Time Alone

Our newest student
Our newest student

I am wrapping up 48 hours of alone time. After Dad’s visits and a concert and a massive trip to the beach and Jen and Robin it was time. Burt and Jen and Robin went surfing and camping for two days. I was invited but I decided to stay home and do as little as possible. I welcomed the girls back to their music and English classes on Tuesday. I went to my Spanish lesson. I watched TV and I slept. I hardly even ate. Bread and butter. Some cheese.

The big event of my alone time was taking the Olvis to the beach and birding for a few hours alone. Spring migration has emptied our wild spots. While I saw a lot of individual birds, I counted only 13 species. For the same spot the numbers are down from nearly forty in February and more than twenty two weeks ago. Just like the ex-pats that winter here the birds have headed north to more temperate weather. I hear from friends on facebook that they are seeing my orioles, orange-crowned warblers and common yellowthroats at their feeders this week. It makes me happy sad. Soon we will be headed north, too, and maybe we’ll see some of our feathered friends.

Today Burt and Jen and Robin will return from tehir adventure just in time to help me take all our kids to a live performance in Todos Santos. Instead of class we are going to see a play about the ocean performed by kids just like them. My friend Rocío Maceda wrote and produced the play. She has come to many of our Gypsy Carpenter’s shows so I am delighted to bring a huge audience to her event.  Speaking of the Gypsy Carpenters, here are some pics from our house concert. If you look carefully you can see my dad in the audience. House concerts are a great way to share live music. Thanks, Lorna and Donna for having us.

The doo wop gals.
The doo wop gals.
Half the room
Half the room
This baby kept the business end my way.
This baby kept the business end my way. He lives at the beach where I regularly bird.
Getting ready for the show.
Getting ready for the show.
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Galapagos with the Gypsy Carpenters

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.

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I am going solo

Burt has left for a trip to the mountains. I am happy sad. Happy because he’s out doing something he loves. Sad because I can no longer keep up. Next time we’ll rent a horse and I’ll ride in. It’s just 7 miles but straight up. I could do a flat seven miles with mule support but the intense up hill makes me miserable. So he’s off in the wood for a few days and I am here alone with Mimi and the Olvis. Burt was wondering if I could manage to feed myself and the pets without incident. I’m not sure. This morning I made myself a cheese quesadilla. Lunch remains a mystery.

Tomorrow is action packed. Yoga, tennis, band practice(!), and a gig. Yup I am solo in more sense than just living alone. I will be performing in a band on Thursday night without Burt at my side. Freaky. I wonder if I know how to play music without him. Eating is easier. Burt and I were both asked to sit in and I was kind of surprised they still wanted me without Burt. I will report back later with how it goes.

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Lost my train of thought

Alphabet/Alfabeto
Alphabet/Alfabeto/Abecedario/ABCs

Ale, the kid’s real English teacher, asked me last week to teach the kids the alphabet song. It might not be obvious that learning how to spell in a foreign language is important but I can tell you from my own personal experience it is critical. A few years ago I tried to tell an guy I was hiring off of Craig’s List how to find our job site. This guy spoke only Spanish. I could speak Spanish to him but getting a street address and a town name across two languages can be hard. I tried to say the name slowly. Then I had the bright idea that I would spell the name. Oh, snap! I couldn’t spell easily. I kept saying e instead of a and i instead of e and after a few laughter filled minutes I realized I couldn’t even figure out how to say k….I texted the guy and he found us just fine.

I have since learned to spell pretty well but I still get hung up on k, g, and x. Most recently I’ve learned to ask the kids how to spell their names since I can’t understand what they try to tell me. They are world champion mumblers and most of the names are quite unusual to my ears. Try: Marely, Mireya, Onahomi, Yeraska, Frixia, Janexi, Zania, Evely…in Spanish. I enter their spelled names into my phone and practice after class. I still confuse the names Marely and Mireya but at least I see them in different places.

So today we sang the ABCs. Remember how it goes? It’s set to the tune of Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star. We did that too. There is a Spanish language version of the same song.  The kids’ faces lit up when they realized their ABCs and their Brillante Estrella were the same tune, too. Nobody had pointed it out to them before. Add that to my list of things to learn.

 

Half the class
Half the class
Focusing
Focusing
New words
New words
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Boots de-dusted

The star of our show
The star of our show

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.

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I blew it and it was unintentional

Burt’s been studying Spanish with an on-line program called Duolingo. Duolingo keeps track of how many days you log in and practice. If a student makes it to ten days in a row they get extra points added to their score. You can use points to upgrade the all free features. Burt says he’s setting a record of one day streaks. I guess  I just hit reset around here, too, and it was simply forgetfulness. I had a window in my very busy day and when that window arrived I did diddly. It didn’t even pass through my mind. What does that tell me? Time for a mini-break.

Yesterday was tennis at 8:30. Sunday morning is a round robin event that gets on our nerves. We rarely partake. Too much yakking not enough playing. We did it any way. Some people like to socialize. I like to do stuff. I was even asked to explain how I can be involved in all the activities we are involved in and my disdain for hanging with people. I was like, “Seriously?” To me this is unexplainable. If a person can’t understand loathing chatting and loving singing a song or chasing a tennis ball or playing cards there’s a wide gulf in socio-perception between us.  Doing something with people is fun. Talking about things with more than one other person: agony. Okay, maybe two other people and Burt is okay. Call me an introvert that likes to play and work. No small talk, please.

After tennis, which ended at 11:00, was the break. Of course, we ate lunch. Then we lounged. Brain discarded all thoughts. At 2:00 we played music at a memorial service for a guy we barely knew but was a fixture in my daily life. Brian used to come to our shows when they were at the local pizza joint. He lived in teh RV park where I take yoga. I saw him several times a week. We’d say, hello and exchange pleasantries. Cue social agony. With nothing more to say I’d usually head for home. Brian was very nice and very helpful. His last major ‘help thy neighbor’ feat was helping Rosemary and Ed strap their camper onto their truck. He was dead four days later. He even joked with Rosemary (she and Ed are much better at chatting with people. That’s why they can be campground hosts and we can’t.) that he might not live to next year. He knew (and I did) that he was very ill. Rosemary had not heard the news.

So we played his memorial feast and got a great gift in return. Brian did not like music but he came to hear us because Althea and Paty liked music. Althea was his wife and Paty was their neighbor. He once told Paty, “I don’t like music, but I like the Gypsy Carpenters. They are real. They are working man’s music.” There you have it. A gift of appreciation from the dead. We are working class and proud to have included a former commercial fisherman in our fold of fans. We played his favorite song Sixteen Tons.

I hope today’s blog was worth the wait.

 

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And the fog rolled in

Big news here: Mi papá va a visitarnos. My father is going to visit us. Holy cow. Talk about feeding the blog. What a font of material he will be as he gets his first taste of Baja. Burt and I are already considering the list of chores we have ahead of us to make our home presentable. Complete demolition is not possible in the time frame before he gets here. Dad will arrive the last week of March.

Today the Gypsy Carpenters played a private party. It was a great job and we made a few bucks. The party also gave us a low key way to kick off some dust. The whales were dancing just off shore at Elias Calles while the sun went down and the tunes flowed. We ate too much, too. On the way home we did some drive by birding at Rancho Pilar. There was a flock of lesser goldfinches flitting from bush to bush. Jackpot.

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Show Scheduled

Burt working hard
Burt working hard
Me picking the pear of a big pawpaw.
Me picking the pear of a big pawpaw.

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.

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The Annual Death March to Titi Mountain

Burt's aspirin a day makes even mild scratches dramatic.
Burt’s aspirin a day makes even mild scratches dramatic.

Burt’s finally had enough of our annual slog on the skirts of Titi Mountain. I think. We’ve made an annual trek up there every year for the last four year. This year I cried. Between losing the way, the heat, hunger, and the darn beta-blockers I had my work cut out for me. I knew I would be miserable on an uphill hike through the thorn forest and I tried to take it like a big person but the first 40 minutes were really discouraging. I almost quit.

The start of this marathon is a very poor ranch deep in the desert at the edge of an arroyo. In the past the house has been vacant but this year the owners were there with their three skeletal dogs. The burro that rubbed his head on our car all night long last year was not seen. The owners speak a version of Baja Spanish that I find impenetrable. We exchanged pleasantries where every other word was Mande? or Como? What? Hi? What? How are you? Say that again? Great? You? What? Painful. Then the man says, “You play violin.” I heard that. We played music once here 4 years ago and everyone within 10 square miles remembers. Does this make us famous. In a word, yes. At the time it seemed like we were torturing them. Maybe we were. Today he seemed to remember it fondly. He asked if I had brought my violin and seemed disappointed when I said no. Maybe he was just being polite.

This route is located in a spot our friends the deer hunters showed us four years ago. Angel and Ramon agreed to let us tag along while they hunted. That day we covered twice as much ground in the same amount of time. We were faster then but we also had a guide dragging us over and under and through vegetation. On our own we wallow a bit trying to figure out where to go. The area is very wild but also heavily grazed by cattle. There are microtrails everywhere created by cows stomping their way to every green shoot or puddle of water. Cows make trails that are too short for the average gringo. Tree limbs, vines and cactus hang about at the four foot level. Constantly we find ourselves trying to decide if we should climb over a log, pass under that nasty vine, or through the chest high weeds. All this obstacle course like maneuvering while headed uphill. It’s not an enjoyable walk; it is more like an expedition. About an hour in there is a native palm oasis. Things get more enjoyable there.

The thing that keeps us going, besides the annual grudge match, is that we hope to find some of Baja’s endemic birds that live at the higher elevations. Today we had our eyes and ears peeled for the cape robin, the Baird’s junco, and the isolated population of acorn woodpeckers. All of these birds are subspecies of birds found elsewhere but the ones here in Baja have been left isolated by the ocean and the desert. They don’t migrate. They all look slightly different from tehir more mobile colleagues.

At 2:30 and after 4 hours of trudging with ample and lengthy breaks we turned for home. My phone said we’d walked 3 miles. I believe it was closer to 2 but it felt more like 5. So three is a nice compromise. At the turnaround point we had not seen any of our birds. We did find a nice persimmon tree on the edge of the palm oasis and it was full of butter butts (yellow rumped warblers) and orange crowned warblers. The fruit tree is a relic of the sugar processing days. At the ridge there was a sugar cane processing plant. Local people hiked 6 miles every day to work it back in the late 1800s.  The workers planted fruit trees on their route. On our way back down, just before the persimmons, Burt spotted a woodpecker. I got my binoculars on it just as it flew and I was 90% certain it was our clown faced acorn woodpecker. Then Burt spotted another one and this next one held still and we both confirmed it was the bird we were looking for. Yippee. All tears were worth it.

Here is an easy stretch of the so-called trail. It's more like a route.
Here is an easy stretch of the so-called trail. It’s more like a route. Olive and Elvis appreciated that fetid water.
Here's what the trail typically looked like. Over or under or around?
Here’s what the trail typically looked like. Over or under or around?
Titi Mountain and another thing to walk around or over.
Titi Mountain and another thing to walk around or over.
The saddle there above Burt's head was our goal. After 4 hours of hiking we didn't make it. It was the closest we've come on our own.
The saddle there above Burt’s head was our goal. After 4 hours of hiking we didn’t make it. It was the closest we’ve come on our own. Just on the other side are the sugar cane processing mills ruins.
The house roof visible below the tree branch is where we started.
The house roof visible below the tree branch is where we started. The start was a 1 hour and 45 minute drive from our place. The locals are very remote.
Resting in the oasis.
Resting in the oasis.
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Hmmm. Struggling here.

OCW ready for a bath
OCW ready for a bath
This orange crowned warbler is still not showing its orange crown.
This orange crowned warbler is still not showing its orange crown.
Another new bird eating oranges. Cactus wren.
Another new bird eating oranges. Cactus wren.
Ed and Burt
Ed and Burt
The gang. Our last night together in Mexico.
The gang. Our last night together in Mexico. Dots is Janet’s mighty cat. He’s not afraid of anyone.
Getting the camper on top of the truck.
Getting the camper on top of the truck.

Here is the writing assignment for today from Zoë Dearborn: Think of a highlight of your life. A moment or time period where you felt uplifted or inspired or deeply engaged in life. Free write for 15 minutes. Describe this memory in detail. Emotions, senses, images. Draw or illustrate this experience. What truth does it reflect to you about yourself? Enjoy.

I’ve been mulling this over since the middle of the night. I’m not getting anywhere singular. I was so paralyzed for a while I opened it up for suggestions with Burt, Rosemary, and Ed. They have all seen me through thick and thin. Burt suggested when he flipped my raft. I’d had some thoughts on epic outdoor adventures but none struck me as lasting or interesting now. I forget what RR and Ed said.

Recent life events cast a light on the feeling of good enough and exactly right for the moment that I feel more happy about how I was in crisis than I was in a stereotypical happy moment. The 10 minutes between noticing Olive was poisoned and driving her to town strike me as some of the worst and best of my life. I did exactly what needed to be done and I was aware of it in the moment. I knew only a veterinarian could save her life. I disregarded politely bidding ‘adios’ to my friends. I did not try to save her myself or provide comfort during the drive. I disregarded traffic laws. I stayed focused. I got her to the vet on time. I didn’t panic. I felt time passing by. I saw cars in slow motion. I was in the moment. I don’t want a repeat but I can accept that I did what needed doing and I did it well. The end results were out of my hands and I wonder if I would feel okay about this had Olive died.

Someone recently asked me if I sang at my mother’s funeral. I told her how I had and that it was a transformative moment. We’d struggled to rehearse three pieces. None of the practicing went smoothly. Either Burt or I would flub a line, loose the chord progression, or just start blubbering. I felt so sad but at peace about my mother’s death after such a long illness. The conflicting emotions were at home side by side. My mother sang and played guitar with a church group when I was a child. The moment I stood up to sing for her at her memorial service I felt a column of light fill me. I knew I was doing the exact thing I was supposed to do. It could be a good or bad performance and it was exactly right. It felt fantastic. I was singing for my mother. It was the right thing to do. I was enlivened. It felt flawless. The words of 500 miles soared across the space. The feeling of sounds leaving me felt beautiful. It was stunningly easy. The actual act of singing was such a comfort.  I wonder if I’d feel the same way if we had fallen apart and I muffed it? I wonder if seeing the video (Yes, can you believe it, the funeral home filmed the service. ugh.) would ruin this moment for me? I’ve told my father I never want to hear or see the performance. Some art is meant to be ephemeral. Never to be seen or heard again. That whole week I felt so useful and available to my father. It was a good thing in a bad time.

So I am struck by how the two things I feel most drawn to are so very recent and such obvious culminations of life’s practice for me. First aid, EMT training, karate, adrenaline sports, music, years of performing, yoga, meditation, all these things culminating in my ability to do what I needed and or wanted to do at the right moment. If I could bring that presence in on a daily basis outside the realm of tragedy or catastrophe I think I would be calmer and more relaxed. We’ll see.

 

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