Pairing Songs

Its been less than a year since I joined the board of the North Carolina Songwriter’s Co-op. My role on the board is to keep the Open Mic listing page updated with the dates and times of open mics across the state. As a result of knowing when and where nearby open mics were happening, I began to go and perform more frequently.

Most open mics are low-key events in a bar or coffee shop. Usually there is a host who monitors a sign-up sheet, opens the show and introduces the performers. The Moondog Meadery has a great open mic hosted by the incomparable combo of comedian Deb Aronin and singer-songwriter Max Rocket. Since its in walking distance from our place, I go pretty frequently. There is a 2-song limit and I generally open with a cover and close with an original.

Every show has its arc, even a two-song show. I like to explore the link between the songs that I can explain quickly onstage to bring the audience along. Last week for Moondog, I was prepared to open with You Ain’t Going Nowhere by Bob Dylan and close with Gaia’s Green Umbrella from the new Living Earth EP. I see them as linked because Gaia’s Green Umbrella describes a Climate Prayer Protest where the prayer is for elected leaders to ‘do something about the climate’. The Dylan tune can be considered a follow-up phrase. I sing the lyrics found on the Byrds album. They work better as a rebuke to wealthy elites who continue to prioritize their own wealth over planetary health!

But instead of doing that pair, I switched at the last minute to the pairing of my opener Roots Go Down and Nina Simone’s Feeling Good to close. When performing, I have started to describe Roots Go Down as a ‘hymn of the future’. I imagine that in 200 years, we will have achieved ecological balance and Roots Go Down will be a song of Thanksgiving held at the Summer Solstice celebration next to the Eno River. Hand drums, Tamborines, campfires, singing together: sacred good stuff. How is Nina Simone’s Feeling Good related? The imagery for one! And she sings directly to Nature of a connection so strong.

Bird flying by, you know how I feel. Sun in the sky, you know how I feel. Breeze drifting on by, you know how I feel.

Freedom Days

Is it a coincidence that we celebrate July 4, Juneteenth, and Solstice around the same time? Should late June – early July be called the Freedom Season? Fulfilled a long time goal of mine to play the Eno Festival. What a great river.

A place for everything, for a while

After the curve at the upper pasture at City Lake, the road slopes down towards a sometimes shady patch of grass, frequently moist. This past winter, I divided the patch of Joe Pye Weed we have growing in our Durham backyard into two and planted half in the moist, rich soil at City Lake. Periodically, I check to see if the spring growth is coming up and this week I saw the shoots. Reddish at first, with the whorls leaf ends pointing up. Like the black cohosh that emerges at about the same time. And the gil over the ground was servant blanketing a large area with those beautiful lilac colored flowers. I know that by mid summer there will be only a trace of the abundance that defines the area now. Easy come, easy go.

Community Medicine

My favorite part of the show at PS118, the Horse and Buggy gallery space, was when people in the audience took over the set list.

TaoSongs Event. PS118. Durham. 12.02.2021. Photo by Ricky Garni

Travis Cohn kept the rhythm thumping. We missed Josh on the bass due to a COVID exposure.

TaoSongs Event. PS118. Durham. 12.02.2021 Photo by Ricky Garni

We live streamed the event on Facebook — captured the first 20m or so.

TaoSongs Event. PS118. Durham. 12.02.2021. Photo by Ricky Garni

The Tao Te Ching is a medicine for society that helps remind us of our wholeness when we focus on the separateness.

TaoSongs Event.


On Facebook, a friend posted a picture of a daffodil, captioned ‘At Last.’ First thought was, “Isn’t it too early?”

Yeah probably so.

Then I thought of the bulbs I planted along the property line up at City Lake. I dug them up not far from the property line and I expect them to thrive similarly in similar soil. Picturing a line of yellow daffodils that mark the boundary in an explosion of color every Spring, but lay low mostly otherwise.

In a planting mode, I went to the high area above the ephemeral stream and next to where the ferns grow. There, in a circle around the three wild Hawthorne trees I recently discovered, I planted Hawthorne seed.

I figured that the native Hawthorne may enjoy the company. I’ll do my best to make them all feel welcome☺️. But seriously, me and Hawthorne go waaay back and I appreciate the physical and spirit medicine that Hawthorne offers. Heals the heart.

Time for repair

This MLK Day afternoon, we pulled trash out of the Ellerbe Creek tributary running by the old YWCA near downtown Durham. It took us a while to pile out of the house and I was frazzled by the time we got into the car to drive there. This was Lanya’s idea and I was mostly just going along in the name of family time and doing service today because, well, that’s our family habit.

So much plastic. So much broken glass. But I worry most about the plastic. It breaks down into components that cause all kinds of trouble for anything alive. So much plastic.

After 10 minutes, I was feeling so glad to be there in nature. Yes, the power lines were running overhead to the nearby substation. Yes, there was trash — plastic bags trailing from branches left high on the banks by the last storm– and broken glass everywhere. Yes, there was a den clawed in the bank, obscured by a few roots. Yes, there were fat worms wriggling beneath a dislodged stone. Yes, there were raccoon tracks, revealing a local’s evening activities. This was shaping up to be a magical Day of Service. Thanks, Lanya.

It came as a revelation that I wasn’t doing this cleanup to tidy. This was an act to repair some of the damage humans have inflicted on the living Earth. Or an attempt, in any case. Getting plastics out of the environment — even on a very limited scale — is an act of repair.

But why wait until the plastic deli bags wind up in Ellerbe Creek? Why not stop their migration at the source. Why not quit buying or using plastic? Well, it seems REALLY difficult because so, so many products have plastic parts or packaging.

I’m really not sure of where to start with my plastic diet. Maybe something like a food log but for plastic. How much do I really use? How much do I use that is totally optional? Hopefully I’ll keep asking myself these questions.

Meditation is a Good Start

Last March, I – like many, many other people in the beginning of the pandemic — started writing a story. I envisioned it as a thick novel. I’ve never, ever before written a novel. I’ve written a handful of thin few and far between short stories. That’s it. But I had this idea and I got my notebook. It was a composition book with the cover patterned with printed cracks. I got a pen and I started sketching out ideas.

Where I got to was a story taking place a hundred years in the future. One of the main characters, Evangeline (my wife dislikes the name), would be looking back at our pandemic time and trying to understand what it was like when the world changed. The historically important time when humanity got on the right path. And since telling the story in Evangeline’s voice, I came up with a worldview for that world that time. Getting into the head of people, a hundred years in the future.

Most people at that time thought the world is a living creature and we as people are as cells. In this Earth-being, species communities are sorts of organ systems in the Living Earth.

Now listen to this: Over time, as I was working on the story (this was March/April), I started to believe it. Really believe it. It seemed so obviously true. And I still feel that way. And what I see supports this idea: The Earth is one being and we are just a piece of it and connected to all living beings in that in that way.

Not so many months ago, I came across this New York Times piece by Ferris Jabr entitled, The Earth is Alive. The article was written in 2019 — about a year before I developed my story. Jabr’s article was almost exactly the same as the world view I sketched out in the story and have come to believe. I mean, I do have a subscription and am a frequent visitor to It seems likely that I had seen the article at some point, right?

In the Jabbr article, he explores the idea that the systems of the Living Earth, such as the water cycle and the exchanges in the atmosphere, are like our own circulatory and respiratory systems. Humans, as a species, constitute an organ system for the Earth something like our nervous system and brain. We observe, we understand, we remember, we are self-aware.

We are not doing well. As both species and organ system, we are doing the opposite of our purpose of keeping the Earth-body safe. How do we fix that!? Well, meditation is a good start. Any kind will do: walking, standing, sitting, yoga, tai-chi, prayer. All can help us to become more grounded when we make decisions and to make them in line with our values.

Adapted from TaoSong 15, The Gentle Movement, TaoSong 16

It’s Too Warm for October!

Here at City Lake it is warm, warm, warm. Beautiful weather, but fills me with fear because I attribute it to climate change and a harbinger of worse to come. And that fear motivates me and has helped me to clarify one of my purposes: repair and connect with the Living Earth.

This week I came up to plant fall roots and record at City Lake with my wife and two boys. We set up the tent and read books until it got dark. So encouraging to see how comfortable my kids are in nature. Deepening that connection is SO important.

Meditative and Mindfulness practices help me to repair and connect. Trite, but true: A little bit goes a long way. By growing to pay attention to and trust our own experiences, we can stay grounded and resilient . To do The Big Work of repairing and remembering the Earth Being.

Adapted from transcript of TaoSong 13, Intro to TGM, TaoSong 14