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David Curtis

On my last solo-journey, the one I tagged #desertdreams, I spent a couple of weeks driving to and through parts of the Great American Desert. It was another step in learning the art of being free -- to becoming a woman who lives by her own soul's laws and desires.

Perhaps the first female artist I encountered who inspired me in this way was Joni Mitchell, through her music. Not long after that I learned of Georgia O'Keefe; through her artwork, and through photographs of her life in New Mexico, I saw a picture of a woman who was powerful, connected to the land around her, and free.

I never stopped being inspired by these women, among others. I did allow life to take me down some side-streets.

One little detour can easily amount to a decade. And decades aren't nearly as long as we think they might be, especially when we're young. I remember my grandmother George Lucille, my father's mother, telling me in her last days, "It goes so fast, Jennifer. It all goes so fast, the blink of an eye. I wish I could go back and do it again"...I was in my early twenties. I knew she was speaking the truth, but it was easy for me to dodge the blade of her words. I felt safe within the protective womb of youth.

Is the fact of aging and dying the ultimate cosmic joke? Why does matter have to break down so quickly, as we are learning all the while to become more conscious (in theory at least)?
All to say, I do now feel the truth of my grandmother's sentiment. I feel the weight, I feel the bewilderment. I feel now what seems like accelerated time, the feeling that time is moving faster than it did before. I see myself change in the mirror. I note my own incredulousness when I see that time is working on me too, just like every single one of us -- and try to appreciate the (sometimes dark) humor of it all. And try to accept the Great Mystery of it all.

Time is a reality none of us can avoid. But living our own soul's destiny is one we can choose to follow or not...we can die trying, anyway.

In the last few years I have entered a time of serious accounting. A reckoning in the most personal of ways. A matter of letting some things drop away, and of holding on tight to others.
A matter of believing that art makes a difference, and proceeding on from there. In a way like a sinner believes in being redeemed. There is no proof, necessarily. Faith and its power can still not be quantified.

I have seen people keep going though, beyond their fears, beyond their failures, beyond all the limits they were holding in place -- and continue. I want to be of that tribe. The tribe of people who don't give up and keep creating and keep loving and keep asking and keep laughing and keep working and keep trespassing and keep giving. I see these people as free.

I've been learning too that you have to know what you really want, you have to locate your deepest desires, before you can enjoy any sense of personal freedom. I had a longing to see and experience these desert places that wouldn't let go of my imagination; finally I put together a journey (on a wing and a prayer) where I could do it by myself. I drove through Utah and parts of Nevada and Arizona into LA, down to San Diego, on to Joshua Tree, to Tucson and the Saguaro National Park, up through Phoenix and vast tribal lands, Monument Valley, through Utah again and back to the Rocky Mountains of Colorado.

In a time of extreme hyper-convenience, I know it is nothing compared to what generations of women before me have endured -- on any journey, anywhere -- but I still feel that it meant something to do it.

For me, this is where wings come in, and brilliant night skies and having the silence to hear myself think. And digging into the heart of things and responding to what is there. Trusting and embracing the truth and inspiration that keeps flowing from the natural world, in all its endless wonder. Appreciating a singular cactus  -- one that can be 70 years old before it produces its first bloom -- seeing how over eons, wind and water turn sand into stone. The gentle, comforting curve of a distant hillside, remembered. Seeing animals in humans and humanity hiding in the gleam of a raven's eye. Knowing I am not alone.

I'm beginning to believe this seeking is worthwhile.

More soon --

Storyline; New Album

David Curtis

It is highly discouraged to write your own bio, for obvious reasons. I decided I needed to have some sort of timeline at the very least, so I recently wrote the following for the "About" section...If you can make it to the end I explain a little bit about my new album, hopefully out by November 2017 ~~~ 

To start before the beginning: While I was still in my mother’s womb I heard my father playing old- time mountain music on banjo and fiddle, so by the time I arrived I was already suffering from an incurable love of songs. At that time my parents were newly married and working hard on the “river” farm, now known as Riverplains, in East Tennessee. It lies in a beautiful, fertile valley by the Holston River, in the shadow of the Great Smoky Mountains. My father and two of his brothers, along with my mother’s help too, were running a good-sized dairy farm then. From my early childhood I remember most: lots of family and get togethers, animals (horses were my favorite), music, and the enchanting landscape of the area -- rolling hills and pastureland, shady tree groves, winding creeks and rivers.

After my father taught me to play guitar and a few old country tunes, I began writing my own songs around age 11 -- I still use that guitar today, a battered LG2 Gibson from 1942. Songwriting began for me as a way to lift my poetry off the page, and in many ways that has not changed either.

By high school I was singing with a band, and when I was 20 I made my first album -- a simple, solo affair that duly recorded the deeply introspective bent my art had taken.

By 21 I was in Nashville, looking for signs and trying to follow footsteps. I had newly become mesmerized by Townes Van Zandt (he died that same year), and Lucinda Williams…I studied the traditions of songwriting, but I couldn’t escape my own unconventional stylings. I think I knew I would never be embraced by Nashville, even by the so-called “Alternative Country” set (what they called Americana back then). Inevitably though, from day one I learned a lot from that town. Early on I found myself on stage with musicians at least twice my age and they all had advice to give. Some of them would tell me I had a mysterious quality to my songs that made me stand apart. Of course a somewhat naïve, young woman is more often than not going to be welcomed in - at least at first - by older male musicians. Dynamics get more complicated a little later down the road.

After finishing school I moved away, got married and moved around a bit (got divorced), then found myself back in Nashville a few years later.

This stretch in the Music City lasted seven years or so. During that time I made an EP called Seven Songs and what I considered my first “real” full length album (Luminous), with Joe McMahan. Those years found me longing terribly for the countryside back home in East Tennessee, while I stuck it out in the margins of East Nashville. I was working as a waitress, struggling in various ways as most “starving artists” do. During those years the music business changed dramatically. I forged ahead as an independent musician and made somewhat of a name for myself locally; got great reviews for performances in NYC and played Austin City Limits Festival and Bonnaroo in 2007. Luminous was reviewed favorably by local critics and No Depression... I have often thought that whatever career momentum I had going by 2008 had been won by blood, sweat, and tears, as they say, and in retrospect it seems a shame to have left it hanging in the air with nothing to do but evaporate.

 But that is what happens when you run away, and run away I did.

From my perspective the next chapter of my life seesaws between total salvation and near annihilation. Meaning, I went back home again. I left Nashville, the musical life I had built there, and returned to Riverplains.

I have said that it saved my life in that being back on the farm – and actually learning to farm – grounded me, and I needed that desperately. I learned so much about so many things during that time. But I also stepped away from music, stepped away from feeling worthy of being an artist, even as songs still came from time to time. Even as my personal artistic vision refused to die.

In 2011 I recorded an EP called Body+Soul with Jon Estes at Nashville’s renowned Bomb Shelter studio. Then in 2014 I recorded Birdlight, again with Jon, this time in his home studio. Listening to these songs now the core of the struggle that had a hold on me is clear. To me it is an album about loss and hope, darkness and light, the pull of cycles and seasons…I did not really know where I was heading when I wrote those songs. I do think I knew it was going to be turbulent waters.

(Now nearly 4 years later I am living far from the farm. And far from Nashville too. I followed a dream to live in the American West and currently reside in Colorado.)

In the summer of 2016 I went back to Nashville once more. It was a transition time that helped me understand my place in the scheme of things again. And right before I left a year later, I recorded a new album with Eric McConnell in his fabled East Nashville studio/house on Boscobel Street. I had written a few of these songs before leaving the farm. The rest I wrote those months back in Nashville again.

I am calling this project Angels, Demons, Red Tail Hawks and hoping all will be ready for release by November 2017. These recordings are somewhat raw, minimal, and unorthodox. I feel these songs are born of a deeper, clearer place than perhaps any of my previous work. I am beyond grateful to Eric for helping me bring them out into the world, and very excited to share them.


More soon --- JJN







David Curtis

I have always associated certain landscapes with certain people. Each having distinct personalities, sometimes geographical region and human soul overlap. In my heart I keep a catalogue of such.

I remember connecting Jeremy Sheehan, my first real boyfriend, to the state of Colorado. In particular with the dramatic terrain known as the Front Range. I’m not sure how I would have explained it then, especially having never seen him here, but it still rings true within my 42 year old heart.

He left "this sweet old world”, as Lucinda sings, twenty years ago this month. He had just turned 23.

At that time he was living back in Chicago and I was going to school in Nashville. We were not “together” then. But our history of adolescent romance began when I was 14 and never really ended. It was intermittent, tumultuous, and full of ache, break, deceit, and desire -- plus the peculiar, tenacious sentimentality that often outlives our first loves.

At his funeral I asked his mother if I could place a piece of paper in the casket with him. It held a poem I had written after seeing him a few months before.  I imagine she was at a loss on all counts. In response she nodded briskly. 

Jeremy had been my muse all along. Granted, I was inspired most by the torment -- nearly all the songs and poems I wrote about or because of him were full of longing and sorrow. The helpless sense of not ever being able to get close enough to the one thing you want to get closest to, the impossibility of romantic love. How could it feel better than most anything I had known to entwine my body with his, while at the same time in so many ways we were hopelessly at odds? We could really provoke each other’s ire. We could leave each other in the crossfires of life and walk away.

Jeremy was willing to go places I would not. He always seemed like he was running somewhere. Like he knew about something on up ahead and he didn't have time to explain it to me. He just had to get there himself. 

Not being around each other for a spell, going on with our own lives, did nothing to quell the storms of emotion that seemed to find us each time we met again. 

Somehow I imagined the thread between us would endure. I secretly hoped that “someday” we would settle back together. Maybe in the future, maybe in the mountains.

Maybe Colorado.

Is it place-and-time that has led me here, to writing about a forlorn subject I have managed to largely put out of my mind over the years? Context is alive, present and pertinent, and I can’t help thinking about this person for whom I felt so many things (still do) and penned so many lyrics.

I am in Colorado, in the mountains. This time of year, in September, the month of both his birthday and passing, how could I look at the changing colors, the magnificent peaks, lines, skies -- all with so much clarity and aliveness-- and not think about Jeremy?

Twenty years after his passing the mysteries of love still haunt me, as well as the inconclusiveness of death. Visages of Jeremy come to me in dreams, and I know it’s not really him. But who is it? And where is he?

Three years before he died I wrote “Skeleton Song”, it is on my very first album. In it the lines: “I can’t be your wife, I can’t be your mother, I can’t call myself your girlfriend… But if we --- once -- were lovers -– how --- does that end?” 

When you are a veteran of something, in this case love, you surely hope you’ve won some wisdom along with the inevitable scars. In the years since Jeremy disappeared I have lived and loved fully. I have lost, again and again. Still longing survives, desire can find us no matter where we've retreated. 

Experience helps to build us, layer upon layer. It is not the same as having answers -- I still have none of those.

I do recall, not perfectly, the poem I wrote after his death.

It was accepted to my college’s literary journal, and I remember reading it aloud to peers and professors, a surreal experience as the emotion of it all still had quite a hold on me.

Two decades later, I can walk down a mountain road in Evergreen, Colorado whispering the lines to myself as they return and still find myself in tears.

Here I am somewhere along the unforgiving spiral of Time, just wanting to say hello again, Jeremy.

Here you go, once more: 


There are stretches of love on life’s landscape

That never rest beneath the skies.

Like a valley’s hungry waters,

Or a cricket’s song at night.

And ancient.

Willful as wolves move, tireless over land.

Desire that by its nature

can never be fulfilled.


We too have been like this.

I can say “I know what love is.”


And now that you have traveled on ahead

And must know now what I can only guess –

Rest easy, rest easy in my love.

Rest easy now, rest easy in my love.


As easy as it was

When it had only just begun –

Like the first time we ever held hands.




Out of Range

David Curtis

"The consciousness of the universe is infused in the earth, and we have come to learn from it." --Rudolfo Anaya

What is a soul looking for when it journeys into parts unknown? What makes us say goodbye to things we love? 

Summertime is never long enough for me. And it is my favorite time of year in Tennessee -- where I was born and raised and have spent the better part of my life. Yet, right in the heart of summer, on the last day of July, I drove away from the place I have been most attached to on this earth. 

I went swiftly and with tears in my eyes. Covering that common ground, winding thread, historical pathway -- that legendary highway and everyday traveling ground for thousands upon thousands...

I went west. 

I landed in the High Plains of Colorado -- high desert country, mountains all around. The air is thin here. The exaggerated space between things can be arresting, disorienting, intoxicating. 

I have been staying in Denver, and now a nearby mountain town called Evergreen. But on my way out and since I have taken every chance I can to explore surrounding (less-peopled) areas. I call these little trips my sojourns. When you're looking for lonely, beautiful places, you don't have to travel far out here. 

I've stopped to watch sunlight chase the shadows on majestic rocks and valley floor. I've witnessed silhouettes of giant clouds flood across the sand dunes. I have wondered why I feel most myself in the desert, as I admire every life-form that calls the desert home -- from beetle to cactus to rattlesnake. 

I've let the winds pass over me, softening my own internal landscape. I've felt the unfiltered sunlight electrify my freedom, excavate my loneliness. I can feel the elements chip away at me, taking away what is no longer needed. 

According to Barry Lopez, one enters the desert by a "series of strippings". 

I have been a long time arriving here, and what brought me here is still moving. 


--More soon,



Angels, Demons, and Red-Tail Hawks

David Curtis

 photo: Jack Parker

photo: Jack Parker

It is late February and I find myself in Nashville still, amid an eerily premature spring. Of course I am enjoying it -- my spirit is like the precipitous bud and bloom, more than ready to leave winter behind. But my human mind, which so often resides in the conflicting streams of fear and wonder, is completely unsettled by a season out of sync. It's hard not to see a theme: the natural world responding to our accelerated chaos in its own language of extremes.

I have been wanting to write something of an "update" from my time back in the city since late fall. For some reason it has felt nearly impossible. Perhaps I have been and remain somewhat in winter-mode myself, letting things germinate in silence. Looking around me now I see daffodils blooming, but the trees remain exposed, most plant-life is still sleeping.

I have come to realize in the last few weeks that if leaving my life on the farm last July was a stepping into the unknown, if it was entering a "second cocoon" as Paul Plotkin describes in his wonderful book Soulcraft, then it could be that I am simply so much still in the in-between that I am not sure how or what to report. If a part of me is dying and part of me being born, it could be that the chrysalis of my next self remains suspended. At any rate, songs have been coming, and for that I am always grateful.

I wrote "Mountain Spring" in the true dead of winter; to me it describes a sort of revelation and surrender. Not a giving up or resignation, but a going on and through -- hopefully even a sort of integration. The idea and image of clear, pure water coming from a deep, underground source (and never drying up) is something I want to hold on to. It is real, it is imagined, it is endangered, it is already extinct. It is what we need. It is necessary. It is sustaining, mysterious, powerful, vivifying. It is healing, transformative. How do we get it, how do we keep it? How can we protect it? Who owns it and who holds the power to use or destroy it? Will we ever get it back?

Also during the process of digging in and writing this song, I glimpsed more mysteries and truths about love itself -- seeing that we can come to a place where instead of constantly searching for love, we realize we are love, we are an accumulation of all the love we've ever experienced.

The term sacred wound is sometimes used to describe a psychological potentiality within us all -- it is a place in the psyche where we were initially hurt, but with time, care, and a precise, loving attention it can be turned into spiritual strength. For this healing and transformation to take place we must not ignore the original site of injury. We must not deny that we were ever injured. This is where we must be brave, and this is where we must use our best night-vision, to see what needs seeing in the dark.

Sometimes transformation takes time. Change is constant, but when you're hoping for transmutation, you don't know if it will happen instantaneously, overnight, or over a period of many years.

And you can open the door, walk out the door, and close the door behind you, and still not know how to answer when they ask if you're coming back or not.

All to say, I have been busy with my own inner work. I've been cultivating the internal terrain where songs (for me) come from. Where wounds are exposed and revisited with hopes of healing, where dreams are seeded and fertilized, tended to with care.

Looking forward into (official) spring, I plan to begin recording a new album in the next couple of months. And although I'm still not sure of the particulars, I trust the seeds that have been planted are pushing sunward even now.



Bubbling from the mountain spring: old wounds, new love

Shifting in the dying light,
will I recognize my reflection?

Cut away, cut away, see what I've become

Don't look away, don't look away, from what's been done

It's never over, it's never enough We're just layer upon layer
of love ---

Dancing in the winter fire: old dreams, new visions

Angels, demons, red-tail hawks,
keep on circling the roads unchosen --

A sister told me, sometimes,
to find your way back out again
, You gotta go deeper
You gotta go further in ---

It never ends, it never ends It's never enough
We're just layer
upon layer of love

We're just layer upon layer of love ---

(Mountain Spring, © Jennifer Niceley, 2017)

Strange Times

David Curtis



Twisting river
Still cradling
This whole valley, all our vanities
Idle hands
Vanished dreams

Paving over
Flowers and graves
Garbage settles, between the hills
“It’s okay”
It’s how we live…

In these strange times
In these
Strange times

Leaning against
A Poplar tree
In a small, important wood
Animal tracks
Around me

Grace is what they say God gives
But will we remember
to ask
Or just remain, bewildered

In these strange times
In these
Strange times

“Surely the wind will continue to moan
For those who have lost
What can never be found" 

( from Birdlight; ©Jennifer Niceley 2013 ) —————

***Originally posted October 31, 2016)***

I took the photo above last winter. It is the Holston River as seen from behind my house on the farm where I grew up in East Tennessee. “Strange Times” is a song I wrote when living back there; it was born of my sadness and puzzlement at what I often find to be desecration of the landscape around me. It is one little comment inside an old, unending narrative about what we call Appalachia.

I know how I would feel if a corporation, backed by the US government, had plans to put a "giant black snake” (to transport crude oil being sold for corporate profit) under this river, my river. By “my river” I mean the one that I belong to, that I was born next to, who has sung to me from my first days here on Earth.

It is not a faraway river. When I am on the land I grew up on it is always just right there, encircling, giving and supporting life in so many ways. And when I am not there the river remains close to me, in a way that is hard to explain. It is like the way you can sometimes feel the presence of a loved one, just by thinking of them.

It would be exceedingly strange, unnatural – to stand by and simply watch as my river was put in extreme peril. I would do everything I could to protect it, I would fight.

I have never been to the Missouri River, that flows by and through the Standing Rock Sioux’s ancestral lands in North Dakota. I don’t know if Great Blue Herons stoically hunt its shallow waters, like they do here in Tennessee. I don’t know how it moves, where it turns turbulent from a peaceful bend, or what it smells like. I don’t have to know these things to know this river needs protection, right now. I don’t have to know these things to have a sense of how much it means to the people who belong to it, to the countless creatures, seen and unseen, whose existence depend upon it. In fact, if an oil leak happened there it would affect us all, ultimately.

Why don’t rivers have rights? 
Why don’t the creatures who call rivers home have rights?

How can the natural rights of indigenous peoples in this country still be so disrespected by our government and largely ignored by the populace at large?

Looking at the world we live in, it’s hard not to feel like a stranger in a strange land.

So many times I’ve found myself confused about what battles to fight and which ones have nothing to do with me. I’ve tended to focus on fighting my own demons. I’ve learned “survival” and “struggle” are words that mean very different things to different people, and that comparing, complaining, explaining, measuring, are futile endeavors at best. I have caught myself at times protecting my own innocence even with those I consider friends, choosing to keep certain beliefs to myself.

Is it more difficult to “walk your talk” these days than ever? To define one’s values and then make the choices to back them up is, from my perspective, a very real test. A spiritual test, in a world remade by materialism.

Time and again, I have found that my tender relationship to the natural world has saved me from being a total victim of modern society. Being attentive to a piece of land, appreciating the trees, cherishing a river — to me this is the first step in keeping us human in the best of ways.

I am not writing this from the front lines at Standing Rock. Although I might end up there before it’s all said and done, I feel entrenched in my own unstable situation here in Nashville at the moment. I feel like my reality here, and my tentative grasp of it at times, is all I can physically tend to right now. But my attention remains with the water protectors in North Dakota. My heart is in this fight. Within historical context it is a fight that has been going on for centuries, with no end in sight. At its core I see it as a war between humanity and non-humanity, and more is at stake now than ever.

Since I am not on the front lines of this latest battle, how can I urge anyone to be more involved and not seem hypocritical? I don’t know how to escape the contradictions of who I am in this moment of American history. I do know that more of us – everywhere – should at the very least be AWARE of what is going on right now in North Dakota. You cannot care about something if you haven’t at least tried to understand it.

I’ve found the publication below to be the best source of consistent news on the subject:

#mni wiconi

1 note


A Song is Meant to be Sung

David Curtis

There are those who pay attention to the words of a song, and those who let them stream by like a passing breeze. In my seemingly endless endeavor to stop apologizing for who I am (and am not), I have sometimes reckoned with a question: Are my songs really more about the lyrics than the music? It’s true the creative impetus usually begins with the words – and for me, ultimately the words to a song will keep it around or force its obselescence. I have often said and still believe that my songs are mainly “poetry put to music”. But, the lyrics I write for songs are specifically meant to be sung. They are often born within a melody and depend on the chords that accompany them.

Maybe I should consider myself a modern (female) troubadour – in that I take seriously the crafting of each lyric, and in keeping with that tradition, they belong inside a song.

A song that is meant to be sung to someone.

Yes, here I am still writing songs in my own poetic way, and I still need to sing these songs for others. (Have I been complicating this simple fact needlessly? For decades?)

For the month of October I will be playing every Wednesday at The Family Wash, in East Nashville. There’s a certain circuitous beauty for me about being back there – although it was the old location, I did a month-long (I think it was October) residency there years ago, just before recording Luminous, and with the incredible band that was on that record. We tracked live, and I know it would not have gone as well if we hadn’t had that experience the month before. This time I’m starting out spare, as a duo this first week, and hope to be adding members along the way. I’ll be taking the opportunity to play songs from the last decade or so – as well as of course, this crop of new songs I’ve been working on.

Also this month I am hoping to get up a new page on my website just for lyrics. There’s something about letting the words to my songs be seen so nakedly – without the music – that has always made me feel a little too vulnerable. Like they would be judged unfairly if taken out of their aural context. But I have to admit that as a listener myself, I’m always eager to read the words to songs. Reading the lyrics inside Joni Mitchell’s Ladies of the Canyon record when I was in middle school (a relic I found of my mother’s) marked the beginning of my own path as a songwriter.

For now, here are the lyrics to “Goodbye Kiss”, from Birdlight – one I plan to play at the “late night residency” at some point.

For those of you who can be a night owl at least once this month, hope to see you at The Wash ~



When did you learn

Life can be savage

And unfair?


When did you learn

No number of tears

Can bring back the lost lamb?


When did you learn

Not every fallen feather

Needs to be gathered –


When did you learn

Although the road goes on


You don’t have to take it there…


Well I wish I’d learned

Long before this –

Every breaking morn

Arrives, like a goodbye kiss –


Songs from the east

Birds I cannot name

Busy bringing in a new day…

See how the creatures

Seem to just carry on

In the face, of so much lost


Well I wish I’d learned

Long before this –

Every breaking morn

Arrives now, like a goodbye kiss –


Unanswered questions

Unfinished visions

Keep hanging around

Like fog, in the trees ~


(Photo by Teresa Mason – 2007?)

Something About the Highway

David Curtis

It's easy to feel that you have momentum when you're out on the open road. With no choice after every stop but to get back in your vehicle and go, you just get used to nearly constant motion. You imagine Grace and Speed as your new companions. Something that resembles Hope emerges on the long horizon. What does a dream look like after all, in the process of becoming?

For three weeks last month I toured solo, through what I would call the heart of the American West. Since nearly the beginning of my life I have had a love for this region. In fact my earliest memories are of an epic trip my family took to the West Coast and back the summer I was almost three. We traveled in what we called the "Camptruck", an army green Ford F-600 that had been converted into what looked like a modern (meaning 1960) version of a Conestoga wagon, green tarp covering wooden bows that could be rolled up and down on the sides; a 16 ft wooden bed containing several mattresses, a large chuckwagon department for supplies in the very back. My grandfather and father and uncle drove and rode in the cab, while the women and children all piled in the back. My mother was pregnant with my sister, Anna. Which reminds me of the story of my great-great grandmother Anna Rebekah, who really did ride in a covered wagon from Tennessee out West after the Civil War, while she too was pregnant. In the story handed down she "prayed to die". The rest of the story is that she lived to have the baby, they didn't care for it out there, and they ended up retracing their steps back to Tennessee.

Such migrations have shaped not only this country, but have helped make each of us who we are -- those of us who have deep histories here. Those of us whose family trees are tall and wide and complicated, that record lives of forbears who arrived on this continent centuries ago and kept moving, until they found a place that felt like home? Then made it so, at any cost necessary, to themselves and of course to those whose home it was first...

It can be overwhelming to see and read (and try saying out loud) all the indigenous names -- for streams, roads, rivers, counties -- through Oklahoma in particular. When I passed a sign that said "Kichai", I instantly thought of my maternal grandmother. Billie Colwell Pope was born and raised in East Texas, an area they call the Piney Woods. She took me several times to a tiny cemetery in a place called Keechi, near Buffalo, where she grew up. My great-grandfather and several other relatives are buried there. When I tried to find information about the origin of the word, what little I found on the Internet revealed it to name an Indian tribe from Louisiana who migrated to both Oklahoma (Indian Territory) and Texas, before being forcibly relocated during the Trail of Tears. In the late 1700's one of their last settlements was near present day Palestine, the place where the cemetery stands. The Wikipedia article went on to note that the tribe and their unique language is now extinct.

I must assume there's no cemetery for any of these people, who were driven away from their homelands, and then dwindled away somewhere else.

If you take in the details along the road there is always sadness to be found. And lots of other things too.

At some point in the journey I declared the highway a living metaphor. No wonder there are so many songs about it. Maybe because it is one way to experience Time as it really is -- that is, fluid, elastic, flowing. Not fixed at all. It is possible to experience past, present, future, all on the highway, and all at once.


It sure felt that way at times.

As I drove the last 60 miles into Santa Fe, New Mexico, the sky reflected just such a concept. Piercing sunlight, layer upon layer of grey and white clouds, shimmering rain, distant lightening, of course a rainbow...I felt my past was dancing with my current self; it was strange and not at all comfortable. There were things I didn't want to see, or remember. But I did. I couldn't look away from the highway after all. It demands your full attention, especially under such conditions, in such unfamiliar terrain. There were things to mourn, and let go of; things to retrieve, and reclaim.

That glimmering, slippery two-lane was just the beginning.

From Sedona's magical stone-scape, softened by lush green valleys with creeks and towering trees, to the panoramic "painted desert" highway I took through the the Four Corners region, up the winding roads to the high elevation Colorado mountain towns, through the vast, endless plains of Northern New Mexico and the Texas Panhandle -- each landscape had its own mysteries, each region was its own world. Essentially of course, I was passing through as a stranger, a traveler. But in all those miles alone behind the wheel I never felt lonely. I never felt not welcome. There were places that imparted a desolation, places that felt almost sorrowful. Also places that seemed to be forgotten by everyone else in the world.

I did not ask for the land to tell me its secrets. I hoped to honor it by noting its fierce beauty. The perseverance of Mother Nature, you could say, is always present, and to me that in itself is a majestic thing. The constant spaciousness of land and sky began to inhabit my mind, breathing new life into my own visions. Surely I can see further than before, I thought out loud.

The performances I had booked throughout this journey also yielded much to me personally. After being away from the musician's life for some time now, being on tour and walking up to stages alone in front of unfamiliar faces had the potential to be a little nerve-wracking to say the least. The kind of situation that could make me question everything all over again: Why I am here? What am I doing? Is it too late to start over again?

Instead, the overall warmth and receptivity I encountered from sharing my songs was a sort of nourishment not taken lightly. I've carried it back here to Nashville and it's helping fuel the plans for finishing a new EP and also getting back out to tour again as soon as I can.

For a few days after my return I felt strangely disoriented, like part of me was still moving out on the road somewhere. Just another transition I suppose, which seems to be a major theme for so many of us right now, in so many different ways.

Now I seem to be in the midst of what happens after you first step away from the crossroads. Unless you suddenly sprout wings, you have to keep walking the path you chose for some time...trusting you made the right choice, the destination still unclear.

In fact one of the many gifts I came back with from this journey is the memory of feeling guided, even when entirely alone, even when uncertain, worried, tired...I chose to keep trusting I would "get there", and I did. I chose to keep believing this whole endeavor of being open -- sharing what I have to share, letting myself receive in return -- is worth it. Now sometimes in the morning between sleep and waking I feel certain colors and shapes around me, I'm drawn back to a liminal place under the Western sky. The sensation will linger throughout the day, stirring up an unnamed longing.

I guess the highway isn't through with me quite yet. ~


Photo: Sam McKay