Let every American, every lover of liberty, every well wisher to his posterity, swear by the blood of the Revolution, never to violate in the least particular, the laws of the country; and never to tolerate their violation by others.

As the patriots of seventy-six did to the support of the Declaration of Independence, so to the support of the Constitution and Laws, let every American pledge his life, his property, and his sacred honor; let every man remember that to violate the law, is to trample on the blood of his father, and to tear the charter of his own, and his children's liberty.

Let reverence for the laws, be breathed by every American mother, to the lisping babe, that prattles on her lap; let it be taught in schools, in seminaries, and in colleges; let it be written in Primers, spelling books, and in Almanacs; let it be preached from the pulpit, proclaimed in legislative halls, and enforced in courts of justice. And, in short, let it become the political religion of the nation; and Let the old and the young, the rich and the poor, the grave and the gay, of all sexes and tongues, and colors and conditions, sacrifice unceasingly upon its altars.

While ever a state of feeling, such as this, shall universally, or even, very generally prevail throughout the nation, vain will be every effort, and fruitless every attempt, to subvert our national freedom.

- Abraham Lincoln, January 27, 1838
  Address Before the Young Men's Lyceum of Springfield, Illinois

Friday, June 15, 2007

John Denver is dead

Last weekend my husband and I found ourselves watching a PBS special about the life and music of John Denver.

I haven't thought about John for a long, long time. His music played such an integral part in my life; most especially when I was 'out in the wilds' as a child, and later in my 20s. For some reason, John Denver became my 'bard of nature;' his songs a musical soundtrack for my wanderings in the overgrown fields, forests and rocky creeks of Southern Indiana.

Even as a small child, I connected with the lyrics of 'Country roads;' I understood his message immediately, because it resonated. In those days there were no Sony Walkmen, iPods or CD players. I carried his words and music in my head, or sang quietly to myself as I swayed in the wind, at the top of a towering neighborhood sycamore.

But then I was an 'strange kid;' I chose to spend hours, even entire days wandering around in the nearby fields and forests alone, rather than playing with other kids in my neighborhood. Something in those trees, in the forest fed my soul. I felt less alone among the branches, birds and wild things than I ever felt with people.

And I sensed, even when I was little, that John Denver somehow understood me; maybe better than my own parents.

When I was 27, I took a leave of absence from my job in the city, and traveled all around the West in an old, beat-up Volkswagon camper.

My friends and family thought I was crazy, and worried for my safety. At that time in my life, I wasn't very concerned about potential danger on the road. I had been sick for months, and the doctor informed me that I had some strange condition called 'SAD;' meaning I needed light - like a plant or a tree - to live. Imagine that.

Honestly, all I really knew or cared was that I had to somehow get out of Chicago, where I had been living a netherlife of endless illness, gloom and ice. The greater part of my soul was starving and dying in the dark, paved-over grayness of the city.

He was born in the summer of his 27th year,
comin' home to a place he'd never been before

I traveled for three months; throughout the Southwest, to the California cliffs and beaches, up into the painted desert, and the high, 'Rim Country' of Northern Arizona, through the canyons of Utah, and of course, into the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. I seldom saw another soul, and went for weeks at a time without speaking. I stayed off main roads, out of popular camp grounds, carried all of my food and water, and basically lost myself in nature.

When he first came to the mountains his life was far away,
on the road and hangin' by a song

One night, as I sat alone at my camp fire, I happened to witness one of the most beautiful sights I have ever beheld. A storm was moving in from the West, and the sun was setting behind one solitary rain cell.

Suddenly the sky was lit with a brilliant orange and yellow, and yes - the falling rain was backlit with a fiery red glow that turned glistening raindrops into blazing drops of molten lava, showering down as from a volcano.

In the Colorado rocky mountain high, I've seen it rainin' fire in the sky

I sat there alone, in awe.... overwhelmed with a sense of profound clarity and gratitude. The vision was a gift and a promise; a promise of hope, and a permanent solution to the man-made grayness of the city. In that moment and in that place, I became one with something greater than myself; something so big, so powerful and achingly beautiful that all of my simple problems ceased to matter.

Talk to God and listen to the casual reply

In that moment, without realizing it, I started humming 'Rocky Mountain High.' I laughed out loud when I realized how... perfect the lyrics were. It wasn't hard to imagine John sitting across the campfire, strumming his guitar and smiling, sharing in that moment of power and transcendence. The experience spoke to the very heart of his message:

Go outside... everything you seek is out there, all around you.

Now he walks in quiet solitude the forest and the streams,
seeking grace in every step he takes
His sight has turned inside himself to try and understand,
the serenity of a clear blue mountain lake

I never quite recovered from that trip. I never returned to 'normalcy.' The lessons I learned in the wilds remain more real than this keyboard, this office, and even this house. The trees outside the window constantly beacon to me. I can never 'unlearn' the lessons of the mountains.

This is a terrible time to be a lover of nature. It has become a time of fear and grief, as many beautiful places are attacked, destroyed, and many creatures pass from existence at the hands of a lost humanity.

Watching John Denver's life story and reconnecting to the music was painful. It served as just another reminder of how drastically things have spiraled into darkness. I was reminded of a happier time and place; and perhaps of innocence lost.

The music brought back memories that somehow mock me with their stark contrast to our present day. The tranquility and peace I felt while lying under a thick forest canopy and listening to the birds. A spontaneous shout of joy upon seeing an eagle soaring high above a rugged canyon. The reverent awe I felt while standing on the root of a massive, ancient redwood.

I never felt the slightest bit 'alone' or lonely in those days, because I was at one with everything. I have no other way to express it. I never thought of time, of space, of death or of endings. I never once wondered if I might somehow live too long, or see too much.

As we watched the history of his life, John's music was suddenly a painful reminder of a time when I still had hope.

John Denver is dead. I can feel it in my heart, and see it in the devastation all around us. John is nowhere to be found in the incomprehensible behavior of my government; in these greedy, lawless corporations and their rampant destruction of our wilderness, aerial gunning of wolves, smoke stacks spewing filth into the sky, and the poisoning of our food and water.

John Denver fell from the sky like a comet; and managed to avoid watching the dark approach of catastrophic climate change, and the thoughtless destruction of our last remaining wild places. He'll never ache for the plight of drowning polar bears. Some days I wish I had been so lucky.

Yet I know that while he was alive, he saw plenty of damage and destruction, and he harbored his own fears for the places that he loved. Because of course, that too came out in his songs.

Now his life is full of wonder but his heart still knows some fear,
of a simple thing he cannot comprehend
Why they try to tear the mountains down to bring in a couple more
More people, more scars upon the land

Somehow he kept the faith. While he lived, John managed to keep hope alive; for himself, and for so many of us who took solace in his songs.

As I sit here listening to 'Sweet Surrender' - my favorite Denver song - I can't help but wonder why something that should have been so very easy, turned out to be so very hard.

Sweet, sweet surrender; live, live without care; like a fish in the water, like a bird in the air...

Lost and alone on some forgotten highway
Traveled by many, remembered by few
Lookin' for something that I can believe in
Lookin' for something that I'd like to do with my life

There's nothin' behind me and nothin' that ties me to
Something that might have been true yesterday
Tomorrow is open and right now it seems to be more than enough
To just be here today, and I don't know

What the future is holdin' in store
I don't know where I'm goin' I'm not sure where I've been
There's a spirit that guides me, a light that shines for me
My life is worth the livin', I don't need to see the end

Sweet, sweet surrender, live, live without care
Like a fish in the water, like a bird in the air.

John Denver is dead. Long live John Denver.

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