Mary Chapin Carpenter sent me a post on Facebook. Or rather her management company did. Ms. Carpenter is a favorite artist of mine, a singer-songwriter and she would be my choice as poet laureate if I were to have a say in the matter. I have been a fan of her music, looking beyond the classifications, for quite some time. Ms. Carpenter’s career took off in the early 1990s, in country music of all places. How did I even find her? She graduated from an Ivy League school with a degree in American Civilization and the words she was putting to music found a niche. That early success gave her a following and the chance to break out to do what she wanted. She never allowed herself to be pigeon-holed by a genre: no twang, no big hair, no sequins. She entered and exited the country-western stage true to herself.
She sent me a video clip of an interview of her with Joan Baez and a performance of her song Stones in the Road recorded live at Wolf Trap in Virginia. Ms. Baez recorded the song first a year or two before the author did. Since the early 90s Mary Chapin Carpenter’s music has mellowed and matured and is more difficult to categorize in a business all about categorization. Sadly she doesn’t get a lot of air time on most radio stations nowadays.
Stones in the Road evokes the memory of an innocence lost at the end of the 60s, a time when both Ms. Carpenter and I were young, coming of age in a world changing so quickly around us. We saw what was happening in the background of our lives, in grainy black and white images on TV, while we maintained our childhoods, not fully comprehending. And the TV glowed that long hot summer with all the cities burning down. I clicked on the video link without hesitating after logging onto my laptop while I was catching up on news out of Ukraine. The news wasn’t good. This wasn’t the summer of 68, it was the winter of 2013-14. The future I had been so carefully planning, which involved Ukraine, was smoldering in a struggle for that country’s self-determination. And the stones in the road flew out beneath our bicycle tires. Worlds removed from all those fires as we raced each other home.
But Ukraine was no longer a world removed from me, it was going to be my future at the end of the month. I was to serve my country in the Peace Corps by training the youth of that country. Suddenly all that changed. The Peace Corps pulled out of Ukraine—for the safety of its volunteers there—and all my plans for spending 27 months in service was wrenched from me. Instead of boarding a plane for Kyiv at the end of the month I will instead be looking for a place to live, waiting to hear about another assignment somewhere in this world. There isn’t a shortage of such volunteer opportunities; it’ll just take a while to find the right fit.
My house is being sold, my possessions boxed up and stored, my dog going into foster care; all those carefully detailed and synchronized plans still going forward. The twin tracks of going into the Peace Corps and divesting my life in order to do that had become parallel, running side by side, to arrive at their destination together. But now a switch had been flipped and while one proceeds on schedule the other has stalled and appears to be derailed. Here I am, all packed up and nowhere to go. And now we drink our coffee on the run, we climb that ladder rung by rung. We are the daughters and the sons, but here’s the line that missing.
Ukraine is in turmoil. Honestly, so am I. Both our futures are on the line, but mine is temporary, mendable, with no loss of life. And the stones in the road fly out from beneath our wheels. Another day, another deal, before we get back home.
As the song and the performance I was watching on my computer was coming to a close: And the stones in the road leave a mark from whence they came, my ear caught a familiar refrain and string of chords coming from the radio in another room. Mary Chapin Carpenter was getting some well-deserved air time and I got to sing along again to Stones in the Road. We learned about the world around us at our desks and at dinnertime.