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.
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.
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.
Sree Padmini showed up at Portal Irish Music Week as the companion to her husband Sree Hasha. She was reserved at check-in and seemed very timid. Little did she know that she would have as much or more fun than her husband. Sree Hasha plays mandolin and takes lessons from Marla Fibish so it was natural for him to come to PIMW for a week of intensive lessons. He brought his new wife along hoping she would have fun, too. Sree Padmini wondered what she would do while her husband played music. She thought she’d be lonely in a desert with nothing to see. At the first night’s orientation meeting we told her about the bird walks and the afternoon hikes. I might have seen a twinkle in her eye.
The second morning Sree Padmini showed up for our bird walk with a camera nearly as long as she is tall. We took her to Dave Jasper’s backyard feeding station. She silently sat and clicked. Once in a while she’d ask the name of a bird. We saw 24 species of birds in 45 minutes.It was a jaw dropping morning even for our experienced Portal visitors.
Both Srees are recent immigrants to the United States from India. Their marriage was arranged by their parents. Sree Hasha had not found a love match on his own and his parents offered to help out. After a few lonely years in the U.S. Sree Hasha agreed. So his parents (back in India) started the search. They found a nice young woman from a similar background and negotiations began between the two families. Sree Padmini asked for a nice man that liked music, nature, and animals. I do not know what Sree Hasha asked for in his wife. He does like all the things Sree Padmini wanted her future husband to like. As an added bonus, Sree Padmini wanted to come to the United States because she loves wildlife but especially hummingbirds. There are no hummingbirds in India. It’s hard to remember that hummingbirds are only found in the Americas. They’ve been married a year and it seems like Portal might have played a special role in their new relationship. It was a place of joint discovery and mutual joy. I loved seeing them alone and together fulfilling their dreams.
I found all this out when Sree Padmini asked me to show her the owl during my afternoon break. I showed her the great horned owl perching over downtown Portal and then we sort of fell into a whole afternoon of birding by ourselves. I felt liberated to leave PIMW behind and do something spontaneous. I took her to a couple more yards where she clicked at the birds. That’s what she calls taking pictures. Clicking. She’d say, “I want to get a click here.” Soon all of her previous reserve fell away and I was under her spell. We sat under the trees and she told me how she wound up at PIMW while she applied henna to my hands. Henna temporarily dies the skin and its use is part of traditional Indian culture. I used to dye my hair red with henna in my thirties. As we sat there I felt the warm and calm feeling you get when someone is tending to you with care and love. It was wonderful.
Another chance to make a friend from across the world brought to me by Portal Irish Music Week. Who would of thought?
Our largest and most successful ever Portal Irish Music Week is done and gone. Fifty students and staff converged on tiny Portal, Arizona for five days of music and walks and birds and we had a great time. Every year I feel more and more blessed to be a part of this event. Pete and Will and I had a dream of starting a camp where inclusivity and love were the main themes. Somehow we’ve succeeded. Our staff and students come together and they make a space better than any of us could imagine. Mitch and Lonnie and their Portal Cafe staff are a big part of it, too.
This year we had a man come and learn despite his brain cancer and looming experimental surgery. Tim is living every day like we all should. Fully present and pursuing his dreams. His experimental treatment begins today. Let’s send out some positive vibes for Tim and his family and friends.
Salmon snagging season opened up today. In the fall mature landlocked kokanee salmon swim out of their lakes upstream into small gravelly streams to spawn and die. For a short window we humans are allowed to snag them from the shallow water. By snag, they mean literally. The snagger drgas a heavy treble hook through the water and attempts to hook the flank of a fish. Sounds crazy. I’m gonna give it a go with some people I know soon. We’ll see what happens.
If you’ve been following this page since its inception you might recall our first holiday season was spent on the west coast. We had our first urban bloat fest while visiting Portland, OR. We had just left the limited culinary landscape of Helena and landed smack into an eaters dream world. During that sojourn we went to a holiday party. The party was hosted by the cousin of Dan Roberts (the maker of Burt’s Minstrel guitar), Suzanne Lauber. Dan and Suzanne wanted us to come by and show off the first Roberts guitar. I have not seen Suzanne since but with the wonders of the internet we’ve stayed in touch. You can read that post about our meeting HERE. Suzanne has had many a kind and encouraging word for us over these past 9 years. There’s a lot to dislike about social media but I feel like it has given us penpals all over the world. These penpals have opened doors and offered us a real community as we move from place to place. Last week we received about a hundred pounds of school supplies from Suzanne for us to take to our kids in Mexico. Pencils, crayons, erasers, easy readers, notebooks, pencil sharpeners. All brand new. I am thrilled and the kids will be delighted. Thanks you, Suzanne. Thanks also to my cousin Cara for sending a pile of fun stuff as well.
Burt likes to complain about the weight of all these things we accumulate. I told him to look on the bright side. We aren’t toting cat litter, cat food, or feminine hygiene products anymore.
The title refers to the fact that this sight is constantly barraged by Russian spam. They don’t even try to hide it. They write in Russian. The top categories this month are cash for clunkers, sex on-line, and Russians. Only the cash for clunkers has a chance of a response.
And this just in: It’s a new school year in Pescadero. Here’s the neighbors in their spiffy new uniforms. Burt and I miss them so much. It’s not the same without our gang of minions. We’ve been mostly working and playing some music. The last two weekends we camped out with musician friends and got some hiking and fishing in with the tunes.
My mind is moving towards Mexico. I’m wondering what type of things to bring back for the kids. I’ll have to hit the back to school sales here and collect some fun supplies. Anything pink will be popular.
This year’s Musician’s Rendezvous in Columbus coincided with a spike in the local temperature. Sitting under the cottonwood trees while playing tunes with your buddies is a great way to spend a summer day. The campground where we all gather is on the Yellowstone River. If you want to cool off you can take a dip in its chilly waters. The Gypsy Carpenters had been looking forward to this weekend since last winter. Sad to say gNash life and an erratic heart and temperatures over 100 degrees Fahrenheit do not mix. So Burt and I came up with a mix of music and alternate cool activities for the weekend.
Day one we arrived at Itch-Kep-Pe park and found a spot with some shade. It was Wednesday and all of the really deep shade was already occupied in anticipation of the weekend’s activities. Musicians come from all over Montana and the best spots fill early. Burt and I played a few tunes with each other and went to bed when the bugs started biting. The next morning we took a walk and did some birding before the day warmed. We found the nest of a Cooper’s hawk and watched the recently fledged youngster fly all about and beg food from a parent. We also found an unattended firearm in the bed of a maintenance cart for the nearby golf club. I sent a few emails and posts around about the gun safety problem. Burt and I thought in hindsight we probably should have called the authorities instead of walking away from a loaded gun. Ethical dilemma. Personally I was afraid to confront the owner face to face. Stand Your Ground is a bad law. My fear of being shot for having harsh words with someone overrode my desire to stay and make sure the gun was properly handled.
After our walk we did what all smart people looking to avoid a hot day do…we drove to Billings and played Bridge. An air conditioned day of cards. What could be better? That evening we headed back to our superheated trailer and pondered the next day’s survival plan. We debated simply leaving and heading to the high country but the lure of tunes was strong. People we only see once or twice a year were on hand and eager to play. Luckily, Montana still cools off over night. We decided to play music until noon then get in our truck and head for the hills for the late afternoon and evening, come back after dark, sleep, wake up and play more morning music. It worked out perfectly.
Friday we played tunes in the morning and then drove an hour and a half to the Beartooth Plateau. We looked for the black rosy finch, a high altitude bird, but only found white-crowned sparrows, solitaires, and gray jays. The altitude (10,000′ or so) was easier to take than the heat. Burt and I and the pooped poopies returned to the gNash at 9:30. Things were just starting to cool down. Burt took a dip in the Yellowstone while I lay on an ice pack.
The next day we decided to head to electricity so we could run our air conditioner for the 104 degree spike. So after a few hours of fiddling with Barb and Zondra we pulled up and headed to Emigrant to do some maintenance on the client’s property we built 6 years ago. We arrived safe and sound but we have also learned our truck has sprung an oil leak. We fear it’s the end. She’s got a gusher.
So all anyone really says after a colonoscopy is the procedure isn’t bad, it’s the prep. Yup. Forty-five minutes of twilight sedation is fun – if you even remember it. I don’t. The 12 hours of swallowing a gallon of grossness scented with lime and it’s purgative effects are your beginning of the end. It’s like a Sweet Sixteen for the over fifty. Middle age is fading fast and the next thing is barreling at you. Arrival at the hospital after a night of little sleep and much toilet paper was a relief. Put me under. I don’t care what you do to me. Three people asked me if my ‘stools’ were clear and sediment free. Uh, I guess so. The state of our trailer toilet precluded a thorough look. Plastic just doesn’t let go of 9 years of bodily fluids. Describing our plastic throne as stained is an understatement. It’s scarred.
My results, thanks, ObamaCare or ACA, made me really happy to have finally done my screening colonoscopy. They doctor found and removed a small polyp. I have learned it was benign. Polyps are where colon cancer gets started so it is very nice to not have that little guy lurking and growing in my gut. And since it was benign I don’t have to do this for ten more years. That is great news. I could’t have done this without health insurance and I’m grateful I don’t the polyp is gone and can’t get into any dirty business.
Immediately afterwards Burt loaded me into the truck and we headed out to the Good Medicine music jam just out of Jefferson City. The Simms brothers host a music campout in June. Food and showers are provided. We just have to show up and be musicians. We get to see old friends from all over the region and just focus on making music. The meal bells ring and we put our stuff away and pile in the food. Repeat for three days. There is no internet or cell reception. Ahhhh….
Highlights of this year’s Good Medicine for me were seeing my friend Sally O’Neill and playing Spanish songs and leading my first fiddle jam and laughing with a friend who was sort of fired/let go from a pseudo-band that I was fired from over 13 years ago. Sally did a semester in Mexico a while back and she returned with a love of Mexican folk music. So we swapped tunes and she gave me some new ones to work on.
I anchored my first fiddle jam at 8:00AM on Sunday morning. No real fiddlers are awake at this hour so I stepped into the void. I found myself surrounded by loved ones and felt lifted by their appreciation of my music such as it is. We played simple and lovely and ancient music. Then we went to breakfast and packed up for home.
The person let go from the band that I was let go from and I got a good laugh because there are more people fired from the band than actually still in the band. My claim to fame is that I was a founding member and I was the first one fired. Some might say the people losing their jobs could all get together and form a better band than the band that fired us. All of us have been told by the same person that we weren’t taking our commitment to the band seriously enough. This is a band that when I was fired had not had a paying gigs. My recently cast-off amigo reports that they still haven’t had a paying gig. I’ll call the band of castaways the commitment phobes.
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.