Birds of Relocation: The Meaning of a Title

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“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.]

Don’t Hold Your Breath – Eric Peters from Patrick Gines on Vimeo.

Profile photo of Eric Peters

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.


11 Comments

  1. Dan R.

    Yes, and amen.

    I love it when you write things! I seem to come away profoundly satisfied from the way your words point to certain promises. Thank you.

    Oh, and it occurs to me how well the ideas here go along with Jason’s post a few days ago about “yes, and…” Cool stuff.

  2. Tom Murphy

    Eric, if you have the time, the below sermon from Paul Tripp he gave two weeks ago gives some light into the process God employs to make our joy complete.

    http://www.thevillagechurch.net/sermon/awaiting-an-advent/#.TueS5qdoi4E.email

    Paul sums it up, “The door to hope is hopelessness”…

    As both of us have dwelt at that doorpost for far too long, beyond the door lies fields of beauty and grandeur which we gain entrance into by no other gate. Our God has called us to enter into His sufferings for the sake of others (Colossians 1:24-29). You have a unique ability to communicate that to others…

    Although we wish it otherwise, suffering is His primary means of sanctification…

    Love you bud…Looking forward to the album!

    Matthew 5:3-4

    “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
    Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”

  3. Martha Christian

    There is just no limit to the patience and creativity of our God.

    Thanks for sharing your story. We share a storyline as I too am a songwriter that has found deeper grace as I held my breath and placed the first blind, intentional stroke on that blank canvas. It’s been really cathartic for me to experience the freedom offered in painting when I turn off my editor and just let the colors speak.

    Recently I finished a piece that I began as a portrait of a garden. Midway through I realized a woman’s face was appearing behind the colors, her downcast eyes fixed on a brilliant red rose. I shared the print with a friend who was coming up for air after a tremendous battle and tears filled her eyes as she shared the significance of the rose to her. My frail act of bravery in sharing my work, elementary as it was, opened up this soul window where she and I could experience the amazing grace of camaraderie in the “paperweight hours.”

    Be courageous. Be very courageous. There are so many ways to love God and love others through these works. Happy painting!

  4. Grace

    I must admit to some envy that you can pick up paints and go at it; I started my amateur attempts at painting a few years ago and fell in love with the process, but for now, I am living overseas, and there is no room (in the room or in the budget) for art supplies. But I will continue to write!
    Thanks for the encouraging prod towards change that comes with or without invitation.

  5. Chris R

    It was fantastic to see and hear you when you showed up at the Columbus BHTLOG show. My wife leaned over and said “that guy sings with a lot of passion.” I agree. Looking forward to the new album

  6. Eric Peters

    Thanks, guys. Eager for you to hear BoR.

    Chris, R(ule)? Good to hear from you again. We used part of your Chrome review in my new store. Hope that’s okay.

  7. Chris R

    Eric, glad you could use part of the Chrome review. Though I no longer write for Relevant on a regular basis, if you want me to write anything for promo usage, let me know. I would be more than happy to help out.

  8. Jenn C

    Oh, I’m ever so much more happy for Kickstarter now! This is beautiful. Thanks for bringing it forth for us.
    Ahh change, that great, feared thing. I fear it as if God wanted me to live miserably. Thanks for walking this journey of reawakening with me!

  9. Scott Richardson

    Eric, I missed the hoopla surrounding your new album a few months ago, but now am psyched to go back and read all of these lovely introductions to songs I am coming to love. My daughter, Johanna, and I listened to your album a couple times on the way home to Indianapolis from Hutchmoot yesterday. She went to your session on “Recovery Through Song” and told me your story, which is, in part, my story too. It is good to meet someone who has lived (and sometimes occasionally still lives with) the Great Sadness … yet is still fighting, singing, writing, and loving. Don’t tell AP, but I may have found a new favorite (or at least, you’re way up there in my Pantheon). Wish we’d had a chance to have a chinwag or two this weekend. May the Lord be your light and your song.

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