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.
Burt and I had to sneak into Helena for a day so I could get my night guard followup checkup. Back in May dentist convinced me it was time to protect the many thousands of dollars investment I had made in my mouth. Gold crowns that I’ve had for twenty-five years are still secure but my subconscious habit of gnashing my teeth all night long (and some days, too) had made some serious grooves. Dr. K said it was only a matter of time before I broke something. I agreed to have a custom guard made and I’ve been using it for about a month. The guard slips right in and I fall asleep fine. I even imagine it has helped me relax my throat muscles and made singing and swallowing easier. My jaw muscles aren’t as tired as they used to be but sdon’t expect me to turn into a Chatty Cathy.
After the dentist we took a beating in Bridge and then headed up to the annual Dearborn Picnic picking party. I’ve written about this destination many times in previous posts. This year we enjoyed moderate temperatures, a remodeled stream bed, and the usual fine mix of friends and music. The children of the founders and their friends now greatly out number the older generation but the music moves perpetually with the people. We can go to bed early knowing the ‘kids’ will take the all night shift and sing to the gods of the dark.
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.
The Gypsy Carpenters have been on the job less than a week and almost all demolition has been completed and major style decisions are made. The cabinets and counters are measured and ordered and paid. Tile and bath and faucets and flooring have been selected. Now we just need to find an electrician. Hopefully that will become clear tomorrow.
Besides intensely working (we’re sore and tired) we have managed to fit in some fun, too. I had my first fiddle lesson with Mike on Friday. Mike was my first music teacher nearly twenty years ago. It’s a little weird to be back sitting in his studio after a ten year hiatus. We learned a hornpipe and worked on some tunes I already knew. We’ve also played music for fun with our former WMD band mates Todd and Barb. Todd and his wife Gretchen left Helena right after we hit the road and they returned to stay a couple of weeks ago. Fortuitous timing for all of us.
Today we are celebrating Burt’s birthday with a trip to see some live local theater. The Full Monty is on at Helena’s Grandstreet Theater. I am embarrassed to admit this is my first visit to our local theater institution. As they say better late than never. It took a while for me to figure out my husband is a fan of live theater. I grew up in Drama Club and drifted away. We’re both looking forward to this hilarious and bawdy show.
Trip report from the singing and swinging group on the Letty. Susan and Burt, Susan and Bill, Amy and Edwin, Sue and Clay, Brian, and Fiona, and Robert. From this point on: Susan is Susan Mittelstadt. Susana is Susan Roth, Sue is Sue. There’s a full list of birds seen at the end.
2/4/18: The very first moments of our very first day looked like we might have a long week ahead of us. It all begin well enough with a fish dinner followed by Amy’s birthday cake at Puembo Birding Gardens. Then things went bad. Susan woke up with an intense version of tourista at 2 AM. With only 5 hours to go before the bus to the airport arrived some tough calls needed to be made. Pondering the hospital or disturbing a guest, Susan and Burt chose the guest. Edwin has been Susan’s intermittent primary care provider of 35 years and the two share a long tradition of medical care in remote locales. Susan swallowed her pride and gratefully accepted a shot of anti-nausea drug. She also despaired over the idea of dragging some noro-virus like disease onto airplanes and a ship with a group ready to enjoy the Galapagos Islands. Edwin assured her that if she kept her hands clean she would not infect the group. So she made up her mind to get herself to the Galapagos and recover en route. At seven she was able to leave the room and found the group rallied and taking over leadership roles. Burt was managing Susan. Susana was gathering people, luggage and keeping track of time. The bus was late. Twenty minutes after the scheduled pick up time the bus was spotted passing by a block away. Our hostess was excitedly trying to direct the driver by phone but it was not working. Ultimately Bill saved the day and ran down the bus on foot. Run, Bill, run! We arrived at the airport with only a little time to spare but EcoVenturas was ready and swept us though all the preliminaries with alacrity. Susan was wheeled about in a wheelchair. Sue and Clay joined us at the airport. We all made the flight. Way to go team. Roberto joined the group at the stopover in Guayaquil.
We arrived in San Cristobal on schedule and were ferried to the boat. The Naturalist Journey’s group met 6 new friends and we seamlessly merged into one group of friendly and excited participants. Susan passed out the species checklists and shared the extras with the other couples. We had our boarding briefing and then enjoyed the first of a continuous string of fine meals. After lunch there was a practice emergency drill. Susan slept through it but reports were it went well. We are all pleased there was no need to find out who or who not might have been paying attention.
The afternoon was the first snorkeling of the trip. Burt helped the newbies figure out the mask and snorkel and generally relax in the water. Fiona saw her first sea turtle. Highlights of the outing were the Pacific Green Sea Turtle, the blue-footed Booby, sea lions, great and magnificent frigate birds. That night an exhausted group headed to bed early. No music was played.
2/5/18: By the first morning aboard we were all under the Galapagos’ magic spell and the bad omens of the day before were forgotten. We started with a wet landing at Cerro Brujo and a beach walk. Our Ecoventura guides Cecibel and Giancarlo set us free to explore a lovely stretch of soft sandy shoreline. We walked in sight of Leon Dormido (or Kicker Rock). There we saw our first marine iguanas and lava lizards. The San Cristobal mockingbird, a warbler finch, and the velvety gray lava gull were also spotted. Elliot’s storm petrels danced on the water behind the Letty, too.
The late morning was spent snorkeling nearby. Words fail, mainly because I have no idea what we saw. The snorkeling never failed to impress.
After lunch we did a hike at Punta Pitt. Begging blue-footed booby babies. Dancing blue-footed boobies. Egg sitting blue-footed boobies. Blue-footed boobies are looking good at Punta Pitt. A marine iguana took a run at Susan and she leapt and screamed to the delight of everyone in her group. Susan swears she was not scared only startled by the love stuck reptile.
Highlights of the day: All three species of boobies (red-footed, blue-footed, and Nazca) were seen. We also enjoyed close up swoops of the nocturnal swallowtail gull and the red-billed tropic bird. Fiona is bitten by the bird listing craze and it is revealed that her SO is an eBird administrator. Fiona spots a pair of American Oystercatchers.
2/6/18: Day three found us walking at Punta Suarez on Espaniola and sea kayaking, snorkeling, and hiking along Gardener Bay. It was a jam packed day. On our hike we saw our only waved albatross. It was dead but nobody seemed to mind. Giancarlo explained that the largely unfilled niche of carrion eaters in the Islands was why skeletons and mummified remains were so plentiful. On the live side we saw more Nazca boobies, a snake, and sea lions and marine iguanas. The marine iguanas are especially colorful and active this time of year. Our boating expedition was a delight. Calm seas, clear water, balmy temperatures. What else could you ask for? Susan and Fiona went out together while Burt boated with Brian. Roberto did the SUP and all the other couples were paired with their mates. Nobody was thrown overboard.
During the snorkel we saw a massive ball of creole fish. A shimmering blue delight.
That night Susan ate her first solid food and the instruments and singers came together and got the trip groove going. Brian, Burt, Susan, Fiona, and Roberto got down. The Capitan danced with Sue to Love Potion #9 while Claudia drove the ship. Edwin wins the award for knowing all the words to all the songs.
The day’s highlights: Galapagos mockingbird, Espaniola warbler finch, wandering tattler, a yellow-crowned night heron, creole fish, marine iguanas.
2/7/18: On our fourth day we were getting the hang of this expedition. Our ship was anchored just off Floreana. Cecibel had us getting up early to avoid the heat. The early wake up call had the added benefit of avoiding other groups. We’ve hardly crossed paths with other visitors on any day. Despite our good natured grumbles about the 6 AM alarms we are happy. That Cecibel is a smart one. On this day we visited Post Office bay and learned the history of the area. Following a centuries old tradition we took the time to sort through the mail and find some post cards to hand deliver. We left our own cards behind with the hope someone would bring them to us someday.
Before the visit to the post office, we took a walk to the turtle beach and saw fresh tracks of a Pacific green sea turtle. She was swimming away from her nest as we arrived. On our return walk we stopped and watched American flamingos in the pond just behind the dunes. Joining the flamingoes were a whimbrel, a sanderling, some lava herons, white-cheeked pintails, and a black-necked stilt. The day’s bird list was very long and varied.
That afternoon there was more snorkeling and in the evening lots of fun music with Fiona singing Crazy and Danny Boy. The requests started pouring in and the whole group was singing along now. Brian wowed us with some Sligo solos and joined in on the pop tunes, too.
2/8/18: On this day we left the wilderness behind and visited the inhabited island of Santa Cruz. First up was a stop at Los Gemelos, the twin giant sink holes in the lava on the side of the highway. At this volcanic formation half our group saw the elusive woodpecker finch. The rest of us enjoyed hearing about seeing the woodpecker finch. Afterwards we bussed up to El Chayote Farm to see the giant Galapagos tortoises. The seasonal rains were late this year and so the vegetation wasn’t very deep or thick. While a dry wet season isn’t good news for all creatures it makes for prime tortoise viewing. We saw many fine creatures and they were in the mood for love. Tortoise humping is not as sexy as it sounds nor is it a high action event but it is very fun to see. We saw many Galapagos finches here and started checking off some of Darwin’s famous species. We walked through a beautiful and long lava tunnel. There were common gallinules, smooth billed-anis, a whimbrel and some cattle egrets in the ranch surroundings.
That afternoon we took a tour of the Darwin Center. Giancarlo and Cecibel explained the captive breeding program and the accidental finds of George in the wild and Diego in a zoo. We saw Diego, father of hundreds, in his compound with several lovely ladies. We also saw the remains of George, father of none, hermetically sealed in a glass case. George was the last of his kind so it’s appropriate he has a place where we can forever contemplate the loss of a species.
Afterwards we had free time in town. There was shopping to do and Ecuavoli to watch. That Ecuavoli is a high stakes game. Three on three for several hundred dollars a match. The Carnival parade with a band and the local beauty queens came by just as we headed back to the Letty for the evening.
2/9/18: On this day we visited one of the most spectacular scenes in the world, Bartolome. We took a boardwalk across a lava landscape to a view of Pinnacle rock. It was a stout hike but we all made it without distress. Again we were grateful to Cecibel for an early start. We had the island to ourselves and the dark lava was already heating up at 7:30. Our guides explained the geology of the area while we walked. Tuff was discussed at length. We saw some lovely lava cactus starting the process of vegetating the islet. At the viewing deck you can see the isle nipped in with bays on opposing shores and Pinnacle rock in the center of it all. Afterwards some of us snorkeled. Again, the snorkeling was worth the effort of donning all that gear. White tipped sharks lurked in shallow crevasse just below us. The lava landscape continued into the seascape. On our way back from the swim we passed the base of Pinnacle rock and spotted a Galapagos penguin. Fiona, on board, was watching the pangas and took note of our stop and saw the penguin from the Letty with her binoculars. Impressive skills of observation.
That afternoon we took a panga ride into the Black Turtle Mangroves on Isla Santa Cruz. Right away we happened upon a multi-species feeding frenzy. Sardines were running and everything else was chasing them. Frigates slid down in lazy arcs to just dip the tip of their bills in and flick out a fish. Pelicans and blue-footed boobies plunged deep from up high. Herons lined the shore and stabbed at passersby. Meanwhile bigger fish swam behind the schools and created vortexes of disturbed water.
We traveled deeper into the mangroves and found a hawksbill sea turtle and both white and black tipped sharks. Then we found one of the most delightful creatures to see from a boat, juvenile hammerhead sharks. We had stumbled into the recently discovered hammerhead shark nursery. There were clumps of five or more in several locations. Our guide, Giancarlo, had never seen so many baby hammerheads in one location. Hammerheads at this size look like a fun pet. This is such a recent discovery that it only made the news the week we returned.
More music and more singers let lose in public that night. Roberto slayed Dylan’s Another Cup of Coffee. Brian showed he’s got the chops to improvise on anything we throw at him.
2/10/18: The penultimate day. The previous day was one boggling scene or creature after another. On our last full day in the islands we had the time to look around and think about all the beauty we had taken in. First we took a long walk at South Plaza. We saw a hybrid of a land/sea iguana at the entry to the island. This streak faced animal is neither one nor the other. It isn’t even known if it can propagate. We also observed courtship between swallowtail gulls, a nursing sea lion and pup, some wrestling lava lizards, and some interspecies interactions between land and sea iguanas. I guess they have to interact if they occasionally produce hybrids.
We watched the shearwaters and swallowtail gulls soaring off the cliffs. A hatchling in a cliff side nest below us was fed by a parent. Half the group watched sharks eat a seal. It was reported to be a gory slow death.
That afternoon we snorkeled and hiked at North Seymour. Our hike was full of frigates in all stages of reproduction from courtship to eggs to hatchlings to juveniles. There were shrub climbing land lizards, too. There were also many blue-footed boobies. We saw two male boobies vying for the attention of a lone female. All that foot wagging and sky pointing and she seemed unimpressed. We enjoyed the show.
Our last night of tunes was full of group singing. The crew joined us for some well known numbers in both English and Spanish. Cielito Lindo, Besame Mucho, Quizas…
2/11/18: We spent our morning hanging in internet cafes and passing the time before our flight back to reality. Here’s the complete bird list.
My friend Barbara has this darling Christmas ornament in her home. I saw it the other day when we met for Bridge. I was filled with covetous ideas and thought, “I need a cat and the fiddle ornament.” I’ve got to keep my eyes peeled. I can’t steal Barbara’s. She’s had it for 41 years.
There are all kinds of theories on the origin of this rhyme but I’m in agreement with most experts. It’s nonsense for the sake of nonsense.
Hey diddle diddle,
The Cat and the Fiddle,
The Cow jump’d over the Moon,
The little dog laugh’d to see such Craft,
And the Fork ran away with the Spoon.
Today is Laura and Barry’s wedding day. We’ve been hanging around Portal waiting for this day since the bridge was finished. An event well worth waiting for but, my, there’s not much going on when we’re not working or super hiking. I practiced some of my new Irish tunes this week. I read a book. Burt and I visited centenarian Bob again. A bear attacked the gNash. I saw a couple more tarantulas. We took a hike. A mouse landed on my shoulder.
Yesterday Mimi was dropped off at Dodie’s for her extended kitty B&B stay. I left Dodie with Mimi’s bed, food, snacks, bowls, litter box, litter, blankie, and more food. Mimi’s luggage weighs more than mine. We also left Dodie with our minds at ease because we know she won’t mind having an elderly stink ball as a companion. Mimi isn’t so sure what to do with all the floor space. When I left she was completing her 53rd circumnavigation of the living area. The gNash is soulless without our feline companion.
Two nights ago was the incident of the bear under the gNash. Just after 11:00 I was woken by two quick Olive barks. Olive has a sophisticated system of barks. These two barks were ‘I hear something’ and ‘GoAwayBear!’ I woke up and, with Ollie ears in tune new we were under assault. Olive was quiet and there was a dragging/grating sound emanating from just outside the window on Burt’s side of the bed. I leaned over and peered out blindly but thought I saw a very large and dark hump moving. I said, “There’s a bear” as I shook Burt. Like all husbands roused from sleep he yelled, “There is NO bear.” Insert murderer, robber, thief, rapist for bear and you have all men waking up to wife saying: There’s a …. Is this in their DNA or are they taught by their fathers or is it learned after millions of false alarms?
Clearly Burt hadn’t fully assessed the situation. Nor was he awake. Still I thought, maybe he’s right. It’s probably a mouse. Suddenly more dragging noises and I hit Burt again and I said, “There’s a bear.” This time he bolted straight up and yelled, “There’s A bear.” This was the first time in history that I feel Burt actually met or exceeded my level of concern for our physical safety. Wide awake he knew instantly what I did not. Burt knew the bear had found a stash of food under our trailer (Hellooo, Hell, no…) and now the bear knew our trailer was a flimsy tin can of filled with delightful food. Burt closed his window and the window over the dinette. I left mine open. Menopause, bear or no bear. Our noise making scared the bear enough so that noises stopped and we couldn’t see it. Not much sleep was had as we both envisioned the bear ripping off our grey water tank or stretching a paw in to find the dog food. The next morning the bear was still on the pile of dry beans (my zombie apocalypse supply) when Burt went out to check the damages. He chased bruno away. Our storage cooler had sustained minor bite damages and the rice and beans were spread all around. I presume that bear got a mean tummy ache from eating dry beans. Burt cleaned up the mess as best he could. We seal up the windows whenever we leave now but if a bear wants into a trailer it can make it happen. Today we are moving to a new location. Hopefully the bear doesn’t follow.
Also this week we played music for Bob. It was a kind of practice session. Whiel visiting Burt asked Bob if he had any of his instruments still. Bob still had his fiddle which he had inherited from his father. He showed it to us. I got it in tune and played some tunes on it that Bob’s dad might have played. Bob practically seized the thing from me and gave it a go himself. Despite his torn rotator cuff, deafness, long finger nails, and lack of practice the phrase of a tune came out. Bob commented that he liked my bow. You can see the video on Facebook. This private session was further rewarded when Bob left his house and came to our concert the next day. He doesn’t get around like he used to. He and his gal friend Gloria were all the audience we needed to make our day special. We made plans to have another jam session between our Mexico and Galapagos trips.
Another recent wildlife encounter happened when I decided to clean out a bird nesting box on the old adobe stage building where we are parked. I lifted the front of the box and it was packed full of bedding. Fearing biting bugs and the mites I’ve found in other nests I grabbed a stick to clean the place out. As I dug in a very alarmed mouse jumped out and landed on my shoulder. I screamed. She screamed. Then she ran down my chest, jumped to my knee, and then the ground. I stopped cleaning for fear of finding babies. The birds will have to battle it out come spring.