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October 10, 2018

"I wonder if the middle of nowhere is the centre of everything."

- Ken

"I need a nap after that."

- Deni

It’s not like your yard, Sister Amy.

Germany? Yes. The Netherlands? No. Certainly not Friesland, where we’ve been stationed for the past few days. This is low country. Flat. Green. Imagine yourself standing on the side of a narrow road in the country. There are wispy clouds but the sun is shining. There’s a slight embankment at your feet. Follow it with your eyes to an irrigation ditch beside the road. The water is calm. It reflects the clouds and the weeds that rest quietly on the bank.

Across the ditch there is a wide, open field. It’s green, but not your green. Not our green. It’s more emerald and less lawn. You’ll see pictures that won’t do it justice. There is a thicket of tall trees in the distance on the left. Another on the right. The trees are beginning to change colours. There are hints of orange. Deep browns. Way off on the horizon there is a row of poplars. You have to squint to see them. If you could raise yourself up, you would see canals carving up the farmland. Sheep in their dozens, fat and lazy in the grass.

What sets off our picture is a magnificent black horse grazing by the irrigation ditch. He has a long tail and huge hooves. He’s thick and heavy and powerful. There are old farm buildings hidden in the trees behind him. Sister Amy, can you picture it? The ditch, the water, the green field, the trees, the blue sky, the beautiful horse. This is Friesland. Or at least the part of Friesland where we’re staying. In fact, it’s the view across the street from our friend Klaske’s house.

I think I’ve been struggling to give you a picture of The Netherlands because the picture changes from place to place. Yesterday our hostess Sietske took Deni and me to see the dykes along the northern edge of Friesland. How do I describe that to you? You climb the stairs up these man-made hills, and then you reach the top and suddenly there’s a sea. Follow it out far enough and you’re in the North Sea headed for Norway. Much of this land is below sea level. It’s supposed to be under water, but the dykes hold the water back. The Frieslanders created their homes this way.

Again the history gets to me. We climbed the dykes at a spot in a quaint little town. Below the dyke and across the street is a church that dates back 900 years. After that we drove over to another ancient church that sits on the highest built up “mound” in the area. They had to elevate everything around here or it would get flooded. They have found artifacts around that church that date to 600 years before Christ. Picture me standing there trying to imagine people building that church. What did they look like? What were they wearing? Where did they go when it was finished?

I get lost in that other universe sometimes when I stand in the midst of history. Put me in a farmer’s field on The Somme or near Ypres, Belgium and you can leave me there for hours.

It was fun to drive around with Sietske and see some things. I’ve written before about how we don’t really get to do that sort of thing most of the time. It was very sweet of her to do that for us. Actually, everything she does for us is sweet. She made us a lovely dinner last night. She even did laundry for us. Thank you, Sietska!

But I’m jumping ahead.

After our sightseeing trip, Sietska dropped Deni and me off at Klaske’s house for a special lunch prepared by our friend Angie. Vegetable curry and rice. Such warm flavours. Lunch lunched, we went back to Sietska’s place to relax a bit before we enjoyed a wonderful dinner of sausages and a kale/potato dish and apple sauce made with fruit from her trees. It was great fuel for what was to come: a songwriting workshop led by Sarah at Klaske’s studio. It’s a group event. People come, Sarah performs and talks about writing songs, and then people are split into teams to write a song on the spot. Deni, Ken, Sarah, and I each took a group. I helped as best I could. I’ve written some songs (Hiroshima Hearts even plays a few of them), but I’m not in the same league as the others.

Fortunately my group had some talented people, and they created a traditional folk song about Friesland in 25 minutes that went over really well. All of the groups wrote cool songs and had a ball performing them. We finished the night with a short set of Sarah songs played acoustically. I’ve never been much of a Cajon player, but I guess I’m getting a bit better at it as we go. Maybe I’m just becoming flexible enough to reach the thing now.

When the event was over, we were treated to bowls of that signature Ferwerda snert – a pea soup/sausage combination that is salty and savoury and packed with delicious goodness. We got to hang out with our friends and laugh and eat. These are the moments we remember when we go back home. When I’m in that situation – surrounded by friends who are having a great time – I always try to step back and listen. I love having those sounds in my memory. Those voices. That laughter. I can hear it now and it makes me smile.

By our standards it was an early night. I think I went to bed at around 1:00 a.m. and put my headphones on. I do that most nights these days. When I was a teenager I used to listen to music in the dark all the time. It’s a visceral kind of experience. For me now it’s more meditative, although most of the music I’m listening to these days is anything but meditative. Well, that’s not exactly true. Thrash metal can be very rhythmic and repetitive, so maybe there’s some kind of hypnotic effect after all.

I digress.

And now we prepare to move on from Friesland after another wonderful stay with good friends. We’re bound for Leer, Germany tonight, to the Texas River Ranch – home of big steaks, waitresses in cowboy hats, and a bizarre collection of Old West relics that seem wildly out of place in small town Germany. The hardcore fans will remember the Texas River Ranch as the place where I made my debut as a lead singer with the band last year. Maybe I’ll write more about that tomorrow.

The last leg starts with van call in half an hour. Where does the time go?

#EeNetherlands #TheRoad #SarahSmith

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