District 3 of Montana’s Old Time Fiddler’s Association had a gathering in Pony, Montana this weekend. Burt and I went along because Mike and Barb asked us to back them up in the show-me-what-you-got concert after the workshops. These fiddler events are held all over the country and they are an important part of old time music fiddle culture. This particular event is special because they offer a few classes and host a huge potluck dinner. Young and old, great and mediocre, all take their turns on stage for a tune or three.
I enjoyed the workshops I attended but Burt hadn’t much to do. While I was practicing my shuffle and some improvisation Burt was wandering around and catching up with friends. The WMDs finally got on stage around 8PM for our 10 minutes of singing and playing. At Mike’s request I sang Cancion Mixteca and none to soon as it turned out two women were being detained in Montana by ICE for speaking Spanish. The agent says he wasn’t racially profiling these 100% American bilingual woman but I’d bet you everything I own he’d never detain me for speaking Spanish. These women happened to be brown and speaking a foreign language. I find this current xenophobic climate horrifying. There are more Spanish speakers in the United States than there are in Spain. Get over it mono-linguists.
I give the Pony Fiddle Fest a big thumbs up. Burt says he’s good for about 15 years. Pony, Montana is a former mining town where 1000 or 5000 people called home depending on your source. Today it is a mere shadow of its former self. The scenery is spectacular (on a sunny day) and there’s a natural hot spring nearby.
The Gypsy Carpenters have been on the job less than a week and almost all demolition has been completed and major style decisions are made. The cabinets and counters are measured and ordered and paid. Tile and bath and faucets and flooring have been selected. Now we just need to find an electrician. Hopefully that will become clear tomorrow.
Besides intensely working (we’re sore and tired) we have managed to fit in some fun, too. I had my first fiddle lesson with Mike on Friday. Mike was my first music teacher nearly twenty years ago. It’s a little weird to be back sitting in his studio after a ten year hiatus. We learned a hornpipe and worked on some tunes I already knew. We’ve also played music for fun with our former WMD band mates Todd and Barb. Todd and his wife Gretchen left Helena right after we hit the road and they returned to stay a couple of weeks ago. Fortuitous timing for all of us.
Today we are celebrating Burt’s birthday with a trip to see some live local theater. The Full Monty is on at Helena’s Grandstreet Theater. I am embarrassed to admit this is my first visit to our local theater institution. As they say better late than never. It took a while for me to figure out my husband is a fan of live theater. I grew up in Drama Club and drifted away. We’re both looking forward to this hilarious and bawdy show.
With Semana Santa still going strong the kids are out of school and bored just like when we were young. Semana Santa is a two week long school holiday that spans the week before and the week after Easter. Burt and I decided to take advantage of our roaming hooligans freedom and show then the area. We crammed 11 of the kids into the Exploder and took them to a secret pocket beach. Cramming 11 kids in a car without seat belts is also reminiscent of when we were young. It’s troubling. I lost a lot of sleep the night before this adventure thinking about the five minutes of highway driving, the 100′ cliffs we would walk along, and the rough Pacific ocean they would play in. I put that all out of my mind and we headed out.
Our outing was to an exposed cliff side hike up and over the rocky coast and down into a small sandy cove with milder than normal currents. Bobby Mc from down the beach drove down in her quad and met us with boogie boards and life jackets. This hidden spot is not widely known and requires either the mile long walk we chose or a two mile sand walk. Beach walking is hard. If you have a quad you can take it. Sometimes there’s a sea cave at this cove and sometimes there isn’t. It just depends on where Mother Nature has put the sand.
As usual, the kids were well behaved. Before we left I gave them some ground rules. No running on top, no pushing, follow Burt, etc. They complied. I was in the rear when the bulk of them reached to first view point. I could feel the collective shock and awe from 50 yards back. The kids were stunned by the cliff top views. I’m pretty sure none of them had been at such an exposed spot over the ocean.
Down in the sand I found the entrance to the cave. Frixicia crawled in and after about a body length of worming her way under she could stand up. She sent out the bat call and it was a melee. Five kids piled into the nearly buried cave. They took turns crawling in and out. The claustrophobes and I stayed outside. Burt watched the other kids playing at the water’s edge. Eventually my curiosity beat down my anxiety and I crawled in alone. I was fine until the kids tried to join me and blocked the entrance. I ordered them away and made as hasty an exit as I could on my belly. I’m still finding sand in my crevices.
Tomorrow is our annual singing event at the Festival del Chile y La Fresa. The kids are not singing beautifully but they are enthusiastic.
Today’s work was to find a selfie from last year and draw it into your journal. I found a selfie I liked that happened to be a wefie but Burt’s presence is minimalized and I like the expression on my face. Bonus: no eyes to draw. Burt thinks he looks like an alien baby in the original. I think he looks like my accompanist. Further down you can see another pair of selfie and self-portrait. I was so pleased with the first effort I thought I’d try another. I abandoned the effort when my face got all bulbous. Eyes are problematic but I still like the weird feel of the unfinished.
My friend Barbara has this darling Christmas ornament in her home. I saw it the other day when we met for Bridge. I was filled with covetous ideas and thought, “I need a cat and the fiddle ornament.” I’ve got to keep my eyes peeled. I can’t steal Barbara’s. She’s had it for 41 years.
There are all kinds of theories on the origin of this rhyme but I’m in agreement with most experts. It’s nonsense for the sake of nonsense.
Hey diddle diddle,
The Cat and the Fiddle,
The Cow jump’d over the Moon,
The little dog laugh’d to see such Craft,
And the Fork ran away with the Spoon.
Today is Christmas Day. Merry Christmas to you all. Burt and I did the two party thing last night despite me having the itchy throat start of a cold. Today it’s official. I am sick. I wonder how many people I infected? There were 40 or more at the first gig and another 20 at the second. We flung our saliva around by kissing and singing. I feel a little guilty but there were expectations upon us to play music and show our faces. I assuaged my guilt by telling myself this is the cold all these people had when we arrived and I am just catching up.
Before I succumbed we were keeping up with most of our social demands. I taught two English classes. We played tennis, bridge, and music. We birded a new spot and got two new lifers, a western snipe and a sora. Pretty cool birds. My cousin Kelly came by to visit with her husband Felipe and their son Tommy. Tommy has Angelman’s syndrome. Angelman’s is a genetic disease. Tommy is non-verbal and has intellectual disabilities. He’s also an energetic, curious kid with a lot of love in his heart. We had a great visit. He loved my hair. Kelly’s parents own a time-share home in Cabo so we may be seeing them again.
Today Burt and I planned to stay low key and recover from the last week’s crush of humanity. This hostile viral takeover of my corpus is sending the message loud and clear. I think we’ll drive over to that lovely bird spot and I’ll set up a chair and watch. Just last night a neighbor invited us to join her family for a mid-day meal but I think I’ll cancel. I’m done spreading germs. It’s sad too. Invitations into Mexican homes are a sign of great respect and on a holiday like this it’s a shame to miss out. Priscila wanted to sing for her mother. I don’t want to give her 90ish year old mother my cold. Ugh.
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.