Gareth spent a couple of hours of the reunion communing with this tree, an enormous London plane tree that used to hold some kind of world record for longest unsupported branch. It's the best shade tree I've ever met. There's space under there for a couple hundred undergrads to sit on the grass on a sunny day and cram for the big Art History midterm without ever having to crowd one another or move to keep cool. The tree has its own lightning rod, with an enormous steel cable to ground it. Gareth was fascinated with the cable. While I hung out with an old writing friend (whose books, by the way, you should go check out, because they're awesome), my kid gripped the tree trunk in a rockclimber's embrace and inched his way around again and again, stopping at the end of every lap to lean his cheek against the steel cable.
"This antenna brings music from the sky down into the earth," he declared. I tried explaining how some people can hear radio signals through the fillings in their teeth. "No," said Gareth, "the tree is singing love songs." To whom? He closed his eyes and leaned his cheek harder against the cable. "To you," he concluded. And why not?
At festival, Conrad was all about music. He often is at home, too, but at festival the professional drummers come out to teach, the professional drummakers show off their wares, and the drummers at the fire circle play from sunset to sunrise every night. For all the hours of full dark, you can hear them even at the farthest reaches of the camp. Apparently my long attention span breeds true: Conrad listened with complete focus for long stretches, well after the drums had become mere ambient noise to most of the adults around him. He asked as many questions about the drumming as his two-year-old vocabulary and three-word sentences would allow.
With sunset so late--it was Solstice, after all--bringing him down to the fire circle was not really feasible, but I did bring him to listen in on one of Jacqui MacMillan's master classes. For the record, I don't play at that level--I know exactly enough hand drumming to avoid embarrassing myself, and no more. Conrad and I sat out of everybody's way, just to watch and listen. He made it a good twenty minutes, absolutely rapt, absorbing Jacqui's demonstrations and short explanations. It wasn't until she began a detailed explanation of improvisation etiquette for ad hoc groups that he lost his focus--he fought himself to keep it far longer than I would have expected, hoping she'd get back to playing.
Two weeks later, he still tries to ask me about some of Jacqui's key terms. I only know enough to recognize what he's asking about, not to figure out the questions he's trying to get across, but I do try to replicate the basic demonstrations on his tiny doumbek. Already, that's not enough. He tries talking rhythms at the drum, but his hands aren't yet coordinated enough to keep up. So he talks the rhythms at the rest of us, and we talk them back. That'll tide him over a little longer, maybe. Looks like Conrad's adolescence will require a major investment in soundproofing.