The Light and Rain to Feed Your Roots

She was born on a Monday in October. The weekend before had been bright and unseasonably warm and utterly heartbreaking. We carried our grief into the hospital, where our days and nights decomposed into the two-hour cycles of our newborn daughter. Each time a nurse or doctor came into our room, which was often, we strapped on our masks; we were already seven months into a pandemic that had kept us from everyone outside of our home for all but a few scant minutes, but it would be two more months before the Pfizer vaccine was approved and five more after that before both Caitlin and I were fully vaccinated.

As soon as the doctors allowed it, we took our daughter and went home. Despite her presence, it felt empty. We had lost Elly that weekend prior, and that was a big part of it, but there was more than that. Family and friends should have been buzzing in and out, meeting our daughter and playing with our son, reassuring him that he was loved. For a few days, our parents, who had quarantined, were able to come by. And then the complexity of the pandemic got in the way, their quarantines necessarily lapsed, and we were alone again. Caitlin was still recovering, soon I was working too many hours, and together we were struggling to care for a toddler and a newborn.

Hard months passed.

Two weeks out from my second dose of the Pfizer vaccine, I became fully immunized on Friday, May 7, the same day that my fellow Michigan natives Wolves & Machines released Evergreen. Halfway through the album’s title-track finale, Aaron DeVries sings:

Grief hangs above all you do / but it wilts in time to form into / the light and rain to feed your roots

Grief is not a prerequisite for high-quality art (#79), and it does not necessarily transmute into goodness with the passing of time. But its sharpness does fade as the days go by and it does become a part of the fabric of who we are, though what we do with that altered fabric is up to us. I know all this. I’ve known it for some time. But I needed to hear it. Needed to be reminded of a truth that exists not only in the roots beneath my own feet but also in the fields that I cannot visit.

Evergreen is concerned, deeply, with those roots and those fields. As its title suggests, the album spends much time in the language of nature and growth and change. Songs consider breezes, branches, and blooms. Reeds and trees mark the major signposts while tides and waves carry the listener through. It’s been seven years since Wolves & Machines’ last record, the immaculate Since Before Our Time (#10), and Evergreen suggests that all that fallow period was well-used, and also, in another reminder of a truth that I already know but needed reminding of, that we should be careful with our time as well.

Numbed by grief and stress and fatigue, there were times during this winter when I wished that we could be out on the other side already, that months could pass in an instant so that we could just be through with the waiting for an approved vaccine and the constant neediness of a newborn and the fresh-cut pain of loss. Time is our most precious resource and I am one of those people who clings to it with all the tenacity that my grip can muster. But I was tired. The days were long and the pandemic longer still. I just wanted it—all of it—to be over.

Don’t sleep through the winter to wait for the summer’s apology / and all that was hidden is now in our hands and in front of me / and all that we planted is blossoming out into everything / forever and evergreen

Those words, those beautiful words, close out “Evergreen” and Evergreen. The song—a perfect headphone listen, if ever there was one—builds slowly and steadily before falling back into a sparse, empty bridge. And when it rebuilds itself, when it blossoms into that swelling, looping outro, it’s as powerful as any song could be in 2021. I don’t know when or if I’ll get to see Wolves & Machines perform “Evergreen” in concert, but if I do, they’re welcome to play that final loop for as long as they want, with as many iterations of that guitar solo as they can summon. It’s what catharsis sounds like, at least for me, right now.

It has been such a long winter, not only for Caitlin and me but for everyone. There has been so much grief added to the world that our collective roots will undoubtedly be changed in bold, meaningful ways, just as my individual ones have been. But, as “Evergreen” reminds me, that’s okay. These months—every minute, every day, every week—have been precious, even as they have been painful. Each moment is meaningful, in its own way, a brief but important part of what was once wisely called our endless numbered days. And while grief does not directly beget goodness, it is part of a larger cycle, part of a greater truth.

We have endured the winter, and that endurance will make the fruit and bloom all the sweeter as, finally, the summer returns. As all that we planted is blossoming out into everything, forever and evergreen.

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