I am one of those people who cherish the sighting of any hawk, anywhere, anytime. Spotting a hawk of any variety — in flight, perched on a fence, being bullied by a crow in some comic dance above the tree line — can instantly remind me of freedom, strength, patience, the value of a message, the value of perspective, the value of wildness in a world with less and less of it.
Years ago, I remember meeting one of my father’s good friends when I came back to the farm and was starting to raise laying hens. He was a chicken expert and was always raising different heritage breeds; I gathered he was a bird watcher too. I walked up to them talking in the yard one day, and my dad said, “Jennifer, you need to meet Richard. He loves birds like you do.” Richard asked me what my favorite bird was. I instantly said, “I probably love hawks more than anything” — to which Richard replied in a serious huff, “Well, now that’s where we differ!”
I hadn’t been back long enough then to know the heartbreak of losing half a dozen good sized hens, in one day, to a pair of Red-Tails.
Loving hawks and raising chickens is an education in accepting both the wild and domestic — aligning with both, caring for both and not stopping just because things get messy. I didn’t know Tosha Silver’s powerful phrase “Radical Acceptance” back then, but there were certainly times when that is exactly what I was reaching for. Was there a sacred space in the center of the world, where I did not have to divide my heart?
Over the past six months I have twice journeyed back to the farm in Tennessee where I grew up and have spent most of my life. Late spring I booked shows on the way through Texas, where my mother is from, planning an important detour through Galvaston so that I could visit my great-grandmother’s grave in nearby Hitchcock, Texas. As I sat under the Live Oak trees by her humble plaque and considered the life of Leety Ann Rogers Colwell, I found myself overwhelmed by gratitude, love.
How different our lives have been.
I stayed in East Tennessee for most of the month of May (as well as two weeks in August), each time giving the bulk of my attention to my extended family there. I welcomed back the lightning bugs and took as many walks to the river at twilight as I could.
Now back again in the mountains of Colorado, I’m still sifting through all the experiences that collided on those visits. So many hearts make up a family. I keep holding within my own heart the belief that love will have its way in the end.
May 9, 2018 — At Riverplains.
Some stars are paired up in the sky, others stand alone. Or so it appears from here.
To the west soft strips of cloud hang low above the river. A light fog has blanketed the bottom land. I’m sitting on the steps outside what was once my grandmother’s bedroom, just after midnight. Surrounded by decades of farm history. Surrounded by decades of farm junk. I hear horses tear new grass from the ground.
My father started planting corn today. I noticed the feeling of “rightness” that came when I saw that. When I checked on my horse I was happy to see the patch on his rump had the faintest, smallest hair follicles returning. The swan couple between the granary and the pond still have their two goslings, the other three eggs unhatched. My nephew Skyler showed me how to look at the nest without provoking the parents. He reminded me of last year’s tragedy with the swan family. One of the babies had been killed by a snapping turtle; the one left behind had died from sadness. We agreed that both must be terrible ways to die.
Two years ago I abandoned the idea of abandoning my dreams. I knew without a doubt that if I didn’t pursue music as my life’s work again I would suffer immeasurably — maybe I would even die of sadness. Knowing full well that the path I was choosing would have its own measure of suffering as well.
Suffering aside, this past summer has been full with the joy of covering new ground. Tour dates took me to New Mexico, Wyoming, and Montana in particular. Oh how I love experiencing these strange and beautiful places. I remain deeply grateful for the opportunity to see and feel the uniqueness, the vastness of the American West. The wildness that remains.
Just as I remain grateful for hawks and butterflies, hummingbirds, bears, foxes, antelope, deer, elk...all the countless wild creatures who must somehow contend with our world. And keep being who they are anyway, as best they can.
Somehow we are on this journey together.
I’ll close for now with lyrics to one of my new songs from new territory, called “Look for Me” —
If I called out to you
would you listen?
The moon in the sky’s
no longer hidden
Torn upon arrival
between the old and new —
Was it shadows growing darker
or the grey before dawn?
Did you look
Oh the line right down the middle
that’s where you disappear
And there you bear the silence
like a clock without hands
But there are fires you don’t give up on
Things for which you’ve paid
some promises you made...
Now the days are getting longer
I’m going to the edge
Where the end meets the beginning
Look for me
Look for me