I return to 1213 late in the season, just before July 4th weekend, with the job done behind me, but little time left to make the turnaround at 1213 and head for Alaska. I'd spent the winter making the move away from the keys at last, instead of playing, so my income was taking a serious hit. I had a couple weeknds I could play the street, and then I had to be on my way if I was going to make it to Alaska in time. At least I had the big July 4th weekend. I was looking at flying up, because there was so little time, but I couldn't seem to find a cheap ticket. And I looked at all the gear I travelled with and I knew I'd have to leave a lot behind to fly. I could make it, travelling light, as I had before, but as it was , I started to look at buying another rig.
I drove my sister's old pickup up last summer. She'd wanted me to have it, so I'd agreed to give it a try, though I didn't think it would work for me, and it didn't. Though it was a good truck, it just wasn't a practical live-in rig. I needed another van, really. I'd lived in a Toyata Tercel I'd picked up in the boatyard when I needed something and had little money, and drove it to Alaska. But it was pretty cramped, and worn out now. I was ready to get a serious gypsy rig. I'd talked to Dave about what would be his suggestion for an Alaska vehicle, as we talked about all the aspects of my life, from traveling the state, living at fairs, to going out to the Brooks to walkabout, and possibly buying land there, or maybe Montana. Though I figured I need a vehicle to leave up in Ak, I might also end up driving the circuit again, a lot of highway miles. He finally suggested a diesel Ford econoline 350. Basically because it was a powerhouse to haul anything, and tough, the one ton has a solid rear axel rather than the split rear end of the lighter vans and trucks, so I'd have less chance breaking it in the rough country. Finally, a diesel had both the power and the longevity, so I could get an old van that would still have many miles left on the engine, and was dealt better with long haul driving than gas engines. When I arrived at 1213 I looked into flying up, but in the short time I had the prices were so high, I decided to spend the money on buying a van instead, if I could find one. I used the internet and searched pretty specifically for one withing a few hundred miles, and found one over in Maryland. It had been a fleet vihicle for Sears, then retired and bought by Taylor Rental, but got run into a pole. A local mechanic had his engine go out just before a planned vacation with his kides out west, and saw the van sitting at a local garage where it had been towed after the accident. He bought it, fixed it, and drove to the west coast and back, and was selling it now.
I drove over and bought it for $3000, the most I have ever paid for a vehicle, practically the most I've paid for anything. In fact, about my normal annual expenses for a year. But I planned to keep this one for a while, rig it as a live-aboard, use it to haul serious tools and materials, whether to work on the boats or land, or touring with the dulci and the ever increasing amount of gear to go with it, big enough for the recording gear to be set up in and record on the road. Even more, I wanted to get a diesel because I could convert it to run off waste vegetable oil, a common thing at the fairs. So though I might not get as good gas milage as a little spritz car, I could get lower effective fuel costs with diesel than with gas because I could use free waste oil for some of my fuel, and recycle at the same time. A diesel engine really lasts, so even an old van would have a lot of miles left in it, so it would last me for years, something I needed as well. It was what I needed, and a fair price, and ready to go. I spent a few days building an interior and I was ready to go myself. It's always a significant thing, when I build an interior. I've had many rigs.. a series of VW vans, and then a couple school buses, and the old Willies wagon. It is the center of a gypsy's life, the wagon. The last couple rigs, though they served me well, were stop-gap measures, not homes. This was the first rig I planned to call home for a while. And, of course, mostly with recycled material. I even lucked out and got a set fine deep cabinets with wide drawers thrown out on the street when they remodeled a doctor's office building. I have tried all I could to be a non-consumer, to live off the flagrant and terrible waste of America, where so much perfectly good stuff is used to build landfill mountains. But these cabinet were an exceptionally good score. In a few days I was packed and on the road.
I headed north and west. In a few days I was across the border and
driving north up the plains, the mountains looming in the west, till I turned at Fort Nelson and climbed into the great Canadian Rockies. The van was living up to expaectation, a steady cruiser, and it liked 100 klicks (Kilometers/hr), or 62.5 mph. I've cruised that speed ever since. It was great to be back to the rockies, where I've spent summers since my teens. Though I am making time, as I reach the crest at Muncho Lake, I take a break and climbed the slope to look out at it all again, breath it in after so long in the city, so long at the endless work on the boat. I just found a ledge and sat in the sun for a bit, then headed down the slope to head on. That night I pull off in the quiet of a side road and crawl in back to sleep, plenty of space to sit up and get ready for bed, a nice bed to stetch out in. I had my cabin in the wild once again, after so many years cramped in the Tercel and then the back of the pickup.
I make it to the fair, and am much more comfortable in the van. Its really working out here at the fair, though I have played a lot of years now, they are always glad to have me back, both the people and the fair organizers. Now my biggest focus is trying to make it back every year, and I have so far. It is settling into a pretty good routine for both of us.
I'm also working on the van, fixing a serious fuel leak. But it is an old van, and this is the shakedown cruise. It made it, and I am happy with that. Dave's a mechanic, so he has any tool I don't have. I'm hoping to get away to the Brooks range, hoping maybe Dave can make it too, and we can keep our promise to ourselves to start going up and mining once the house is set up here. But the truth is that it isn't. So I keep pitching in on the house, racing the weather as it turns into an early winter in September. I also havetime to start arranging another round of school shows and some cafe gigs again.
We have a great bit of luck, and again I am glad to be there at a critical time, tipping the balance to help my friends out. My friends had contracted to have the house built, originally, but the guy was a long-running a con-man, actually on the run from a trail of scams behind him, and finally got caught by the FBI there in Alaska. They may never see their money, and won't know till the courts settle everything, and Dave started doing the job himself. Now, it seems a large single story log cabin the guy had built to sell was still sitting by the highway in town. The owner of the lot wanted it gone. Dave was weell, bummed about the whole deal, tired from all the hard work, and discouraged. So I basically had to push him to pursue taking that cabin for part of the debt, at least see what the options were.. finally he called the prosecutor in the case to ask. In a few hours they called back with a great news. They said that while they couldn't turn it over to him for the debt, they had contacted the judge and had the cabin declared abandoned property and it was free for the taking, and if he happened to take it, it would in no way effect his claim for the money owed. Essentially, if he grabbed it, it was his free and clear. He still wasn't moving on it. It was a big job with snow coming and the house to do, and it would cost $1000 for a tractor-trailer to haul it, and we had to make arrangements with the power company to get it down the road. But I kept pursuading, and finally said if he didn't do it with my help, I'd do it, and he'd have to help me. So we did it. We used the pickup to rip trees out by the roots to make a clearing on the corner of their property. By the time all the arrangements were made the days were cold and grey. We blocked the cabin up for the truck, then hauled it down the Alcan one day in the pouring rain. We got it to the spot, as the rain turned to snow. The truck driver had to leave it there and go get chains to pull out again, no big deal, just Alaska, but we had done it.
One of the big stories was that I was able to do a couple weeks of school shows, and a few small venues as well. Since I stayed and helped Dave, instead of being off in the wilderness, I had time to line things up. I looped through Fairbanks and down to Anchorage, stopping to play schools all along the way. I stopped to visit friends. I stopped to play open mikes. All in a dovetailed whirlwind of activity. It was great. I really feel better when I am able to get the schools shows done. I feel it is an integral part of my job as a folksinger, to serve the community that way, and in an even deeper way, to keep that unbroken chain stretching back into prehistory of passing the music on to the children, inspiring them with it. Also, it is just fun. The kids don't care who I am, or where I am from, or what my resume is. They accept me for what I am, more truly than maost, because I really am just a folksinger. And for that time in the classroom, its really just between them and me, as it has been for untold millenia. And it is fun. And I also really teach them significant concepts and bits of history in a memorable way, it isn't just entertainment, though it is entertaining. Kids are such a great audience, they really respond when you do it right, and it is just as obvious when you don't. Though its great when I do the highschool shows, and can get into the deeper concepts they seldom hear in modern classrooms, from the emotional reality of history that folkmusic brings alive, to the essential links between music, philosophy, and science from the very beginning through the present, to what it is like personally and practically to be a working musician.
By the time I was done with the schools shows, the snow was falling thick and heavy. It was raining when I started. The problem with school shows, have to stay late into the season to do them. I dream about leaving a vehicle here so I can stay later and fly out in the end. Maybe one day. I'm playing open mikes as well. I playing in the iced-over parking lot of Ivory Jacks after the open mike, finally crashing at 4 am. It's late October when I finally reach Delta again. Then a warm front rolls in, over 40 degrees day and night, though there is snow everywhere. I head for Canada in a world of frost and fog, but the roads are clear. I stop overnight in whitehorse, but keep pushing. Its turning to an ice-fog, and the trees turn to huge balls of frost, bulding till it connects in bridges and webs between them, A single buffalo, standing by the road grazing, rimed with frost, incredible. I push on because of the dry roads and don't hit snow till Muncho pass, where it is coming down thick and heavy. But I punch through and break out into clear skies and stars, beautiful white mountain peaks shining in the moonlight around me. I push on to Summit Lake, then stop to sleep at last before heading down the other side, though I wake every couple hours to check for snow starting. But it holds off and I can sleep till morning.
I set up the recording gear out at Joe's cabin, planning to try and finally work on the new CD. I'd played some of the initial tracks for Will and his friends in Calgary and they commented how much better my gear sounded than the commercial recording I'd done. But this is the best digital gear. But all told, it doesn't go so well. Joe is pretty busy right now, and the recording is really just a favor he is doing me. But it's really me. I am just worn out, physically and emotionally. I realize I really need more time to do serious recording, where I can slow down and take the time to get centered and relaxed, rebuild my energies from the road. I was really hurting a lot. I had somehow torn something in my right elbow, which made it as pain to play. I think I did it carrying the dulcimer in and out of schools, it is just heavy. There was a lot of construction traffic as well, it seemed. And odd distractions, unspecific, but they added up.
In many ways, I was just feeling the burden of the music, and of the gypsy life. How all my friends have places, homes, friends, and I am part of so many lives, but still there's that seperation, becuase I'll be moving on. I am the outsider. In the end, I live in a world of my own, alone, with no one to share it with, even though I have some great times, and see such incredible beauty. Alaska was a bit hard. No time in the mountains. The schools shows were great, but once again, the dream of a lady singer slipped away. The beautiful soprano had gotten in touch originally, but then, never managed to get together with me the whole time I was up in Alaska, even when I was in Anchorage. It was pretty hard on me, since I so seldom meet someone I can sing with. Later I learned she'd been sick a lot, but she could have managed to get in touch somehow. Who knows, but the chance had slipped away once again. Then here in Missoula, I meet a girl at the coffeehouse, one I've run into a few times, so we sit and talk. It is nice, but I know I am leaving soon, and I'll probably never see her again. All in all, it seemed like my fate was to be alone. Not a good thought.
But I would walk up into the snowy woodlands behind Joe's place. I wove a halter out of some old twine off the haybales and started riding one of the horses, and just spending time with them. I always loved horses, and like hanging out with animals generally. I just go out and brush them down, let them learn to come to me. I never force them to do anything, but eventually I win them over, and they put their head in the halter, so we can go for a ride. And though Joe is busy, and tired, he still comes back and we jam. Mostly we work on new songs and start working with the recording equipment. We talk about the possibilities of finding some land for me around here, or for both of us over by Hotsprings, up in the Flathead basin. And we just talk.
One thing we decide is that I'll try to come for an extended visit next year, a month at least, or two if I can manage it, so we really have time to work on the music, despite all the distractions. So I have time to get sorted out and centered and focused, and so there isn't any pressure. Joe figures he'll be more settled in as well by next year. So we make a plan, though nothing is ever crtain, I am pretty good on following through on my plans, I've been doing this so long. It makes me feel better, too. There has seemed to be so much resistance to getting this recording done, and even if it is a year away, deciding to dedicate a serious anount of time makes me feel like it will get done. But then it is time to go, catch a good wave in the weather and ride it acroos country so I can get back to Virginia in time to help ma get the place ready for Xmass, Solstice to New Years.