Standing O Project

Sheba and I had some days off on tour up here in New England and things got really fun. Having just listened to Ani DiFranco’s song production of U Utah Phillips’ story, “Mother Jones, the Most Dangerous Woman in American,” we got an email from the Standing ‘O’ Project founders, John Dillon and Vivian Nesbitt, stating that in nearby New Hampshire, Vivian would be performing a sketch of Si Kahn’s play, Mother Jones in Heaven. What?! A chance to meet John and Vivian and also get more edumacated about the great radical fiery labor leader, Mother Jones?! We did it. Sheba drove four hours in heavy summer rain to Central Sandwich, New Hampshire. ( For real! ) We sat in the lovely ooooold home/gallery/theatre, saw the one-woman play in its nascent form, participated in the Advice for the Players Q&A, and then got to meet and even have dinner with John and Vivian. Wow. And I have to really credit the universal mystery for this one also because we had to cancel a show in Connecticut that weekend and allow the great unknown to take us by the hand. We wouldn’t trade this experience, this connection with new friends, these very real people, folks dedicated to the waking and the change and the holiness of now. (The next day, the great mystery took us to the Peacham Acoustic Music Festival in the Village of Peacham, Vermont. Sweetness! Also wouldn’t trade those connections, new friendships, musical jams, and truly great musical inspirations.)

Well, my song for the buffalo and the Buffalo Field Campaign has been chosen Song of the Day for August 28th by Standing ‘O’ Project. I joined Standing O – it’s free – last fall when Sheba and I were driving through Kansas and heard one of their wonderful interviews on their 10-year-old program, Art of the Song. We loved the interview and heard the pitch for Standing O, an online music streaming company that claims to actually support the artists who make the music they stream. Subscribers pay $5 monthly, and can also tip artists on the website.

“Every month, 50% of your membership fee goes directly back to the ARTIST MEMBERS The rest supports this site and the listener-supported radio program that created it . . . We’ve built this community because it is vitally important that young people grow up in a world where being a musician is seen as a viable career path. Otherwise, Don McLean’s classic song, American Pie, where he sings of “the day the music died,” will become a tragic reality.” — Standing ‘O’ Project

Personally, I just got paid $7.62 from Spotify for May 22nd to August 20th, whatever that means. (I added up a long list of payments from Spotify on this statement, payments sized $.32 to $.01, to get that number – $7.62.) The total I got paid on this same statement from all digital and physical sales was $45. . . Anyways, we artists are curious about these things and from time to time actually look into them. I commend Spotify for paying me this bit through CDBaby, and I commend Stand ‘O’ Project for wanting to do better. I signed up with SoundExchange a couple years ago and haven’t received anything from them, but I think CDBaby has me covered. Enough of the shop talk already!

Sheba and I send you love. We are out here in the ‘ole USA on tour, loving harder and praying harder and really trying to look inside ourselves and find more ways to be part of the solutions. Thanks for all y’all are doing to make the world a wonderful place for all the living things. And remember, We are everywhere! There are many many more of us who love and let live than otherwise. Be kind. Stay in prayer. Stay non-violent.

The new record in New Orleans is still getting loved up.I have some more vocals to do. Alice DiMicele recorded lots or beautiful backing vocals. And we’re waiting on a couple more friends to add parts. Thanks to Ani and Mike for hosting us and believing in us. We are blown away by the goodness coming our way through the music. We are, in this moment, headed to Philadelphia to play a show at Ahimsa House, founded by friends Kellie Berns and Meg to be a place to practice peace. Give thanks for the guidance and protection we are constantly receiving.

All Blessings,

Diane and Sheba

https://artofthesong.org/

You have to learn a lot of things to make a good prayer.

Author and teacher Martin Prechtel says we have to learn a lot of things so we can be nimble and eloquent with our words to make a good prayer.

Today I was happy to learn direct and in person from people who’ve lived and traveled in Israel and Palestine, Jerusalem and Ramallah. I learned that there are Jewish people helping Palestinians to rebuild. There are Israeli and Palestinian elder women doing a sewing project together, in which they talk and get to know each other. There are musicians from both of these cultures performing, rehearsing and recording together.

We learned that there are many political schools of thought in the Israeli government besides the extreme hardline racist fundamentalists who are in office now. Just sayin.  Some say they would change things for the better in Palestinian-Israeli relations.

And we heard about the olive tree pruning project where American and Israeli Jews work with Palestinians to care for the trees together. This is Dr Frank Romano’s most recent example of hands-on, active change, active peace-making, as opposed to the “feel-good” dinners and events he says are attended by Israeli and Palestinian people but sometimes never followed by action. Actions such as continued work and connection together create lasting and positive relationships.

Lasting, positive relationships make change. When we create and activate through positive projects together — be it music and art or rebuilding or policy change — then we can better live together for the longterm.

Frank Romano teaches at University of Paris, lives in Paris, and has family in the Rogue Valley where I currently live. He and his friend and cohort Suzanne happened in on our First Friday Kickoff Party at Love Revolution on January 6th. The uber talented Finn Juhl and I played 3 hours that evening, directly delivering the love, at the love shop! Frank invited me to play my song, Holy Land the next day at a nearby cafe as a part of a book signing he was doing. He just released his fourth edition of a book that came out in the last year and a half, all from his own experience and travels. Love and Terror in the Middle East is his memoir as an expert in Middle East studies as well as from “a man working in the field, face to face with people from all kinds of factions, including extremists on both sides.” He teaches law, literature, history and philosophy of law at the University of Paris Oeste.

What an inspired afternoon we had! I know for myself, I’ve spent many hours and days contemplating Israel and Palestine in their conflict as a microcosm of where humanity is at in our evolution, in our ability to revere the sacred, to share the treasures of our common history, to arbitrate our differences, and to focus on the health of our societies rather than on a profitable arms race. Boom.

Looking at a bit of Wikipedia today I learn: Jerusalem, a shared spiritual capital, and Ramallah (Ram – “height” and Allah – “God”), a Palestinian capital city, sit within 6 miles of each other on a 2,500ft plateau in the Judean Mountains. Side by side through the ages, side by side in this conflicted present, both cities and their constituents reach towards reconcilliation in the interest of health and wholeness for the children, for the wild, for the land.
So that is my prayer today.
Thank you for reading!

All Blessings to you and yours in the coming new year.
May peace, abundance, health, happiness and joy be yours.
May the awakening of the returning light be yours.
Love,
Diane Patterson

LoveFirstFriday

photo credit: thank you Jason Ross!

Spring Tour 2016, New Orleans

Version 2

May 15th, 2016

Oh goodness gracious, there’s a story I really must tell, before it busts out of me like a bouquet of spring blossoms just crazy to spill their colors and pollen all over this hungry, sweet earth. My heart drips gratitude and sadness and elation.

Sheba and I spent three days with Ani DiFranco and her very cool and talented husband Mike Napolitano and their cute kiddies, all just mellow and steady, growing family heart connections. If you don’t know, Ani helped Sheba have a much much shorter prison term years and years ago, in 1992, by writing a letter on Sheba’s behalf, along with a bunch of other friends mostly from Southern Oregon. When Sheba got out of prison she went to thank all those whose letters really saved her life, and in the mean time, Ani had gotten famous and was a little trickier to thank. Now they have a long-time, tiny enormous friendship. So I think both their hearts blossomed like those very same spring crazys, just to be able to spend some time together and be family. We walked around New Orleans and had breakfast and played in the back yard under the epic tree who’s been there longer and knows more tears and laughter than any of us kids will ever understand. . . though we might catch tiny glimpses when we swap stories of our far reaches for realness. . . like this. . .

Sheba noticed letters from Spoon Jackson lying on the table in Ani’s high-ceilinged, light, airy Louisiana kitchen. She mentioned it to Ani. Sheba recognized the letters because she’s seen letters from that very same poet in my hands, that very same big-hearted man, who happens to be a prisoner in California, serving an infinite, painful, life-without-parole sentence, already approaching forty years long. I met Spoon briefly when I performed in New Folsom Prison, along with Michael Franti and Spearhead, Melissa Mitchell, and Kimberly Bass, in a 2005 concert in the little cider block chapel in Facility C. And I corresponded with Spoon starting earlier in the same year, up until about a year ago, when he moved to Lancaster prison. I have written a song for Spoon, who is also beloved in Sweden, where I have met some fans of his poetry there. The song I wrote for Spoon is on my latest release, Teach, Inspire, Be Real, and it’s called At Night You Fly — in response to his poem, At Night I Fly. (You can hear my song in its entirety on my cdbaby page for Teach, Inspire, Be Real.)

Ani’s been corresponding with Spoon for some years also, and has recorded a song she created by putting a poem of Spoon’s to music. That song will be released soon on an entire album of songs written by prisoners. More on that soon, I am sure. Meantime, Ani cried as she told me more about Spoon’s case than I knew and even told me that Spoon, unlike in the story I paint in my song, actually killed a woman, where I had assumed he had killed a man. Ah, the pain of this world moves through us, like it or not. And being a teenager, black and poor in Barstow, Spoon hadn’t the support nor the skills to express his deep deep pain. No excuses. Just saying and just seeing, this life is all more complex than we can know. And in Her complexity, She teaches us to look deeper, listen harder, be slower to jump to conclusions, perhaps never sit on hard conclusions, and instead keep singing and loving and wondering and praying and praising with our grief. Such grief, such pain, such longing for justice, we feel and we speak and we sing. Ani and I spoke of restorative justice and we spoke of Spoon Jackson’s sentencing, knowing justice was not done on that day so long ago by an all white jury in an all white court, judging with blinded inability to reach outside this system of black and white, victim and perpetrator, guilty, not guilty, alive, dead, locked up for life.

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Later that afternoon, grateful for our freedom to travel and experience this amazing life, Sheba and I rented bikes in the French Quarter and ripped down Magazine Street, my guitar on my back, to Crepe DeVille, the cafe of Sheba’s old friends from Mendo times. After hungrily loving up some super delicious buckwheat crepes and coffees, we sat out on the busy sidewalk in that deep southern town and visited with Kendra and Jim and their little year-and-a-half-old baby boy. I played guitar songs the whole time as people strolled by and drove by on Cinco de Mayo, 2016. We never tried to find the infamous party that we heard went viral on Facebook that day, Sinkhole de Mayo! But i’m sure it was fun, and I hope the people didn’t sink too deep into the Louisiana swamp!

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See, my mama was born and raised in Northern Louisiana, in a little paper mill town, where her dad had a machine shop next door to her family home. Sandy Lou and her five siblings grew up laughing and trying to practice for their music lessons, steeped in Catholicism and values of family and togetherness, playing cards and having fun. So my trip through Louisiana was tinged with that little song of longing for the parallel me that grew up in that southern state, in the muggy summers and lush landscapes dripping in Spanish moss. My mama still speaks with a bit of drawl, and certain words betray her southern roots. Her dad was from Vicksburg, Mississippi, where he left his mean ole dad. He missed his mama, and got real good on the banjo as he rode the freights around the Pacific Northwest, hanging out in Seattle and parts nearby. My mom’s mom was born in Canada to a couple that traveled with his work as a carpenter, and she met her future husband when she took banjo lessons from him. Aunt Kathy says my grandma would sit in her bedroom some days and cry because of what might have been. She’d listen to records from a banjo player, contemporary of her husband’s, who had stayed with the music rather than raising 6 kids. Grammy cried because she knew her husband was just as talented, if not more so, but hadn’t any records to show for it, or so she told my Aunt.

Mom's parents, Dick and Wilma Jolissaint

Jump forward and land back in New Orleans, I’m soaking up the experience of being in the South, and meanwhile doing a lot of deep breathing because I’m not used to being in the presence of such an infinite heroine of mine, that unforgettable Righteous Babe, the one who doesn’t like to wear anything she can’t wipe her hands on. That line stayed with me. 1990, maybe. She played The Palms Playhouse back in Davis, CA, probably when I was in my second band, The Heat, and going to University there. She was so mighty. And so righteous. That night she admitted to the small, rapt audience that she seemed to be dealing with a hairball (!). Dang. So young and already so seasoned and so precocious and so so so Ani D.

There weren’t role models like Ani when I was growing up. Almost all of the music on the radio was made by men. In Red Bluff, my home town, all three radio stations were country stations, and I never even gave it a chance. But now I asked Ani, “What do you say to girls to let them know they can do it?”  “I think they know,” she answered. When I was growing up, I didn’t have anyone letting me know that I had some natural talent and would benefit from developing it to serve the people. But I do know, music came easy and I stayed with it. And now, we have Ani, and many more.

I thanked Ani for honoring our folk elders, our storyteller elders, U Utah Phillips, Pete Seeger. And we lamented the loss of Prince, with whom Ani had done a little recording trade on each other’s song. Sheba says this:  Ani powerfully inspired Prince in the way she managed her own musical career, and literally told the record labels off. Of course, Prince had such massive trouble with his Warner Brothers relations. Ani made it on her own. Can you get that? She played Carnegie Hall, twice!, 2001&2, we think. Dang!

During our visit, we asked the amazing 4’10” woman and her brilliant producer husband if they are totally booked up in the studio, and indeed they are. “But,” Mike said, “we could record a song today.” And they listened to me play a couple of my songs. We settled on Come on Rain. We recorded Come on Rain in Ani and Mike’s home studio. Yep, it really happened. I have the rough mix to prove it . . . to myself. We started with my slide guitar and voice. Mike ran my guitar through a Leslie speaker, you know the kind that makes that signature Hammond B3 organ sound – a kind of dark, juicy whirring. They call it a rotary speaker.

We set the click to 132 beats per minute, which is the tempo where I practice the song, and I played with that click in my headphones. If you don’t know, the steady tempo allows other players to more easily track other instruments to my recording without having to focus on matching my time, but instead being able to tend to each note and chord. Ah. That’s how we like it. Then the royal duo set me up to play, with my hands, a foot bass pedal, which would normally be used by a keyboard player. That gave the track a simple, warm bass line. From there, Mike and Ani started suggesting that I pick up one of their amazing old guitars and see if I could come up with another guitar part for Come on Rain. Then suddenly Ani picked up the resonator guitar, sat at the fat studio microphone, and worked on learning the song and creating a melodic rhythm track that sings with my voice and cries with my prayer for rain and forgiveness.

Come on rain, come on down
Come on dance upon this ground
Come on rain, come on down
Come on make that holy sound
Come on rain, liquid life
Come on, kiss your earthly wife
Let your love sink through her skin
Come on, quench her thirst again

So many days and nights out praying,
Down on my knees in the desert like a child
Alone, running wild
All of those days and nights in the desert
Looking for rain and forgiveness for a child
Alone, running wild
What have I done, I asked of my mother
What have I done, I cried of my father
I’m just a child, alone, running wild

Come on rain, come on down
Come on dance upon this ground
Come on rain, come on down
Come on make that holy sound
Come on rain, liquid life
Come on, kiss your earthly wife
Let your love sink through her skin
Come on, quench her thirst again

I’m a child of earth alive in a body
Gazing into the embers of a fire
Singing, I’m not alone
I’m a child of earth, awake in a body
Gazing into the loving eyes of Gaia
Singing, I’m not alone
We are children of earth, awakened in body
Gazing into this circle made of love
Singing, we’re not alone

Come on rain, come on down
Come on dance upon this ground
Come on rain, come on down
Come on make that holy sound

diane-patterson

“So, what happened to you?” my friend Dosha in Boise said when we spoke for the first time ever, on the phone. He had received a recording of my ballad, High Sierra Morning, on a mix cd and listened to it, crying, every morning for two years before contacting me through my website. I’m pretty sure he meant, what happened to you that made you able to write such a song? What cut you to the quick and then dropped slow, steady grains of salt until your tears fell, many and hot. I answered with my story of coming out as a lesbian when I was so young, but already in college, and just so very full of love and naiveté. I didn’t know my dad’s heart would break and he would blame his disappointment on me. I didn’t really think that one out. But I don’t imagine I’d change anything about it. I just learned the hard way that sometimes we have to let people down just to be ourselves in a true, good way. And then I learned that if I wanted my parents to accept me as I am, I have to accept them, completely, with love and delight. And we are getting closer and closer every year, I’d say for about 9 years. That story wraps Come on Rain in realness. In the song I’m asking my parents for forgiveness, not because I’ve done something bad, but because this world lied to them and lied to me and left us crying alone.

Ani’s busy this week, but soon she will send the tracks we made on May 6th to my dear friend and extraordinary drummer, Udugirl, Janelle Burdell. Janelle is from Pittsburg, PA, and we visited her there on our way through a couple weeks ago. Then the following night she played the whole show with me and Al Torre at Wheeling Brewing Company, the most progressive place in those parts of West Virginia, and proud of it. Janelle will record some djembe, which is what Ani and Mike thought would sound good, and maybe also some metal drum kit, cause that’s what my ear wants to hear, on Come on Rain.

Life is good. We are grateful. The new CD went live for sale online today on CDBaby, who will soon put it along with my other releases on iTunes and Amazon and Napster and Spotify and all that good stuff. Monday night I play in Crestone, Colorado. Presently we drive across the northern piece of Texas, after a super fun and sweet time with my brother’s family in Dallas, uptown. We caught a glimpse of that infamous Grassy Knoll on our way out of Dallas. And the Sixth Floor Museum. Lots of deep history. And here we are making our own stories. As my dad titled his own little book of stories from his life, You can’t make this stuff up!

Singing for Yellowstone Buffalo the Rest of My Days

After three days and nights in Montana’s sparkling mountain, yellow canyon, deep river lands of the buffalo, I have a good beginner’s understanding of who the buffalo are. I’ve come to see a bit of what the buffalo mean to the land and life here in Montana, and why Buffalo Field Campaign insist on protecting these wild giants. I’ve basically fallen in love with the place. . . the snow-capped mountains, green meadows, douglas fir and lodge pole pine forests. I’ve felt the crisp morning air and swooned over the blossoming larkspur, arnica flowers, and clouds of every type billowing across the skyscape. Amidst all this beauty, roam the mighty buffalo. They are not frightening, not aggressive. They graze. They rest. They care for their springtime broods, walking slowly across Yellowstone Park roads, and stopping tourists with their good looks and gentle manners. This is my experience.

Yellowstone Buffalo in June

Yellowstone Buffalo in June

From 6.6 to 11.5 ft long, and 5 to 6 feet high at the shoulder, buffalo have massive, thickly coated faces, used to bust through snow. By moving their heads back and forth, they dig in and down for winter forage on the frozen earth. Well-suited, and in symbiotic relationship to the land here, buffalo eat grasses and sedges. They cut the grass above the ground level, unlike cattle, who leave grasses unable to regrow. Buffalo contribute positively to the nitrogen cycle for soil and plant health. And they contribute to plant life diversity and wildlife diversity in the way that they graze and flourish, and then leave their bodies to feed the various creatures, great and small. As I witnessed them over two solid days of observation, buffalo are quite peaceful, sometimes playful, definitely beautiful, healthy-looking wild creatures.

“I’m a buffalo. I do what I want,” says the Buffalo Field Campaign bumpersticker. This is the ancient truth, as buffalo owned these lands, mountain and plain alike, and were intricately woven with the lives of the many tribes that lived here for thousands of years.

I found out about the work of Buffalo Field Campaign in fall of 2012, Southern Oregon, when musician cohorts brought me to an outdoor benefit concert and community cob oven pizza dinner fundraiser for the campaign. After performing my music at the event, and meeting BFC’s co-founder Michael Mease, I knew I wanted to go to Montana and play my mystical songs for the volunteers there, to brighten their days, and, just as much, to inspire my own playing and songwriting! On May 31, 2014, with the support of my dear friends Rebecca and Ashley Ballantyne-Gmach in Missoula, I made the four hour drive down to BFC camp on a crescent new moon evening. The camp’s gorgeous 6,660ft perch looks Southwest over Hebgen Lake (a reservoir) and the stunning Gallatin Range, border to Idaho, and the Continental Divide.

Buffalo Field Campaign Camp

Buffalo Field Campaign Camp at Sunset

I made it to BFC’s homey cluster of cabins and tepees just in time for 6pm evening meeting and dinner, and I jumped right in. The meeting consisted most importantly of reports from morning and afternoon reconnaissance. These twice daily recons, sometimes on skis and snow shoes in the winter months, report location, numbers, and safety of buffalo herds they see. (BFC also records citings of many other wildlife species for a general wildlife database they maintain.) I understand now, they are out looking for buffalo herds roaming beyond the invisible boundaries of nearby Yellowstone National Park, where, in their natural migrations for food, they are not safe from hunters and “management” agencies. But that first night I just played and sang about two hours of music for the late spring crew, talking story from Hawaii, Sweden, California, Mendocino hills, high Sierra mornings, ancestors and peaceful warriors — from my twenty-five years of music and activism. That small group happily, though somewhat sleepily as the evening progressed, received the music and inspiration, and welcomed me to join in their field work the next day!

In the subsequent two days I witnessed the nature of the buffalo. I saw mamas peacefully grazing their single red-coated babies. And there were smaller groups of males, also quite mellow, and sometimes playfully jumping and butting at each other. Juxtapose that with the general western white man’s domination psychology — assuming the buffalo to be problematic, disease-ridden, aggressive beasts to be controlled, if not exterminated — and you have a confusing situation. Many times I had to question and clarify in my attempt to understand, to put into my own words, the conflict at hand over this last, and I repeat: last wild herd of genetically pure North American buffalo. Any other buffalo you meet, or eat!, are mixed with cow. Cow-alo, I’ve heard them called. And they are beautiful, but they are not the wild, migrating, free-roaming contributors to healthy ecosystem, plant and animal diversity, and, really, soul of land and original peoples of this part of the world.

After a good sleep in a little tepee with a warm fire, there was communal breakfast with all the simple and functional amenities. BFC is well organized. Their nonviolence and sexual harassment policies are impressive in their clarity and relevance.

Just after 9am I jumped in the car for morning recon with Comfrey and Pat, two very focused and skillful young men. Comfrey is fresh off of a victorious action in which he locked down to a 55-gallon drum of cement on the highway, stopping that day’s harassment of buffalo. (Read about it on BFC’s website!) And Pat arrived on the scene in beginning January. He plans to volunteer through September! They both were very knowledgeable, answering my questions and orienting me well to the land and the issue. Below is a map of the area where BFC operates. See West Yellowstone town and park entrance lower right. BFC camp top left corner.

BFC Area of Operation

BFC Area of Operation

We saw buffalo in two spots. One happy resting crew of 30, plus calves, were enjoying the sun on the Galanis Family’s Yellowstone Ranch Reserve, which is privately owned. Galanis Ranch has clearly posted no tolerance for buffalo harassment on their land. So that small group was safe there for the day. Outside the Ranch Reserve gate, I picked up some winter buffalo coat fuzz, happily scored for my future altars. I know I’ll be singing for the Yellowstone buffalo the rest of my days . . .

We saw one other buffalo cow on that morning recon. She was alone on a river bank. This is rare. Males often live alone or in small groups of males. Males and females join their groups in the August to September rutting season. But females live communally with other females and calves, including male calves up to three years old. The female we saw had been there for some days and seemed to be dying. I heard from the crew that buffalo will travel 20 miles to be with and mourn their dying brethren. (Read lots about buffalo on BFC co-founder Michael Mease’s regular reports on BFC website!)

The morning recon had a pretty set route to drive. It’s all about scanning for bison presence outside the park, which would then lead to agency presence and buffalo harassment. We didn’t see anything that would bring agency presence. Pat asked me questions about my musical routes, and we talked about Southern Oregon spots we love, like Takilma and Ashland. I took copious notes on the situation, facts, places and players. After about three and a half hours of driving and looking, with three or four stops, we headed back for lunch.

“You can’t understand about nature, about the feeling we have toward it, unless you understand how close we were to the buffalo. That animal was almost like a part of ourselves, part of our souls.” —John Fire Lame Deer, Lakota Holy Man

The photos below come from story boards that BFC has generated for ongoing public education. Here you can see the vast connection between the buffalo and just about every aspect of indigenous life: from tools to medicine; food and shelter; child rearing to ritual; and parts in between. First nation people used every part of the buffalo and praised it as an ancestor spirit. They must have been abhorred, in a way we modern white folks will never understand, when the cowboys, cavalry and crooks came out to slaughter the then millions of buffalo — in their minds, to tame the west. Currently the local tribes hunt and kill buffalo every year as part of their cultural heritage — last year around 700 buffalo, from a herd that fluctuates around 3 – 4000 head.

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I sat down on the concrete front porch of the main cabin, once a resort lodge, overlooking that aforementioned stunning lake and mountain scene, eating lunch with some BFC volunteers. I noticed Bob, who had admitted to having to leave my concert the night before due to crying so much from the songs! Bob was packing his fishing pole into the ski mounts on the recon car. Then, awesome BFC starlet Demmi brought another fishing pole! I invited myself along with them on the afternoon recon. “You’re addicted already,” they said to me. And a brother named Julian from Columbia/New York City came along, too.

Our first assignment was to drive into the park to spot a herd of about 90 bison that Michael Mease had seen that morning. We hoped they had gone too far into the park to be seen in the loop we drove, so that they would be safe from hazing. We did not see that group in or outside the park. Hopefully they are safe for now. We proceeded to do the usual rounds, saw the same group of 30 + on Galanis Ranch, and the lone female on the river bank, and then stopped for an hour or two on the river for some bottom fishing. After I made a few faulty attempts at casting, Demmi’s fishing pole reminded me how it’s done. Such a nice feeling it is, when the line is going out and the sinker is sailing over the water. Plop! Demmi wasn’t using bait. She didn’t want to kill two things. . . the worm AND the fish. But she caught a nice-sized, I think, trout.

Afternoon recon was, happily, uneventful.

Demmi's Catch

Demmi’s Catch

Before the year 2000, that is, before the influence of Buffalo Field Campaign, buffalo coming down from the mountain and outside the park for winter forage were mostly just shot, slaughtered, destroyed, whatever you want to name it, by five “management” agencies, with support of local law enforcement. Now, with pressure and public education by Buffalo Field Campaign, these agencies instead mostly haze, or harass, the buffalo, forcing them to move back within park boundaries. They push the small groups of buffalo up to ten + miles in a day, sometimes with big pregnant mamas, or babies ill-equipped for long runs in hot sun and big winter coats, sometimes forcing the herds with babies to cross rivers and slide down sandy slopes too quickly to be safe. The point is not to protect, but to control, it seems, by people who come from generations of killing buffalo, and who think of Buffalo as Problem.

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The agencies taking charge of the buffalo and keeping them within Yellowstone National Park boundaries (to be seen only by those who pay their park fees!) are: Department of Fish, Wildlife & Parks; National Park Service; Department of Livestock, affectionately called Department of Hamburger; Forest Service; and lastly, USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. APHIS seeks to immunize buffalo against brucellosis, a disease the buffalo have never been documented to transmit. APHIS uses the brucellosis threat as an excuse to kill and harass buffalo off of lower grazing lands. They do this, ironically, though the cattle they fear could be infected by brucellosis cannot survive the winters (when buffalo come down to graze) and are only shipped in for the summer months. And actually, I did quite a bit of driving around the area on my two recon trips and did not see a single cattle herd in the West Yellowstone area. That was June 1st.

As they put it: Buffalo Field Campaign is working in the field every day to stop the slaughter of Yellowstone’s wild free roaming buffalo.  I see that they are advocating for buffalo to be given “wild animal,” and not “livestock” status, which might take Department of Livestock out of the picture.

It’s a strange situation. According to my gracious Yellowstone Parks guide, professional photographer Keith Fialcowitz: National Geographic and Discovery Channels won’t carry the story because they would have to vilify the National Parks. Those companies need their good relations with the parks, Keith says, where they film all their marvelous wildlife footage. From what I heard in my days with the BFC crew, it may not be the parks people who are calling the shots, but definitely the parks are going along with APHIS and the Department of Luncheon, I mean Livestock, in the anti-brucellosis campaign. And in general, all five agencies, supported by local law enforcement, for now, continue to perpetuate the old kill-the-buffalo paradigm.

My last full day was spent entirely in Yellowstone National Park. Keith and I spent hours driving around. Thank you Rebecca and Ashley for the awesome wheels!! Every time there was a giant elk or a few buffalo to be seen, tourists would tend to park in the roadways to witness the wildlife, so it took us an hour just to get in to the park, stop-and-go buffalo viewing to blame . . . But it is really exciting to see the huge wooly creatures. Buffalo are not scary, or threatening, in my experience. I was 5 feet from big mamas as I sat in the car and photographed them munching grass on the roadside. (Normally it is not good for wildlife, nor wildlife viewers, to get so close to the animals. They need their wild space.)

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I was amused by the tourists and enchanted by the wildlife. Slow was fine for me. I saw Old Faithful erupt right on time, but the geyser pots at Midway are even more deeply beautiful, painting their steam dark orange and blue with the colored algae that grow in their boiling hot ponds. We hiked down into the mighty canyon of the yellow stone in the late afternoon, spied an osprey nest looking down in, and witnessed the enormity of spring snow melt, green water girth, as it tipped over the edge in the closest, biggest waterfall experience I’ve ever had. Rainbows in the mist . . . Cloud shadows coming and going over canyon walls. Blue sky, big sky, scattered white billows. It’s bird country up there, and buffalo, just a dream.

 

Yellowstone River Canyon Below the Falls

Yellowstone River Canyon Below the Falls

I’ve heard it said that, as compared to the more cosmic Oaxacan peyote dreamers of middle Mexico with their dancing deer icon, we North-North Americans are more earthy creatures since we live in the land of the heavy-hooved buffalo. I am grateful to live in a time when the wisdoms, medicines, and traditions of many cultures are available to those who will simply seek to find them. We have the opportunity to glean the best, and make the best we can of this earthly existence. I am glad to have had this time to steep in the buffalo medicine. And buffalo medicine, by one account, is: Manifesting abundance thru right action and right prayer. So be it.

Fracking in the Catskills – Kelly Hyde Speaks on Life and Her Beloved Homeland

Kelly Hyde, or ‘Kaahele’ when she’s got her musician hat on, grew up in the Catskills of New York on the Delaware River, swimming and playing and feeling great comfort and safety by the water. In 2001, Kelly’s mom, Kate Bowers, took her, then14 yrs old, and her two sisters, to a big peace rally in New York, with thousands of Americans hoping to curb imminent war. That was her first experience of speaking out for a cause.

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Not so many years later in upstate New York began hydraulic fracturing, the practice of natural gas extraction by pumping large amounts of water, sand, and chemicals deep into the earth’s shale deposits and using explosions to release stored gas. The technique uses large amounts of water and can lead to groundwater contamination, chemical spills and disturbance of large areas of land, according to a 2012 state report from North Carolina. Hydraulic fracturing, known as fracking, is threatening the designated “wild and scenic” Delaware River and its clean drinking water, which supplies 15 million people, including the residents of New York City and Philadelphia. Also threatened are the beauty and health of Kelly’s family home — water, air, soil, economy, and way of life.

Kelly’s friends and family all live in the Delaware River Watershed, and so they are all affected in some way by the fracking industry. She can’t remember when she first heard about the method of natural gas extraction. “For so long I just remember going to the river and almost crying because the fracking had started and the river was possibly going to be polluted from Pennsylvania, or it was going to start in New York,” bringing ethane, butane, propane, and methane, into the water and the land. Many locals around the Delaware watershed have chosen to make a lease agreement with the fracking companies, allowing the procedure to happen on their land, and receiving thousands of dollars in return.

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In 2010, the Delaware River Basin Commission, consisting of the governors from New York, Delaware, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey, and having the job of managing the waters there, effectively placed a moratorium on fracking in the Delaware River Basin. They basically chose to hold off on any decisions regarding drilling in the Basin until new regulations were adopted. Large and small landowners who wish to profit from fracking on their land are growing impatient with the DRBC’s now 3 1/2 year old moratorium. Others who live, farm and own land in the region continue to speak out against fracking altogether, hoping for a complete ban on the practice, as North Carolina has.  “The moratorium was awesome, because suddenly, we didn’t have to worry about the river.”

I met Kelly on the Big Island of Hawaii in spring of 2012. My friend and musical cohort SaraTone, of Seattle area, suggested I bring in Kelly, or ‘Kaahele’ now since we’re talking music, to perform at my healing concert, titled Rebirth. Kaahele was wonderful, real, deep, funny. She has numerous creative videos on YouTube and has a new CD out this year. But it wasn’t until recently when I got to hang out with her more that I learned about her connection to the land, and the protection of her homeland back in New York. As she spoke about her mom and the activism around fracking, and with all her awareness as a young person, I knew I wanted to interview her.

Kelly’s former bedroom is the now the headquarters of Catskills Citizens for Clean Energy, founded by her mom, Kate Bowers. Kelly lit up as she described the room, now full of banners, buttons and petitions. She speaks about her mom with great respect, describing Kate’s years of work, spreading info by tabling at weekend markets and fairs, for example; holding countless planning meetings in her kitchen; and even running for City Council. The issue seems to be worth every moment spent. In the very Catskills neighborhood where Kelly’s mother and younger sister still live, local filmmaker Josh Fox made his excellent exposé, Gasland. The film shows a Dimmock, PA man lighting his kitchen tap water on fire with a match after his land was fracked. This is not uncommon, as the vast amounts of chemical-laden water pumped under high pressure down into the land, generally 5,000–20,000 feet, have been known to leak into the water table and drinking supplies. The wikipedia entry on fracking says that most hydraulic fracturing actually occurs below the water table. But evidence shows that drinking water supplies are being contaminated.

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I asked Kelly what she would say to someone who wanted one of the many, many jobs created by an industry that trucks in countless loads of water, chemicals, concrete, personnel, etc, (see Gasland!) to do its work. “Where would you LIKE to work?” she asked a man she spoke with once at a bar back home. She tells me, “People are stuck on the idea that work has to be not fun, not meaningful. They should at least try to find something else.” She described an incident in which she and her friends knew a property across the river from them would be fracked the next morning, so they all planned to get set up there before dawn and stand in the way of the operation. More friends had some over from New York City to stand together for the land. But when they arrived, the job was done. The fracking team had come in overnight and were already gone.

Solutions? Kelly has the impression that East Coasters are slow with alternative energy because they are generally slow with new ways until something really catches on, and then it is generally accepted. She said she doesn’t see many or any windmills or solar panel arrays around upstate New York. We got to talking about the landowners’ desire to make money off of fracking on their land: “It’s a handout. It’s not like they are doing any kind of work for that money. They are having a hard time paying their mortgages and they want the money. . People seem to just want more . . . sacrificing safety for money — more money, more things. I want to see people do less, drive less, buy less stuff, instead of always wanting more,” she said. Kelly told me that she has read about a North American indigenous tribe that considered people who wanted more than everyone else had to be dismissed as mentally ill . . .

“Spirituality is something personal, which I wouldn’t want to try to force on anyone, but [this issue] woke me up to how sacred water is.”

This interviewer noted that education seems like one effective solution.  You can’t make people do or not do anything. Profit-driven companies will skirt around laws, and people will be bought and sold. But a populous who truly understands the value of their natural resources, and the damaging effects of practices like fracking, will likely side with protecting the environment.

Kelly, Kaahele, imagines herself doing a fracking awareness tour with her music. Although she has a new CD out and videos and lots of music under her belt, this summer she will make her first tour, on the West Coast and beyond. “How has this awareness about fracking affected your music?” I asked her. Kaahele quoted a great lady from back home, Public Radio’s Lisa Brody. Brody interviewed Kaahele and told her that her songs “have a common theme about the separation between the modern and the natural worlds.” “Where do you stand in the balance?” her songs ask. “And what is your relationship to all this technology?”

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Water is one of New York State’s greatest resources. The Catskills region is beloved for it creeks and ponds everywhere, and of course, for the Delaware River. Kelly first understood the weight of the fracking situation when she heard her family speak of possibly leaving their cabin in the woods near the river. She hadn’t ever imagined her family leaving this place. Stretching 133 miles and four states from headwaters to river mouth, the Delaware is considered to be the cleanest river in the United States. And now, it is also possibly one of the most endangered. As one great poet, friend, and grandmother Staajabu said in the late 90’s, “We must speak out, if only to be able to tell our children that we did something.”

Further Away From Shame

Oh dear reader, Kaua’i was a risk, and there were moments when I almost skipped the journey altogether. I didn’t have a show scheduled when I made the flight plans, but I knew my song-sister SaraTone would be there. I’m always happy when SaraTone is around! I knew we could sing for Aletta Little Dove at her birthday party, and I knew I could attend Singing Alive, February 14-16. Singing Alive is a gathering born in the Northwest which focuses on sharing circle songs that lend themselves to group singing, harmony, sacred songs, rounds, chants, and multiple parts of a song sung by groups within groups. Fun! And Mila and Aletta, our Singing Alive organizers, assured us that they would support a Diane Patterson and SaraTone Concert on the island during the week following the larger gathering. Fantastic! Thank goddess for the kind donation I received that set it all in motion ! On Feb 11th, SaraTone, Katrin, and I flew from Big Island to Kaua’i.

 

Katrin took the whole Hawaii tour with me this year, starting in California and ending in Oahu. She is my deep sister, a German lass from Hamburg who moved her family to Southern Sweden 14 years ago. I have stayed with her family on their 50-acre goat and potato and goodness farm, in the summers of 2008, 2011, and 2013. This winter I had the blessing of her gracious and giving presence with me in Hawaii, and with many more friends who she now has good strong connections with. Thank you friends! Sisters and Brothers across the islands invited us into their homes, fed us and transported us, sometimes hosted concerts, and generally joined in on the musical journey. I’m glad Katrin was met with such open-hearted aloha here in the islands, because at her home in Sweden, she and her husband Bo greet their WOOF-ers and exchange students and friends and visitors with full aloha love and open-hearted welcome.

 

But back to our arrival in Kaua’i . . . This was only my second time to tour to the Garden Isle, so I just don’t have a whole base of community there yet. Thank goodness, Snow Marks hosted us when we first got to the island. We got a ride to her home, where she fed us amazing healthy mama food and drink. She gave us her own bed, her whole two-bedroom cabin! and went to sleep at her sweetheart’s house. Wow. Thank you Snow! We had planned to go directly to the site of the Singing Alive Gathering, which would begin in four days, but the exquisite sacred site and park-like setting was sooooo wet with days of rain, and continued rain, that it was not inviting us in to camp quite yet. (I really feel like that power spot, called Anahola, dictated to our group exactly when and what She wanted of us throughout our time there. More on that later!) Snow also loaned me her sleeping/camping gear for my week and a half on the island. Thank you Snow! It was really sweet to wake up at Snow’s place, nestled in on a hillside, with a stream flowing noisily by on our first morning there, having tea and talking story and generally catching up. Turns out, there was so much rain, that the stream below the house was running for the first time that year. Flow flow!

 

Our second night in Kaua’i, Aletta’s birthday fire at the Anahola site was the intimate pre SA gathering, with most of the presenters and organizers present, celebrating and . . . Singing. SaraTone and Morgan and I gave a triple effort to light the fire pit with damp wood and damp paper. That’s what lighting a fire in Hawaii is. But we hear from a good source that the Hawaiians use a propane torch! I totally get it. . .  SaraTone’s presence with the fire throughout the evening made it a truly beautiful, sacred fire, blessing up Aletta’s birthday celebration, and raising the vibe for the gathering to come. There were songs, new and old. I shared a couple songs and a couple chants throughout the evening, doing my best to share in a way that invited others to sing along, offering a couple of my chants rather than my more Joni Mitchell-style story songs. I also shared a Shekhinah Mountainwater chant, Power Spot. I would go on to share several more of her chants throughout the weekend, especially with Karly Loveling, who carries lots of women’s chants and sacred songs.

 

The rain continued the next couple days, and we visited Anahola but kept our sleeping spot at Snow’s. One night the wind blew the rain so hard that it all burst through the screen wall of Snow’s upstairs bedroom, lodging leaves into the altar across the room, and getting the entire floor wet with rain. Wild tropical storms are not so rare to experience in Hawaii. All one can do is witness the strength, allow the wet, and surrender to slowing down.

 

We moved over to Anahola on Friday and Saturday nights for Singing Alive. Since our world was oh so wet, we only brought the bare necessities. . . guitar, ukuleles, sleeping gear. Tents were provided by our sweety pie organizers, Mila, Aletta, & Forrest, so we had what we needed. We arrived in time for the beautiful opening ceremony.  One Anahola Hawaiian Elder Puna Kalama Dawson led us in beautiful chant, dance, prayer, while standing in the light rain, with her halau members demonstrating the moves so we could join in.  (A halau is a Hawaiian chant/dance/culture/music study/community group that meets regularly to practice and learn together, with a respected teacher. That’s my definition, so perhaps looking further into it if you have interest, would be the thing to do . . . .) And the Hawaiian traditional dance and chant forms are oh so connected to the earthly elements, oh so beautiful in their depiction and praise of those elements, that I generally find myself coming to tears before any true presentation of them is through. Puna Dawson graciously told us that we are all just as Hawaiian as she is. As I understood it, it is our connection to the land and spirits, to each other, and our Aloha, our breath of life, our love for ourselves and each other, which makes us Hawaiian. Deep. Thank you, Puna.

 

That evening was full moon. Karly Loveling presented full moon women’s song circle. She shared and taught chants and then opened it up for others to share. We were under a tarp tent in more rain, feeling blessed by candlelight and songs that carry us all the miles to be together, to connect our hearts in these sacred songs. And the songs themselves celebrate seasons, cycles, abundance, healing, friends, plant medicines, teachers, guidance, forgiveness, certain deities and the blessings they bring, oneness, rivers, oceans, birth, death, life, intuition, family, friends, and more. “For what you sing is what you are. You’re wise in the ways of the woman by far.” —by Lena Moon.

 

The songs and chants shared at Singing Alive all seemed to celebrate and uplift, teach and recognize, connect and heal. And so it is no wonder that we grew closer and more open and more connected to the place and each other throughout the weekend. The song circle that Morgan led was all icaros, the ancient songs that come with the ayahuasca prayer circles from the Amazon rainforest where that plant medicine is traditionally grown, processed, and used. The chants were mostly in Spanish or a language that predates conquest, and seemed to be all about spirit connection and cultivating love, presence,healing.

 

Laurence Cole provided for me the biggest inspiration of the Singing Alive weekend. An elder from Port Townshend, Washington, he too traveled to Kauai with his great gifts to share. And as an elder, his finely-honed crafts of poetry, composition, and chorale direction had us all singing in staccato harmony to Rumi poems he had set to beautiful melody, simple enough to sing along, with complexity to inspire and transform through sound. Bliss! Laurence Cole’s work will forever affect my writing in such a good way. There is, you see, dear reader, the melody that is simple and obvious. And then there is the melody that is just one shade darker, or brighter, and further outside of the box, and closer to the source of wildness and liberation, and further away from shame.

 

On Sunday morning SaraTone made her musical offering. She invited and inspired us with breath and words that welcome. Her realness, her way of simply being who she is, gives her listener permission to play and dance and be just who we are. And that, my friends, is one of the most important permissions we can receive. I personally need no coaxing when SaraTone is at the musical helm, for there is where I find a great ease and joy and innate readiness to respond to the music, the flow, the freedom of movement, the ingenuity, which comprise my dear, musical com-madre. SaraTone also invited me to share a chant with the group, so I taught the Grandmother Pele chant, celebrating the birth of the islands from the lava which pours forth from that “fire in the center of the earth.” “Earth, fire, wisdom. . . Sea, air, freedom,” the chant says.

SaraTone finished her offering with River Back to the Ocean. She invited us to all stand and move out from under the tarp structure, closer to the Anahola river there running by, some fifty feet from where we sat. This was especially significant because that very morning, we had received a flash flood warning for the little Anahola neighborhood. Over night there was so very much rain that the Anahola River had swelled and risen several feet beyond its usual borders, and any sudden movement in the river bank debris above us there could have brought an instantly massive widening of the river, that has been known to sweep away people and cars and even move houses. I got the notice on my iPhone at about 6:50 am and thought I should wake up Mila and Aletta who were camping nearby me there. They then circled throughout the early morning with the other organizers and with John Pia who has owned and managed that beautiful land for over 30 years, all taking responsibility for the group’s welfare there and reading the signs to stay or go. I found myself inspired to take out my little medicine bundle of copal tree resin and palo santo wood, light a charcoal, and speak to the spirits of the river through the sacred smoke. I recognized her strength and beauty in my most humble and poetic words. I acknowledged the power she had in that moment to destroy any little farm or home or animals that might be in an unlucky riverbank swirl, should she decide to flood and crush. I asked her to flow her graceful power, without eating us alive. I thanked her for that demonstration of gentle wildness. I walked to the bend in the river there and prayed into the magic of the bend, the change in direction, the medicine of change for all humanity and the goodness that change can bring when inspired by health and wholeness and rising consciousness, natural like a rising river, flowing strong as we evolve into higher states of humanity. I stood in the taro patch, with Jennifer and SaraTone, and we prayed for the pure seeds, for the plants and foods that nourish us deeply, that they remain pure and whole, untainted by laboratory genetic modification. Jennifer and SaraTone each spoke their prayers. So by the time we took SaraTone’s singing group to the Anahola River, it had already subsided quite a bit, but was still in flooding glory, listening to the voices mingling in love and respect, “Yes I know we will be freeeeee.”

 

For Sunday night there was another Flash Flood Warning, so I went to sleep at John Pia’s place nearby. What a gem of a man he is, giving and receiving and trusting the group of us there in that sacred place. There are many gatherings there, but still I hear that it is not everyone who is allowed to rent the Anahola park space for a gathering. Our wise young lady organizers set a beautiful, calm, slow, loving tone to the whole gathering. I was glad to be a part of it, and my sometimes business-like capricornian nature was slowed to a deeper presence. Of course the rain also slowed me, made me surrender to slow, made me walk slowly across the muddy lawn and be ok at times with simply being. No where to go and nothing to do. Just be.

 

John Pia is in his 70’s. He is of Hawaiian descent, has seen his community there through all kind changes and comings together and splittings apart. He said he bought Anahola taro patch site when it was completely grown over. It had been lost to the jungle for some time, and he slowly worked his way in, discovering the sacred stone people there, the high temple lookout spot, the kukui torch navigation rock, the singing rocks. One night there he hosted probably seven of us ! sleeping over in the living room and side room, amidst the beautiful art he had commissioned or created himself from wood or on canvas. His living room wall hosts a huge mural of Waimea valley, epic colors of sunrise, 3D effects, blacklight highlights, deep beauty. John Pia rocks. A young woman from Ohio named Odessa was staying at John’s also. She had been guided to Anahola to help on the land. Odessa is a super bright youth. . . the kind that make me excited about the future!

 

And now our concert was coming into focus! Upon our arrival on Kaua’i, Snow had supported us in finalizing the rental of the beautiful Church of the Pacific in Princeville, so we could then print and hang posters and generally spread the word among our various community connections on the island, including the posse that we had come to know and love at Singing Alive. We had over $300 invested in the concert by the time the day came, so I was in yet another state of beautiful surrender to the divine abundance flow! I thought, “Spirit, I trust your flow. I know you’ve got me. I feel you.” I was reminded of Martín Prechtel’s story about Holy Boy, a ceremonial deity in the Guatemalan village where he lived and studied. “Empty out for Holy Boy,” he was told, as he used every bit of money in his wallet to buy flowers and incense and alcohol to celebrate and give offerings to that deity, who would then return all that abundance and more. And we were so very blessed up that night in Princeville with a big, joyful group there to experience the music and each other! There were offerings of chai and raw pies for sale, and a general state of peaceful exuberance in the whole place. SaraTone and I gave our mighty musical offerings, sharing the microphones and the songspace and supporting each other with full musical expression. Jackson Nash showed up like the amazing brother that he is, solidly supporting us by helping to set up, tear down, and run the sound equipment the entire night. We laughed a lot, We did our best. We soared. We gave thanks. After a flurry of cleanup and goodbyes, we dropped the key and the cleanup checklist in the mail slot and went back to John Pia’s to rest. Hallelujia!

 

A couple of beach/fun/laundry/song/friends days brought us to Saturday morning, time for Katrin and I to fly out to Oahu for the last leg of my Hawaii Tour 2014. But first, an ocean kayak adventure! Thank you Niko, wonderful new friend, stellar papa of two, creator of all kine fabulous goodness —- maker of delicious raw pies, provider of coconut water and ride to the beach when Katrin and I were stuck in town for hours one sweet Kauai afternoon. Niko took me out on my first ever ocean kayak trip. In a way, there are no words. We sat in the open ocean near the mouth of the Anahola River, continuing of a wonderful new relationship with that river and its watershed. I can still hear the nearby whales breathing at the surface of the sea, as we sat on the kayaks in the water, just beyond the shelf of the island, where the water gets deep deep blue. A sea bird landed right on Niko’s kayak as he worked on one of the three fishing lines he had in the water. We marveled and spoke with the bird for a few minutes as he checked us out, and we looked into his sharp eyes and silver face. We were on the water for a couple of hours. Niko sang to the whales, who jumped and spouted in the distance. In the last moment before heading back to shore came our closest whale visitation. A great breach and huge dorsal fin wave said, “Aloha sister and brother! Fare thee well and come back soon!” Even the great John Pia said, “Hey, when you come back to the island, come over and visit!”

 

Unforgettable goodness! Thank you Kauai! Thank you friends for all the support and good times and encouragement. Big love!

Mystic Mountains of Kauai, April 27-May 2nd, 2012

On the drive back to the airport in Kauai, headed home after one juicy week on the Garden Isle, our new friend and driver Andrea pointed out two giant waterfalls in the distance.”That’s where we were,” she said, “inside there.” She and my guitarist Al Torre had hiked way the heck up into the green mystic mountains for wild places and high-vibe spring water. Spring water and ocean swimming, I have delightfully experienced, are Al’s main motivations on any journey. And so it was here on Kauai, with seven days to play music, swim in the ocean and rivers, and drink sweet water gushing from the heart of the Hawaiian island chain’s oldest publicly accessible island.

Meanwhile, I fully fell in love with the community of people and places, beaches, air, rainbows! and starlight. Some days were rainy, some were windy, some moments were perfect for the beach, and some sent me indoors to practice music and book tours to unfold in the near future. Outside of my panicky moment in choppy water, when merman Al literally saved my life, all went super smooth and abundant and joyful. Even my brush with death, as it seemed when I lost all my strength and breath and couldn’t make my own way out of the mighty sea, just gave me renewed appreciation for life and for Al and for the opportunity to again be reborn. Boy, I rolled my eyes and molecules when a master wind instrument elder woman named Renee told me that her name, my middle name, Renee means ‘rebirth.’ Of course! Rebirth is the theme of my life in this chapter, beginning with my Rebirth Day, April 21st 2008. I got the Eye of Horus tattooed on my left hand and celebrated a new start after ending an 11-year relationship at the beginning of that year. Now I am on my second tour on the Hawaiian islands just in this year and appreciating every moment of the experience. I booked myself  with Al Torre in Maui and Kauai, and myself alone on Big Island, in late March and all of April 2012. Joy!

I guess my favorite moments of this Kauai bliss tour were in our last evening. The friends who gathered for fish and salad dinner at Kellie’s beach house near Hanalei purely melted my heart open. Our circle before the food felt like heaven on earth, holding hands and singing together, sending me to deep peace. Our sister Snow led the singing in that circle and got us all going, with a bunch of music lovers and singers, all blending voices so very sweetly, respectfully, to the food, the moment, the circle, the Beltane fire that burned by the sandy sea shore, awaiting our return with plates full of nourishment. I had already played a bunch of songs on the guitar when we went to get food. I’d jumped into drop D and played Shawn Colvin’s Diamond in the Rough. The flames of the fire we watched inspired me to play my supah-rockin Occupy song, which starts out, “Thanks to the fire, thanks to the fire, for keeping the flame alive.” And truly, there is a fire, in our hearts — a vision, in our mind’s eye, that sparks our forward motion, our human evolution, our desire for human rights, environmental justice and healthy living. We came back to the fire to sit and eat, and Michael played beautiful songs on my guitar while we enjoyed our juicy, vitalizing grilled fish and salads. Al and Andrea brought ahi and Al grilled it for only a moment, so the raw, creamy inside just oozed juicy goodness.

Kauai is soft. The energy can be lulling. But the people work hard there to create their abundance. My friends Jackson and Melissa, along with our concert producer and promoter Scott Manning, and a bunch more friends and community of theirs, are embarking on a community land project. The project will center around a solar- and wind-powered stage and sound system for a big rootsy performance outdoor amphitheater. Weekly events will provide a community hub and a springboard for local music and art. (Check their Kickstarter fundraiser!http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1965024266/1820711686?token=e2a8b0e5) On our first big day in Kauai, Scotty took us to the land to see their ground-level project. We hiked up the sweet stream on the land to a sparkling waterfall. Scotty and Al filled water jugs and drank from the falls, and I got purified in the pool below, washing off the dust of travel and details, and bringing myself to the ground in the waters flowing from Kauai. Then we went to the site of living and working on the project’s acreage. Earthworks are happening, home sites are being chosen, and Melissa sat in front of the sweet interim trailer home, bottle-nursing a piglet. “It’s our practice baby,” she giggled, though seriously, as she and Jackson are pregnant with their first child! I met those two last year on a week-long trip to Kauai, specifically for my friend, permaculturist Benjamin Fahrer, to consult for the landowner where Jackson and Melissa were expecting to create their community. Much has changed since then, in all four of our lives, and indeed in the world where we live. But the beauty and giddiness of seeing friends in a far-away place far overshadowed any worries from the outside world.

Friday and Saturday night were our big performances on Kauai. Jackson and Scott and Melissa’s all-improv band, The IZNESS, opened up at Church of the Pacific, in a beautiful event produced by Scott Manning and attended by respectful music lovers, silent and listening. The IZNESS surprised us with musical sweetness. We sipped chai tea outside or sat quietly in the church as the new band navigated their way through rhythms and simple progressions exuding love and friendship and creativity . . .  my favorites!! Al and I played almost two hours, and were joined on seven or eight songs by our friend Kit Thomas from Maui/Los Angeles. I was super delighted to play certain ukulele songs of mine accompanied by both Al and Kit, knowing that before this tour, I played them solo only. My song Aloha is now sounding like a sweet island polyrhythm, thanks to Kit’s warm bass notes, which invited Al’s melodic guitar leads. Thank you! Folks danced, and some even sang along, especially with my song, Costa Rica, “roots!!!!!!!!!”,j which Jackson and Melissa still remember from last year’s meeting and still apply to their lives, being da rootz, as they are, in Kauai.

Lately I’m challenging myself to remember cover songs and originals that I haven’t been playing and see what’s still there in my muscle memory. The one Al and I have enjoyed playing on this tour, also in Maui, is Do Right Woman, Do Right Man, a really feisty crowd pleaser. (Check YouTube for a minute of us in this one at Church of the Pacific!) Also at the Church we played Pele Protect Watada, the rocking song I wrote in 2007 when organizing in Maui for Lieutenant Ehren Watada’s rights as a military officer to speak out against “an illegal war,” as he called the US Iraq occupation. I had fully forgotten the song, then found a recording of it just in time to relearn it and teach it to Kit and Al for Earth Day Festival on Maui and these sweety shows in Kauai.

After the church performance I got some strong reflections from men and women who were deeply moved by the messages in my songs and the music coming from our two guitars and the strength coming from my voice. It’s these impressions that keep me on this little medicine woman path, birthing songs that embody visions of our new being, our new manifestation of human and earth relations. I was reminded that it is good that I continue taking my songs to fresh ears.

Al’s dear old friend Cristalle is a big part of why my trip in Kauai was so sweet and magical. When she landed on Kauai from Big Island, she brought a bundle of pure unconditional love and acceptance. And the friends she brought in to our circle, Yvonne, and Kellie Berns, also treated me with such sisterly sweetness.  Cristalle and Kellie loved up my music and took me to magical places and lasting friendship. We had a full-on medicine day with a long I Ching reading, where I got to share the Taoist wisdom that’s been daily floating my general attitude to its highest potential for a solid nine months now. (A Guide to the I Ching, Carol Anthony)

Now after three weeks since my return from the islands, I feel completely back here on Turtle Island, North America, Home. Even after one week I said to myself, was I really on Kauai one week ago? I am grateful to have had my fill of the beauty and magic and friendship and adventure. Meanwhile, I look forward to returning and feel juiced up for the recording studio in Coastal Mendocino this week!

Thanks for reading.

The Beauty that is, at New Folsom Prism

Massive Day . . . Thank you, Spirit

Osyan's porch, Big Island of Hawaii

I remember the first time I went in to New Folsom Maximum Security Prison very well. I was soooo nervous as I stood in the back of the cinder block chapel of Facility C, waiting for the introductions to finish. I  started the music that day on my djembe, walking from the back of the room as I played, bringing the rhythm, the heartbeat, the soul from the Outside . . .  to the inmates, the Men in Blue, on the Inside.

It was Thanksgiving Eve, 2006, and Michael Franti and Spearhead headlined that day as maybe 80 prisoners slowly came to life and momentary liberation, dancing, jumping, being a part of the life stream that is music. Also Melissa Mitchell and Kimberly Bass performed two songs each before Spearhead rocked us all into the new world. KVMR Nevada City’s stellar indy radio station crew were there organizing and running sound and green room for the musicians and crew. Cheri Snook, a long-time KVMR DJ, definitely had a big hand in creating the event. She had been playing my Live at the Palms 1995 CD on her early morning shows for a couple years before finding me that summer and then inviting me to play this event. And Jim Carlson, who’s worked Arts in Corrections for over 25 years, including at San Quentin, just opened every door of possibility he could open in New Folsom that day with his excellence in communication and integrity with the institution. Jim is the reason I can still keep visiting. He’s held down his position with Arts in Corrections, miraculously, even when Arts in Corrections was essentially cut from the entire state’s programs in January of last year.

For the concert in 2006, the cameras were rolling, and Franti’s crew and KVMR created a national live radio broadcast for Pacifica stations and a beautiful DVD video of the entire show. The energy climbed so high in the simple chapel that day, and was even so clear and clean, for a prison, you might guess, as we arrived to set up, very early in the morning. So the songs flew high and strong, like eagles and condors finally reuniting after generations of societal separation and environmental destruction.  I sang Remember We Are One, and spoke of the power of words creating our reality.

My most powerful Michael moment was when he was singing Never Too Late. Coming to the line, “Don’t fear your family, Cause you chose them a long time before your birth,” Michael moved his big hands and long arms in a wide sweeping motion over his body, from chest, down to pelvis — the motion of a baby moving through the birth canal! I was quite impressed by that simple yet huge remembrance of where we ALL come from, regardless of where we are now, and what we’ve done to get there.

Living memories, I was, as I took new friends in to New Folsom last Friday March 23, 2012. My good friend, medicine music lead guitarist and Native American Church singer Al Torre, had come in to New Folsom with me twice over the last four years. But mystic singer, Freedom, had never been inside a prison to share his music, had probably never been inside a prison. And SaraTone, the mighty singer of rivers and mountains, like Freedom from the Northlands of Cascadia, was also experiencing her first prison visit.

After three razor wire checkpoints, full airport-type inspection, and having weeks previous filed our stats to be cleared through the system of a maximum security prison, we entered the “A” Facility anteroom to the Cage Room. “A” Facility houses the men who need the most psychological support. The cage room is small, flanked along the back wall with 10 phone booth-sized cages, where a man in each cage can sit or stand and, relatively comfortably, take in some kind of program or teaching. The men who had signed up to receive our offerings that day were already in place in the cages when we arrived. A small sound system went up, just to amplify Al’s acoustic lead guitar work. But we sang and played and shared ourselves directly from the heart, an hour and a half I guess, through the cage wires, and right into the eyes and hearts of the men assembled there.

We even wore stab-proof vests for that scenario. I think Jim forgot to tell us that day, but I’ve been informed plenty before about the No-Hostages policy at New Folsom. This means that, if an inmate were to grab one of us and try to threaten our life for his freedom, the prison would do nothing to protect us, thereby disempowering the prisoners try such a tactic. We go in with everyone, especially the prisoners, knowing this. It works for me.

And in spite of all this precaution and very stark circumstance, the connection through the music is strong. Some of the men who have seen and heard me over the last 5 years have seen me grow in my art and have reflected that back to me. One inmate, who I didn’t see this time because all the African American men were on lockdown (and he is in Facility “C”), has been corresponding with me on and off, since before I first went in, actually. That’s the poet Spoon Jackson. If you’ve read any of my past stories of Folsom visits, then you know that in 2008 I culminated a European pilgrimage quite significant to me by taking Spoon’s greetings to a great musician in Stockholm, Sweden. Stefan Safsten has composed two full-length albums worth of intricate, 30-part choral pieces for Spoon Jackson’s poetry.

On last Friday’s visit, the four of us did three shows and spent 7 hours in the prison. For me there is an extreme presence that I feel within myself when I am there. Part of this feeling is just being in a very strictly-operated institution that requires me to follow lots of rules and not mess up so as to ensure everyone’s safety and to allow me to keep returning. We have to be sure to leave outside anything that can be made into a weapon. Once I left my hunk-o-metal guitar capo lying on the “A” Facility library floor unsupervised for a moment, and then I quickly picked it up and put it back in my lap when I realized I’d forgotten. And part of the intense presence I feel comes from the tragic situation of facing men imprisoned, many for life, and seeing the high population of African American, Latino and Native American men in the prisons, and hoping like heaven that I can represent something else besides the system which oppresses, devalues, and creates desperation, abuse, and lack of opportunity.

Music inside the prison carries us to an open state of being, connecting us all on a level that is beyond class, prison walls, privilege, mistakes, and forgiveness. I appreciate my position inside of not knowing the stories. I feel that this allows us all to be simply in the present, humbly respecting each other’s very different realities, without letting sorrow color our human connection in these rare moments.

The guys loved Al Torre’s lead guitar playing. Many of the inmates are musicians themselves, learning and teaching as part of their prison life. So when Al was tearing it up, the men were stretching their necks to see, and smiling, and clapping after solos.

Freedom’s songs liberate and balance us as people in such a natural way that one could be unaware of the healing that’s happening as they listen. But the words give the medicine away, and the New Folsom inmates heard every one. “I hear the sound of the prison walls crumbling.. . Set yourself free!” It’s metaphorical for many, but in the prison, it’s a deep, cool pool to dive into, on a painfully hot day.

SaraTone. . . I like bringing women into the prison with me. And the women I’ve brought in are, for the most part, strong and sure and soaring in their artistic and spiritual lives. I have received only respect from the inmates in New Folsom, as well as from the guards and staff. I like being a woman in that context because I feel like we are creating a new paradigm of gender relations when I’m there. My visits are so very much about the music, about the present moment, about seeing beyond birth, gender, circumstance, and every other separating ism schism that falls aside, making room to simply be our highest selves in those moments.

SaraTone spoke well from her heart that day. She spoke of rivers, and change and what’s happening out there on the Outside, and what we are doing to make the best of it, activating, speaking out. One of the guys in the second group we played for asked if we are writing songs with content, with recognition of what’s happening in the world, with human rights, environment, and all. And boy, he was asking the right group about that. SaraTone played songs that put his mind at ease and soothed his mortal soul. We were all smiling.

I opened each of the three sets we did with Eagle Feather, the song that opens the energetic space so well, and sings of that feather which is an antenna for our prayers. I’m not nervous anymore to play for the Men in Blue. The men I’ve had the opportunity to speak with have assured me that my visits are very much appreciated, and my stories, though of circumstances they may never experience, are alive and colorful and meaningful for them nonetheless.

Folsom Prison stands on a beautiful piece of land. Rolling oak hills hold the huge complex which is New Folsom Prison and the older 1800’s -built Folsom Prison next door, all full of men trapped in a system we may well yet outgrow. Wild turkeys are always gobbling about the parking lot when I arrive. They are the ones that first alerted me to the vitality of the land.

There is a vision and prayer that I softly hold for that place, and it is that the men of Folsom Prism, as I call it, will build with their own hands a vast agricultural system which feeds themselves and their entire watershed, with healthy, healing, organic, local food; and that the work will heal their bodies and souls and make of them honest, satisfied, happy people; and that the food will heal their bodies and strengthen their hearts and minds for this cruel and beautiful world.

So, I lift my eagle feather and see it all evolving in one slow, steady, spring rain of forgiveness and creation and perseverance on our highest path potential. This is my vision. And this that I have shared above — musical connection beyond prison walls — is the beauty that is, right now.

photo by Benjamin Fahrer

 

 

Final Day of Art Summer Wiesenburg

I just had a super sweet jam session with a small group of early 20’s international students from the retreat here in Germany. David from Italy, So Bom from Korea, Ariane and Chandra/Svenya from Germany, with Hee Jin from Korea and Laura from Germany drawing in the room with us. Super good vibes. We ended with a long, sweet Jah Jah Shall Lead the Way/We’ll Be Forever Loving Jah, and David and So Bom were singing the refrain with me. Magic! We had a fun discussion in which we compared the different ways we all say Rock/Scissors/Paper in our four different languages. My favorite was definitely the Korean. It was something like Bom/Lom/Pom! I’ll get that right from So Bom tomorrow, promise ;O)

Earlier we had the big ending day for the art retreat, with an installation of the visual and videoed pieces created in the last three days. The public was invited. I participated in a procession with the masks and a beautiful song that Barbara taught us.

The song says:
Go where you cannot go
Look where you cannot see
Hear where there is no sound,
and you are where God speaks.

For the procession, we all wore black, and those with masks on walked in front, all around the Art Hall, ceremoniously, singing those words and then slowly passing the masks back and presenting a basket of sweetness to our leader Iris.

Upcycling and filmmaker rock star, Vahagn, from Russia, a true Caucasian from the Casacks, presented films he had edited till 4am the night before. The films were both of the days leading up to the retreat and of the theatre pieces created and performed out in the nearby park. All so excellent. Vahagn is also working on a film of the entire retreat that will be finished in the next weeks. Perhaps we’ll get a link to that one here 🙂

Day 3 feels like a week


Slide down the roots of a tree and stay right there.

Never mind the passing wind and its whispers of
this and that distraction
this and that attraction
to what?
Only the tree people can give that
still,
solid
sanity,
that grounded rootedness and far-reaching wonder.

Sit down at the base of this boney, breathing beast
and get small,
really small.
and listen.
Stay
right
there.