Last weekend I left Philly to play at a wedding on a remote island in the sliver of outer banks that extend into the ocean off the coast of North Carolina. We drove through the night, stopping at hushed rest stops with claw machines and canned music. The Weight was playing as I washed my hands under the sensored faucet in the restroom and I paused to reflect on the amazingness of it. I often do this in public places. Wawa, a chain convenience store in our area, always seems to have on doo-wop tunes like Poison Ivy. A thrift store in my neighborhood plays an amazing gospel program whenever I peruse the racks. It seems odd that such vital music becomes “canned”, and I imagine people in the case of it being a verb stuffing it into some airtight tin only to be released on some other occasion.
We split up the drive and stayed at a hotel and I found a lone rubber ball, perhaps from the claw machine from a hundred miles away, sitting in the rug-covered hallway. With all my strength I threw it down to see it hit the dull floor and then ricochet in the long rectangular space.
We woke up to a local TV station covering a monster truck show. A middle aged man who went by the name “Grave Digger" was claiming how he was going to put all the youngins’ in their place as the clumsy cars with their gargantuan wheels made their way in circles behind him.
The continental breakfast room hosted a family of five in which the husband kept getting up over and over as things kept popping out of toasters and chatting it up with the woman workers about how he wishes they were his wife cause they’d always be feeding him and cleaning up after him.
The outer banks are very sleepy in the off-season. Rental homes sit like Star Wars giants and bikini stores lay patient. Ice cream stands have flipped their signs to “closed” sometime 7 months ago.
Okracoke is the final island, only reachable by car ferry. The loud hum of the ferry engine prevails until you arrive at the shore and are sent on your way, down a long road with stretches of marsh on either side. We checked in at the hotel and pet the office cat, and sat on a deck to look out at all the mellowness. White noise is so abundant in Philly. Sirens would cause panic here but back home it’s part of the daily array. Helicopters over the house again, cop chases, feral cats in heat, and gas station arguments. I remember reading a biography of Tom Waits in which he commented about his move to New York City and how he would just sit and take in all the sounds as they fell in on him.
I needed this lack of white noise. What’s the opposite of white noise? Anyhow, as we sat and went through the songs that would be played during the ceremony, a Fahey tune, Bill Frisell, Dixieland Jazz, some of my originals…I was so aware of the music and how it took to the environment, how maybe I had been writing music all along for this place, without even knowing it.
Sunlight glowed through smoked glass windows and etched patterns from the green leaves outside. Pews creaked, and people filed in and sat listening to the music. I forget that to those not familiar with playing music, it seems like almost a trick of the eye and mind. It’s an innocence that I would love to return to sometimes, like I had made a decision as the mermaid had did in deciding by going to land I could never totally return to the sea.
The minister, a South African man by way of Wilmington, Delaware, read a passage from Corinthians about people talking about love but not truly loving actively are like rusty gates. I thought of the rusty gates I’ve known and walked through and the ones who have walked through me.
Wonder is all around us but there is something about leaving the homestead that moves in me my wild heart. There are places in time that can bring out both nostalgia and newness that I hadn’t felt in a long time. Old roads that were replaced by highways are things left to be discovered again, however faded or forgotten, with signs that seem as if they are speaking directly to me. I find fragmented sand dollars, flyaway feathers in wind-blown dunes, and shells balanced on sticks like an ancient measuring system.
Our lives seem to not allow for this kind of adventure more and more as time goes on. We become the keepers of responsibilities to both ourselves and others and sometimes the lines become so gray. Who am I? What is it that makes me feel at peace with being here and everywhere? Realizing that these questions have different answers for everyone and being open to every way the blank can be filled in is a huge part of actively loving so that we can all walk through rusty gates to somewhere with different light and shadows and sounds, with inspiration as consuming as the ocean on a clean calm day.