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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.