Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Sound engineering by Mike Gentry
The reason that this matters or halfway matters at all is because, here's believing that if William Fitzsimmons has a home in southern Illinois abutted by trees (and there's no way he doesn't), he's been examining them lately too, out in the yard collecting stray twigs and branches and placing them on the burn pile. He's been keeping a sharp eye on the tips of the branches still hanging and dangling up there, stuck in place and naked after a winter's worth of white snow covering. Some branches just don't make it through the cold months - the sap deciding not to flow through on certain detours and it spells the end for them, while the greater majority of the rest of the tree goes on thriving in dormancy, getting what it needs and just being still as can be. It's what was found this week in our yard, so we thought.
We started taping on branches and trunks, thinking that we knew what we were doing. We'd wrinkle our faces when the tapping yielded these hollow and seemingly dead feelings, an empty thud. The only thing to consider then is that, one of these weekends, we're going to have to get the hacksaw out and chop down some limbs - just a pain in the ass, and somewhat sad. But over the last four days, the April showers have lived up to their names and in a sudden transformation that owes us some sort of further explanation for how this could be, the left for dead branches are now freckled with blossoms and buds. They popped out like chicken pox, overnight, and now the hacksaw's remaining where it's been. It's not needed anymore and there's a lot of happiness in this outcome.
It's this time of the year, when viewing the ugly and dark trees striking new poses, putting on their plumage, that Fitzsimmons must take great delight in. It's a small and annually occurring phenomenon, but it's a phenomenon that never ceases to surprise in a tiny way every go-round. I can see Fitzsimmons out in his yard, tending to these trees, singing to them, as if to encourage them that they can come out of their sleeping bags now, that it's okay to peek, it's okay to stretch and rub that sleep out of its eyeballs. The music that Fitzsimmons makes is the kind that swells with the makings of new life and new love - sometimes found in startling places, but more often than not, it comes where we've seen it before, like the ends of those trees.
We know to look in certain spots for the love and life that we've been groomed on and he sings all of these feelings in a light Sam Beam way, giving us the sensation of a warm lemonade being sipped at nightfall with a nearby forest full of fireflies and crickets creating a beautiful opera. He sings about the old times that already have transfixed emotions attached to them - as if they've been commemorated as some precious example to be striven for repeatedly - the pinnacle to be reached again, if at all possible. He sings about old loves in a way that leaves them constantly and continually burning, giving them ample opportunity to sprout buds again. Even when he sings, "We will love again, but just not each other," we're not convinced that the feelings of either lover have been swept completely under the rug or out the door. They're lingering, like dust, like a dormant tree, to jump alive sometime again. When that will be is less predictable than a spring thaw, but no less thrilling.