Day 400, April 21, 2021

Spring and the Alpha Boys' Home

Tonight's soundtrack: Herbie Hancock and The Headhunters, Munich, 1989

Today a storm came in and for a little while it sounded like a train was passing the house. The sky turned dark and the chickens huddled in remnant piles of last fall's oak leaves. I was on a Zoom meeting that spanned the valley and we took turns hearing thunder roll through the hills. I saw the flash and heard the roar through the computer before the sound traveled the ten miles up to Montague and set Franklin off with his barking and scampering all through the house.

The buds are just starting to come out in the trees, so the wind seemed to whip fairly harmlessly through the branches and even the chickens seemed to question the veracity of the storm. They seemed to be saying, "Well, at least it isn't snowing again."

In college, I did an outreach program in Jamaica where we worked at the Alpha Boys' Home painting buildings and playing with the children. Every day after lunch, like clockwork, there was a torrential storm that, if we had not been so tired and in a chaperoned group, would have been frightening in its power. But as it was, it was a moment to lie down on the cool concrete cafeteria floor resting our heads on our sneakers and closing our eyes to the torrent beating waves of rhythms on the metal roofs. It was a strange practice of contrasts, the almost meditative state of napping as nature whipped itself into a fury.

The Alpha Boys' Home has a prominent place in the musical heritage of Jamaica, and the inventiveness and resilience of the boys who lived there is a testament to humanity. The kids made kites out of scavenged plastic bags and slivers of bamboo. They made cricket balls, and even soccer size balls out of collections of plastic bags that they stuffed one inside the other until it became a slightly misshapen sphere. And out on the periphery of the property, where the old mattresses were discarded and stripped down to their metal frame and springs, the boys used them to perform acrobatic flips and leaps. It is little wonder that some of Jamaica's foundational jazz, ska, and reggae musicians emerged from that orphanage. The boys had two sets of clothes, school clothes and play clothes, and yet, the joy they expressed was something that I felt I had only imagined and never quite experienced.

We would head back to our lodgings each night barely able to raise our arms over our heads from painting all day. Some of us would slip out for a cultural taste of Red Stripe, and then discreetly return to the convent where we were staying. 

One of our free days, I visited a shanty town and found a couple with a three stringed guitar and I sat with them for a bit and they let me play the guitar. I sadly broke a string. I felt terrible for that. I'm not sure it was an actively used instrument, but anything in that community was hard won and treasured.

When the kids slipped out of the grounds of the home, they would arrange intricate puddles of bottle caps on the hot pavement so that when cars ran over them, they pressed into the asphalt creating wonderful mosaics that reminded me of my childhood bathroom tile of red dots in a black grout background. 

Back here in Massachusetts, on the edge of the yard, and down by the Sawmill River, the knotweed is sprouting ominously. Even at this tender shoot stage, the sheer expanse of plants is daunting. I've contemplated trying to see if the chickens would do the work of uprooting the tender sprouts. They will eat the shoots I drop into their barren yard. Maybe I could even arrange for some kind of mobile fencing down by the river. But that is more work than I think I can manage and there are already some opportunistic birds of prey that circle the house contemplating whether they could fly away with one of my black hens.

With the rain has come the cold. Spring in New England swings between those extremes where one can wear shorts one day and need to make a fire in the wood stove that same evening. But it is also a marvelous time with the flowers pushing up, and as Franklin can attest, all the fantastic smells emanating from the earth. 

It is a time of hope and optimism. I have my first vaccine appointment for this Friday, which feels like a first step towards returning to a time when we can play music together, congregate indoors, and maybe even travel again. Spring feels like those kids in the Alpha Boys' Home launching themselves into the air off of rusty bed springs. Spring makes it feel as if the world may be awakening again. I am so glad to be able to listen to the wind rush by the house, to hear the rain drum down on the roof, to watch the sky grow dark and then light again. I am so glad we can all do those things as the spring awakens around us.

Stay safe, it feels like we are nearly there,

Leo














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