Bridges and Balloons

The Fool holds a toy ship in one hand and carries an open birdcage with canaries over her shoulder. She walks toward hot air balloons in the distance.

We sailed away on a winter’s day
With fate as malleable as clay

Joanna Newsom, “Bridges and Balloons” (The Milk-Eyed Mender, 2004)

Image Description

A person walks in a mountainous landscape toward bridges and hot air balloons in the distance. She lifts a four-sailed wicker ship ahead of her in one hand. A birdcage with two canaries hangs from a stick that she holds over her shoulder: the door is open and one of the canaries flies out in the air behind her.

The landscape is different shades of brown and the sky is pale blue. Some designs can be seen on the nearer balloons: a white seven-pointed star, a sun, and a moon.

The Fool wears a wide-brimmed straw hat, a blue and red cloak, a yellow dress, and green boots. The red trim on her cloak has a pattern of thimbles and needles, and her boots have red and blue beetles embroidered on the sides. The lower part of her dress has an embroidered scene showing a ship sailing past a sea serpent toward a castle where a lady stands. Above this scene, there are more embroidered figures: a bone, a goblet, a loon, and a cuckoo clock.


The unnumbered trump is known as the Fool. It depicts a jester, a lunatic, or a naïve and disheveled wanderer. “Bridges and Balloons,” with its storybook travelogue, captures this same innocence. Depending on who you ask, the song’s tone can be taken as a healthy sense of childlike wonder, or as condemnable childishness.

Our traveler carries a model ship, and wears a dress decorated with pictures of the four Aces floating above a fantastical sea voyage. She has experienced the wider world through stories and games, but has yet to see it firsthand. The balloons in the distance bear symbols from the final sequence of trumps, anticipating the journey ahead.

It is a bright and cold winter morning, the pale blue sky glowing against the rich brown earth. In her outfit of bright primary colors, the Fool stands out sharply from the landscape. But just as the primary colors can blend to any shade, we hope that the Fool can transform to meet the occasion.

Without a set number, this card is a wanderer who can fit in anywhere. Her fate is undecided, but that detail, like the open door of her bird-cage, seems not to worry her.

Selected Meanings

Dreams, impracticality, exploration, restlessness, a different way of seeing the world, childishness or naïveté, impressionability.