Archive for the real life Category

The Dam at Otter Creek

Posted in real life with tags , , , on June 25, 2017 by sethdellinger

It’s been a few years since I used this space to write about the band LIVE.  They will always be one of my favorite bands, but like all artists, their prominence in my life waxes and wanes.  Seeing as I recently returned to the midstate after a lengthy absence and the once-broken-up band recently reunited, they’ve been top of mind lately.

As such, it also occurred to me recently that, having lived so close to the birthplace of a band I am passionate about, it is perhaps a shame I never took an opportunity to explore the landmarks they’ve created.

LIVE is, to my knowledge, the only rock band, of any era, to call Central Pennsylvania home and to also make that geographical fact an integral part of their identity.  Many bands exist that you don’t know anything about where they’re from–personally I have no idea where Queensryche or Deftones are from (and if you do, it doesn’t disprove what I’m saying, so can it) and many bands claim places like California or cities like Boston or New York, or regions like the South or New England.  But LIVE is from Central PA, and York specifically, and their (early) songs are unabashedly about this region.  Ed (the singer) mentions York often, from the stage during concerts all around the world.  So they’re not just a band from Central PA.  These are contemporary artists who have made incredibly successful art about our area; music that is sung by fans all over the world; Ed Kowalczyk crafted lyrics inspired by the very specific blend of elements present in this region and mined universally recognized themes from them.

Their second album, “Throwing Copper” was really the first that most people heard, and it was an international phenomenon.  Their fall from public favor over the years may have obscured the degree to which they were succesful at the time, but “Throwing Copper” was a truly behemoth hit.  Rolling Stone named the band their entertainers of the year that year.  And as popular as the album was in America, it exceeded that breadth in Europe (as the band continues to, to this day).  And “Throwing Copper”–the album the whole world was hip to in 1994 (it would eventually sell 8 million copies) opens with a song called “The Dam at Otter Creek”.

Most of “Throwing Copper” consists of taut, pop-inflected rock with singable choruses. Not so “The Dam at Otter Creek”.  The song opens the album with quiet melodic guitar fuzz, as if an imagined sound from far away.  Like music that had been read in a book, or dreamed. A man’s indistinct voice can be heard.  Is he on a magaphone? What is he saying?  We can’t be sure.  Slowly the sound coagulates, forms into simple repetitive chords, and, like a slow roll of thunder, Ed intones,

When all that’s left to do
is reflect on what’s been done
this is where sadness breeds.
The sadness of everyone.

This is not the typical stuff of radio rock.  This is a song about not living in the past–a common theme, for sure, but not presented in a typical fashion.  For the rest of the song, Ed makes a very bold decision as a lyricist.  In the first stanza (the one above) he presents to us his thesis: if all you think about is the past, that is some sad shit. But then instead of just presenting more lyrics about that idea, he tells us a story, about a time “the guys” built a dam at Otter Creek, and a man dove into the deep water and died.  It is up to the listener to decide how this story relates to the thesis.  Then, after the story, Ed treats us to the wailed refrain:

Be here now.

Of course, if you simply remove the story about the boy at Otter Creek, you have this:

When all that’s left to do
is reflect on what’s been done
this is where sadness breeds.
The sadness of everyone.

Be here now.

So that is a fairly neatly encapsulated philosophy: live in the moment, living in the past is sad.  BUT the “Be here now” line also interplays with the Otter Creek story; is Ed asking us to place ourselves in the shoes of an observer, on the bank of the Creek, watching the boy get carried out in the stretcher?  The listener can make choices about how they want to hear this song; Ed has left some of it in our hands.

Musically, the song builds to an unforgettable crescendo as Ed implores us to Be here now in a vocal rhythm that can only be described as highly unusual.  As a teenager, I had to consult my liner notes to figure out what he was saying.

Before I go on, I will present the complete lyrics and a YouTube of the song itself:

“The Dam at Otter Creek”
Ed Kowalczyk

When all that’s left to do
is reflect on what’s been done
this is where sadness breeds.
The sadness of everyone.

Just like when the guys
built the dam at Otter Creek
and all the water backed up.
Deep enough to dive.

We took the dead man in sheets to the river
flanked by love.
Deep enough to dive.
Be here now.

We took him three and three
in a stretcher made from trees
that had passed in the storm.
Leave the hearse behind.
To leave the curse behind,
be here now.


A few weeks ago, it occurred to me that I live awfully close to York, and so I probably live awfully close to Otter Creek.  So I started researching it.  Where is the creek, where is the dam?

Well, it’s a thorny question to ask.  A lot of people on the internet have a lot of answers.  Where the creek is is simple enough–it meanders for a few miles in the rural farmland outside of York, eventually emptying into the Susquehanna near a tiny place called Airville.  But the dam?  Some say there used to be one, some say there never was, others that the song tells a true story about kids who made their own dam.  Ultimately I decided I’d go see for myself.

There is a famous picture on the back of “Throwing Copper” that shows a sign for the Otter Creek Recreation Area.  This is that album art:



I was able to figure out quite easily where this was.  This is a parking lot that belong to the Otter Creek Campground, but is open to folks who are not campers at the campground.  The interesting thing about this parking lot is it is RIGHT AT the spot that Otter Creek empties into the Susquehanna River, AND it is in a spot that there is a river island about 150 yards from shore, making the Susquehanna look very small, so people pulling into the parking lot might be confused as to what body of water they are really looking at.  It’s, quite frankly, a little confusing.  Here is a picture I took of this confusion:


Alas, the famous sign from the album art has been changed, as one would imagine it would be after 25 years.  Here are the sings there now:



While the sign has been changed, after having been there, one can clearly tell it is the same parking lot as the one in the album photo.

Here are a few more pictures I took while in the campground parking lot:



Interesting, right? Given the lyrical content of the song. However, this is ALL Susquehanna River right here. If one dove here they would not be diving into Otter Creek,

One immensely interesting takeaway here is that the creek emptying into the Susquehanna finally sheds light on the lyric “They took the dead man in sheets to the river”.  What a perplexing line that has always been for me! I’d often wonder if we were talking about a creek or a river, and why/how do you take a dead man from the place he got hurt…to the place he got hurt?  But standing there, I can see that they would be moving him from the small creek to the large river.  Now…why they might do that would still be a mystery.  Also, this geography coupled with the lyric almost makes it certain Ed’s lyric is about this very specific spot.

And so, voila, that being the case, I will tell you, there is no dam there.  Maybe there was at some time, of that I have no idea.

Yes, some people will say this: there is a dam on the Susquehanna about a mile downriver.  I’ve seen some folks say THAT is the dam in the song.  That’s clearly poppycock.  Admittedly, it would be more clear if the song was “The Dam ON Otter Creek” instead of AT; the at does leave room for interpretation, but it is my assertion that the line “we carried the dead man in sheets to the river” authoritatively places the story at the confluence of Otter Creek and the Susquehanna River, dam be damned.

After I spent some time in looking around the confluence area, I got back in my car and drove for an hour or so around the country in the area, criss-crossing back and forth over the creek as many times as I could, looking for more access points; maybe secretly hoping for signs of a dam, but also just vibing in the origins of LIVE and remembering there are things about the midstate that are worthy of high art.  Yes, it is beautiful, serene, and contemplative, but as Ed is aware in plenty of other songs, it can be dark, derelict, and sinister.

That being said, here are a few other shots I took of the creek at other points on my drive:



A Quick Word

Posted in real life with tags , , on May 14, 2017 by sethdellinger

Hey folks!  It’s been a long time since I posted an entry, and this coming right after I had a bit of a blog revival going on.  I just wanted to pop on real quick and let you know the blog revival is most assuredly still happening!  I currently have about a dozen entries percolating in me ol’ cranium–from the highbrow to the simple life-update variety–but, as many of you may know, it’s been a hectic time the past month, with lots of changes and whatnot (all good) in many facets of my life.  While I am adjusting (to new house, new commute, new town, new job) writing/ artistic time has taken a back seat to simply existing and figuring things out.  Again, these changes are all good (or at the very least, neutral), but I wanted to explain my silence.  I’ll be back very soon!

Protected: The Will is Good But Now Different

Posted in real life with tags on April 20, 2017 by sethdellinger

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On Anti-Fascism, Veganism, Church-Going

Posted in Rant/ Rave, real life with tags , , , , , , , on April 2, 2017 by sethdellinger
There are certainly plenty of words out there in the world right now about the current state of our country, and our president, and protesting, and on and on. I realize there’s not a whole lot of original thought I can add to the mix, especially since I am far from an expert on these matters. But I feel as though I should at least take a brief moment here to elucidate exactly where I stand. So here is my elucidation: free speech is an awesome thing. It is one of the truly great things about America. An open and fair exchange of ideas is crucial to maintaining an evolving culture free of dictatorship. However, many folks have pinned this down as the absolute unchangeable linchpin of America, and believe it to be boundless and without exception. And, to the letter of the law, they’re mostly right. The Westboro Baptist assholes have the right to their hate-mongering, and Free Speech lovers like to say things like, “I hate what they’re saying, but I’d fight to the death for their right to say it.”
See, the thing is, some ideas don’t need room to breathe. I grant you that these ideas must be limited to very few, otherwise “free speech” as we know it ends. But ideas that espouse the denial of basic human rights to other citizens DO NOT NEED PROTECTION. Your precious “free exchange of ideas” does not have to extend to Nazism, white nationalism, or other hate rhetoric which, once given any sort of official platform, becomes normalized. The word “Nazi” is getting thrown around a lot in the media today, but only with the pallor of the Holocaust implied. It’s time we said it out loud: we need to take every pain we can to prevent anything even CLOSE to the wholesale murder of citizens from happening again. And it starts with labeling groups, sanctioning hate, rounding people up. This sort of activity has begun in this country. And we can no longer sanction speech that furthers these ideas. I’m not suggesting we outlaw it—that would be tricky—but the citizen policing of this vile threat is perfectly fine by me. Well beyond “punching Nazis”—WHATEVER IT TAKES.
We have seen how these kinds of things end.
On a similar but totally separate topic, allow me to wax whimsical for a little while on the topic of veganism.  I’ve addressed it a little bit previously in the blog but on the whole, not nearly as much as I’d like.  I’ll try to be really gentle about this.
See, I totally get why you non-vegans get really touchy about us vegans.  Veganism–and animal activism–is really the only philosophy I can think of where, by virtue of subscribing to it, you thereby indict literally everyone else who isn’t following it.  Non-vegans sense this (usually unspoken) friction just by someone announcing they are a vegan and become defensive despite a vegan not even directly addressing them on the topic.  This is understandable; as I said, the non-vegan (henceforth referred to in this blog as carnists) senses that their very status as a meat eater means they are at odds with my worldview.  This is not incorrect.
Like any group of people, vegans come with many nuanced views and philosophies.  Many believe that we should be gentle, encouraging, non-confrontational, educational.  Some believe we should work as hard as we can to disrupt the status quo and that by causing loud friction within the world, we do the most to help animals.  Still others just want to be vegan–eat no animal products–and leave it at that.  Obviously, I mostly adhere to the disruption school, but on the whole, I say if you’re a vegan, I’m not overthinking how YOU want to do it.  But my belief that animals are our moral and ethical equals forces me to try to change their plight as quickly as possible.
If you’re a carnist, you have to understand that I don’t think you’re a bad person or an idiot.  How could I? I ate meat until I was 38 years old!  And I fully understand the ways in which our modern culture raises all of us to have blinders on when it comes to the misery the meat, dairy, and egg industry causes, but even more than that, the way our society ingrains in us the belief that we are superior to animals–so superior that we can actually create FACTORY FARMS of them.  The mechanism that can make us all blind to this is powerful.  It isn’t your fault that you don’t see it.
But see, it’s my job to try to wake you up.  And this is where I fail.  On social media, in “real life” interactions with friends and family, I still care more about your comfort and “keeping the peace” than the animal who suffers so terribly so that you don’t have to change.  Many, many people think that since I’ve become a vegan, I’ve changed, become “smug” or “judgmental”–but the problem is, I’m not even doing nearly enough.
For fuck’s sake, they’re out there right now–in the damp cold, in tiny stalls, being force fed, they can’t even turn around, they’re covered in their shit, and they know–those poor, poor animals, they know.  
And I’m not saying or doing enough to help them, just so I don’t rock the boat.  What monsters we are!
3.  Check out this masterpiece Philip Larkin poem:
“Church Going”
by Philip Larkin

Once I am sure there’s nothing going on
I step inside, letting the door thud shut.
Another church: matting, seats, and stone,
And little books; sprawlings of flowers, cut
For Sunday, brownish now; some brass and stuff
Up at the holy end; the small neat organ;
And a tense, musty, unignorable silence,
Brewed God knows how long. Hatless, I take off
My cycle-clips in awkward reverence,

Move forward, run my hand around the font.
From where I stand, the roof looks almost new-
Cleaned or restored? Someone would know: I don’t.
Mounting the lectern, I peruse a few
Hectoring large-scale verses, and pronounce
“Here endeth” much more loudly than I’d meant.
The echoes snigger briefly. Back at the door
I sign the book, donate an Irish sixpence,
Reflect the place was not worth stopping for.

Yet stop I did: in fact I often do,
And always end much at a loss like this,
Wondering what to look for; wondering, too,
When churches fall completely out of use
What we shall turn them into, if we shall keep
A few cathedrals chronically on show,
Their parchment, plate, and pyx in locked cases,
And let the rest rent-free to rain and sheep.
Shall we avoid them as unlucky places?

Or, after dark, will dubious women come
To make their children touch a particular stone;
Pick simples for a cancer; or on some
Advised night see walking a dead one?
Power of some sort or other will go on
In games, in riddles, seemingly at random;
But superstition, like belief, must die,
And what remains when disbelief has gone?
Grass, weedy pavement, brambles, buttress, sky,

A shape less recognizable each week,
A purpose more obscure. I wonder who
Will be the last, the very last, to seek
This place for what it was; one of the crew
That tap and jot and know what rood-lofts were?
Some ruin-bibber, randy for antique,
Or Christmas-addict, counting on a whiff
Of gown-and-bands and organ-pipes and myrrh?
Or will he be my representative,

Bored, uninformed, knowing the ghostly silt
Dispersed, yet tending to this cross of ground
Through suburb scrub because it held unspilt
So long and equably what since is found
Only in separation – marriage, and birth,
And death, and thoughts of these – for whom was built
This special shell? For, though I’ve no idea
What this accoutred frowsty barn is worth,
It pleases me to stand in silence here;

A serious house on serious earth it is,
In whose blent air all our compulsions meet,
Are recognised, and robed as destinies.
And that much never can be obsolete,
Since someone will forever be surprising
A hunger in himself to be more serious,
And gravitating with it to this ground,
Which, he once heard, was proper to grow wise in,
If only that so many dead lie round.

Toddler Files #468

Posted in real life, The Toddler Files with tags , , , on March 28, 2017 by sethdellinger

Under the continuing sub-header Things I Never Thought I’d Say:

“No, honey, you can’t play with your socks in the shower.”

Days of Everything

Posted in Memoir, real life, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , on March 16, 2017 by sethdellinger

It was a cold night, but not too cold, which was fortunate, because we had to park very far away from the arena. I unbuckled Boy from his car seat and heaved him into the air, bringing him next to my cheek to give him a kiss in the crisp evening air. “This soccer game?” He asked. “Yes,” I told him. “This is the big building I told you about.” I sat him down and stuck out my hand for him to grab, as we strolled quickly through the immense parking lot together. He had lots of questions. He kept calling it football, which was interesting, I thought, since most of the world referred to soccer as football, but he couldn’t possibly know that, could he? Most of his questions weren’t really about the sport we were about to go watch, but the building it was in. How could a building be so big that you could play soccer inside of it? How tall was it, was it taller than the telephone poles? Taller than our house? Will there be snacks? Soft pretzels? I’ve become accustomed to the constant barrage of questions at this point, pulling from deep within me a patience I honestly did not think I possessed.  Not that this patience is without limits—but at any rate, I seem to have more than I thought.  I suspect a toddler will prove this to be true of most anyone.
I was surprised by the patience he displayed as we waited in a long line to buy tickets. It seems every day, he is making leaps and bounds, growing in things like patience, understanding, and empathy. Which is not to say he’s still not a little ball of emotions that doesn’t know how to act, just maybe a little less so than a few months ago or a year ago. He’s becoming much more of a companion as opposed to a force of nature to wrangle and watch. While for the most part, time with Boy is still all about teaching, there are moments now of truly just being.  And “just being” with a little guy like boy is more magic than I’m accustomed to.

Finally, tickets procured, we entered the concourse, looking for our section. I hadn’t studied the arena map extensively, and had chosen seats in the section on the complete opposite side of the concourse, so we had to walk past countless souvenir stands and snack bars, him wanting desperately to stop at each, and also wanting to enter into each section as we passed, with me constantly trying to tell him that it wasn’t much farther, not much farther. But through it all, he didn’t freak out or melt down or cry, just implored me strongly. Finally we came upon our entrance to the arena, and I picked him up because I knew the stairs were going to be steep and he was probably going to be shocked by the sight of walking into the big room. Carrying him on my side, we entered the arena proper, and although an indoor soccer field lacks the nebulous breathtaking quality of a baseball field, the sudden shock of green and the expanse of a sudden cavernous room had its desired effect on the countencance of Boy, which is to say, it produced a certain amount of awe. After pausing to allow him to soak it in, we climbed up the steep steps, to find our seats. We were all alone in our section, something I had to ask the ticket man to do, in case it did not go very well. Boy was beyond excited to sit here. He was very into his seat, enamored with the idea that the number on it matched  the number on his ticket, and in this enormous room, this seat was his and his alone. He was not restless as I had feared, his eyes trained on the action on the field. I would steal sidelong glances at him, see his eyes glued to the action, his head swiveling as the ball bounced back and forth, his complete concentration and immersion something only possible in the earliest years of life, and during a first exposure to things; the sights and sounds meshing with dawning understanding, realization writ large across his face. He would sometimes stop his concentration to ask questions about the goalies, which he called The Goal Guys, their different colored jerseys causing him no end of confusion. Later, as he was able to again float back into our world, he would watch me for cues whenever the arena sound system would play the tropes of modern sporting events: the “Charge!” song, the “De-Fense!” chant, and on and on. He saw and understood there was an audience participation element and he wanted to learn.  I would raise my fist and yell “Charge!”, glancing over to see him mimic it, his tiny voice bursting forth its own “Charge!”  This moment, especially, nearly crippled me with emotion.

He paid close attention to the game and stayed quite interested for well over an hour and a half when he started to fall asleep on my shoulder. I told him I thought it was time to go, and he protested quite strongly, saying he didn’t want to miss anything. And I kept giving in, saying we could stay, and then he kept falling asleep again, until eventually I picked him up, went up the stairs to the upper concourse, and told him he should get down and walk around and look at all the empty chairs, all the sections without anybody in them. The arena was quite empty, in fact, especially once one got up to the upper reaches. We got to a very high section, a corner section so high up you could almost touch the roof in a few of the spots, and as we emerged into it, it became clear that it had not even been cleaned out or looked at after the preceding weekend’s Motocross event in the arena. Everywhere there was trash, even half-eaten food and some beer cans on their sides. It was an astonishing array of trash and smells to walk into amid what appeared to be an otherwise normal arena. It was immediately too late for me to backtrack and take him out of this section, he was much too interested in the hows or whys this could have happened. I explained as best I could that they assumed they would not sell any tickets in this section for the soccer game, so they must be waiting to clean up from the Motocross. He did not want to walk around the section, but he also didn’t want to leave. I picked him up and we watched the soccer from way high up near the ceiling, looking down on all that old trash and beer cans, until he looked at me and told me he was ready to go home. I felt that I had a companion here, a little guy who I could teach and learn from, who was now going to be interested in things, who was present with me.


My love and I put on our light spring jackets and walked into the crisp evening. Just the two of us, we interlocked our hands, and headed down the street toward Midtown. It is one of the benefits of living where we do, that usually, given the right weather and the right child care situation, we can walk to some of the places that we like to spend time together. This night it was simple: we were going out to eat. It was one of the last walkable nights of the year, and we knew it. The cold was setting in, soon we would be driving everywhere and stuck inside like prisoners.  So tonight, we knew, was a walking night.  There was a very popular and artsy restaurant in the middle of Midtown, which somehow we still had not made it to. Recently they had started serving a very popular veggie burger, that all of our friends were talking about, and we still hadn’t tried. It had been on our list for weeks.

The thing about taking a somewhat lengthy walk with the person that you love is that it forces conversation you don’t normally have inside the house or perhaps in a moving car. You see things that you don’t normally see, are reminded of things you might only see or think of by yourself, you’re moving at an interesting pace, a different speed. I love holding hands and walking with my love. I love the way her hand feels, I love being connected to her physically in that way, I love being able to look at her face from the side so often. I love being able to point out things, and have her point out things to me, elements of our neighborhood that we only see when we are walking the dog by ourselves.  I love kissing her outside. Many people spend most of their lives in relationships and begin to take things like this for granted, maybe even very early on in life, they assume they will have a companion in this form. Having spent so long single, small things like holding hands, walking down the street, these things never seem anything other than magical to me. My love thrills me.  Literally every single thing about her. It’s electric.

Twenty minutes later we found ourselves the only customers in the artsy eating establishment, it being only five o’clock. We were talking about the art on the wall, the interesting sculptures, the funny man who kept looking at us askance from inside the kitchen. We talked about the interesting ordering system the restaurant used, the haphazard way salt was placed on some of the tables but not others, we talked about our days, we held hands and looked at each other. Sometimes we didn’t say anything and that was lovely in its own way. When you know someone is your true partner, being in their presence is a constant salve.

The food came and it was delicious, just as delicious as everyone says it is was, and it was fantastic to share a meal with someone who shares so many of my worldviews, who has the compassion in the same places I do, love and freedom in the same proportions, to share a meal with a woman who has taught me so much. As I was finishing off my Diet Pepsi, stealing glances at this woman, I kept thinking some of the same thoughts I come back to all the time.  How I waited so long to find her.  How, when I did find her, I couldn’t and still can’t believe how perfect she is.  How my journey to find her wasn’t about me, or even the journey, but it was about her, about us.  How I still learn about her every day and she’s such a delicious mystery.  How she fits so well.  I looked at her as I sat there, finishing my Diet Pepsi, and I said to her the only thing one can say, given the unbearable weight of the world:  I can’t believe you’re finally here.


The days, good or bad, really do just stretch out like deserts, uncountable deserts, again and again and again.  Some, you find, contain nothing: plodding marches under a bored sun.  But sometimes, they are filled up, filled with everything you ever dreamed, brazen neon signs of days, confetti and love love love.  I don’t know about you, but I’m trying to figure out how to keep them filled up.  I want the days of everything, forever.

Valentine’s Dog Dagurreotype

Posted in real life with tags , , , , , , , , , on February 15, 2017 by sethdellinger
  1.  I know A LOT of people who hate Valentines Day, so it seems.  And every year, most of them feel a need to unleash an anti-V-Day screed of some kind via social media (almost always involving the word “Hallmark”, “corporate”, or “made-up”.  And hey, I get it.  In fact, I essentially ignore almost all holidays, and I’m quite fortunate that my life partner feels the same.  We don’t really hate any holidays, we just don’t really notice them (with a few exceptions).  But what I’m wondering right now, as I continue to see these same people with these same rants about these same holidays year after year after year…why not just ignore it?  Let it pass with zero comment from you.  There is little more that a holiday hates than a complete lack of attention from you, whatever holiday it happens to be that you hate.  Just a suggestion, of course.  Certainly I have lots I like to bitch about, too, but it just seems to me like bitching about a holiday is some wasted bitching.
  2. I sure love my dog.  Who doesn’t love dogs?? But I feel a very special way about Benji because I’ve been lucky enough to be brought into his life late.  Benji is 15, which is nearing the absolute oldest he can get for his breed (at the absolute most, he might live two more years but that is unlikely).  I spent almost all of my adult life wishing I could have a dog; almost all of that time, I lived alone and worked jobs with long and erratic hours and was hesitant to own a dog under those circumstances.  But, once I found my love Karla, she came not only with Boy, but with Dog, and my time with Benji has been very special.  Now, he is not without his quirks (a truly obsessive-compulsive licking thing that can literally coat an entire couch if no one is watching) but in just about every way, I could not love him more.  I’m sad that I don’t get more years with him, but the time I do have fills my heart.  Almost anyone who has a dog says “They are part of the family”, and never has anyone meant it more than we do.
  3. Here is the earliest known photograph (actually it’s a daguerreotype) taken in the city of Harrisburg.  It is from freakin’ 1860!:
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