T for Tom

Definitive List of Favorites

Posted in Uncategorized by johnsontoms on May 30, 2015

Sometimes you have to sit down and make decisions, and I felt compelled to do so.  We could sit here and hand-wring over Abbey Road vs. Highway 61 Revisited, but that’s not the point of this.  For every person who says Pet Sounds is the best record of all time, that same person also listens to Katy Perry.  This is my honest list of music I just listen to the most, because they’re my favorites.  These are my favorites.

The top twenty are pretty rock solid, and I have no problems defending 1-20.  It gets dicey after that because there are a million reasons why one song is great, and whole different set of million reasons why another song is great.  For that reason, you’ll also notice a certain lack of classic rock and jazz.  Trust me, Coltrane’s A Love Supreme is often on repeat, and my personal jazz favorite is probably his Black Pearls.  But those two genres are nearly unquantifiable against modern pop and alternative (for better and for worse), and I just wasn’t going down that road.  Also, #6 is listed as “Anything by Ryan Adams” because literally anything by Ryan Adams could slot in there.  I could do a whole list of “top 200 Ryan Adams” songs but we’d be here all day.  Lastly, I have a thing for The 1975.  SUE ME.

  1. “Me” – The 1975 – Music For Cars

    If this song weren’t so incredibly romantic, it would be terrifying.  Line: “I was late but I arrived, I’m sorry I’d rather be getting high than watching my family die.”

  2. “I Can’t Make You Love Me Anymore [Bonnie Raitt]” – Bon Iver – Unreleased

    I’ve always believed that Justin Vernon as Bon Iver has existed more as an idea for audiences than as an artist who makes music; his music is transcendent and emotional.  But it took Bonnie Raitt’s wrenching sonnet to fully conceptualize Bon Iver into it’s final form.  Line: “I can’t make your heart feel something it won’t.”

  3. “New York Morning” – Elbow – The Takeoff and Landing of Everything

    Each song off of Elbow’s seminal 2014 album exemplifies the idea of takeoffs and landings. Building to a crescendo, this song is a blistering triumph in sadness.  Line: “Oh my god, New York, you talk.  Somewhere in all the talk is all the answers.”

  4. “Black Rain, Black Rain” – A.A. Bondy – American Hearts

    All you need to hear is “Black rain, black rain, don’t fall on me.  Can’t you see I’m doing my best?” Line: “Cause love, it don’t die. It just goes from girl to girl.” 

  5. “Midnight City” – M83 – HurryUpWe’reDreaming

    Four years on and this song still sounds like the future.  Line: “Waiting in a car, waiting for a ride in the dark.”

  6. Anything by Ryan Adams… For example: 
  7. “The Predatory Wasp of the Palisades Is Out to Get Us!” – Sufjan Stevens – Illinoise

    Ten years ago upon release, I said then that this was the best song of all time.  It’s not lost much of that power.  Still magnanimous, uplifting, and spiritual.  Line: “Thinking outrageously, I write in cursive.”

  8. “Concrete Bed” – Nada Surf – The Weight Is A Gift

    Nada Surf has always sounded to me like the musical equivalent of “Man, life really can suck, but isn’t it beautiful?” and this is there grandest achievement. Simple, poignant, demanding.  Line: “To find someone you love, you got to be someone you love.”

  9. “Andvari” – Sigur Ros – Takk…

    Six minute total, four minutes on the back end of monochromatic strings.  Sigur Ros has always pushed the definition of pop music, and this is their most serene, sublime effort.  Line: it’s in icelandic I don’t know. 

  10. “Where’d All The Time Go?” – Dr. Dog – Shame, Shame

    You could put this song at the end of Abbey Road and it would be seamless.  Line: “She’s walking backward through a parade, and I’m stuck in the shadows rockin’ the shade.”

  11. “Brothers On A Hotel Bed” – Death Cab For Cutie – Plans

    I’m quite certain this song is actually just the sound my tears make falling down my face. Line: “You may tire of me as our December sun is setting, because I’m not who I used to be.”

  12. “Chamakay” – Blood Orange – Cupid Deluxe

    Watching Dev Hynes dance is worth the price of admission, but mostly I’ve never heard music so squarely rooted in the past while so adventurously pioneering forward. Blood Orange is a gift for all to enjoy.  Line: “I’m nothing without subtle heartache at its best.”

  13. “Elevate” – St. Lucia – When The Night

    The composition is just so sound, so tight, so brilliant.  It’s pop, it’s pastiche, it’s dance, it’s fantastic.  And Caribbean horns!  Line: “No one’s going to take you there, hold onto your heart.”

  14. “Champagne Supernova” – Oasis – (What’s The Story) Morning Glory?

    The lyrics are perfectly nonsensical in a opus that, I feel, defines our generation.  Passive angst, optimism, dreaming of serendipity all in spite.  Quite damn perfect.  Line: “Where were you while we were getting high?”

  15. “If You Don’t, Don’t” – Jimmy Eat World – Bleed American

    I turn this song on to make a quick escape, especially at fast speeds down the highway.  Something about it just sounds like getting away, and the words back me up.  Line: “Don’t you know what I’m thinking? Driving four or five past midnight.”

  16. “Fallingforyou” – The 1975 – IV

    Another masterpiece from The 1975 who are quickly realigning the intersection of popular music and rock and roll, with finely illicit fiction placed sweetly over synths built for Peter Gabriel and the innocence of John Hughes.  Line: “You said ‘Oh, no, it’s fine,’ I read between the lines and touched your leg again.”

  17. “Holocene” – Bon Iver – Bon Iver, Bon Iver

    Back to when I mentioned that Bon Iver is more of an idea, I find myself meditating off to a wilderness when I hear this.  There’s not a better song to remind me my place in the world. Line: “And at once I knew I was not magnificent.”

  18. “Ekki Mukk” – Sigur Ros – Valtari

    If the piano at the end of this song doesn’t give you chills, you are soulless. Line: again, Icelandic.

  19. “Heartache” – Willow & The Builder – Willow & The Builder

    I found this artist randomly on bandcamp years ago, and I think I’m one of his 10 fans.  Nonetheless, he only put out some five songs and this remains still the best among them, and among all music.  Rapid, daring, triumphant, soaring, and unimpeachable.  Be sure to sing along.  Line: “Heartache, don’t come near me.”

  20. “The Magpie” – Fossil Collective – Tell Where I Lie

    The last 3.5-minutes of this song make the first 3.5-minutes totally worth it.  A hymn that crescendos into an all out prayer.  Helps me believe.  Line: “When all is said and done, we’re fading like the sun.  Time to draw a line.”

  21. “Beth/Rest” – Bon Iver – Bon Iver, Bon Iver
  22. One Time” – The Roots – Undun
  23. “Stop This Train” – John Mayer – Continuum
  24. “Skull & Bones” – A.A. Bondy – Believers
  25. “1979” – Smashing Pumpkins – Melon Collie & The Infinite Sadness
  26. “ELT” – Wilco – Summer Teeth
  27. “One Headlight” – The Wallflowers – Bringing Down The Horse
  28. “Hang Me Up To Dry” – Cold War Kids – Robbers & Cowards
  29. “Up All Night (Frankie Goes To Hollywood)” – Counting Crows – Hard Candy
  30. “Reckoner” – Radiohead – In Rainbows
  31. “Helplessness Blues” – Fleet Foxes – Helplessness Blues
  32. “Landslide” – Smashing Pumpkins – Pisces Iscariot
  33. “Born Without The Words” – Denison Witmer – Denison Witmer
  34. “My Friend – Dr. Dog – Fate
  35. “You’re Not Good Enough” – Blood Orange – Cupid Deluxe
  36. “The Long Day Is Over” – Norah Jones – Come Away With Me
  37. “Everything’s Not Lost” – Coldplay – Parachutes
  38. “The ’59 Sound” – Gaslight Anthem – The ’59 Sound
  39. “Tuxedos” – Cold War Kids – Dear Miss Lonelyhearts
  40. “No Regrets” – The Helio Sequence – Keep Your Eyes Ahead
  41. “Constant Conversations” – Passion Pit – Gossamer
  42. “Hush” – Angus & Julia Stone – Down The Way
  43. “Nellie” – Dr. Dog – B-Room
  44. OK Pal” – M83 – HurryUpWe’reDreaming
  45. “Supersoaker” – Kings of Leon – Mechanical Bull
  46. “Radio Daze” – The Roots – How I Got Over
  47. “Settle Down” – The 1975 – The 1975
  48. “In The Mirror” – Nada Surf – The Weight is a Gift
  49. “Lisztomania” – Phoenix – Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix
  50. “Chicago” – Sufjan Stevens – Illinoise
  51. “The Underdog” – Spoon – Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga
  52. “Subterranean Homesick Blues” – Bob Dylan – Bringing It All Back Home
  53. “Transatlanticism” – Death Cab For Cutie – Transatlanticism
  54. “Lavender” – Copeland – Ixora
  55. “Anthem Pt. II” – Blink-182 – Take Off Your Pants and Jacket
  56. “One Day Like This” – Elbow – Seldom Seen Kid
  57. “Wonderwall” – Oasis – (What’s The Story) Morning Glory?
  58. “Shine On You Crazy Diamond Pts. I-V” – Pink Floyd – Wish You Were Here
  59. “Arrivals” – Aqualung – Words & Music
  60. “The Warmth” – Incubus – Make Yourself
  61. “No Rain” – Blind Melon – Blind Melon
  62. “December” – Collective Soul – Collective Soul
  63. “Downward Spiral” – The Helio Sequence – Negotiations
  64. “Hangin’ Around” – Counting Crows – This Desert Life
  65. “Your House” – Jimmy Eat World – Bleed American
  66. “Witness Blues” – A.A. Bondy – American Hearts
  67. “Nightingale” – Norah Jones – Come Away With Me
  68. “The Breach” – Dustin Tebbutt – The Breach
  69. “How Can You Swallow So Much?” – Bombay Bicycle Club – A Different Kind of Fix
  70. “Baby Blue” – The Early November – Room’s Too Cold
  71. “The Man Who Lives Forever” – Lord Huron – Lonesome Dreams
  72. “Decatur, Or, Round of Applause For Your Stepmother!” – Sufjan Stevens – Illinoise
  73. “The Fall” – Rhye – Woman
  74. “Fever Dream” – Iron & Wine – Our Endless Numbered Days
  75. “All Along The Watchtower” – Jimi Hendrix Experience – Electric Ladyland
  76. “These Days” – Dr. Dog – Be The Void
  77. “Haunt // Bed” – The 1975 – IV
  78. “Lay Low” – My Morning Jacket – Z
  79. “Svefn-g-englar” – Sigur Ros – Agaetis Byrjun
  80. “SpottieOttieDopealicious” – Outkast – Aquemini
  81. “Everything In Its Right Place” – Radiohead – Kid A
  82. “Get Innocuous” – LCD Soundsystem –Sound Of Silver
  83. “Tightrope” – Walk The Moon – Walk The Moon
  84. “Hannah Hunt” – Vampire Weekend – Modern Vampires of the City
  85. “Consolation Prizes” – Phoenix – It’s Never Been Like That
  86. “Some Might Say” – Oasis – (What’s The Story) Morning Glory?
  87. “Kid With A Knife” – Radiant – We Hope You Win
  88. “Waiting On The World To Change” – John Mayer – Continuum
  89. “September” – St. Lucia – When The Night
  90. “Head.cars.bending” – The 1975 – Music For Cars
  91. “Under The Pressure” – The War On Drugs – Lost In The Dream
  92. “It Is What It Is” – Blood Orange – Cupid Deluxe
  93. “Jigsaw Falling Into Place” – Radiohead – In Rainbows
  94. “Morning Song” – Zero 7 – When It Falls
  95. “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” – The Rolling Stones – Out Of Our Heads
  96. “P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing)” – Michael Jackson – Thriller
  97. “Bittersweet Symphony” – The Verve – Urban Hymns
  98. “Supposed To Be” – Jack Johnson – Curious George OST
  99. “Old Man…………………..” – I Can Make A Mess… – The World We Know
  100. “No Snow On The Mountain” – Nada Surf – The Stars Are Indifferent to Astronomy

491,912,828,818,122. Being hit by a car.

491,912,828,818,123. “Call Me Maybe” – Carly Rae Jepsen – Curiosity 

The following are the rest of the songs I identified as potential list-makers when I started this project, but for various reasons didn’t crack the top 100.  They are listed in alphabetical order by artist.

“Emergency” – Ace Enders & A Million Different People – Ace Enders & A Million Different People

“Everything’s Magic” – Angels & Airwaves – I-Empire

“Main Street” – Angus & Julia Stone – Angus & Julia Stone

“River Love” – Angus Stone – Broken Brights

“I Believe To My Soul” – The Animals – We’re Gonna Howl Tonight

“Keep The Car Running” – Arcade Fire – Neon Bible

“Deep Blue” – Arcade Fire – Suburbs

“Dancing On Quicksand” – Bad Suns – Language & Perspective

“Oh! Darling” – The Beatles – Abbey Road

“Taxman” – The Beatles – Revolver

“With My Own Two Hands” – Ben Harper – Diamonds On The Inside

“By My Side” – Ben Harper – Fight For Your Mind

“Walk Away” – Ben Harper – Welcome To The Cruel World

“Gold On The Ceiling” – The Black Keys – El Camino

“Change” – Blind Melon – Blind Melon

“Going Away To College” – Blink-182 – Enema of the State

“No Right Thing” – Blood Orange – Cupid Deluxe

“Leopard Skin Pill-box Hat” – Bob Dylan – Blonde On Blonde

“I Want You” – Bob Dylan – Blonde On Blonde

“Outlaw Blues” – Bob Dylan – Bringing It All Back Home

“Like A Rolling Stone” – Bob Dylan – Highway 61 Revisited

“Bob Dylan’s 115th Dream” – Bob Dylan – Bringing It All Back Home

“Please, Mrs. Henry” – Bob Dylan & The Band – Basement Tapes

“Lights Out, Words Gone” – Bombay Bicycle Club – A Different Kind of Fix

“Ain’t Good Enough For You” – Bruce Springsteen – The Promise

“Fire” – Bruce Springsteen – The Promise

“Saint John” – Cold War Kids – Robbers & Cowards

“Death & All His Friends” – Coldplay – Viva La Vida

“Hurts Like Heaven” – Coldplay – Mylo Xyloto

“The 6th Sense” – Common – Like Water For Chocolate

“When You Thought You’d Never Stand Out” – Copeland – Eat, Sleep, Repeat

“Holiday In Spain” – Counting Crows – Hard Candy

“Dreams” – Cranberries – Everybody Else Is Doing It, So Why Can’t We?

“Born On The Bayou” – Creedence Clearwater Revival – Bayou Country

“Suzie Q” – Creedence Clearwater Revival – Creedence Clearwater Revival

“The Animals Were Gone” – Damien Rice – 9

“What Sarah Said” – Death Cab For Cutie – Plans

“Little Flowers – Denison Witmer – Are You A Dreamer?

“Like Ice Cream” – Divine Fits – A Thing Called Divine Fits

“Hold On (We’re Going Home)” – Drake – Nothing Was The Same

“Call Off The Bells” – The Early November – In Currents

“A Little More Time” – The Early November – The Mother, The Mechanic, & The Path

“1000 Times A Day” – The Early November – The Mother, The Mechanic, & The Path

“I Want To Hear You Sad” – The Early November – For All Of This

“Everything Reminds Me of Her” – Elliot Smith – Figure 8

“Anti-Pioneer” – Feist – Metals

“Need Your Love So Bad” – Fleetwood Mac – Pious Bird of Good Omen

“Dreams” – Fleetwood Mac – Rumours

“The Chain” – Fleetwood Mac – Rumours

“Stranger Things Have Happened” – Foo Fighters – Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace

“Everlong” – Foo Fighters – The Colour & The Shape

“Wolves” – Fossil Collective – Tell Where I Lie

“I Would Do Anything For You” – Foster The People – Torches (Redux)

“Show Me Lights” – Friendly Fires – Pala

“Old White Lincoln” – Gaslight Anthem – The ’59 Sound

“The National Anthem” – Gaslight Anthem – Handwritten

“’45” – Gaslight Anthem – Handwritten

“Ocean Floor” – Goliath & The Giants – Done Deed

“Dare” – Gorillaz – Demon Days

“Rhinestone Eyes” – Gorillaz – Plastic Beach

“Close Your Eyes And Count To Ten” – Grouplove – Never Trust A Happy Song

“Bad, Bad World” – Guster – Easy Wonderful

“Amsterdam” – Guster – Keep It Together

“Complete” – Heavenly Beat – Prominence

“Lately” – The Helio Sequence – Keep Your Eyes Ahead

“Misery” – I Can Make A Mess… – Gold Rush

“Warning” – Incubus – Morning View

“New Mexico’s No Breeze” – Iron & Wine – Ghost On Ghost

“Flake” – Jack Johnson – Brushfire Fairytales

“Rainbow” – Jack Johnson – Thicker Than Water OST

“Nothing But The Whole Wide World” – Jakob Dylan – Women + Country

“Fire’s Highway” – Japandroids – Celebration Rock

“Voodoo Chile” – Jimi Hendrix Experience – Electric Ladyland

“A Praise Chorus” – Jimmy Eat World – Bleed American

“Polaris” – Jimmy Eat World – Futures

“Far Away In Another Town” – Justin Townes Earle – The Good Life

“Can’t Hardly Wait” – Justin Townes Earle – Midnight At The Movies

“Movin’ On” – Justin Townes Earle – Nothing’s Gonna Change The Way I Feel About You

“Power” – Kanye West – My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy

“Runaway” – Kanye West – My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy

“New Slaves” – Kanye West – Yeezus

“I Remember” – Kaskade – Strobelite Seduction

“I’ll Be Back” – Kindness – Otherness

“Day Old Blues” – Kings of Leon – Aha Shake Heartbreak

“All My Friends” – LCD Soundsystem – Sound of Silver

“What Is And What Should Never Be” – Led Zeppelin – Led Zeppelin II

“Going To California” – Led Zeppelin – Led Zeppelin IV

“Rock’n’Roll” – Led Zeppelin – Led Zeppelin IV

“Language Is Over” – Little Comets – Jennifer And Other Short Stories

“Spiders” – Lovedrug – Pretend You’re Alive

“Candy” – Lovedrug – Pretend You’re Alive

“Kim & Jessie” – M83 – Saturdays = Youth

“Borderline” – Madonna – Madonna

Frances The Mute [whole album] – The Mars Volta

“In A Sweater Poorly Knit” – mewithoutYou – Brother, Sister

“Hopefully” – My Morning Jacket – At Dawn

“Circuital” – My Morning Jacket – Circuital

“Golden” – My Morning Jacket – It Still Moves

“Sea of Love” – The National – Trouble Will Find Me

“Hanging On For Hope” – The New Amsterdams – Worse For The Wear

“Above Ground” – Norah Jones – Feels Like Home

“Not Too Late” – Norah Jones – Not Too Late

“Live Forever” – Oasis – Definitely, Maybe

“Keep The Dream Alive” – Oasis – Don’t Believe The Truth

“1901” – Phoenix – Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix

“Time” – Pink Floyd – Dark Side Of The Moon

“Echoes” – Pink Floyd – Meddle

“When Doves Cry” – Prince – Purple Rain

“Packt Like Sardines In a Crushd Tin Box” – Radiohead – Amnesiac

“Let Down” – Radiohead – OK Computer

“Parallel Universe” – Red Hot Chili Peppers – Californication

“Scar Tissue” – Red Hot Chili Peppers – Californication

“Have You Forgotten” – Red House Painters – Songs For A Blue Guitar

“Music Is Power” – Richard Ashcroft – Keys To The World

“Ooh La La” – The Faces

“Walk Alone” – The Roots – How I Got Over

“Now Or Never” – The Roots – How I Got Over

“Seed 2.0” – The Roots – Phrenology

“Where Was I” – Rosie Thomas – With Love

“In Time” – Rosie Thomas – With Love

“I Don’t Know What It Is” – Rufus Wainwright – Want One

“Daybreak” – Saves The Day – Daybreak

“[Untitled #1]” – Sigur Ros – ( )

“Perfect” – Smashing Pumpkins – Adore

“Heavy Metal Machine” – Smashing Pumpkins – Machina, The Machines of God

“Bodies” – Smashing Pumpkins – Melon Collie & The Infinite Sadness

“A Bullet With Butterfly Wings” – Smashing Pumpkins – Melon Collie & The Infinite Sadness

“Bloodflows” – SOHN – Tremors

“Lessons” – SOHN – Tremors

“They Want My Soul” – Spoon – They Want My Soul

“Impossible Soul” – Sufjan Stevens – Age of Adz

“Djohariah” – Sufjan Stevens – All Delighted People

“Sister” – Sufjan Stevens – Seven Swans

“Abraham” – Sufjan Stevens – Seven Swans

“Side” – Travis – The Invisible Band

“The Fear” – Travis – The Man Who

“Crying” – TV On The Radio – Dear Science

“Careful You” – TV On The Radio – Seeds

“Everlasting Arms” – Vampire Weekend – Modern Vampires of the City

“6th Avenue Heartache” – The Wallflowers – Bringing Down The Horse

“An Ocean Between The Waves” – The War On Drugs – Lost In The Dream

“Little Bird” – The White Stripes – De Stijl

“Ball And Biscuit” – The White Stripes – Elephant

“Denial Twist” – The White Stripes – Get Behind Me Satan

“My Doorbell” – The White Stripes – Get Behind Me Satan

“Hell Is Chrome” – Wilco – A Ghost Is Born

“Hate It Here” – Wilco – Sky Blue Sky

“Find It In Me” – William Fitzsimmons – Until When We Are Ghosts

“When You Were Young” – William Fitzsimmons – Until When We Are Ghosts

“Antichrist” – The 1975 – Facedown

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Retrospective on a Weekend

Posted in Prose by johnsontoms on May 21, 2015

It’s been five years, two months, and two weeks since I believed in God, give or take a couple of days. For all the significant moments in my life that I remember exactly, I can’t actually tell you which specific day it was, but I can remember that it was in the first two weeks of March of four years ago. It was a period of my life where all the days kind of run together, and I didn’t have any reason then to treat a Sunday differently from a Wednesday differently from a Friday. But I woke up that morning, and as I’ve alluded to before, nothing peculiar happened. It was innocuous, the sky was the grey, the trees were blowing in the wind, and I looked up and felt that I was the only one responsible for my life. It was empowering. But I’m not here to tell you what I don’t believe in. I want to spend a few minutes talking about the things I do believe in, and how last week I felt them again in many ways all at once. I feel rejuvenated.

I believe in the sanctity of human power. I believe that our evolution has set apart for a reason, and we haven’t found out the reason yet. I believe that our only steps forward will be harmonizing with the earth and our past. I believe that we can each do this individually, and should do this individually before we can ever hope for a better future as a planet and a biosphere at large. I wish I could swat a wand and change it all instantly, but I can’t. Instead I evolve in my own way, and in these past few months and short years, I’ve done that by returning to nature, and for the first time have started to embrace this united nation as a frontier, the true limits of earth that it really is. And last week was the most holy I’ve felt in years.

Since coming back to America, I’ve been through the Appalachian Trail, up the waterfalls of Jefferson Forest, to the summit of Guadalupe Mountain, across the entire Chisos Basin in the Big Bend Mountains, seen the relics of Pueblo life carved into the Gila Wildnerness, been snowed in at the top of Lincoln National Forest, and will soon be embarking on my third trip into the Grand Canyon. It will be my first trip to the Colorado River though, and every time I’m reminded that it is sincerely the most spectacular land feature this rock of earth has ever created. But last week I nearly touched the heavens in a place called Chiricahua National Monument in the southeastern basin of Arizona.

Nothing can prepare a man for the moments of surprise only nature can create, because seeing truly is believing. I knew through reading that the monument was a relatively small, 100-acre-or-so area up the Coronado Wilderness, preserved for its unique rock formations. Some 100-million years ago Sugarloaf Mountain was an active volcano that erupted for the final time, spewing volcanic ash all throughout the basin. The ash-flows changed the rocks there into a supple Rhyolite, which over the last 100-million years has been eroded to create standing pillars of rock, each in looming up from the ground to make shadows like giants. And from on top of any one of the pillars looking into Echo Canyon, it can seem like a buried army. It can seem like a place untouched, and for that it evokes the spirit of the holy.

More importantly, it is a stern reminder to me that there is a certain beauty that will always exist within the world no matter how hard the darkness of humanity casts over the land. My experiences here in America will be for the foreseeable future always marked by my impressions of my own past, my impressions of the different continents I’ve seen, and primarily the differences in the people I’ve met along the way. I did not want to return to America, and hiking there in Chiricahua I made the remark once, “such a beautiful land spoiled on such loathsome folk.” It’s a bit hyperbole, but it’s a bit truth as well. Luckily I was in the presence of one of the most inspiring persons I know, and she was receptive to hear me ramble. This was something I hadn’t been afforded in quite some time, but it allowed me to vocalize an idea I’ve been tossing around for a few weeks now.

Recognizing that the escape to nature is Muir-ian in it’s own right, I couldn’t help but wonder what facilitated such a transformation in myself. After having spent countless weekends wandering the sidewalks of any European city and wanting nothing but for coffee and conversation, how now did I revert to such apparent lonely desolation high in the mountaintops? Where did I decide I no longer wanted to be among the people of this world? It is, obviously, provoked by the people I am surrounded by. And it got me thinking about freedom.

We’ll never be free, truly, I’ve given up on this. But there is a freedom to be found in different ways, individually. But this freedom here, this freedom in America as I’ve found it, comes with a price. The books will read and the films will show and the explorers will say, “there is freedom in the mountains,” and they are right in some ways. But no matter how many hills I climb and how far away I get from the city, there will always be the underlying purpose that I’m doing this to escape. If I disappear into Yosemite never to return, even fifty years from now after spending every new day of my life there, I cannot forego the recognition that the freedom of that life is chained by the notion of having fled. And no matter how gratifying such a freedom can be, it is to me not honest. I had that honesty in the past, and it wasn’t in America. In places of happiness, freedom existed because I utterly felt no compulsion to lead in any direction – there was an ostensible feeling that the end of any day would lead to bliss. And it didn’t matter what I did. Most of my days were spent walking without a map and I always ended up exactly where I wanted to be, even if I didn’t know where I was going. But here in this country, my escapes are always calculated. I enjoy them for their refreshing qualities, but their limitations are equally heartbreaking.

Echo Canyon

Echo Canyon and the Giants

Finding the holiness then, is the thing to hold onto. I can remember after a day of hiking while obscenely drunk, we ended in the Heart of Rocks, appropriately named. It is the south side of Echo Canyon and follows a draw out into the canyon, mazing through the giant figures above until resting on the edge of a cliff, staring out across the canyon with the sun setting over the range in the distance. We had a long conversation there about the things humans do to each other, and I became unnecessarily and passionately enraged at this. We do so many horrible things to each other. But Alison passively walked away to rest in the hammock, and her calm was remarkable to me for its ease. I know she is not unaware of the things I was saying, but it must be that it no longer weighs on her life. I wish I could find that kind of peace.

For too long we stayed in the Heart of Rocks and immediately upon departure we passed by the Big Balanced Rock for a second time. It’s a 1000-ton pillar that has been carved away at the center to create what looks like a dreidel spinning on a stone column. But this time, to get a better look, I walked into the center of the formations to see its silhouette against the sun. And in this moment, I found my sanctuary. The rocks created a large circle around me, near 50-meters in diameter, but each rising almost 50-feet or more into the air. And in the center was only grass, a few shrubs, and I standing there alone. I felt that they were praying over me, and wishing me a safe journey ahead. I was surprised that this spot, not 10-feet off trail, hadn’t been named or reserved. But it was probably intentionally so, to keep people out. And it was more magical that way – I felt as if I had opened the doors to a temple, and there in the sunset knew that everything would be all right in the end.

Cathedral at Big Balanced Rock (photo: Alison)

Cathedral at Big Balanced Rock (photo: Alison)

There are places where men don’t go, and these places are the last of the cathedrals. Without worrying too much about the world at large, I can go there in good company and find restoration. It is my own prayer and only the rocks are listening. That is something I can believe in.

The Dust In A Line

Posted in poem by johnsontoms on May 4, 2015

There, to the east from the mountain

The dust in a line rises

From ants marching

Rolling in all terrain vehicles

Rolling in armored tanks

Rolling out to the field

Marching to victory.

All in a row

And without question

The call is “follow me!”

Where the desert winds pick the sand

Off the floor and through the air

It soars, clouding vision.

A fitting description.

But there also to the east is earth untouched,

Holes in the ground dug once but abandoned,

No more money, you see?

Now just empty mines

Though empty depends on your frame of mind.

To the ants

The money is the making

The money is in the march

The money is in the order

To follow someone to victory.

But in such desert, lonely places

Where high noon is all day

No shade from no tree

There in the mines away from the ants

I hide.

A cool wind drifts off the rocks.

That is not my army any longer.

That is not my war anymore.

Lines of dust blowing up from the convoys.

Lines of dust blowing up from the convoys.

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