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.
I am a civil engineer. You all know this. I fell into civil engineering because I wasn’t smart enough to fly rocket ships. Moving stuff was too hard for me to calculate. Civil engineering keeps things stationary. I could get my head around those equations. Once in CE I realized I really liked learning about how things were built, where water ran, and how CEs did a lot of public works from roads and drinking water, to stadiums and landfills. It’s a wide ranging field of study. I worked my way through college on construction sites but I chose to spend my career in environmental remediation and enforcement. I wanted to clean up the world and it was heartfelt work but my love of building never went away. I even won the balsa wood bridge contest in my senior structures class. I had a partner but I made the design. A structural engineering friend said two things to help me: keep it simple and remember the moment of inertia. A light bulb went off and I realized a triangle with a skin (sort of like a covered bridge) was the way to go. Balsa wood bridge fail at their glued joints. We eliminated all but three joints. The bridge came in at less than 100 grams and it held an astonishing weight. The most in our entire class by at least 2. I can’t quite remember the details. None of the elaborately constructed truss bridges my classmate produced came close.
This week Burt and I built our first actual, rather than metaphysical, bridge. It’s lightweight, and ready to breakaway in a flood. It’s also darn scary. Our client is thrilled. She wanted it up above the flash floods that roar in from the fire damaged land above. Climate change has made the creek more prone to catastrophic flooding. Heavier rains and less vegetation to slow the runoff makes for higher peaks of flood waters in Cave Creek Canyon. I spent a lot of time researching the hows and materials for this and then I consulted with Burt. I couldn’t quite figure out how to attach the bridge to the trees n either side of the creek. Burt solved this critical problem. We wrapped the trees in a big circle of cable and tightened it up. I found away to attach the cinch without girdling the trees and it all came out great. See pictures. If you ever want to build a cable bridge check out YouTube. Lots of ideas there. I melded together a bunch of things to make something inexpensive and strong. The client bought the cable and the hardware. The wood was found onsite. Our labor was in trade for her providing accommodations to our staff during Portal Irish Music Week.
Burt and I are leading a trip to the Galapagos Islands in early February 2018. We are thrilled to be hosting this fun extravaganza of nature and music for Naturalist Journeys. Are you interested in seeing this exciting, animal filled wonderland and enjoying fresh tunes in the evening? Come sing and dance with us! You can check out similar itineraries at this LINK. Our trip isn’t posted publicly because this particular offering is currently only open to our friends and fans. Let me know if you want the specific details and I will send them to you. Space is limited.
Even though he kept me up half the night snoring last night I still have warm feelings for this guy. He was a rock last night during our first show in 2 months. I was unaccountably unsettled. Where Burt was forceful and had a presence I felt timid and the notes recalcitrant. Our venue was Las Fuentes in Todos Santos, BCS, MX. The owners made a romantic ambiance for Valentine’s Day with flowers, candles, and balloons. They arranged the tables so everyone could see us and they installed a STAGE. All of this extra effort on their part has heretofore been unseen by any venue host in the history of our career. There were dinner specials and a house sangria. Usually we show up to a cafe and we have to move the tables and chairs to make a space to stand. We have to find room for our cases. In our experience nobody thinks ahead. These people asked if they could help us unload our stuff! If they want us I am sure we will be happy to go back.
Great hosts and then a passel of new fans made for a nice night. Previous events in Todos Santos have only yielded a few diehard followers. Sara Gay and her friends. The Elias Calles crowd makes the trek (kudos to them) but they’re not Todo Santeños. And that was about it in our 6 years of trying to get a thing going in TS. A lot of shows would be 6 or 10 people. Bridge is what changed the game. Duplicate Bridge friends came out in force and brought their friends. Add them to Sara Gay and the Elias Calleños peeps and a few random strangers and we nearly filled the large restaurant. And then everyone stayed and listened.
The highlight for me was when we bantered a bit and the venue owner, a local, forcefully yelled out, “Jackson!” Without missing a beat we launched into the Johnny and June standard. He was beaming. I presumed he was a plant because I knew Sara Gay had heard us do it but we found out later he was genuinely asking for a song his mother loved. Johnny and June were timeless and knew now boundaries. They speak across cultures and generations.
The Gypsy Carpenters are dusting off love gone good and love gone bad songs for your listening pleasure. If you happen to be in Baja California Sur you can come on out and hear us play on Valentine’s Day at Las Fuentes, in Todos Santos from 6 to 7:30. That’s next Tuesday.
Today we sat down and worked on our set list and swept away some cobwebs. If you have any requests send them in now. All ideas considered.
Thanks, Harlow Pinson for the great promo shots. Too bad we never look good at the same time.
The other day a blast from the past came to see me. Todd is a helicopter simulator designer, hang glider, tall ship sailor, and contra dancer, and a friend from college years at Georgia Tech. Todd lives in Connecticut. We haven’t made it to the north east in our seven years on the road so when he noticed his work and our work placed us in the same metropolitan area, he got in touch. Back in the day we rock climbed a lot. Todd was the classic climbing bum. He could get straight As in aerospace engineering and virtually live out of his truck and rock climb when he wasn’t in school. Sometimes he kayaked, too. Once we drove back from Yosemite together. Todd had just climbed the face of El Capitan in a multi-day siege while Penny and I had climbed Mount Whitney. Both Todd and I lived on the cheap. Penny flew back to Georgia and I took a free ride back with Todd. I’m pretty sure I promised to keep him good company if he would let me ride for free. Otherwise it was $100 for a one way ticket back with Penny. Todd begrudgingly made room for me. Todd was so wasted from his efforts on the 3,000′ climb that I hardly had to say a word. I remember piping up significantly when we accidentally arrived in Las Vegas, NV instead of Boulder, Colorado. Somewhere in the night we’d missed a turn. The high desert did not have many signs back then.
Meanwhile work continues. Mostly it’s Burt working and me cooking or helping here and there. I was supposed to install the laminate floor in the kitchen while Burt did other things but it turned into a two person job. Every laminate product is different. This Home Depot Ultra something was very recalcitrant. I’d no sooner get one end fitted and the other end of the plank would disengage. Over and over. Burt helpfully said, “I think you need to get more together.” I did not find this statement helpful. I went and googled for ideas. All I could find were people saying, “It was hard at first and then I figured it out.” No clues as to what ‘figured it out’ might mean. Links to videos ended up in dead ends of ‘vodep not available’. Finally Burt tried. No luck. Then both of us tried. And tried and tried. Cussing, stomping, more internet searching. Eventually we developed a two person system of lift, hold, push, lift, hold, push.
Once the floor was installed we started on the cabinets. That went smoothly. No errors in ordering or construction. The granite counter guy came today to measure. The tops should be done in a week. In the interim more light fixtures and painting and new windows. It looks like we will get out of here without much trouble.
This is just a sample of the stuff unwitting Do-it-yourselfers do. Here we have an outlet somebody painted over. Perhaps it was several somebodys. Layers of paint held this ancient outlet in place. It was time to update the outlets for safety and aesthetic reasons. What a pain in the buttinsky for our fully licensed and permitted electrician. Or homeowner. You fill in the blank. Sparky turned off the circuit and then attempted to remove the old outlet. She scored the edges of the old plate to try and cut the paint. It was too thick. Sparky’s boss came by and helped. Eventually the whole thing came out in pieces. If you want your faceplates to match the walls remove them and paint them individually. Reinstall after wall and faceplate paint is completely dry.
Autumn colors are elusive here in the Potomac River bottom. Leaves appear to be browning and falling. There isn’t much to peep at. Some photos below.
The Gypsy Carpenters are in Portal, AZ ahead of schedule. We were planning some more back country explorations but the wonky transmission flared up. Again. Our 2001 Dodge diesel is occasionally difficult to shift. This summer it started balking and we made an appointment at a specialist in Whitefish, Montana. We had a place to park and a car to borrow up there. Then the problem shifting disappeared, the parking place was less welcoming, and the spare car was wrecked by a deer so we cancelled the appointment. We drove a few thousand more miles and no trouble. Heads deeply in the sand. Call us risk-takers.
We high tailed it out of Montana and abandoned plans to fish in Yellowstone because of foul weather. We blasted through the park and made it to a glorious fall scene in Grand Teton National Park. That night we camped near Pinedale, Wyoming. As we approached Vernal, UT I made it clear I wanted to stop at Dinosaur National Monument. Burt was ambivalent. I insisted. We had been before but the quarry exhibit was closed for major repairs (4 years of repairs) and Burt had not seen the most awesome dinosaur display in the world. Well, the LaBrea tarpits come close but they aren’t just dinos. Just then the transmission started to balk. I feared Burt would scuttle the side excursion but he didn’t. Rain was headed our way and it was hard to enjoy the tour wondering why we didn’t get the transmission repaired back in Montana but it was worth the effort. Even Burt was amazed at the in-situ display of 149 million year old fossil bones. Take the trip if you are within 100 miles. That night we limped to a rest area south of Price.
I contacted my friend Berna and said, “Hey we’re coming to see you. Tomorrow.” Berna is always sociable and welcoming. We trained for several marathons and ultra-marathons together and once upon a time worked at EPA together. Berna was ready to see us. We spent two nights in Shiprock. We helped Berna attach reflectors to a road sign so her 80 year old Uncle Alex could find the turn into his road more easily. Maybe I shouldn’t freely confess what could be construed as defacement of public property but I admit it. All three of us were in on it. I suggested that 80 years and difficulty seeing at night might be ground to stop night driving. I was voted down. All of us had dinner at a restaurant called Nataani Nez. Nataani Nez was a Bureau of Indian Affairs boss in the 1930s. Alex told us a story about him and how his name means tall boss.
The next day we drove 400 miles looking for piñon pines. Burt is a natural hunter gatherer and Berna’s Navaho family took many expeditions to the mountains to gather piñons. Berna’s mom had died a few years ago and Berna had not been out since her mother’s death. We decided it was time. Too bad we couldn’t find a tree. We covered the entire NW corner of New Mexico. Finally through the use of Facebook and general perseverance we found a productive tree. One tree. After 4 hours in the car we spent 1 1/2 hours on our hands and knees collecting pine nuts. Between the three of us we collected over $200 worth of nuts. Even the dogs got into it. Olive says she prefers acorns to pine nuts. Burt’s driving annoyed Berna and Berna’s driving terrified us so I was voted in to drive us home. Me, the non-driver, was fast enough but safe enough so no one complained. That’s how I earned the name Nataani Nez. Tall boss.
In the midst of this Burt called out trusty Animas mechanic, Darren. Darren has done some major repairs for us and we can’t complain. He was ready to see us as soon as we could get there. With our crosscountry trip coming up we it was time to stop playing like ostriches and get the transmission fixed. We decided to head straight to Portal and get ready for Portal Irish Music Week. Here we are.
This is our first summer free of work in 5 years and 3 weeks in we are loving it. No work deadlines are looming and we can do whatever we want. A very freeing feeling. The first 2 weeks were spent traveling up the west coast and reconnecting with left coast friends and family and making trailer repairs. The last week has been in the Helena area. Helena was home for 30 years for Burt and 20 for me. Connections are diverse and deep. It’s always hard to figure out what to do and who to see. Generally we play it loose and see what happens. This was our first visit in two years. Many connections have naturally faded and some have strengthened despite time and distance. My friend Ed and I think it all depends on a person’s preferred method of touching base. There is texting, facebooking, emailing, phoning , snail mail and more… If you do not share the same preferred manner of communication the lines are quiet. Add to that the demands of jobs and children and who has time to chat?
This visit has had more elements of loss than earlier returns to our former hometown. Some people have noticeably declined and others died. My musical mentors are a generation older than me and the changes there are most noticeable but the loss of my peer, Linda, the sharpest pain. We had Linda’s husband over for dinner with Rosemary and Ed and it was a joy to reconnect. I only cried once when I learned half of Linda’s ashes were spread up on our favorite running trail. Linda and I ran it together the first time when I was 34. That run became a regular part of our lives for many years. From that 7 1/2 mile route we hatched our idea to run a marathon. The ridge trail with its varied terrain and expansive views became the mainstay training run as we added longer and longer weekend runs to our schedule. Frequently the ridge trail was the last bit of a 20+ mile endeavor.
Aside from our grueling and expanding schedule of eating with friends we managed to play tennis and bridge and music AND visit the doctor for checkups. We’ve scheduled some shows for July in Helena with former bandmates Mike and Barb. Announcements coming soon. We also took a tour of the former Asarco lead smelter with Betsy. Betsy and her team have done an astounding job reclaiming this heavily contaminated industrial site. I feel very lucky to see the work I first imagined happening in 1998 nearing its conclusion. I feel even luckier that I didn’t actually have to do most of the work.
After 5 non-stop days of play (thanks Ed and Rosemary for the constant doggie daycare) we headed to the greater Yellowstone area to retrieve our rowboat from Sue and Jay’s river house. The Sea King rides again. We are headed to Montana’s northwest territories and her many streams and lakes. Fish will be eaten. Jen and Robin will be visited. Pinochle will be played. A few nails might be nailed. But first Yellowstone….