An Excerpt from Jim Conrad's
NATURALIST NEWSLETTER
of February 9, 2009
Issued from the woods edge near
Natchez, Mississippi, USA
SONGS WITHOUT WORDS

Last Tuesday, February 3rd, was not only my mother's birthday but also that of composer Felix Mendelssohn. To commemorate the day Public Radio highlighted Mendelssohn's music, and so it was that during my campfire breakfast I found myself listening to one of his most famous works, a piano piece called Lieder ohne Worte, or Songs without Words. Mendelssohn believed that music conveys feelings and sentiments more effectively than words, and here was his proof.

Morning sunlight dazzlingly slanted through the pines illuminating sharp, silvery ice crystals inside my water jugs. Great white clouds of steam billowed from my campfire stew and from inside me when I exhaled. A titmouse peter-peter-petered his spring song while crows cawed in the distance, all mingling seamlessly with "Songs without Words."

And I thought: All the world is a song without words. This blossoming of spring, this oncoming greening of the land, this gradual warming into summer, this bringing of myself into a whole new year, all is a song with innumerable tones, more intermingled melodies than I can discover, and more meaning than I can comprehend. And it is all expressed much more elegantly in terms of this ice, this fire, these birds, this stew and steam, than can be articulated in words.

Long I sat, well until after the music had stopped, the fragrance of a warming frosty morning, the sound of breezes stirring among cold-crisp pine needles, vagrant smoke from my dying campfire circling around a squirrel in an oak tree.

All songs, all songs, and I wondered what the use was to get up from my rocking chair and return to that world just beyond the heat of my campfire so fixated on words and, worse than words, numbers. Long I sat, feeling songs surging around me calling forth other songs from far away and from other times and dimensions.

But, in the end, I did get up and simply walk out of the song and all its evocations and echoes.

For, the effects of a song are one thing, and a song itself is quite another.

In my rocking chair I had been affected by songs without words. Now by walking into my own life -- of embarking into that morning of chainsawing firewood and planting narcissus bulbs for Karen, and later computering the whole day -- I was singing a wordless song of myself.

And by choosing what I did and how I did it, I was touching each of my moment-tones with color, texturing the composition I made of myself with what I did and how, and wherever the day ended there would end my own day's song without words. Facebook Icon.