When I was 14, I wrote my first song.

silver pink honey

silver pink honey

I went out to find the morning

it began.

I walked through crooked feelings

I wrote it on the guitar my father had given me a few months before – a Martin 000-18.

Martin 000-18

Martin 000-18


Those numbers meant nothing to me at the time; I didn’t even know what was so great about a Martin guitar, except that my idol, Joan Baez, played one.

I went out to find the morning                                                                 I  walked through tattered dreams



It was 1967. I’d steeped myself in the recordings of not only Joan B, but  The Weavers; the Kingston Trio; Peter, Paul & Maryearly Simon and Garfunkle, early Joni.                                                      

Peter, Paul, & Mary

Peter, Paul, & Mary

But I brought it back                             

A bit of silver pink honey                      

Dripping through my hands

It was a pretty terrible first effort. But the act of engaging lyric and music was utterly engrossing, and as years went by I did more and more of it. When I moved to New York City, after graduating from college and an acting program, and a stint with the Colorado Shakespeare Festival (1975), I wasn’t heading east to just be an actor, but also a singer/songwriter.

I’m driving east with the sun sinking low                                                                        

Slept last night with my jeans for a pillow                                                                      

And a moon up above me, harvest full and white                                                  

Shining down, smiling down, telling me it’s right

Harvest Moon

Harvest Moon

I was disappointed to find that my imagined folk scene in the Village had dried up, replaced by the driving beat of disco. But I wrote on, sitting cross-legged on the floor of my five-floor walk-up, tub-in-the-kitchen apartment, bent over my guitar, coming up with chords and the words to go with them. Using the back of the guitar as a writing desk, strings pressing into my calves, I scribbled lyrics on backs of envelopes, on the edges of theatre programs, on pages torn from my journal.

Hold me, baby, hold me                                                                                                        

You send me like a first class letter                                                                                

Many have tried but none can do it better      


All I really want’s some country living                                                                

            Pigs down the lane and a milk cow in the field                                                    

             But you can’t grow a garden in the subway                                                                        

It’s that lonesome time of evening                                                            

                       Time to be gathered in a loving pair of arms                                        

                      Time when I miss that rovin’ man of mine.                                                  

                      It’s that blue hour of love

And a hymn to friendship, inspired by a phrase I’d seen when I was about 14, carved into a mantelpiece: O Joy Divine of Friends. I carried that with me for years and then, one Christmas Eve, it bloomed into song.

 I know that it’s been said before: we are orphans of the storm                                  

Cast adrift and far from shore, orphans of the storm                                                      

But when we know enough to land                                                                                        

To draw our boats high on the sand                                                                                

We’re blessed by God’s true gift to man                                                                            

 The joy divine of friends

8 track

8 track

I used a tape player and recorded a few tunes and imagined an album (it would have been an eight-track).

I even got a few songs transcribed.

A group of fellow New York actors and I created a band:  unusual instrumentation, lots of percussion; we played a few gigs.


Way down on Chippewa Street                                                                                      

That’s where the old black men they go to meet                                                 

Bums in the corners are hugging their booze                                                              

There are women in mini-skirts  and high-heeled shoes                                        

 Though they tell me that ain’t no place for a nice girl to walk                                          

 I’ll take my chances                                                                                                              

 I’m walking somewhere

But tragedy struck. My brother, Oak, fell from a bridge and suffered a massive brain injury. And although this was not clear to me at the time, I fled the scene of sorrow, abandoning dear friends as well as the music that wonderful group of musicians and I were creating. I moved all the way across the country, to Los Angeles. I found an apartment not far from the Hollywood sign.



             Leaning into loneliness                                                                                          

             With my elbows on the bar 

There, I fell in with Jamie, a brilliant jazz bass player. He was also a Scientologist. I was bedazzled by both. Almost 30, aswirl in existential vertigo, I thought I’d found True Love. Also True Meaning.    

My steering lost, the rigging gone                                                                                      

The winds of chance the only form                                                                                  

What blew me to your harbor’s peace                                                                            

What a port to come to, after such a storm

Only recently have I examined the ulterior motive I might have had in marrying Jamie: With his astounding musicianship, we’d become a singer/songwriting team! Lyrics: Sands; Music: Jamie: Jamie & Sands!

But during our short-lived marriage, I learned, among other things, that folk music wasn’t music.

Also, that I couldn’t sing. Not really.

Powerful perspectives, delivered from that jazz-driven place, which blew me off course for a long while.




There ensued a seven-year voyage battling storms and seas of doubt, during which I grappled with the few good things Scientology has to offer, as well as its terrible tentacles, which grip a practitioner close. I did not write much. I did not sing much. I divorced Jamie and met T—.  A rock’n’roll singer/songwriter, T—was also a Scientologist. I loved him vastly.

Dancin through the heavens

Dancin through the heavens

I believe in distance                                        

But I was afraid of space                              

The ebb and flow, the come and go          

Until I saw your face

A dozen times I tried to leave the Church, but it meant leaving T—, and the many good friends I’d made, all of whom also believed /were persuaded to believe. Again and again I allowed myself to be sucked back into the vortex.

During this time, however, I saved my pennies, and when I had enough, recorded a tune at a friend’s studio, and then another, and another. I dreamed of creating an album (it would have been a cassette).



Now and again I journeyed to the Southwest, for what I called my pilgrimages. One night outside of Durango a friend pointed up to a fingernail clipping of moon and told me it was called a Rustler’s Moon:                                                                         

rustler's moon

rustler’s moon

The moon’s a pale sliver in the dark night sky  

A sickle’s edge                                                    

 that gleams against the stars                          

It’s a  rustler’s moon                                          

 He saddles up his pony                                  

Her hand trembles as she holds the light

 Someone’s going to lose something tonight

On I lingered, too long, in the ragged, doubt-and-friend-filled life I had in L.A. Eventually I broke free. Graduate school helped effect it. It was now 1989, and I was in Iowa with my guitar, broken and sad, missing T— and my friends, and certainty.

The wind is sighing through the leaves which are starting to turn                            

 I’ve seen them change so many times, is there something there to learn?                

You and I have said goodbye; now I rake our love in heaps to burn

And just as—sigh—I was on my way back to finding self and song, I took up with yet another brilliant man who thought little of folk music. D— was a classically trained guitarist. I put him on a pedestal. I left my guitar alone.  I moved to be with him deep in the Northeastern Kingdom. When that romantic experiment blew up, I moved again, eventually landing in the foothills of California’s Sierra Nevada. There I reengaged with theatre and meditated on Monday nights and on Thursdays attended African Dance class.

Every now and again I looked at my Martin. But mostly, it stayed in its case. imgres-6 Then I met TT.  

One thing I can’t get over is this roadmap on my face                                                  

How all the journeys of my soul have left behind their trace                                      

And now you lie beside me, and you look at me so sweet                                          

Have I done all this traveling so our two souls could meet

Through TT I came to know a wonderful group of people, including the musicians Maggie McKaig and her husband, Luke Wilson. Luke and Maggie and their music inspired me to lift the guitar from its bed of blue velveteen. With their help I began, tentatively, to trust my voice and lyrics again. I started to play the old tunes, and little by little to write some new ones.  

Storm Sessions Murray Campbell, Michael Zisman, Sands, Maggie, Luke WIlson

Storm Sessions
Murray Campbell, Michael Zisman, Sands, Maggie, Luke WIlson

You glitter 

and you gleam                                    

calling up the moon

calling up the moon

You’re a coin

and you are horns                                

You wax 

and then you wane                                

You’re gone                                                          

and then you’re here again

Other musicians, too, encouraged me along the way, especially during the Community of Writers at Squaw Valley, when there is always music to be made during the annual Follies.

Louis B. Jones, Greg Spatz, Caridwen Spatz, Mark Childress, Sands, Nion McEvoy. I think we're singing Hank Williams's "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry."

Louis B. Jones, Greg Spatz, Caridwen Spatz, Jason Roberts, Mark Childress, Sands, Nion McEvoy.

Maggie and I went on tour together, The Great Southwestern Water Dragon Tour. You can read all about it elsewhere on this blog.


Into my life came more fine musicians. Inspired by the sounds of sax, accordion, banjo, fiddle, bass twining about the lyrics, infusing the tunes, I began to dream, again, of recording a few of my songs.     

       It’s been a pilgrimage season

pilgrimage season

pilgrimage season

I have been lost on my way        

Now I’ve found my way back  to the place I started

 It all looks so different        

 It all looks familiar


I imagined making an album with these friends. It would be a CD.

And then I did.

It arrived yesterday.


It’s called RUSTLER’S MOON.

Tree and Crescent, Sierra  Foothills

Tree and Crescent, Sierra Foothills

The front cover is part of a photograph taken by the ultra-talented Gary Hart.

A detail is on the CD itself: photo

The back cover is the rest of Gary’s photograph, and lists the songs and the stellar musicians, which include: Maggie McKaig, Luke Wilson, Randy McKean, Murray Campbell, Louis B. Jones, Pat Jacobsen, Tree, and Saul and Elena Rayo. Most of it was recorded at the lovely Ancient Wave Studios, in Nevada City. I’ll be writing more about that.

photoThe CD is made of all recycled materials! Thanks to Oasis for offering that option.

You can buy it here:

Sands Hall: Rustler

I’ll be writing various posts about recording the album, bits of history about how the lyrics and/or the music came about, about the sustaining and amazing joy divine of friends, and any other adventures that may unfold.

I hope you’ll come along, under the moon, for the ride.


Posted in Rustler's Moon | 17 Comments

Midnight Decision

477085398_19c8d6dcf9I married Jamie Faunt, bass player extraordinaire, in 1982; we divorced in 1984; in our time together he introduced me to Scientology, where (I’ve often thought) I squandered too many years of my life. In spite of being out touch for almost a quarter of a century (!), news of his death, which arrived yesterday—a heart attack—rocks me. One marries believing in the happiness to be found in and with another, and in spite of ferocious and understandable disapproval from those who loved me most, I plowed forward with a marriage that was in almost every way a vast mistake. But that does not lessen the power held in that early faith-in-love, and the loss attached to the sudden news of his death is acute. And so it is that early this morning I climbed on a plane to Los Angeles, to join those who’ll celebrate his life at a Sunday memorial. It’s something I would not have done a decade ago—not only because I’d not yet arrived at the glooming peace I’ve finally (mostly) found regarding years I’ve been tempted to think of as lost, but because the older one gets the more important it is to close these circles, and the more vital it seems to seize such opportunities when they present themselves. Friends I’ve not laid eyes on in decades (because when one leaves said Church, one is a good old-fashioned apostate), hearing I’m coming, have arranged pick-up and lodging and gatherings. Other friends, like me long-gone from Scientology, have also decided to attend. Awkward though it will sometimes be, we will stand together, our various faiths hovering around us, in order to honor the life of someone we all loved. And then I will catch a midnight flight, arriving back in Lancaster just in time to teach Myth and Fairy Tale.

Posted in Meanders, words words words | Tagged , , , | 19 Comments

Gelding Graymalkin

I am a single woman with two cats.

Actually, three cats.

With that admission, I sense a rustle of discomfort rise:too many cats

A single, older, woman who lives with two cats, much less three, is probably needy, emotionally damaged, best to be avoided.

Also, her house is sure to smell of cat pee.

That this supposed emotional neediness appears to be fulfilled by animals long associated with witches—as witches are assumed to be older, single women—compounds these rumors. witch w cat2Cats are often depicted as “familiars,” spirits, often in animal form, who serve—especially a witch. familiar

However, in addition to the abiding affection my two cats, Oona Oona closeand Lucy, arouse in me, they lower my heart rate, make me
Lucy closelaugh, and offer a sustaining and most comforting weight near my feet when I sleep, as I do these days, alone.

The third cat, grey and feral, wandered on to my scrubby acre in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada about four years ago.

2catfightFor the first summer he was around, I knew him only as one of a pair of cats that fought hard and loudly, rolling in an almost comical burst of gray limbs across the slope above my house, a yowling mass of feline that would then separate and run in opposite directions.

In between these bouts, one or both of them would come scouting about the house. Both had gray bodies and startling eyes, the color of liquid forsythia.

yellow eyes

They could have come from the same litter, brothers now fighting over ownership of a parcel each considered his own.

But one of them was nasty. That’s how I differentiated them: the mean one and the other one. The mean one was viciously scarred, and the time came when one of those fights must have killed him—or the coyotes got him, or a bobcat.  bobcat
He disappeared. Now there was just one gray cat skulking through the cat door (open all day, closed at night) to scarf food out of Lucy and Oona’s bowls. He’d come by not even weekly, causing me to muse on the territory of cats.

The cougar who took my cat Chaco, at dusk a few years ago, had a territory: The same large cat had been seen in vicinities miles and miles apart. So it was easy to imagine That damn catthat the gray shadow occasionally found in my house, quick to bolt if surprised at kibble-stealing, might also have a territory he considered his own, which included other houses in my forested neighborhood. I imagined he might be fed elsewhere as well, tolerated or chased off, as the case may be. He might be known to these households as Shadow. Smoke. Spook. That damn stray.

The Shakespearian in me and perhaps the witch as found herself thinking of Macbeth, Act I, Scene I, which in Freshman English, Wells Kerr made everyone memorize, thus infusing me with a love of the bard forever. In front of the class, Sarah Wilson, Sarah Swinerton, and I stirred an imaginary pot and called to our familiars:


When shall we three meet again?
In thunder, lightning, or in rain.
When the hurly-burly’s done.
When the battle’s lost and won.
That will be ‘ere the set of sun.


Where the place?
Upon the heath.
There to meet with Macbeth.
Come Graymalkin,
Paddock calls.
Fair is foul and foul is fair…

Naming the cat after a witch’s familiar was a joke between me, myself, and I, but perhaps because he now had a name, Graymalkin began to be around a lot more. Scruffy catHe lolled on the deck in the sun at a distance from Oona and Lucy (both spayed females), who tolerated him. There was no moaning or hissing; in fact, they seemed to rather like his company, his slitted yellow eyes, his scruffy presence, a tough kid tolerated for the sheen he gave their own lovelinesses.

Over the next three years I was often away on various jobs, or traveling, and through them all, according to my housesitters, Graymalkin was a presence. He tended to stick around in winter months, when as soon as I’d open the cat door, his rusty meow would announce he’d been sleeping amidst the boxes on a garage shelf, urlclose enough to hear the rasp of the little tin door sliding out of its frame, and that he was ready for the food that he had by now come to expect (although having his own supply of kibble and water did not keep him from scavenging out of the girls’ bowls.)  I thought often of simply incorporating him into the household. But he was having none of it. Once the weather warmed and the trees began to swell with that not yet visible green, the sap moved in his limbs as well, and he was off—I wouldn’t see him for weeks at a time. When I did he’d be sleeping a sleep that literally looked dead, often with a chewed, scabby ear, a wound on his neck, a paw covered in blood.

It was fretting about one of these wounds that led me to first touch him. I did not move quickly. Holding a warm washcloth I touched the cut on his neck. To my surprise he stayed utterly calm. I wondered it he might be purring. I began to sit close to him on the deck, when he’d be there lounging, and one day he lofted himself up from where he’d been dozing, stepped across the few feet of bench that separated us, rolled his hip up against mine, and with a little heave of his lungs, went back to sleep. One day I just scooped him up. He pressed his head into my underarm and left it there for about thirty seconds; his body, for that time, utterly limp with what felt to me like relief.

He’d been loved once, it became clear. He never once scratched me, not even if a loud noise startled him while imgresI was holding him. He’d jump, but without leaving scratch marks behind. When he was with me, his claws were always retracted, although his occasional wounds (which he always allowed me to clean) demonstrated that he knew how to use them. He’d had a decent upbringing, one way or the other. I wanted to believe that, like my dear Miwok, he’d been frightened by a thunderstorm and run off and become lost, rather than (as in fact I believed), being released into the nearby woods because his owners were leaving town. I cringed when I imagined this scenario.  Once we take on the care of an animal, even if it adopts us, it’s our responsibility to care for it, or to find care for it, throughout its life.

This awareness was part of a guilt that began to build around Graymalkin and his, shall we put it, unaltered state.too many kittens2


By this time he’d commandeered the top of some shelves located outside the dining room window, where I keep pots and planting paraphernalia. Morning sun hits this spot, and as it’s also under the eaves, it provides shelter from all but the most beating of rains, and from the snow. I made him a nest there, where he was already sleeping: at first a box of old towels, eventually a washable bed purchased at K-Mart stuffed in a plastic bin. Graymalkin in his basket
Sometimes, in those stretches of weeks he’d be absent I’d wonder if he was gone for good this time, and came to recognize a little leap in my heart when I’d see him sleeping in that basket outside the window, or hear the rusty meow outside the cat door. I tamped it down. He was a stray. He liked to roam. I would not allow myself to love him.

Yet I worried about the bad citizen I was being. In addition to testosterone-fueled fights, how many litters was Graymalkin spawning when he wandered off on his spring and summer rounds? too many kittensI’ve rescued almost all my cats from the pound, including Oona as a kitten, and I could all too easily imagine the population I was helping to create. free kittens

But I had a hard time not so much with  the idea of getting  Graymalkin into a travel cage, but with the drive. The operation would be the least of it, as he’d be, I knew, sedated, but the idea of the panic he’d feel leading up to it, and the upset cat-spray that would get all over my car, made me hesitant.  I did go so far as to put a $50 deposit on a cage at a local animal rescue center, but it was one of the times Graymalkin disappeared.  

cageSo I postponed and postponed. Felt guilty about it in the spring, had the guilt assuaged through the winter months when he’d stick close, then guilt again when he’d disappear in April or May and for most of the summer. September he’d again start to be at the door in the mornings with his rusted-hinge of a voice, content to be picked up and held (the head pressed into an armpit, the moment of limp pleasure), before the demand for food was recalled and he’d be out of my arms, standing on hind legs, batting at the bowls I’d lift to wash and refill with water and kibble.


Last April a group of writers gathered around my table for a workshop, among them large animal vetAriel, a large animal vet, who was crafting her experience into lovely stories about, what else, a large animal vet.

The workshop knew about Graymalkin—in addition to that bed outside the window, they’d seen him come in the cat door and, seeing all those people at the table, promptly duck back out again—and I’d shared my concerns about him. One day, as we finished discussing a manuscript and were about to take a break, I asked Ariel if she worked on small animals too.

“Sure,” she said, knowing what I was asking. “We can geld Graymalkin.”

As one, the men in the workshop crossed their legs.


“Next week,” Ariel pressed, after we stopped laughing. “I’ll bring the truck.”

We knew from her stories what the truck was—a traveling vet clinic, with needles and vet truckscalpels and hoses and ropes and pails, a refrigerator for vaccines, every thing needed to deal with horses, llamas, goats.  We agreed I’d call her the following Saturday to let her know that Graymalkin was around.

But that night, as if he’d heard us talking, Graymalkin went on Walkabout. I didn’t see him for a month. “Alas,” Ariel, said, “but it’s that time of year. He’ll be back. And he’ll sleep for a week. We’ll try it then.”

However, we couldn’t get his schedule and Ariel’s to mesh. Summer galloped away and in the fall I was out of town on a visiting professorship. My wonderful housesitter took his duties seriously: he got Lucy and Oona in at night and let them out in the morning. Every few weeks he apprised me in writing about their doings, sometimes including details about Graymalkin, to whom he referred as Gray Malcolm, Esquire.

EsquireAnd then came winter break. My first morning home, I stood by the dining room window, Graymalkin coldwatching Graymalkin in his basket curled tight against the cold, and called Ariel. We made a date for later that week.

By the time Ariel’s truck rolled down the driveway, Oona was closed into a back bedroom (I couldn’t find Lucy), and the cat door was locked, with Graymalkin inside, dozing on a chair.

Ariel has capable hands, the nails cut close to the ends of her fingers; her blonde hair usually pulled back in a no-nonsense if mussy ponytail. She is practiced and efficient and superlatively kind—it didn’t take reading her fiction to sense that. She checked on Graymalkin, who stretched and purred a bit before falling back to sleep, and then we walked together back to her truck. She lifted open a few of the doors—they are hinged, like the hoods of old fashioned cars or semis—to reveal shelves on long hearty hinges filled with ordered packets of everything. scalpelsAnd everything in various sizes, I began to realize, as she searched for needles small enough to give Graymalkin the shots he’d need.Also available in various sizes were scalpels, and the one Ariel put on a stainless steel tray (covered by a blue towel), was the size and shape of the syringerazors used in box cutters. Coils of nylon thread. Cotton swabs and cotton pads. Tweezers, scissors. Out of the refrigerator came various bottles, into which she plunged needles and drew down and nicked with a practiced flick of a forefinger whatever potions she had in mind.

Too big for the tray, handed to me to carry, were electric clippers, the type used to give a military haircut

electric clippers
In the house I held Graymalkin while she gave him a tranquilizer and an opiate mixed in one shot, which evoked not even a wince or meow.  She’d brought a collapsible metal cage, which she constructed quickly, and instructed me—how he trusted me!—to lower him into it. For a bleary moment or two this really bothered him, but then the opiate began to work.
cat & horse

For some operations a horse is given about the same amount of opiate as a cat, a factoid Ariel related to me as we went back to the truck to continue collecting materials.  “You wouldn’t want to geld a horse on the same amount,” Ariel said, “but you can do a lot.” She added that to geld a horse, an animal hundreds of times heavier than a cat, you use just four times the amount of opiate she’d injected into Graymalkin.

When we came back into the kitchen, me carrying the tray little girl carrying tray(Ariel was very good about giving me jobs so that I might feel useful; much of that afternoon I felt about five years old), Graymalkin was still pawing a bit drunkenly at the bars of the cage.

It became clear that the tough shots were up ahead: the anesthetic when injected, I gathered, does something far more than sting. We waited for him to fall completely asleep, then zipped him into a tight blue nylon bag—it reminded me of a heavy-duty stuff sack, within which his tough-boy body looked pathetically small. Ariel made sure one leg stayed free so that she could use that vein. In our haste a bit of his fur got caught in the zipper and that woke him and he began to fight—Ariel had to deal with the jerking leg and claws while also injecting the anesthetic; it made him scream. Suddenly Lucy appeared from the back of the house and leapt up on the dining room table, where we were executing this part of things, and pressed her face very close to his little trussed body, yowling in commiseration, or in concern, or perhaps it was just to tell him to shut up. I shooed her away. Graymalkin went limp, although his heart was pounding so fast I thought it would leap out of his chest.

“OK,” Ariel said, “we’ve got 22 minutes.”

We bundled him over to the kitchen sink, where she unzipped a section of the sack and with the clippers shaved his groin area and a portion of leg. Even with his lower extremities bare he retained his dignity, did Graymalkin. She put him on the plastic tray and put the tray over the sink. She told me to hold him in a particular way—I had no idea if this was really helpful or if it was just to give me a job to do; either way, I did that job really really well. I pressed my cheek to Graymalkin’s chest. His heart fluttered terribly. Will his heart burst? I asked. And Ariel said, He’s a strong boy, a healthy boy, he’ll be fine.

Ariel, like every kind of doctor, said this with utter assurance, even though it felt to me that nobody could survive such a harshly palpitating heart.  As she double-checked the implements lined up beside the sink I said something about this being so much work. “Is this what has to happen for every single animal that gets neutered?”

Ariel nodded, and with a little smile looked at me over the tops of her glasses.

“Usually it’s not done over a kitchen sink. Okay. Here goes.”

She took hold of the little scalpel. I closed my eyes and again pressed my cheek against the blue nylon that sheathed Graymalkin’s chest, aware of the sawing motion of the forearm beside me. I heard a wet plop into the metal sink. That’s one, I said to myself, and lifted my head for a moment. But beyond the deft work of that arm beside me, I couldn’t see what she was up to. I placed my forehead against the same beating place, waiting for the second plop, the second of Graymalkin’s jewels, realizing that I had come to love Graymalkin, to love him fiercely.

Ariel reached for an instrument the size and shape of pliers that one might, in fact, use for jewelry making, and grasping Graymalkin’s tubes, tied each one into a knot, knots that would not come undone and, once she let go, would retract far up within him so that he could not reach them, even with a washing tongue.

A last act before we released him from his sack: Ariel took blood samples, blood sampleslabeling them with Graymalkin and the date, testing for leukemia, rabies, distemper, and Feline HIV. She also gave him shots against these diseases, and as he lay there, pathetic but still breathing, the chest heaving up and down, though not as hard and quick as before, we applied Revolution to the back of his neck  (ticks, fleas, heartworm). Then he was put back in the cage to sleep off the remaining minutes.

As Ariel cleaned up—the efficiency and speed clearly habitual—I just got out of the way. I did peer into the sink. What was mounded there looked almost exactly like the items that come in the paper sack tucked in the body of a Thanksgiving turkey: some red fleshy items— though not the shape of a giblet, nor a liver—and amidst all that red, two hard, paler, round things.

Ariel went outside to wash the implements in a bucket and hot water from her truck’s spigot rather than in my sink. I began to see that ritual, repetition, are an essential aspect of her line of work. teaI made us tea in the kitchen that moments before had been a clinic, cut each of us a piece of pie a friend had brought the day before; and as Graymalkin continued to sleep deeply, we talked about her writing, the stories that appeared to be stringing together beautifully into a novel, until he began to stir.

Ariel left about 5:00, taking the cage with her; Graymalkin seemed that recovered. Although drowsy, he lapped at some water—a good sign—before he dozed off again. And for a few hours he did sleep. I lifted him onto his favorite chair under the dining room table, with a towel beneath him in case there was bleeding. There was none.

But by 10:00, Graymalkin was pawing at the cat door, pacing the kitchen, meowing. He ate some food, drank more water, but I was worried: I knew, from a time I’d been gone for two days and accidentally locked him inside the house, that he would not use the cat box. But he would also not relieve himself inside the house—when I’d returned from that trip to find him at the door he’d bolted to a nearby patch of earth to relieve himself. He would soon begin to feel real discomfort, or additional discomfort. I didn’t know what to do. Ariel had said to keep him in for a few days, with the caveat, “He might just really want to go out. And if he does, you have to let him.” So about 3:00 in the morning, I did.

He disappeared like smoke into the night.smoke in the nightsearch-2search-3He wasn’t in his basket the next morning, or the next, or the next. I was in a lowgrade free fall of panic. Had I removed his jewels, the source of his fighting and therefore protective nature, and would he now not be able to defend himself, or climb a tree, not be able to survive?


Ariel phoned about the blood samples she’d taken, shouting to be heard over the engine of her truck from which she was calling. “It’s negative/negative! Our boy is healthy!”

Our boy was also still gone. But at least he didn’t have rabies, or leukemia, or Feline HIV.

And she called him our boy.

Ariel’s a woman in her fifties with a husband, a daughter, several animals, including a couple of cats.  She is not suspect of being emotionally needy; her love is vast, kind, and unsentimental, and her glee over the fact that Graymalkin was healthy made me straighten and accept the mantel I’ve whirled around my own shoulders, in regards to all the beings that prowl and nap and eat on my deck and in my house. What can possibly be the problem with knitting the universe together with a little more love?

A few days later, when I heard the creak of Graymalkin’s meow outside the kitchen door, I allowed my heart to leap. I scooped him up unabashedly, gave him the hug I projected that he wanted and fed him the food I know he did. All day I checked on him out the window as he dozed away in his basket. Graymalkin in his basket

As spring edges towards the Sierra he’s begun to disappear again for nights at a time and, when he appears, looks scruffier than usual. But so far he’s evaded coyotes and bobcats, and he’s also not begotten any new little creatures. In the molecular dance of love that surrounds my little acreage, I am so glad he’s here.

Posted in Meanders | 11 Comments

The Normal State

During a recent visit to England, my friend Scott and I motored (Scott’s word) out to the Cotswolds. motoring

As he negotiated a series of roundabouts, he told me how following an extra-bad breakup with a lover, he’d gone to see a therapist. In one of the sessions he told her that he just wanted to feel normal again.

She said, “What do you mean?”

He said, “You know, happy.”

And the therapist said, “What makes you think that happiness is a ‘normal’ state?”

If I’d been the one at the wheel the car would have swerved into a hedge.    images

This was an astonishing idea. A dangerous one.  Of course happiness is the normal state! Or, more to the correlative point, unhappiness is an abnormal one. And, therefore and furthermore, I have often felt not only unhappy, but abnormal.

What, for instance, could sound happier than two friends “motoring out to the Cotswolds?”


What could be a happier situation than spending an afternoon in the golden town of Stow on the Wold, eating fish and chips in a pub with a glass of beer, and walking by a meandering stream (presumably the Wold) while licking ice cream cones and talking of a shared interest in theatre?images-1

But although it was a pleasant time, it was not a happy one; and I will relate what was going on merely as example; anyone can plug in the circumstances that put a dent in happiness. I’d left my home in California without having accomplished a IMG_2885self-imposed deadline of finishing a current novel, and I was distressed about what that meant in terms of both income stream and confidence, not to mention the sense that I had not “earned” my vacation. I was in the midst of moving through a romantic adventure with the usual shares of joy and frustration, but had left it on the frustrated end of things. I was also jetlagged and feeling flabby. Feeling flabby

There were fleeting moments of joy that day, to be sure: the sun on the famous golden limestone of the region, the dark chocolate bits in the ice cream, the scintillating chat with a peer passionate about the differences in acting methods between the U.K. and the U.S. But no matter how much I tried to be grateful, to rouse myself into some form of happiness, a gray cloud hovered, a patch of something that blocked the sun of enjoyment.


And part of the cloud was composed of the idea that—even taking into account Scott’s story— I “should” be happy; that to be not-happy in such circumstances meant I was, simply, weird.

Later that same summer, at the Iowa Summer Writing Festival, a fellow teacher and poet, Christine Hemp, gave a lecture called, “Yikes, the Underworld!” She talked of the difficulty of writing about happiness, and how it is impossible to know happiness, much less to write about it, without having grappled with or including an accompanying darkness, the  “underworld.”  As an in-situ exercise Christine had us all take out a piece of paper and note down “times you’ve been happy.”

At the best of times I am slow to engage with ”prompts,” but this one— “write about a time when you were happy”—stymied me. I couldn’t think of one that didn’t arrive with some caveat. Or without a sense that the happiness had been brief, a peninsula surrounded by the dark choppy waters of some concern or other.Chopy watersThe morning I heard I’d sold my first novel followed the night of a huge fight with the man with whom I was living; we’d talked of breaking up, slept in separate beds, and the call from the agent came when my eyes were puffy with tears. Various balloons of happiness about falling in love or landing a role in a play or gathering with family seem to have been depleted by some aspect of the surrounding events. Every happy time had attached to it a negative—which, was, I suppose, Christine’s point, but I found it utterly dismaying.

Then Christine asked us to write about the Underworld: a time of darkness, of unhappiness. cave-south-australiaIt was an exquisite relief to find that my mind processed this request in much the same way—as soon as I found a moment of despair, there was also the accompanying thought that it wasn’t all that bad, that there had always been alleviating aspects to whatever the sorrow was. For instance, I lost a coveted role in a TV movie to another actress but after crying my eyes out discovered with wonder that it meant I could accept what turned out to be a most successful and satisfying season at the Old Globe Theater in San Diego.

A few days later, after a long day of teaching, Christine called to chat.

“I’m so tired I feel half my usual size,” she said.

I offered chocolate.chocolate

We were staying in a guesthouse provided by the conference, and bearing the foil-wrapped gift I ran up the stairs to her room.

Before I knocked, however, I went to my knees, so as to be “half her size.”

And when she opened the door she was on her knees as well.

This made it easy to fall on the floor laughing, which we did.

There are no shark-infested waters on either side of this memory: it is a moment I know I was happy. I wonder if something about processing the idea of happiness—in Scott’s story, in Christine’s prompt—allowed me to be aware of being happy right at that moment.

That is, perhaps awareness of the moment is part of a definition of happiness. Lying on my back, howling with laughter, shifted forever my idea of what happiness is, and my certainty that it is possible. I had been imagining that happiness was supposed to be a constant state, as if an entire life could, or should be lived happily.

But happiness comes to us, as all emotions do, moment by moment. The fleeting nature of that awareness is part of its power.

Which helps with the memory of the drive to the Cotswolds as well, of course. Bonnet upAs when Scott stopped the car because it had started to overheat, and looked in the “boot” for a “torch” so that when he lifted the “bonnet” he could see what the problem might be.

In this case it is not so much the moment that makes me happy—in fact I was rather anxious—but that I was in the company of someone who used words like “boot” and “bonnet” and that we were “motoring”—

—and that I am blessed with such friends.

Posted in Meanders | 23 Comments

In the Cedar Rapids Airport

Photo doesn’t look like much but

Somewhere in that hug is a soldier in camouflage.

here’s the story:

The Cedar Rapids airport is a small one—there are no double doors to pass through en route to ground transportation and baggage claim; one just strolls past a security guard who is yawning in his chair. As I do that the other day—I’m in Iowa to teach for the Iowa Summer Writing Festival—I notice quite a crowd has gathered. I’m always struck by the blondness that is Iowan, and this group is no exception: several towhead children bouncing in excitement, a few parents, a number of blond teenagers, texting. A young lady stands at the very front of the group; her make-up is polished and her hair blown-dry. Beside her is a woman of about 40 whose eyes are already red with tears.

I recall the soldier who rode a few rows ahead of me on the plane from Houston, wearing the strange camouflage of our recent desert wars, more pink and blue than the old tan and brown.

“There he is!” someone squeals.

He comes around the corner. He is not carrying a bag, his arms swing; he is the epitome of soldier, with his buzzed blond hair and his excellent posture. His eyes scan the waiting group and alight on someone. I can’t see over the heads of those around me, but I imagine is his mother, with her red eyes; she must be holding her arms out to him.

But it is not toward the older woman that he strides. It’s to the young lady beside her. There’s a moment of protocol. The girlfriend, such must she be, wonders for a moment that she is to get the first hug. But it’s clear that it’s to her he’s heading, and she steps into his arms. He buries his face in her neck. His hands grip her waist, her hips, his arms slide all the way around her. I can almost hear him groan.

He steps back, his face lighted—he looks as if he might laugh, he looks as if he might cry. And he sinks to one knee and holds out a hand.

The crowd sighs, as one. I am not the only one who’s paused en route to whatever’s next. The security guard is no longer yawning.

Between his thumb and forefinger is a ring. There are a few squeals, quickly hushed. He has hold of one of the girlfriend’s hands. She presses the other to her lips. I can’t see her face, only her shining hair.

“Will you marry me?” His voice is low, but it carries.

She doesn’t appear to say anything. Never taking his eyes off her, he slides the ring onto her finger.

“Will you?”

At her quiet “yes,” we applaud. He stands. She has her left hand held up, gazing at the ring on her finger. I see her realize that this is not the moment to appreciate the ring! With a little shake of her head she throws her arms around him. He lifts her up. Her knees bend and her feet rise in what we all hope is joy.

About this time I remember to get my iphone out of my purse. The resultant photo doesn’t manage to capture any of this.

Later, waiting for our luggage, I congratulate them and ask if I can take their picture. They oblige.

A few moments later he joins the half dozen of us waiting to grab our luggage as soon as it appears. A young boy, nephew or cousin or brother, waits with him. I’m looking for a box of books; the soldier for his duffels, one of which almost immediately nudges its way through the rubber flaps above the conveyor belt. He lifts it, places it beside him. “It’s heavy,” he says to the little boy, who doesn’t care that it’s as big as he is and four times as heavy. He persists, and the soldier helps him get his arms through the straps—it can be carried like a knapsack. The boy teeters, his face red with effort and pride. It looks as if he will be pulled on his back, like a bug on its shell; or that he will fall face down with the huge duffel covering him from head to toe.

The soldier hefts a second duffle off the belt. “Let’s go,” he says. The boy manages a step forward with the pack on his back, grinning.

He steadies the boy with a hand to his head, and guides him towards the waiting family.  “Let’s go home.”

Soldier and fiance and ring.

Posted in Meanders | 24 Comments

Jiggety Jog

As in, home again, home again.

Coming up the walk. Photo Sean McCarthy

After the concert in Squaw Valley, Maggie packed her bags and instruments into yet another car, to be driven by our good friend Tom Taylor back to her Nevada City home.

Maggie packs up her waterdragon bags and instruments into yet another car, to be driven home by Tom Taylor

About a week before Luke had called to say that he “was now officially lonely.” And her dogs, Flora and Puck,  cats Coco and Muzette,  horse Belle (hers for 34 years!) and a garden will all appreciate her return.

Even though we still have one more concert, this good bye is hard. Our journey, all 3382 miles of it (I need to spell it out, as one does a check, for good measure: Three Thousand, Three Hundred and Eighty Two Miles), is over. Of course we will play music again together, in many formats and in many venues. But this magical, dynamic, waterdragon journey is just about over.

After a bit of clean up I, too headed home. Greeted by my own magical garden, beloved cats,

Oona on roof                        Photo: Paul Harrar

Lucy on Trellis                    Photo: Paul Harrar

and roses. The lettuce has not bolted too much in my absence, and the tomato and pepper plants have both yellow flowers and budding fruits.

Don Juan, trellis

After lugging in the luggage (a redundancy that is purposeful: a lot of lugging is involved in moving containers of one’s things around), I unpacked and looked around at how things are growing. The most wonderful gardener, Sarah Keller, helps me from time to time; she’d  just planted a bed with basil, sage, tarragon—part of an herb garden I cherish having close to my kitchen.

thai basil

So I cruised around taking in the various forms of basil and checking on squash and pepper plants.


And strawberries!

The Squaw concert was Wednesday, the final one would be on Sunday—for us, when we’ve been used to performing at least every other day, that’s a long time between concerts. But Maggie is also prepping for a tour of the Pacific Northwest with her wonderful band, Beaucoup Chapeaux—that remarkable head of hers is filled not only with the guitar and accordion and vocal parts (and lyrics) for the waterdragon tour, but also with dozens of  poly-rhythmic Gypsy/Gallic/Euro-jazz tunes. (Check them out: Here’s their electronic press kit; you can also visit and “like” their page on Facebook.)

Murray Campbell plays for Hestia

Many a Friday night Beaucoup Chapeaux inhabits a corner booth of Nevada City’s Classic Cafe on Broad Street, and between the Hall & McKaig gigs,

Maggie flies Hestia towards one of Randy McKean’s horns

there they were: Maggie, Luke Wilson, Randy McKean, Murray Campbell.

I took the opportunity to take a listen and Hestia came along for the ride

And of course Hestia must fly on over and visit Luke Wilson.

Beaucoup Chapeaux was in amazing form, even though their fearless wrangler had been plowing through the Southwest for the previous three weeks.

Beaucoup Chapeaux at the Classic Cafe, Nevada City: Luke Wilson, Murray Campbell, Maggie McKaig, Randy McKean, and visiting artist, Hestia, there by the tip jar.

I took guitar and mandolin over to Brett and Louis’s house—they’re up in Squaw Valley, working on the Community of Writers, readying for the arrival of sixty-odd poets in less than a week—and let the chickens out of their coop.

Chickens in sunlight

For an hour I played to them while they foraged around (my red toenails have been pecked more than once; they look like berries, I suppose).  I also checked in their roosting places for some eggs,

Eggs from Joni, Kerfluffle, Etta

on which I wrote the laying date and added to those already in a carton in the fridge.

Final concert: at Diane Fetterly’s beautiful home in Nevada City. Diane and I had hoped to have it in her garden, but the sun slopes down at a long western angle, lighting – and heating – that part of her property until well after 7:00, and guests were slated to arrive at 5:30.  George Cloud, who shares her property, had a great suggestion, and just beyond a bank of Jerusalem Pines we set up over 40 chairs and even a sound system: this would be our most well-attended concert so far, with good friends driving up from San Francisco

Nancy Carlin arrives from Berkeley – surprise! –  for the concert.

and down from Truckee and from all over Nevada County to take it in.

Hestia was with us.

Hestia amidst the picks and capos, hats and fans.

So was my mother, down from Squaw Valley for the day.

Barbara watches Maggie set her mic.

Diane created a beautiful environment, and put out a tip jar (lesson learned!) and served up cheese and salami and quesadillas and crudités, and —at intermission—brownies.

Diane Fetterly gathers flowers from her garden for the concert/party

Luke Wilson was there – speaking of lugging, he’s the one brought his wonderful sound system, and spent much of the concert making sure both instruments and vocal mics stayed at the right levels.

Luke Wilson, setting up and running sound.

I am so deeply grateful for the support Luke and Maggie have given me and my music over the years. Every step of the way, this last decade, when I asked for any kind of musical help and support, they’ve been there to give it; they are the ones who said, with some exasperation, It’s time for you to get your music out there, and flowed considerable support, in every way, towards making it happen.

Thank you, Luke and Maggie, you two beauties.

We thanked Barbara—Mother—for her generous gift of Rogue, the rental car, Diane and George for the beautiful venue and organization, Tom for all kinds of help, friends for being there. A few of them took photos with cameras and iphones and shared them.

Water dragon ladies, and Luke on sound. Photo: Nancy Carlin

It was a magical concert: the sun lowering in the sky behind us, each song precious, the audience not only attentive but clearly enjoying themselves.  By the second set, Maggie and I kicked off our shoes, digging our toes into delicious grass.

The last song was, of course, O Joy Divine of Friends. Everyone sang.

O Joy Divine of Friends! Photo: Charles Baker

And you can too: here’s a video of O Joy Divine of Friends, just waiting to be sung along to, filmed during  “29th in D,” a concert with cherished friends, back in December.

Diane’s party went on for some time, and a delightful time was had by all.  We didn’t get  home until quite late, and in the mood for a late night snack,  I made an omelette, with eggs gathered from Brett and Louis’s hens over the last few days.  I served it to Mother, Nancy Carlin,  and Tom along with some toasted ciabatta and a divine Pinot Noir, gift from David Fenimore.

In spite of injunctions form nephews, I keep forgetting to photograph food. So this is a recreation: I leave it to you to imagine the lovely concoction made from eggs similar to these. Thanks again, Etta and Joni; and Bjork, who is tiny and white and whose eggs reflect those qualities; and Kerfluffle, who creates egg shells that are the most amazing shade of blue.

A rustler’s moon.

We toasted the waterdragon tour’s many hosts, who not only turned over living room and garden for our concerts, but fed us and gave us lovely places to sleep. In many ways, the request I made of them was preposterous, but they each and all not only took it in stride, but created magical and unique events: Tracy, Paul and Lucette, Sharon, The Taos Inn (whose Open Mic can’t be excluded, nor can the one in Hatch, New Mexico); Dana, Lee Ann, Amanda, Tracy-Brett-Nico-Ola, and Diane all helped us towards the most magnificent of journeys.

And so, over the omelette, with the help of the fine Pinot, we toasted this grand adventure. I’m sad to see it go. But on to the next. Maggie and I’ll split the night’s generous tips (more thank yous!) and my share of them will help fund the CD that over the next year I’ll make with Maggie and Luke and Randy and brother-in-law Louis, and other friends with whom I am lucky enough to make music.

What do you think? Rustler’s Moon: Sands & Friends

Thank you, so many of you, for coming along on this journey, for the support sent across sometimes thousands of miles. A few of you have posted comments; many others have emailed or spoken to me of the pleasure you’ve taken in reading these posts. I’m most grateful. Perhaps as I work on the CD I’ll post a few thoughts about that process. I hope you’ll be along for the ride

Thank you for reading.


Posted in The Great Water Dragons Southwest Tour, words words words | 6 Comments

And across the desert states towards home

As I awoke in Amanda’s house a gun loomed to one side of the bed. It took me a moment to realize it was attached to a lamp. And another moment to remember that amongst other things Amanda collects are odd and wonderful fixtures.

Crossed Guns, Lamp

I rolled over to look at this one more closely and realized it was one of two guns, crossed.

Which caused me to reflect on the relative peacefulness implied by crossed guns. They can’t be fired if they’re crossed? Something.

Amanda was up early, baking delicious muffins out of strawberries

Strawberry Muffins, as served at the wedding of William and Kate! (So says the recipe torn out of People Magazine).

supplied by her brother David from his garden, which she served with excellent coffee.

David’s strawberries

She wrapped a few up for us to take with us, and off we headed, almost immediately crossing the Colorado/Utah border and turning South on Highway 128, which undulates through sagebrush until it happens on the magnificent western scenery close to Moab.

Castle Valley turnoff

This is one of those drives I’ve taken a dozen times, often including a trip to Arches National Monument, and part of the planned sweep of the Waterdragon tour through the Southwest was to return this way, was so I could introduce Maggie to its beauties.

Our little dragon Hestia nodded approvingly the entire way, swinging her head in curiosity from side to side, taking in the vistas.

Hestia en route to Arches

After a stop for huevos rancheros and green chili at the Eclecticafe in Moab, we headed for Arches.

Sands, bearing in mind the injunctions of her nephews, remembers to insert photos of food into her posts, but forgets to do so until she’s taken a few delicious bites and ruined the presentation.

Always I am moved, even stunned, by these layers of earth, created with such different alchemies:  some of these ancient layers are “soft,” and can be blown away by centuries of wind and sand and snow and freeze and thaw. While others are so hard they withstand these ravages of nature, and create bridges, windows, arches of stone through which, as Tennyson says, “gleams that untraveled world.”  The park’s written materials remind the visitor, often, that the very forces that created these astonishing shapes will be what will eventually destroy them.

In no time at all Hestia’s become a mascot, bobbing her little head in approbation and only occasionally—after a particularly intense hairpin turn—having to be righted on her place on the dashboard.

Maggie photographs Hestia

Reluctantly we motored back out of Arches and headed North to rejoin Highway 70, where we again turned West, readying ourselves for the long haul across the desert states. But just a few miles along we spotted a sign for Black Dragon Canyon and, being black water dragons ourselves, couldn’t resist.

At Salina, Utah, Interstate 70 effects a little jog that leads to Highway 50, known as “The Loneliest Road in America.”

Hestia and the Loneliest Road, late afternoon

Even now, one rarely sees another car on this highway for hours at a time, and services are a minimum of 60-70 miles apart. We drove directly into the sun, game to go as far as possible, but decided to stop in Delta: it just wasn’t wise to launch into the next bit of loneliness, over 110 miles to the next oasis, after dark. We found a decent room at the Rancher Motel and Café in Delta and unpacked.

Unsaddling Rogue, Delta

As I was paying our dinner bill, a man walked in wearing blue jeans chalked with pale dirt, the brim of his dusty cowboy hat furled. He stalked past, boots jangling—a wicked pair of spurs jutted out about four inches behind his heels. I kept watching as he disappeared into a second room of the café, peering after him in some wonderment: was that a pistol tucked so nonchalantly in his back pocket? Ah, Utah!

The next morning, we rose at 5:30,

Loneliest Road, morning

as we had the rest of one state and the whole of another to cross in time to drop off the rental car by 4:00 p.m. After a two hour+ drive we hoped to find breakfast in Ely, Nevada, but other than an all-night restaurant in a Casino on the edge of town, everything was shuttered and boarded up. Sad, and I don’t mean because we were yearning for a good cup of coffee and some eggs. We pushed on to Eureka, where we found the Pony Expresso Café,

Coffee! Eggs!

run by three Amish women, and sporting a chalk board full of delectables. We tried to think who might want a whole antelope

Specials Board, Pony Expresso Deli

, but were unable to come up with a worthy candidate.

Another pause in Fallon for a bit more caffeine at the Fine Grind—an amazing find in this land of really bad brewed coffee.  We just missed an open mic but we were invited to come back and play any time. And on the TV, playing as I waited for black tea to steep, another dragon reference.

Another Dragon Reference — growing precious as we approach the end of the water dragon tour.

After all that we managed to land in Reno with an hour to spare. Tracy—who after hosting us in Rio Rico, visited the Grand Canyon with her son, Nico, before heading to Squaw Valley to help out with Mother and the writers conference—met us, and somehow managed to add a few bags from Trader Joe’s, full of supplies for Hall & McKaig’s penultimate concert in Squaw Valley, to the load of guitars and suitcases we transferred out of our fine Rogue. Adios, Rogue!

First thing Maggie transferred to Tracy’s car was Hestia, facing her forward to lead us on our way from Reno to Truckee. But little by little, the dragon swiveled around, as if she needed to make sure we were still there, or maybe just to keep an eye on us.

Hestia, one of the original Olympian gods, is the goddess of the hearth—of home. She was swallowed by her father, Cronos, and saved by her brother, Zeus. She’s quite different from the other ladies up there on that Greek mythological mountain: the virgins, Artemis the huntress and  wise Athena, who sprang fully formed—and armed—out of Zeus’s  forehead; different, too, from Aphrodite, the goddess of lusty love; or Hera, the mean-spirited and often jealous wife; or Demeter, the mother-god.  As the power on Mount Olympus shifted focus, Hestia was demoted. She disappeared out of the 12 that reign up there in the clouds; she was replaced, curiously, by the androgynous Dionysus, who is accompanied by all those female maenads “raving ones”). An intriguing reflection of the place or importance of hearth, perhaps. A reflection, too, of the rise of the patriarchy so intriguingly unfolded in Aeschylus’s great trilogy, The Oresteia (another post, another day).  In any case, for us, Hestia, and a sense of hearth and home, is with us the whole time.

Speaking of hearth and home: The next concert, and the next-to-last, is in the house where my sisters and I grew up, in Squaw Valley. Brett, in spite of working hard to get this summer’s Community of Writers up and running, managed to contact many old family friends. Tracy, Nico, and Ola created a lovely little stage, and we had a marvelous crowd on what has been dubbed the “party deck” of the Squaw Valley house.

Part Deck, before the music

I’d purchased little feathered “fascinators” in Silverton, blue for Maggie, red for me, and we pinned these in our hair and played two wonderful sets.

“As the Mountains Cry”

“Dancin’ Through the Heavens”


At the beginning of our concert, Hestia was on the table along with our tuners and capos, but then she somehow made it over to where my mother and sisters and dear Aunt Joan were sitting. There she is, on top of the wine bottle.

Hestia on the wine bottle


I’m afraid I wasn’t very proactive in making tips a part of our tour—lesson learned. But now and again we did put a basket out, and split the proceeds. For me, the dollars will be put towards getting into the studio with some of the arrangements Maggie and I’ve developed over these magnificent weeks together, and creating a CD.

Our dear friend Diane Fetterly has offered to host our last concert in her beautiful garden. It will be a perfect way to complete this journey.  Join us if you can!


Posted in The Great Water Dragons Southwest Tour | 11 Comments

Grand Junction Moons

Before leaving Carbondale, we headed down to the campus of Colorado Rocky Mountain School and walked around a bit, with lots of pointing and gesticulating and exclaiming (Maggie was a tremendous good sport through all the endless reminiscing).

Walking (and pointing and gesticulating) down memory lane: The Barn, CRMS

To our delight (it was Sunday) we found an unlocked door along one side of  the familiar Barn, and in that way broke into the library,

which along with a number of classrooms occupy the exterior rooms; the middle is reserved, as it always has been, for stage productions and, Monday-Friday, Morning Meeting, established by the founders, Anne and John Holden,

John & Anne Holden, Founders of CRMS

as a Quaker style time to air community issues. Cushioned chairs on risers have replaced the wooden pews in what in my memory was a vast room. My sophomore year, I sneaked across campus in the middle of the night to join a few other friends in that room. Joan Baez had just released Joan Baez/5; we turned the stereo up to 10 and lay on those pews as out of the speakers mounted high on the Barn’s walls that soaring voice warned us that “There But For Fortune” go you and I. I wasn’t much of a rule-breaker, and if we’d been discovered we’d have been at least reprimanded if not expelled, which thrill contributed to making the experience all the more exquisite.

Memory also placed Jewelry Making in a different building; the Chicken Coop, where I studied Spanish, has been replaced by a dorm; the student lounge, where on Monday nights I took Folk Music as an evening activity,  and where I made my first painstaking efforts to learn Travis Fingerpicking, is now fronted by a mural of Mesa Verde’s cliff dwellings.

With Swin (Sarah Swinerton) in front of what was once the Student Lounge

The dining room looks similar, although now the school grows all its own vegetables and even raises its own pigs and cows—attending their slaughter is a learning experience one can have.  Thank goodness Lee Ann was with us, as she is a repository of knowledge of how the campus has shifted and changed and grown over the last four decades.

Sarah Swinerton and I had to take a look at the Old Girls Dorm, where, as Freshmen, we were assigned to each other as roommates.  The Old Girls Dorm is not intended to imply that the older girls live there, although Swin and I had a good laugh about that; rather, in the early days of CRMS there was once only one girls’ dorm, but when a second one was built, and dubbed the New Girls Dorm, the other dorm received its moniker.  All that said, Swin and I, aware that we were the only freshmen in the Old Girls Dorm, felt not only lucky, but very significant.

Dorm Room & Window

The dorm is under considerable renovation but we found our room, although the beds were neither bunk nor fixed when we inhabited it. The purpose of the lower level of the bunks appears to be desks of sorts. Late at night I used to help Swin out that window, and she would scurry along the River Path to the Old Boys Dorm to visit her boyfriend, Harry.

Cherished Mt Sopris is visible from everywhere on campus.


We visited the old stables, too, now in ruins.

Stables, CRMS

I rented a horse from the school my first year, earning the privilege by scooping ice cream. Simmy, his name was, a Tennessee Walker. We had many adventures, including magnificent rides high on Red Bluff, above campus, but that year with him also taught me just how much work goes into owning a horse, and that childhood dream faded away.

Red Bluff

After hugs and goodbyes

Goodbye to LeeAnn

we headed to Grand Junction. Our next concert, and the final one in the Southwest states, would be held in the patio of Amanda Bailey’s house. Amanda is the sister of Tracy’s ex-husband, David, who is the father of the handsome Justin, Nico, and Emma.

Justin Bailey and girlfriend, Danielle, Amanda’s Patio

We arrived as Amanda was playing music with a band she’d created, called Big Daddy and the Orphans. (“We all take turns being Big Daddy,” Amanda told us.)

Big Daddy and the Orphans rehearse
Amanda Bailey’s patio

Amanda, who has a huge and vibrant voice, plays guitar.

Amanda Bailey, trying out Maggie’s travel guitar

Other musicians contribute violin, mandolin and upright bass.  Lovely to sit there under a ramada listening and even playing with them as they rehearsed.

Around 7:00 audience began to arrive, and arrayed themselves around Amanda’s beautiful patio.  We started with “Rustler’s Moon,” and as I talked a bit about the genesis of the song, a woman named Melody said, “Oh, I love songs about the moon!”

And as we played through our two sets, we realized that many of our tunes have some mention—explicit or implied—of our lunar orb:

In addition to a mention in both title and chorus, the first line of “Rustler’s Moon” is “the moon’s a pale sliver in the dark night sky.”

“When the Mountains Cry” has a “bloody moon.”

“We Heard the Owls” asks that love run “out of the shadow and into the light.”

In “South Coast the Wild Coast” a young wife lies “dead in the moonlight.”

“The Stars Fell Down” begins with the line, “I met you on the new moon.”

In “Dancin’ Through the Heavens” the “moon wore shrouds”

And that’s just our first set.

Sands, Amanda’s concert

As the darkness crept in and a not-quite-thin-enough-to-be-a- rustler’s moon floated up into the sky, we kept singing about moons, including “Night Rider’s Lament,” where it shows up  “as bright as a reading lamp.”

Maggie, Amanda concert

And as Maggie said about her beautiful tune, “When the Sun Goes Down in the Sky,” the lyrics pretty much imply that as the sun goes down, the moon is soon to come on up.

Amanda Bailey concert

Amanda’s house is filled with the most marvelous collections of everything: Elvis paraphernalia, fruit box signs, miniature musical instruments. In addition to an excellent bottle of Petite Syrah from the Nevada City Winery, I brought her a little stone heart as a thank you-present, and she exclaimed, “It can join the Sea of Hearts!” and so it did.

Sea of Hearts

Now: across the desert states, to Squaw Valley, and a concert on the deck of the house in which I grew up.

Posted in The Great Water Dragons Southwest Tour | 2 Comments

Durango to Carbondale

That midnight scramble up the mesa might have seemed like a dream, save for those dusty boots and a white skirt with a filthy hem to tell the tale.

Dusty boots

After a bit of clean up, we resolutely set off for our next concert, in Carbondale, but almost immediately veered over to take in a thrift store, next to which was the Wild Carrot.

Menu, The Wild Carrot, Durango

We admired the inventive options and had some breakfast before heading up Highway 550, which traverses even more spectacular scenery.

Molas Pass, 10910 feet above sea level

Whenever I drive these steep and amazing roads I am stunned by the ingenuity, the ambition, and above all the greed that drove men to push so deeply into these inaccessible wildernesses. Ghost towns and abandoned mines abound, to be sure. But many of the towns named after what was being extracted from the ground around and beneath thme still remain: Leadville, Silverton, Carbondale.

Our trusty steed, Rogue, waiting for us while we take in the view at Molas Pass.

Down, down down, we curved, into Silverton. I sat in the car to make a call to our next host and Maggie ducked into a few stores. “Sands!” I heard, and looked up. There she was, standing in the doorway of a shop, holding up a beautiful long, brown skirt—with sparkles. We prowled the store for a while, hoping to add to our stash of skirts, but nothing quite worked. Just as well!

Red Truck, Silverton

So out we set again, over what’s known as The Million Dollar Highway, into Ouray (this must translate to billions of dollars today). Carved deep into the side of mountains, the road is at times only barely two lanes wide. A mountain rises steeply above you as you drive, and just as steeply plunges away, hundreds of feet down. I am always grateful on this drive, spectacular though it is, when I am heading north, as that direction, the car hugs the mountain. Going south, that precipice is directly below your car’s right bumper.

Dana managed to not only host a concert in Durango but clean up and somehow – it was that pause for skirt-hunting in Silverton – get ahead of us to Ridgeway, on the other side of Ouray. We met her there, and in her camper she roared up the road ahead of us, leading us to the cabin she is building. It’s a simple, efficient, lovely design: 32’ square, with spectacular views.

View from Dana’s a-building house. Designed so the windows will be just about that wide, to take in that vista, uninterrupted.

Before leaving Ridgeway

Maggie says goodbye to Osa.

we ducked into another thrift store (ostensibly, Maggie’s on the prowl for instruments for Luke, but somehow we keep finding cool additions to our wardrobes). We also stopped in the charming store Animas, where Maggie purchased a little metal dragon for me.

We set her on the dashboard, facing forward. Her head waggles. When we take a curve she might fall over, and sometimes even slide off on to the floor, but she is quickly set back again, leading us on our way.


Our next concert would be in the home of Lee Ann Eustis. Lee Ann’s husband, George, was my high school biology teacher when – years and years and years ago — I attended Colorado Rocky Mountain School. Ever since, Lee Ann (George too, but he died years ago, and far too young) has been a beloved personage in my life, not seen nearly often enough. When I do see her, it’s usually in the company of Sarah Swinerton,

Sands & Sarah, Bar Fork, CRMS

who was my first roommate at CRMS; we’ve known each other since we were both 14, which means that she, too, is a water dragon. Swin, as she is known, lives in Woodside, California. She had hoped to attend one of our concerts—she and Maggie have met a few times—but her schedule just wouldn’t allow the time. Excited as I was to see Lee Ann and the other friends from my years at CRMS  who would attend the Carbondale concert, I had to overcome a vague disappointment that Swin would not be there too.

Visible from every angle of the acres that comprise the campus of the Colorado Rocky Mountain School are the beautiful flanks and summit of Mt Sopris.

Mt Sopris, dusk

It’s not only a cherished silhouette; it’s an iconic one, and a hundred memories of my early teenage years swirled around me as we approached its magnificent profile, and as we drove through the town of Carbondale, passing, at a distance, CRMS’s Barn,

another iconic silhouette. The Barn holds the classrooms in which I first fell in love with Shakespeare, thanks to Wells Kerr, and grabbed a first tentative understanding of the powers of point of view from Susan Cheever.

We turned into the hills above Carbondale, passing acres of pasture, fat cattle and sleek horses, and pulled into Lee Ann’s familiar dusty driveway—not long after my brother fell from a bridge in Upstate New York and experienced an horrific head injury I’d come here to lick wounds (my purpose seemingly to help with a production of Fiddler on the Roofthat CRMS was mounting that year). LeeAnn’s husband, George, had just died, and the two of us did our best to help each other through a crisis of the deepest grief.

Lee Ann Eustis

We’d been out of cell phone range for over an hour – first time that’s happened this whole journey, where we’ve been able to Google information about, say, saguaros or the settlement of Tucson or the whereabouts of a wildfire or the best restaurants according to Yelp – and I felt terrible that I’d not been able to tell Lee Ann that we were running late. When we did get cell reception I gave a call, but her machine picked up. I knew she had a dinner to attend and that the door would be open and that she’d leave a note about where we’d sleep, and when she’d be back.

We pulled up in front of the lovely home and carried a few things to the front door. I knocked, then pushed it open. “Hello?” I called, in case she might be there. I walked in, and looked in vain for a piece of paper on which a few loving words might have been written. “There’s no note,” I said, troubled.

“I am the note.” The voice behind me was full of laughter.

I turned, and there was Swin, arms held out, standing on the stairs that come to the living room. She laughed at the look on my face. “Happy birthday!” she said.

She’d flown to Denver from San Francisco, where she’d rented a car, and driven all the way to Carbondale to join us.

Swin at the Log Cabin

After a lot of laughter and exclamation we took a look at the beautiful room in which we’d have the concert — Sopris would be visible to our audience, behind us. And then we went for dinner.

“Swin,” I said, as we sipped our glasses of wine. “We’re in Carbondale! First time since we were 14!”

That concert—held over brunch—was intimate and delightful.

Lee Ann’s living room, setting up for the concert

Afterwards those who attended sat and talked for hours, spinning a thousand stories and memories of our time at CRMS. Late the afternoon, after bidding them adieu, we all napped a bit.

Later, carrying a basket of cheese and wine, we hiked up to a log cabin built high on the property, where we sat and laughed and spoke of the curving roads and places that life keeps taking us, while reveling in the lofty loveliness of Mt. Sopris.

Sopris, View from the Old Girls’ Dorm

Posted in The Great Water Dragons Southwest Tour | 2 Comments

Durango Skirts

Dana prepares.

Dana not only created an enticing concert hall and stage

Rug and Chairs: our Durango stage

out of her multi-stepped back yard, but provided a turkey, cold cuts and crudité, fresh baguettes and wonderful cheeses, and plenteous beverages.                                                                                   Guests  began to arrive at 7:00, as the beautiful day segued into an evening that sustained a lingering warmth.

A lovely, generous, vivacious scene. O Joy Divine of Friends.


Break between sets

Maggie and I have found a rhythm and tempo together, and not only inside the music (which is its own huge satisfaction), but also in the segues between songs, stories, anecdotes.


Many of the audiences on this tour have never experienced a house concert, and there is something in the intimacy—the proximity of the performers —that to some can seem a bit intimidating.  Yet we notice with pleasure that a number of those who hang back in the first set return after the break and draw their chairs close.And so it was in Durango.

Maggie’s lovely tune, “When the Sun Goes Down in the Sky”

As night fell, someone placed a kerosene lantern between us; a few minutes later others were added.

Such magic lies in the weaving of word and music and the attentive listener. Many have commented on it as we’ve played.

Long after the concert ended, guests lingered. About 1:00 a.m., after we’d bid everyone adieu and done a bit of cleanup, Dana said, “Let’s walk the dogs.” She, her good friend Betsy, who’d been helping all day, Maggie and I set out for what we thought might be a brief sail around the block with Oso, Black, Sochi, and Betsy’s dog, Sassy.  But Dana led us up the mesa behind her house, on a path lit by only by distant twinkling stars and the flashlight that she held with one hand against the small of her back (she didn’t appear to need a light to find her way). Up and up we scrambled—Maggie in flip-flops, I in heeled cowboy boots, both of us in the long skirts we’d donned for the concert. Betsy, at one point walking behind us, said she felt she’d been transported back 100 years, watching us stride up a mountain in those skirts and thinking about all that women managed to accomplish while wearing them. I felt it too, under those glimmering stars: connected to women who over the centuries may have felt (and do feel) encumbered by all that fabric swishing around their legs, but empowered by it, too.

Again my sleeping quarters were Dana’s fabulous camper.

Interior, Dana’s Camper







There are no photographs of that scramble up and down the dirt and scree, but this one, taken the next morning, tells a bit of the tale.

Evidence of the midnight hike

Next: Carbondale.

Posted in The Great Water Dragons Southwest Tour | 3 Comments