New(ish) year, new blog

Hello!

It's Stephan!

My friend Angelica suggested I create some sort of written account of my recent tour, so I will do that here, and hopefully I can do some little posts from the road in the future, for those of you who are interested in more structured narratives than I tend to provide on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

It's easy for me to get carried away when I'm writing. On my 2017 Japan Tour, I tried keeping a physical journal, but I wrote in so much detail that I filled 3/4 of the notebook with maybe a week of travel. And a lot of that was done weeks (and even months) afterwards, because the bullet trains were too fast to get any writing done on them.

On the 2017 Incredible Distance Tour, which took me to the UK, Europe, and Morocco, I didn't keep any kind of journal. I wrote a fair number of postcards, tried to do the social media thing, tried to keep up communication with Adam (my partner), tried to read The Left Hand of Darkness...

So, this will be as much a record for myself as for you.

November 28 - December 4

After picking up copies of the sneak peek demo version of the Incredible Distance EP from Atomic Disc in Salem, Oregon, I took Amtrak to Tacoma, Washington. The next day, I flew Norwegian Airlines from SeaTac to London Gatwick. The first Vegan Meal was disappointingly bland (if I wanted the Bland Meal I would have ordered it), and the second was Not Actually Vegan (a sandwich with dairy cheese on it). The first season of The Marvelous Mrs Maisel had been released that day, and I had downloaded it all to my iPad, so I watched a few episodes. It's great, though I think the attempts at diversity are pretty weak, especially when the writers have comedian Lenny Bruce evidently coining the [verb]ing while black expression.

 "Meanwhile, I went to college to learn Russian." I hear ya, Midge.

"Meanwhile, I went to college to learn Russian." I hear ya, Midge.

I landed in (or near) London and met up with my friend Jack on London Bridge. We walked around a bit and visited The White Cube, an art gallery where we saw Gilbert & George's The Beard Pictures and Their Fuckosophy.

 "Fuck fate"

"Fuck fate"

On our way to Sky Garden, it started snowing, and there were some flurries while we were up in the garden as well. The elevators were fast, the view was nice, the plants were real even when they looked fake.

The highlight of this first day was definitely the Phoenix Garden, which I mention in my song "Limits" ("A Phoenix Garden wren in a sudden igloo sticks to sticks!") but had only visited in my imagination. I didn't see a Phoenix Garden wren, but I did see a Phoenix Garden robin — my lifer European Robin.

 European Robin on an oak bench.

European Robin on an oak bench.

I wrote "Limits" after Jack's brief visit to Eugene, Oregon, in 2016, and it was this song broke a few years of songwriting silence for me. So it felt very fitting to start this tour in London, visiting Jack and the Phoenix Garden. (Additional birds added to my life list in London: Song Thrush, Eurasian Magpie, Common Wood-Pigeon, Eurasian Blackbird, Tufted Duck, European Goldfinch, Lesser Black-backed Gull.)

But my first show was actually in Southampton, so the next day I headed in that general direction, connecting with Rex on the way and enjoying a chilly, windy afternoon at Stonehenge. As we neared Stonehenge, I briefly glimpsed my first (and still my only) Red Kite, whose forked tail made them easy to identify at a glance. By the henge itself I saw my lifer Eurasian Jackdaw and Rook. I wondered (as I would wonder about birds all throughout Europe) if these individual birds' ancestors were hanging around in this exact spot in ancient times.

 Eurasian Jackdaw and sarsen stone.

Eurasian Jackdaw and sarsen stone.

Before delivering me to Southampton, Rex introduced me to Winchester Cathedral, where the Christmas Market was in full swing. The Cathedral itself was bathed in an eerie purple light, and the nearly full moon and partly cloudy night sky added to a feeling that was more Halloweeny than Christmasy. (It may just be that we don't see much of the sky in December in Oregon.) I was graciously given a more thorough tour of Winchester over the following days.

The next day, I had my show in Southampton, hosted by the lovely Angelika and Ricky (and their dog Dottie and bearded dragon Little Mei). Before the show, Angelika and Ricky played nature guides, escorting me around Lower Test River Saltmarsh (on the River Test) and New Forest National Park (where I was able to put some wellies to good use.) At the Saltmarsh, I added several species to my life list: Eurasian Bullfinch, Yellowhammer, Dunnock, Goldcrest, Eurasian Treecreeper, and Great Tit.

 So-called New Forest (newness questionable).

So-called New Forest (newness questionable).

My show was in the afternoon, and this is where it would really help me to blog as everything is happening, because there are names I want to mention but can't quite recall. I want to say thank you to the friend of Angelika and Ricky's who lent me a keyboard. Thank you, you!

There was a nice little gathering of adults and children and non-human animals who attended the show. Ricky made an abundance of tasty sandwiches, and after some hanging out, chatting, and snacking, everyone got comfy and the show began, as my shows generally do, with "I am not a stranger here".

Shows are generally a blur to me, so it's hard to say much about them. I played, I talked a little. People listened, people looked thoughtful, people said nice things afterwards and I felt grateful and lucky.

 Me at the keyboard before my show at Angelika and Ricky's house in Southampton. (Photo by Rex Duffy)

Me at the keyboard before my show at Angelika and Ricky's house in Southampton. (Photo by Rex Duffy)

I spent the next two nights in Winchester in the Armadilla, an Airbnb that I thought was one of a kind but I've only just realized is one of many such structures. (I was already familiar with Tiny Houses in general, but not tolypeutine ones.)

 The Armadilla, a highly sustainable armadillo-shaped dwelling.

The Armadilla, a highly sustainable armadillo-shaped dwelling.

While in Winchester, I saw the famous Cathedral inside and out, in daylight and at night. I traipsed all over the very old, very delicate tile floors in my clunky but stylish boots. I also saw the deathplace of Jane Austen.

At Winnall Moors, I added Eurasian Siskin, Common Chaffinch, and Eurasian Blue Tit to my life list. Along the River Itchen, I saw my first Redwing, European Greenfinch, Mistle Thrush, and Common Chiffchaff. I also had a momentary view of a Common Kingfisher (a species I had seen all too briefly in Japan as well). If you go birding in Winchester, I definitely recommend both Winnall Moors and the Itchen Navigation Heritage Trail. Both are great places to stroll.

 Mistle Thrush up on the housetop, quick quick quick.

Mistle Thrush up on the housetop, quick quick quick.

I more or less finished my stay in Winchester with a memorable sunset in the countryside, at memorably named Cheesefoot Head, while hundreds of Rooks swarmed in a nearby field.

At an ungodly hour on Monday, December 4, the eternally kind and generous Rex drove me to Heathrow for my flight to Gdańsk, Poland. And that's where I'll end for now!

- Stephan