“I feel like I’m knockin’ on heaven’s door” (Bob Dylan)


First things first. It’s cold this morning, with some snow, and the birds have emptied the feeder once. When I went to replenish, they were skittering around, impatient for more. I try to feed the Steller’s jays on the post outside the sliding doors to the deck because otherwise they monopolize the feeder. They chase the smaller birds away. So I spread some seed on the bare ground in the woodshed, swept snow away under the feeder and sprinkled some seeds there, and put more pumpkin seeds out for the jays. They prefer peanuts but you know what they say about beggars.

Inside we are warm. We’re burning fir, which gives a long deep heat. It’s John’s birthday and the plan was for a couple of friends to come for a celebratory dinner: homemade chicken liver pâté with green peppercorns from Madagascar; roast lamb stuffed with olives, pine nuts, and herbs; tattooed potatoes; focaccia with flaky salt and rosemary; and chocolate torte with sour cherries. I gave John a bottle of Hester Creek Cabernet Franc, which would be perfect with the lamb. The friends called earlier to say that they don’t think they can come because of the snow. In our area the highway is kept clear but many of us live down hilly winding roads that become treacherous in weather like today’s. We’ll see what happens to the snow by late afternoon. Whatever transpires, alone or with friends, we will eat well tonight.

This morning, in the quiet kitchen, I was thinking about the years. When we met, John was 31. Today he is 75. To me, he looks pretty much the same. He has the same laugh, gets a particular look on his face when he reads something really good — this morning, it was the first poem in Phil Hall’s The Ash Bell, a stunning book (and another birthday gift). One grandson sent a picture he drew for Grandad, a boat with 2 funnels, and all of us on it. He loved that.

The years. This is the season when I feel their accumulation, their bounty, and also their sorrows. For so many years, a large group of friends came to celebrate John’s birthday. I remember one snowy afternoon when they kept coming to the door, having left their cars down the highway because our long driveway was too difficult to drive up, bearing gifts, flowers, overnight bags (because several came up for the event from Vancouver; 3 of them are now dead and one has ghosted us for her own reasons), and it was like being in a Chekhov story as beloved friends came in out of the snow, stamping their boots, and bringing the brisk cold air into the kitchen. The fire was blazing, as it is this morning, and maybe lamb was being stuffed with rosemary and slivers of garlic, wine on the sideboard, bread baking, a cake waiting in the porch for the sparklers to be lit, the old songs sung.

I put a cd on the stereo earlier, a compilation I asked my daughter to make probably 15 years ago, maybe longer, when we had slow dial-up internet and she was at university with high-speed; I wanted to hear all my favourite songs at one go. “Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands”,

With your silhouette when the sunlight dimsInto your eyes where the moonlight swimsAnd your matchbook songs and your gypsy hymnsWho among them would try to impress you?
a few by the Rolling Stones (I’m not a huge fan but always loved “Play with Fire” and “Wild Horses”), a couple of old Van Morrison songs, a single Elvis Presley (“Suspicious Minds”), Linda Ronstadt, Bruce Springsteen, a single U2,
Through the storm, we reach the shoreYou give it all but I want moreAnd I’m waiting for you
Billy Joel’s beautiful “And So it Goes”,
And this is why my eyes are closed
It’s just as well for all I’ve seen

And so it goes, and so it goes
And you’re the only one who knows
and finally, the song that is also the ringtone on my phone: “Knocking on Heaven’s Door”.
They date me, don’t they, these old chestnuts? Yet listening to them this morning while the fire snapped and glowed, while the birds emptied the feeder of sunflower seeds and kernels of hard wheat, it was every birthday we’ve ever celebrated in this house (and we moved in on the eve of John’s 35th, 40 years ago yesterday, in a wild storm, the power out, one window leaking, no stairs to the front door, and a kitchen sink but no counters or cupboards). It felt like an adventure. It still does, here in the warmth of the fire, snow falling, remembering (and yes, wishing, wishing) the winter afternoon when friends knocked on the door, in snow, and came in bearing gifts.
I feel like I’m knockin’ on heaven’s door

14 thoughts on ““I feel like I’m knockin’ on heaven’s door” (Bob Dylan)”

  1. Oh Theresa, you make it sound so welcoming and delicious. I can taste and smell and feel it. Happy birthday, John. May your celebrations be as rich and joyful as your writing is.

  2. Beth, we had a long discussion about Dylan tonight. (The friends ventured here in the snow after all, bringing an enormous bag of fish — halibut, swimming scallops, etc. — as a birthday gift.) I think he is a genius, musical, cultural. Our younger friend, a poet and a musician (and a fisherman), gave a pretty convincing argument for Dylan’s Nobel, which I’d argued against. Not that he isn’t the most significant singer-song writer of his generation but is it literature? Our friend provided the most lucid reasons for why it is. Imagine, yes, that we came of age listening to Dylan, and that we still listen to him. (“O brave new world, that has such people in ‘t!”)

  3. Thank you for sharing this. I can imagine all of it like a movie, having actually been in your house at last. That was a minor miracle, unlikely to happen again. But I can feel like a fly on the wall, observing.

    1. Susan, it was so wonderful to see the lights of their truck beaming over our driveway and to sit at the table for hours, talking, talking, reading poetry, caught in the warm web of old friendships. (John met Joe at Banff in 2002, I think it was, and they became friends pretty quickly. He and Amy remind us a little of our younger selves, raising their children, making a house, gardens. Both are beautiful poets — look for Joe’s Windstorm, his surname is Denham.) They filled our freezer with fish last night which is an extraordinary gift. Prawns, halibut, scallops…

  4. You always provide lots of food for thought, and thought for food too! Blue Jay’s dominate our feeder, taking 6 seeds at a time and rocking it so more fall out, much to delight of squirrels below. I too appreciate Dylan, as a musician, but don’t think he deserved Nobel, and was most ungracious receiving it.
    I wish you a happy Christmas and a good New Year, John

    1. The Nobel discussion was really interesting. I agree with you, I think, in that I believe the prize acknowledges literary value that I don’t think is Dylan’s strength. On the page that is. But friend Joe was pretty convincing (though maybe now I’m on the fence rather firmly in one camp or the other!) in his belief that Dylan’s brilliance and influence is both wide-ranging and temporal and the prize will keep his importance alive. It was good to have such a passionate discussion! Happy Christmas to you too and all in your house.

      1. You’re welcome! I discovered Bob Dylan late in life, I was never a fan before. But after spending a month listening to his songs, reading his memoir and watching lots of YouTube vids, now I’m a big fan. Here’s another video you’ll enjoy. Joan Baez was deeply in love with Bob. She was already a huge success when they met, he was just getting started. She took him under her wing, invited him to share the stage with her and that helped jumpstart his career. (Clearly, he would have reached success on his own.) Joan Baez is the personification of class, dignity and humanity.

        Here’s a lovely video of the two of them together –

  5. I’ve been listening to both of them for 50 years, without any regrets! I remember a beautiful duet, “With God on our Side”: breathtaking. And her astonishing take on “Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands” where you suddenly hear those lyrics from a woman’s perspective — revelatory. She wrote “Diamonds and Rust” for him and I remember reading his observation on it. (She said later that it was her ex-husband but then confessed it was Dylan…)

  6. More on Dylan. Apparently, he is a great fan of Coronation Street, so has just been invited to appear in a future episode. I can’t wait to see what he does; perhaps a song in the pub?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s