Unexpected Beauty in Stick Season
This fall singer-songwriter Noah Kahan released a new album called Stick Season. He grew up in Strafford, VT about 10 minutes from where I live in Hanover, NH. I never thought of a season as being defined by sticks, but by the time November hits these parts, its pretty accurate. Where light and dark green colors had dominated the New England landscape for months, followed by a few weeks of glorious yellows, oranges, and reds, late fall feels suddenly and starkly gray with barren trees everywhere you look. At a glance, its depressing. Everything is dead. Even sunny days seem subdued. Winter is coming.
A few weeks ago, in late December, a strong snow storm hit the Upper Valley. It was unique in that the snow was as heavy as snow can be. Every square inch of snow seemed to weigh as much as a can of soda. On the ground, the kids rejoiced in the best snow-ball making snow imaginable. But for the trees it was a different story. The weight of so many cans of sodas were too much for branches that looked like they had a decade or two of life in them. On the day after the storm, the damage had been done. Full trees had fallen in places, but everywhere you looked large, beautiful branches of countless standing trees had either crashed – and exploded due to the freezing temps – to the ground or broken but still dangling high above the reach of any layman’s ladder height. Even today weeks later large branches lay untouched in people’s yards waiting to be cut, and the danglers are there for, well, I’m not sure anyone knows what to do.
Move to the ski slopes, which many of us did during the holidays, and those branches and sticks literally littered the trails. Heavy rain downpours followed that snowstorm followed by freezing temps further infusing millions of sticks into the slopes surrounded by rocky spots that threatened the recently tuned bottoms of skis everywhere. Why ski then? In my case, our 9-year old is part of the local ski team and I am a committed volunteer coach. For 6 days following Christmas, no matter the conditions we skied every day along with about 50 other kids and a few handfuls of volunteer coaches.
A few runs in on the first day, one of the kids complained about the sticks. “How was it?!” asked the head of the program who joined our U10 group for a couple of runs. “Horrible!” yelled on kid. Others chimed in. I echoed their sentiments in my head. “Why are we here??” I heard myself wondering quietly.
“Think of these sticks as a gift”, said the wiser of all of us. “We get to ride up a chairlift and ski down a mountain with all kinds of obstacles and challenges that make it so much more interesting and fun. Work on making tight turns around the sticks and the rocky patches, work on leaning forward. This is the fun stuff, and prepares you for the easier stuff.”
The sticks looked different to all of us from that point forward. I, myself, worked on my turns and carving in what most consider crappy conditions. I never heard another kid complain about the conditions, the ice when it came, anything. It was a few short sentences that turned misery into beauty.
It reminded me how attitude matters so much. We all know it, but we get lazy. And sometimes it takes someone who sees beauty where others see ugliness to snap us out of it.
When Noah Kahan started his Stick Season tour, he was shocked to find kids in the audience who knew every word only days and weeks after the album had been released. And yes, many of the songs in the album are, in fact, beautiful.