Studly Pets

Elvis retrieving from the Crain's tank

Last night we caught the last half of Super Bowl XLIV while enjoying Burt’s huevos Rancheros.  What a fun half a game of football to watch.  I am XLIV so I had to slip that in.

This morning we donned our mud boots and walked to the creek.  There were a heap of golf balls in the banks.  For a while we thought Bill must be hitting them in his leisure time then we remembered the golf course was just upstream.  They get flushed down in the monsoon season.  Both Bill and Barbara mentioned that they hadn’t seen any snakes yet this year which gave our walk an air of excitement.  Maybe we would see the first snake of the year?  Barbara  mentioned that almost all of them around here are poisonous.  We didn’t find any.  We did see an Inca Dove and some amorous Cara-Caras.  The picture is Elvis getting a swim after rolling in cow poop.  Doesn’t he look manly?

The Crain’s have three dogs.  Two are terriers.  The one in the picture with Mimi is a known cat antagonizer.  When Corky came in the trailer Mimi came out to see what was happening.  She is friendlier to small dogs than humans, other cats or large dogs.  Things went smoothly except for one bit of Mimi reminding Corky who was the boss.  Mimi is reported to be the first cat to stand her ground and not run from the manic terrier.  Go Mimi.  Glad to see you aren’t

Mimi showing Corky how she feels

getting soft in the trailer.

Thanks for the fun visit Bill and Barbara.  We really liked meeting your friend Bea.  I’m glad she set me straight on Beeville’s finer attributes.  For the record folks, Beeville has a very fine art museum and public library.  And there are nice people who live there.


Beeville, TX

Remnant of NAS Chase Field

We are staying with Barbara and Bill Crain in Yorktown, TX.  The Crain’s moved here from a place on the Sun River just outside of Great Falls, MT last year.  They’ve got some horses and room for guests and are within an hour’s drive of Beeville a place I used to live.  My friend Magi hooked us up through Facebook.  I remembered Beeville as one of the worst places I had ever been and I wanted to see if that was true.  Well by god it was.  The Naval Air Station is now a State penitentiary.  The former base housing is some kind of ghetto.  I think I’ll leave it at that.

The night before we got here Barbara was bitten by her cat “In.”  Her dogs have harassed the cat so much she went feral.  Somehow In showed up in the house and Barbara was bitten trying to save her from the dogs.  The bite rapidly went bad and she was in the emergency room when we called to give her our arrival time.  Luckily they let her go with a shot and some antibiotics.  We arrived and chit chatted and asked for a tour of the place.  We took a walk in the field with four dogs to see the horses.  Corky the tiniest dog started a horse rampage.  There were three screaming humans, four mad kicking horses and one problem dog swirling around the paddock.  After seeing one horse come charging right for me jumping and bucking I opted to stand behind a tree and hope for the best.  Barbara eventually got the horses corralled and the instigator under control.  Burt said, “See how things can go to hell with horses in a blink of an eye?”  Yes I do.  Anyway,  the place is lovely and there is lots of room for guests.  The winter garden produced one carrot and one beautiful Chinese cabbage.  We harvested them on the spot.

Chinese cabbage

We made dinner for Barbara:  sautéed veggies and chicken in peanut sauce over noodles.  Barbara’s hand got worse looking as the night progressed.  As Burt cooked the dogs relaxed and played together.  Corky became Elvis’ personal chew toy.  She’d squeak every time he wrapped his jaws around her tiny neck.

After dinner we headed to the man cave to watch a movie, something about China and cholera with Ed Norton.  Just as it getting too clichéd to tolerate Bill showed up from his horse show in San Antonio.  Bill shows reining horses.  In Montana he was president of the Montana Reining Association.  You hear that Jen Acaia?  Let us know when you want to visit Texas.  We were spared the gruesome deadly conclusion of the movie and headed off to bed knowing that Bill would keep an eye on the puffy hand.


Leonard Cohen’s Day Job

As we drove out of Austin the Austin Lounge Lizards’ tune Leonard Cohen’s Day Job came on the radio.  Tom Pittman you do a great Leonard imitation.  I’d heard the song before, but never realized it was you.  Burt and I drove 1600 miles and spent a small fortune to see Mr. Cohen this summer. I Wish I had known to ask you to sing it for us.

A new species for Elvis

Last night we took a walk in the dark around the capitol.  We spotted a flock of Segways on a tour.  They silently glided by, formed up like birds heading south.  Then we found the resident lone star raccoon collecting its evening acorns.  It let Elvis get a good look before it assumed a defensive posture and then headed up a tree.  Its body language was the same as a cat’s.  It sat there and minded its own business until we crossed an invisible line, maybe 6’ away, and then it scuttled sideways and hunched its shoulders for a couple more feet.  At four feet there was a temporary stalemate.  I was worried the raccoon might take the offensive as Elvis lurched forward trying to get a good look and smell.  The raccoon turned and half heartedly headed up a tree.  That’s when I finally got a picture in focus.

After our walk we were scheduled to go out and hear some more music.  Trusting to Tom’s taste, I had no idea who.  Imagine my surprise when we walked in to the fiddler’s Green (a room for about 30 people) and saw one of my all time favorite fiddler/mandolinists on stage:  Chojo Jaques.  Chojo was playing with.Billy Bright another virtuoso of the mandolin.  It was mando fiddle mania.  The guitar was used on one tune only.  They were aggressive, dynamic and crazy.  The music had us on the edge of our seats wondering if a disastrous wipe-out was on the way.  After the show, Burt complimented Chojo on their harmonies and Chojo was surprised.  He replied, “Nobody says that.” He said they scare a lot of people with their harmonies.  Chojo went to college in Missoula.  Naturally the Do You know So and So game ensued.  To no avail.   You can check out their music here.

This morning we made it to David Thomas’ Austin Jiu-Jitsu class.  I was very excited to see what his class was like.  After parting ways at age 18 we both wound up spending a lengthy amount of time pursuing the martial arts.  It was thrilling to see great people training together in a supportive and positive environment.  Nice work David. You are doing a great job.  I was sad this crick in my neck kept me from hitting the mats with you.


Southern Charm

As Burt and I walked Elvis along the Austin River we approached an older woman with a tiny dog on a leash.  Well before our paths crossed Burt held Elvis at a heel.  The woman greeted us with, “My dog is friendly.  She likes big dogs.”  Burt gave Elvis enough leash to greet the 3 pound hellhound.  That little mutt snarled and lunged for his throat as his owner laughed and said, “She does that to all the big dogs.”  Elvis wanted to know where she learned the word friendly.  Burt made a mental note that we are entering the south and all is not as it seems.


My Brother has gigs lined up and asked us to forward our CD

I am so excited to have my brother Christian’s unbridled support.  I am a bit chagrined to think how he has gotten these gigs in Annapolis without realizing we don’t have a CD.  Rest assured, Christian, we can perform and do a great show.  Our only recordings are up on the music page.  All you all can copy them to CD and pass them out to your friends.  Christian’s enthusiasm has given me a great idea.  Anyone else on the East Coast want to join the Gypsy Carpenter gig booking festival? Let us know.  We can have a spirited competition and you can see if your next career move is as a music agent.  There can be categories of prizes:  best money, seediest bar, longest drive out of the way, smallest audience, worst food, steepest trailer parking.

We have had a great visit to Austin so far.  Last night we went to Artz BBQ and saw the Lone Star Swing Band.  I might never play Honeysuckle Rose again after hearing them tear it up.  The guest lead guitarist was Redd Volkaert.  Red toured with Merle Haggard for 10 years.   He has a joyful and goofy style that made us all sit up and pay attention.   A free show with fantastic BBQ.  Burt ate a full order of baby back ribs. Our host, Tom, and the owner, Art, both said they had never seen it done.  I told them Burt was training to become a competitive eater.  Our secret plan for making a living is out.

Karen, Burt, Susan and David

Earlier in the day we met up with my high school buddy David Thomas and his wife Karen.  They took us to a Vietnamese place and we had the scrumptious tofu curry on Dave’s recommendation.  Like Portland, we’re gonna have to leave to prevent massive weight gain.  I got to see David’s in home dojo where he teaches Jiu-Jitsu.  Talking to david and seeing his dojo gave me the itch to start training again.  Tomorrow we’re planning to swing by and watch a kid’s class before we head out of town.  Tonight its bluegrass at a bookstore.


Raining in Austin

Yesterday at about 4:30 PM we learned that our planned destination did not allow trailer camping.  Oh well on hiking around Enchanted Rock.  It’s raining anyway.  We picked a nice picnic area and slept for free again.  Mid-morning we arrived at Elizabeth and Tom Pittman’s house in Austin, TX.  Elizabeth and Tom are both great musicians.  Tom plays with the Austin Lounge Lizards, but Elizabeth plays old-time fiddle and that’s what I was after.  She’s a great cook, too.  Lucky for us they are friends with our friend Mike Williams.  Despite hardly knowing us they showed us the charm and hospitality the south is known for.  When we arrived there were cones in the street reserving a parking spot for us.  They were a bit appalled we rejected their offer of a room indoors and a private bath.  Mimi and Elvis would be lonely without us in the trailer.  At least that’s what we tell people.

Tom’s fellow Lounge Lizards arrived just as we pulled in so Tom headed to the living room for practice while we caught up with Elizabeth.  I confessed that I was hoping to play fiddle with her.  She graciously agreed to sit down for some tunes, but first lunch.  We went to a cool Mexican place that serves similar cuisine to the new place in Helena.  Light, fresh, healthy Mexican.  I had a vegetable stew, corn tortillas and non-refried pinto beans.

After lunch we all took naps.  The naps delayed dinner and ran over into the time I was going to go see one of my oldest friends.  I was bummed.  I needed to take the time to play music with Elizabeth and Tom, but it meant  postponing meeting David Thomas.  My long lost special friend from High.School.  Dave is in a category of friend/mench/advisor/brother that all teen girls could use.  He was an out there crazy guy who could look my craziness in the eye and meet it And explain things I just didn’t get.  He might have brought me out of my shell for the first time.  I would crawl back in for a few more decades but I never lost sight of what he showed me.  So Dave we are having lunch, TOMORROW.

We had a great meal of salmon, spinach salad and potato salad.  Then we rolled over to the living room and played some tunes.  It was fun.  I would do it again tomorrow.  Elizabeth is going to record a few tunes for us to learn,  We pleased her when we knew two of her favorites: Shackles and Chains, and Mary Don’t You Weep.


Lost Maples is a beautiful place to go

Last night we made it to Lost Maples State Natural Area in time for a nice walk at dusk.  The drive was more arduous than we expected.  The Texas Hill Country is hilly.  The grades and curves were the worst we’d seen on the trip and we’ve been some hairy places.  The official bird of Mexico, the Crested Cara-Cara was spotted on the drive.  Our birding continues even as we run out of the region covered by our bird book.  We were relieved to pull in for the night.

In the morning Burt did his usual hour long walkabout while I slept.  On his return I asked what did you see in the world?   Pretty much my usual first coherent utterance.  He calls me chiva (Spanish for goat) some mornings because of my incoherent utterings.  This morning he met the park ranger and learned about pigs.  The ranger was in his pick-up with light powered deer rifle with a scope.  He has orders to kill all exotics in the park.  Hogs, fallow deer, and boars are the main trouble makers.  Everyone in this part of the state says that Texas is overrun with both boars and feral hogs.  The ranger has to kill them to protect the park vegetation, but he is not allowed to eat them.  Sad because it is absolutely his favorite meat to eat, bar none.  He described the meat as lean and tasty.  Burt also learned that people trap hogs in addition to hunting.  Because they are considered vermin you can get them anyway you can.  We are desperate to get some.  Stay tuned, because we are headed to a friend of Ralph Holmes’s that Ralph tells us hunts pig all the time.

After breakfast we walked a 5 mile loop through the park.  The Sabinal River and its tributaries run along the trail.  The area hills are made of limestone and the water runs absolutely clear.  The park gets its name from the Big Toothed Maple found in the area.  This tree is found only in a few areas of the country, mostly in isolated pockets in scattered mountain ranges of the west.  This batch is the furthest east and many hundreds of miles away from its nearest sisters.  The forest was an eclectic mix of trees with the Madrone, Palo Verde, Sycamore, Live Oaks, Juniper and Pinne Oak intersperced with the Maples. On top of the bluffs was a more desert ecosystem with Agarito and prickly pear.   We loved walking along the creek and looking at the trees and birds.  We did not see a single pig.

Thanks for the great comments Todd and Jim.  That’s what I was looking for:  some engagement with the world at large.  Check out the coolest lichen I have ever seen.  As a former rock climber I can tell you I’ve spent a lot of time appreciating lichen.

Prettiest lichen I have ever seen

Is Anybody Out There?

A couple of weeks ago I saw a UFO outside of Demming, NM. I didn’t mention it because I wanted to find out what the heck it was first. It was way up in the sky, white and stationary. With binoculars all I could make out was a stationary white orb over New Mexico. Given New Mexico’s reputation for UFOs I was both aghast and thrilled that I had spotted one. Burt was blasé. He’d seen one when he was 19 with his Dad in the Sierras. Then I saw another one near Marfa, TX. This one was at a lower elevation and as luck would have it we drove right under it and could see it was tethered to the ground. A sign read: Tethered Aerostat Radar Site. What a relief. Of course it was a tethered aerostat radar site. I looked it up and learned that there are about 6 of these sites in the Southwest. They are inflatable balloons that can go up as high as 15,000 feet in the air. The balloons carry aircraft detecting radar. There you have it.

Speaking of security, we had our first run-in with the law today. We took a quick walk this morning in Sanderson Wash and looked at fossils and rocks and birds. Border Patrol was swarming the vicinity but they didn’t ask us to leave or mention any danger so we just minded our own business. A helicopter did a couple of low circles above the spot where we were crouched peering at fossils in the bedrock. I think they have a file somewhere and make a note of each time they spot us aimlessly walking near the border. When we got to our vehicle we could see across the desert and it appeared a full-fledged manhunt was underway. Oh well, not our problem. We got turned around trying to get through Del Rio and nearly drove into Mexico by mistake. We did a u-turn just a few hundred yards from the checkpoint, right in front the Mexican Consulate. About thirty miles outside of Del Rio we hit a Border Patrol checkpoint along the highway. We’ve been stopped at at least 6 of these so far. As we approached Elvis spotted the K-9 agent up ahead. Elvis wailed and dashed back and forth in the back seat. All dogs are Elvis’s long lost best friend but this dog really got him going. Elvis was so loud and agitated that the human agent couldn’t get his dog to focus on the car at hand so he headed our way. As he approached my side with the dog, I naturally started to lower the window so I could answer the usual questions. That’s what we’d do at all the other stations. This guy sternly instructed me to close the window. Possibly to protect me from his dog or himself from our dog. On Burt’s side of the truck were a Border Patrol agent and a State Policeman, or Texas Ranger, if you prefer. Burt rolled down his window and answered the questions from the Border Patrol: Are you US citizens? Is anybody else on board? Meanwhile the Ranger glowered at us. He was a mountain of a man wearing reflective sunglasses. In his prime he must have been imposing. Now he just looked like our newest problem. We were our usual chipper selves joking about how much Elvis wanted to play with their dog. The Border Patrol agent waved us on. The trooper was in his cruiser and on our ass before we left the check point. He pulled us over immediately to inform us we had a problem with our trailer lights. He only asked for Burt’s license, not our registration or proof of insurance. Burt asked if he could check out the hookup and was told, “Let me finish.” He explained in detail why he had pulled us over: Neither the riding lights or the left signal were operational on the trailer. In due course Burt was given permission to leave the vehicle and check the pig tail. It was loose. Everything worked fine when Burt snugged it back up. I sincerely wonder why he had to pull us over and work all this out on the side of a busy highway when he might have mentioned it to us in the roomy and safe checkpoint. Was this just a scary looking peace officer looking out or our best interest or was it a choreographed shakedown by the two organizations? Were they keeping tabs on us? Did they think they’d catch us in a moment of weakness as we snuck through another checkpoint and failed to mention Mimi our Mexican cat? It would have been a simple thing for them to jiggle our pigtail loose to give the officer reasonable cause to pull us over. Once again Burt is leaning towards a big coincidence and I think it’s a conspiracy.

No comments from our followers has me utterly despondent.  I am co-dependent I admit it.

p.s.  Burt got off with a warning, actually two warnings, one for riding lights and one for no blinker.


No Me Gusto Valentine

Mandatory Elvis shot - He didn't like Valentine either

We drove 100 miles out of our way today to check out a $20,000 house and $89,000 historic storefront in Valentine, TX.  I can’t say we weren’t warned.  Valentine you are the saddest looking place we’ve seen in west Texas.  The dirt roads of the town were demolished by the recent rains.  The store building was on a strip of mud that wouldn’t qualify as an alley in Helena, MT.  The inhabitants were a bit hostile looking and I wouldn’t even get out to walk 100 yards to look at the place.  So much for our wild idea of setting up a roadhouse in west Texas where we could star 6 nights a week.

All was not for waste.  On our way to Valentine we spotted what looked to be a Border Patrol Agent playing the bagpipes at a rest area.  I think our screen play was missing this key bit of surrealism.  Earlier in the week when we had seen the singing Mexican on the far side of the park I mentioned to Burt that we could develop a repertoire of code songs that could provide information to people and maybe that’s what the Mexican was doing.  Now I see that the Border Patrol may be way ahead of us.

Officer Hyatt and his pipes

Actually the real story is better.  Officer Hyatt and his colleagues had been out all night chasing smugglers.  They confiscated over 600 pounds of marijuana (people go to California) street value about 6 million from people using burros in the wilderness.  I think most of the smugglers escaped over the river.  Officer Hyatt was still wound up from the grueling and he admitted, fun, night.  So what does he do before heading home after an all night chase in the desert?  He practices the bagpipes.  When we drove up he was working on Amazing Grace and Danny Boy.  He can’t regularly practice at home for obvious reasons.  He said a neighbor 8 blocks away came to speak with him when he was practicing once.  He has only been playing 8 months.  We were impressed by his diligence.  We asked where he was learning.  Officer Hyatt uses a tutor in El Paso (a couple hundred miles away), a friend to play with about 80 miles away and YouTube.  His goal is to make the Marching Band so he can play on official occasions.  We think he is well on his way to a successful piping career. His timing and intonation were mighty nice for only 8 months into such a treacherous and solitary undertaking.  But obviously he is a brave man.

After the visit to Valentine we turned around and went back to Marfa.  There we found Foundation Pizza.  Thin crust, pliable enough to fold, garlic, roasted red peppers and mushrooms.  The best of the trip.  We also got to talk to an older hispanic man about the terrible difficulties placed on families in the region.  Many families have lived on both sides of the border for centuries and now it is only possible to cross in 2 spots several hundred miles apart.  Also in Marfa, Marfa Public Radio.  You can hear it all over the Trans Pecos Region.  What a great job for such a small town.  The towns of Marfa, Alpine, Fort Davis and Marathon are like little jewels in this great big desert.  Good food and cool radio in each.

Foundation Pizza

Terlingua, Terlingua, terlingua

Moonrise over the Chisos Mountains

The Gypsy Carpenters just finished up playing the Starlight Theatre in Terlingua, Texas.   I like saying Terlingua as much as I like saying sesamoid.  The afternoon passed slowly.  Nerves were getting the best of each of us.  We passed the time playing solitaire at opposite ends of the trailer.  Burt remarked that it seemed odd we couldn’t get together and play a game with each other.  I thought it was a good sign.  We were each in our own space quieting our brains.  At 7 we went over for dinner.  The Starlight has a great restaurant with all kinds of local hand cut meat.  At 7:30 we had more time to kill so we headed out to pace between the trailer and the bar.  Terlingua is a ghost town.  People are living in the remnants of old stone mining shacks.  The Chisos Mountains loom in the east.  As we paced the full moon crested over the Chisos and lit up the ghost town.  A good way to turn around and get to it.

It was a small but attentive crowd, again.  Our first tip of the night came after Burt told the story of how he shot off his big toe.  We got on the subject when somebody remarked he was lucky to be a carpenter and have all his digits for playing music.  I couldn’t help myself and said he doesn’t have all his digits.  The audience wanted to know more and I pointed to the empty jar and said fill her up and we’ll tell you what happened.  Meanwhile we played a song.  The story

Burt looking at his wife

was a bit of a letdown after all the buildup but we made great tips anyway.  It was our first night using the very powerful magical mic.  Just one mic for everything, guitar, mandolin and vocals.  It worked great.

We met a family from Fort Davis (another favorite town).  They were intrigued that we had seen the local elk, something they had been aspiring to for a while.  They just got back from Slab City, too and also LOVED it.  GO to Slab City people.

Thanks to Chad and Summer for hosting us.  Thanks to the staff at the Starlight for the great food and service both nights.  The menu is great, the ambiance perfect.