My Four Seasons-Winter


“You probably won’t take no advice from me. I never took none myself, you see. It’s just when you get older, you like to pass some on….but nobody’s listening.”

Like a lot of people these days, my Facebook page is filled not just with friends, but is also loaded with band pages, science pages, TV show pages and other interests. One of those interests that I follow is a page called Native Americans. It is a page filled with Native American wisdom and sayings, not just from one nation or tribe, but from across the United States. A few weeks ago there was one saying I felt compelled to share with my friends. It said-“When an elder speaks, be silent and listen.” I am not sure what tribe it comes from, but the simplicity of it really struck a nerve, and the other day I thought it might be helpful to start this section off with it.

I was glad I saw it because in preparing this series I really had some trepidation about writing about the “winter” years of our lives. The years we grow older and eventually pass on. Part of the reason is because unlike the other three seasons, I have not experienced it yet. Mild jabs at me for being 46 with my formerly red hair changing first to a brownish hue,  and then speckled with ever increasing dabs of gray aside, I do not feel old. Regular gym workouts and trying to eat as healthily as I can help. But the other reason for the trepidation about writing this section is I did not want to sound smug or condescending about the aging process. Which is why that Native American saying really made me stop and think.

After I posted it, Jennie helpfully reminded me that it is a great quote….but it means you need to practice implementing it a little more. And she was right. Too quickly as a society we tend to ignore the learned words of our elders. It isn’t just about our families, our moms and dads or grandparents that we do this to. We also get very impatient with seniors in line at the grocery store, or walking in front of us on the sidewalk. We get annoyed with the elderly when they seem oblivious to the technology we have long since conquered. “What is this Facebook thing I hear so much about”, or ” how do I send a text message”? I realize as I myself get older that there will come a day when the world will be moving too fast for me to keep up, or even care about it, so fast and changing is the technology era we live in.

But take a moment and replace the faster internet speeds and smart phone technology, wireless connectivity, automation, and other cool advances and gadgetry that we live and thrive with in this era, with the advances from another era. Mass produced automobiles, commercial radio, television and polio vaccines among countless other things were inventions created and developed in the years when today’s elderly were younger. They understood all these things thoroughly at the time, but sometimes our cynicism in these days must make someone who lived through earlier advancements feel exasperated and defeated. What is worse is the advice passed on from our elderly often gets brushed aside.

I think it is this final point that is behind blues man Seasick Steve’s song, “It’s A Long, Long Way.” Steve is a man who payed his dues and then some, and had been plying his trade across the world for years and years when suddenly, he gained success and a devoted fan base a few years ago. Steve definitely tells it like it is. In the song he sings from the perspective of an even older man, desperately trying to get people to pay attention to his words. It is so brutally honest that you can’t help but feel moved by  it. So whether it is from a Native American phrase, or from the mouth of Seasick Steve I hope for a time when we treat our elderly with that sort of respect. Not judging or assuming but learning. And above it all….listening.


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My Four Seasons-Autumn



“I want to see your smiling face 45 years from now”

I read once that an informal survey revealed that most people’s favorite seasons were revealed to be spring and autumn, in almost a neck for neck tie. Not really surprising since both are associated with pleasing weather and different colors in the landscape. Whereas spring is about birth and renewal, autumn (and I still prefer to call it autumn rather than fall) is really about change. Those bright reds, oranges and fading yellows that speckle the terrain, before they begin to fall. The crisp smell in the air, the taste of fresh apples, the first signs of frost on the ground complete the picture. In our own lives, autumn is usually the time of transitions, and in the seasons of life is generally considered to be the longest period. As I discussed at the end of yesterday’s blog, towards the end of my “summer” I really needed a change. Happily, that is when she walked into my life.

“She” is of course the woman who became my wife. It started out innocently enough on a Sunday night in September of 2002. We had never met before, but a mutual friend was having a birthday gathering at a local pub. In an attempt to make up for the disaster of the previous summer’s trip to Ireland, I went back. Thankfully this time was infinitely better and there were no problems upon my return. I am not sure if it was because of that fact that our friend introduced us (meet my friend Rob, he just came back from Ireland type of thing) or for some other reason, but in no time we were having a great conversation. I showed her some photos of the trip, the rocky and rugged terrain of Donegal, with rugged cliffs and oceans, wildflowers and deep green grass everywhere. In the darkened light of the pub (and not due to consumption of a certain beverage, or so she says…), she also detected speckles of white scattered through the rocky terrain. “Oh, they still have snow there at this time of year” she asked? It being September at the time, and with no desire to come off as a jerk, I responded nicely, “oh no….those are sheep” while secretly I chuckled a little.

But my considerable charms (yes, I can’t even believe I just wrote that) must have worked because she was having such a fine conversation with me that she willingly decided to stay longer and miss her favorite show at the time, The Sopranos. High praise indeed. When she did leave I had realized that I had just conversed with someone for a few hours with such ease that it had seemed like mere minutes. Within a day or so I had obtained her number from my friend. When I worked up the courage to call her on said number a few days later we had another nice chat, despite her being unsure if my name was Richard, or Roger, or some other name starting with an R. In spite of that moment of forgetfulness on her part (which she covered up well…OHHHH….Robert, yes from the other night….of course I remember you!) we made arrangements to meet again.

Because of her job as a live in nanny at the time, and because of my job where I had to work on the weekends, our initial dates were always at night time, and usually took place at that same pub. It was a few months in before we ever had a daytime date in fact. But one night early on we shared our first kiss at the pub. For some reason I had to leave before her, so we said our goodbye’s outside, in full view of the pub’s window. Now why neither of us had the wherewithal to step 5 feet away to avoid this PDA I don’t know, but I went on my merry way, while Jennie had to go back inside. Where she was promptly met with loud applause from all who had witnessed it, led on by a scurrilous bartender. Gradually with each date and with each moment we spent together over meals and drinks, visits to various museums and walks through the park it became clear that there was something great happening. Though I was more than a little thick in taking things to the next level, in my heart I knew that Jennie was the one for me.

When I look back at that time, the words from a song by the late great Stan Rogers, one of Canada’s greatest artists comes to mind. In his song 45 years he talks about that sort of moment. Even though the circumstances he describes are different to our story, it is that idea of wanting to see her face 45 years from now that is so simple and beautiful.  I love that he chose such a random number of years to describe this feeling. To say that I want to see you today, and I want to see you 20 years from now, and 32 years from now, and 45 years from now. In any relationship there are disagreements and problems, unexpected curve balls that interrupt life. Working through those times together is worth it, believe me. One further thing I have to say about the song is to ask, where can I actually find a place that has a glass of beer for 45 cents!


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My Four Seasons-Summer


“I’ve been everywhere”

Continuing on from yesterday’s blog, if spring time represents our birth and growth in life, then summer is a continuation of that growth, as we mature and become stronger as people and learn more about the world.  It is also when real life issues inevitably start to intrude. Things become real. But it is also the time we probably have the most fun in our lives. As I mentioned in the introduction, this series has become more autobiographical than I had imagined originally. In previous blogs I have touched on some of the years I would consider to be part of “my summer.” For that reason I will touch on some of the times I have not already mentioned. It covers a pretty large span of years as a result, from pre-teen all the way up to my early thirties before it all came crashing to a halt as you will soon discover. Summer in my mind is full of exuberance, dumb mistakes (that somehow remain good memories for some reason), figuring stuff out, and lots of laughs and good times.

When I was thinking of the markers to set for my own timelines in these Four Seasons blogs, I spent a good week or so reconstructing the key periods in my life. Though the actual teen and college era years might seem like the logical place to start for summer, I have pushed it back slightly further. More specifically to the summer of 1979 when I turned 11. That was the summer that Clan Doyle undertook their greatest adventure-a 5 week long summer drive across country and back. Though there was no Wally World as a prize at the end (for fans of the Vacation films), there were numerous prizes in exploration of this vast and varied country. We set out once school let out for the summer which interrupted the best Little League season I ever had. Yes, I estimate I was batting an average of .195, which for my readers around the world who may not know much about baseball translates to being abysmal! I do remember filling in at third base for one game where I promptly mimicked the great defensive playing of New York Yankees great Graig Nettles, guarding the line against the line drive and making spectacular Nettles patented instant replay worthy (in my mind) plays diving for the ball and protecting against an extra base hit. Again, apologies to my non-baseball watching readers but it was the pinnacle of my achievements in the sport I love best and I am damn proud of it. Sadly I was not drafted by the Yankees and my baseball career was soon over.

Forgive me, I digress. So in that sultry summer of 1979, Mom and Dad, together with my two sisters piled into the  Ford LTD station wagon for five weeks travelling across America. Much planning had gone into the trip before we left and there were lengthy discussions and disappointment when people’s choices would have to be bypassed. So sad as we were that there would be no Colorado or Pacific Northwest, no Montana or Yosemite, we still saw a lot of great places. Chicago and up to South Dakota through the wonders of the Badlands, before moving on to the Black Hills where we stayed in a cabin by a lake near Mount Rushmore. Then on to Yellowstone and the Tetons in Wyoming and the unforgettable town of Emblum, Wyoming, population 10. From there it was on to Salt Lake City and across the desert to Reno, Nevada before spending about 2 weeks in California. Starting in Sausalito and San Francisco and winding our way down to Los Angeles and San Diego, with stops along the way to see the Redwood forest, and Disneyland.

Eventually we moved on to Arizona, passing through Yuma (the hottest place I have been in my life, I believe it was something like 115 in the shade…in the late afternoon) and on to the wonders of the Grand Canyon. Then on through the unique colors and landscape of New Mexico and the gradual race to home passing through parts of Texas, Arkansas, Tennessee and on home. Through all those travels there were only two mishaps with the car that I can recall. When all was said and done the five of us made it through inevitable family strife, long miles of driving and cheap motels, unique and beautiful landscape, encounters with buffalo, tourist kitsch (“Stop at Wall Drugs in 40 miles. Wall Drugs coming up in 10 miles…and so on), amusement parks and California ocean, Native American creativity and more long miles we finally arrived home to New Jersey.

All those long miles made for a long list of cities and towns to circle on a map. When we were back home I think we tried to trace the journey made with a continuous line colored with marker. From New Jersey across to the west and back, passing through towns like Gary Indiana, St. Paul Minnesota, Albuquerque New Mexico, Amarillo Texas, Little Rock Arkansas, and hundreds more. I doubt I heard Hank Snow’s classic song “I’ve Been Everywhere” (which is itself adapted from Australian songwriter Geoff Mack’s original version) on that trip, but for my money it is the benchmark of an American travelling song as it rattles songs off from east to west and north to south. Which is surprising since Hank Snow was originally from Nova Scotia, Canada. I am pretty sure I did eventually hear Snow’s version of it in my 20’s, but it wasn’t until I heard Johnny Cash sing it on the album Unchained, part of the American Recordings series that it really resonated with me.

If you go back to Part 11 of this blog you can read about my own history with Johnny Cash, but to sum it up quickly here if you have not read that particular blog, Johnny’s music never really did anything for me until those American Recordings came out. I’ve Been Everywhere closes out the Unchained album, and even though Johnny had performed it many times before, this version is by far the best. When I had my a ha! moment with the importance of Johnny Cash’s music, this song quickly became one of my favorites. It was then that I began equating it with that summer of 1979 and that car journey, so I feel it is a fitting choice for the start of my ‘summer.’ Of recognizing the world surrounding me and trying to come to grips with the differences that were not quite so different when you really got down to it. I have not been everywhere yet, but I sure as hell will give it try someday.


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My Four Seasons-Spring


“A spark of life on a wire from heaven”

I was not going to mention this. Really I wasn’t…but I am convinced that failure to mention it will be met with stern looks and raised eyebrows in my direction.  I do not think any discussion of the four seasons within a context of music could go by without at least a passing reference to Antonio Vivaldi’s magnificent ‘The Four Seasons.” It is perhaps one of the most approachable pieces of classical music for people who may not normally profess to like that type of music. I think that is because people recognize what he was trying to do with the piece in making a musical portrait of the seasons of the year. You can feel the buzzing insects and impending storm in ‘summer’, the icy rain of ‘winter’, but mostly you can feel the invigoration of spring within the first few glorious notes of the composition.

It is the perfect example of music that makes you feel glad to be alive, much like that first day of spring when you can shed the winter coat, head outside to smell nature all around you and take in the vibrant colors after the dullness of a long winter. Because of all of that nature springing to life seemingly overnight-tree buds waking up, tulip, daffodil and hyacinth bulbs popping out from the ground, birds returning and singing their own songs it feels like a beginning all over again.  In a way I think of it much like birth itself.

I suppose that is because it seems to bring so much happiness back into our lives when spring begins. Which is what the birth of a child brings to people similarly. Not having children I have to rely on friends and family who have had them to understand that incredible moment. Often I hear words or phrases like miracle, transforming, inspirational, and connection to describe that special time after a child is born,  but most importantly of all what I hear is love. Time seems to freeze, and whatever pressures and concerns existed the day before seem to vanish once a new life enters the world. That is what the idea behind Runrig’s song News From Heaven is all about-

“Ideologies come, ideologies go,

A waste of words, and endless flow,

But now you’re here I feel no fear,

I can’t believe the news from heaven”

 When I began assembling this series of blogs together, this song from their 1989 album Searchlight was one of the first I thought of. One reason was because I had long wanted to do a blog about Runrig, who have been one of my favorite bands for years now. The other reason is that the song is simply quite touching and beautifully written. Then again, that is something Runrig has been doing well for years.  They have been together now since 1973, having formed on the Isle Of Skye in Scotland. Brothers Rory and Calum MacDonald have written the bulk of their material, filled with images of the Scottish landscape and its people. Since the beginning they have also included a few songs on each album written in the Scottish-Gaelic dialect, something precious few people ( be they musicians or writers) were doing around the time of their formation. Runrig can certainly claim a big part in the resurgence of that language. Together with the beautiful and expressive singing of Donnie Munro (and since 1997 his replacement Bruce Guthro) on most of the songs, Runrig over time developed a large fan base, especially in Scotland, where they continue to play in front of very large crowds to this day. You can read their official history right here-, and of course there are hundreds of videos of them through the years on YouTube.

There are many things to admire about Runrig. The lyrics are always engaging and thought provoking and the music conveys the emotion and feel of the landscape around them in Scotland. There is a deep sense of connection to their culture and their language which I feel are critical to our identity. Some people may eschew these things, but I have always felt it to be important. News From Heaven however comes from a different place. It comes from a place of maturity and sensitivity. It reminds me of those first days of spring that arrive after a long cold winter. Of tender new shoots on trees and plants forming. Of innocence and the promise of the growth to follow in the coming years. Of happiness and a life where there was none only the day before. Of living and breathing joy.


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Soundtrack Of A Photograph, Part 16

My Four Seasons, An Introduction

Way back in Part 4 of this blog in November of 2013, I wrote a blog using  photos of trees I had taken over the years. Most of those photos were taken from a perspective of looking at trees from a distance, peering up at them. This past year, while on a beautiful spring day’s photo excursion in Central Park, I accidentally stumbled on a new approach to taking photos of trees. I certainly do not claim it to be my own, but I quickly realized I loved the perspective it presented to me. What happened is that there was a large flowering tree in full bloom on a pathway. While several other people near by stood and took their own photos standing  back and looking up at the tree, I had a flicker of a thought to go under it instead. I ducked under the low hanging branches,  placed my back up against the mighty trunk and looked up from that perspective.

I was reminded how the simplest change of looking at things differently can dramatically alter the view.  Similarly, if I turned around and now faced the trunk while still standing under the tree it also presented me with a different look to the tree. When I got home and loaded the now enlarged photos on my laptop, I really liked the results. I spent the remainder of last year taking photos of all sizes and shapes of trees in the same manner. Recently while looking through all of those photos I took last year this way, a theme of four seasons began taking shape in my head because I had amassed so many.

The reason I liked this series of tree photos especially is because standing near the trunk in that manner the branches head out in multiple directions. Sometimes they give the appearance of sloping downwards, while at other times they shoot up skywards. Kind of like holding your outstretched hand in front of you upright with fingers pointed to the sky, and then turning it so the fingers now point down to the ground. As I took more and more of these photos, the unique criss-crossing lines of branches in  multiple directions, of thick main stems supporting smaller and thinner ones reminded me of  veins. I have heard others mention this before, but it was not until I saw it through my own photos that I really began to appreciate it. The unique patterns of veins which we are born with, stay the same as we grow older generally speaking. Despite all the things that happen to us throughout our lifetime, all the changes that occur,  those unique patterns stay the same, throughout the years, in every season, at every age.

Thinking about this together with the photos I assembled throughout last year gave me an idea to explore each stage of life as a season in a blog. Spring will be birth, growth and learning. Summer will be maturity and fun, autumn will be changes and transitions, winter will be aging and death. It also struck me in preparing this that the colors of each season seemed appropriate to this idea-vibrant colors of spring, solid and strong colors of summer that give way to the changing colors of autumn before the starkness and loss of color when winter comes.  Each season will have photos of trees taken using the method mentioned above, and each will have a selection of songs as I relate stories from my own four seasons to the songs.

This entire process of writing presented me with many challenges, and turned out to be unexpectedly autobiographical in places. Certain parts made me smile at happy memories, certain parts were slightly embarrassing to relate, and others were difficult to relive again. In the end however, I am glad I stuck with it and pushed these four seasons of my life out onto these pages.    So for the next four days there will be a separate blog for each season which together will make up my four seasons, so be sure to read them all in succession. I hope you enjoy reading them.

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All Photographs By Robert P. Doyle