Story in Song

Bob Dylan was able to tell an entire story in just a few lines of verse. It’s an absolutely beautiful thing. Take the first verse of The Times They Are a Changin.

A repetitious and technically basic guitar strumming carries the song. It is just fast enough to make you to cause some internal tension, but it never sounds rushed. He calls out far and wide “come gather ’round people wherever you roam” and asks them to reevaluate their position in society and in life “and admit that the waters around you have grown”.

He spends just a little extra time to draw out his question – “if your time to you is worth saving” and follows it rapidly with his own answer “then you better start swimmin or you’ll sink like a stone”, but this game of question and answer is just a lead up to what he really wants to say. “The times they are a changin”, which he accents with a blast from his harmonica. This is the centerpiece of all of the song.

That is a truly outstanding level of storytelling. Bob is compelling and leaves you with a chill, and the entire song is less barely over three minutes long.

However, today I also want to talk about another artist, and a specific song that has blessed me many times, and just yesterday I was singing it very loudly in the truck. It has such a well-crafted first verse, that can be written in two distinct, yet equally true and beautiful, ways.

Consider the first verse – “I am weary with the pain of Jacob’s wrestling, in the darkness with a fear” – describing the state of being and then referencing this very famous story immediately gives us an entire perspective on that state. Not just weary, but weary as one would be after years of self-seeking and deceiving family members, years of living in fear, working incredibly hard for a goal only to be conned out of it by his own uncle. And then the next line in the song is magnificently written – because it can be written in two distinct ways and either way is completely accurate.

Option 1. “But He met the mourning-wounded with a blessing, so in the night, my hope lives on”. I take this to mean that He (Christ) met the mourning and wounded man (Jacob) with a blessing. As you know in the story, Jacob wrestled all night long and would not let go of Christ, and his (Jacob’s) hip was thrown out of socket and he received a blessing, a new name, from Christ. Therefore the hope of the songwriter lives on because even though he may be wounded and mourning, Christ will bless him in due time.

Option 2. “But he met the morning, wounded, with a blessing, so in the night my hope lives on”. Reading it this way, I can see a focus on Jacob wrestling all night long, and not letting go. He (Jacob) made it all night long, and even though he was wounded, he received a blessing when the morning came. In this case the songwriter takes heart in remembering the suffering of Jacob, now and his hope will live through the night because he has the example of Jacob to remember.

I don’t know which way Andrew Peterson thinks of when he sings this song, but it blesses me as it is.

Aging

You’ve changed and it took me a moment to recognize you. Your hair once thick with the hue of a late autumn forest, is but a thin forgotten gray.

They speak of the years being kind and of the days pleasant, but on your face the years have drawn deep lines, and on your cheeks the days have worn long.

Yet I see the same old friend when I look into your eyes. The life-flame within you grows still strong.

Overwatch 2001

This has nothing to do with the incredibly popular video game Overwatch. This post is about the game I first played in 2001 – “Halo: Combat Evolved”. It was an incredible experience for me. The first night I had played it, when it came to go to bed, sleep eluded me. I am one that often has no memory of turning the light off (in fact I frequently have fallen asleep with the light still on). On that night, sleep eluded me. Instead I had eidetic memories of battling grunts and jackals.

I had never played a video game with such a responsive enemy before. The intelligence was creepy. Yes the NPCs had their starting positions, but they moved and responded to me in such a way that it felt like I was really there. I got lost in the game for a while, they had at the first passed my Turing test.

Eventually I traversed the uncanny valley and the game took a much more mundane role in my imagination. The AI was scripted and bounded. It was, after all, hollow and dead inside once you had dug deep enough.

And yet there was still magic to be found in that game, not by the games designers, but within our own imagination – in recreating a moment that had impressed me as a boy a couple years before.

This scene.

An excellent story of honor, love, sacrifice… I recommend watching that film in its entirety. It will move you.

Anyway, that scene had especially impressed me and my younger sister, Elizabeth, and in cooperatively replaying Halo many times over, we had found a way to recreate that scene. In fact I can still remember exactly how we did it,

We would sit in the room upstairs in my mom and dad’s house, the old room with pink carpet and thick walls, that had once been part of the original log cabin. I had an alarm clock that was also a CD player. It had a cracked screen. It had a function to increase volume until the snooze button or shut off was pressed, and it would occasionally get all the way to maximum volume before waking me up. Unfortunately for my dear family, it would wake all of them up at that level. On one occasion, I finally woke in a panic because my family was yelling at me to shut it off, and in my haste to do so – I knocked it off the table and cracked the screen.

Elizabeth and I would play together, over an hour through one of the longest stages in the game, Two Betrayals, and make it to the Final Run.

Two Betrayals. Halo: Combat Evolved

A legion of enemy warriors, including even two armored tanks and a dozen dug-in infantry troops, waited for us at the other end of the valley.

We would then put, into that old CD player, the soundtrack (that we probably had downloaded from Napster) of the “The Last of The Mohicans”.

Most often I, but on occasion I would allow my little sister to do it, would sneak out ahead and steal one of the flying ships from the enemy. Ideally one would use the powerful weapons of the flying ship to bombard the entrenched enemy position, or at least to take out the heavily armored tanks, but in this case we would park our vehicled on a very high ledge and instead pull out the sniper rifle.

The other player, previoulsy watching and patiently waiting, would now arm themselves with the shotgun and an assault rifle, and with the Last of the Mohicans Music resonating in the room, the person on the ground would let out a battle cry and charge the enemy position. The trick of that person was mainly to avoid the massive cannon blasts from the enemy armor and to charge straight for the door on the far end of the valley, all the while the person up on the bridge sat in overwatch.

Up on the bridge I could see the full battlefield and I would use the sniper rifle to protect my friend from the attacking infantry. We made believe that we were the legendary Uncas and Hawkeye while we provided cover for our brave hero that was face to face with the enemy.

That is a most precious memory of a shared experience with my sister Elizabeth, and one I will continue to treasure.

New Lights and Learning

A recent past weekend, I took on a project that scared me. I ran electric wire to one side of our garage and installed two lights, two switches, and an outlet.

I learned more through this little project than I thought I would. That is funny to me because it means that I was ignorant about how much I was ignorant.

I learned to appreciate the wonderful role of a fuse. At first it was frustrating when it blew and everything went dark, then I realized that I had wired a simple switch incorrectly. I put the positive on one terminal and negative on the other. A quick Google image search showed me my error immediately. I created an uninterrupted loop, that would have resulted in overheated wire. The fuse stopped that dangerous progress.

I also learned more about drilling through concrete. I learned why outlet boxes come in so many depths. A small project, just to add light to the front yard, taught me so much.

Bathhouse Row

This was my first time to visit the historic Bathhouse Row in Hot Springs, AR. Tiffany, Katarina and I had a wonderful stroll down, up and back down Bathhouse Row. We were late to town and ended up only having a few minutes in the National Park Visitors Center. It was still worth the visit and gave us a glimpse of what once was at Bathhouse Row.

The beautiful old structures had gilded fronts and architecture honoring the Spanish missions and the ancient Roman bathhouses. The interior was dominated by marble, brass, and steel.

The thought that returned to me again and again, when we visited each ornate structure, was “how this must have looked like in its heyday!”. Looking at the historical visitation records it may not be impressive that 265,000 people visited in 1926, but considering the limitations on transportation at that time, Bathhouse Row would have been a magnificent sight. I imagine it full of people and energy, just bursting to the seams with excitement. In one of the bathhouses, it was written that ladies had waited for hours for an available bath.

I felt like Bathhouse row was just a frame of what it used to be. Walking amongst the buildings was like looking at an old photograph, quiet and lonely now, which had once been beautiful and bustling.

I want to visit Hot Springs again, I want to breathe more of it, and I want to be in the history of it.

Out front of The Arlington, that old castle of Hot Springs Arkansas

Hallucination

Hallucination – an experience involving the apparent perception of something not present.a sensory experience of something that does not exist outside the mind, caused by various physical and mental disorders, or by reaction to certain toxic substances, and usually manifested as visual or auditory images.

Dictionary.com

Back in my late teens, I had an especially busy year at Hocking College. I was taking around twenty credits, tutoring for a handful of classes (Equine Anatomy and Physiology, Ichthyology, and Aquatic Ecology), as well as preparing for a summer of adventure in Moab, Utah.

I was very tired from all the activity, so occasionally I would fall asleep reading a book, or during lecture. Sometimes the days ran long, and after 9:00 pm I would still be at school. It was an hour drive back to my home, and since I had to be back by 6:00 or 7:00 the next morning, I would just sleep in the tack room of the colt-barn (I was breaking a three year old colt that year so I had access to that barn).

I knew that I was tired, but I felt like I could manage it and just keep going – until the night I hallucinated. I had a regularly scheduled tutor time that evening. I would sit in one of the empty classrooms available to help anyone who needed it for that course. In this case I don’t remember if was preparing for Ichthyology or Aquatic Ecology. Nonetheless I was waiting in one of the laboratory/classrooms, in the downstairs of the CNR building. In that beautiful place, we had the Rock Lab, the Mammals Lab, the Fish Lab, and the Duck Lab (which I was in). It was evening, most classes were finished and students had left and I was all alone.

Rather than sit idly, I had one of my textbooks out for another course and was perusing when I decided to turn on some music. Putting my earbuds in and pushing play, Dvorzac serenaded me. After a minute of reading I noticed something move out of the corner of my eye. I quickly looked up at the doorway because I thought someone must be here for tutoring and trying to get my attention.

Nothing,

I went back to reading and, then again, I noticed movement in my periphery. I looked back at the doorway and no one was there. I looked around the lab to my right and left, and no one was there. The room was entirely empty.

Then I looked up and I saw the movement which had caught my eye.

All around the room. Perched on top of the glass display cases, perched on top of the cabinets, and the mounted on the walls, were dozens of museum-mounted waterfowl. Gadwalls, Canvasbacks, Pintails, Shovelers, Redheads, Mergansers – each and every one of them were swaying. Like a well orchestrated dance troupe, they were moving and bobbing in rhythm to the New World Symphony.

I was dumbfounded. I knew that they were museum mounts and quite enough still, but yet I could see them swaying. I plucked the music from my ears and as the song in my head quieted down, so did the ducks.

I realized at that point in my life that I should be sleeping more.

The Foreignness of a Newborn Babe

I have seen hundreds, and perhaps thousands, of newborn Holstein calves over the last 3 and a half years.

Back in veterinary school, I saw a black calf with white spots, or vice versa. Now I see so much more in a calf.

I see chest and hip shape, muzzle curve, ear angles, neck length, elbow rotation, fetlock breakover, craniolateral position of the eyes and more. I am not even trying to look at those things, I just see them now. It fascinates me because it was happening over time without my full knowledge.

There is some part of my brain that collects, stores, and compares those measurements and observations, without me even aware of it, and it is working all the time. It’s a process that builds, and even as it conitinually ran in the background of my brain, I never really noticed it until my daughter was born.

Katarina taking her first of many naps

In that moment that I saw her present to the world, I realized, like Jon Snow, I knew nothing. It was humbling to see this little life and not know anything about how a brand new human looks. It was a token moment, feeling like the moment the window pane trembles, and the walls shudder, under the lashing rain and burgeoning gusts of a thunderstorm. In that instance, you realize just how much the window and walls mean to your survival.

Seeing her for the first time told me very clearly that my life had crossed some threshold and would never be the same.

Our ship had found itself in new waters.