Singing The Sun Up Revised

A Japanese poet came walking up our dirt road in early September wearing cut off jeans, carrying a backpack and saying that Gary Snyder sent him to visit us in Colorado. He was 46 years old, which to my 23 year old eyes seemed ancient. I was amazed that such an old man could still hike around at 9,000 feet. Nanao made a home for himself in the white cave on the cliffs overlooking Dry Creek just across the fence line dividing our land from the national forest. The cave was really a rock shelter only about 12 feet deep 50 feet above a creek that flowed during most of the year. The stream would disappear in August only to reappear in mid September when the cottonwood trees lost their leaves and stopped taking so much water. Nanao made tea in his cave and greeted guests who came to him as pilgrims seeking advice. I found the reverence for him uncomfortable, but couldn’t help being drawn to the cave. During those visits he introduced me to what he called “free song”. It wasn’t based on any musical system or training, but on how well the sound from his lips reflected his inner being. Intrigued, I hesitantly began to experiment; finding my own song. My father had been a singer in his youth before life grabbed him by the throat and made him behave. He and I were very close and I know he hoped I would carry the mantle and sing for him, but my abilities were disappointing. Here in the mountains I now began to practice my free song. Without having to achieve a particular sound, I focused on feeling the air pass through my body and across my vocal cords. The first attempts were sung from the branches of a wild juniper snag that grew out of a large rock half way up the hill to the ridge. In this high perch singing gradually grew into a daily practice. After a few weeks it became clear that I should sing the sun up and sing it down every day until something happened. I found a hill where I could see both east and west from the same place and began to awake at first light every morning in time to dress and climb the hill in front of the dome before the sun pushed above Greenhorn Mountain. I would return to that spot at the end of the day to sing while it set behind the Sangre de Cristos. The sun rose later and later each day as we headed to the winter solstice and somehow I could wake up when the light was just right without a clock or alarm, and make it to my spot at the perfect time. I never failed in this. The mornings were difficult when my hair would freeze from my breath as I stumbled up the hill, but the afternoons were just as bad. As the days grew shorter I realized I couldn’t go anywhere that would interfere with being on the hill singing to the setting sun. Trips to town were out of the question since we often had to wait until after dark for the mud on the road to freeze so we could make it home in our old truck. I began to wonder how long someone who hates habitual behavior would be able to hang on waiting for that nebulous “something profound” to happen, and whether I would recognize it when it did?
I began wavering even though in more than six months no two mornings were alike nor were two evenings or two songs and all were heartbreakingly beautiful.  On a cold winter pre dawn morning I awoke as usual, put on my jeans, jersey, sweater, socks, boots, jacket, scarf, and gloves and trooped out the door up to the top of the hill thinking of the warm bed I left behind. Sitting cross legged on the ground I began the familiar, slow, low sounds enjoying the tickle the vibrations made through my chest and nose. The first rays of light reached above the slopes of Greenhorn Mountain and on this particular morning, as I watched the bright radiant mass appear I actually felt the earth turn toward the sun. It was so dizzying that I grabbed the dirt with my fingers. Consciousness of that turning interrupted the sensation and I again sat on solid ground watching the sun rise. Feeling the Earth rotating became only a memory. Of course I knew that the Earth revolves around the Sun but it was an intellectual knowledge. Actually feeling the force of the whole planet turn was unimaginable. Of course we can’t feel the spin, we were born to that motion. Fish don’t feel wet. Somehow watching the sun rise and set day after day as it moved across the mountain range, filtered through the weather while I sang out my greeting just for a moment allowed me the connection or the distance to feel I was sitting on a gigantic spinning planet as it turns toward the sun. The sensation came and went so quickly that it took me a while to realize that the something I had hoped for had actually happened. The next morning I slept right through the dawn.

Linda Fleming
Benicia, California
November 10, 2008