Several years ago, my friend Nina was walking into the art building at Houghton College when she noticed something lying on the ground. It was a clay head—sculpted, fired, and then, apparently, despised and rejected. Nina studied its flat features, twisted lips, and Medusa-like hair. She asked around. Nobody claimed it, and so she carried it home and planted a snake plant in the open cavity on the top of its head.
The plant thrived in its dirt brain for a couple of years until my friend accepted a new job teaching at Bowling Green University in Ohio. While we were packing up, she yanked out the plant and stuck the head in a heap of junk to throw away. I noticed it.
“I’ll take it,” I offered.
“OK,” she said.
I brought it home. My daughter pronounced it “creepy.” A neighbor observed its strong resemblance to Donald Trump. I placed it the garden where it’s hung around every since, a random, macabre artifact from the hands of an anonymous artist. Some years it rests at the edge of a periwinkle-covered bed, with purple flowers and dark green shoots growing up through it. Other years, I push it back so that it glares out from the sharp blades of irises. One winter, I set it on a stand outside the living room window where it peered inside the house, watching us impassively as grey squirrels rooted around its base for seed. Recently, I impaled it on a spike of the picket fence outside the dining room window.
It’s ugly, and I don’t understand my attachment to it. But after a few years, it just seems like part of the landscape.
One of my favorite Christmas albums has the same random history. “Aural Borealis: Baroque Choral and Instrumental Music for the Christmas Season” landed on my desk several years ago with a press release from Tom Folan, founder of The Publick Musick, Rochester’s pick-up Baroque orchestra. I slid the CD into a player, started listening, and discovered an emotionally satisfying place to wander through passageways of melancholy, serene logic, and tempered joy.
There’s no “Silent Night” or “In the Bleak Midwinter” on this obscure indie disc. The works by Gabrieli, Marini, Cavalli, Castello, Merulo and Monteverdi don’t sound anything like traditional Christmas music. Some of the pieces are orchestral, others choral. Recorded at St. Mary's Church in Cortland, New York, the performances are glossy enough to evoke the beauty of a sacred space without losing any clarity. At first, the selections were unknown to me: now I know them all by heart.
I listen to this richly-layered recording year-round, regardless of the season. After countless repetitions, it just seems like part of the landscape.
For more on this CD: http://cdbaby.com/cd/publickmusick2