When I met Fritter at the Nashville airport, the first thing he did was hand me the rock. It was a crudely chiseled figure of a hulking bear moving on all fours, head slightly raised, sniffing the wind. It had tiny ears and anatomically accurate muscular hindquarters. It weighed about fifteen pounds but he’d carried it all the way through the long terminals at Philadelphia International and BNA.
“I saw the bear in it as soon as I picked it up out of the field,” he said.
“Seeing is one thing, but taking the time to chisel it out…,” I said.
“Nah. I knocked it out one morning last winter when I couldn’t get out of the driveway in the snow. It just felt like it should belong to you.”
“Thanks,” I said turning it in my hands. “I wouldn’t know where to begin chipping on a hunk of granite to make it look like a bear.”
“Neither did I.”
Fritter had always been a bit of a creative nomad. He wrote songs mainly, but he would pick up a hammer and chisel one day and surprise himself with something like the bear. A few days later you might find him sculpting clay figures or pouring cement into rubber molds to make his garden plaques.
When we got back to my house I put the bear in my studio, nosing it up against a thick dictionary at the end of the reference shelf. It sat there poised to head into Webster’s to hunt for some fresh adjectives.
Fritter and the bear with his nose in the wind had much in common. I pictured them both standing at the edge of the wilderness watching the rest of the human race apprehensively and being regarded nervously from the opposite direction, too.
“I know what that bear reminds me of,” I said.
One of the first songs Fritter played me back before we started our band together was a song he called The Bear. In the lyric a rancher confronts a grizzly in the snow only to realize;
“My land sits on his land, that’s the way it is.”
(The Bear copyright 2009 by the estate of FC Collins)
On this particularly fine Nashville afternoon Fritter and I sat in the shade of my elms with our guitars and our notebooks. The Hedge Apples thudded to the ground in the woods while the bees got drunk on the overripe fruit. Occasionally a breeze blew the leaves around the yard like a clutch of ducklings scurrying after an invisible mother. The world was as small as the open ground between the two of us and the tree line.
We sang our newest tunes to each other and talked about writing. Later, when the sun went down we watched a meteor shower that sent little comets shooting out of the dark like welder’s sparks. I balanced my guitar on my knee and played a loping finger pick that became the soundtrack for the spectacle. Fritter dove from topic to topic, grasping at salmon in the stream of his thoughts while I picked and listened to his words resonate against the night sky and the bronze strings. That was how we wrote sometimes. I picked and listened to him talk until a certain phrase would tumble out serendipitously; the perfect metaphor for the mood of the music.
Suddenly the wind rose over the trees with a deep roar that carried off the sound of my guitar. Fritter halted in mid-sentence and put his head in the air. He froze suspiciously and waited for the tumult to pass over. When the hush returned he said, “We should call this tune Brother to the Wind.” I smiled because I knew that was exactly what we should call it.
Sometimes, all these years later, when I'm missing the inspiration I'll lift the bear from its shelf. Inside that rough, chiseled figure I can almost feel the stirring of a creative hunger. It reminds me of my place on the edge of the wilderness and I feel a sense of restless anticipation as the winter rolls in once again. Maybe he was right. The wind, the bear and the songwriter are brothers, and the bright salmon are still leaping somewhere.
copyright 2009 by craig bickhardt
Listen to "Brother to the Wind" written by Craig Bickhardt and FC Collins
Craig Bickhardt Brother to the Wind Track 03
Buy the full length, 12 song CD directly from the artist here