watercolor on paper, 2009)
Wednesday, December 23, 2009
watercolor on paper, 2009)
Wednesday, December 16, 2009
A meditative space with live music and images
to contemplate and welcome the returning light
at the winter solstice
Monday, December 21
12 Noon to 1 PM
Bethany Church’s Working Chapel
Free and open to the public
At the winter solstice we mark the return of —in the outer world of sky, stars, planets — the sun’s light in a dark season. We might also find, in any time, at any moment, the experience of returning light within ourselves.
These sounds, images, and words are offered as a quiet meditation upon that returning light, within us and without. Please feel free to listen, to look; to close your eyes and follow your own thoughts and images as they rise and fall, come and go.
While this event has a beginning and ending in time, it is also meant to be complete in any moment or section, to be experienced quietly within your own frame of time and attention.
Friday, December 11, 2009
MORNING LAKE REFLECTING SKY
My two long, ambient/ textural works for 2009 are available on audio CD-R via mail order now. The discs are 10 dollars each, plus 2.50 for shipping. (If you buy both, I'll throw in a surprise bonus!)
Wednesday, December 09, 2009
Wednesday, December 02, 2009
painting by Kevin Macneil Brown.
watercolor and graphite on paper, 2009]
I made this painting in the days following a long walk on the beach at Ogunquit. I was inspired by the low light on water and the ever-changing skies of a late autumn morning on the Maine coast.
Sunday, November 22, 2009
Sunday, November 15, 2009
Monday, October 26, 2009
acrylic on canvas, 2009)
Tuesday, September 29, 2009
(September, October- Paintings by Kevin Macneil Brown,
acrylic on canvas board, 2007}
SEPTEMBER , OCTOBER
Small birds calling.
The rose that waits
to bloom until
after leaves have fallen.
- Kevin Macneil Brown
Arriving at the season of falling leaves, colder air, and opening views, I can't stop thinking about my trip to Chickering Bog a few days ago. I rode my bike up into the hills on a perfect blue sky day. Along the way I was treated to the sight of a hunting harrier in September sun. For a good ten minutes I watched her low flight over pond, sedges, cornfield-- stealth maneuvers and random patterns-- the clear light of sky and water shining on her buff, white, and gray feathers. Later, I stashed the bike in the woods, and ran along mossy trails in pine-filtered light to the bog-- a fen actually: a small stretch of ancient open water surrounded -- and eventually to be covered by-- sedges and vegetation mat; the glug-glug of those waters and the hammering of a woodpecker the only nearby and discernible sounds.
As for my harvest, I'm excited to announce the publication of my mystery novel COMPASS, WATER,STONE AND TIME. It's the first of 5 novels I've written. The story was inspired by one place in particular, the old roads and trails of Irish Hill--running and exploring in those woods and meadows set my imagination in motion. You can sample-- and purchase-- the book here:
I've also recently finished a long ambient soundwork that I composed all through the spring and summer of 2009.You can listen to it and read about it by going to the post just previous to this one. (It's available on CD in a limited edition version with a selection of prints; to purchase a copy, contact email@example.com).
Now, looking forward to further adventures, along with cider donuts, snow geese, and the silver light of autumn sky and water.....
Monday, September 14, 2009
Going to Lake Champlain in the contemplative quiet of early morning, I have found that water and sky give off a compelling sense of power and mystery. Fog, breaking and changing sunlight; the muffled sounds of birds, waves, oars, and distant boat engines all add to the softly resonant soundscape, shorescape, skyscape.
Over the spring and summer of 2009 I made this long soundwork to evoke for myself and others the moods and feelings I’ve found in contemplating the morning lake.
This piece is designed to move very slowly; to vibrate in subtle ways and conjure the sounds, sights, and textures of a time and place where water, light, listening, and perception might come quietly together.
Sunday, August 09, 2009
Try to see the town the way a shorebird in migration might: the patchwork of gold and silver fields in late September, the wooded ridges still mostly green, but going brown and red in places. In the morning there might be a moving wall of mist, white and rising, filling the space between two rivers: the Big River and the Little Creek River.
Both of those tributaries meet in the shallow bay: a quiet harbor with a few boats rocking in the sparkle of pale sun, on the rippling and shivering skin of cold blue-green water.
You might be flying too high to smell the smoke rising from the few clapboard or shingled houses, from their woodstoves and oil furnaces; too far up to notice the salt and sulfur and fish smells that mingle with the breath of the pines in cold air.
If you are that migrating bird, you are southing and gone in no time at all, the small town below left quickly behind.
The gnarled and ancient, shriveled and fruitless Seek- no-Further apple tree, thinks Peter Coombes to himself, is a sure marker of habitation long past; a sign that this would be, if one believed such things were possible, a forest of ghosts and memories; the withered tree is likely evidence of a long-abandoned backyard orchard.
And there, sure enough, a few yards into the birch and hemlock thicket, is the cellar hole, the scatter of field-gathered granite.
Peter has not taken this trail across the ridge before. It’s perhaps the last un-explored trail left in town for him.
Today being the River Festival, and he being the new High School biology teacher, he’s expected to help out with the river clean-up, even march in the river parade. He’s trying this new (new to him, anyway: the trail is well-trodden and littered with beer cans) shortcut down to the town.
His boots, shining, swabbed just last night with a mink oil waterproofing, squeak a little as he walks.
The woods are thick here, and quiet. He almost jumps out of his skin when a grouse explodes across the trail and flies with unbelievable speed and agility into woods that are dark, even on this bright September morning.
The trail dips down into a hollow. Peter hears a dog bark. Rounding a corner, he sees a clearing: somebody’s backyard, he thinks. There are piles of weathered wood, scattered lumps of rusting metal, a few green plastic garbage bags piled neatly beneath a poplar tree at the yard’s far corner. There’s an old aluminum trailer up on cinder blocks. Peter feels a little bit nervous to be on private property, though the land’s not posted, at least not that he’s seen so far. The dog’s still barking, but Peter is relieved when he determines by the sound that the insistent beast is inside the trailer.
A curl of dark and slightly toxic-smelling smoke rises from a metal chimney attached to the trailer. Peter Coombes walks faster. He leaves the clearing behind and is soon back in deep woods.
Tom Mason is drinking early again. Not too much; just enough to take the edge off his world. He doesn’t know for sure if it’s the coffee or the whiskey that’s warming him so nicely. The cabin-- the log cabin he built with his own hands twenty years ago- -feels tight and snug. It’s already getting chilly up here in the grove above Big River, but he knows what to expect: he’s got all his wood in for the winter.
He stands in just his jeans in front of the bathroom mirror. He’s gotten alarmingly thin, though he recognizes that his hard woodsman’s muscles are still there, despite how little he’s been eating.
I’m still young, he thinks; no gray to be found in hair or beard. Christ, I’m only forty, he say’s aloud.
He goes into the pine-paneled kitchen again, pours himself another cup of coffee. This time he doesn’t add whiskey; just drinks it black. He finds some bitter grounds in his mouth, chews them with pleasure.
It’s a little contrary, he figures, what with winter coming; but he decides that today is the day to shave off his beard.
The fog has lifted now; the waters at the wide mouth of Little Creek are dancing with sun-shimmer, even as the outgoing tide takes those waters temporarily away.
Jody Asmussen ties her long blond hair back behind her wide athlete’s shoulders. No soccer games to coach today: the River Festival is too big a deal to garner any competition on this last Saturday in September. The kids and their parents are already starting to gather at the boat-launch and along the old stone jetty. A few people are out on the creek in canoes and brightly-colored kayaks.
Jody slips into rubber hip-boots, dons heavy canvas-and-leather work gloves. When the tide has gone out there will be a couple hours of hard work, pulling tires and engine blocks and abandoned bikes and who knows what from the river. Then, after noon, there will be the parade; the kids in pirate and fish and lobster costumes; the high school marching band trying pitifully to play some recent top 40 radio song.
Jody smiles. Every year it’s the same: fried dough, face-painting, the artist who comes up from Portland every year to help everyone make sculptures from the rusted junk they pull out of river. Jody is amazed that there’s always more scrap, more tires, more rusted metal to be found every year.
People are gathering now, kids are shouting and laughing. Someone turns a car stereo up really loud. The tide is almost out.
Clyde Robey sips some of last night’s coffee cold from a styrofoam cup. He’s wearing fresh, clean Dickies: green drip-drys and a matching shirt. His beagle Dale starts barking all of a sudden. Clyde ditches the crappy coffee in his sink, looks out the little kitchen porthole of the trailer. There’s a guy walking by. Looks like a tourist, all dressed up in new LL Bean clothes. A hike and bike type, Clyde figures. Probably headed down to that river festival. The guy passes by; no harm done. Still, Clyde says to Dale, he probably ought to be a little more careful once buck season starts.
No more damn coffee in the house. Clyde heads out the trailer door, whistles for Dale. Tail wagging, the beagle runs out after him. Clyde opens the passenger-side door and the dog, despite short legs, leaps up and in.
Clyde Robey smiles, reaches up to the bed of the pick-up, absent-mindedly pats with his right hand the load beneath the tattered blue tarp. He gets up into the cab, starts the engine, pulls down the long dirt drive to the town road.
Peter Coombes says hello to the tall, thin man he passes on the trail. The man is wearing jeans and a thick sweater. He’s carrying a tattered, olive green army rucksack. He looks straight at Peter, but says nothing. Peter sees that the man’s blue eyes are strangely bright and clear beneath his dark hair and brows. There are some fresh nicks on his face, as if from a slightly botched shave.
Peter Coombes watches the tall, silent man walk off the trail, toward a rocky rise in the topography.
Peter wonders if he himself might have taken a wrong turn; is this still the way to town?
Jean Latourneau; God what a babe, Clyde thinks, as he smiles into those dark eyes. Jean serves him his hot coffee. She knows just how much cream and sugar he likes, and she always smiles back at him, too. She’s kind of skinny, that’s true. But she’s awful nice. So I’m 30, she’s maybe 23. Big deal. Clyde knows he’s just about ready to ask her out some time.
But he always chickens out. That’s the only way to describe it.
Clyde heads out to his truck, where Dale the dog is eagerly waiting. “Let’s you and me go check out the river thing,” Clyde says to Dale.
He heads the truck downtown, finds just about the last empty slot in the lot above the boat-launch. Definitely a party going on. He turns on the truck radio, the country station, sips his sweet, hot coffee, watches the goings- on.
He registers a few of the hippie women in town; a little thick-bodied, some of them are now; he remembers some of the same women from when he was a kid. Back then they were younger, of course; kind of hot and sexy in their tight tops and cut-off jeans, their long flowing hair.
They still wear the same kind of clothes now, still have the long hair, the face paint and glitter for special occasions like this one. But they’re definitely older; and it’s their daughters that are starting to look like they did back then.
Clyde figures he must be getting old, too.
Tom Mason climbs up from the woods to the rocks. He hasn’t been up here for quite a while. He knows he’s been avoiding people. He knows too, that, since the storm, he’s been avoiding any sight of the sea.
At first he drank in town, at Caswell’s Inn...But he got tired of talking about her.
Tired of telling friends and strangers alike about the October night she didn’t come back.
She was so at home, out on the water, he thinks, Jenn Marie Sawyer. So at home on the water. So I guess she’s home now.
Tom is breathing hard when he crests the ridge. His breath catches when he looks down from the rocks; at Little Creek in low tide trickle; the town and harbor, beyond them the blue-green Gulf of Maine.
There’s something big going on in town today. It’s the river festival, he realizes, a little shocked at how quickly he’s gotten out of touch with the community and its events. He takes a deep breath, sits with his back to sun-warmed granite, takes from his rucksack a pair of binoculars.
The tide is coming in. Little Creek is rising again by the time Peter Coombes finds his way to town. How he got so turned around, he doesn’t know. He’s managed to completely miss the river cleanup, but the parade is just now forming at the top of Water Street.
He hurries toward all the activity, past the hissing acetylene torch and bright sparks of the masked sculptor wrapping up his junk-art project.
He sees a flash of yellow hair, the unmistakable and statuesque form of Jody, the soccer coach. He walks toward her, toward the ranks of the assembling parade.
Clyde wants to get out of town before the parade closes the street. He starts the truck, heads away from town on the Town Road. He’s in the mood to drive. It’s a nice day. Gretchen's on the radio. He rolls down the window to let the fast-warming air in to the cab. Dale sticks his face out the window, panting happily; Clyde pats him, smiles.
The truck moves up the road along the creek. Clyde thinks to himself how much nicer the creek looks now, with the tide coming in, the water rising and covering the rickety old wooden pilings and the dark, muddy flats.
There’s herons and egrets standing in the shallows, mackerel clouds moving in from the southeast. It’s a beautiful day. A great afternoon for a drive.
Tom Mason realizes he’s been sitting against this sun-warmed rock all day.
He’s amazed at himself: it’s been almost a year, but he knows he can do it now; he can make himself look at the sea.
He scans the sky, the shore with his binoculars. There had been a parade earlier. He’d watched that for a while; then he’d watched the entire day pass from up here.
He’s seen the tide rising to its high water mark in late afternoon; the long, bent shadows cast onto the pebbly boat-beach by mast and bare spar.
It’s almost bearable now, he thinks. But then he sweeps the binoculars down toward the town, and what he sees nearly tears him apart from inside: it’s a tall blonde woman and a young, handsome man, talking, holding hands; the man is the same one he’d passed on the trail in the woods this morning. Something shudders inside him; a feeling, a memory: Jenn Marie Sawyer, as strong and tall as he was. He remembers the smell of her in bed. Sometimes, when she was just off the water, she smelled like sun and salt and seaweed and soap. And he himself, she’d told him, smelled of cold air and spruce.
They had loved each other soul to soul; muscle to muscle; deep woods to open water.
Sobbing now, bringing down the binoculars from his eyes, Tom Mason remembers the storm, the boat that has never returned.
He remembers the yearning soul he was sure he had seen just a few days later, staring at him through the dark and limpid eyes of a seal out in the harbor. He would never, he’d promised himself that day, go near the water again.
Slowly but timelessly the shadows of the headland where Tom is resting reach out over the water.
And somehow now, he knows he will rise and shave his face again tomorrow; that he’ll come back here and look out at the sea every day, for however long it takes.
Just about dark now. Clyde’s been driving around all day. Now he’s headed back toward town. Clyde pulls the truck up to the turn- in at North Cove. Nobody ever comes here, this far up the creek. He opens the door. A styrofoam cup falls out onto the ground. Clyde crushes it with his feet; it makes a satisfying crunch in the quiet evening.
After a minute or so he begins to hear the soft lapping of the Little Creek waters. He goes to the back of the truck, pulls off the tarp. The bed is full of rusted metal: car parts, junk that’s beyond recognition.
Feeling quite satisfied, sweating with effort in the falling darkness, he casts the useless metal objects one by one into the tidal river. As much to himself as to the Dale the beagle, he says, “It’ll be fun, won’t it, to see just what the hell the hippies might make out of all this stuff next year.”
Tuesday, July 14, 2009
Painting by Kevin Macneil Brown, watercolor on paper, 2009)
FROM THE CUT, GLOUCESTER HARBOR
He had heard, outside the harbor
The singing, unseen, of
The men at the oars;
That deep rumbling song
So hard to discern from
The sound of the
Far waves that, finally,
Whether that singing
Was the sound of flesh and blood men
Hidden by fog, or
Was carried by ghosts
Across time and water,
He neither knew nor cared.
That was back when
This place--Cape Ann--was
Truly an island;
After Reverend Blynman’s canal-cut
Was made so that Annisquam
Her waters with the Atlantic;
Before Andrews’ tall bridge
Brought Sunday drivers
Across from the mainland west.
My mother remembers, at least
In part, those times,
When in summer the whitecaps
And sails on blue-green water might
Rise to meet the uncountable gray-white
Wings of gulls in the hazy sky;
Or in winter the
Cold black crows
Cast shadows on —even colder— the
Rocks scattered all over the
Bare, sparse, Dogtown heights.
Now all this, I
Know, has changed
But has also remained the same
And that sea that had called him
To its heart
has given up in his memory
For us to hold, for now,
At the very least,
-Kevin Macneil Brown
I can thank my parents, Patricia Macneil and Norman Brown, both of Gloucester, Massachusetts, for my deep and abiding love for the power of place.
The first place by far-- and one rich in legend, myth, history, art, land and seascape--was Gloucester, of course. But growing up I learned from both my parents to keep my eyes and heart engaged with every place we lived over the years: to seek and find signs of the ancient and timeless alike.
The poem was written while I ran on wooded trails in Vermont, the words rising as a memory of stories and mysteries my mother has talked about.
As for the painting: My father always talked about childhood memories of climbing a certain hill above the harbor, of sitting alone watching boats leave the harbor and feeling a sense of transcendence. He called these experiences "moments in time", echoing, perhaps, Wordsworth.
( After his death, I climbed that hill with my mother and sisters to scatter some of his ashes--it was a place of granite and grass and pear trees above the silver-gray harbor.)
Immediately after finishing the painting I knew without doubt that it was for my father. It was only a bit later that I remembered I'd started it on Father's Day.
Thursday, July 02, 2009
watercolor on paper, 2008)
Mapped in these morning woods,
elevation-contours in birdsong:
Liquid and elegant, wood thrush and veery at
300 to 500 feet on
sun-dappled eastern slopes.
At 700 to 1,000 feet
the longer song of
in the cooler, darker sugarbush
of the shadowed
western ridge and just below.
And here’s an old stone wall
--once tight-stacked, now hollow
and in motion--
tracing the edges
of ancient, overgrown pasture.
these rising stands of
strong white spruce,
-Kevin Macneil Brown
The poem above began in my head last week while I was running on the old roads and trails of Irish Hill. I was searching for a place called Cow Pond, where, according to Agatha Fasetts's book THE NAKED FACE OF GENIUS, the composer Bela Bartok had once picnicked. Bartok spent a summer nearby this hill, at Fasset's house near Riverton. I've done some research and so far I've found no evidence pointing to where Cow Pond is --or was--located. But local history shows that this hill and ridge-- now fully forested-- were used as summer pasture even into the early 20th century. Taking that as a possible clue, my mission last week was to visit two small ponds shown on the topo map. Alas, dense summer undergrowth and my own lack of time hampered the effort. It was a great run nonetheless. I'll go back and continue the quest, probably in the fall.
Here's a short story I wrote a few years ago, inspired by Bartok's Vermont visit:
I am a maker of sounds, but lately those sounds have gone silent for me, and I am haunted only by images. The clearest of those images is before my eyes now, outside the open window: in the late summer green of this place called Vermont, in America, one tree has begun to turn red beneath blue sky, under shining sun. Here, the air is hot and dry by day, clear and chill at night. In the mornings, a damp, cold fog rises up from the little river lined with railroad tracks in the valley below. By noon, the fog lifts, and I can see far beyond this strange tree, to lines of distant mountains. Blue-grey and stony, they rise above the green slopes where the sun sets.
The other images are fading quickly, which is a fine thing for that of the view from the ship that brought me here. I do not wish to always remember that grey Atlantic, Godless, cold and endless, that stretched before me as I stood on the deck. Unfortunately, I suspect that I will always be remembered that way, as I was photographed, gazing out across the rails of the ship——a man leaving his home in fear, pride, anger, sorrow, driven away by the realities of a barbarian invasion. As we turned toward the fortieth year of our century, a mechanical horror descended upon my country and the rest of Europe; inhuman men destroyed humanity with hatred and terror.
Ah, but the image of home——not cold, not grey, not hard and stony, but my sweet, sweet Hungary! Flowers, wet earth, small cobbled streets rich with people, songs, the smells of cooking...my heart breaks to think of it on this hot day of silent trees. At home, there were birds singing in every tree. Here in Vermont, in August, there is only the harshness of crows across the sky. No wonder I feel this terrible silence from inside.
Perhaps I mentioned that I am a man of music. In my youth, I studied the great composers of our European music, and mastered the masters, if I dare say so myself. After this, my ears opened to the folk songs and dances of my homeland. I have such sweet memories of my youthful wanderings, alone or with my dear friend Kodaly, sleeping in the country, collecting songs like a bird watcher collects glimpses. Such hard work, with such flashes of joy! Later, I did the same in northern Africa. My ears opened to a universe of sound——all music became like the physicist’s atoms of energy and meaning. Every atom vibrated in my whole being. I cannot bear to think that all this can be reduced to the ashes of human beings destroyed in war, or, for that matter, to the view of a bare granite mountain top visited only by the cackling shadows of crows.
Perhaps it is my constant tiredness that brings these thoughts——my exhausted, fevered energy as I walk the country roads here, or pace the dark wood rooms of gracious Agathe’s cool, comfortable summer home. My dear Ditta does all she can to lift my spirits: the walks, picnics, reading out loud in the evenings. Thanks to her I can still laugh, still smile. But, secretly, I am crushed by this silence. It is a silence not of the world, but of myself. Though I wander the hills each day, I fear I am drying up like those red leaves on the tree, as if the blood of my heart is showing on the outside.
But today, something strange and wonderful happened, and I write this in the hope that I can shed light on this dark thing inside me, this shadow that I fear grows larger each day.
This morning, after the usual fog had lifted and we had breakfasted, I played piano (working through some Bach) then set out to catalog some pieces from my huge trunk of manuscripts——local songs, brought from home. There are so many regional styles, and my intent is to organize and sort them. It is, of course, a large task, one that makes me tired just to think about. As I sat at the rough-hewn, crowded table that serves as my desk here, I heard Ditta and Agathe’s voices outside, laughing like schoolgirls.
"Bartók Béla!" Ditta called, "Come out here. There is something we must show you!" I was only too glad to be interrupted, and went outside to join them. Still giggling, in a chaos of English and Hungarian, they led me out into a sun so bright it hurt my eyes. It took me a brief while to figure out that it was a sound they wanted me to hear that was causing all the excitement. We walked a short way up the steep dirt road above Agathe’s house to a small, overgrown clearing by the side of the road. In the clearing stood an old wooden barn, broken down, letting blue sky show through where the boards were missing. As we approached it, Ditta clapped and shouted; I heard a quite striking echo——first, distinctly from the barn’s side, then two more repeats, softer and more distant, from the hills around us.
"Béla," said Ditta, breaking into my concentration of listening, "Isn’t it a lovely echo? Like the one at home in Tihany..." In a flash, I remembered a place in Hungary: hillside, stream and cataract. With the memory came an echo of laughter from years ago. "I must listen again. It does not seem to be as strong an echo as the one in Tihany," I said, and began to clap and shout myself. I listened for the sound’s return, shouted again, stopped to listen. Then, the strange thing happened. I stopped listening and the words flew out of me, all in Hungarian: "Tree, rock, stone, sound, music, echo, song, bird, Ditta, Bartók Béla, echo, Tihany, Tihany!" I shouted loudly and for a long time, stopped as the circling echo spun around my head and Ditta and Agathe stood silently watching me. It was like an exertion, this shouting. My shirt was damp with perspiration, and I was a little out of breath.
The three of us walked down the hill together, and I was grateful for the help of gravity to bring me back to the house. To Ditta and Agathe I said, "It is not as good... not as good an echo as the one in Tihany at all." But this afternoon, as I sit at my table and work, that echo crowds out the rote of black notes on the musical staves and begins to replace the grey ocean, even the brittle red leaves of the tree outside my window. The scientists say an atom never stops moving. In autumn, when all the leaves have fallen from the trees and have made a thin mulch on this hard land, I should like to imagine that restless echo under it all, waiting to be heard.
And a composition for guitar and looping devices, made around the same time as the story:
Monday, June 22, 2009
acrylic on canvas, 2009)
(This piece appeared, in slightly different form, in NEW ENGLAND RUNNER magazine.)
Some dreams actually hurt. For example, there’s the recurring one where I’m running on the beach. It’s a beach from my childhood summers in Gloucester, Massachusetts; a beach that, in my memory, shines as an image of alluring mystery; of joy and discovery: Good Harbor Beach. There’s a long, gently curving stretch of pale sand; a scatter of rocky islands that seem to float on an incoming tide; the twin lighthouses of Thacher’s reef rising from the waves to the northeast.
In my dream, I head out for a run from my home in the Vermont mountains; a run through woods or meadow or brick-built downtown. Then I turn a corner and my heart takes a leap of joy inside me: I’m all of a sudden on Good Harbor beach. The sense of happiness, of being truly “home”, is vivid, even through the filter of dreaming.
And that sense still lingers when I awaken to realize that it was only a dream, that Good Harbor Beach is nearly two-hundred miles away; that in reality I won’t turn a corner and find myself there when I head out for a run today.
So maybe it’s not exactly the dream that hurts. It’s the waking up.
I began running for fitness at the age of fifteen. That was over thirty years ago, and, as might be expected, my running has changed, just as I have, over the years. From fitness training, through road racing, to long endurance and exploration runs on wooded trails, my running has evolved into a moving meditation, a way to connect with my deeper self, and with the history and geography of the world I run through. Often when I run, my head and heart and energy systems seem to work together better than they do at any other time in my day.
A few years ago, after a four-month period of particularly intense effort in my life, I decided to give myself the gift of a return--to run-- to Gloucester. I had no agenda other than to run on the beach, to look at the Atlantic, maybe take some time to peruse the canvases of New England marine painter Fitz Henry Lane on display at the Cape Ann Historical Museum. Knowing full well of Gloucester’s fabled past as America’s premier fishing port, I had a pretty good idea that by running in Gloucester I would once again be running through history and geography.
What caught me by surprise, though, was that, for the first time, the geography and history I ran through and into would be my own.
So now here I was. This was not a dream; it was really happening. I ran along the sidewalk beside a strip mall and road busy with Friday night traffic. I turned a corner, and there it was: whitecapped blue water on the horizon, long, pale sands in the sun. Now, faced in a waking state with the reality of Good Harbor Beach, I could feel the full force of the yearning for this place, a yearning I had for so long carried inside me.
I flew over the wooden walkway over the dunes, onto the sands, where just a few off-season walkers and kite-fliers moved, with plenty of distance between them. And I ran, feasting my senses, for more than an hour: loops and circles, up and down, on the pale, heavy sands above tide-line, the hard-packed and sandpiper- tracked sands at water’s edge.
The water grew silver and the sky pale gray after sunset, and I ran back to my motel. A white egret flashed by me in the roadside salt marsh. I knew I’d sleep well tonight.
The city of Gloucester is about the sea; about fishing; about the perfect harbor that Samuel Champlain called Beau Port when first he saw it in 1606; the same perfect harbor and headlands where English adventurers from the Dorchester Company laid out fish racks to dry their catch in 1623; the same perfect harbor that Lane painted over and over in the 1800s as a harbor full of working ships and boats beneath a huge, luminous sky.
Not far from the harbor was the place on East Gloucester square where my grandfather, Johhny Brown, worked in a little grocery store in the 1950s and 60s, selling canned goods and boxed cereal and fresh clams and linguica sausage and golden Portuguese sweetbread to fishermen and their families. Just a long stones-throw away were the wharves and piers where he’d take me walking, and we’d look at boats-- draggers and seiners and schooners and swordfish boats-- in the crowded harbor.
Back then the harbor had plenty of stories. Anybody in Gloucester’s Portuguese community in those days could tell you about Smoky Joe Mesquita, an Azorean-born schooner captain legendary for his uncanny, almost supernatural, ability to find fish. He was also legendary for his bravery and generosity: having brought all but one of his crew back from sea alive in a terrifying November storm in 1898, he wore the crown of honor at the Church Our Lady of Good Voyage, offered grateful prayers to his patron saint, and gave bread to the poor of the city.
My grandfather had told me the story of Gloucester fisherman Howard Blackburn, who, lost in his dory on the foggy, wintry Grand Banks off Newfoundland, with the frozen corpse of his dory mate beside him, rowed for days through ice and snow with his hands frozen to the oars--his fingers fell off later. Blackburn became a local hero, and went on, years later, to cross the Atlantic alone in a twenty-five foot sloop.
As I set out early, breaking into my stride for a long morning run, these stories returned to my memory, filling my mind with a slightly different perspective on what we runners call endurance.
It was a perfect clear May morning with a splash of silver sunlight across the blue ocean, the air already warm at six AM as I ran along the back shore at Bass Rocks, where waves broke, with infinite variety and energy, in white foam against the dark rocks below. I followed the road as it curved inland through a neighborhood of fine old homes and cool, dark patches of shade, then arrived again at waterside in East Gloucester, a crowded but appealing village defined by its boatyards and docks. An amazing profusion of vessels of all shapes and sizes, in all states of rigging, repair or dis-repair, filled the narrow harbor here, and scumbled, inverted images of mast and keel and bowsprit reflected back from the water, broken and shimmering in the pale morning light.
That same morning light filled East Gloucester Square, where, as if caught up in a deja vu, I recognized the shape of the storefronted building where my grandfather had worked.
It was already hot and humid as I took some hilly detours on the streets nearby. I was sweating, and my skin felt to me extra salty in the saturated, maritime air. Here was the street where my father had grown up; a while later, I reached the head of the harbor, with its long view of the fishing fleet and the fish- processing factories along the pier. Every place I ran seemed strangely familiar this morning; I realized that my memories were running alongside me.
After shower and coffee, I spent a little more time on my feet, taking in the Fitz Henry Lane paintings on permanent display at the Cape Ann Historical Museum. To my eyes it seemed that, despite the passage of a century and a half and the urbanization this city and its waterfront, Lane’s perspective of water and boats beneath a massive sky still held true: the suffusing maritime light that Lane captured so well had not changed at all.
There were more treasures to be found at the museum: the actual crown that Smokey Joe Mesquita had worn in 1898; the sloop GREAT REPUBLIC that Howard Blackburn had sailed single-handed across the Atlantic in 1901. .
But now I needed sustenance, and my legs needed rest. I settled down with a west- ender sandwich from Virgilio’s Bakery: rosemary-scented prosciutto ham with provolone cheese, red peppers, and herbed olive oil on a sesame-coated scala roll, crusty on the outside and chewy inside. For good measure, I threw in a hand-made cannoli, scattered with chocolate pieces. After all, I did have more running to do, and I’d need plenty of fuel.
The next morning, an intense symphony of bird song rose from salt marsh and scrubby woods and pulled me awake just before the sunrise. Without thought, I put on my shorts and shirt and running shoes in the darkness. Still groggy, I went outside and broke into a run beneath soft, gray, and drizzling skies. The Sunday morning road was free of traffic. I could hear rolling waves on Good Harbor Beach, and I headed toward that sound.
I had the beach to myself this morning. A pale orange ball of sun, made eerie by an intervening bank of thin fog, rose above the water. Gulls screamed above the breaking waves. My body woke up, moved faster, spurred by the soft and cooling drizzle, the kelp and salt smells in the air.
Just before a rising fog swallowed them, I caught a glimpse of the twin light towers of Thacher’s Island. I remembered the haunting and terrifying story that went with this place and the dangerous shoals nearby. In August of 1635, a pinnace had set out from Ipswich, to round the rocky coast here and make for Marblehead. Aboard were twenty- three people, including Anthony Thacher and his wife and four children. Caught in a hurricane that ripped her sails, the pinnace anchored to ride out the storm. But fierce winds and waves caused her anchor to drag, and she was driven into the ledge. High seas washed the passengers into the waves and against the rocks, where they suffered the ordeal of shipwreck and exposure to the sea’s absolute power. Anthony Thacher scrambled at last to safety upon the island; before long he found his wife, safe and dry also. But their children, and all the other passengers aboard the pinnace, were lost to the storm.
The only survivors of this ill-fated journey, Thacher and his wife were stranded for a day and a half on the island, until another Marblehead-bound vessel could take them off. Anthony named the island Thachers’ Woe, that it might always tell his sorrowful story. In 1771 the first lighthouse was built upon it, to mark these dangerous waters.
Again, an old story made me think about endurance. And it made me think about my own small yearnings, casting them in a different light in the face of thoughts of a loss as profound as was that of the Thachers.
The lines of Gloucester’s history are tangled up in loss: the sea has taken more than its share of the brave and adventurous souls who set forth from these coves and harbors. I meditated on these things as I ran, and some words came to my head, in rhythm with my footfalls and my breath. They were the words of Gloucester’s greatest poet, Charles Olson:
It is undone business
I speak of this morning
with the sea
from my feet
Another twin towers showed from inland: the sky blue domes of the Portuguese church, The Church Of our Lady of Good Voyage. I circled the beach once more, and headed toward town, keeping the domes on my horizon. There were a few vehicles on the road now; pickup trucks mostly, with fishing gear in the beds, men with ball caps and Styrofoam coffee cups in the cabs. I reached the church, took in the stunning sculpture of Our Lady herself, holding a Gloucester Schooner safely in her arms. I ran further up what those of my grandfather’s generation called Portugee Hill, into a steep neighborhood of close-together white houses with a surprising view to far blue water under the low, gray sky.
Running up the hill felt great; running down again felt even better. I retraced my route, back to the beach.
The twin lights were gone now, swallowed up by a squall line, and the orange ball of sun was lost in thickening fog. I was running on Good Harbor Beach again. Not in a dream, but for real. The pealing chatter of sandpipers sang from the misty tideline.
With each stride, my feet found the water’s edge, closing the yearning circle, rooting me in history and memory and a sense of this powerful place.
From RUNNING DEEP: MOVING MEDITATIONS THROUGH NEW ENGLAND PLACE, TIME, AND MEMORY.
Wednesday, June 10, 2009
acrylic on canvas, June 2009)
Two years ago this week I was on a road trip to Maine, playing a weekend of shows with Rusty Romance. It being our anniversary weekend, Robin and I stayed at a nice little inn overlooking the water at New Harbor, while the rest of the band bunked elsewhere. Music and travel meant not much sleep; but I made sure to rise early and fully take in those amazing down east sunrises over the quiet harbor. I sketched, and, most of all, I stored impressions deep inside.
The beauty of New Harbor—its range of color and light like no other place I’ve seen -- still haunts me. I will go back someday, but for now I will continue to make images from my memory of this powerful place.
Thursday, June 04, 2009
acrylic on canvas, 2009)
(Investigate this, all
with heart held
While, in the rain,
taking true form.
-Kevin Macneil Brown
Monday, May 18, 2009
acrylic on canvas board, 2008)
Below is a hazy ambient piece I made on four track cassette about fifteen years ago.
The sonic elements include various sounds recorded through my open studio window and layers of direct-recorded electric guitar. (A borrowed 1965 Guild Starfire that I still really miss!)
This source material was looped and layered utilizing the now-vanished technology of endless telephone answering machine cassettes. ( Somewhere I have a big box full of these short tape loops; I suspect that listening to them now might unlock many lost memories. iframe width="400" height="100" style="position: relative; display: block; width: 400px; height: 100px;" src="http://bandcamp.com/EmbeddedPlayer/v=2/track=2535816022/size=venti/bgcol=FFFFFF/linkcol=4285BB/" allowtransparency="true" frameborder="0">The Fog in Lilac Waves by Kevin Macneil Brown
Friday, May 15, 2009
acrylic on canvas board, April 2009)
North Shore Light
Something happened this
morning so that
the warmth of rising sun
on my face was
strong as the knowing of god,
or the heat of human love.
I could turn my back
on all of this, even
look away completely, but
feel it in full.
It’s as if there were
more than one
and from more than one
I could be forever
so maybe it’s best to
In this moment, here I am,
on this beach in north shore light
Over there, to my left and
stands Our Lady of Good Voyage
with her bells and lilac breezes
Over there, to my right and
those mountains of waves rise,
with clearing fog, and gliding
And in all this
north shore light
-Kevin Macneil Brown
Tuesday, April 28, 2009
Thursday, April 23, 2009
watercolor on paper, 2009)
Dark sails find my horizon
(like Homer painted, 1880,
from Ten Pound Island:
Not just seascapes, maritimes,
but moments of
choosing, yearning, knowing.)
High tide, and
A salt and kelp wind rises
with the morning.
I have slept through the night
and light now
fissures the sky.
This small, safe harbor seems
vivid and fresh today,
with silver waters arriving.
And beyond the breakwater
those fast sails filling
ah, my heart’s desire
-Kevin Macneil Brown
Thursday, March 26, 2009
(March 12,2; March 12,1- Calligraphs by Kevin Macneil Brown, 2009)
Thursday, March 12, 2009
painting by Kevin Macneil Brown, acrylic on canvas, 2009
I've been working for the past three months on a new project. It's a series of compositions for lap steel guitar in various altered tunings, mostly recorded in one take, with the ambient textures and spatial processing occurring in real time. As with much of my music, this work is intended to invoke and transfer moods and feelings at the confluence of inner and outer landscapes.
Saturday, February 07, 2009
LAKE LIGHT (Painting by Kevin Macneil Brown,
watercolor on paper, February 2009)
PSALM FOR JOURNEYS
and over mountains
(so many mountains)
Follow thin and falling waters
to find wide river
the place where blue lake shimmers
huge beneath the sky
this in the heart
Friday, January 16, 2009
watercolor on paper, 2008)
Here are some notes and comments about the tracks on ACROSS BLUE MOUNTAINS- SONGS AND SOUNDWORKS 2006-2008:
This piece began as an exploratory improvisation on a borrowed vintage National New Yorker steel guitar. I fell in love immediately with the rough growl of the middle range, and I kept going back for those notes, that sound.
National New Yorker, Fender Blues Junior; mic-ed with a Radio Shack dynamic mic hung over the grille.
Never Run Dry
A simple song for voice and acoustic guitar. Dedicated with love to anybody who is hurting deep inside.
Vocal, Epiphone guitar; mic-ed with MXL-V63M
Eagle Dreams of Open Water
I imagined this piece as a gamelan composition for acoustic steel guitars in layers; but a gamelan sped up: like a bird's metabolism maybe, or spring run-off from mountains.
Epiphone guitar, Silvertone lap steel (John Goss modified); mic-ed with Studio Projects C3. (Thank you, Glenn Howland.)
The Women at Three Mile Bridge Road
My mystery novel HIGHWAY IN THE BLOOD tells the story of a steel player named Buck Hawkins who leaves behind some trouble in Texas only to find more trouble back home in Vermont. In the book, he composes a Dobro tune dedicated to some people and a place at the heart of the story. I thought it would be fun to actually write and record the piece in character as Buck.
1977 Dobro, 1974 Estrada guitar; mic-ed with Studio Projects C3.
Texas Double Eagle Railroad Blues
A strange little rockabilly blues with a touch of Zen, this came to me one fall day as maple leaves fell. In recording and mixing this version, I tried to keep to a 1950s small-studio /southern AM radio /late night vibe: lots of echo and a hot, sticky mix. (You can hear the full band version on the CD RUSTY ROMANCE- ROOTS N" ROLL.)
Vocal, 1974 Estrada , 1990s Mexican Telecaster, Fender Blues Junior; mic-ed with MXL V63M, Radio Shack dynamic.
Red Sky Prayer Across Blue Mountains
I made this piece on a cold, stark, and beautiful November afternoon. It’s made from the collage and reassembly of some pieces from alternate versions of previous compositions— Including “National, Harvest” and “November Path –for Dennis Darrah”.
National New Yorker, Silvertone lap steel, Lexicon jam man; processed with Acid software.
Colors of Dusk, Colors of Dawn- for Thomas Merton
Reading Thomas Merton’s words in the silent mornings and evenings has often been an inspiration to me, as has the experience of changing light and color in the unfolding dawn and dusk.
I spent most of the late winter and early spring of 2008 on this piece. It was my intent to express in sound those liminal colors, moods, and textures. The process began with a long, direct-recorded improvisation on steel guitar (I remember it as being my Melobar SL-6, but my tracking notes say it was the Silvertone.)
The extensive reshaping and sound painting was done in Acid and Cool Edit Pro.