Stored next to the piano is a growing collection of stuff: sleeping bag, the case of wine promised my sister for the first concert (3 nights away), assorted presents for our hosts, copies of my novel Catching Heaven to put out for sale beside Maggie’s CDs, nuts and raisins and TJ tips teabags, a shoebox full of maps and reservations, a flask with a bit of whiskey, guitar and mandolin stands…
It’s been a busy few days—drip systems needing attention, the Iowa Summer Writing Festival, where I’ll teach in July, needing material, and two screenwriters interested in the tale of my brother in town to interview the family. I hosted a big dinner last night for all, serving pasta putanesca—always a huge hit, the best kind of comfort food—and a salad that included greens from my own garden. The pleasure of picking those leaves is visceral.
I also made a dense chocolate cake. Last night would have been my brother’s 62nd birthday. We sang to him before nephew Dashiell cut us slices, served with vanilla ice cream.
Many stories and much laughter later, and after getting the screenwriters to help me pull the table apart so I could lift out the heavy leaves that allow 10 to sit comfortably, everyone headed home. A great night, although all that cooking means I didn’t practice the mandolin tremolo as much as I could have. But what’s a long car ride for?
Maggie and Beaucoup Chapeaux have a stack of gigs over the weekend—how she keeps all those disparate tunes in her head is miraculous—including a wedding this afternoon during which they’ll parade the streets of Nevada City. She’ll drop her luggage and guitars as she heads to that gig; I’ll pack the car and pick her up when she’s done and tonight we’ll head as far Squaw Valley, where my family has a house. In the morning, nephew Hunter will drive us to pick up the rental car in Reno, and out Highway 95 we’ll head, through Sparks to Fallon, then dipping south…
It’s not the most lovely drive in the world—395 is prettier—but I’ve come to love these sere, desolate landscapes that are so peculiarly Western. Over the decades I’ve driven dozens of times to Colorado, to New Mexico, to Iowa, and certainly back and forth to L.A. But it was setting out at dawn for Boise, Idaho, for a production of my play Fair Use a few years ago that I first became aware of how much the vast dun stretches that comprise the West move me. Having the music of Dougie MacLean swirling through the car as I drove into the dawn certainly helped the romance of it. But even at high noon, on a hot summer day, pulled over to take in the endless reaches of inhospitable land, listening to the faintest of breezes rustling dried stalks of scattered desert bush, I realized I loved it.
Although I wouldn’t want to live there. Driving past a lone house, or a scattered group of trailers makes me wonder, who chooses this life? Is it inertia that keeps one staying on and on in the undulating sage-and-brown landscape, with little but tumbleweed for company? Or is the beauty I glimpse, shooting by at 75 mph, something the denizens cherish: do they step out at dawn and raise their arms to gratefully stretch into the surrounding vastness?
There’s also that itch of delight that arrives at the start of any long drive, that sense of starting an odyssey. And the Hall & McKaig Water Dragon tour is such an odyssey. If all goes well, tomorrow evening we’ll be in Henderson, Nevada, just beyond Los Vegas. We’ll leave a lot of “stuff” in the car, but instruments and suitcases will come in with us. Both of us think as far as clothes go we can pack pretty lightly, but each of us is bringing a bag full of footwear. We want options! Cowboy boots. High heels. Sandals. Something to hike in. Something to dance in. What if an offer of tennis comes our way? Who knows where our travels will take us, and where we’ll be stepping out?