Close Enough To Touch


Three days ago, I called home and wept into the phone. Rowan said, "Da Da." We were in Columbus, Indiana, home of Cummins corporation, very successful engine-makers. The founder paid architectural design costs for many buildings in Columbus, provided they picked an architect from an A-list he had compiled. The result is stunning and worth a trip. It's great to see Americans making stuff, too. Let's make stuff again, like we used to do.

Tim Grimm hosted and presented us at a bookstore in town. His son is touring with him, playing bass. We made him play a couple of his great songs after the show. Just a handful of us. He stood on one leg and played without a strap in the dim lights of closing time.

In all the downtown of Columbus, there is nary an independent coffee house. The next morning, we found a bakery with an automatic coffee machine and wifi. I tried to Skype home, but Mary didn't answer. We had a day off and made dinner for our hosts. There was a great outdoor market with an organized riot of pumpkins. "Lumina," a white one. "Turk's turban's," which immediately bring to mind a baboon's rear end. We bought veggies for a lasagna. Their son came home from college and wouldn't touch it. He grabbed a bag of chips and a coke and went down to the basement for the night.

The next day, we drove to Ohio and played in an enormous log cabin. The father was a tool-and-die man. Do you drive a Honda? He created your cv joints. His daughter was a runner, trying to beat her own time the next day. Half the people there were family from all over the US. Their lawn was a planted prairie, great brooms of big bluestem grasses and wildflowers. At dusk, I snapped a picture of a preying mantis on the ridge of their roof, reaching for the pregnant halfmoon. I wonder what he was thinking.

Yesterday, we drove from Saint Paris, Ohio to Annawan, Illinois. About 7 hours.

The heartland is beautiful right now. Crisp blue skies snap like sheets across the prairie. Purple New England asters cufflink coats of bright yellow goldenrod. Prairie daisies drift up against long windrows of crabapple. A hawk as big as a horse's head bobs on a high branch in the wind. A green harvester slowly converts a dry soybean field into a plume of dust that belts the highway and tumbles toward Chicago. Stubbled cornfields shine like blonde children, rolling in the deep green roadsides of cool-season grasses. Bright red poison ivy leaps like a fire from every fencepost.

At a truck stop just inside Indiana, the men's room walls were decorated with French impressionist painters and inspirational messages. Imagine. Dream. Live To Love. A ceramic bowl with potpourri sat between every second sink. "Number 58, your shower is ready." Haircuts: $12 for men. $14 for women.

Last night, we played a house concert for a woman with five children whose husband is flying home from Afghanistan soon. She is driving to New Jersey to pick him up.

I was talking about their maple tree, and the middle boy said, "Acer." Two of the girls cut up meat and vegetables and made kabobs for the grill. Chris taught me how to make a s'more at the campfire. I made two. We played under the maple tree, out in the front yard. The children requested Chicken Wire and The Waitress. And a bunch of country songs we didn't know. The acoustics were great. The last song we played said, "I'm looking at the moon," and I was. The mother handed me the money she'd collected. We all helped carry things back inside and she read her youngest girl a story. I stood outside the door and listened, and wished I was reading to my own little boy.

20 years ago, when I first met this lady, 20 years hence was a whole lifetime away. Looking back now, any concept of time at all seems ridiculous, as if we have enough time to even discuss it. I feel mine slipping away in a beautiful daydream and I can't wake up. I want to go home. I want the truckers to go home. I want the soldiers to come home. I want the moon up there in her heavenly home to shine down through my own maple trees. I want to sing for my family in the crisp fall night, these perfect nights that seem like movie sets. Like someone finally found the Big Thermostat and dialed it in.

"Acer" was one of the boy names we picked out for Rowan, before he was born. Maple. This boy told me that Norway maplewood was used for fan blades and that if horses ate a large amount of the leaves, it would poison them. He's a bright kid. He's pretty excited about his father coming home.

I got a great message this morning. Rowan said, "Da Da." And then he said, "Hi." Like the way southerners say "pie." "Haaaaa. Da Da. Haaaa." Mary sent me a picture of him asleep in his chair with an entire cracker pasted on his face.

Two more days. Tomorrow, I'm going into a studio in Nashville with a big influence. A hero. The guy behind the board recorded Johnny Cash and John Prine. It's the only serious studio I know of with a working ashtray beside the console. It's easy to keep this in perspective. There are beautiful things, and there are important things.

Your fan,

Da Da

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