry, I feel the gulf that’s grown in the past year. Sisters, brothers, cousins, aunts, and uncles. Laughing, dancing, drinking, enjoying…. Lily is telling Joseph about the building her new job is in. Chris is relating how his daughter cried nonstop her first two days in kindergarten then didn’t want to come home on the third. Aunty Jamie is dancing with the kids….
Everyone fits here but I am sitting a little apart.
Have you ever spent a whole day without uttering a word? Have you ever carried your whole life in 70 liters of space? Have you ever lost the path at night, above treeline, with Hurricane Floyd bearing down on you, and no idea whether the next human will come by in the morning or next month?
When you go out into the world the world changes you. When you return home there’s sometimes trouble finding your place. When you go out on a long distance hike, a grand pilgrimage, you sometimes find that there’s no one at home who can even help you find that place. You have stories to tell but for everyone but yourself, they’re just stories. For you, they’re memories of a life. A life that you still live even though your feet are now treading trimmed and mown grass instead of dirt, rock, and moss. A life that you still live despite waking up on a soft mattress instead of a thin foam pad spread over a carpet of pine needles. A life that you still breathe despite the scents of burnt oil, shampoos, and laundry soap that attempt to mask, overlay, and dismiss it.
Laughing voices combine for a moment to push deeper into the night-shrouded grounds of the estate. A seven-year locust quickly reasserts its mastery of the nighttime sounds with a long, winding call that starts with a quick thrum and ends with a slow, dribbling churr, churr… chuuu-uuurr.
A call and response from man’s artificial lighting to nature’s great unknown.
During the daylight, the neatly manicured lawns and precisely sculpted hedge animals might seem as far from the woods and forests as a walk down New York’s Madison Avenue but at night — even New York City has Central Park.
The band starts to play again. Not a rendition of a pop number this time, but a slow improvisation. My brother Roy starts them out with a long, drawn-out B that hangs in the air as poignantly as only a violin’s bow can coerce. The crowd’s attention directs itself languidly towards the band as their ears respond to the magicalness of the single note. Just as the hint emerges that the note can sustain no longer, just as the noise of conversation begins to fall off, Cousin Maggie’s flute and Uncle Vic’s cello enter the fray, expanding the note, enriching it, strengthening it, adding flavours without changing its central qualities. And then both Maggie and Roy’s instruments fall silent along with the talking. All eyes are now on the little platform where two generations of their kin are reaching out to strum their heartstrings. It is Uncle Vic’s cello which rumbles on without its partners and then, judging precisely the moment before the crowd’s interest will wane, shifts to the next note, and then the next; the next. A soft sigh of recognition arises from the crowd. Pachelbel.
Unlike the rendition during the ceremony whose stilted perfection reflected the solemn gravity of that occasion, Roy, Maggie, and Vic now let the music mutate and transform. Uncle Vic’s bow strokes out a rich deep foundation full of warm harmonics into which Roy’s violin and Maggie’s flute flirt and cavort. Running through the audience like a series of childhood friends. Stopping to grip one shoulder companionably, brush ghostly lips along another’s cheek, press a third into a tight embrace; the music reaches out, surrounds, and entangles the audience and then carries them along on a shared journey. The violin soars playfully, the flute punctuates moments of perfect clarity, and below it all, the cello keeps time and provides the base from which all the other music springs.
Midway through, Maggie and Roy exchange a look and then the music changes. Pachelbel is usually playful. More lively the further into the piece one penetrates. But this performance infuses it with melancholy. The violin adds a layer of loss; the flute covers that with longing. The violin ignites restrained passion; the flute replies with a clear eyed acknowledgement of reality. Duetting, they produce a piercing, soothing melody of old regrets and fresh acceptance.
The last notes die away. Horsehair bows are raised from strings. Maggie exchanges pursed lipped communion with her flute for a flashing smile seemingly directed at no one. Eyes, for a moment, directed at someone she dares not turn to look at. Suddenly, nature, as if in agreement with the sentiment, voices one final accent. A loon’s singular voice echoes up from the lake below the estate. Calling, calling. Tugging my feet away from the world of complicated man, back to enveloping mystery.
-Anonymous Badger, 2017