The rain and wind kept us trailer bound yesterday. We overcame our inertia to head out and get some dinner and catch the movie Avatar. We tried to get to the H & H diner for what are supposed to be the best huevos rancheros in the world. Alas, they were not open for dinner. We googled for a good place and wound up at a gigantic Mexican joint with a live band and good Margueritas instead. A good thing we had the drinks before seeing Avatar. We both liked it, but only because it was visually interesting. The story was lame. So lame, I’m going to be lame and just leave it at that.
The expedition last night did not alleviate my cabin fever and I woke up cranky. RVers call it hitch itch. I’m claiming cabin fever. The distinction being I wanted to go outside not move. It was 41 degrees and a howling wind. We tried to see the pictographs at Hueco Tanks but at 10:30 there was already a waiting list to be allowed access to the park. Time to bail. I had spent a few days there climbing 20 years ago. It was windy then, too. Back then there were no rules and we just showed up camped and climbed. Our patience with bureaucracy and the weather was spent so we hit the road.
Our general goal is Terlingua before we are scheduled to play. We have the MacDonald Observatory and Big Ben on the route. Today we were inadvertently steered towards Carlsbad Caverns National Park by the GPS. It was soooo worth the 20 mile detour. We had a 2 hour walk out of the wind and saw some really cool stuff. It only cost $6/person. It must be the best deal in the National Park system. If you’re ever in the area go, go, go. They even have dog kennels if it’s a hot day and you need a place for Fido out of the car.
While we were in the caverns the wind raged on. We were back on the road by 4 PM. We passed half a modular home blown off its wheels. The rig pulling it was still upright. Not to long after we were flagged down by a hapless cyclist. The sun was setting, the temperature was dropping and the wind was full bore. We picked him up and gave him a 40 mile ride to town. Cody is riding is bike from Washington to Wisconsin along the same crescent shaped route we are taking from Montana to South Carolina. His favorite place so far: SLAB CITY.
Musicians playing in a vacuum can get bored and boring pretty fast. We are officially two months on the road and have only played with one other person in those two months, Andrew at Slab City. Lucky for us we were invited to play with Bill Bussman and his friends last night. They have a 5 piece ensemble with fiddle, mandolin, guitar, bass and drum. Last night we played some latin morphed old time and some jazzy stuff. Burt and I played Black Orpheus and it fit right in with their style of music. They recorded us and promised to have the tune down when we swing back through in the fall. After the music we had birthday pie, cherry and pumpkin. Half the band had birthdays in early January, but the pie was specifically for Bill. The pies were made by the fiddler’s 86 year old mother. A Halloween pumpkin was used for the pie and it was the best real pumpkin pie I have ever had.
This morning we drove into Truth or Consequences, New Mexico to see friends of Dan Roberts. Before we paid the house call we went to the post office to restore one of my favorite articles of clothing to its rightful owner. About 18 months ago our friend John Dendy was watching our house for us while we were on a trip. While we were away John had a solo show and he was lucky to have many out of town guests show up for the show. Unlucky for us, John could not host all these people at his house. We heard something about a late night, a blizzard…I don’t really know. What I do know is we came home and it was like Goldilocks and the Three Bears. The house was fine, but there were signs everywhere that something had happened in our absence. Every bed and couch had been occupied while we were away. I know John and Claire can get down to it, but it didn’t seem like they had done this on their own. Other small signs were a dirty coffee cup, no coffee in the house, and a forgotten velvet jacket that fit me to a tee. When we gave John a hard time about the strangers in our house we mentioned that someone had left behind a velvet coat. He knew right away it was Gillian Howe’s. I told him Gillian could have her jacket back if she asked for it, but I was keeping it until then. He never told her I had it and I now know Gillian had so lost track of it that by the time she realized it was lost she had no idea where it was.
I took to this jacket like it was made for me. It was just a cheaply constructed stretch velvet blazer in a shade of wine. I wore it with everything. I wore it to work. I wore it to parties. I wore it to gigs. No matter what I wore it with people were always complimenting the purple velvet blazer. I knew someday it would come to an end.
FACEBOOK!! How does it do what it does? I stupidly friended Gillian’s band Tumbledown House and learned she was only 2 hours away from where we were. I sent her a vague but taunting message about a jacket of hers that I might have. I suggested she come to Portal if she ever wanted to see the jacket again. I quickly learned that Gillian was far more attached to the jacket than I imagined. She described how she realized it was missing when she was packing for this trip. It was her go to gigging jacket, too. Guilt started to creep in. She couldn’t make it to Portal because of her own gigging schedule. I promised I would mail it when I could bear to part with it. I couldn’t promise when, but I did promise. So here we were in Truth or Consequences, New Mexico and I realized it was time to give it up. Sue the mail clerk lovingly folded the jacket and placed it in the envelope for me. Gillian, if you’re reading this, your jacket is in Priority Mail as I write. If anyone out there knows where I can find a wine colored stretch velvet jacket, please let me know.
From my act of contrition we headed to Larry Pogreba’s place. Larry and Donna are building a house in downtown T or C. Before T or C was Truth or Consequences it was known as Hot Springs, New Mexico. There are bath houses on every corner. Larry and Donna have a hot water well in their yard and are building a private soaking tub. Sad for us the house nor the tub are finished. When not in NM, Larry and Donna live near us in Montana. They have a place on Willow Creek just outside of Three Forks. According to Dan, Larry is a renowned resophonic guitar builder. We showed Larry Dan’s guitar and Larry showed us some of his cool stuff. Burt just loved the blue resonator guitar seen in this picture. The resonator on this guitar is made of a
Packard hubcap. It sounds awesome. Larry also had a resonator cello he had made, possibly the only one in the world. Last year the couple camped all over Texas. They pulled out a map and gave us a pen and paper and we took some notes on some great places to see. Thanks for a great visit, Larry and Donna. We’ll see you in Montana someday.
After we were done lusting after the blue resonator we headed to a bath house. For $12 you get a private tub of fresh hot water big enough to float in. Here is a picture of Burt starting the water. Sadly $12 doesn’t get you a private bathroom. Less than 5 minutes after plunging mother nature called. Not just a ring of the doorbell, either.
After a quick bit of dithering over getting dressed, I found myself running through the parking lot with only my towel. I made it and mother of mercies the toilet was unoccupied. Another quick dash back and all anxiety melted away in our private bath house.
Tonight we are in Hueco Tanks State Park. Saturday, 1/30/10, we play the Starlight Theatre in Terligua, Texas.
Last night I woke from a dream…I was working for EPA’s Criminal Investigation Division. I was taking my last business trip for them and I was trying to make it to Washington DC. The EPA travel person said they could only get me into Brooklyn. I would have to drive the rest of the way…the normal anxiety ensues..Brooklyn? Will I make it in time?…Boom! I wake up and the trailer is being buffeted by gale force winds. Burt is also wide awake. We discuss moving the truck to block the wind. We decide the door and the person who went out there would blow away. Then Elvis starts milling about anxiously as the trailer rocks back and forth. I remember all the trailers we saw on their sides this spring in Arizona. Then I think of tornadoes in the midwest. I recall all my jokes of trailers being tornado magnets. I start to froth. Just as suddenly as it started it ended and I went back to sleep.
Today we are passing time waiting for the glue to cure on Burt’s guitar. Tonight we are going to a jam with Bill Bussman and his friends. Sounds like some difficult stuff they specialize in but we’re gonna give it a go.
Our friend Mike Williams is having knee replacement surgery on Tuesday. Good Luck, Mike. Can’t wait to see you walking pain free.
Burt’s Minstrel developed a problem in the wildly dynamic climates we’ve drug it through. Nothing serious, but we do not have the means of fixing it. Through the musician’s grapevine (thanks Doug and Jane) we found Bill Bussman of Old Wave Mandolins and Bill is gluing the bridge back on. It should be ready tomorrow and then we will head to Texas.
We are camped at Caballero Lake State Park. Its on the flyway for the Sandhill Cranes. Last night we watched flights of hundreds of birds go by at sunset. There wings gleemed in the sun as they flew by a rainbow over the reservoir. We were listening to a This American Life podcast on murder. A lovely way to listen to terrible stories.
While Burt and I are very happy with life in the Nash, Mimi, our cat, seems to have decided this space is too small for the 4 of us. Over the last several nights she has transformed into a maniacal ruiner of sleep. Every surface of the Nash has become her personal claw sharpening station. When she is not loudly shredding upholstery she takes to comforter surfing. Comforter surfing is when she relentlessly inserts herself between us on the bed, thereby hogging all the covers. We think we have been generous in offering her all the edge of the bed real estate. She prefers the valley between our two mountains. Two nights ago Burt and I were wide awake contemplating if we should have her taxidermied into a lovely cuddle shape that could be stashed in a drawer when we got sick of it OR perhaps, skin her out ala a tiger-skin rug complete with a lascivious pink tongue and glistening teeth. Yesterday we had a frenzied claw trimming escapade and sold her some real estate between our feet. We slept better but Burt is still discussing what he can make out of her pelt.
Burt and I finally made it into the Chiracahua Wilderness today. We’ve been so busy looking at land, talking to people and playing music, that we hadn’t even made it out for a real walk until today. While we’ve traveled near the border we’ve heard some stories about smuggling and illegals. Stories isn’t the correct term. We’ve seen things like the border patrol and abandoned water bottles. We’ve heard references to illegals. There are official signs advising that smuggling activities are happening in the area. We asked several people if its a problem and almost everyone says that the illegals are just desperate people that need food or water and they don’t usually pose a threat. For all the warnings, I thought I wasn’t worried about running into some illegals in the woods.
We headed out the south fork of Cave Creek. It was a soothing sunny day. On the way in we saw a large sign stating it ws illegal to make recordings. I don’t know why. There were sycamore, juniper, two or three kinds of oak, long leaf, apache and ponderosa pine and cypress in the creek bottom. A beautiful and diverse forest. The canyon walls loomed above, orange and pink rock covered with bright green lichen. On our way into the wilderness we passed two older women coming back out. Smiles and greetings all around. Elvis got a big pat on the head. They told us we were the first people they had seen. The trail was a gentle hike upstream with a couple of easy creek crossings. We turned around at Maple Flat about 1.5 miles in. As we headed out we detoured up a slot canyon. We chimnied across some pools and scrambled around having a grand time. Elvis wasn’t pleased and did some hilariously grueling evasive techniques rather than swim up each of the pools. We clambored back down and headed towards the car.
I saw another side canyon and we headed up to see if there was more fun to be had. This was much wider than the first one. As we went up I stopped and squatted at a pool. As Burt walked by I said, “I think someone is here.” We both stood still. In a moment a body materialized out of the woods. It was a young man. Slightly built with a very round head and lank, ash blond hair. He was dressed in fatigues and wore an off brand day pack. He didn’t see us until Elvis ran up and greeted him. Rather than exchanging pleasantries he stopped to make sure Elvis was friendly and then he rapidly moved past with a furtive hello. Burt and I maintained eye contact with each other. Neither of us had moved or spoken since I said I thought someone was there. I ducked my chin and peeked around at the guy. He had stopped about 100′ below me and was checking the contents of his cargo pocket. Sort of jangling something bullet sized in the pocket. He looked guilty of something. I scanned his silhouette to see if I could tell if he was armed. Something I learned while hanging out with Federal Agents. And I thought, “Why do I think this guy is armed? What is going on here?” Both Burt and I gave the guy some space without saying anything to each other. We waited until he had time to get away if that was what he wanted to do. We traveled separately as we headed out of the side canyon. I picked up a stick. Burt and I still didn’t say anything to each other. I was trying to figure out why this guy had me suspicious. He was a scawny 20 something carrying a cheap day pack. Maybe the couple with the dog (us) lurking quietly in the woods had scared the begeesus out of him?
When we reached the trail Burt and I regrouped. Burt thought the guy was behaving oddly, too. We didn’t say much. We were both wary, but not scared. Near the trailhead I stopped short. Through the trees I could see the guy about 100 yards away sitting on a rock in the trail. I like the sensation of hyper awareness that allowed me to see this guy twice before he saw us. It’s the same thing that happens when we are hunting. We approached him and saw that he was eating a sandwich. He was eating the sandwich in an almost ritualized manner. Each bite was a tiny, precise nibble along the axis of the crust edge. The sliced side was away from his mouth and he nibbled down the length like it was an ear of corn. He said, “So we meet again.” I noticed a shiny metal object in his lap…could it be he was illegally recording bird calls? We said hello and kept going. Burt and I started analyzing what precisely set both of us off when we ran into this kid. Was it his weird day-pack and army fatigues? The way he practically ran away from us in the side canyon? How did he get there? There was only one other car at the trailhead and that belonged to the older women we had seen earlier. Or was it simply all the paranoia polluting our own brains so that neither he nor we could run into someone in the woods without thinking they looked suspicious? Our conclusion after the second interaction: Asperger’s syndrome for him, daffiness for us.
He passed us in the short distance to the car, this time catching us by surprise. He stopped at the garbage can and started emptying the trash he had been picking up from his pack. He emptied the trash in a painstakingly methodical manner. He was so slow I asked to interrupt so I could get rid of something I had picked up. I’m sure I messed up his system. I’m also sure there was some sort of mental condition at play.
The two older women were still parked on the far side of our pick-up. As Burt opened his door they rolled down a window and asked him if we had seen a young man on our walk. Burt told them he had just arrived and would be back to their car soon. We had him pegged for a dope smuggler ready to kill us if we gave him a funny look and it turned out he was out for a walk with his grandma picking up trash. It could be a really good cover.
We wrapped up our last show Saturday night. After the 2 previous nights of playing and then a long day exploring the area and talking to folks I was beat. I think I missed my marks on the first 10 songs. Just little rough spots that kept happening and started to undermine my confidence. At one point we were doing I am a Pilgrim and I felt like I had never even heard of the song before. I was looking at the fret board wondering if I even knew how to play the mandolin. I’ve had this happen before. I sometimes see myself playing and am astonished by how smooth and beautiful everything is going. Other days I wonder why I opened the case or told anybody I play music. They are two sides to the same coin. Burt looked at me after I has muffed his old standard beyond repair and said, “Give me a kiss.” The audiences gave us a figurative kiss and we turned it all around.
Our new friends Eric and Glennis Hayes came in just as things smoothed out so I again pulled out my fiddle to play for Eric. Before he was injured in a Vietnam helicopter crash Eric liked to tear it up on the guitar and had dabbled with the fiddle. He was severely burned and paralyzed in the accident. Despite all that he’s made his living building beautiful houses in the area. Not to long ago he was still pounding the nails himself.
Everything I have written about Elvis to date has been true but perhaps not a full picture of the dog as a dog. Some of our blog readers in Portal think that we have a hellhound bent on harassing the local canine wenches and attacking solitary male pedestrians. So given that I have had much fun relaying my frustrations at his occasionally spectacular bouts of misbehavior he is in fact a great dog. He has withstood more than 5,000 miles riding in the jump seat that barely contains his gangly legs. Almost everyday he is confronted by a new environment and new people and his favorite, a new prey species to chase. When put in that perspective I think Elvis is demonstrating a rather resilient and amiable demeanor. Mostly. As Burt is fond of saying, if we were dogs we’d be just like him.
In Portal he has become obsessed with javalina. Can you imagine what Elvis must be thinking? They are crazy looking and stink to high heaven. A dog’s delight. Just this morning the javalina raided the cafe garbage. In this situation it might have been a good thing to have a valiant Elvis let loose and git after them. But maybe not for Elvis. They can be quite tough in a crowd. Luckily Burt had him on a leash. So remember we might be prudent enough to leash Elvis but there’s no leash for Burt or me.
Second night of shows great fun, again
We had a smaller but attentive and generous audience last night. I rosined up my bow and played the fiddle professionally for the first time. I made it through Shove that Pig’s Foot A Little Further in the Fire, Seneca Square Dance and played the Will Harmon lead on The Mountain. I was especially nervous because there was a former country fiddler in the audience. I held up tolerably.
After the show we and the rest of our new friends headed across the street to the firehouse for a lecture on the Mexican Wolf reintroduction. We learned that the Mexican wolf is the most endangered mammal in North America. It is a genetically distinct sub-species of the gray wolf. The reintroduction program hasn’t had as much success as the wolf recovery in the Northern Rockies due to the concentration of humans and looser cattle ranching practices in New Mexico. Recent management decisions brought in more protective practices and it sounds like the population might be increasing for the first time in 10 years. Meanwhile, Mexico is rumored to be releasing their own batch of wolves just south of here thus month. The Mexican program is paying ranchers to change livestock handling practices in advance of the release and has a monetary reward for the first ranch that gets a den. Our lecturer said that we might see more success here if we worked in a similar manner with our ranching community.
There was a picture in the slide show of former Helenan Diane Boyd releasing the first Mexican wolves back in 1998. What a coincidence. We were sitting with the woman who knows Jim and Murphy and she knew Diane, too.
“You two aren’t just playing the same song at the same time,” Eric Hayes, new #1 fan. A clarification is in order based on Mike’s comment below: He meant we were sublimely transcending whatever it was we played and offering up more than just a performance of a song.
“I didn’t come to the show because I didn’t know what to expect. I thought you’d be some kind of country singer.” Mickey, who upon meet us and Elvis at the library today thought she might give us a chance at tonight’s show.
BTW, dogs are encouraged to enter the library and receive treats.
It started slow and we were wondering if anyone would show up for the spaghetti dinner. We played a few tunes for one loyal fan, Junior Gomez, to pass the time. Junior is a musician and was born and raised in the area. We enjoyed chatting with him while hoping a crowd would develop. While it was slow we took our dinner break. Burt had the marinara which had simmered for 3 days with a pork shoulder in it. It was delicious. As we finished eating the local crowd bustled in all at once. Burt already knew several of them. I’m usually sleeping when Burt is out meeting people. Yesterday he got his Portal Library card and checked out 2 books. We hadn’t even been here 24 hours.
There were about 20 people in the audience. Mostly locals of the pre-baby boomer generation. One woman knows Jim Schultz and Murphy Fox, two Helenan’s we know through the music scene. We played through a raucus din for a few tunes. Everyone chatting away in a small low ceilinged room. I was positioned in front of a propane heater that almost started my pants on fire. Soon enough Burt and I caught fire and the audience settled down and listened up. We had made an elaborate set list with careful segues between genres. That was abandoned 2 songs in. We went for the old familiar tunes of the 40s to 60s and got everyone to join in. Ukelele Lady and Put the Blame on Mame were big hits. Several people asked for more fiddle tunes (on the mandolin) so we obliged them as well. Eventually everyone had to leave. Several promised they’d be back again before we left.
Today we are going to look at some land a man in the audience has for sale. He kept asking me to play my fiddle last night and I had to decline. I’m just not ready for prime time but I promised to swing by his house and play a few tunes for him today. I wonder if it will effect the price of his land.
I’m reading The Omnivore’s Dilemma. If you haven’t read it yet, I recommend you do. I’ve followed food supply issues in the media for a long time and I think Michael Pollan has written a great readable book that explains what each us should know about the food we eat.