The Golden Hour begins with the sound of chimes.

hive, picture the inside of a beehive

eau de amber light

perfection in a clock design

whatever helps you sleep at night

you’re a bee in the hive

I hold my breath until the opening guitar chord reaches my ears, halting and sliding into a familiar pattern. Blindfolded, ears straining in anticipation of voices about to give words to the music, I slowly, slowly reach over and find Sam’s hand resting on the arm of his rocking chair to give it a squeeze. We are perched side by side on an upper landing in this barn, floating in the resonant space of music we have never heard so close, have never heard unmediated, have never heard in four-part harmony.

let me just see your calm face

remember that it is not a race

we’re just folded flowers,

folded flowers

I know this song well, but I am off balance, unable to rely on my sight and leaning back in my rocking chair perch, afraid of toppling forward—reaching out with my awareness beyond and outside of my body to pick out the voices of Lauren and Daniel of Lowland Hum and David and Suz of David Wax Museum, playing together a set comprised of songs from each band.

Everyone in the small audience gathered in David and Suz’s barn is experiencing the show without sight. Only the four artists—who entered after we donned our blindfolds—can see, and they make use of their sight by moving around the space. I can feel the music change as the quartet expands and contracts, moves up and down stairs, walks past me with viola or shaker or guitar. I shift and shiver every time I feel someone pass by, aware of being perceived by someone I cannot see, unable to keep myself from grinning (and almost vibrating) in equal parts delight and self-consciousness but trying to (in the words of Denise Levertov) “focus my flickering, perceive at the fountain’s heart the sapphire I know is there.”

Daniel’s voice is particularly transformed by the acoustics of the space and the live and present nature of the music—resonant and clear despite his low register. I find myself picking out his vocals more often than I have when listening to him and Lauren through computer, car, or phone speakers. Lauren’s voice, incandescent as ever, is more subdued in these arrangements—in part due to recently feeling under the weather.

sometimes in my dreams people don’t have faces

features are blurred, I can’t make out the shapes

it doesn’t bother me much

it’s just like my waking life:

people all around me, eclipsed by my me-sight

The most surreal aspect of this moment of intense presence is not our separation from Lauren and Daniel via the blindfolds, but rather that—for the first time in our budding friendship—we are in the same place at the same time, physically present to one another in such a way that the blindfolds make a difference.

The entire weekend in Charlottesville has a surreal quality about it—dear and precious and familiar, and yet utterly novel. Sam and I have known Lauren and Daniel for almost three years now (and we’ve known their band, Lowland Hum, for about six), but this is our first time without a screen and many hundreds of miles between us. Our friendship has consisted of virtual teas and music listening parties over Zoom, of letters and emails and social media updates. In the midst of an ongoing pandemic and our own particular trajectories, this has felt like enough—like more than we could have imagined, becoming friends with strangers over snail mail and the Internet.

Yet I can’t help but whoop with joy and skip a few steps when, the day before the Golden Hour performance, Sam and I run into Lauren and Daniel packing up after a rehearsal and are invited to their house for tea that afternoon. It’s New Year’s Eve, and Lauren and Daniel and their two-year-old are the last people we will be present with in 2022.

I had a nice time with Sam

I had a nice time with Sam

we were talking like friends on the weekend

I don’t get many weekends

We drive through a foggy sunset to their log house in the countryside outside Charlottesville. This is another surreal experience—we’ve seen the inside of their house, seen their studio and their garden, seen the lights and branches and popcorn strings hanging on the wall in lieu of a Christmas tree—we’ve seen all these things in pictures and during virtual concerts, but never in three dimensions.

Vedauwoo, vedauwoo

mind weak, words too soft to reach you

mind weak, words too soft to reach you

Cozied up on their porch with tea and seltzer water and sourdough doughnuts, we talk about the holidays, about our families, about what fun things we have made in the kitchen and about what books we are reading. Lauren recommends we pick up the Moomintroll books by Tove Jansson and spreads some of her copies out on a table for our perusal. I share a bit about how my program is going and our various part-time jobs, and they talk about music they’re listening to, about the strange and wondrous realities of parenting. Daniel mentions some garden projects they have been dreaming up with the help of a friend, and I find myself imagining a future pilgrimage to visit and assist. He and Lauren give us a tour of their small studio, and their son practices climbing up and down the ladder to a reading and resting loft while Sam and I marvel at the coziness of the space—drop cloth curtains on the walls and bright-patterned rugs on the floor—and delight in touches like a Jean-Luc Picard mousepad on the control room desk.

I saw a flock of birds in flight, making patterns, catching sunlight

they seemed to read each other’s minds

I want to move that way with you

It is a joyous moment after the closing chimes of the Golden Hour to return to my body like I do after meditation, with wiggling of toes and fingers. I  remove my blindfold, carefully lean my rocking chair upright again, and take Sam’s hand.  We wind our way through the barn to the back porch and congratulate the four musicians on the performance. We embrace and say hello for the second time in as many days. ‘It’s so good to see you!’ I say, grinning.

Daniel is wearing a fabulous leopard print zip-up jacket of Lauren’s, which we all take turns petting. Lauren is carrying a large water bottle. “Hydrate or die-drate,” we remind each other—an  inside joke fresh from yesterday’s teatime. It’s a cold night, and we are dressed for indoors, but the four of us—Lauren, Daniel, Sam, and I—stay out on David and Suz’s porch long after everyone else has  gone inside or away home. Lauren shifts from foot to foot but insists she’s warm enough as we talk about home gardening attempts and the time one of Daniel’s solo songs got used in a Norwegian car glass commercial.

Warmed by the intimacy of the Golden Hour performance, exuberant with the kairos of the weekend and the hospitality of these friends—I breathe slowly, breath misting slightly, until the time comes to hug good-bye and good night, walk back to our Airbnb and prepare for the morning’s drive home.

love is patient and kind

love is patient and kind

hallelujah for a friend to remind me

that love is patient and kind

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