Grizzlies on my trail

The hills around Jardine are prime grizzly country but this summer there’s been hardly a sign these giant beasts that live amongst us. Bears are on the increase all over western Montana and with that there are more reports of bear/human contact. Nearly every walk beyond the confines of our yard I strap on the orange and black canister of bear spray. I admit on a couple of occasions I have absentmindedly left it at home and it always made me queasy when I realized it was just me and the small dogs if we had a chance encounter with Bruno. The bear thoughts were there on every walk despite only one scat and two footprints for scores of hikes. I had those dreadfully lovely feelings of wanting to see a bear but only far away or from in the car. I’d started to feel like I wasn’t getting the full Yellowstone experience if I didn’t see at least one fuzzy butt running away from me before we left.

Proper self-defense requires physical skills and mental preparation. Even though I no longer actively participate in a martial art or self-defense training I still frequently think of the things I’ve learned. Many skills are hard wired like riding a bike. Knee to groin, fist to face…those will come out without thought. I also had the privilege of some hand gun training from a federal law enforcement instructor when I ran in law enforcement circles. For a few years I practiced drawing, aiming, shooting even though I never owned or carried a hand gun. Gun safety when there are guns around is important and so I was given the knowledge. So pepper spray…as a fairly knowledgeable person on these matters it always troubled me that we’re just supposed to pick up a can of spray and know how to use it properly. Since I couldn’t spray without wasting my expensive gas and, most likely, causing myself great physical discomfort (I have been hit by both a leaky canister and a ditz with mace in a restaurant, so I know) the only way to prepare was read and visualize. So I did and do. Remove safety. Wait until the bear is very close. Fire. I practiced removing the safety. It’s tricky with my arthritic fingers. My friend Sue had the chance to practice at one of MT FWP’s training seminars. Faux charging bear and all. I watched the video. That bear moves fast. She told me she learned this helpful hint: Aim for the feet because the gas rises. Also bring soap to clean yourself up afterwards. Because you will get it on you. I’m not going to carry soap. I’ll suffer. Of course, before any of this you want to try to avoid meeting a bear and failing that try to scare the bear away.

Yesterday Burt decided to walk with me. We’ve only shared a handful of walks this summer. Burt’s been very busy working. So it was unusual to have him and Elvis along. Normally it’s just me and the Chalive. The three of us alone are no good at making peremptory noise to give bears the chance to leave and Burt added to the equation is no better. When Burt and I hike we are usually a quarter mile apart. And Burt talks everywhere but on a walk. He’s a creeper in the forest. We try to talk but we just can’t sustain it. We’re natural hunters. So there we were: Olive and Chava twenty feet ahead of me, Burt and Elvis a few hundred yards behind. We were only 10 minutes from the trail head, 15 minutes from the gNash. The trail is a persistent but not steep uphill cut into a steep hillside. The land drops away on one side and the other side is a steep upwards slope. Passing other travelers (horses, anyone?) can be awkward because there’s little land to move. Generally there are no other travelers. It’s very quiet up here.

I rounded a curve in the trail with the Chalive and heard some gentle rustling. There’s a lot of gentle rustling up here. Juncos and ground squirrels are the norm. Not yesterday. Just ahead and slightly above me, maybe 40 to 50 feet away was a great grizzly. A superb grizzled silvery sow was right before my eyes. The dogs didn’t see her but she saw them and she saw me. And then I saw her two yearling cubs. Yearlings are nearly as big as mom this time of year. I was face to face with three big bears. I was relieved to see the cubs were on the same side of the trail as momma bear. We were not caught in the most dangerous situation between mom and cubs. As the sow turned to look over her shoulder to see where her cubs were I began yelling and that canister of spray was in my hand with the safety off aimed right at her. I did not pull the trigger. I knew she was too far away and that she would likely flee.  She turned her ginormous moon face back at me and gave me a good bye glance and headed up hill with the kids on her ass. It was so steep they hardly got a start before the dogs realized they were there. With the bears’ sudden movements Olive and Chava caught on and took off in pursuit. I switched from yelling from BEAR BEAR BEAR BEAR to NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO. And I thought why did Burt have to tell me about dogs turning bears around and leading them back to their screaming owners? What was going to happen?

Burt quickly arrived and I was still screaming. The bears had just ducked over a small flattish area above our heads. The threesome was heading in the direction we had come. Olive and Chava were just reaching the spot where the bears had disappeared from view. Would it be an ambush? Was this the moment the bears would turn and come back our way? Now Burt and I were both yelling NONONONONONO. The dynamic duo stopped at the edge. There was a dramatic pause and then they came back to us with no bears in tow. What changed their minds? Was momma on the other side of the lip glaring at them? Or was the hill too steep and they too lazy? They aren’t talking.

With the bears headed towards town we decided to continue our walk only now we walked as a compact noisy quintet. I sang songs loudly and poorly. If the volume didn’t ward off the bears the missed notes would. While I was not scared during the face-off, the walk home through the area where we knew the bears to be was nerve wracking. I jumped out of my skin when a junco flew out of some grass at my feet. In fact, nearly 24 hours later, Olive scared me just by rearranging herself on the bed as I write this. No walk today. I’m telling myself it’s because its 40 and raining.

It was thrilling to see the bears. I can leave this area satisfied. It was also thrilling to remove the canister and have that safety off without a conscious thought. Be prepared. And, no, there are no pictures. All eyes were on the bears. All hands were on the weapon.

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A Night to Remember

Full team
Full team, thanks Sue for the pics.

This morning Barb asked, “Are you going to write about last night?” I hadn’t gotten that far in my thinking. This morning I’m sapped and stunned. Then Barb added, “I miss so many of the older folks and it would be something I can have to remember.” Talk about pressure.

This summer the Gypsy Carpenters found an artistic home and last night we were able to bring a lot of pieces together in one place to create something much bigger than us. Years of friendships, and gigs, and open hearts made for a magic night. Here’s how it started.

Firstly, Zondra. The Z grew up here and has been a part of the Gardiner music scene since she could walk. She is carrying on her father Wayne’s legacy as an ambassador of live music and a community builder. Wayne was a master of getting th emusic going and going and going. Zondra has inherited that gene. Zondra came with a venue and a weekly slot and a pile of musical talent and energy. Zondra rocks that bass and is game for anything, anywhere. Let’s play! is her motto and nothing we do is too difficult of weird. She gave us the energy and the desire to get out of our trailer and commit to playing regularly for fun and practice. A regular gig does wonders for the skill, relaxation, and repertoire. Which leads us to the Wonderland Cafe.

Stacy and her staff, everyone of them, make us feel like we are exactly where we belong when we show up to play. Last night I asked for a cobbler after the show and when it looked like they might have forgotten it they said, “No, don’t leave. We want you to be fully satisfied!” That Flathead cherry cobbler showed up 2 minutes later. We’ve been told we can play whenever we want. We can play whatever we want. We can invite guests. They can eat, too. And the food is good. The clientele are mostly tourists looking for a good time and they tip generously. We give them a night to remember when we play a favorite song or bless them with good wishes to see their dream animal in the park.

Cody. Remember, Cody? Refresh yourselves HERE. In brief, we picked up Cody hitchhiking in Texas nearly 10 years ago. He and his bike were pinned down in a vicious wind. Cody is currently working seasonally in Gardiner. He’s a percussionist living an improvised life like us. We’ve been pestering him to sit in with us all summer but his job intruded. Last night he finally showed up with his cajon to beat out some support for us.

After a couple of gigs in July we knew this was a place to settle in and have fun making music. I texted our former bandmate Barb Piccolo and asked if she wanted to come down and visit and play a night with us. I knew she’d be in the area for other events and hoped to loop her into one of our shows. Barb has been a steadfast friend and mentor to me through thick and thin. In the beginning she was the thoroughly skilled and knowledgeable player that encouraged me to keep at it. As my skills grew she kept encouraging me. There was always positive energy  from her as I developed. Barb has never wavered in her support and kindness to Burt and me. There was a dark time in our lives when very few people would associate with us. Barb stood by us and played music with us. All that and she loves the stuff we play and kills it on accordion. I really hoped Barb would join us for a gig but we saw her plenty at various Montana jamborees and did a lot of tunes together. Last week Barb said she was going to come and see us. Then she wasn’t. Then she was.

In the midst of Barb trying to find time to play with us we ran into Johnny at the Dearborn music campout. Johnny is a long, lean boy of 16 that is coming into his own on the fiddle. Two years ago when we met him I would not have invited him to sit it. This summer he played a couple of tunes with us and I found out he lived about 30 minutes away. He had not played a public gig. I said, “Johnny, you want to play with us?” I didn’t even check with Burt. Johnny said yes. The logistics nearly ruined it for him but despite his confusion on locations and dates and missing our one practice he made it to the gig.

Magically, Zondra, Johnny, Barb, and Cody all convened on the same night with the Gypsy Carpenters in the Wonderland Cafe. We had never played all together at the same time. But the solid foundation of the Gypsy Carpenters was perfect for these dynamic players to build upon. The house was full of tourists and friends. In another bit of kismet several folks that had wanted to see us were finally able to make a show. I took advantage of knowing the house was friendly and boldly compelled the restaurant to near silence as I announced to the audience that they were in for a special night. I told them they were lucky and we were lucky. Burt and I were surrounded by players and listeners that loved us. Johnny was here for his first gig. Barb and Zondra had played with us for years. I gave everyone’s back story. I opened their hearts to us as a ragtag group that had miracuolously come together. And then we got going.

We almost always start with I am a Pilgrim. It’s easy, it’s upbeat. We can warm up the harmonies, and our hands. In a masterful move, Burt gave Johnny the first break in this first song. A song Johnny had never even heard before. That’s how we do it around here. Stay loose and ready. So the music was good. It was fun. It was unpredictable. And we were off. Johnny fired off some fiddle tunes. Barb and Zondra sang a duet. I’d never heard Zondra sing in twenty years. A man named Alex showed up with an ukulele. He was playing along on the sidewalk outside. I invited him in. Then he said he had a trumpet. We sent him home to fetch his trumpet and we had everyone in the place singing ring of fire while Alex blasted out the iconic trumpet bits.  And I had my dream come true of a horn section. People were having a ball on and off stage. The tips were huge.

And then it was over. Many people think playing music must always feel good, it must always be fun. Those people are not musicians. It’s our job to make it look fun and easy and look as if we are enjoying ourselves. But we’re often hot, tired,  or we can’t hear ourselves, or we are annoyed that nobody is listening, annoyed that they ARE listening, annoyed the tip jar is empty, annoyed the restaurant has cruddy food and they made us move the tables. Last night was the kind of show we dream about. It was fun and joyful. We got to share the love with everyone. The show ended and we sat for an extra beer and a cobbler. A group of men from Seattle came up and told us they enjoyed our singing. They wanted to know how long we’d been practicing together. I explained it was our first time playing as a group but Burt and I had been a duo for ten years. I asked if they were musicians. One man, they grew up in Southern India, said he studied Indian singing. As we sat in the nearly empty restaurant he sang us an Indian folk song. I tear up recalling it. What a gift it is to inspire people to share their music.

This morning as we grew teary missing Wayne and Tom and all the other musicians that led us here I said to Barb, “But look at the first gig we gave Johnny. It was joyful, generous, good, fun…The crowd loved us…We’re doing it right bringing up the next kids. He will always have that to remember.”

We convinced Johnny to give up the chair.
We convinced Johnny to give up the chair.
Friends
Friends before the show.
Cody
Cody and Burt post music.
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On the Move

Bison bathing in dust.
Bison bathing in dust.

The kennel our three dogs let us share with them is on the move. We are out of work while the electrician and insulators get down to business. If those subs finish before we head south fo rthe winter we’ll move back to Jardine to advance the project but we will not finish. Our clients had a case of mission creep and the job was too big for us to do in one season so they’ll be on their own to get it done over the winter. Day one a couple months back Burt said, “I can’t do it all. I’ll get you started or we can leave.” They opted for us to get them started. So it’s framed and we are on the road.

First up was three days on the Beartooth Plateau. We are all suitably worn out by our high elevation hiking, fishing, and bird seeking. Olive and her puny heart did very well. Elvis managed a 5 mile day. Chava was a poop finding, dead animal eating machine. Free on the range and all he did was eat whatever he found. It came out as fast as it went in. One day we observed 8 defecations. I have to wonder how many we missed. He also seems to have grown a few more inches over night. His teen rage is subsiding. He recalled on command and is dropping food is we catch him in time. Yesterday I got him to expel a maggot filled rodent the size of a NYC rat. Chava is even considering heeling. He thinks about it but after about ten steps he rejects the idea. Soon, Chava, soon.

Today we’ve landed in Columbus for the fiddler’s weekend. We’ll head over to Town Pump for showers soon and then settle in for five days of tunes. We’re on the banks of the Yellowstone, under the cottonwoods. Swing on in and join us if you’re in the area.

Trying out the fish eye on the camera.
Trying out the fish eye on the camera.
Beartooth Plateau
Beartooth Plateau
White crowned sparrow.
White crowned sparrow.
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Emotional stability hard to find

We're playing full steam ahead with Zondra on the bass.
We’re playing full steam ahead with Zondra on the bass.

I’m not sleeping much. I don’t think it’s the incredibly vile political commentary coming from above or the horrific things happening to refugees on our border so much as it is the hot flashes. The hot flashes plague me at night. The other stuff haunt me during the day. I feel profoundly powerless on so many levels. I can’t work much due to general old lady-ness. The elevation, my back and the heaviness of the work have rendered me nearly useless or worse, a liability. I started physical therapy this week and we decided the trouble I’m having is the super laxity of my joints. I’ve always had hypermobile joints and it has served me well in many ways but as I get older and my muscle tone naturally diminishes things move way too much. So my PT boils down to a simple enough maneuver that is hilarious. It’s an belly button lift and a kegel any time I move. After months of this my PT says it will happen automatically and I won’t have to think about it every time I move. If I felt old before I feel really old now. Lift and squeeze, lift and squeeze. That’s it though. No other exercises just lift and squeeze and go about my business. That’s the plan for the low back. The moveable rib in my mid-back that comes and goes with shocking pain has not got a plan, yet. The PT says I might learn how to pop it back in over time. Meanwhile it’s still muscle relaxers and pain killers if it goes out again.

So feeling all decrepit as I am I decided it was time to replace this shoddy mattress. Amazon Prime brought us a top rated memory foam queen right to the gNash door for $450. I feel guilty patronizing the huge worker abusing corporation but have you ever tried to buy a mattress? Add to that experience living 2 hours from the nearest mattress store and you can see why the big A is irresistible. That and the thing cost half what I’ve paid for a mattress in the last twenty years. Sometimes I think these are the cultural issues that divide us. Walmart and Amazon have made life much easier in the rural areas of our deeply divided nation. I’ve been derided for shopping at Walmart and I respond with, “Where are we supposed to go? It’s all that’s left in rural America.” Luckily here we can pick up essentials at an independent store 5 miles away or head an hour up the road to my favorite grocery in all of Montana, also employee owned.

On the up side of the general negativity we are playing a weekly gig and it has been good. The tourist based crowds love to interact and shout out where they are from when I ask. Canada, Brazil, West Virginia, Spokane…Given our wide variety of tunes in our repertoire we have something to please everyone. Weeven got a rousing round of Wheels on the Bus for a kid filled night. Tips are adequate, too. The Wonderland Cafe has tasty food and a supportive staff but the best part is we get backed up by the flexible fingers and groovy beats of Zondra Skertich on bass. Z happens to be our client and the reason we are here working so it’s very convenient to have her in the band this season. If you’re in the area come on down.

Saturday we’re opening the Gardiner Brewfest. Music starts at 3:30. Pop in and have a beer.

Down below you’ll see my latest experiment.

I'm experimenting with my own hair conditioner.
I’m experimenting with my own hair conditioner.
This is the first batch.
This is the first batch.
New sunnies. I was hoping the purple mirror would be more obvious.
New sunnies. I was hoping the purple mirror would be more obvious.
My diamond encrusted glasses.
My diamond encrusted glasses.
These dogs. Harrumph.
These dogs. Harrumph.
Conditioner worked but not suave.
Conditioner worked but not suave.
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Good Medicine Jam

Monster jam
Monster jam

Our weekend was spent at my favorite summer jamboree. Every June the Simms brothers host a pile of musicians on their ranch near Helena and all we have to do is play, play, play. The Simms and their team of friendly helpers give us food and love in return. This year did not disappoint. First off Mike Simms shared with me how he is deeply into the Gypsy Carpenters’ blog. He started reading from post #1 and is somewhere in year two. That’s a lot of embarrassing material to be dredged up. Burt and I think Mike might know our past better than we do. It’s always a thrill to talk with a reading fan. I think there are 6 now.

Then I got to share my recent bigotry blowout story in person with Mike and a couple others. It felt good to get that off my chest. And then we played music and left all that other BS behind for a few days. It helps that our phones don’t work up in the mountains. My friend KaL came to walk me and Olive and Chava on Saturday. We caught up on all things dog and some not-dog. I miss KaL. We used to run millions of miles together. Now we walk a couple of miles a year. Next year should be better.

After our sore hands and fingers and brains gave up we headed to Helena for showers and tool collection. Today I am writing from Jardine, MT. Look it up. Grizzly central. We’ll be hear all summer. Stay tuned for more pictures with my fantastic birthday camera and tales of walking in bear country with the dogs.

Noodle dog
Noodle dog
Stay tuned. I got a new camera for my birthday. Chipping sparrow.
Stay tuned. I got a new camera for my birthday. Chipping sparrow.
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English class contracts and expands

Digestive system
Digestive system

This kid’s group thing we’ve been doing is full of so many complications I never imagined.  There’s been the usual attendance and attention issues. There’s been petty jealousies and cliquishness. And most recently vandalism to our personal property. Minor vandalism but the kind of thing I just feel powerless to deal with constructively. The other day I discovered someone had drawn a black dot about an 1.5″ across on a painting on our property. The dot is in black marker. I suspect the same marker we use for the white board. I know exactly who was using that marker so I have a pretty solid idea who our culprit is and it is an 11 year old child that has been caught stealing and defacing property in another friend’s home. We’ve been trying to manage this child and help them learn a better way to behave in people’s homes. It’s all easy for me to say until it’s my home that is damaged.

Well I was pretty mad but I knew that would dissipate. Burt and I talked. We were both torn. Neither of us wanted to single out anyone. We remembered all of us did stuff like this and any one of the kids could have done it and might do it still. So we had this plan: We’ll just let the group know what happened and we’ll set a new limits. No unattended wandering on our property and no visits to our friends homes as our guests. The message would be simple. If we can’t trust you in our home then we can’t trust you away from home. That would mean no pools, no art galleries, no restaurants. Maybe peer-pressure would change behaviors. If sufficient time passed without further incident we’d  start venturing out again. We hoped it would be enough stick and carrot. So I had it all planned but I still felt heavy.

Yesterday was class day. I walked down to get the kids. My meeting them at their homes to escort them up to our place has dramatically helped attendance. Scary dogs and no watches made on-time arrival sketchy and it’s an easy fix. They only live two blocks away. My two youngest kids (7 and 8 years old) were ready for me. They announced that the 11 year olds had decided not to come. The rumor is class was boring and they didn’t want to do it anymore. Meanwhile an older girl (post high school) was escorting them for he second time. She was not bored. I told them great. We could have fun just us three. And I was relieved. My problem kids had self selected out. Since we’d made an agreement two weeks ago that regular attendance was a requirement for participation unless they had another activity (not merely boredom) I could cut those kids loose. We’d had a group meeting on goals and logistics and they’d agreed to the terms of participation. No pressure on them or me.  Of course, they can change their mind but I have a feeling guilty hearts are the cause of the boredom. The future is hazy…

So the three of us headed up hill and picked up another regular and discussed what we should do. That’s where I learned Edre is studying to be a paramedic. So we hatched a plan to study the human body in detail and in English. Hence the digestive tract below. Just as class got started several long lost students showed up and I was delighted to have them back. Vikki, their adult escort, has been swamped by work for months and she finally was free enough to bring her daughter and nephews. So instead of class being a hard talk it turned into a nice reunion of new and old students on a new subject. We drew the digestive tract, practiced first aid for bleeding, finding a pulse, and sang some songs. The future is still hazy but class was fun.

Working hard
Working hard
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We Played a Show

Baja mushroom
Baja mushroom

Despite feeling like a pair of musical mushrooms we got our proverbial act together and played a gig. A couple of weeks ago we were enjoying a nice dinner out with Sara Gay and my dad at a small place called Amor D’Vino in Todos Santos. The place has great food and a vast wine selection and it was only us for dinner. I realized right away we might be able to fill a three table restaurant. Win win. We’d feel good for filling a place and they’d feel good to have a full place. Nice dinner and wine for us. Too bad we had’t gigged regularly in a long while. Time to get to work. So we did. Burt and I reformed our duo by mutual agreement and got together and practiced.  It went very well. Fourteen people filled three tables and we all sang some songs. Reviews were positive, the tips generous, and the food tasty. No mics either so it was a super easy set-up.

We’re on a roll. On the 19th we’ve got a private party and then there’s a Valentine’s Day show somewhere and the end of February we’ll be strumming and singing in the Galapagos. The Gypsy Carpenters ride again.

Bad poster
Bad poster
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More Cane and Mud

The mud never ends
The mud never ends. Floating between canyons.

The most visited part of the river in Big Bend National Park is the stretch between Mariscal and Boquillas Canyons. On the US side there are campgrounds and a visitor center and a nice boardwalk hike through a bird rich swampy spot. On the Mexican side there’s an actual town. For a few years after 9/11 the border crossing was closed and visitors couldn’t enjoy a quick trip to Mexico and the Mexicans lost a lot of tourist dollars. Today you can take a boat across and catch a burro ride or a burrito in Boquillas. It’s better for everybody. On both sides of the river you can find hot springs. The US spring is closer to the river’s edge and only the day before our arrival the pool was inundated with muddy water. On the Mexican side we accidentally found a nicely developed hot spring and signs of a historic and prominent Native American encampment.

All credit goes to Mark for stopping to explore the mysterious Mexican coastline. We were a few miles upstream of the town of Boquillas and just downstream of the US hot spring when he spotted a sign and some structures. The going was slow and we’d already stopped for a soak and clean drinking water upstream. It didn’t look like much and nobody was there. Mark pulled in anyway and sent the probe ashore. Marg being his probe. The twenty pounds of mud I was carrying in my shoes, cracks, and clothing did not inspire me to leave the boat. Every exit entailed a limb threatening skim of slick silt but we got out anyway.  Here’s where a guidebook would have told us just what to do and we would have dutifully done it. Without a guide we delighted in accidentally finding cool stuff. This spot was part of the Mexican park system and we didn’t even know there was a Mexican park in teh area. There were grinding holes all along the rocks. Above there was a pool of clear warm water. I saw that clean pool and waded in to float and dissolve my husk of clay. There was no point in disrobing. It was the cleanest 5 minutes in the 9 day trip.

When we finally arrived at the town of Boquillas we realized there was no landing for the boats. Burt and I presumed we could tie up and visit the pueblo. No such luck. Or if there was a place to get out, we missed it. Land visitors were crossing at a ford about two miles upstream from town and paying for a ride to the village. Kids waved from the streets high above water level. We floated on into Boquillas Canyon.

I had been eager to make it to the mouth of Boquillas because nine years ago a man had serenaded us from the acoustically sublime entrance to the canyon. I thought this would be a trip highlight. This year there was only a man looking for duct tape to repair his canoe. I asked the man to sing and he gamely tried Cielito Lindo but it wasn’t his thing. When I asked about the singer the man with the leaking canoe asked when I had last visited. I told him 9 years ago. That was a long time ago. Pablo was retired from singing as far as I could tell. I gave the man my twenty year old roll of duct tape and we floated on. I hope the tape holds.

Burt cooking
Burt cooking or maybe eating.
Hot Spring in Big Bend
Hot Spring in Big Bend. Nice but kinda just a mud hole with some warm water.
Grinding holes at the hot spring in Mexico
Grinding holes at the hot spring in Mexico still full of the week’s high water flows.
Pull out to explore the Mexican hot spring
Pull out to explore the Mexican hot spring
I maintained my hair nearly tangle free with alternating braids.
I maintained my hair nearly tangle free with alternating braids. Pony tail for a couple days and pigtails for a couple of days.
Fall flowers
Fall flowers
Floating in the warm Mexican water.
Floating in the warm Mexican water. It beats doing laundry.
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Drifting and rowing

Burt looking for bugs.
Burt looking for bugs.

Our days went like this. Everyone but me was up before the sun. They drank warm beverages in the dark and damp. I lolled about in the warm sleeping bag and dryish tent. Why get up when all there was to do was murmur and sip? Every morning was soaked with dew and we’d wait hours to let our tents dry or else we’d have muddy and wet tents. Best to go for dry dirt if you have a choice. So around 8 or 9 we ate breakfast. The first four days of food was provided by team M and M. This happened because we had originally planned a trip in Mexico and Burt and I would not be able to buy fresh food. So we volunteered to do the canned and dried meals. M and M took on the fresh food meals. Usually they cooked and I washed dishes. Their meals were very tasty. Burt maintained the groover and all of us did chores as required. Margaret managed the kitchen infrastructure, an onerous job that she handled with expedience and good nature.

Halfway through the trip food quality dropped and Burt and I prepared meals of impervious ingredients and M and M washed up. Tastee Bites Indian Meals in a pouch are quick and  palatable and easy to clean up. There was also some dried lentil soup and spaghetti and bean burritos. Most nights there was chocolate in some form for dessert. Note to self: Mark does not like fancy chocolate. More for me.

Every morning we’d wait for stuff to almost dry and then pack up our kitchen, groover and personal campsites. Then we’d load it all back onto our boats. Take off varied from 11:20 to 10:20. As the trip progressed and the ground dried up we left earlier and earlier. Around 1:00 PM we’d stop for a lunch. Shade was a bonus. The meal was usually cheese, crackers, fruit, salami. Early on there was bread, later it was all crackers. We’d sit on the ground and huddle around a cutting board of sliced snackage. Pringles, the traditional river snack, lasted four days. Sometime around 4:00 or 5:00 PM we’d start looking for a suitable camp. Suitable camp meant a safe landing zone and a dry place to pitch our tents. We’d want a place to lash the boats, too.

The low point for the trip for me was slipping on my boat and crashing to the deck while barking my shin. I crawled into the weeds and cried it out. The mud was infuriating and dangerous. Every step required care. I recovered.

During the course of the week the water level stabilized and the ground began to dry. The dew was lighter and hope dawned that maybe we had a handle on the mud. Or maybe we just got better at picking campsites and accepting our fate.

Most nights we had a fire, sang a few songs and headed to bed by 9:00 PM. Repeat.

A bug I missed. A katydid.
A bug I missed in the previous album. A katydid.
A type of blanket flower.
A type of blanket flower.
Burt and M singing
Burt and M singing
Dew on the grass. It was such heavy dew that it made mud.
Dew on the grass. It was such heavy dew that it made mud.
The general state of my shoes.
The general state of my shoes.
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Terlingua, Texas

Starlight Theatre in Terlingua Texas
Starlight Theatre in Terlingua Texas

On January 31, 2010 the Gypsy Carpenters had a bit of stage fright getting ready for a show at the Starlight Theatre in Terlingua, Texas. I just refreshed my memory by reading about it HERE. It’s funny to imagine Burt and I sitting at opposite ends of the trailer playing solitaire to pass the time. The near ubiquity of internet has ruined us. No more hours at the table playing Pinochle or solitaire. It’s online Bridge or social media now. We’re nearing nine years on the road. Our anniversary of lift-off is 11/22. Back in the beginning there was more internal pressure to perform and get this duo off the ground. Until we started rambling we’d only regularly played in bands of five or more. The Gypsy Carpenters was a new endeavor and we weren’t sure we (me) could pull it off. In the gap I learned to sing harmony and play leads more confidently if not more competently. Since then we’ve played so many gigs and events and parties that we are completely confident in what we can and cannot do as a twosome and the pressure is off us to perform.

Two weeks or so ago we were waiting to meet our river floating companions as they drove in from Bluff, Utah. Our rendezvous point was Terlingua. Terlingua is home to the company that would shuttle our gear and us to the river. Burt and I popped in for dinner at the Starlight Theatre and caught a show and the memories of our gig. The side stage we played was gone and it felt like a loss because the night’s group was physically removed from the diners. But the Starlight remains a beautiful venue and has more room for dancing if you’re so inclined. The food is good, too. I had a green chili antelope burger. Yum.

I hear from Burt that a friend of a friend is doing a PhD on the music scene of Terlingua. (Are you reading this Colin?) The town has a critical mass of performers and they feed off each other. The night we were there we got to watch and listen as people came on and off the stage and formed and reformed the group as the night drifted by. It was informal and relaxed. I felt like I could just walk up and say, “I got something…” But I didn’t. I’d had my night on the stage and it was a great one.

This sums it up for me.
This sums it up for me.
Everything's bigger in Texas
Everything’s bigger in Texas
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