Saturday, May 27, 2006

Gotta Hand It To Ya...

Just finished reading 'Kitchen Confidential' by Anthony Bourdain - If you haven't' read it, read it, period; he's a gas - Thanks, Anthony...

One of the pieces in there is him examining his hands, conjuring memories from the various scars, etc. It's great, one of those now-why-didn't-I-think-of-that things. Whereas you can tell age best by throats and hands, you can tell more about what somebody does or did from a closer examination of their hands, no doubt.

Mine read like a history book as well. Both pinkies are crooked, that's from hockey - Both broken at least once, the right one more like 3 times. They don't make gloves good enough to keep that from happening, if somebody decided to take a real good swipe at ya, or if fast moving vulcanized rubber meets finger on the side... I lost some teeth that way too, but that's another tale...

There are virtually no burn scars, which is odd, really. Having been a pretty serious amateur cook my whole life, and professionally for a short time, that's kinda surprising. Even more so having done, let's see... Seven years of wildland firefighting. Never got burned too badly, believe it or not. Actually, the only scar of consequence from those years is on my chin - I fell lighting a back fire on a steep slope and the lighted tip of the drip torch got my chin. Luckily that was in the 80's, when we'd discovered Aloe Vera, and the scars not too bad.

Now cuts, that's different. I do have a good one from cleaning a commercial meat slicer - Don't do that by the way, it hurts. Knife wounds are everywhere, mostly from woodworking. The good ones show where I just about took a finger or two off with a stupid move. The freshest one came last year from a nice sharp chisel that made it all the way to the bone: Don't do that either. Hammer marks, there are a couple; a 32 oz. framing hammer will do that when you miss, good enough to kinda become a tattoo, in fact...

Now that I've taken up guitar building, I sand my hands on a regular basis, which is not fun. Gotta remember that the 6" disc right there by the on-off switch is spinning and covered in 60 grit paper.

It's also amazing that I never cut anything with a chainsaw, especially hands - Oh I did slice a finger or two while sharpening chain, pulling it along without a glove, like an idiot, but nothing as bad as what a moving chain can and will do.

And then there's calluses; mine are left hand, fingertip, because I play enough steel string guitar with medium gauge strings to form 'em and keep 'em. Like Anthony's callus of pride, the knife callus on right index finger, these are the hand features I'm proud of. I don't show off or talk cuts, bruises, scars, etc, but I am downright proud to sport the signature marks of a working guitar player.

I hope I have 'em when I'm in my eighties.

Thursday, May 25, 2006


My wife's maternal Grandmother, Palma Hoover, is a truly amazing person. She was born in Norway, one of a bunch of brothers and sisters born to a rural farmers. She's 97 now, so was born in 1909. There aren't a lot of her peers left; in fact, she's the last one left in her family from that generation. Her father and his brothers actually went to Alaska for the gold rush in the late 19th century. One of the brothers wrote an account of their exploits, which was translated to English from the original Norwegian, and it's pretty amazing. They did the whole deed, hiked up chalked Pass, portaged and floated and walked to the gold country, found and hit claims, and actually struck it rich. They were farm boys from Norway, so hard work in nasty conditions was just par for the course to them... After this escapade, they went back to Norway, and bought the family farm.

The brothers then returned to the U.S. to homestead in Washington State. They each took a chunk in the area of what today is the Carnation area. One of the houses they built is still there.

That's where Palma was raised, on her dad's 640 acre homestead claim, in the virgin forest at the dawn of the 20th century. She remembers her dad and his brothers felling huge trees with axe and hand saw, and then digging up and sometimes blasting the stumps, turning forest to pasture slowly but steadily. There was no power, no light, no plumbing, no modern convenience of any kind. Everybody had chores, even the tiny ones, and everyone did them, period. A trip to Seattle was a multi-day affair, with parts on foot or horse and buggy, a ferry across Lake Washington, and the a street car into the big city.

In the 1920's she went to college and earned a teaching degree. She would teach school around Washington State well into her 70's. She says she liked the little girls, because they were generally business-like and got their work done, while little boys were generally hellions. She taught at several one room school houses, teaching every subject and every grade.

During the Great Depression, she met her husband Joe. In 1936, they bought a house with a decent little patch of land in Centralia, and had their first child, my wife's mom. Gramma lives in that house to this day.

She doesn't garden any more, which is a shame, because touring her garden each year was a real treat. Monica's cousin Mike has planted a small patch for her and comes down every weekend to tend it with her direction. There are huge, gnarled grape arbors, plum trees, apples of several varieties, and Gramma remembers each one; when they planted it, what the variety is, and the myriad of things they made with them. Joe made wine with the grapes for many years. He was a Centralia cop, and passed away several years ago.

Talking with Gramma is like living the history of her part for the world through the 20th Century; she remembers the minute details of being a little girl before the industrial revolution hit, and has lived life fully ever since. She's a smart, opinionated, very observant, wonderful person. I am blessed to have met her, and to be a part of her family.

Going To Waveland

This short that resulted from our trip down to Katrina Ground Zero:

Going to Waveland

Going there is far easier than coming back. When you’re going, you’re eased into the devastation and you haven’t met the people yet. It’s also a solid nine hour drive from Fort Worth to Waveland, Mississippi, so if you leave in the morning, you’ll arrive after dark. As you cross the Achafalaya, you start to see things broken and damaged, but it’s getting dark quickly, as it always seems to when you’re close to the sea. That being the case, the damage isn’t all that evident; it’s like a ghost, a hint of horror and fear flickering at the periphery of your vision that you can’t quite focus on.

Finally, you arrive at what’s left of Christ Episcopal Church; it’s hard to find, because there are no street signs or mail boxes, and it’s quite dark… This is where Kim King lives now, in a travel trailer. She chose this option to avoid having to go back to the ruins of her home every night, and, “So that next time this happens, I can hook up to the truck and get out right now.” Her eyes look particularly haunted when she says this.

The church is a disaster. You’ve seen the website pictures of what it used to be. It was beautiful and peaceful, the epitome of a gentle Oceanside church. There were lush, green trees hung with Spanish Moss, and thick lawns, white buildings with clapboard siding and dark roofs; a chapel, Rectory, school, office, and visitors quarters. Now, flickering in the light of a bonfire, there is blasted concrete, pieces of shrapnel, piles of debris, and twisted, leafless trees with rags flapping in their bare branches. A new steel Quonset hut stands on the footprint of the old sanctuary. A fractured piece of signboard, like driftwood salvaged from the beach, hangs over the door and reads, ‘Christ Episcopal Church, Waveland, Mississippi.’ Inside are folding chairs, a rough altar, and tables piled with staples like toilet paper, paper plates and cutlery, some food items. Nothing else to speak of from the old church survived, so there is nothing much else in the church now…

You’re lucky, because tonight you’ll be staying in Kim’s FEMA trailer. Lots of us who are here visiting are in tents, and it’s raining sideways and blowing hard. The floor of the new Quonset hut church is wet, because it’s not sealed yet – It’s been raining too much to seal, a fact that makes the parishioners very nervous for obvious reasons. The rug for the altar is pulled up so it doesn’t get wet, and everything is piled into one or two of the drier spots until the rain stops…

The trailer is set on the old foundation of Kim and David’s home, a few miles west of the church. It’s bolted to the concrete, so that, hopefully, it stays there through future storms. Kim cautions us not to wander too far after dark, and that “When you step around a building, you need to yell, ‘I’m peeing here,’ because the locals will shoot…” There has been a lot of looting, from the day the storm ended to this very day: This includes the theft of FEMA trailers. The locals are very edgy and downright intolerant.

The King’s FEMA trailer is one of the travel trailer versions, as opposed to the larger and presumably more comfortable manufactured house versions. It is 14’ x 22’; they’re stuffy, claustrophobic and cheap. Kim notes that theirs, “Has a real toilet and a real refrigerator, most people don’t”. The master bedroom has room for a bed, with maybe a foot of space on both sides, and a closet that might be four square feet in size. There are two bunks, and the couch and kitchen table fold down into beds. One step takes you from bedroom to ‘living room’, another to the kitchen, another to the bath. Roughly three hundred and eight square feet of living space, intended for a family of four. Kim notes that, “They want you to be uncomfortable - They want you to hate it so much that you’ll leave.” This trailer is loaned to refugees for eighteen months – After that, you’re on your own. Someone asks Kim if the rubble outside is what’s left of her home: “No,” she smiles ruefully, “Our stuff is miles away, maybe…” The storm surge lifted everything and took in inland, as far away as eight miles, all the way to the interstate. Then all that water came roaring, crashing, tearing its way back to the sea, as hard or harder than it had come in. Kim found a few pieces of her home blocks away from her property. What they recovered of their personal items, “Would fit in the trunk of a car.” They never found their house. Much of Bay Saint Louis and Waveland ended up on the beach and in the ocean. For months afterwards, shipping traversing the coast had to set extra watches and radar sweeps to avoid hitting houses, phone poles, and other debris floating out at sea.

You sleep fitfully, unsure of the sounds you’re hearing outside; is that wind, or surf, or... The mattresses are horrible, despite Kim’s incredible kindness in making the place as homey as possible. The thing is cheaply made and cheaply put together; it did not work right when it got there, and some things still don’t. You can put in a request for service, and they might come. If they do, they do so without warning or a set appointment, and you have to be there and let them in. If you don’t they leave, and they probably don’t come back…

When you wake up and step outside for the first time in the light of day, the full impact of what has happened hits you. It is sunny and very quiet. It looks like a picture of Hiroshima after the atomic bomb was dropped, the one which showed ground zero, with the skeletal framework of a building surrounded by complete devastation. There are no birds in the trees, no squirrels, no cats or dogs, no happy sounds of children, no adults talking quietly over a cup of coffee. There is only the wind and some heavy machinery down the street starting to work. You turn slowly and look around: Before the storm, Kim’s house had a wrap around veranda and a white picket fence. The last picture they have was taken the day before the storm, because David was worried about the fence maybe being damaged and decided that a picture would be a good idea, in case they needed to make an insurance claim. In that photo, you can see the lawn that David was rightfully proud of; he described it as, “Just like a golf course.” Katrina not only destroyed their house, it ripped their foundation out of the earth and carried most of it away with the rest of the debris. You snap a picture of a statuette of the Blessed Virgin Mary left beside an up-tilted chunk of concrete foundation. Sand, mud, debris and twisted, uprooted trees have replaced David’s lawn.

As you’re taking pictures, you quickly realize that you’re just shooting the same thing over and over – Piles of rubble, ten to twenty feet high, twisted trees with shreds of clothing in their branches, mangled cars, tilted and fractured foundations, as far as the eye can see. You go for a walk, and look cautiously at the things around you. As far as you can see, there are FEMA trailers and travel trailers and tents, home made sheds and structures, tarps and dirty cars and trucks, piles of trash and debris and twisted wreckage, blasted trees, sand, dirt, mud and broken pavement. In Kim’s neighborhood, there is nothing being rebuilt. There are houses blown off their foundation and into trees, ripped in half or squashed by other houses. In one of these houses, where the entire back wall has been ripped off, there is a perfect bedroom, with the bed made, and clothes still in the closet: No person did that - The storm did, in a perverse twist of fate. There are squashed, smashed, twisted and flattened vehicles everywhere. The storm surge here was estimated at thirteen feet in depth. At the church, that depth was more like thirty six feet...

By each former home site, there are small piles of things pulled out of the general mix; here a lawnmower, there a plastic baseball bat or a scooter. These pieces were seemingly abandoned after being separated from the general wreckage, as if the searchers became discouraged and just walked away. There are empty gun cases and safes, broken china, clothes, furniture, and appliances. Underneath the surface of the wreckage, people’s lives lie ruined and abandoned; clothes, furniture, pictures and papers, mud, sand, dirt and debris, twisted metal and fractured wood, broken plastic and blasted concrete…

There are large painted X’s on the ground, street, or on houses themselves, with numbers next to them. These indicate that bodies were found there, and how many people had died. There are far too many Xs in this community: Kim estimates that one hundred and fifteen residents of Waveland lost their lives in the storm.

You drive toward church, and the full extent of the damage is overwhelming. At the end of the street, there is a small circle of broken bricks surrounding three or four plastic flowers, with a hand-made sign behind them that reads, “Winner of the garden contest!’: You’re struck that these folks still have a sense of humor, but there is also a wistful sense of loss in this little vignette that is absolutely heartrending: The land has been poisoned by all the salt, sewage, and chemicals spread by Katrina, and nothing will grow here now. Just down the street is the ‘Hurricane Proof House,’ built by two local doctors to withstand anything Mother Nature had to throw at them. They rode out the storm in the top floor, and miraculously survived. The first two floors are blasted away, the third irreparably damaged. A sign at the driveway reads, ‘I’m still here’. There are many such signs, ‘We’re OK’, ‘Still Here’, ‘Gone But Not Forgotten’, ‘Not Giving Up’, and ‘God Bless America’. Many of the homes that stood here were raised on piers and set on beams of wood or steel. Many of the piers and beams remain, but the homes do not. At one site, you stop and check something you see: It is a 12” steel beam, with webs 8” deep, perhaps 40 feet long, and it has been deflected six feet by the storm, twisted into a grotesque sculpture, bent by the wind and the sea…

At church people drift in prior to the service. They have made an obvious effort to look nice for church, yet there is a look of shock and resignation overlying their features that is disconcerting. You have seen this look in the faces of crime victims, and on those who have survived great trauma: It is pervasive here. You are welcomed with great warmth, grace, and appreciation. These people are hungry for contact that doesn’t involve disaster, eager to speak with somebody about music, family, food; anything that doesn’t involve the storm. Out of the blue, after speaking with you briefly about where you’re from, one person touches your arm softly and remarks that, “It’s so nice not to be talking about where to find propane, or who still hasn’t been located…” and without another word they turn and walk to a seat in church. You play and sing as we always do at Trinity, but here, there are many more tears and emotions run very close to the surface. People listen to Father Bill preach. He speaks of hope and Christ’s presence. You can tell that they appreciate it and they believe him, but the pain and fear does not leave their eyes, not even for a moment.

People stand around and join you after the service, for a little lunch and some companionship. You’ve let people know that you’ll be there all day, that they can come by and visit some more; some do, but not as many as you’d hoped would. The people are kind and obviously touched and pleased that you’ve come, and they demonstrate this in every way possible; and yet the pain and fear never leaves their eyes or their voices.

Carefully, tactfully, you ask what life is like now. Most have nothing. Most had no flood insurance, so they will get nothing. They still have mortgages and owe tens of thousands of dollars on homes that are gone forever. Many say that even if they did have proper insurance, the insurance companies are making concerted efforts, “Not to honor our claims, one way or another,” and they note how hard it is to fight a big, powerful company when you are just one small person in the middle of nowhere, with absolutely nothing to fight back with. There are those, like Kim and David, who did have flood insurance, and they are supposedly, “Better off.” They got insurance money and were able to pay off their mortgages. Now they have blasted, poisoned, ruined pieces of land covered with debris that they own free and clear. No one will accept this land as equity or collateral to allow them to get another mortgage. No one will come to build it, even if they did have the funds. There are many parishioners who have homes that could and should be repaired, that need to be repaired. They have the materials purchased and ready, but no one will come and make the repairs. You are told that contractors place their emphasis on, “The rich people who can afford to pay whatever is necessary to get them to come.” The same people note ruefully that, “We can’t afford that…”

You leave with some new names and faces and stories and email addresses. You’re driving out in daylight, and now you can see the full scope of the damage. As you were told, from the beach to the freeway, a distance of about eight miles, pretty much everything is destroyed. You’d asked how far east and west this extent of damage was done, and you were told, “Pretty much from the Florida coast to the Texas coast.” And it’s true. On the way back, you go farther west, to Lake Charles Louisiana, where the damage from Hurricane Rita takes over for Katrina, and you find that what you were told is absolutely true.

Six months after Katrina, this is what you’ve seen. In Bay Saint Louis and Waveland, “Nice towns, beautiful places to live, where everybody knew everybody and life was really good,” perhaps ten to fifteen percent of the residents have returned. Too many have died. Many have left and may come back, depending on what happens this year. Many have left and will never come back. Their whereabouts and status of an alarming percentage is simply not know, and may never be. Leaving Waveland, you now have images and facts and people in your heart and mind and soul, and so, as I mentioned, it’s far harder to leave there than it is to arrive. What you are sure of is the fact that ‘The Right Thing,’ whatever that may be has not been done for these people and these places. You are certain that you will go back again to visit and to help, in any way you can. God has written that on your heart, and it’s impossible to ignore.

Perhaps the most disconcerting memory you have is this: By far, when asked, “What will you do now,” most people stare off toward something that the rest of us can’t see, and say, “I don’t know, I just don’t know… We’ll wait and see what happens this year.” The 2006 hurricane season is less than three months away.

Forks and Corks

When I logged there, (Which was in the late 70s and early 80s, for a few months here, a few months there over the years...), the logging units were HUGE. This was before environmentalism had hit forest practices, so you would have clearcuts hundreds of acres big. And out there, on the Olympic Peninsula, they were STEEP, too. You can't get roads and machinery all over a big chunk like that, so they had to come up with an alernative to cutting a whole pantload of roads and landings and such - Not out of altruism, mind you, but because it was too damn expensive otherwise. Hence was born High-Line logging, and in particular, the North Bend setup, (So named because it was first devised in North Bend, WA, on the steep east slopes of the Cascades).

Now, before you get to the yarding and hauling point, them trees have to be cut down, right? So your Bushlers go in and fell everything, (You can tell a Bushler 'cause they wear flood pants, logger jeans cut short on the ankles, so there's no loose stuff to trip on, catch a chain with, or get caught in the bush when you're felling trees and need to get outta the way in a hurry...). They fall trees so that they're easy to choke, and so that they don't go sledding downhill after being cut - Far harder a job than it may sound, believe me.

Everbody wears Caulks, or 'Corks', which are logging boots with steel spikes in the soles instead of waffle soles. You can get the spikes in different lengths, depending on how thick the crap is you need to stick to. I got my first pair in 1979, From White's Boots in Spokane, Washington. They measure in 17 places, and build a wooden last of your foot. Any and all boots you order past that are custom made for you. In '79, mine cost $150 - I still have them - the uppers are just about perfect, just a patch or two, though they've been resoled about 6 times...)

So now the trees are down in your unit and you're ready to start haulin'. For a North Bend, you use a big ol' yarding tower, which is a huge, very powerful diesel engine with a bunch of steel cables, and a round steel tower anywhere from 20 to 80 feet tall. You build one road to the top of the unit, and a landing or 2 or 3, depending on how wide that sucker is. You drive that tower up to the top, set the feet and get ready. Now it's time to choose your tower anchors, which would be a few nice, fat trees right up there around the landing, and necessarily situated opposite the main line of force you're planning on hauling up. Now, some idiot climbs them trees, limbing on the way up, and tops 'em, and then drops a line, and a small cable gets tied to that, and hauled up, which leads to a bigger cable, and soon you've got big ol', (As in 1" diameter) cables leading from the tower to the anchor trees, (Yes, I am alluding to the fact that I've done this - I still own my first pair of climbing spikes). Now, your crew head straight down the unit along the main line of hauling, dragging another thin cable. When they get to the bottom, (Which might easily be anywhere between 500 and 1200 feet from the tower), they pick another big ol' set of 2 or 3 trees, and repeat the limb and top routine, and attach cables around them and to all of those goes one big loop with a steel carriage and wheel on it. These loops are set and left maybe 60 to 80 feet up them trees... This is now the anchor for your haul line, and you're about ready to go North Bendin'!

Now what you have is a cable going from the tower to the base anchor, and when the tower operator is ready, he winches that sucker in and the high line goes high and taut, rising up as much as 50 nor 60 feet off the deck. On that cable rides a sled with little wheels that let it run along the haul line; there's a cable back to a big drum on the tower. From the sled hangs another cable, to which Choker setters hook chokers, (Lengths of steel cable between 15 and 50 feet long, and usually 1/2" thick). One end has a steel bell sort of looking thing, and the other end has a steel slug - the slug threads into the bell and then locks with it when you tension the choker. Now, down into the bush goes your crew. You got the highest paid guy on the show in the Tower, your Engineer. Next comes the Side Rod, which is your field Boss, if you will, the top guy down in the bush. Next comes your Whistle Punk, who coordinates between the Engineer and the Choker Setters. Sometimes the smaller outfits will combine the functions of a Side Rod and Whistle Punk, which actually makes sense, since if you ask any Choker Dog out there, they'll tell you that all Whistle Punks are pricks, and Side Rods never do jack shit... (Yeah, I set chokers, too).

OK, so we start out at the bottom, generally, and work up and out from the mainline. Choker Setters head into the bush trailing chokers, unless your Engineer is a good guy and offers to send 'em down on the sled. The rest is easy. The side rod says "Gimme four" or however many trees he thinks the rig can handle, which of course depends on the size of the trees, right? If your trees are real big, you might have had a crew come through and top 'em and limb a little and section 'em a little, but more times than not, you're gonna be hauling the whole damn tree. Choker setters crawl and climb and dig through the brush, and choosing a point more or less at the middle of the tree's length, they throw chokers around them suckers, get the other end however they can, lock up the choker, and bring the bitter end to the crown on the down line from the sled and hook 'em up. Then the Choker Dogs yell, "Good!" or whatever, if they get a chance. The high line, semi-taut, is kinda hovering over wherever it is you're working.

In a perfect world, everybody calmly gets out of the way, and up the logs go - But it never works that way. Time is money, and nobody makes nothin' sittin' around, and the quicker them logs are on a truck headed for the mill, the more money the boss makes, and the happier he is - Happy Boss Good, Unhappy Boss Bad, got it? Whistle Punks are forever calling Choker Setters slug asses, and Choker Setters are forever believing that Whistle Punks are trying to kill them, and Side Rods hate everybody. Engineers don't care, 'cause they're sitting in climate controlled splendor, in a comfy chair, and not crawling through brush on a 40 degree slope, wearing soaked rain gear and boots. God save you all if the boss comes and actually gets out of the truck...

In my day, (Gawd, does that sound like, "Back in Whiskey Whiskey Deuce.."?), the Whistle Punks and Engineers did not have radios, they had a whistle, and that's why them guys got called what they did. One toot means 'Send It', 2 means 'Stop', 3 means 'Pick It Up', 4 means 'Take It', 5 means 'Drop It', and DOOT-DOOT-DOOT-DOOT-DOOT DOOT-DOOT means either lunch or that's all for today, folks!. No, I'm not making this up. So, you're kind of standing there, kind of too close to the log you just got finished choking, and you hear DOOT-DOOT-DOOT! Shit! You run and dive and clamber like a mad man as the donkey winds up and yanks all those many, many thousands of pounds of wood right off the ground and up into a swinging, very heavy, very F'ing dangerous mass over your head... F'ing Punk!! You yell, but he's over there giggling and punching up DOOT-DOOT-DOOT-DOOT, and that load goes winging up the hill. Now, they weren't all psychotic, mind you, but neither were they exactly Rhodes Scholars either, ya know? You can't blame the Engineer, because, well, it's not his fault, and it would be patently foolish maybe fatal, to do so, even if it was, right? Plenty of people got hurt or killed, it happened all the time. I was watching my friend Kevin, with his hand on the crown, (What you hook the choker ends to, the thingy that gets hauled up by the sled), when the whistle blew and he lost 3 fingers, just like that. He got 'em sewed back on, and he even still plays guitar, but that's still no fun, ya know?
Any time the system is under tension, a sensible person wouldn't want to be anywhere near it, because after all, it's a bunch of steel cables anchored to things, put together by a bunch of humans. They can and do break, snap, unravel, or cut loose, and when that happens, well, saying it's not pretty is putting it way lightly, eh? Once you've heard a 1" steel cable break and go snapping through the air and brush like a gaint, very deadly whip, you never, ever forget it, guaranteed...

The logs make their way up toward the landing, and get dropped on or near it. There, Chasers take over. Chasing is usually done by the rookies, the very young, or the very old, because it's a pretty easy job. If you have a Scaler, they come along and measure the logs and spray paint or chop marks where they want them bucked. The Chasers limb 'em and buck 'em. Then either a log loader, (Like a 966 Cat with log loader jaws on it - Great tool, you can do all kinds of damage with one of those!), or a skidder, (Kinda the same thing, but made to hook chokers to and pull the logs around), takes 'em and get's 'em to a waiting truck. If your trucks are self-loaders, they load 'em, if they're not, the 966 does. Now, chasing is generally safer than other loggin jobs, but coming up from the deep one day, I did see a rookie limbing a big ol' log from underneath... Right about the time somebody was yelling at him, the log cut loose and ran his sorry ass over. Fortunately for him, the soil was loose and pretty sandy, and there he was, ground face down into the dirt, with a few nice gouges in his back. The 'Rod ran over and shook him and asked if he was OK. The guy sat up slowly, shook his head, (Eyes as big as saucers), and said, "OK? Hell NO I'm not OK!!!" and got up and ran off. The Rod caught up with him about a quarter mile down the road. The guy told him to screw off, and he didn't want a ride, and kept walking. A truck got him later and took him back to Forks. Next time we saw the guy, he was flagging on a highway work crew. I handed him a beer as we were waiting and told him to be careful....

And that's kinda how it's done. Now keep in mind, it's usually steep, the trees and brush are over-your-head high, it's raining sideways and 42 degrees. Everything is wet, cold, slimy, pointy, or hard. It's steeper than hell and very lousy footing. Your boots and your Helly Hansons will be soaked within 15 minutes of getting out of the crummy. You will be cold, wet, miserable, sore, and in danger pretty much all day, every day. But it's 1979 and you're getting paid $14 an hour, in cash, and you get paid every day, just like clockwork. 9 outfit out of 10 won't rip you off for hours. If you hate the sunufabitch you work for, you can quit, catch a ride on a truck back to town, go to the Vagabond the next morning, and have another job just like that. When you go home at night, you put your boots in your Peet boot dryer, and your Helly's by the fire, and have a few icy cold Rainiers. When your boots dry, you get out the mink oil and poop 'em up, and then, the next morning, you go out and do it again...

Like Lighting a Big Match

Ever seen a real live crown fire, a la forest fire? Think so? I'd bet not; if you have, you're a rare case, 'cause most folks never will, not even on TV or the movies... So what, you ask - What's the big deal? Is it that amazing?? The answer is, yes, indeed it is, so allow me to elaborate...

Do you know how big a chunk of ground 100 acres is? It's big, gang, I can tell you! OK, let's see... If an acres is 208' x 208', that's... 43,264 square feet per acre, and 100 of those would be... Yipes! 4,326,400 square feet! That's a lot of square foots, huh? OK, so, we're talking a space that, were it square, would be 2,080 feet on each side, or close to a half a mile each way. That's a chunk, no doubt about it. Can you see that in your mind's eye? Can you? OK, now see it covered with mature pine forest, trees averaging 80 to 120 feet in height, and the whole thing is thick with 'em - Got that? Mature Pine forest is nice to walk in, because there ain't a bunch of undergrowth. There's a lot of dry, crunchy needles, and a bunch of smaller Pines hoping to become big 'un's, and some scrub. Out on the open slopes, in the draws, and along avalanche chutes, there's brush, and it can get pretty thick, especially in the creek draws. OK, now take this whole thing and tilt it up to maybe about a 25 degree slope or so, with a nice curvy ridgeline at the top, and a creek draw at the bottom, all brushy and meandering... Are ya with me? Good.

OK, now, you're here because you're a Firefighter with one the three most elite fire crews in the U.S., The Alpine Interagency Hotshots, based out of Grand Canyon and Yellowstone. This fire is on steep ground, and that's your crew's specialty, the thing you train specifically for and work the most - really big fires on really steep country. Here is Montana, north of the town of Canyon Ferry, in the Helena National Forest. It's August, 1981, and it's been hot and dry here for a long time. Oh, and it's windy, too - Real windy, because this fire actually started to the west of the Missouri river and jumped over it, thanks to blowing stuff and high winds.

So, let's say you're a Line Scout, which means you're working out ahead of the crew, far enough ahead that, whereas you can hear the whine of the Stihls, it's not loud: You can hear the wind every bit as well. You're out picking the route for a new fire line, so, you're close enough to the actual fire front that you can certainly hear that, too. You're close, but not too close, because you're flagging out the new line you want the crew to follow and cut. You're picking the route based on the speed of the fire's advance, which depends, of course, on the topography, the fuel type and volume, and the fact that this fire is big enough to be effectively creating its own little weather system at its front, which pretty much any large fire does to some degree. So your line needs to be chosen such that it's still there when the crew arrives. At the pace they're cutting line, they're maybe... 10 to 15 minutes behind you. Out in front of you somewhere, not too far, is John, your Crew Boss. He's out to meet a Sector Boss and figure out what comes next, once this new line gets hooked up to the rocky outcropping at the edge of the ridge there, maybe 500 or 600 feet away. You're about 100 feet below the ridge top, on a slope of maybe 20 or 25 degrees, working east toward that ridgeline. You're not sure what comes next because, well, you ain't been there yet, and you haven't talked to John, so, for the time being, this is it, worry-wise...

You flag to the edge of the ridge, and lo and behold, on the other side there's another slope, (Duh - The other side of this little hill you're on, dummy). There's a nice rocky outcropping that might just help hold things, and standing on that is John and the sector God. The other side of this hill goes down steeply to a little creek draw. On the other side of that there's another slope, thickly forested, maybe 100 acres or so... You greet the Bosses and they ask how it's going. You tell 'em, and John calls Wade on the Motorola, who says it would be good if you started backburning toward them, because the fire's getting frisky. You can do that in this kind of place, because other than the thick needle layer on the forest floor, there's not a lot of duff or other burnable stuff between you and mineral soil. So you pull a highway flare out of your pack and head back around the corner toward the crew. The sawyers are right there now, George and Pat felling, with another team behind 'em doing the limbing and bucking. You give 'em the heads up, then step through and scratch a little 6" line through to soil. Then, you pop the flare to life. The fire front is closer now, sweeping cross-slope, and you can feel the heat as it starts to pull in air from around you; perfect for pulling in a backfire. You touch the flare to the needles on the fire side of your little scratch line and flames leap right up, growing incredibly fast: In no time the needles are flaring and biting at the sparse brush and smaller pines, as the big fire sucks them in. The flame front you've started grows, and glancing left, you can see other backfires started by the crew. There's maybe 75 feet between your backfire and the fire itself, but they're both growing vertically a bit too fast, and it's making you nervous. You're about to say something to the sawyers, but they're watching too. Pat raises an eyebrow when you glance his way. Then fire front meets backfire about 50 or 60 feet away from you, and just like that, the two cancel each other out and there's not much left but smoldering stuff. Close, but so far, so good. You head back to where the bosses are to see what comes next.

When you get there, John and the Sector God are debating whether we want to head down to the draw and then work the west ridgeline on that other slope. Neither of them sound real thrilled about the idea, but the Sector God is getting heat from his boss, who looks a lot like the SWAT Lieutenant from Hill Street Blues, and is comfortably ensconsed at Base Camp. He hasn't actually seen any of this, even from the air, but still thinks it's a great idea. The Sector God, who's obviously a good guy, listens to the Big Cheese on the radio and rolls his eyes at us: "OK, Gene, I hear ya - We'll take another look at it and let ya know, OK?" he says, and then holsters the radio, shaking his head. "Fat-Assed Know-It-All fire bosses, don't ya just hate them guys?" he chuckles, reaching for his Skoal tin. "I don't know fellas," he allows, "I jus' don't like it..." It turns out that fire had crept into and along this creek draw yesterday, and that's making him nervous. He'd had it bombed a few times, but the brush is too thick, so all that did was make it hunker down some, not go out. The three of you talk some more as the crew starts to arrive, and the Sector God decides to order up another bomber run, which he does. He turns as he ends his radio conversation and says, "They had an extra load on one a the big boys, so they'll be here in a sec..." He holsters the radio again and winks at John as he packs a big ol' dip in his lip, "Let's just see what that does..." A few moments later, a deep drone intrudes into your hearing range. The Sector God's other radio squawks, and he pulls it out and says "Yep, go ahead, we're all clear." Thirty seconds later, a small, fast twin-engine plane flashes by west to east, diving down from the ridge line and blasting over the creek draw. Following his guide's path, a moment later a red and white WWII vintage bomber lumbers over the same ridge like a huge metallic bumble bee and opens its bomb bay, releasing a thick red slurry. The smell of ammonia is immediately evident as the bomber moseys on. The slurry falls, whispy red tails trailing back toward the direction the bomber came from. It's dead on, and the brightly dyed retardent slaps into the brush down there in the draw. "Nice shot," notes the Sector God, and you agree. "Well," he asks, turning to John, "Whataya think, Boss, want to take your folks over there now?" John doesn't answer yet, he's still watching the creek draw intently. John's not your average Crew Boss. In fact, he's almost done with his Doctorate in Fire Science through the University of Washington's College of Forest Resources. He knows his fire behavior quite well, and has proven on more than one occassion to have a hell of a sixth sense about places firefighters just shouldn't be. He's got that look on his face right now.

Here's where it get's interesting. In the movies, all this would be done in super slow motion, so that you wouldn't miss anything, and all the jaw dropping detail would be drawn out and highlighted. Then, maybe the scene would be shown right after the slo-mo sequence in real time, so you got a feel for how terrifyingly powerful it all is. Of course in the real world, there ain't no slow motion, though it really doesn't matter much: You're right there, with a front row seat, and you'll never forget this for as long as you live.

Suddenly, you hear what John's been focused on, the sound of fire crackling down in that thick brush in the creek draw. What's happening is this: Fire retardent, as dropped by bombers, is basically an ammonia based fertilizer slurry. It's thick, almost viscous, and it sticks to what it's dropped on and takes the oxygen component out of the fire triangle, (Fuel, Ignition Source, and Oxygen), and makes fires go out pretty darn well. But once again, the brush down there is thick and was burning quite nicely, thank you very much. The retardent didn't put this fire out, it just made it wait a little longer to get free again... And now it's time. That last bomber load landed on top of the other retardent, and weighed the brush down a little more: That let a little more oxygen in, and now, it's ba-ack. As you watch, the brush down there quickly flares up.

John's now looking at the opposite slope and thinking about how the fire we just put down around the corner was getting particularly frisky in the vertical sense. He turns to you and says, "Get your camera man, this is gonna be good!" Now, you're standing on a rock outcropping maybe 500 feet above the creek. The other side of the draw, that 100 acre patch of woods over there, is maybe 1000 feet away, as the crow flies... And in the time it takes you to unbuckle your pack and sling it off your back, hoping to open it and get your camera, that whole hillside is gone. It goes off like somebody lighting a giant pack of matches all at once: Not individual trees lighting up, or torching one by one, but the whole damn 100 acres all at once. It roars like a hurricane and blows super-heated air like a troop of freight trains passing an arms length in front of you. The heat is immense, intense, searing; it reaches for the sky like some giant crazy offering, sending a billion sparks and limbs and needles skyward in a huge votex of flame. You dive for the ground, as does everyone else, but it's still unbelievably hot, Nomex clothes be damned. Afterwards, you will note that it melted the plastic name tags on your helmets and the lenses on your smoke goggles, and that a number of you have mild burns on patches of exposed skin. In less time than it took you to take off your pack, 100 acres of mature Pine forest is smoke-blasted history. The only pictures you have are slides of the remains, the scorched trunks and ash-strewn ground. When you do make it over there, the place looks like the moon, nothing but black, gray, and white ash, as far as you can see.

Now you see what the big deal is: That's crown fire, rarely seen even by career wildfire fighters. You never, ever forget it, if you're lucky enough to see it and survive the experience. And thanks to the grace of God and a pretty cool Sector Boss, you did.

Heart Four Bar

My folks are both westerners, but my mom's family fits the mold better than dad's. Mom is from Montana, central southern Montana, in the Beartooth Range, to be more exact. Her home town is Nye. Nye contains 5 churches, 2 bars, and 1 combination general store & gas station. The nearest big town is Red Lodge, about 40 miles southeast over a mountain pass that is more often closed in winter than not. Of course the ranch isn't in Nye, it has a Nye address - The ranch is another 30 miles south by southeast of town. It's actually closer to Red Lodge than Nye, but there's a mountain range between them, and there ain't no roads.

The Beartooth Ranch, (The brand is a heart on the right side, next to a 4, over a bar - 'Heart 4 Bar'), is 16,000 acres, not huge by Montana ranch standards, but big enough. The main gate at the ranch reads, 'Beartooth Ranch, elevation, 5,429 feet'. It's tucked into the edge of the mountains, along the headwaters of the Stillwater River. The river begins in lakes up in the mountains, the high range, and by the time it's going by the Ranch, (About 3 miles of it), it's cold, wild, and fast. Last time I was there, my oldest brother and I went fly fishing just outside the corrals; it was the middle of July. In the few hours we were on the river, it was sunny, then raining, and ended up snowing heavily for about 30 minutes. The game Warden stopped by in his pickup, not to check our licenses, but to see who we were and how we were doing. We exchanged flies, the three of us, mine from the northwest, Timmy's from the east coast, for local favorites that a Stillwater Brown Trout would like. Nothing we caught was under 18"...

The ranch has entertained dudes since 1949; every summer families came to ride, fish, shoot, eat heartily and enjoy comfortable but rustic living, and that's just what they got. Things were done ranch style there; when stuff broke, it was fixed in a utilitarian, albeit not pretty fashion - It's from there I learned the phrase, "Good enough, it ain't like a guy on a fast horse would notice..." Every June, when I was a kid, my mom and any of us who were up for it headed from where ever we lived to the Ranch, to join the spring roundup, wherein all the horses were gathered from the low pasture and lead up to the high range for the summer. The trip in reverse was done each August, bringing 'em all back down. they were Morgans and Quarters, big, solid working horses with even dispositions. When working, the dude horses always went slow on the outbound leg, and noticably faster on the way back - Go figure; they didn't like idiots on their backs any more than we do, and they always knew the difference between heading out to work or coming back for rest, food, and a nice curry comb. My horse was a little paint named Pepper; she and I got along just fine, 'cuase she was generally forgiving and liked me. It didn't always work that way between man and horse. The toughest ones to break for dude or working horses would be handled by my Aunt. Half Cherokee, she knew how to horse whisper before it was a popular term. I don't remember a horse she couldn't ride, though I certainly do remember her coming angrily into the corral and taking the lead from a bewildered hand who was trying too hard. Horses trusted Ellen and listened to her. She taught me to do the same, and I always have. Whenever and where ever I've riden since boyhood, I greet the horse first, get to know them, and eventually ask if it would be OK if we went for a ride. I've never had a problem with any horse I've been on.

When I was growing up, the only people who lived anywhere around the ranch were other ranchers. Now there are not as many working ranches, and there are many more very expensive, very large houses where ranches used to be. Most of these houses are empty for 11+ months of the year. It's still an incredibly beautiful drive from Nye to the ranch, down a nasty, beaten down 2-lane road, but those big houses bother me nonetheless...

Progress has not bypassed the Beartooth, either. A combination working horse / dude ranch since 1949, molybednum was discovered in 1987. A small mining operation has become huge, and has effectively taken over the ranch. It is a state-of-the-art clean mining operation, and people come from all over the world to see it and learn how they do what they do there. The cabins that held dudes and wranglers and staff now hold geologists, engineers, and chemists. My family owns the rights to use of the place for as long as we are alive. When the Langstons, Atwaters, and Foxes are gone, the ranch will belong solely to the mining company. My Uncle Jim and Aunt Ellen are still there, in the house they've lived in for decades, about a half mile down from the main entrance, right on the Stillwater. They are older now, and none of their children wanted to continue running the dude business, or try to eke out a living raising horses. James and Radford work for the mine, James as a heavy equipment operator, Radford as a Geologist, and Catherine is a nurse.

I need to go back there again soon, to take the measure and feel of the place. It worries me a little that it's not a working ranch any more, but my cousins assure me that the mine is taking great care of the place and nothing has changed, really.

When my Grampa died, he directed his kids to go to a certain hillside above the ranch proper and give his ashes to the wind there, and that's what they did.

I think that it's getting on toward time for me to go see him again.

A Sense of Place

It's always struck me how some people move around constantly, and remain comfortable with that, while others absolutely don't.

Most of my friends from my old home town left, but there are a few who are still right where they started, and have allowed that they'll never leave. I know folks all over who are like that. My ex-wife has lived on Lake Samish, a small lake community south of Bellingham, WA, her whole life, and she will most definitely never leave... I've done mortgages for people who are older than I, who live in the house they grew up in, having taken over when their parents passed on...

Meanwhile, I've lived in: Concord, Mass; Spokane, WA; Seattle, WA; The Olympic Penninsula; Bellingham, WA; Grand Canyon and Yellowstone; Back to Bellingham; back to Spokane; And now Fort Worth, Texas. And all of them have felt like home, in one way or another. And it's weird, because when I go back, I like it, but it doesn't feel like home any more, not like a plcae I left and need to go back to - Texas is my home now, and when I travel, I miss it, and I really look forward to coming home.

It's an interesting split, those two sentiments - I wonder if it's akin to animals that migrate vis a vis those that remain on one turf their whole lives. I've read a bunch of anthropology in my day, and research seems to bear the theory out: Some humans cruise and some stick. What do you suppose it was, (Or is), that causes that? Hunter-Gatherers would generally stay in place as long as food sources were good, and move on when they weren't. The advent of food production in the Near East gave reasons for whole populations to stay put, though others took the technology, (And when possible, the crops), and took 'em elsewhere. Some people moved because they wanted more; conquest, in other words. When we could move into places where a bunch of other people didn't live, (Still possible even into the late 19th century), people did so to get away from others, to start a new life, or to carve a piece of their own off the big chunk.

Nowadays, going where others aren't is a relative term. The places that remain unpopulated are such because they're protected, undesirable, or too remote to be practical. And yet people still migrate...

Monica and I moved for better work, or so we told ourselves. Granted, the economy is much better here than it is or was in Washington State, but if we'd really been rooted, we'd have found a way to stay put. We didn't. We've talk about it, and we know that one of the reasons we're compatible is that we're both not only prone to moving from time to time, we like to: We've never lived in the deep south or the midwest, or together in New England. We've never lived in France, Italy, or Spain... Who knows what the future might bring? Nobody in my family, or hers, is like this. They're where they've been long-term, and will most likely stay there to the end of their days.

When we move, we give up a lot. Friends, family close at hand, a church we like, a community, an ecotype, a lifestyle - Just about everything. Yet we do it willingly and happily, and settle in to a new place pretty easily and relatively quickly. How does that work?

I don't think such questions should be over-analyzed, but they should be asked; it's a healthy thing to consider. To me, so far, the answer is pretty easy: Faith, Family, and Friends. While my extended family is dear to me, my partner and best friend, and the one kid we still have at home, is my nuclear family, and as long as they're around, I'm good. And faith. well, faith is everywhere: My relationship with God is fundamental, no matter where I go. Finding a new faith family can take some work, but it's always there. And friends are everywhere, we just maybe haven't met them yet; old friends will stay in touch, if it's important.

How did that one song go?

The world is what you make it, baby...

Storm Season Redux

I think I've written more about weather than anything else on this Blog...

I do think it's fascinating though. Funny, I've always lived in a If-you-don't-like-the-weather-just-wait-5-minutes kinda place; Coastal Massachusetts, Washington State, and now Texas.

But the Texas Storm Season I just love, and I've been bummed out, because in the five years we've lived here, we've only had two really good seasons; until now. The normal routine , for as long as Texas has been Texas, is that between roughly mid-April and mid-June, you've got wave after wave of kickass thunder storms rolling through this neck of the woods. Yet the past three years, there've been virtually no spring storms worth talking about.

This year's back to the norm. Storms kick up east and south of us, either in the late afternoon, or after midnight, depending on the prevailing pattern, and then it's on, baby! In storms past, I've seen the biggest hail I've ever seen, (Genuinely tennis ball sized); seen my street turned into a river, with two feet of fast moving water taking everything loose with it, (We found our trash can four blocks down - At least I think it's ours...); had my back and side yards completely under water within ten minutes of the storm's start more times than I can count; and heard the city-wide tornado sirens of Fort Worth go off three times now.

It's more often than not fun, but it's not always funny. There's a local arts festival called Mayfest than runs in Fort Worth on the first weekend in May. Many of those festivals have been rudely interupted by serious storms. My drummer's car survived the '95 Mayfest, where baseball sized hail injured a lot of folks who couldn't find shelter fast enough. His Nissan is peppered with rough, fist-sized dents as much as 2" deep in the sheet metal as a trophy of that event. In '99, a tornado came across the field outside my office windows, past those grain silos, crossed the river, turned right and smacked into what was then the 40-story First Bank Building and basically destroyed it. It was vacant until two years ago when developers turned it into luxury condos. In '01, another tornado approached Monica's office in southeast Fort Worth, taking down businesses, (A small bank's vault was found 2 blocks away from the destroyed building), skipped over her office and the freeway, then touched back down on the other side and took a neighborhood of houses out. The building I was working in at the time, mostly glass, became suddenly surrounded by grey mist through which we could not see. You could watch the windows breathing, bulging in and out, until all the plate glass in the lobby imploded at the same time and equalized the pressure; that was just a straight-line wind, mind you.

Yesterday, three houses through the metroplex were hit by lightning and burned to the ground. My street was littered with shingles the next morning, luckily none of them were ours...

Those of us who live here, or in Tornado Alley, San Francisco, Indonesia, Seattle, or Alaska, aren't far off the mark from the folks who live down in Waveland, Mississippi where I visited earlier in the year. For whatever reason, we've chosen to live and build in places where nature still exercises her power from time to time. Here, there, and elsewhere, we learn that in all honesty, she doesn't give a shit what you do; she's gonna knock your ass over if she feels like it. To some extent, you have to know that - Especially if something happens, and you rebuild in the same place again. I feel for those folks down along the coast in a way you only can when you have been there, met them, and seen what happened. Some of them rebuilt after Camille, thinking that they'd seen the worst the ol' lady had in store for them - Not: Along came Katrina, and a new Worst Case Scenario was born. As we continue to screw with the earth, changing things via pollution, development, and constant growth, I know in my heart of hearts that we have not seen the worst yet.

Take your pick; killer storms, tornados, hurricanes, cyclones, earthquakes, tsunamis, fires, volcanoes, meteorites: They're all still there, they're all still active and they will do what they do again. If not in our lifetimes, than in someone elses. It's not fatalism, paranoia, or prescience, it's just a fact. When I was studying Geology at the University of Washington in 1978, the seminal text on the Cascade Range proclaimed Mount Baker, up near my old home town of Bellingham, as the most likely vocano to go off soon: The least likely candidate? Yup, you guessed it - Mount Saint Helens. Baker is still active, and may well go off some day, but not yet... You could also have done a doctoral dissertation at the time trying to figure out where the boundary between the Juan de Fuca Plate and the North American plate was and what it was doing. Plate tectonics was new stuff and predominantly theoretical; nobody knew the answer. Now, we know it's a subduction zone where deep small quakes happen more or less constantly - Unless the edges lock up for a long time, like they've done countless times in the past and will do again: When they release after such a period, the movement that each plate makes is measured in tens of feet per millisecond, not inches per decade. The Great San Francisco Quake don't mean squat - There was a small population and a bunch of wooden buildings then - What's it gonna do next time?

So what do we do; Do we worry? Do we move, build a storm shelter, what?

I say we live on. Do what you want, live where you want to. Don't worry, pray for those who get hurt, pray for guidance and shelter, and help your neighbors as you would want to be helped when bad things happen to them. This earth is and will be as it always has been. The life evolution of a planet is a violent process; it's huge in geologic time, and occassionally so on our time frame, as well: It was and is, and shall be.

We only go around once, so we might as well enjoy the ride.

You Better Learn To Play Guitar...

I grew up around music. My parents were eclectic and voracious listeners. From Big Band to Be Bop, Dixieland to Free Jazz, Folk to Gospel, Pop to Rock, Motown to R & B, Delta Blues to Chicago, we had it all and heard it all. I now consider it a great privilege and realize what a thing they did for me, but back then, I just thought everybody knew who Odetta was, or Buck Clayton, Jean Jacques Mouret, the White Brothers, Bonnie Raitte, Henry Purcell, Van Morrison, Dizzie Gillespie, or Charlie Parker were...

My dad liked stereo equipment and bought good stuff. During parties, when real live working musicians would show up, he'd roll tape and record the whole thing. He commanded the turn table, generally, but he never objected when somebody else put something on if a record had ended. Saturday mornings were Big Band jazz, Sunday mornings were classical, followed by just about anything else. I loved it all.

Because my greatest saturation was jazz, I first picked the trumpet as the thing I wanted to play. I'd stand in the living room, pretending to be Sachmo, Dizzie, or Buck. Our band program was, however, uninspired; the Director was not a jazz guy, and that was that. Without inspiration, I lost motivation and... Along came the guitar. It was 1970. I started hearing Bonnie Raite playing slide, James Burton chickin pickin', Alvin Leah goin' home, Michael Bloomfield doing anything, Dickey Betts and Duane doin' the double lead thing... I was hooked.

My first guitar was a classical from Sears - Who made those in the late 60's / early 70's? I'm not sure - I'm sure it was crap, but it worked fine. I took lessons for a couple years. Then, of course I had to have an electric, so I worked some, and hit the want ads and found a used one for $15 - A no-name Strat knock off with a busted off headstock that had been repaired with glue and screws - Ugly, but it worked. First song played on an electric? Please - Smoke On The Water, of course!

In High School, I got a half-decent acoustic, a Yamaha, and a real live, genuine Strat. At some point after that, the Strat went away, (I probably traded it for dope, but I was stoned at the time and I don't really remember...), and so did the Yamaha. In '79, I bought my first brand-new, really nice American acoustic, a Guild D-25 with a one-piece, carved Mahogany back; I still have that guitar - It's the only one that has survived my entire adult playing life intact and in my possession. In my twenties and thirties, more guitars came and went than I can remember clearly - Strats, a '63 Tele Custom, Les Pauls, electric Guild, ES-335, Jazz Master, Martin dreadnaught, and on, and on, and on.

All that remains, now that I'm building my own, is a '97 Tex Mex Strat that I shielded and put a Fishman Power Bridge on, and the Guild. I now own a Steve Stevens small body, that I'll never part with, as well. I don't even own one of my electrics any more - I've sold 'em all. Sold my Les Paul Classic, which Monica still rides me about - The first time she heard it, I was playing Dwight Yoakum's 'Fast As You' as she walked in the house - I saw her, frozen in the hallway, just looking at me; she said, "Now I know what all the fuss is about." So, the next electric I make will be based on the 496R & 500T pickups, to get that sound back for Monica; she misses the growl.

They're fascinating, captivating, frustrating, and inspirational, and I'll never get over them or get enough of them, as long as I shall live. To paraphrase Segovia, 'The guitar is one of the easiest instruments to learn to play, and one of the hardest to learn to play well." Sometimes you see or hear somebody good and are inspired to dig in and go places you've not been yet. Other times, you hear somebody so good they make you want to go home and sell 'em all.

Eric Clapton said of the first time he saw Stevie Ray play, 'The guy was so good, and I'd worked all that time, I was ready to give it up then and there..." The interviewer chuckled, and Clapton said, "I'm not joking, he was that good..."

I know just how you feel, Slowhand...

Simpler Times

Idylic childhood memories... Were they really like that, or do I have selective memory? Hmmmm, Well, since I have ample substantiation from older brothers and sister, I'm gonna have to go with the former, rather than the latter, thank God!

I really did have a killer childhood, it was Grand. I grew up in Concord, Massachusetts, home of the Old North Bridge, the Shot Heard 'Round the World, and the birth of the American Revolution. It's an old, old town, and at the time, pretty sleepy. It was and is a tourist haven, but back then, towns didn't really gear their whole commercial being around supporting tourism: Tourists came, but if they wanted film, they went to Anderson's Photography like everybody else. If they were hungry, they went to the Country Store, or one of the other real restaurants in town where we went too. Tired? The Colonial Inn, (Built in 1794), right on the Commons in the middle of downtown, a stone's throw from Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, (Where anybody famous from Concord History is buried - Thoreau, Hawthorne, Alcott, etc). Now, downtown Concord is wall to wall cutsey shops, expensive boutiques, and trendy eateries. Then, it was a working downtown of real stores, with real people and lives.

Our house was built in 1882. 339 Main Street, Grey with white trim, as a lot of local houses were and are. Exterior house colors are strictly controlled by the town council's Historic Board; only the official colors that were available and prevailent in the old days are allowed in historic areas, of which this here is one! Three stories plus a full basement. Five bedrooms and 3 baths. Full attic, too. The coal guy came and opened the little chute down to the basement coal bin and delivered down that, and then we shoved coal into the furnace. The streets were lined with huge old Elms, and in the summer, their formed cool, living tunnels. Sadly, they are almost all dead now, victims of Dutch Elm Disease...

My dad taught Econ at Harvard, and mom painted for a living. I'm the youngest of 4. Timmy, the oldest, is now a Methodist priest. Annie, the Sole Sister, was hailed by the New York Times Book Review as, "One of America's Five All Time Best Garden Writers." Sammy works for Microsoft. And then there's me. But back then, it was four kids running around in a small town where everyone knew everyone and nothing happened without that being the case. If you showed up at the drug store with $5, they called mom to make sure it was OK. If you went to McCone's to buy a pocket knife, they called dad to make sure that was cool, too.

We lived a few blocks from downtown, an easy walk, though if you were going to Macone's Sporting Goods for a new hockey stick, that might be a mile, so you'd take a bike. Like Charlie, we had 'monkey bikes' with sissy bars and occassionally chopped forks, (After Easy Rider showed, especially), but something like 4 of us wiped out badly on them and the parents put the kabosh on further modifications...

Schools were maybe a mile away, but we walked or took the bus; sometimes we took cross country skis, which was very cool. The dead of winter in close-to-the-coast Massachusetts could and did mean really cold weather a lot - below 0, with wind chill on top of that, so you had to be careful from time to time. In '67, it snowed over six feet, and we tunneled under the deck and around the backyard, much to our delight and mom's satisfaction, since we didn't ruin the pristine views...

Behind the house were the railroad tracks, and on the other side of them were, well, The Other Side Of The Tracks, which was a poorer section of town. Our Nanny, (Yes, we had a Nanny), Jennie Di Salvatore, lived kitty corner behind us, so she always had a good eye on what we were up to... Two doors down on the same side of Main Street lived my God Parents, Bill and Jackie Payne. they had a huge barn and behind that, a pile of slate shingles that were good for all kinds of stuff kids do. John Roberts was three doors down the other way, and had the coolest book collection. He recently found me across the years, via the internet, and said he'd remembered me, "At about 9 years old, walking down the alley with a copy of 'The Hobbit' stuffed in your back pocket." John and I were bad, sneaking cigarettes and blowing up plastic army men with ellicit fireworks smuggled from Montana...

Across the street and through the Reece's back yard led you to the river, and that's where we kept our boats: Canoes, dingies, and anything else we were trying at the time. We built flat-bottomed 'Hydros' for a while there, but they handled really badly and we gave 'em up. Then came kayaks, with wood frames and painted canvas skins; they worked well, but would and did get punctured every now and again. Spring through fall, life often revolves around the river. This is the Sudbury River that flows by the houses and fields; downstream a couple miles, at Egg Rock, it meets the Assabet and forms the Concord River. If you ever read your Thoreau, you know about these streams. They're slow, shallow and dirty, most of the year, but they flood in the winter before the freeze, and again, big time, in the spring, annual events we look forward to with great relish!

Life for me revolved around hockey, and the river. We played hockey year 'round; street hockey in the summer, and once it froze, (Usually around early November), it stayed frozen through March. There was neighborhood hockey, (On backyard rinks), league Hockey, (Real rinks, at like 6 am or 10:30 at night), school hockey (After school), and river and pond hockey, (All other times). Across from the Reece's, on either side of Nashawtuc Road, were fields and forest. All of it flooded before the freeze, and then the skates were on. I probably learned to skate before I could even walk. Everyone in our family learned with The Red Sled, a little light-weight wooden sleigh with metal runners. You used it to hold you up while you learned how to balance and power stroke, and older siblings pushed little ones too small to skate around in it too. You could walk down to the Reece's with skates on, (With blade guards, of course), and shove off for the fields from there, or walk down Main to Nashawtuc and lace up there. On nice afternoons, the whole town would be there skating. Peanut McCone brought his little cat, (From over on McCone's Pond off Lowell Road, of course!), and scraped off rinks for the all the groups that needed them. You'd have a little guys rink, a Jr. High rink, a high schoolers rink, a 20 something rink and an old farts rink or two, and hockey was played on em all. The plain ol' recreational skaters would sashay through the rinks watching games, or go down the river for miles and miles. The only interuptions were caused by occassional cracking, (More common in the spring), or Geese. At the hard bends of the river, (Upstream by River Street, and downstream closer to Egg Rock), there was almost always open water, and the Geese congregated there: From time to time, for reasons known only to Geese, they'd all take off with a serius bout of honking and flapping wings... They'd also poop all over anything underneath them, hence the interuptions... As made popular by the Wayne's World movie, street hockey games would indeed pause at the cry of 'Car!', but river and field hockey halted with a holler of 'Geese!!' Nobody likes to get pooped on... I'd say I became a good stick handler as a hockey player because of growing up there. If we didn't have a game up, we'd take sticks and pucks and head off in among the frozen trees for hours, pretending they were the hated New York Rangers, the Hommes Canadiens, or Philly's Broad Street Bullies; we'd blow past 'em with ease and elan to score yet another goal on some hapless keeper.

And there was always sledding on the three-humped face of Nashawtuc Hill - Always popular and always a great ride. You could take the big ol' wooden jumps there too, if you were older and looking to show off, or young and feeling especially bold.

Spring meant floods, which created all kinds of opportunity for kids - the fields were flooded, so in boats of whatever vintage, you could poke through those same trees and fields you'd skated on a few weeks back. There wasn't fishing early on, but there were frogs and turtles to catch and race - Always a good time!

April 19th brought the biggest day of the year, the annual recreation of the first skirmishes between British regulars and the Rebel Militias, when troops from Boston sallied forth, investigating reports of arms caches hidden in the villages of Lexington and Concord. You'd have to be up and out to the Park, (Minute Man National Historic Park), and the Butterick Mansion, by 6:30 a.m. if you wanted to see the Red Coats crossing the 'Rude Bridge' and getting fired on by the first salvoes of Minute Man cannons. If you lived along the route, or stayed up real late the night before, you could hear Dr. Prescott ride by like the wind, shouting, "The Redcoats are coming, the Redcoats are coming!" Notice I said Dr. Prescott and not Paul Revere? That's real history, and not common myth. Fact is, Revere was captured at a British checkpoint before reaching Lexington and Concord; his companion, Dr. Prescott, escaped and carried the message that cold morning in 1775... The Minute Men live on to this day, in the families who's ancestors fought the actual battles. If you're a male born to such a family, it is given and expected that you will join the Regiment of your forefathers. It's a high honor for anyone chosen, and that's the case on both sides. The parade starts at 10 and runs for a good hour, at least. After that, the parties start, and they'll go all day, no doubt about it.

No other day comes anywhere close to being as big a To-Do in Concord, not even the 4th of July or Christmas. This is the cradle of the Revolution, and nobody forgets it.

Working For The Weekend

I work too damn much.

I know, I know, I hear my self-employed and otherwise hard-working cohorts everywhere snorting with disdain, but I do! I leave the house at 8 am, and I don't get back until around 8:30 p.m. most nights - Thats 12+ hours at, going to, or coming from work... So, just to be doing normal time, that's up at 6:30, (Gotta make sure Casey is up and out for the bus on time), back and settled in by 9:00, to bed by 11:00 - That leaves me about 2 hours of down time a day, maybe an hour to hang with Monica. I work half a day every other Saturday, just to keep up with it all. I also lead practice, do the Sunday service, and prep everything for church each week too; let alone researching new music, composing, transposing, etc - Add about 7 hours a week - That's roughly 72+ hours of work-work a week - That's work-I-gotta-do-to-make-money work, not work-I want-to-do-for-fun work, like building, house projects, playing music, hockey, etc.

There's got to be an easier way, something that only takes, truly, around 40 hours a week to do, but I've just never found it. Is it out there, or is all that fantasty in this day and age? Monica works just as hard as I do, no doubt about, and about as many hours. Does everybody have to work that hard to get by? Most all our friends do - Some of them better off, some of them worse.

One thing's for sure, companies and corporations sure don't give a shit any more - The days my parents knew, the work scenario I grew up around doesn't exist any more: You know the drill, where you were expected to go to work or go to school after high school, and in either case, find the career and the company you wanted to work with and plan on being there for 35 years, and then retire with a nice pension and a gold watch at 55. Those days did exist - I know a bunch of people who did just that - But it's not there for us any more...

GM hopes to early layoff 100,000 people - Offer them $35,000 and an early out, with drastically decreased benefits thereafter. These are folks who averaged $50,000 in annual income, and have been there between 10 and 25 years. I heard one on NPR say,. "You mean they're going to offer me $35,00 a year? That seems kinda low..." "NO, Mr. worker, they're going to offer you $35,000 period, and then you're on your own - wanna take it?" What do you suppose his answer was? What about the same scenario, without the severence package, how would that sound? One of my old employers, Fleetwood Industries, walked in one day and announced they were closing their entire retail concern - In one fell swoop, thousands of folks were out of a job. Enron, Alcatel, United, Delta, Tandy, and on and on and on - Looks like the fell swoop is now pretty much status quo, and if so, we're hurtin' as a country. That said, why kill ourselves for too many hours, too many days, months, and years? There's no corporate loyalty to workers, so why should we remain loyal to them? I don't know about you, but... If they ain't gonna be there for me, I ain't gonna strain too hard to be there for them, y'all...

You know, France, Italy, Spain, Portugal all still have basically 32 hour work weeks. They also do some form of siesta - From outright shuttin' down for 2 or 3 hours in the middle of the day, to plain ol' long lunches in France. I've heard people sneer about that, "Lazy Europeans!" - But personally, I think they're way smarter than we are.

We're not the only country that works too hard, but we're the worst - Work your ass off for decades to 'enjoy your retirement' - Which nowadays means your late 60's at best - Those greeters at Walmart are not there because they just plain dig hangin' around people goin' shoppin', y'all... Yup, you're now invited to knock off right about when you're the most worn down, plain out tired from all that work, and when your health is no longer that great: Oh, also your benefits are non-existent, and the cost of living dictates that, realistically, you can't afford to enjoy yourself. How wise is that?

Maybe I'm a commie, or a Socialist, certainly a Pinko, 'cause I think we should have a more sensible balance of work, life, fun, and adventure, and I think that's a God given right we're not to ignore.

I'm 46 - I've got maybe 20 more good years of relatively hard charging in me. Here and now, I am going to begin serious consideration of what I need to do to bring a more sensible balance into my life - I hereby resolve to find a way, no matter what it takes, to work less, play more, love life, enjoy, explore, and make it all work. I believe that where there's a will, there's a way - I've got the will, I'm, for one, am going to find the way.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Perchance To Dream

Dennis was commenting on a thread earlier and wrote, "I love words, words are cool..." That they are, and I do too. In fact, I love 'em enough to think that, were I able to find a way, writing is what I'd like to do. I think that's probably a completely pie-in-the-sky wish, frankly, but it's what I'd like to do.

Now, don't get me wrong, I don't have an illusions about getting rich and famous, and for that matter, I don't think I'd want to, but I would love to be able to pay the bills by writing. Now, is that really such an outlandish thought?

Well, maybe so, because after all, who the hey would and could pay me to do it? I'm never at a loss for something to say; I could crank out a quick, concise 1000 words a day, day in and day out, without fail or compromise. That's well and good, but what would I write about, and who would want to read it? I haven't the foggiest...

All around, I like what I write, and I love writing it. I do not, however, have illusions about where I sit in the hierarchy. I ain't nobody, as far as that goes. No one knows me, and so, why would they care about what I've got to say? It's like I commented on blogs a while back - For all I know, what I write and the way I write would be construed as the Something-I'm-Not-Interested-In Category for most folks... Now, I get told I write well and that people like it, but those are mostly friends and family: My big question is this: What if I do write well? How does one get to a wider audience, how do you even get a shot? Frankly, (My whoppin' helping of personal self-confidence aside), I think I write better than a good few I've read, but they've got the public pulpit and I don't. It strikes me kinda like music - I've heard plenty of little singers or bands, people that I know full well could and would knock a big, wide chunk of the listening public dead if they were heard; but they don't get heard... Jessica Simpson, with big hair and no talent, gets heard: She gets a multi-million dollar recording contract, while the talented, heartfelt, no name singer songwriter never will... What's with that? What's at the root of the inability to get heard and have a shot? Well, as far as writing goes, there ain't no 'American Idol' for budding authors, nor any equivelent that I know of. I can't really get a job doing it, because I have no degree or broad experience in journalism, technical writing, etc, and as far as any other category goes, I wouldn't know where to look.

Back when I was growing up, I used to listen to WRKO in Boston, it was, I believe, an AM station. There, on any given day, you'd hear The Beatles, Nancy Sinatra, Herb Alpert, The Animals, Captain Beefheart, 10 Years After, B. B. King, Carole King, and maybe Mary Wells, (Remember her? She did 'My Guy' - rowwrrrrr...). Now adays, there ain't no WRKOs out there. Radio is formatted for its prime listening audience, narrowly defined and neatly packaged. Country means Top 10 Country and not much of anybody else. Classic Rock means the same damn 25 songs over and over again. It's the same for metal, hip hop, jazz, whatever... The vast majority of stations don't have D.J.'s, so you couldn't call and request something different, even if they had it.

The current scenario for writing, at least a lot of the popular writing that I've seen, is much the same. If Kerouak showed up in 2006 and whipped off 'On The Road', do you think it would get published, let alone sell? I don't, personally... Would a thirty-five foot long, semi-autobiographical, stream-of-consciousness one-humongous-sentence manuscript even get read by some screener, or passed to a waiting publisher? I doubt it, I'm afraid, and that's odd and sad. Therein lies the problem: There may be, for all we know, a 21st Century Kerouac working right now, but if he blogs alone from a garrett in Greenwich Village, is anybody there to hear him? Kerouac emerged in the height of the 50's conformist era, and whacked it across the head with a splintery length of 2 x 4. On The Road ignited the Beat Generation, and brought the essence of non-conformity to light. If ever there was a time that needed that wake up call, that was it - But then again, if ever there was a time that needed such a wake up call, this is it... Kerouac not only was a hell of a fine writer, he was an inveterate supporter of other writers, too: Jazz musician David Amram said of him, "I never heard Jack put down another writer. He went out of his way to enourage young writers. His work reflects this spirit of kindness, generosity, and love." Well said, David. Are there famous authors out there doing what Kerouac did? I've always loved Kerouac's quote on fame, too; "It's like old newspapers blowing down Bleeker Street," too cool, man... But I digress, so are there?

'Famous' writers today, like everything else in this overblown time, means 'Rich' authors: Brown, Rowling, Koonst, King, whomever - All rediculously wealthy; celebrities is what they are, not writers, in my opinion. Do I begrudge them wealth? Yes, if that is that what it is about. Is that what it's become? Formulaic and predictable, dull and boring, is it worth it? I don't know how somebody can crank out uninspired stuff, same as the last stuff, over and over again; I sure can't read it, anyway... Obviously, other people do, or they wouldn't be rediculously wealthy, now would they? Or would they... I think books have become much like bands or movies: If it's not gonna be a blockbuster, nobody's interested and nobody cares, yet the stuff that they decide is a barnburner is way more often than not, total crap!

I love mysteries, but I learned to do so at the pens of Agatha Christie, P.D. James, and Tony Hillerman. I don't think the term 'formulaic' would ever cross my mind in describing those writers. Writers... Recently, I was told about an author writing good cop mysteries, so I checked 'em out: The book I read was charming, and OK, although I knew what was gonna happen a third of the way through it. I read two more, and lo and behold, they were exactly the same. Again, they were charming, and I really liked the main characters, but the formula of the books was exactly the same every time: Murder at the front, first 1/3 of the book chasing false casts, second 1/3 narrowing focus, last 1/3 some sort of desperate attempt to cloud what's already known by the hero, and last 5 pages, final resolution... Every one of 'em. Am I a snob? When I read a murder mystery, I want to wonder what's going to happen and how it happens and who done it - Hell, that's why they're called who-done-its, right? Jeesh... This writer has made a great living writing something like twenty of those suckers; blows my mind... I mean, they're $6.95 paperbacks, but I buy paperbacks to be entertained - I'm not buying more than three if I know pretty much exactly what I'm gonna get - If I want that kind of reading fix, I'll re-read one of the many classics that are always worth a re-read; (Tolkien, for instance...) Oh, and just so I don't sound too much like I'm talking out my ass; yes, as a matter of fact, I have written a cop mystery, and I think it's pretty good, (As did others who read it, and nobody figured things out right off the bat, either!)

So anyway, here I am, bitching about people who 'succeed' and telling myself I couldn't or wouldn't. I don't know that that's true - I tend to think that I can and will succeed at damn near anything I put my mind to, frankly. And I'm probably gonna find a way to try and do this, I just don't know where, how, or when and it's frustrating. Welcome to the real world, Eben... So, what would your literary hero, Jack say about this situation, hmmm?

How about this from 'Big Sur':

Ah, life is a gate, a way, a path to Paradise anyway, why not live for fun and joy and love or some sort of girl by a fireside, why not go to your desire and LAUGH..."

Yeah, that'd probably work.

Holy Week

I love Holy Week, and not just because it signals the end of Lent! I've always wished there was much more to know, in some sort of bonafide historical sense, about what the life and times of Jesus and those charged days surrounding his death and resurrection must have been like.

Ok, OK, I know, I just made a statement as if it's absolutely factual, when many people and faiths wouldn't necessarily believe it to be so. That's OK, 'cause I ain't proselytizing, I'm just reflecting what I believe - You're welcome to come along on this sleigh ride of thought or jump off at the top of the hill - It's up to you and either way's just fine.

Anyway, I'd say comfortably that, whether or not you take it as Gospel, (Pun intended), it's a pretty powerful story. It's one I prefer to read, to ponder: To see in my minds eye, rather than on a screen. That way, I can see things the was they resonate with me, and keep 'em as such, you know?

Jerusalem wasn't such a big town that what Jesus was up to that week wouldn't have been noticed and talked about. Can you imagine? Actually, it just couldn't possibly be ignored! Walking to the outskirts of the city and calling for a colt to ride on, while followers and bystanders caught up in the fervor lay cloaks on the ground before him and fanned the way with Palm fronds and shouts of 'Hosanna!'... Talk about stirring up a hornets nest! I mean, it's obvious that The Powers That Be had a few things in common:

1. They absolutely loved their power and privilege, and

2. They weren't prone to share that with anybody they didn't have to, and

3. They really didn't care for the way Christ could ignore all the rules and still grab the minds and hearts of the people better than they could, and

4. They were guaranteed to respond strongly and negatively to any and all serious challenges to their power.

Of course Jesus knew all this and did what he did absolutely on purpose: In fact, he did what he did specifically to violate each and every one of the tenets detailed above... It's especially interesting to imagine how the stress of carrying out God's will manifested on him. Luke's gospel notes that, while praying on the Mount of Olives, Jesus' "Sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground," and this after being visited by an Angel who tries to buck him up for the coming storm... There have been physiological studies done that indicated that sweating blood is literally possible when a person is under great duress. Can you imagine? Knowing that you're going to die, soon and horribly? How hard would that be to just walk into? Obviously, pretty hard, even for the Son of Man. After all, at the time he was fundamentally human, sharing our fears and weaknesses. Nonetheless he had great strength and resolve, because after his arrest, he was the only one who was calm; everyone else was a mess...

I wonder what it looked like in the city during those days? What did it smell like, what was the feel in the air? Everyone was so obviously caught up in a passion much greater than their own, the place must have just been thick with it all... It had to be electric. You can sense from the way that all these players are just yanked around with such great force - Other than Jesus, the whole place seems to be running at mach speed with no idea how or why it's all happening...

Have you read about this Gospel of Judas? It was found by looters in the Egyptian desert in '78. It then spent a bunch of years going back and forth among art dealers while it's condition steadily worsened. It's only recently been restored, translated, and authenticated. It dates to the second century, a few hundred years after the death of Christ. Now, granted, this discovery probably won't prompt a sudden addition to the canonical Gospels, in all probability: First off the Christian church in general is too fractured to agree on much of anything, and the Catholic church in particular is too conservative to so do. There's also the fact that this Gospel was considered and rejected by church officials in the third century as heretical, (Imagine that!) As for whether or not I find it plausible, I'll just say this: It's a solid fact that there were and are a bunch more Gospels than just the ones that made it into the New Testament. It's also a generally agreed fact among biblical scholars that the decisions leading to some making it and some not were political as much or more than any other factor: I'd go so far at to say that anyone who doesn't believe that is either very dogmatic, very naive, or maybe both...

Anyway, this Gospel suggests that Judas did what he did at Christ's direction and request: In other words, he was merely given a part to play like everyone else. The Gospel suggests, in fact, that far from the betrayer he is popularly portrayed as, Judas was in fact chosen by Jesus to do what needed to be done because, in essence, Jesus believed he could and would handle the task: He was put in this position because of trust not betrayal. Personally, it makes sense to me that this well could be an authentic perspective. And if this is true, can you imagine what love Judas truly had for Jesus? You will not only betray me, but you will then be cast from the church and never associated with anything good again: Your name will mean betrayal from this day on - can you handle that, please? Wow... I've never felt that Judas had any more control over his role and his actions than Simon Peter, or any of the others - 'You will betray me, and you will deny me three times before the cock crows...' Those weren't things I ever read as statements of sorrow or wrongful action; they were really more like marching orders. I'm sorry, 'cause this is not gonna be pleasant or fun, but here's what you're going to have to do, whether you like it or not. I think that Judas knew his role and accepted it: That said, I doubt anyone ever told him he had to like it, or take it well.

I think you could argue successfully that the whole denial thing that happened to Peter is among the strongest evidence of the whole shebang being purely God's will: After all, this is the man whom Christ personally annointed as the Chief among his apostles and the defacto head of his church on earth, "I say to thee that thou art Peter, (Kipha, a rock), and that upon this rock I will build my church..." Peter meant what he said when he countered Jesus' statement that he would deny him, he just either didn't know or didn't want to know what he was going to be made to do. He told Jesus that he wouldn't deny him, that he would follow him even unto death, and I think he meant it. Fact was, is wasn't up to him, it wasn't his role, and Jesus was just trying to break the news gently, so that later he would walk as he was meant to walk - And that he did in the long run, didn't he? And he still died a martyrs death, as fate would have it...

And so it came to Jesus' death. What a powerful and ominous day that must have been... I sense a day like those during storm season here in Texas, where there's a heaviness in the air, a brooding; a sense that great power has been stirred up and might at any moment break loose. Who was Pilate speaking to when he asked, "Shall I release for you this King of the Jews?" I doubt it was the people, frankly... Pilate felt that sense of fate and things bigger than he was: He washed his hands of the whole mess out of fear for his own skin, if you ask me. He knew he was acting outside himself, but didn't understand and was frightened by it: Better to be done with it and get away from all that terrible power. The slower boats, the people and the cohort, didn't have a clue: I think they felt the power, but didn't understand at all what it meant, and acted as they were whipped up to do, without a clue as to the part they were playing. And why crucify him? Crucifixion was a particular ugly and demeaning form of death. It was meant to be humiliating and horrible, as a way of reminding others not to do what this guy did... Note Pilate's words, "I find no basis for a charge against this man," and neither had Harrod, for that matter. Pilate was gonna just flog Jesus and set him loose, yet when the crowd, not having a clue, screams, "Crucify him," that's exactly what he did. I don't think he had any idea why he ordered what he did, he was just a puppet like everyone else...

The air up on Golgotha had to be unbelievable heavy, with that thinly veiled sense of power and danger overriding it all. Remember the scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark, where the French dude opens the Ark of the Covenant? Kinda like that... Nobody in their right mind would want to be anywhere near there... the again, not much of anyone was in their right mind, were they? How about the poor yokel walking into town who gets corralled into hauling Jesus' cross? Can you imagine? I've always thought Simon of Cyrene didn't have a clue about what a bad thing it was he'd stumbled into: One minute he's heading into town for a little stop at the market, and the next... I bet he spent the whole walk up there asking, 'What have I done to deserve this Lord?' I hope he was let off the hook in the long run; I like to think that he was...

And when Christ had breathed his last, 'Eloi, Eloi - Lama sabachthani?' the earth shook, the thunder rolled, and the curtain in the temple was torn asunder. In all honesty, I've always imagined Caiaphas at this point, standing there looking at the temple, muttering 'Oh, shit' at that exact moment. Can you imagine? Here's the Chief Priest, thinking he'd just won a little battle and taught everyone a well-needed lesson standing there, mouth agape, as peals of thunder roll ominously away across the hills: I think I've made a terrible mistake... Oh, you have no idea, buddy; you just have no idea; but you will...

Silence can be powerful, and one of the most potent silences I know lies around those days after Jesus' death and before his resurrection. None of the primary Gospels speak a word about what happened. There's a mention that they, 'Rested on the Sabbath,' but come on, rested? I think that after Jesus died these people probably snapped out of it like they'd been released from hypnosis: 'Snap!' and all of a sudden they're wandering around all squint eyed and confused, "What just happened? Was that all a dream? And slowly, the horrible truth sinks in... It had to be days of despair and disbelief; a time of great fear and dread, and little else. Yet I'd bet that hints of what was to come snuck in for some of them too. I think Peter knew, thinking about all that he had been told, "Very truly I tell you..." And certainly Mary Magdalene knew on some level; maybe not consciously, but I think she knew.

And so it ended and so it began, on that morning when she found the stone rolled away, and an Angel was waiting; "Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, He has risen!" Joy, shock, disbelief, the first inklings of the amazing beginning of a journey without end - Not an ending, but a joyous beginning.

He was not brought down by the grave,
He arose, He arose,
When the stone was rolled away, He arose...

What's In a Name?

I grew up in the 60s, perhaps the first Golden Age of band names. Before then, there were band names of course, but they were pretty lame. It took the rollicking 60's to bring The Beatles, The Shrugs, Yardbirds, the 13th Floor Elevators, and my personal favorite, Them, Featuring Van Morrison - Oh no! It's Them!!!!!. I thought that was so cool back then. And the McCoys, (Hang on Sloopy - Wore that sucker out!), The Kingsmen, (You better know what they wrote...), Quicksilver Messenger Service, (Still way ahead of their time), and Big Brother and the Holding Company, with killer album art by R. Crumb. These were the nascent beginnings of the terribly cool band name.

The 70's had some too, believe it or not; it wasn't all lame... There was Steely Dan, (Supposedly named after a dildo and if not, it's a great PR hook), Commander Cody and his Lost Planet Airmen, Hot Tuna, Canned Heat, The New Riders of the Purple Sage, and T Rex, just to name a few. The place-name bands kicked in; Chicago, Boston, and Chilliwack, (10 points to whomever knows where that is, but Mario and Dan are excluded, hint, hint), but were generally very boring. Elton John hit it big, (He says he took his name in tribute to Elton Dean and Long John Baldry, who just passed away late last year...). I played in one named The 10 by 10 Cabin Bombardier Skidoo Blues Band, and no, I'm not making this up. Art rock came to the fore, with Genesis, King Crimson, The Velvet Underground, and Yes, (Who were originally known as Mable Greers Toyshop, but then decided that YES would look better on posters and be much easier for their drug addled fans to remember, which is a darn good point. Of course Disco came along in the 70s. I not only owned and proudly wore a DISCO SUCKS T-Shirt, I almost got in a number of fights for so doing - All of a sudden, there'd be some Garbadine wearing, frizzled haired asshole in front of me, jabbering angrily and gesturing at my shirt: At least that's what I think happened, I don't really know, I was pretty stoned at the time... What impact did Disco really have on the band name? Well, it was profoundly bad, but thankfully shortlived: Why, you ask? K.C. and the Sunshine Band - I rest my case, your Honor. Of course this was also the era of the southern-rock guitar armies, and they were bitchin' - The Outlaws, Lynard Skynyrd, Marshal Tucker, and the Charlie Daniels Band - Man, I loved them concerts, and those boys could pick, even if the band names were kinda pedestrian...

Ah, then came the 80's - The punks, the second British invasion, and Glam Metal. It was an up and down decade for the band name. For cool, you had Elvis Costello, (No, that's not his real name - He's Declan MacManus, knowing which once won me a Seattle radio station trivia contest), Guadalcanal Diary, Simple Minds, the Nails, Eurythmics, Crazy Eights, The Tubes, Flash and the Pan, The Pretenders, The Clash and of course, The Sex Pistols; not too bad, really... Then the synth-soaked legions of pop crossed the big pond again, bringing a bunch of really stupid names with them; Flock of Seagulls, Thompson Twins, Tears for Fears... Argghhhh. These attrocities could only possibly be upstaged by a wave of some of the lamest band names ever concocted - the Glammers. Rat, Warrant, Poison, Motley Crue, and on, and on, and on... I'm sorry, they all sucked, and so did their monikers. Now Van Halen wasn't half bad, especially when it turned out to actually be their name, and of course when Eddie turned out to be what Eddie is - I always loved a quote of his when asked about David Lee Roth; he thought for a moment, and then said, "I am a musician - David is an Entertainer..." Perfect. Metallica was ok, kinda both serious and poking fun at the genre, (I hope).

The 90's brought grunge and numerous derivatives, and some awesome band names. Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Alice in Chains, Faith No More, Guns n Roses, the Meat Puppets, and The Violent Femmes. And of course, my All Time Absolute Fave Band Name: The Tragically Hip. It just doesn't get any better than that. Towards the end of the decade, things kinda slipped a notch or two back toward lameness: KoRn, Pantera, System of a Down, Limp Bizkit, White Zombie, Soulfly, Testament, and Helmet (Denizens of the Industrial Speed Metal genre, which, while not my cup of tea, certainly has a snappy ring to it, doesn't it?).

Many of these late 20th Century bands oozed into the new era, and have more or less defined the band name thus far. To be honest, I haven't seen many yet in the last 5 years that really impress me. And so Monica and I have come up with a little game; we hear or read stuff during the day that strikes us as a good band name and make a note of it. It's actually kinda fun. Father Fred was waxing poetic in a sermon once and said something about Christians that don't exactly toe the line - He attached a term to it, and the next thing you know, my church group became The Dangerous Christians, (And he became a potentially great band name - Father Fred). A souvenier brought back from a swing through the south gave our semi-pickup Blues band it's name, Graceland Shotglass. Through our little game, I've picked up Asphalt Reality, Cat Box Liners, Grinding Wheel, Vertical Blind, Beer Coasters, The Torchdowns, Airstream Tremelo, Three Quarter Minus, the Killz, and the Meat Hammers. The possibilities are endless!

So if your band needs a fresh start, or you just want to be able to fire one off when somebody else is in need, just give me a shout, and I'll get ya squared away... Or, heck, just keep an ear open, and see what comes around. And if it's good, let me know!