Jolon

Serious marriage portrait
Serious marriage portrait.

 

There’s a song Burt used to regularly sing called South Coast. It’s not often heard now but has been covered many times in the last fifty years. Arlo Guthrie and the Kingston Brothers and Ramblin’ Jack Elliot and Burt are some of the singers you might have heard take their turn on this haunting story and well matched melody. The story is set back when this land was Spain. As such there are references to things most of us have long forgotten about or never knew including the town mentioned in the chorus, a town called Jolon. The J is pronounced like an H. Hoe-Lone.

Here we are nestled in the hills very near the south coast of the song. Jolon isn’t too far away. Or what was Jolon. Burt dragged his memory for the song and we sang it and pondered why it has slipped away from our regular repertoire. Because I couldn’t play well in Gm when we hit the road and lost the rest of the band. As Burt and I contemplated bringing the tune back to the Gypsy Carpenters, the boys hatched a plan to visit Jolon and a nearby Spanish mission. Burt and Barry like history. Barry likes to drive. A road trip idea was born. Laura and I decided we’d look for birds if we got to board with the historic drive.

Yesterday four humans and two dogs covered the land of the song. We saw the actual South Coast, the remains of Jolon, and the Spanish Mission of San Antonio de Padua. There was even a barranca. Unlike the song’s characters who used a horse named Buck (spoiler alert: Don’t ride a horse named Buck.) we traveled in a late model sedan. Most of the area is now the property of the U.S. Army. A vast amount of land remains undeveloped and nearly in the natural state you would have seen if you were traveling in the era of Spanish rule. Father Junipero Serra picked a great place to found one of his many missions. This was the third mission in California. It fell into ruin after Mexico separated from Spain and took the missions from the Catholic church. There were no private takers and so the mission was neglected. It fell down. After a stretch of time this land was taken from Mexico by the U.S. So the ownership history looks something like this: Spain (via Catholic Church), Mexico, U.S.  While under the U.S., William Randolph Hearst bought vast swaths of California, including this entire area.  Hearst lost most of it and then the Army took over. The mission was given back to the Catholics by the U.S. government. The church rebuilt the mission. The rebuilt mission today needs a $15 million renovation because of seismic codes. That’s a lot of money to rebuild what is essentially a replica. Not my problem.

Mission San Antonio de Padua is the site of some historically excellent water management. These guys were moving water like the Romans. There’s an interpretive sign acknowledging the early history civil engineering accomplishment near a defunct reservoir. They had a mill works, and tannery and indoor plumbing. The ruins are not quite to the standards of Italy but still interesting. In fact, that reminds me of another similarity to Rome. The roof tiles were taken from the mission to build in another location. That was a big reason the place fell apart. Adobe structures melt rapidly without roofs. So we wandered around and ate lunch and took some pictures. Laura and Barry sat for a formal wedding portrait under the sign commemorating the first marriage in the land of California. That was in 1773. I won’t go down the historical rabbit hole of what was happening on this land before the Spaniards arrived but it seems a little myopic and ignorant to presume marriage began with the Europeans. You may detect some ambivalence about visiting Spanish Missions. You would be correct.

Phone service is spotty out in the middle of this vast military reservation. Kind of surprising but a nice way to bring a flavor of the remoteness at the time of the song. Spotty cell coverage resulted in some minor difficulties and inefficiencies as we tried to find Jolon. It was all sorted out and we saw some bald eagles and a bobcat while we wandered. Jolon was a spot where the stage coach came by. The collapse of the mission and the railroad in the next valley did away with the citizenry. All that remains of Jolon are a road with its name and a building. The nearby hacienda is behind locked army gates and requires a guided tour and reservations.

After Jolon we decided to take a trip through the baranca and over the mountains to the actual coast. Last winter’s massive rain events brought down three parts of the coast highway. There is only one land route in and out for this wild coastline today.  Traffic has dropped to a trickle. Our road trip was taking us back in time.  The road over was narrow and steep. You could see that hillsides frequently gave way and covered the road in debris. Landslides figure prominently in the song and they are still determining people’s fates today. The barranca (canyon) yawned below as we snaked up into the marine layer. Soon sunny skies were gone and we were immersed in fog. More swooningly stiff curves and we started to drop. Eventually we emerged from the clouds and could see the Pacific Ocean far below. It took an hour to cover 15 miles. The only was home was the way we had come in. No cell, no EMTs, no civilization without passing a rugged mountain range in the fog. We had captured the feeling of the song. Stay safe.

South Coast lyrics by Lillian Ross, music Sam Eskind. Get that story HERE.

My name is Juanano de Castro
My father was a Spanish Grandee
But I won my wife in a card game
To hell with those lords o’er the sea

[Chorus]
Well the South Coast is wild coast and lonely
You might win in a game at Jolon
But a lion still rules the Barranca
And a man there is always alone

[Verse 1]
I played in a card game at Jolon
I played there with an outlaw named Juan
And after I’d taken his money
I staked all against his daughter Dawn
I picked up the ace…l had won her
My heart it was down at my feet
Jumped up to my throat in a hurry
Like a young summer’s day she was sweet
He opened the door to the kitchen
And he called the girl out with a curse
Saying “Take her, Goddamn her, you’ve won her
She’s yours now for better or worse”
Her arms had to tighten around me
As we rode down the hills to the south
Not a word did I hear from her that day
Nor a kiss from her pretty young mouth
But that was a gay happy winter
We carved on a cradle of pine
By the fire in that neat little cabin
And I sang with that gay wife of mine

[Chorus]

[Verse 2]
That night I got hurt in a landslide
Crushed hip and twice broken bone
She saddled her pony like lightning
And rode off for the doctor in Jolon
The lion screamed in the Barranca
Buck, he bolted and he fell on his side
My young wife lay dead in the moonlight
My heart died that night with my bride

Now for the climate change link. The central coast of California is fighting for its economic survival. Bigger, wetter storms this winter destroyed infrastructure all over the state. It very nearly brought down the Oroville dam. The south coast country is practically inaccessible. Segments of road and a bridge have washed away. Repairs will take a massive effort. It makes me wonder where we should be investing. Is it time for this wonderful coast line to revert to nature, like so much of the army base country? Or do we keep doing what we can to build and adjust. I don’t know the answer. I do know we need to know what we are up against and plan accordingly. We need to accept the facts of climate change. In this part of California that means bigger storms, wetter storms.  More water in a shorter period of time. And yes, droughts are here to stay, too. Less water over longer periods of time. We need to make decisions on where to invest and how to design using the best information we have. We can adapt. We must.

Jolon
Jolon
Chapel at Mission San Antonio de Padua
Chapel at Mission San Antonio de Padua
Church at Mission of San Antonio de Padua
Church at Mission of San Antonio de Padua
Junipero Serra at Mission San Antonio de Padua
Junipero Serra at Mission San Antonio de Padua
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Oregon Work

Musicians day before eclipse
Musicians day before eclipse

So we are back at work. Burt’s building a wood shed and I’m managing Portal Irish Music Week. Money is in and staff flights are reserved. We’ll be in OR for a week or so working and then another weekish visiting friends as we travel south to our next job in California. This has been a wandering summer and it was not planned.

Last year we committed to do a large job in this area. Ultimately that large job fell through but by luck and a large internet presence and our glittering personalities and BIG ONE HERE ability to improvise we put together enough jobs to sustain us for another year. Our friend Bruce (a highly trained professional) mentioned the improv. He suggests Life Improvisation should be the subject of a Gypsy Carpenters’ book. I say it already is if you read the blog. But for all of you following along here is a summary of how it works. The first rule of improv is: Yes, and…. That means you always answer with a yes and room to move. We’re pretty positive people around here and we try to ignore fear or at least not let it make our decisions. I wish there was more positivity and less fear for everyone. Really, I do.

I’m comfortable that we have enough. Make the pie bigger as my friend Bruce (a different Bruce) used to say.

Ryan and our  decks in use.
Ryan and our decks in use.
Brice knows how to listen.
Brice knows how to listen.
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Smoke smoke smoke that western US….

These pieces are collected, not painted, by the artist we worked with on the studio.
These pieces are collected, not painted, by the artist we worked with on the studio.

After a smoke filled drive across the Northern Cascades we have arrived in Helena. It’s a jam packed visit with music, doctors, bridge, and fishing. I find myself deeply saddened by the state of the world. The west burns down around us. Fish are in trouble. People can’t find common ground. We are actually thinking nukes. WTF. It is a very sad and difficult time. I’ve been asked by others how I deal and I always advise, do what you love and look for goodness and beauty. It’s hard to do some days especially when my back hurts. It’s a heavy lift.

Following my own advice here are some lovely photos despite the smoke. I caught and released some fishes yesterday on my favorite river. I played some tunes with friends. I really sucked at Bridge. Again.

If you’re in Helena and want to see us. Do not weep. Next summer we’ll be here working. We’ve got a big job lined up. Perhaps the last big one before retirement. We can play music, fish, and eat good food then.

On the medical side Burt passed his physical with an A plus. I do not have hemochromatosis, yet. I may never develop it. This is good news. I go in for an upper GI test with a barium milkshake tomorrow. It’s probably all just gastritis. Or freaking stress about the state of the world. I’ll let you know what we find out. Tomorrow we depart for Kila and the kids.

Here's Burt mopping the studio.
Here’s Burt mopping the studio.
Jolyn Wells-Moran paintings.
Jolyn Wells-Moran paintings.
Smoke so thick we could only appreciate the up close stuff.
Smoke so thick we could only appreciate the up close stuff.
The Northern Cascades.
The Northern Cascades.
This is an ancient breed of plant.
This is an ancient breed of plant.
I erased Burt's toe.
I erased Burt’s toe.
Claire and Burt
Claire and Burt
Box Elder Bugs. They are odoriferous.
Box Elder Bugs. They are odoriferous.
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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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