A Sad Springtime Scene

Originally posted May 8, 2009

Early this morning, the Texas Gal called me to the dining room window. “Look at the end of the driveway” she said, pointing.

And there, not far from the sidewalk and moving parallel to Lincoln Avenue – a fairly busy street – was a mama duck followed by her ducklings. We couldn’t tell how many there were as they pushed through the grass to keep up with her, but all of them were making pretty good time across the lawn toward Thirteenth Avenue, which is a less busy street.

I wandered outside and down near the edge of the lawn, just to see which way she’d take her brood. My guess was that she’d eventually have to cross Lincoln and, after that, the railroad tracks: About a half-mile up, there’s a large drainage pond in front of the public works building on the far side of the tracks from us.

Mama and her ducklings stepped down from the curb into the street as a car sailed past. I looked both ways and saw no traffic coming, and Mama scooted across the street, her brown and gold fluffballs following. I counted nine of them. Once across the street, Mama hopped up onto the cure and into the taller grass. The ducklings tried to follow. The last one in line jumped up, fell and flipped on his back. He (it could have been a she, I know) lay there thrashing his wings, unable to get up.

I’d not intended to interfere when I went down to watch, but I couldn’t stand to see him like that. I dashed across the street and lifted him up to the grass. As I did, the other eight ducklings headed left, along the gutter, parallel with mama’s path on the grass above. And they were heading straight toward a storm sewer grate. I got five of them before they fell in; three tumbled into the water some feet below. I looked down into the grate and could not see them in the dimness. But I could hear them.

And Mama would not leave. She was confused: She could hear her lost ducklings chirping from below the street, but she could not find them. She waddled back and forth, past the grating in the street, pausing every once in a while to keep her other ducklings in a group in the taller grass. Eventually, the mama duck stopped pacing and stood guard on the curb above the grate, her remaining six ducklings huddled around her. I watched for a few moments, then sadly walked back across the street and up to the house where the Texas Gal was waiting.

“Maybe we shouldn’t have gotten involved,” she said.

“There are storm drains everywhere,” I said. “And other risks.” She nodded.

I came back into the house, wondering if I’d made things worse. And I don’t know. As I watched from the dining room window, the Texas Gal stopped her car next to the storm drain on Lincoln and got out. I couldn’t tell what she was doing. She called after she got to work.

“I saw her standing on the curb,” she told me, “and I thought that if I could get her to move far enough away so she couldn’t hear the ones in the drain, she might move on.” So she’d moved slowly toward the mama duck and her ducklings, gently guiding them on a path toward the public works building down the street and across the tracks. The diminished family did move on, the Texas Gal said.

I called the city’s public works department and told them what I’d seen, and the man I talked to said he’d get word to the folks who handled such events. “I don’t know what their policy is,” he told me, “but I’ll get word to the right people.”

I don’t have much hope for the three that fell, but I sure hope that Mama Duck and her remaining six babies got to the pond at the public works building.

The Band: Jubilation

The first thing one notices about Jubilation, the 1998 CD that turned out to be the last album in The Band’s long history, is the sound of old: fiddles, snare drums, accordion and – perhaps the most important – voices that sound weary or at least long-used. Is this rock ’n’ roll? Americana? Looking back from eleven years after the CD came out and nearly ten years since the death of Rick Danko, the label doesn’t really matter. It comes to mind that this is how music – in a lot of ways – sounded in small American communities before we all listened to the radio and the stereo and our mp3 players.

The Band was always a little out of step with the rest of the musical world, its five original members comprising a band of brothers who all stepped to the rhythm of Thoreau’s distant drummer. On the cover of their second album, The Band, the photo of the five of them – Danko, Levon Helm, Garth Hudson, Richard Manuel and Robbie Robertson – looks as if it comes from a Civil War history or an account of desperate men on the American frontier of about the same time. And their music – from Music From Big Pink in 1968 through Jubilation – was the same: Out of touch (sometimes less so, sometimes more) with the trends and styles of the day and utterly in touch with something deeper in the American soul.

Yes, I know the original group was made up of four Canadians and one U.S. citizen; but, to take care of the linguistic point first: Canada is a part of North America. Beyond that, for all our differences – and there are some significant ones – the rural portions of English Canada are not that far different from the rural portions of the southern U.S., and the experiences of those communities as they grew were not that dissimilar. I’ve read over the years some accounts of growing up in rural Canada shared by Danko and Richard Manuel that sound very much – in terms of community and music – like tales from Levon Helm’s South. If those experiences had been too much unlike, then Robbie Robertson could never have written the songs for the group’s first incarnation as well as he did, as many of the songs were inspired by Helm’s tales of his native South.

To underline that, consider what All-Music Guide says about the area of Ontario where Danko was born and raised. It is, AMG says, “populated by a large number of families descended from expatriate Southerners from the United States, and the echoes of Southern culture ran through the music and language in the area, with a special emphasis on country music.”

Well, not to belabor the point, but The Band always sounded unlike any other group, and the roots of its music were found in rural Canada as well as in the rural U.S. And Jubilation is not far at all from those roots. As writer Greil Marcus says in the notes to the CD: “[T]he rickety feeling of the faster rhythms, the way voices curl together around lines than can carry no date (‘Ain’t that somethin’/The big doghouse thumpin’’) is at once old and unheard, a sound that only has to be heard for the first time to feel as if it’s being remembered.”

It’s obvious that I like Jubilation. I’ve enjoyed every one of The Band’s albums since I first heard The Band nearly forty years ago. (Well, I don’t listen to Cahoots a lot.)* It’s a relaxed album, easy to listen to and easy to like. The highlights? Well, I particularly like the opener, “Book Faded Brown” and two others: “Last Train To Memphis” and “Kentucky Downpour.” And there’s only one track on the CD that doesn’t work so well for me: “Spirit of the Dance” seems somehow trite.

One of the things notable about Jubilation is that much of the material is written – or at least co-written – by members of The Band. The only tracks that are covers are Paul Jost’s “Book Faded Brown,” John Hiatt’s “Bound by Love” and Allen Toussaint’s “You See Me.” The other eight tracks have at least one and sometimes more members of the group credited as writers (sometimes writing with folks from outside the group).

Two famous friends show up during the proceedings: Eric Clapton adds his guitar to “Last Train to Memphis,” and Hiatt takes a vocal turn on his own “Bound by Love.”

Finally, one notable track is “White Cadillac,” which is subtitled “Ode to Ronnie Hawkins,” the rockabilly singer with whom the original members of The Band got their start so many years ago.

Tracks
Book Faded Brown
Don’t Wait
Last Train to Memphis
High Cotton
Kentucky Downpour
Bound by Love
White Cadillac
If I Should Fail
Spirit of the Dance
You See Me
French Girls

Jubilation by The Band [1998]

*I should also have noted Islands as one of The Band’s albums that gets little playing time here. Note added June 20, 2012.

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