Seeds of the Pine

I've been wanting to write this post for awhile. Waiting until I had something profound to say, I guess. Maybe something to keep up with the beauty and profundity of this song:

It's "Seeds of the Pine" by Martha Scanlan, a bluegrass singer/songwriter, with the excellent banjo player, Roy Andrade. Kyle Ritter introduced me to it around a year and a half ago.

There's something... it's in the warble of Scanlan's voice, the sweet sadness of the lyrics, and the (as mentioned) awesome banjo playing. It's presumably about someone she can't have -- maybe there are distance or relationship obstructions that are keeping them apart; maybe she's being pragmatic and doesn't want the burden or risk of a relationship (romantic or otherwise). "I only want to dream about you/ the dollar I could spend when I should save." Maybe this person is just an acquaintance, a crush that she has from a distance. Point is: she doesn't have this person, and doesn't seem to know if she should have him. That's kind of sad, I'm sure, for her, and there are plenty of songs written in this sentiment (e.g. "You belong with me" or "Wish he was my boyfriend"). But while those other songs concentrate on the qualifications of the singer ("I'm the one who understands you[....]"), Scanlan's next verse is a collection of maybe the sweetest things you could say about someone:

You're a slow ride down a country mile.
You're the smell of apple pie to the blind.
You're the last light on a July western sky.
You're the center of the watermelon;
you're a sweet, sweet smile. *

The song is more about her longing than about how much she deserves this person. In fact, later on, she talks about denying her love for this person; "I could say I never wanted you for mine." It's painful to want something, embarrassing to admit desire. Instead of stating the case for how cool she is -- I like you a lot, and if you knew what was best for you, you'd like me too -- she says she could take it back. Unfulfilled desire is hard to live with; I think it impedes happiness to some extent. She could simply deny her desire, try to quell it.

Here's the thing, though: there's sweetness in that desire, indistinguishable from the pain or sadness that's also there. To me, the complete absence of desire is distasteful, almost terrifying. To have everything you'd ever want is to be without dreams or passion or tension. Without feeling. C.S. Lewis talks about joy in longing - joy being a longing. "All joy... emphasizes our pilgrim status; always reminds, beckons, awakens desire. Our best havings are wantings."

Maybe I wouldn't put so much stock in desire if I actually had all I wanted, if desire weren't already such a fixture in my life. Wanting to start on the varsity basketball team, wanting to travel and move to different places, wanting to live with friends, wanting to make enough money as a writer, wanting to skip work this morning and drink coffee all day. But for now I think that the sweetness and the pain in wanting is what opens up the seeds of the pine.

* Shortly after Kyle had shown me this song, I meant to text him the lyrics about the apple pie. Instead, I accidentally sent them to the person next to him in my contact list, a guy hadn't talked to since freshman year of college. Oops. It was fine, though. This guy thought he was pretty hot back in college; he probably wasn't even surprised.


  1. Anne and I are going to have this played at our wedding

  2. Hoooooooooo-ray! I'm so coming, in that case.

  3. I have heard this song in at least three different versions...all of which are beautiful. Everything about the way Martha Scanlan does the song, her whispy voice, inflection, phrasing, is just perfect, and John Nieufeld (sp?) on guitar really adds a lot, but Mark Andrade really makes this version stand out. He really made Little Bird of Heaven pop for me, too. What a fantastic banjo player.