"What We Leave" (Essay)

February 1, 2018
3,000 miles without the radio on gives one plenty of time to ponder - the past, present and future.

One of my favorite things about the road is the stuff between the shows. The mortar of a tour that fills in around the bricks. The conversations, the view through the windshield, the moments that give one pause to reflect on coincidence or predestination.

My just completed week in Florida certainly checked all those boxes. Time with oldest friends and making new ones. Taking a day off to tour about the streets and architecture of the nation's oldest city, St. Augustine. Enjoying a little time with both the Atlantic and the Gulf lapping at my shoes (not at the same time, of course). Tracing the route of the Selma to Montgomery March. Plenty of live oak trees draped in Spanish moss. And exploring some rare native coastal plain habitats whose very existence was preserved by the needs and the footprints of the world's most powerful military. The road is also a place of paradox.

History often makes me contemplate things from a different perspective. People probably didn't march thinking about the details of how they might be viewed 50, 100 or 300 years later. The Spaniards who settled St. Augustine did not think about the visitors who would come to see the beachhead they established in North America while sipping umbrella drinks from upper floor balconies. Certainly with all the tumultuous, radical and civilization-shifting changes I've seen in my 50-odd years, I probably shouldn't delude myself about the quasi-permanence of anything that I do.

And yet, of course, I do. I'm a dad, and an artist. I've read enough of other people's memoirs and lifeworks to know that they have survived into my time, and brought me insight into theirs. I still marvel that people ask to hear songs from my first CD, now approaching 25 years old. While I try not to let that vain desire to leave something permanent shape my creativity and artistic philosophy, it is somewhat natural at this stage of life to wonder about what I might leave the world someday.

I enjoy studying my ancestors, trying to imagine their times - how they traveled, what they ate, how they derived a livelihood, how they raised their kids. They could expect to lose some of those kids. They had much less buffer against the harshnesses of weather, of war, or economic misfortune. Many of them lived plainly, others chased adventure, and some never really got off the launching pad before their lives derailed into ruin of one sort or another.

Perhaps the beauty of my time is the technology and scientific advances that help to more deeply understand and visualize some of the details of their lives. Even though their trails may be faint, and limited to a few milestone records for me to sift through, they have indeed left something of themselves behind. And I am a small part of that legacy.

The hum of my wheels along the interstate provides the soundtrack to a big chunk of my life. Plenty of time to think, to contemplate the sights recently seen and the mysteries deeply buried. Lots of brown roadside signs along the way to mark where lots of peoples stories intersect on some battlefield or historic site.

My life has certainly changed since going back to the land of some of my ancestors last year. I have this beautiful guitar to remind me of magic and mystery, and quasi-permanence, every day (see "The Genes and the Gift"). That in my own small way, I am part of what they left. And hopefully, those stories and my small place in them will be part of what I leave someday.

Another one of my favorite things about the road; at the end of the last show, the van is packed, and the way is clear. Even though I usually already know the route, I make one last request of Siri; simply, "take me home."

Of course, I still have to do all the driving. And the leaving.

Leave a comment

Add comment