Entries tagged with “favorite things”.

Sufjan Stevens once made a joke about how he was going to write an album for every state in the union. That he then followed this by writing both about Illinois and Michigan seemed to imply it wasn’t one. For those holding out hope it might still happen, his latest record is probably quite the tease.

Having lived here my whole life, I forget that Oregon isn’t really like other places. I mean, it’s like Washington of course, but most of our country is not made up of places that have ocean coastline, mountain ranges, high desert, temperate rain forest, and prairie all within a few hour’s drive of each other. It has for some people achieved somewhat mythical status and stands out as remarkably well-represented as a mecca for nature-lovers, adventurers, and seekers of peace alike.

What brought Sufjan Stevens to Oregon wasn’t nearly so romantic or whimsical. Reunited with his estranged mother through the efforts of her second husband, Stevens spent time here in fits a spurts as a child until the relationship once again deteriorated. “Carrie & Lowell” recalls that time and place while simultaneously probing his grief in the face of Carrie availing herself of Oregon’s Death With Dignity Act. There is a candid intimacy to this music that conveys a sense of emotional and visceral locus more powerfully than almost any I have ever encountered.

Such A Long Time Ago

I concede, my own degree of susceptibility to this record might be fairly apparent. The aching eloquent lament of a grown person with mommy-issues recalling a dappled Oregon childhood has some pretty obvious resonance for me. That truth notwithstanding my daughter, who isn’t burdened with these same concerns, also found the album all but irresistible. We listened to it on our way to Bend last weekend and she was humming one of my favorite tracks for the better part of the following day until she asked if we could listen to the entire record again on the way home.

It is, as all my favorite albums are, a suite of music. Each song is deliberately linked in melody, theme, and tone to every other. It has the feeling of a progression through a landscape both internal and peripheral. Stevens’ characteristically gentle guitar and vocals perfectly evoke the longing, sorrow, and grief he explicitly acknowledges inspired his songwriting. That being said, it is patently not a sad record. The melodies and message are both infused with a certain weightlessness that rarely accompanies music about death, loss, and regret. When he says “we’re all gonna die,” over and over, it feels not like a condemnation, but a reassuring statement of fact.

The music rambles all over its vast setting. From the Tillamook burn to the Sea Lion Caves. From Cottage Grove to The Dalles, each song speaks to some corner of Oregon and of Stevens’ memory in concert. In doing, it never forfeits a sense of connectedness within that scope. Much like the state in which it is set, varied though the conditions might be, it remains bound together by shared inevitabilities, circumstances, and space. Though I’m still convinced he has no intention of completing the task of an album for every state, Sufjan Stevens has rendered a beautifully realized offering for Oregon, nevertheless.

Highly recommended.



1. Classical Mythology . a nymph who, when pursued by Apollo, was saved by being changed into a laurel tree.

2. ( lowercase ) Botany . any Eurasian shrub belonging to the genus Daphne,  certain species of which, as D. mezereum,  are cultivated for their fragrant flowers.

3. a female given name.


Daphne is a genus of between 50 and 95 species of deciduous and evergreen shrubs in the family Thymelaeaceae, native to Asia, Europe and north Africa. They are noted for their scented flowers and poisonous berries. Wikipedia

Breathe deep the aroma of the divine


Daphne is my favorite flower. It isn’t grand, or dramatic; its blossoms are tiny and can only accurately be described as cute. Though they aren’t much to look at they have other properties that earn them such a high place in my regard.

They Smell Like Magic

There is no aroma on this earth that I have ever encountered that surpasses Daphne for sheer wondrousness. It smells like spring, delight, and newfound love. I first noticed it on the campus at the University of Portland. I was stopped dead in my tracks by the most glorious scent I had ever experienced. I followed it over to an unassuming little bush replete with clusters of tiny pink flowers. I plucked one, put it in my shirt pocket and wandered around, drunk on the fragrance for the rest of the day. My mother, always a keen amateur botanist identified it for me readily when I took it out of my pocket later to exclaim at my new discovery. I wanted to be bathed in the aroma at all times, and set out to find a perfume that reproduced that sense of olfactory ecstasy. The Perfume House on Hawthorne was most helpful, but had to admit that part of what I was smelling, and so deeply enamored with was the “green scent” of the living plant, which cannot be readily reproduced by any perfumier. I did find that Flowers by Kenzo™ most closely mimics the scent and is a lovely perfume on its own account. So, I must wait for the Daphne to bloom each year to enjoy the unadulterated pleasure therein. Happily  I am fortunate enough now to live with Daphne growing right outside my front door. Every time I come home, I am surrounded and immersed in its aura; redolent of joy. 

They Bloom At A Time Of Year When Everything Else Sucks

Early February is the most dismal, grey, desolate stretch of the year. The daylight is feeble and fleeting. Rain and drizzle are the customary order of the day. Holiday hangover is in full effect. Yet, into this scene of misery is born the most delightful offering of nature. Daphne blooms like a precious reminder that pleasure and delight are still available, indeed that they are forthcoming, at a time when that message is most dearly needed.

The Daphne in front of my house has been in bloom for a few weeks now, and the flowers are beginning to wilt and fade. Though I am always sad to see them fade, it makes their beauty more poignant, for being so fleeting. I try to make the most of their availability while I can. I often pluck a cluster for Hodie and tuck it into her backpack so that when she gets to school she has a lovely little surprise. I slip it between my breasts to ride around with me all day; to remind me I have access to small moments of joy, whenever I might need it most.



I love my blankie.