In January and February, when I was delayed at 1213 and it became obvious the new CD wasn't happening, I concentrated instead on getting video production going again. It was also an effort to do something progressive in the music projects, since I was looking ahead at a frustrating year where there would not be much opportunity for progress, once again. Even though I was moving towards the final decision to "settle down" in order to make the progress I need to.
Specifically, I got the Video Tour Journals from 2000 together, remaking the earliest low -fi ones and getting the first half of the series up on the internet using Google's new beta video service. The whole story is told in detail in the various pages dedicated to the Video Tour Journals. So What is more important is perhaps how I feel about it as I reach this point, because this is just a beginning, a starting point. That is the important part, not what I have done, but what I have begun.
I wanted to see if they generate any interest, or any response at all. Is it worth reviving the project again, either to continue where I left off, doing new real-time video tour journals now, or both. Another option is to see what else I can do with video, though the internet seems to have finally caught up with me as far as audience and portals goes. But like digital music, it is hard to see if I can justify the time, compared to things like playing on the street, which pays the bills. The google service will allow me to charge for them, though I am still not sure whether people will. It is still unclear, both to me and in the evolving equation of the web, just where the justification comes from, ie, where does it pay for the effort? I don't mean for the few who do so well, just like the industry lottery, but for working artists like me who are looking to survive, not buy lottery tickets. I deal in practicalities, not fantasies. Still, I feel like I am here to serve everyone, so I play for everyone, those who support me and those who don't, the very essense of the street. I don't try t justify each aspect of what I do. The internet, and all I do with music, seems the same way, where I am trying to do everything I can with the music and the dulcimer, and even my life, without being concerned about exactly what pays for what. Like the music and the street, the basic bottom line is to play enough in the laces that pay to survive, while philosophically, trying not to worry about it. The fact is that this has worked for 30 years, though I have only survived, and only by living at a level of income that most Americans couldn't believe is possible.
But at least I have some video available, even six years after the original plan fell through in the dotcom bust. I haven't had time to do anything to promote the videos. Almost a year has gone by, and frankly, I just checked up on the videos for the first time since I left for Alaska in July. I have gotten about 2400 page viewsI've had about 2500 downloads over the past year. I have no idea what this means. Though right now it seems that the videos of me just playing music are the ones that keep getting played a few times a day. I added a few pure music videos to the series after I reviewed what I had done. I realized that despite all the video in the tour journals, I never actually play a song, since that isn't the focus of the tour journals. So I edited out and uploaded a few clips of me performing. Not "Music Videos," just basic still camera video of me playing a single tune in a few different places along the tour.
I wonder sometimes if there may be more people interested in following my.. well .. the extreme routine of my life, than might be interested in my music, actually. I do somehow manage to end up living pretty far out, whether I plan it that way or not. Speaking of which, it was now time to get on with that routine and head for Florida.
I spent the rest of the winter season repairing the hull of my fiberglass sailboat, the Hurley, out on the farm it was stored on. The story of raising it the winter before is in last year's tour journal. It was a lot of hard work, day after day. It was also strangely pleasant in it was a time of solitude and simplicity. I seldom saw anyone, and I had my work cut out for me. At sunset I would take a walk with my cat through the rows of nursury stock, large trees and shrubs in big pots destined for major landscaping of developers. I'd be up at cooking breakfast at sunrise, and starting the work of the day.
Though I had to give up the winter music scene once again, I did have a great time playing at an open mike/pro jam at the Blue Note down in Jupiter, Florida. I have to thank Gary Frost for inviting me. It was just great to jam with bass and drum intead of solo. Though the truth was I was barely able to function. I recall I was sandblasting all day at that point, dawn to dark, then I forced myself shower off with cold water and to drive down there and play a bit. The last time I just played guitar and sang, jamming with the drum and bass, it felt so good, though I was so tired I was literally reeling. I just let it loose and let 'er rip and tried to hold on. I really was too tired. I could play, but I couldn't hardly talk or focus. But it was great. Otherwise I just played guitar and sang for my cat in the evenings as dinner cooked, but the music was always there. Once I went over to the old house where Jeff and his old friends still came once a week to get together and play volleyball. I loaded the dulci on the wagon one night and brought it over and played for his friends, and even played a little volleyball for the first time. What can I say, a life alone doesn't run to team sports. But it was fun being with people.
The days passed. I began with sandblasting to clean the remaining salt, mud and crud off the surface and out of the shattered and cracked fiberglass so the repairs would bind. It is better to have a rough and shattered edge for the repair to really atatch to than sand it smoot, and the sandblaster let me clean it without smoothing it. I used a special type of construction foam Jeff had given me from his scap pile to mold out an edge for the bow. The many layers of fiberglass and epoxy inside and out. Basically the Hurley had been shattered at every outer edge, front and back and each side, as well as scraped and gouged all over. I used plywood coated in masking tape, which epoxy doesn't stick to, and just masking tape, to make straight surfaces and bridge gaps.
I had to lay out planks of plywood and tarps too protect the work areas from the sun so the epoxy wouldn't kick-off before I was able to get it layed up. It was still a race, often enough. Finally I was sandblasting the entire hull, both to rough the surface and to clean out every gouge and scratch without having to sand them down. The trailer worked like a charm, just as I had planned. A final coat of thickened epoxy over the hull filled everything and could be sanded smooth, ready for paint. The boat was held by the clamps at the top, which meant I could work on the bottom all at once and have no patches where the supports rested to do later, like in the boatyard. Once the bottom was done, I could brace the boat with tempoary supports on the bottom and so I could loosen the top clamps and do the topsides all at once.
I got the hull repaired and painted, ready for the water, actually, though mostly just looking good enough to store, and solid enough to move. I still need to repair the deck and rigging, and build a new rudder, just to start. I wish I could finish the job, but everything I have done here is really a distraction from the things I need to be doing, and I feel it al the time. The music has been pushed aside, the things that are really important and significant in my life. I have been essentially dealing with one emergency or another for several years now. It doesn't help that I am doing what's right, and doing it right, or that it isn't my fault. The end result is the same. The music waits and waits. So I am trying to do as little as I can, while making sure it will all work in a careful juggle. So for this year, I am done, at least with the Hulrley. Jeff said I could leave the boat there a couple years, so I feel satisfied with the serious progress and get packed up to head on with the circuit. Next year I can decide where to go from here, basically to store the Hurley till I can finish the repairs I've begun, probably years from now.
I also had to repair more damage to my bigger steel sailboat, Dueodde. Another boat dragged down and the incompetent owner tried to tie up beside mine in a hurricane, instead of letting himself back to hang behind my boat. So this time there was lots of damage to the hull as well as the rails bent to pretzels. I heard the story from a local, and the bitter truth is FEMA bought a new boat for the guy who tore up mine, and I never got anything from either FEMA or the guy who did the damage, once again. That is "justice" in America. Still, I went out with the generator and the sandblaster, and blasted the hull hanging out of the rowboat, and got paint on the damage at least.
You can see, then, that the biggest problem and effort over the whole time was mental and emotional, not the work itself. Though it was the right thing to do, being responsible and self-reliant, and all I could do since I don't have other options in the immediate circumstances. It was still totally unnescessary. The Hurley didn't sink, it was sunk. Dueodded didn't drag, or cause damage, it was dragged down on and damaged by someone who profited from my loss. I did everthing right, and it wasn't the hurricanes that sunk the Hurley, or damaged Dueodde. It was another boat's owner's irresponsibility, negligence and disregard for others that caused me so much pain, hardship, effort, and cost me so much in so many ways, a second year at this point, and looking at a third before the Hurley is back in the water. It is a system, government, industry, society, and culture that rewards them while it punishes me for being responsible and capable. I am forced to wonder if I'll have to give up on the boats and get rid of them to focus on the music. Not because of a fault with the boats themselves or my own abilities or actions, but because they are a target for other's negligence to affect me, for the authorities to regulate and jerk me around. All my troubles arise from others, not from me, or the boats, or nature. I think I hold on simply because I will always resent being forced to give up by the evil worked by others. I have a lot of resentment already, and I really don't need more. I am also stubborn, and I'd have less trouble giving them up if it was the boat's fault, or my fault, than being forced by pressure from the actions and words of people and authorities I cannot respect and can only resent.
But at last I was done and it was time to head north. I stopped and visited with my Dad up in Gainesville. This year I tried dropping in on the Florida folk fest about 40 miles north, but all and all, it wasn't a lot of fun. I actually had a good time at first, wandering around playing for folks, doing a couple street shows, playing the couple Stephen Foster tunes I love, jamming at a blues meeting. The guys there had never seen someone play the blues and the dulcimer and said so. I connected with a harp player I'd corresponded with by e-mail. She sent me these pictures of me playing for a local sound engineer and producer who was working the board for a evening dance/workshop. No, that's not the sound engineer standing there, that is the dream girl once again, there to haunt me. I never knew her name. The harp lady said it seemed like Pan meeting Diana. Also, you can see an arched soundboard acoustic amplifier I built for the dulcimer, bolted to the bottom of it. It worked pretty well all told, though not the same as an amplifier, not as good as putting it on a good large table. It takes a lot of surface area to bring out those deep bass notes. Still, it does work.
The harp lady also asked me to come to the camping area and meet some of the organizers, show them what I do, and saty for the whole show. This, of course, was in the back of my mind when I came up to meet the harp lady and check out the fest, see if ti is worth doing. So I loaded up the gear and went over, but was turned away and turned off by some really abusive lady at the entrance to the camping area, practically rabid. So it goes. I left after enduring more abuse than I have time for from people who don't have a clue. It is their loss, not mine, I have a world of places to play and not much time. Though I met some nice folks too. And sadly lived through some scenes I know way too well. I have no desire to go back, in fact, now I have a desire not to. They should be more careful who guards their gates. I don't respond well to abuse. Maybe I am too proud, but I know what I am and what I can do, and that they were lucky to have me there at all. I used to have a saying about gates, I'd come in if I could get in for a song (or two), quite literally. And almost always, after I played for the people at the gate, or the door, they would let me in. This time I didn't even try. Luckily, I don't plan to stay that late in the Spring again to worry about it. I don't know how I would deal with refusing if someone invited me there, especially since, as usual, I doubt they'd offer to pay me. Regardless, I just have my doubts that I can justify playing for a fair that employs people like I met there, any more than I would work for one that used attack dogs or psycho para-military security guards.
I worked the Spring street scene here in Alexandria, though it felt like it was my last year. I've played for 30 years down in Old Town Alexandria, since 1976, though I have had many great scenes there as well, it has often been a pain, especially from the authorities, and at this point, it is just not worth it any more. The latest thing is banning amplifiers again... a violation of first amendment rights I don't have time to challenge, not to mention the selective enforcement aspect. They are lucky that I played down there, and they have responded through the years by hassling the street performers in various ways, which has gotten them sued by other people at various times, but they never learn. It is all so bogus, the details of the latest harrasment and abuse of authority don't really matter, in spirit Fascism is always the same, here and everywhere. Maybe I am just losing my tolerance for their attitudes and actions as I get older. Though the key issue is wether I can afford to spend time somewhere that irritates me, that feeds my anger and resentment. I need to focus on the music, and for that I need some positive energy, encouragement and appreciation, not disrespect and harrasment. I can't afford the negativity of being there more than I can't afford the loss of income, though it is a serious problem for me.
I did some serious thinking over the winter and Spring, I had time for it as I worked. The result was deciding to focus on the recording and dulcibuilding and the big projects at 1213, and put everything else on hold or perking slow on the back burner, even drop what I could. Everything had to come behind getting these few big hanging projects done and behind me. I want and need to keep some things cooking, to do what I have to and to keep a certain momentum going. Though I must identify and target the few things I can do to make the most significant progress in the short time I am able to devote to things on the back burner, like Alaska or the boats. I want to keep an eye on the future, but I need to focus on the present. But some things, like the street scene in Alexandria, I can eliminate as unnescessary, and not look back. There are things I can't justify, and in a bigger sense, feel it may be time and past time t leave behind and go on to new things, maybe better, maybe worse, but moving into new places instead of repeating old experiences. If I feel sad, it is that a place that I spent so much time in and gave so much to should be left behind without regret, but with relief and a certain bitterness. Though I will miss the few friends I had down there in the other players, and the people I played for, the sad truth is I will not miss that place. A sad testiment to old town Alexandria, a sad judgement after 30 years.
Its also interesting that while I have been documenting my travels since 2000 with the videocam, I haven't produced anything new. At the same time, it seems to have displaced my photography. Either I am releasing the creative urge through the video, or feeling like I have "taken the shot" already, or I just don't have time to keep up with two mediums, it seems that there are less photos these days.
When I leave for Alaska on schedule in mid-July, it is having decided that I'm moving Alaska to the back burner, the land especially. I am still drawn by my personal desires to build a home now that I have land, but these are really long-term plans and right now the land is a distraction. It may still be a year or two before the van and the trailer is free to take north. I seriously thought about taking Alaska off the circuit all together, simply because though I only break even going there, and I don't know that I can afford that right now. In some ways I was trying to prove this year whether Alaska is still justifiable in the short run or whether I should stop the circuit and focus totally on recording and music projects, as well as rebuilding ma's house. I also seriously consider selling the steelboat and storing the Hurley, or sell both and go back to Horse, my sailing sea-kayak. But back to Alaska. I also wanted to keep working the dig, because the gold is what has been making Alaska profitable, though that is a chancy thing. I wanted to prove that it really was a serious, practical piece of the picture and that I could justify the time up there and out in the wild, even to the point of justifying possibly buying a claim and committing to a permanent effort. Otherwise, I could just go to the mountains near my land, or skip Alaska for a while and find places near the studio fo the present. But first, I wanted to do a serious dig, and see what I could really do if I gave myself some real time, a month instead of two weeks. Though I worry that it could claim too much of my time. I also know that I always want to stay in the wild and it is a struggle to go back to "civilization". But that isn't serving the music, or serving the world, or trying to stop the force of evil, and is self-indulgent, which I find hard to justify. But the gold can pay for CDs and gear in a way that the street can't. I have survived on the street, but getting ahead is tough. I need a break from the world and my work in it, but I fear distraction. Anyone can dig gold, but my music is unique, and few follow the paths I have chosen. Though I can't say it is so significant, like the music, but my life is unique, free people are rare these days. Yet the truth is that deciding to "do more with the music, build a studio to record the music, produce CDs, build electric dulcimers, use the internet, and all the rest, means I have to do more than just breaking even with the music, or building a house. But the gold has the potential to seriously support the music without taking too much time away from it. I can even work on the music as I always did in my time in the wild, not just recharging, but actively learning and writing music.
In short, I have successfully established myself in Alaska. I can put it on the back burner. But I had to settle how the gold fit in, in the big picture of what I am trying to do with the music. Especially since working on the recording and the house means I may be getting almost no income from the music. While the gold could not only pay for all this work, it could justify continuing going to Alaska, and the wildlands there. This was what was in my mind as I headed for Alaska.
So what happened? I arrived in mid-July, as usual. Dave was a great friend as always and had managed to come up with a car for me to use, basically signing the title over to me for the summer. So I had my own transport, and it served me well, though it was really uncomfortable. But I was grateful to have it, especialy as the summer's events unfolded. Last year Dave and I had talked about the possibility of his daughter coming up to live in Alaska, and now it was looking probable, and immediate, and if it happened, Dave wouldn't be able to go up to the mountains with me and I would be on my own. I told him that for my part, he should think of his daughter first, and there were other years, many years, to go digging in the mountains. I played Deltana, the local fair that came the weekend before the state fair this year, and it was fun. No stress, I played a lot, and they paid me more than ever, almost full rate. Which means I can definitely justify playing there again. Then I headed for the State Fair.
As I said, it was a bittersweet fair, a bit of a trial as always, with the added trouble of not knowing if I would be able to justify coming back. Even if the gold worked out I might not be able to justify the fair, as they paid me even less this year, and without a new CD, tips just don't make up for that. Generally, there were more hassles, and no more hospitality.. though I brought my own coffeemachine this year, and set up what I could for everyone. There were some new performers from outside, there was the constant welcome from the people at the fair. Yet it is also getting harder to put out so much energy for so many days. It is the nature of playing a street scene for tips, you can't just sit back, you have to put out enough energy to stop people in the tracks, and earn tips even when people have paid to get in the gate. It is hard, and just getting harder, especially when troubled in mind and spirit, and just tired. I left still wondering when I'll be back, if I'll go back next year.
The people were still great, though, always glad to see me, always asking me to come back. They gave me some bright moments in the day, brought out a smile even in my dark mood. Though felt the seperation more. The fact that though I am so welcomed and made to feel like I have really come back to a place I belong, I am still what I am. I live in a seperate reality, a different world, a larger world, where the music keeps me travelling on and on, place to place, to serve all the people of the world. The people here are so great, and I love Alaska, and in many ways I do belong there, it is my type of place. When I am there I have constant flashbacks to my childhood in Vermont, becaus it smells the same, the same climate and ecosystem. But I will have to move on, it is my life, my road, and after so many years, part of my nature. I am only here for a little while, then I will have to follow the music the next place I am going to play.
The trip to the Brooks range was the most significant event of the year in two ways. First, Dave is a great friend and partner, and doing this dig was something we planned together from the start. But for most of my life, my time in the wild has been something I usually did alone. I dwell in a different world, and it is in the wild that I can be myself, where I am in my world, my home, instead of forced to deal with the "normal" world of people that is so irritating and unnatural at best and horrifying and painful at worst. I did not realize how much I missed that solitude, though not so much the solitude itself, but the peace and quiet, the time for reflection and meditation, the time to dwell in the mystic. I realized how chaotic and disturbed my being had become in the chaos and bad vibes of the world away from the harmony of nature. I could finally reach for a certain state of being, a simple and informally ritualistic way of life. I am able to reach for that clear awareness of the energy, and seek a smooth flow, till life becomes a dance. Zen and the art of life, zen and the art of digging. It is reaching a state of being where the world somehow fades yet becomes crystal clear, where the energy is visible, tangible, and you dwell in an awareness of the ebbs and flows, the harmonies and patterns, dancing with it, immersed in it, within and without you. I am able to dwell in the mystic awareness that is so intrinsic to my being. I don't know what to call it or how to explain it, or I have done it so many times that I don't need to do that again. I could feel how the past decade or troubles and emergencies, stress and distractions, had seriously compromised the state of being, the type of life I had eveolvedover my whole life up to now. Now, alone in the wild again, I began to return to those foundations, both by intent and naturally, as I returned to who and what I really am. It was great.
Second, I certainly justified the gold digs as a serious and practical choice. I went in hoping to pull out an ounce or two, take a bite out of the cost of producing the next CD. Instead, I came out with over 5 ounces for the few weeks I spent, enough for two CDs, and I am sincerely thankful. Though it was a serious pile of dirt. I decided to dig to the true bitter end in my old hole, ending up with a 20 foot sheer face to reach bedrock, pushing the limits of hand digging. But I certainly found enough to justify diggng as a serious part of the circuit. Now, instead of having to justify going up to dig, I am going to have to justify not going. And there is no question of the gold's practical value in my long term plans for Alaska, so buying a claim is a real possibility. It's also interesting that while I found more gold than I ever had, I found no significant large nuggets. It justifies an old arguement I've had with Dave, where I want to sluice all the dirt and find all the gold, while he has seen big nuggets and would rather tear through the dirt just looking for them with the detector. If I had done that, I would have had almost no gold this season. As it is, I have more than I have ever found. Though the detector is an incredible leap forward, and I brought mine up and chose this area in the beginning for its suitability for detecting, still the creek we are in has been detected many times by many people, and the real gold is down at bedrock, too deep for casual detecting, and most of the gold is too small to register and easier to find by sluicing. Though it is still all coarse enough for jewelry or for souveniers for tourists, a new avenue I am looking at. Also, the gold is working as I hoped to let me make it through this piviol time when I am not playing much, but trying to do more with the music, which costs money. Here I am able to get it without having to deal with the world I have trouble dealing with, and even get some recovery time from it as I am being productive.
That is not to say that it was all great. The peace and quiet I came for is eroding. People arrive looking for the place "where Dave was digging" expecting to find nuggets lying around. Too many strangers looking for easy money. Someone even tok a backhoe in and tore up the creek and the BLM is hot about that. A lot of traffic when the road is supposed to be closed. I struggle to follow the rules, and a struggle it is, it took me three days to pack my gear in there with bike and cart. While other folks just drive in, throw garbage everywhere, and leave it for me to pick it up. I suppose the simplest reflection of the situation and the experience is the early morning I took a walk up the hill, climbing the ridge to get up in the great spaces, and just be happy to be there. Suddenly I realize that I had left everything I own at camp, and it was no longer safe to do that, and I had better get right back and not leave again. Even as I proved that the gold digging works, I wonder if now is the time to find a new place to dig. I think that was in my mind when I decided to really finish the old hole, so I could leave it behind. Whether I keep digging on this creek or somewhere else around the mountain, or buy a claim and attempt to use those rights to keep out the outlaws, pilferers, and poachers. The reason I am in Alaska, and way up in those Arctic mountain, is because I know I can always go further out nto the wild where the greed people are just too lazy to follow me, or too unfamiliar with the wild to find me, and I can find the peace and quiet I seek, along with the gold. I have proved that I can do seriously well on a practical basis digging gold, and it doesn't matter where I do it. Though where I am at is convienient to get to, well, that is it's drawback as well. I know other places up there I can dig, and can find more. I know the geology and can follow it for a hundred miles along the range if I want to. If I had the time. Though I'll have to build a cart and harness up some of the dogs to get back in the way back. And the dogs would love getting back to the wild out back, too. Though in the end, it is not a question of what I can do, but what I should do, what I must do. While I know that in my heart I would love to dissappear into the wild, in fact, I am constantly resisting the temptation to stay out there. Perhaps that is one reason I chose the arctic, and other extreme places where staying is just not an option, when the seasons change. I am not really interested in gold, though I love the search for anything, gold, crystals and gems, pretty flowers or blueberries, and I seem to be good at it, but I am good at a lot of things, too many things. It is as much a reason to walk about and dwell in the wild. A way to let my energy flow in a simple routine of work and simple primitive camping. I can use my ability to see the patterns and find things. I can seek a state of mind and spirit. And, yes, I have found a serious amount of gold, not worth so much by normal standards, but a lot for someone like me. Still, I can't help feeling that there are other things for me to do, more important ways to serve the world, serve nature, and keeping trying to change the world-destroying path of humanity, led by America. I just can't seem to live for myself, so it goes.
I wrote this to accompany the short video I out together for friends and family of the the footage from the summer digs. It makes me wonder if I'll ever have the time or make the time or have reason to mix and edit this video for the net, or some other public outlet. I wonder if I'll make video tour journals again, like the AK2K VTJs were suposed to be, real time video tour journals, or at least, in the same year. The net is finally catching up to what I had invisioned back then, but I have no time to spare for it right now. But perhqaps that will be part of the new circuit once I get rolling again. I just don't know, but I live the stories at least, and get some of it on tape, when I can. As I said, I have been taking less photos, it seems. And this time, I forgot to get film for both the camera and the video, so I had to take pretty short video clips and only a few pictures.
So! The background. The video is the digging of the gold of course. What is missing is that I got up there and started videoing only to discover I had forgotten to buy more blank tapes, so I had to switch to very short clips and no time to tell the story. As I look at it what I feel is missing is the sense of the bigger picture of digging in the high Arctic mountains. That the weather, and winter, is everything. This is the end of the season, and winter comes with a seriousness and ferocity that can't be understated or ignored. Though there can be snows in August that fall on green leaves and melt away, by September it is coming to the the end, when winter clamps down and doesn't leave. The days grow shorter by 15 minutes a day, an hour in four days, and the sun rapidly lowers in its course till even at noon it stops shining in the narrow east-west running valley I dig in. Without the sun, the temperatures begin to fall rapidly. It is a race to dig before the freeze camps down an I am frozen out. Not only that, but facing the real dangers of getting in and through the snow, which can easily run to several feet in the first snow. Winter and snow, though extreme and sudden there in the high Arctic, aren't insurmountable. I have gathered a couple poles and have my scraps of tin ready to make a sled if I have to haul out through the snow. I stop digging to work on the shelter and ready it for storm, cold, and snow. I have brought food to last me out if I have to camp till the roads clear enough to move, or weather out the first blizzard in camp, or keep on digging into the first storms if the gold is more than I can leave or the snow comes early, since the Spring landslides will bury my hole before I return next year. There is also this underlying sense, an instinctive anxiety the same as any animal that knows the seasons are changing, that moves them out of the high country or heads them south. I see the geese overhead, sometimes heading south, other times heading north to avoid storms that at first mass solidly to the south along the Yukon. There is the knowledge that while the dangers are passable, they are very real, especially when you are alone, and a moment's inattention and an icy rock can become instant disaster. It is about timing and judgment and decisiveness, in a place where even an hour's difference in finally choosing to leave can mean the difference between a relatively painless trip out and south and a hard, dangerous, painful struggle through snow and cold.
I watch the sky every day, watch the weather, wondering if I'll get another day. The Arctic air mass above the pole is clear and cold, at first protecting me from the fall rains and storms that start funneling up the Yukon to the south, rains that flood the creek and make both sluicing difficult, and more important, getting out extremely difficult when I have to cross the creek several times if I want to follow the old road. Then there is the 15 miles to the car at the nearest village once I reach the road, and the 350 mile drive to Fairbanks even once I get out, loaded and on the road south. Soon, the end is near and it can't be avoided. Every day is a gamble, as I wonder if I should play it safe and pull out of keep working. Every day I am watching the massive forces of nature hanging in balance literally overhead, waiting to see if I will skip away from under the crashing mass of cold, or be caught in the hard struggle to pack up and get out after it hits. In the very beginning I am wondering if I have taken on more than I can do in the time I have, since it takes so long to remove the overburden to get to the paydirt. In the end, I am wondering what I have to do to call it quits, waiting for the hole to start collapsing finally, waiting for the gold to peter out as I lose the paystreak, waiting for the ice to grow out of the bottom of the creek. Preparing to keep working if I must even in the first cold and snows, as long as water flows, if I keep pulling more gold than I can leave.. if I hit a streak and pull ¼ to ½ ounce a day or more, as I have done. There is an unseen, unfelt pressure that just doesn't show in the video. The air is congealing. The tension mounts as great masses of air, great forces of nature, inch inexorably towards a critical tipping point. The last moments, as the tension is highest, I am able to record only glimpses as the tape runs out. You can't know that I am still pulling good gold, wondering if I can afford to leave, if I can afford to stay. The weather is collapsing fast, but I am pulling serious gold every day. I hike down the mountain, retrieve my bicycle from the brush, and ride the 11 miles to the village one night after work to get the car and bring it up to where the old road leaves the haul-road. I start loading up everything I can and taking it up the hill at least, caching it above the canyon. I am looking at my food supplies, I am prepared to last a couple weeks longer if need be, though all the niceties beyond a staple diet have dwindled or already run out. The stockpiles of wood dwindle.. do I stop to stockpile more or hope I'll finish before I have to, or risk gathering wood on the steep slopes after it snows? Everything is building to this crossroads, a convergence of all the plans and powers and possibilities. Every day I wonder if it is time, but the gold is still coming strong, though every day the hole is running out, hitting permafrost on one side and exceeding what I can reach without collapsing the hole and moving more overburden. Finally, I decide it is time to go. I am taking entire loads down to the car and loading it in advance, leaving only the essentials. I know that no matter what happens, I can't stay longer than I have food, a couple extra weeks at most, and it will be easier if the gear is mostly out before the snow. I've decided on a compromise solution. Usually I put one bucket in then let it work while I get the next, then clear the sluice by hand, pulling out big rocks and helping it along till it runs clean before I dump the next bucket. Now, I am leaving the sluice in the water even as I pack and carry loads down the hill. I scrape out 3 or 4 buckets from the hole and and put them in the sluice and let the water work it while I am carrying loads. I am still finding good pay even while I am getting out of there. I have nothing left down at the dig but the sluice. When the final load is done I focus the rest of the day on digging. As the day is almost done, the hole finally starts to give way and collapses. A few pokes with the bar and the hole is done. Perfect timing, and it is a relief that I can finally honestly say I am done. I pan out the day's gold and pack it away wet, pack up everything left, sluice and tools, and drag this final load out of the canyon. I stop at the cabin and grab all my essential gear and throw that on top and head down the mountain in the darkness. I load the car and pull it onto the highway, pause for a moment of thanks, and drive to the village to catch a few hours sleep.
The end of the story tells it all. I visit friends in the village in the morning. I check the weather, and the local forecast is for the first winter storm to arrive the next day. I head over to another friend to visit, figuring to leave that evening and slip into Fairbanks just in time. But this friend is a pilot and follows the weather across all of Alaska. He warns me that the storm is a major one powering up from the south, not a weak one rebounding from the North. We both know what this means and in a few minutes I have said goodbye and am hitting the road. I make 150 miles driving fast before I hit the first snowflakes, crossing Finger mountain. I stop and get out to climb a knob and greet the snow and the winter that has been haunting me and now I run from. I reach the Yukon and fill my tank, though I have enough left to reach Fairbanks, 150 miles, I know I may run into trouble and need extra gas. I pull out into the dark, and a mile beyond the river I plunge into the blizzard. I am down to 25 mph at best, 15 at worst, with snow so thick I can see a couple yards beyond the hood of the car. I am lucky the road is still gravel and mud and I have traction. I push on 75 miles, halfway to Fairbanks, then snow thins out and I can see again, but the snow is now deep and I am struggling up the hills and in first gear easing down them as slow as possible, with snow still falling. I reach Fairbanks at 3 am, where roads are plowed. I have made it out, though it was close, too close by far. But that's the way it is.
So that was the big story. I got out barely in time, in fact a few hours late. The first blizzard still caught me in its teeth, I'll admit to just barely making it. But Fairbanks was plowed, and so was the highway. The next day I made it to Delta, signed the car back over to Dave and packed up my gear. I helped build an insulated skirt around the base of a local disabled guys cabin. I sold enough gold to pay for two new CDs, almost. Though oddly enough, I didn't sell the gold I'd just dug, but the gold I'd been saving up from the last couple years digging, so I am still 5 ounces ahead. Then I caught the bus to Anchorage and the plane south. I was sorry to not have time for school shows. I managed a two day stop in Seattle to touch base with friends, but there was no time for Montana, I am also sad to say. I was headed back to start the new plan and get back to 1213 early to start the work on the house and setting up a studio there, aain, it is what I have to do, though I am not all that happy about giving up my old life, and the friends and places I wish to see. But it is only for a while, then I'll be back.
I arrived in mid-October, the earliest I've ever come, expecting to dive right in to the job and have it done in a couple months, then work on the recording the new CDs. I had enough cash to get the credit-card debts from buying the audio and video gear down to the last couple thousand dollars. One more year should finish that long hard job. And I still have the gold I dug to pay for the new CDs when they come, though I have to sell the gold first, the price just keeps going up, so it is ok.
I was starting on the biggest job at 1213 first, remodelling the old kitchen-laundryroom-diningroom area that was literally rotting away in spots. I actually started the job before I left for Alaska, planning and drawing up specifications, figuring out the job. I planned to return early directly from Alaska, without my usual stops in Montana and Seattle. This was the real start of the change in focus in my time and energy, coming back here in mid-October. I expected to return just before the cabinets arrived, ordered while I was gone. Instead, it was quite the fiasco. It seems I am really need to keep the project in order. The cabinets weren't almost here on my return, as expected. At the end of the first week, I was halfway through tearing out the old kitchen. I am sitting down with my friend Peter, a master electrician, talking about what to do about re-wiring, when I realize that the printed diagram of the cabinets provided by the store doesn't match the room.. windows in the wrong place, things aren't right. The next day I am frantically focused on figuring out what is going on, what happened. The cabinets hadn't been ordered to my specs, instead, someone from the store came in to measure, and ended up with windows improperly placed and cabinets that were too tall for the ceiling in the room! I head to the store thinking these mis-ordered cabinets will be arriving any day, and find out that somehow they were never even ordered! Well, at least we didn't have to deal with getting and returning the wrong cabinets, but now it would be 6 weeks till the cabinets would be ready.
I had to re-think the whole plan, try to turn it all to my advantage. I decided to do a total job, redo the entire wiring in the room while it was gutted, the best way of course, and replce the old 1960's breaker panel with a new larger 200 amp panel, and run the exterior power and communication lines underground. It also turned out I needed all the extra time and more. As I continued clearing out the room, I discover the rot had progressed into the floor and walls, So the delay gave me time to replace the floor, and jack up the walls to replace the sills and bottom couple feet of sheathing, or entire sections. It turned into a massive job that would take all winter. At that point, however, I was just trying to get the walls closed back in and a floor down so we could celebrate the holidays as the New Year approached. I feel into a haze of work that would take me through the winter.
I tried to get something happening in the evening, make some small progress besides this consuming job on the house. I did manage a number of small projects. Starting the pickup winder. Building a website for my ma, a working actress. Setting up the tree and cleaning the house before the relatives arrive. Though all told, it is hard to recall. I was imersed in the work, and the knowledge that I would be hard pressed to complete the job by Spring. But it had to be done, certainly. The new years came and went, and I worked right through it and on into the beginning of 2007.
This chapter in my life was a major decision, and now I am carrying through with it, and I m satisfied with that, even though I am not happy with it. I am again. doing what is right, what had to be done, but it seems the CDs will have to be put off till next winter, almost certainly, another year delated. It is both temporary and progressive situation, a series of steps towards completing specific goals, so I can put them all behind me and move on to other things. But for now, though it is frustrating in many ways, I have to focus on the course I have chosen, and follow it through step by step. It would be great if this main job on the house repair had gone quicker and easier, if the rot hadn't been so extensive. On the other hand, I found the rot before I had put in new cabinets on a rotten floor and walls. I also did the majority of the re-wiring, especially the service end, so that will be done as well. I always knew this would take two or three years to complete, so it will. In the next phase, the next year, I hope to be able to split my time between smaller secions of the house, smaller jobs, and working on the music projects. But that is next year.