Friday, May 1, 2009

Of Archaeology and the Lakes of Canada


Have you ever been out in the midst of the wilds of nature and - in a moment of insight - seen it? The vastness, the stillness, the wonder of it all... There is a kind of clarity that can set in; one begins to see the cosmos as it truly is. And from there thoughts often turn to introspection. We start to see ourselves in a clearer light, somehow.

I spent a couple weeks of the summer of 2005 working on a dig of the Arizona Archaeological Society, north of the Mogollon Rim. I can keenly remember the experience of crawling out of my tent in the early morning, when temperatures were just above freezing. I hate the cold, and I'm not going to pretend that I enjoyed it, but it was one of those experiences of clarity. On those chilly mornings, alone in the woods but for a few fellow archaeologists, far beyond any cell phone coverage or paved roads, I experienced flashes of that kind of clarity.

A few days ago I discovered a husband and wife duo who have apparently had the same experience. In 1999 Karen and Don Peris, otherwise known as The Innocence Mission, released Birds of My Neighborhood, which included "The Lakes of Canada". It's a song that perfectly captures that experience of solitude and wonder and the clarity of spirit that it brings. Economy of words, clean instrumentation and Karen's beautiful voice nail the experience:

There's a sudden joy that's like
a fish, a moving light;
I thought I saw it
rowing on the lakes of Canada...

Walking in the circle of a flashlight
someone starts to sing, to join in.
Talk of loneliness in quiet voices
I am shy but you can reach me.
Rowing on the lakes of Canada...

There's something in her voice that just sounds like vast expanses of water, and evergreen shores and crisp air. You really have to hear it for yourself.

If you have ever looked for a song on YouTube, you know that there are a lot of cheesy slide shows which are not really videos at all, but a sequence of (usually low resolution) pictures, with the kind of transitions that were cool in middle school. I hate to say it, but the first video below is just such a thing. However, it includes the full cut of "The Lakes of Canada," as recorded by The Innocence Mission. (So just minimize the window or otherwise ignore the pictures and listen to the music.) The second video below is actually a real video, of Sufjan Stevens performing a cover.




(In point of fact, I think I saw the Sufjan cover some months ago, but though he does it well, it doesn't quite have the mesmerizing quality of the original, and it didn't stick with me in the same way.)


"The Lakes of Canada" was also released on a five-song EP of the same name in 1999. Since then, The Innocence Mission has released three more albums and another EP. Don Peris also produced friend Dension Witmer's latest album, Are You a Dreamer?. Karen and Don have employed lyrics from Gerard Manley Hopkins and have donated proceeds from one of their albums to the Catholic Relief Fund.
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