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Thank you, John Denver

Cherry blossoms on Roosevelt Island / B. Lorraine Smith (2017)

When I was a kid I loved John Denver’s Seasons Suite. It was so melodic and fun to sing along with. I didn’t know anything about him as an artist — he was just a voice that came from the record player, like Barbara Streisand or Paul Simon.

Yet I felt like Denver was sending me a message. I couldn’t figure out exactly what it meant, but it resonated profoundly. Literally: profoundly, in the sense that I tucked it away deep inside for future reference.

And here I am in that future, where I recently found myself referencing (and when I say, “referencing” I might mean “singing out loud”) the lyrics from the Spring verse in the suite…

“Open up your mind and let the light shine in,  the earth has been reborn and life goes on”

… on a rainy afternoon walk that I had taken with the intent of clearing my worried head before getting back to a complex task.

The cherry blossoms that greeted me by the thousands were each little lessons in calm. And context.

Context is no small thing here, (and I am not a particularly calm person, anyway). Even as I was rejoicing in the life bursting forth despite the dreary weather and mental burdens we all seem to lug around, I couldn’t help but wonder what the cherry trees might be telling us. Let’s skip their quibble about being pretty, non-native species planted neatly in a row for human recreation and hop right over to the party-pooping conversation about the devastating impacts humans are having on nature (including on ourselves, of course).

Denver surfaced in my head again and I found myself practically hollering into the rain:

“Do you care what’s happening around you?  Do your senses know the changes when they come?”

Oh boy, do I. And I don’t just mean hay fever. But just as on that gray rainy day those incredibly intricate, abundant blossoms pushed forward to complete their mission, I have a similar blossoming sense in my mind that lots of others — even humans — are doing the same. Nourishing this feeling among many other nutrients are two books I recently read that couldn’t be more different if they tried, yet they are most certainly singing from the same song sheet.

The first, Project Drawdown: The most comprehensive plan ever proposed to reverse global warming, edited by Paul Hawken (whose name might ring a bell as one of three co-authors of Natural Capitalism in 1999) is an accessible read with ideas ranging from new technologies to long-standing traditions, accompanied by spectacular photos.

As promised by the title, it is comprehensive, yet it is also comprehensible. And it is about actually reversing climate change. That makes my heart sing.

The second is A Kind of Magic, a children’s trilogy by Milo Barney that I found myself reading through the kind of happenstance that would make perfect sense to the mycelium running beneath forests but would be hard to explain in a strictly human context. This touching and adventurous series follows two children as they unexpectedly find themselves hearing (or more like receiving) messages from the forest. It’s a sort of “Paul Hawken for 10-year-olds,” if you will.

“Can you see yourself reflected in the seasons?  Can you understand the need to carry on?”

I can! I do! And to be honest it stresses me out. But this piece by laura black, which I found right after that walk (I tell you, mycelium-like, we are all so connected) was just the mental leaf-rustling I needed to keep things in perspective. In The Teachings of Trees, she notes among other worthy thoughts, “Trees are superior mentors...” Indeed. And so I will keep studying in their shade, and carry on.

There is an adage that suggests art imitates life. Yet the kind of art that grounds me decodes life rather than imitates it, reorganizing everyday signals — letters, colors, motions, sounds — like an open-sourced code that any human machine can run if it’s switched on.

Thank you, John Denver. I hear you. And I think you’re onto something.

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This piece first appeared as a Medium article in May 2017.

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