Avenue of the Saints
I digress... to take you on a road trip
There’s usually a day in September when the locals around here will agree that, yes, the change of season is upon us. Marking my calendar at September 16th, while it didn’t freeze overnight, it very well could have. Driving out to Montpelier this morning, the trees just had that look - once a summer sheen, now pale and wan, yet another life lies waiting inside: a chrysalis of color waiting to burst in another week or two.
Autumn always signaled my favorite time for touring - for being on the road. Every day of driving held some excitement in store. A quickening of the air mixed with the frisson of another gig to play was near overwhelming, and always a joy. Touring in the fall is always a joy.
I’ve been looking for an entry into sharing some of my catalogue from those days, and this seems like a good opportunity. The song Avenue of the Saints was written during one of those fall tours. I never wanted to be one of those writers that would get a great song out of some personal drama or a failed relationship. Rather, I’ve always wished to convey my excitement about the beauty of the natural world in the hopes that others might connect and amplify that as well.
Here’s an excerpt from an essay I wrote back then, Avenue of the Saints. Lyrics and video as well.
This morning I departed St. Paul, Minnesota for Davenport, Iowa. As a matter of course I drove the 300 odd miles to my next gig. Some days are simply spent driving, other days are mesmerizing and enchanted. What tipped it off this time was noticing a sign alongside I-35 that read, “Avenue of the Saints.” I thought, “What could that mean?” The signs disappeared when I turned off the interstate onto smaller roads across Iowa to join I-380 near Waterloo and Cedar Falls. I thought I had left the Avenue behind until getting onto I-380, there it was again, another one of those blue signs that told me I had rejoined the Avenue of the Saints.
All along the way I had been writing, noting things I saw and whatever crossed my mind: mileposts as rosaries, sunflowers as monks worshiping, a bald eagle flying over the Mississippi, nights spent van-camping at truck stops, the John Steinbeck I was reading. These images needed an outlet.
In Davenport that evening singing for the Clifton Crest House Concert Series, I asked the locals what the Avenue of the Saints was all about. They informed me the Avenue is intended to become an interstate corridor between St. Paul, Minnesota and St. Louis, Missouri yet its completion is in doubt because there are farmers who are resistant to selling their land to make way for that road.
What amazes me is that the Department of Transportation gave the unrealized corridor such an evocative name. Before, I was thinking, “Who were these Saints? When did they walk here? What purpose did they have? Now I see the marketing pitch. Oh well… I’ll reclaim the road in my own imagination (because I can).
As I travel from coast to coast there are two constants: farms and railroads. Ours used to be an agrarian society connected to and dependent upon the land. Now, all I seem to see are abandoned barns, broken windmills and empty homesteads - beautiful relics of a by gone age. At least until we find that we need them again.
Follow this link to a video of Avenue of the Saints recorded on 9/17/22
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Avenue of the Saints
I slept beneath the light of the sodium moon
Parked between trailers and the interstates boom
My pallet, the bosom of my old sleeping bag
I shake off the cold in my four-wheel nag
The clouds are lifted, the curtain is drawn
My caravan's waiting, the morning has come
I drive from St. Paul into Iowa
Tomorrow through Illinois to sing in Indiana
The milepost markers make a fine rosary
Down the Avenue of Saints, past the town of Albert Lea
Past factory outlets and budget motels
To lonely old farms where the land's up to sell
You can lay down four lanes and build up a mall
But I keep coming back in spite of it all
Cause there will still be places that you will never change
A horizon so wide, my home on the range
The only Saints I seen on this avenue
Are planting the acres and harvesting food
Silos like Buddhas near Indian mounds
Sunflower monks watch the world turning round
Just how many more roads you need between St. Paul and St. Louis?
When a bald eagle flys above the Mississippi
Oh Avenue of Saints, I won't grudge you now
A back road you ain't, but I'm with you anyhow
I slept through the night beneath the sodium moon
On the Avenue of Saints by the interstates boom