“A story, some reminiscences… they are the yellow leaves that hang upon these boughs that are not so bare and ruined but that they still dream from time to time of the sweet birds’ return.” –from The Yellow Leaves by Frederick Buechner
I often provide food to wild birds in the form of sunflower seeds, suet, nyjer on occasion, peanut butter spread onto pine-cones, crumbled crackers and popped corn strewn about the yard. Birds seem to especially appreciate this in the winter months by congregating when naturally appearing food sources are more difficult to find. There are days I covet their freedom: flitting between branches, dangling here and there, pecking at the belly of leaves, frequenting feeders whose owners consistently keep them filled, a creature as free to fly across the open sky as it is to loiter its entire life within feet of its nest of birth. Then there are days — those gray, paperweight hours — bitterly cold, miserable by most standards, when I am especially thankful I am not a bird, much less any other wild creature: powerless to warm itself, forced to find shelter beneath just about anything, struggling to keep the heart beating amid numbing cold, breath-stealing wind, no moment free from the search for food. It’s no walk in the park for feathered creatures.
One of my new year resolutions (remember those?) was to creatively paint more this year. I stole a closeted easel from my parents’ house, purchased a few tubes of acrylics, some brushes, and stared at an empty canvas wondering, What now? I put brush to canvas and hoped for something slightly better than egregious. I certainly have no business or formal training at it, but I find that the endeavor is more than a little enjoyable–challenging, healthy, risky even, if only because it is a new act, a forward motion of aspiration. As someone who, for twenty years, has sought to draw words from emptiness, to put them on paper and into rhythm and melody, this challenge, this new act in hues and bristles, is kindred to my occupational work of creating something new where before there was more or less nothing. In a sense, the two mediums are merely different appendages of the same body. The muse controls it all: the risk, the reward, the elation, even the failure. One of the earliest paintings I attempted was a small 8″x 8″ of an overwhelmingly burnt orange sky, a flowering sapling on the low, faint horizon barely visible on the canvas. Primitively, I brush-stroked birds darting from that miniscule tree. Flying to where, I do not know. The “where” being not nearly as important as the act itself: the arcing up, relocating, forcing themselves to move from that sedentary place. The birds seem to be fledging, leaving, arching away from familiar boughs, places to which they had become so well accustomed. The longer I stared at what I’d done – this simple and nontechnical spectre – the more the scene reverberated the past season of my adult life, a dying season from which I was more than happy to relocate. The painting was subliminal. In My Name Is Asher Lev, Asher’s mother, during her extended depression and mourning, requests of her artist son to “make the world pretty” with his painting, his developing art. This, in essence, is my hope as well.
The past year for me has been a reawakening of sorts, a coming to life again, a relocation of spirit, psyche and soul, in a very real sense learning the language to be able to proclaim, To hell with fear and paralysis. I am reminded to tend to gratefulness and simplicity by cherishing and remaining mentally, emotionally, psychologically, and spiritually present in my life, to all that is real, authentic, vivid, sober even: an adorable and faithful wife, healthy and ludicrous children, a secure and solid roof overhead, a bounty of pillows to rest our heads on at night, and a job I love. How dare I ask for more.
Change comes necessarily, but rarely, if ever, on a red carpet. At times we see its approach, and we pull the shades, turn off all the lights, hunker and hide, hoping it will get the hint and go away. But if it fails to get the clue, we at least trust it will have the common decency to wipe its well-traveled feet on the welcome mat before entering our space. Whether or not we welcome change is, of course, irrelevant and non-negotiable; it approaches, we must respond.
[Here’s the video for “Don’t Hold Your Breath,” one of the new songs from Eric’s forthcoming album The Birds of Relocation.]
Eric Peters, affectionately called “Pappy” by those who love him, is the grand old curmudgeon of the Rabbit Room. But his small stature and often quiet presence belie a giant talent. He’s a songwriter of the first order, and a catalogue of great records bears witness to it. His last album, Birds of Relocation, blew minds and found its way onto “year’s best” lists all over the country. When he’s not painting, trolling bookstores, or dabbling in photography, he’s touring the country in support of his latest record, Far Side of the Sea.