An American Elegy

“Ah, music,” he said, wiping his eyes. “A magic beyond all we do here!” — Albus Dumbledore in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

Composer Frank Ticheli has said that his hope for “An American Elegy” is that it might serve as “one reminder of how fragile and precious life is and how intimately connected we all are as human beings.” Ticheli was commissioned to write the orchestral piece to remember those who died in the shooting at Columbine High School in April of 1999, and to honor the lives of those who survived.

One of my dearest friends, about whom I’ve written often, heard the music played by her son’s school orchestra and was moved beyond words by the power of it, the poetic strength coupled with such vulnerable emotional resonance. She tucked away the title just like she tucked away other other things that moved and inspired her, quotes from Emerson and St. Augustine among them. After she died from metastatic breast cancer, Ticheli’s piece was played at the beginning of her memorial service, an instruction she had left behind for her family. Whenever I hear the opening bars, the music never fails to take my breath for a moment, in goosebumps and tears, just like it did the first time I heard it at her service. Read More

“A letter is a Joy of Earth” — Emily Dickinson

I’ve always loved letters, saving them like rare currency. When the volumes of them in my basement grew too big after decades of stashing them in boxes, I sifted through and parted with some that no longer had meaning, often written by people I could no longer remember. However, I found that even with these letters, I couldn’t simply throw them away. After all, at one point in my life, they felt important enough to keep. So, I made a bonfire and lay them in the flames one by one.

What remained after my de-cluttering was a collection that was still quite large, but now held only letters from close family and friends whose notes to me through the years serve collectively as an ad hoc archive of my life. Perhaps that’s why I love letters so much: they are a private vehicle for exchanging our most precious stories. Read More

Jules of Nature

“Nature never did betray the heart that loved her.”— William Wordsworth

Wisconsin nature photographer J. Marion Brown has been taking pictures since her kids were born, but became passionate about nature photography in the 1990s when she began camping with her family on the wooded property where they ultimately built a home, after years of testing it out first in tents. With her trusty Canon in hand, she has honed the practice of paying attention to a fine art (literally) as she catches glorious moments in nature the rest of us miss. Read More

Love is Up to the Challenge

“Just as people have eyes to see light with and ears to hear sounds with, so they have hearts for the appreciation of time.”— Michael Ende

If you are skittish about the topic of death, then stop reading this post right now. Or better yet, don’t. I used to be one of those people, superstitious that talk of death would draw it nearer somehow. Yet, when one of my closest friends was diagnosed with terminal cancer, it became a topic I could not avoid. And guess what? I found out that talking about death could actually be a very life affirming act.

I’ve been reminded of this irony recently by a friend of a friend of mine, a man I never met but whose forthright manner of living with and ultimately dying from ALS has inspired and touched me since I first heard his story. When my friend Barbara McAfee asked me to create a video of her song about her friend Jamie Showkeir, I had no idea I’d be drawn so completely into his story that I’d feel I knew him personally. Read More

Summer in the Marsh

“And so with the sunshine and the great bursts of leaves growing on trees, I had that familiar conviction that life was beginning over again with the summer.”
― F. Scott Fitzgerald

What began as an impulse last fall to go into the marsh to photograph the graceful movement of the withering cattails turned into an eight month project that now spans four seasons. I have appreciated the beauty of this marsh for years, but until I started to pay closer attention, I didn’t realize how many of its nuances and changes through the seasons that I had been missing. And I am sure there are countless more I have yet to catch, even now. Read More

Peace in the Storm

“There is peace even in the storm.” — Vincent van Gogh

A summer hailstorm kicked up yesterday afternoon, coming on quickly and with unexpected ferocity. As the hail grew larger, it fell faster, battering everything it touched. I don’t know why, but as I watched the storm, the tragic shootings earlier this month at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston came to mind.

“If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.” —Mother Teresa

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