As a teenager growing up in the 1980’s I had a lot of the usual influences-MTV for music, Raiders Of The Lost Ark and Star Wars for movies, and TV shows like Hill Street Blues. In addition, appearing in newspapers (remember them?) starting in about 1980 was a comic strip called Bloom County written by Berkely Breathed that loomed large in my life at the time. The lovable but honest characters of a Mid-West town included the precocious Milo Bloom, his wishy-washy sidekick Michael Binkley, the loathsome Steve Dallas, the fun loving wheelchair bound Vietnam veteran Cutter John, but especially the naive, yet honest penguin Opus. I loved the strip for its often timely stories that were presented in a funny way. It poked fun at the major news-makers of the day, but was never truly vicious. Occasionally though, as an extension of Breathed’s pen, the characters captured the mood perfectly.
To anyone who especially read the early days of the strip ‘the meadow’ was a central location to the storyline. Quite often the characters would sit in the meadow, ruminating on various topics, or reciting silly poetry. There was always a punch line. But in one particular post that has stuck with me long after my once prized editions of Bloom County books became relegated to the bottom of my bookshelf and scarcely looked at, the meadow served as a perfect analysis for something not so silly. It became a place of shutting off the interference and noise of society. Of bad news and violence. Of shouting and screaming. It became an all too brief moment of respite. The other day while walking the grounds of the Storm King Art Center, I came across a scene that reminded me once again of that strip, and just like the fictional characters in that Bloom County cartoon, I wanted to take a ‘Mass Dandelion Break’ too.
Last year in an earlier post I wrote about some of the emotions that have been swirling around me as I try to make sense of the headlines, and come to grips with this world we live in. To me the key problem globally is that we are frankly just becoming angrier with one another. Half truthful, and half kidding, I jotted a note in my blogging notebook about creating a website called The Positive Place, or something to that effect. A place where the only stories allowed would be positive stories. No bitching, no venting, no cynicism, no politics allowed. Just positive stories shared with one another about good news. A babies first steps, a cancer survival story, a life changing experience. Yes, those stories do exist now, but to me we are losing the compassion we should have about them. You beat cancer but you are voting for so and so….well, nice knowing you. Your daughter being bullied at school found a way to rise above her tormentors, oh but you believe in ______, well I can’t be in the same room with you. I don’t have any single answer to the issues just like anyone else, but the point of my earlier post, and the point here is to say, we really need to work on our communication and the way we interact with one another.
As I was on that stroll the other day with my wife, I saw this tree sitting off by itself in the vast landscape, with the rolling hills of the Hudson Valley surrounding it. I took a break from our picnic to go off and take a few photos of the area by myself, and I knew there was something about this tree, but I could not quite put my finger on it. I posted it to my Facebook page for this blog and on Instagram and people liked it. But last night on my way home I finally realized why I was so compelled by it. If I’m counting right, this is probably my third post about trees in some way or another. In fact, if you click the menu choice ‘My Four Seasons’ above at the top you will see an entire series I wrote about trees. But just like every tree being a different shape, height and color, this tree represented something else to me. It somehow was a living representation of that Bloom County strip I first read some 30 odd years ago. A place to just shut down and soothe the nerves and anxiety of the outside world. A place to breathe. A place to live. A place to exist. Which after recent events and life in general these days seems more important than ever to seek.
I’m not sure if any of that type of thought is what inspired the songwriter Dave Whetsone to write his song ‘Sway With Me’ but when I thought about a song that really represented this particular tree in my photo, it was the first song to come to mind. I first came across it on an interesting album released in 1991 by Judy Dunlop and Ashley Hutchings. It was a relatively low key folk release in Britain featuring a number of top performers on the scene. The subtitle of the album was ‘A Celebration Of The Tree & Its Offspring and as guided primarily by Hutchings the album was a combination of songs and spoken word passages focused around the tree. Playing the song again yesterday revealed two key verses to me which summed up my thoughts especially-
“I’ve seen empires arise, I’ve seen continents collide
I’ve seen fists held helpless and shaking, But on this place on the hill
All of life is beating still, Sway with me, Sway with me”
“I will show you by and by, Grace and power reconciled
A new day there for the taking. In the pulse of the earth
You can find your hidden worth, If you trust in the lives of the healing.
The meadow in Bloom Country represented a refuge, a place of recharge from the fear, anger, and frustration. You can rediscover a lot of things when you go back to basics. To a meadow, to a tree on a hill, the beach, wherever it may be for you personally. It helps shake a lot of negativity free. I think we all can benefit from that these days too. The beauty of music and photography is that they both have a way of freezing time in a way. I suppose part of the reason I combined the two elements together to create this blog is for that reason. To be able to call up memories of happy or sad times or places. A photograph forever traps that memory. A song can do the same thing in the way you remember it, and recall why it has stayed with you for years. For me, in this crazy and challenging world, just like the characters from Bloom County turning off the bad news to go on a ‘Mass Dandelion Break’, I can think about this photograph, and listen to this song, and let them take me to that meadow. And maybe, just maybe if we all did that, we could learn to communicate with each other better.
Sway With Me-Written By Dave Whetstone
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All Photographs By Robert P. Doyle
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