I caught the first in the slack water backing a seam that mirrors the contour of the large igneous rock where, baking summer days, I take my daughter to swim in the clear green of the pool. Turbid now, milky emerald with runoff, the river gives up a brick-like, pellet-fed rainbow trout, courtesy of the state fisheries program. I break its neck, watch the life shiver out to the extremities and, running a thin piece of driftwood through the gills, stash her body in the shallows under a small cairn of rocks, proof against mink and eagles, and walk upstream.
I found a grosbeak in the barn when I took the chainsaw out for sharpening. Broken on the window, or dead of fatigue and confusion some great while earlier, but anyway dead, desiccated and impossibly light in my hand, the delicate red under-wing patches like an unearned intimacy. I had a fire going in the scar out by the plum trees, and took the bird there, lay it down in the flames and was surprised to see the feathers melt, the keratin proteins liquefying backward from the ends into a kind of boiling black ink from barb to rachis, to calamus, to nothing.
Some days earlier, on a small brook that, where the road ends in an old farm, deepens its canyon to a couple hundred feet of forest so steeply-pitched as to forbid travel anywhere but the bones of the riverbed, I'd caught a wild brook trout. Jewel native, not a trout at all but a species of char whose genetic memory of the stream is equal to the life of the stream itself. I held it briefly, and I let it go.
Magnolia, Forsythia, Azalea, Cherry, Plum. The heart expands, and hurts a little. My friend writes to tell me his mother has died at 95, having spent two days in hospital in her life, her last words to him, ‘Thank you.’
I caught the second in the same pool an hour later, back from the upstream bend, a creature identical to the first both inside and out: a hatchery fish raised in a concrete tub, in the river perhaps a week, oddly pale and likely to die in the first high water. The dog sits on the bank with ears up as I kneel and take out a small brass-bound knife. Blade in, and turn, the spark fleeing the eye like a passing cloud. I make one long cut from throat to vent, the ribs a secret cathedral and the whole dark machinery in my hand. I locate the heart, cut it loose, and to my surprise it beats in my palm: once, twice, the intervals a fermata whose length is written where? I set the heart in the current and watch it out of sight.
MIDWEST - When am I going to get back to Ohio? I don't know about you, but that's the sort of thing that worries me at 4 a.m. Naturally, I'm pleased to announce that I'll spend the first half of May on a Midwest on a tour that includes Illinois, Ohio, Michigan, Iowa, and Minnesota. I haven't played Ohio in 12 or 13 years. It's a pretty big state to just skip, and it's been there the whole time. The tour starts at SPACE in Evanston, IL (5/1) and heads east to the Marathon Center for the Arts in Findlay, OH (5/2), Riverdog in Oberlin, OH(5/3), and Natalie's in Columbus, OH (5/4), then north to play The Ark in Ann Arbor, MI (5/5), CSPS in Cedar Rapids, IA (5/8), and the Vieux Carré in Saint Paul, MN (5/9). Erik Koskinen opens the tour and joins me on electric guitar, supporting the forthcoming release of his new album Burning the Deal, due out in June, which see below.
MILES - 18 years ago this month I released my first album, Miles From the Lightning. It's been out of print for a dozen years and a variety of perfectly valid reasons, but we revamped the art and I wrote some liner notes, and copies are on sale now at the STORE, while supplies last. Next year we will be releasing copies of my high school year book, and auctioning off my retainer.
P-TOWN - In May I'll be appearing on stage with my wife Kris Delmhorst in concert at Twenty Summers, performing a one-mic acoustic show at the Hawthorne Barn in Provincetown, Massachusetts. We'll trade our songs, backing each other on various instruments, essentially going on a very complex date that other people pay to attend.
HADESTOWN - I went down to New York City to see Anaïs Mitchell's new musical Hadestown on Broadway last week. I have no great depth of field on the musical as a form (I'm well acquainted only with the Robert Preston film version of The Music Man, which for sentimental Midwestern reasons tends to call forth errant tears) but this show was beautiful, the score was intricate and thoughtfully arranged, and the performances were spectacular. I wasn't surprised. Anaïs is an old friend and tour companion, one of the best writers and singers I ever heard, and she's been a badass from day one. Get your tickets now, if there are any left.
BIG PLANE - I've been running around with Erik Koskinen this spring while my longtime band-mate and tour partner Billy Conway is on a brief sabbatical in Montana, Erik opening the night and then backing me up on the electric guitar in my own set. Every morning I wake up with his songs rattling around in my head, and they're great songs, with the kind of economy and heart that distinguished country music 40 years ago. Listen to 'Big Plane' from the forthcoming album, and tell me that Merle Haggard wouldn't have put it on a record. Erik combines electric blues, country, and Petty-style rock 'n' roll, plays a feral electric guitar and writes elegant, sophisticated songs about lovers and losers caught in the teeth of the American machine. The folks he writes about aren't on Instagram, and if much of what passes for country music these days is Def Leppard re-written for the mall-and-minivan set, this is something else.
SESSION - My friends in Session Americana have recorded an album of songs by New England writers, with a series of notable guest singers taking turns with the band in fronting songs by folks as disparate as Donna Summer and James Taylor, with Kris Delmhorst as producer/referee. It's called Northeast, and it's an all-hands acoustic affair with a sweet room sound, and a great roster of players. It's fundraising now, and you can support, and pre-order the record, HERE.
ETC - Looking toward summer, in July I'll be at the Trueblood Performing Arts Center on Washington Island, off the tip of the door county peninsula in Wisconsin (7/13), then the next week at the Hiawatha Music Festival in Marquette, MI. (7/20-21); and in August I'll be at the Philadelphia Folk Festival (8/16) with my band, perhaps sweating heavily, and cursing over bottles of Yuengling. There's a swing through the Northwest and perhaps Montana slated for the first half of October, and nothing else on the books. Maybe I'll retire?
That's it for now. This week I read that the average American citizen spends more time indoors in a year than the average mature sperm whale spends fully submerged in the ocean. Maybe you should go outside right now. I'll meet you out there.