It was a huge success and, no surprise, I am wiped out. There are so many people to thank. Our staff of instructors, our students, the student’s companions, the Portal Peak Lodge and Cafe, the Myrtle Craft Library, Portal Rescue, the people of Portal and Pete and Burt all made this possible. I do so little compared to what we collectively produce. It is an honor to bring all these great people and organizations together. They come to Portal and create a beautiful place of nurturing where people are pushed with love and expert guidance to do their best and keep learning. I am so lucky.
I have a lot of nice photos but I’m not ready to do that work yet. Some are up on the Portal Irish Music Week page on Facebook. It’s all public so check it out. Many of our students take gorgeous photos of the scenery and the scene and they share them on Facebook.
Here’s what I stressed about this week (keeping it real): two broken down cars, a sick student, a family emergency, and a slightly injured hiker. It sounds worse than it was. Mostly it all resolved without my active participation. Except the blood. I did apply the bandages. Oh, and I delivered immodium and electrolytes and paid a house call.
There’s a song Burt used to regularly sing called South Coast. It’s not often heard now but has been covered many times in the last fifty years. Arlo Guthrie and the Kingston Brothers and Ramblin’ Jack Elliot and Burt are some of the singers you might have heard take their turn on this haunting story and well matched melody. The story is set back when this land was Spain. As such there are references to things most of us have long forgotten about or never knew including the town mentioned in the chorus, a town called Jolon. The J is pronounced like an H. Hoe-Lone.
Here we are nestled in the hills very near the south coast of the song. Jolon isn’t too far away. Or what was Jolon. Burt dragged his memory for the song and we sang it and pondered why it has slipped away from our regular repertoire. Because I couldn’t play well in Gm when we hit the road and lost the rest of the band. As Burt and I contemplated bringing the tune back to the Gypsy Carpenters, the boys hatched a plan to visit Jolon and a nearby Spanish mission. Burt and Barry like history. Barry likes to drive. A road trip idea was born. Laura and I decided we’d look for birds if we got to board with the historic drive.
Yesterday four humans and two dogs covered the land of the song. We saw the actual South Coast, the remains of Jolon, and the Spanish Mission of San Antonio de Padua. There was even a barranca. Unlike the song’s characters who used a horse named Buck (spoiler alert: Don’t ride a horse named Buck.) we traveled in a late model sedan. Most of the area is now the property of the U.S. Army. A vast amount of land remains undeveloped and nearly in the natural state you would have seen if you were traveling in the era of Spanish rule. Father Junipero Serra picked a great place to found one of his many missions. This was the third mission in California. It fell into ruin after Mexico separated from Spain and took the missions from the Catholic church. There were no private takers and so the mission was neglected. It fell down. After a stretch of time this land was taken from Mexico by the U.S. So the ownership history looks something like this: Spain (via Catholic Church), Mexico, U.S. While under the U.S., William Randolph Hearst bought vast swaths of California, including this entire area. Hearst lost most of it and then the Army took over. The mission was given back to the Catholics by the U.S. government. The church rebuilt the mission. The rebuilt mission today needs a $15 million renovation because of seismic codes. That’s a lot of money to rebuild what is essentially a replica. Not my problem.
Mission San Antonio de Padua is the site of some historically excellent water management. These guys were moving water like the Romans. There’s an interpretive sign acknowledging the early history civil engineering accomplishment near a defunct reservoir. They had a mill works, and tannery and indoor plumbing. The ruins are not quite to the standards of Italy but still interesting. In fact, that reminds me of another similarity to Rome. The roof tiles were taken from the mission to build in another location. That was a big reason the place fell apart. Adobe structures melt rapidly without roofs. So we wandered around and ate lunch and took some pictures. Laura and Barry sat for a formal wedding portrait under the sign commemorating the first marriage in the land of California. That was in 1773. I won’t go down the historical rabbit hole of what was happening on this land before the Spaniards arrived but it seems a little myopic and ignorant to presume marriage began with the Europeans. You may detect some ambivalence about visiting Spanish Missions. You would be correct.
Phone service is spotty out in the middle of this vast military reservation. Kind of surprising but a nice way to bring a flavor of the remoteness at the time of the song. Spotty cell coverage resulted in some minor difficulties and inefficiencies as we tried to find Jolon. It was all sorted out and we saw some bald eagles and a bobcat while we wandered. Jolon was a spot where the stage coach came by. The collapse of the mission and the railroad in the next valley did away with the citizenry. All that remains of Jolon are a road with its name and a building. The nearby hacienda is behind locked army gates and requires a guided tour and reservations.
After Jolon we decided to take a trip through the baranca and over the mountains to the actual coast. Last winter’s massive rain events brought down three parts of the coast highway. There is only one land route in and out for this wild coastline today. Traffic has dropped to a trickle. Our road trip was taking us back in time. The road over was narrow and steep. You could see that hillsides frequently gave way and covered the road in debris. Landslides figure prominently in the song and they are still determining people’s fates today. The barranca (canyon) yawned below as we snaked up into the marine layer. Soon sunny skies were gone and we were immersed in fog. More swooningly stiff curves and we started to drop. Eventually we emerged from the clouds and could see the Pacific Ocean far below. It took an hour to cover 15 miles. The only was home was the way we had come in. No cell, no EMTs, no civilization without passing a rugged mountain range in the fog. We had captured the feeling of the song. Stay safe.
South Coast lyrics by Lillian Ross, music Sam Eskind. Get that story HERE.
My name is Juanano de Castro
My father was a Spanish Grandee
But I won my wife in a card game
To hell with those lords o’er the sea
Well the South Coast is wild coast and lonely
You might win in a game at Jolon
But a lion still rules the Barranca
And a man there is always alone
I played in a card game at Jolon
I played there with an outlaw named Juan
And after I’d taken his money
I staked all against his daughter Dawn
I picked up the ace…l had won her
My heart it was down at my feet
Jumped up to my throat in a hurry
Like a young summer’s day she was sweet
He opened the door to the kitchen
And he called the girl out with a curse
Saying “Take her, Goddamn her, you’ve won her
She’s yours now for better or worse”
Her arms had to tighten around me
As we rode down the hills to the south
Not a word did I hear from her that day
Nor a kiss from her pretty young mouth
But that was a gay happy winter
We carved on a cradle of pine
By the fire in that neat little cabin
And I sang with that gay wife of mine
That night I got hurt in a landslide
Crushed hip and twice broken bone
She saddled her pony like lightning
And rode off for the doctor in Jolon
The lion screamed in the Barranca
Buck, he bolted and he fell on his side
My young wife lay dead in the moonlight
My heart died that night with my bride
Now for the climate change link. The central coast of California is fighting for its economic survival. Bigger, wetter storms this winter destroyed infrastructure all over the state. It very nearly brought down the Oroville dam. The south coast country is practically inaccessible. Segments of road and a bridge have washed away. Repairs will take a massive effort. It makes me wonder where we should be investing. Is it time for this wonderful coast line to revert to nature, like so much of the army base country? Or do we keep doing what we can to build and adjust. I don’t know the answer. I do know we need to know what we are up against and plan accordingly. We need to accept the facts of climate change. In this part of California that means bigger storms, wetter storms. More water in a shorter period of time. And yes, droughts are here to stay, too. Less water over longer periods of time. We need to make decisions on where to invest and how to design using the best information we have. We can adapt. We must.
After a smoke filled drive across the Northern Cascades we have arrived in Helena. It’s a jam packed visit with music, doctors, bridge, and fishing. I find myself deeply saddened by the state of the world. The west burns down around us. Fish are in trouble. People can’t find common ground. We are actually thinking nukes. WTF. It is a very sad and difficult time. I’ve been asked by others how I deal and I always advise, do what you love and look for goodness and beauty. It’s hard to do some days especially when my back hurts. It’s a heavy lift.
Following my own advice here are some lovely photos despite the smoke. I caught and released some fishes yesterday on my favorite river. I played some tunes with friends. I really sucked at Bridge. Again.
If you’re in Helena and want to see us. Do not weep. Next summer we’ll be here working. We’ve got a big job lined up. Perhaps the last big one before retirement. We can play music, fish, and eat good food then.
On the medical side Burt passed his physical with an A plus. I do not have hemochromatosis, yet. I may never develop it. This is good news. I go in for an upper GI test with a barium milkshake tomorrow. It’s probably all just gastritis. Or freaking stress about the state of the world. I’ll let you know what we find out. Tomorrow we depart for Kila and the kids.
Burt and I are up at nearly 8,500′ on the top of Mount Pinos just outside of LA. It’s chilly up here. The magic of internet in the woods allows me to blog today. We spent a couple of days in LA visiting friend and family. Burt and I joined Laura and Barry for a new play ‘Archduke’ set at the start of WWI. The play was fantastically political and humorous and sad. Afterwards the four of us walked the streets of downtown LA and I saw things I had only seen in TV land or on the movie screen. I’m always struck by how familiar LA is because we are so exposed to it through film. We even ran into a disaster movie of some sort that was filming on the street. Action packed and messy was all I saw. I am sad to report there were no zombies. Lots of toilet paper and fog and wrecked cars and people running. It kind of looked like an explosion.
We also visited Uncle George and Aunt Carol. George hasn’t been 100% so he is temporarily in a nursing facility. We visited him twice and despite his illness he seemed like himself. He’s got some short term memory loss but he knew all of us. Growing old ain’t for sissies. George and Carol both like our music so we decided to throw a concert on Memorial Day for George and his fellow residents. As usual, we were a hit with the over 80 crowd. Carol even got up and sang a few with us. Burt’s family is not shy. I felt lucky and nostalgic to be there. The first time I met George was 7 years ago when we had just taken off on this nomadic life. He and Carol welcomed us into their home despite a shortage of chairs and table space. George did a big twirling dance to the Bear Necessities while wearing a USC blanket on Christmas day. It was a sight.
Now we are headed up to Burt’s dad’s place where we will drop off the gNash and Mimi before we leave for Spain and Italy. The Olvis are headed to a kennel. Tonight’s camping spot, Mount Pinos, is the center of the universe to the Chumash people of coastal California. This mountain is isolated and sticks up all alone near the coast. It’s an easy spot to visit because you can camp up high and park near the summit. This is especially helpful when you can hardly breathe. A two mile walk up a gentle slope from the parking lot takes you to a ridge that feels as much like the center of the universe as anywhere I’ve been. It’s very remote and surrounded by wilderness areas yet only an hour and a half from the turmoil of LA. It takes some kind of big magic to feel so far away from the traffic and mania. Check it out. You might be luckier than us and spot a California Condor.
With a little trepidation and much curiosity Burt and I joined Bridge friends to attend the Todos Santos Catholic Easter Service. Our buddies told us it was a very moving community event full of dancing, singing, and fireworks so we decided to give it a go. I’d heard of sunrise services but here we have sunset. Jesus is resurrected early in Mexico. All the better for the fireworks. It’s been a very long time since I attended Easter mass. I remember it all very solemn and sad. Jesus died…he suffered…Mary wept…Cut to Mexico.
The community gathered in the plaza outside the church. The church is too small for everyone and, well, you know, fireworks. We waited under the palm trees as the sun sank into the Pacific and the sky darkened. First up was the mini-bon fire right behind our seats. A large candle was lit and the folks nearest to the candle lit their individual candles and shared the flame person to person through the crowd of over 1000 people. I teared up. Nothing beats good ritual. Next a group of young people were confirmed into their faith right next to us. The padre was a man I met in yoga. The yoga friendly priest was in charge of the whole event. He made the sign of the cross on the teenager’s foreheads. Then their parents and god parents traced over the cross with their own fingers. I don’t remember this from when I was confirmed. My confirmation name was Vanessa. The flame was carried to the front of the plaza. The procession followed. I recalled my star turn as an altar girl when I took a wrong turn carrying the crucifix and headed down a side aisle on Easter Sunday. Embarrassing. Our kid last night got it right. That wrong turn might have signaled my destiny as one who could not do what is expected.
The service proceeded in Spanish. The first reading was Genesis. Here again I was surprised. Is this faulty memory? I always remembered it as the last supper, Judas, Mary Magdalene. Heavy stuff. The origin story in Spanish was a delight to hear. God liked what he saw and he rested…From there on the readings were all about the natural world and how it sustains us. This was some seriously subversive stuff compared to my memory. The resurrection as metaphor for humanity and our survival on this planet. This yoga doing priest had my attention. For a little while. The I started burning myself with dripping wax. Right when I despaired for my clothes and skin the priest told us we could snuff our candles. There were so many readings. I grew alarmed. When was the homily, when was the communion? Oremos (let us pray) indicated it was time to stand. We sat and stood, sat and stood. This I remembered. After about seven different reading with songs and prayers interspersed the action picked up. Attendants started handing out balloons from large garbage bags and the crowd grew restive. Some people had noodles and others globos. We twittered and waved. The father admonished us to settle down. Hold your balloons still, it’s not time to party. Yet. Another song. We hummed along. The group playing music reminded me of my mother’s stint in a 7 guitar Jesus band in the seventies. Aleluya! That’s how you spell it in Spanish. Another reading. Balloons held quietly.
I have to confess (it’s that time) I missed the big reveal. I was looking at my balloon when the crowd cheered. I looked up and the sheet shrouded Jesus was in full view and lit up and the sign next to him burned bright with a fiery Aleluya! Wave your balloons and sing, sing, sing. Fireworks blasted. People cheered. We danced in our spots. This went on for fifteen minutes. The mass was not over but remembering the early exit from childhood Burt and I headed home.
What a fiesta.
Burt and I are leading a trip to the Galapagos Islands in early February 2018. We are thrilled to be hosting this fun extravaganza of nature and music for Naturalist Journeys. Are you interested in seeing this exciting, animal filled wonderland and enjoying fresh tunes in the evening? Come sing and dance with us! You can check out similar itineraries at this LINK. Our trip isn’t posted publicly because this particular offering is currently only open to our friends and fans. Let me know if you want the specific details and I will send them to you. Space is limited.
Dad leaves tomorrow. I think if he stayed any longer Burt and I would die of exhaustion. It has been a non-stop trip full of sports, food, beach, music, and ROMANCE. Burt and I feel like we have been chaperoning a middle schooler on dates. Next time Til visits he needs his own car and a Mexican telephone. I can’t keep up with him. All his resistance about visiting Mexico is gone. The trip has exceeded his wildest expectations.
Where to begin? Til came in Tuesday night with an open mind and a degree of flexibility I have never seen. Kudos to him. We took him to music class that afternoon and he fell in love with all our smiling and energetic pupils. The kids stared at him like the Jolly Green Giant had come to life. After class we dined at one of our favorite restaurants. Next day was pickleball and an evening tennis tournament mixer. A little pinochle to pass the time during the day. Thursday things started accelerating. More kids, more tennis, more food. A friend joined us for dinner at our favorite restaurant and the sparks were flying. Dad was smoooooooth. Who was this guy? Burt and I did our best to stay out of the way and keep the good times rolling. It’s a delicate balance. I’m not comfortable saying more beyond this: I am glad everyone is having a good time.
Friday the tennis tourney started. More food, more beach, more kids. Saturday was this epic amalgamation of over doing it: Tennis (all over the area), provide music for a party, eat too much, nap, kid’s performance at the Festival del Chile y la Fresa, dinner. We got up early and drove all over. Played tennis, sang songs, rested and then starting at 5:30 shepherded 13 kids on an evening long odyssey to their first musical performance. Kids, teachers, fans waited 2 hours on a chilly night to be the closing act in an overly long show of local talent. Our kids were stoic. Not a single complaint was heard from the little ones. The adults were cold and hangry but the kids showed us how to be patient. They politely watched all the other acts (folk dancing) and mustered their enthusiasm when our time to shine finally arrived. Dad and his date smilingly kept us company and provided warm clothes and drinks. At 8:00 we trotted on to the stage in our matching, misspelled t-shirts and gave the huge crowd a show. Break a Leg does not have an equivalent saying in Spanish but we did indeed break our collective legs. The Wheels on the Bus, Five Little Monkeys, Cancion Mixteca, and Love Potion Number 9 were delivered with energy and dynamic balloon accents. The balloons were a last minute addition. Burt and I were puzzled by the props but we figured all ideas were welcome. Video footage on Facebook confirms that it was a brilliant idea. Seven and a half minutes later it was all done. The kids were each handed twenty pesos by my dad as they exited the stage. Dad wanted to bribe them in advance to sing well and I said it needed to be a post-gig surprise. It worked out well but a few kids were mystified by the money. They ran off to spend it on the rides and junk food before we could take it back. Team Mittelstadt/Zazzali grabbed a late dinner and retired at 10:00.
That night we lost an hour to daylight savings time and had 8:00 AM matches too. Ugh. I did not play well. It was a disaster. Too much driving, too much tennis, too little rest, too many people, too many days in a row. We took dad to the last tennis party and left him with his new friend. Burt and I collapsed in the trailer. That was two days ago. Yesterday was Bridge and more double dating. Right now I am finally alone with Burt. We played pickleball this AM and a round of pinochle after lunch. I might have lost all my tennis matches but I am undefeated in pinochle. Dad’s with his friend. Burt and I have the kids at 4:00. Then it’s one last evening for the new couple and at 4:00 AM we take dad to the airport.
I am so pleased my dad has had an enjoyable trip. Like I told him and his friend: Just have fun. You, too, dear readers.
Burt has left for a trip to the mountains. I am happy sad. Happy because he’s out doing something he loves. Sad because I can no longer keep up. Next time we’ll rent a horse and I’ll ride in. It’s just 7 miles but straight up. I could do a flat seven miles with mule support but the intense up hill makes me miserable. So he’s off in the wood for a few days and I am here alone with Mimi and the Olvis. Burt was wondering if I could manage to feed myself and the pets without incident. I’m not sure. This morning I made myself a cheese quesadilla. Lunch remains a mystery.
Tomorrow is action packed. Yoga, tennis, band practice(!), and a gig. Yup I am solo in more sense than just living alone. I will be performing in a band on Thursday night without Burt at my side. Freaky. I wonder if I know how to play music without him. Eating is easier. Burt and I were both asked to sit in and I was kind of surprised they still wanted me without Burt. I will report back later with how it goes.
We went for a late afternoon walk in the hills with our Montana buddies Aldo and Bequia yesterday. Huge discovery of two burrowing owls on the road as we drove home. The owls were very patient and allowed us all a good look through the binoculars while Burt shined a flashlight. Burrowing owls live underground and prefer to stay close to the ground. They have long legs for walking. Here in baja this species is easy to identify because the other owls are either much bigger or much smaller or have long ears. The squatty head is also a clue to who it is. I played the iBird call but didn’t receive a response. I guess they weren’t fooled.
Burt heads into the mountains on a guided hike Wednesday AM. I’ll be holding down the fort around here alone. I just landed a paying gig as a backup singer so I’ll also be doing that while he’s gone. Side work is a good thing.