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Memory also placed Jewelry Making in a different building; the Chicken Coop, where I studied Spanish, has been replaced by a dorm; the student lounge, where on Monday nights I took Folk Music as an evening activity,  and where I made my first painstaking efforts to learn Travis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

I’m reposting as I heard from a few of view that you couldn’t access it and/or respond to it. Thanks for following!


Breakfast at Michael’s in Taos—eggs over easy with corn tortillas and avocado and salsa; is there anything better? At a table next to ours sat two men just finishing breakfast. One florid-faced and husky, wearing overalls; the other slim, quiet, blue eyes. Weathered faces—they could have been 48 or 53 or 62.  As we chatted we realized it was their loaded-up Harley Davidsons parked just outside the café windows. They, too, were on a roadtrip. The day before they’d ridden 680 miles from Kansas City to Taos, setting up camp just as to started to rain, and that day were planning to reach Flagstaff, ultimately heading  to Washington State. Such sojourns, which have taken them everywhere in North America,  are once-a-year events, done because they are friends.

The four of us all grinned at one another; around us hovering the beauty of friendship. After one brief acknowledgment of its presence…

View original post 1,251 more words

Posted in words words words | Leave a comment

Durango Porch Concertito

Breakfast at Michael’s in Taos—eggs over easy with corn tortillas and avocado and salsa; is there anything better? At a table next to ours sat two men just finishing breakfast. One florid-faced and husky, wearing overalls; the other slim, quiet, blue eyes. Weathered faces—they could have been 48 or 53 or 62.  As we chatted we realized it was their loaded-up Harley Davidsons parked just outside the café windows. They, too, were on a roadtrip. The day before they’d ridden 680 miles from Kansas City to Taos, setting up camp just as to started to rain, and that day were planning to reach Flagstaff, ultimately heading  to Washington State. Such sojourns, which have taken them everywhere in North America,  are once-a-year events, done because they are friends.

The four of us all grinned at one another; around us hovering the beauty of friendship. After one brief acknowledgment of its presence in our lives and in that particular day, we didn’t speak of it aloud (I chose not to exclaim, as I could have, O Joy Divine of Friends!). But it glittered and gleamed between us, this precious bond that unites Bob & Ned and Maggie & Sands.

Maggie, Ned, and Bob, outside Michael’s Cafe in Taos

We headed outside, took some pictures next to their bikes, and shared hugs all around, before bidding each other a heartfelt and curiously difficult goodbye.

Bob, Sands, Ned: It  glittered and gleamed between us, this precious bond that unites Bob & Ned and Maggie & Sands.

Maggie and I walked a labyrinth next to a Protestant church designed to look like a Mission,

Then headed back to the Taos Inn to check out and fetch our instruments.


Route 64 West may be one of the most beautiful stretches I’ve ever traveled. Heading out from Taos, it bears straight across a vast plain that’s surrounded by mountains, including a bridge over the Rio Grande.

RIo Grande, looking South from the Bridge

Slicing deep into the Taos plains, it’s a gorgeous cleft in the earth that must have flummoxed early travelers.

Rio Grande, looking North

As the road began to undulate upward, we came upon EarthshipsThe fantastical natures of these buildings is hard to describe—and even hard to photograph.

Visitor Center: Earthships

They are built as much as possible from garbage: a major building material is used tires—you can see them there to the right of the building. Tin cans and glass bottles placed honey-comb fashion in cement create walls. Broken bottles and pieces of glass provide both glitter and light. The houses—and there are dozens, designed by architect/visionary Michael Reynolds—stretch across this part of the Taos plain. Half-buried in the ground, their huge front windows, which all face South,


allow tomatoes, chard, and even a banana plant to flourish. Grey water waters those plants. Black water is used on hardy/decorative outdoor plants. Our young guide told us to watch Garbage Warrior, available on YouTube and Netflix.

We continued on through Cruces National Forest, where the road took us through the expected trees but also gorgeous, unoccupied pastoral stretches of grass and water.  We did pass one pretty weird gateway—we actually turned around and went back to confirm that we’d actually seen what we thought we’d seen.

Strange fruit

Through Rogue’s rolled-down windows we studied the hanged effigy and the lettered signs, before deciding they must be some kind of peculiar joke.

The road climbed and climbed, almost without our knowing it—a little pop of ears now and again letting us know we must be at 5, then 6, then 7000 feet. Suddenly the vista opened and as if we were standing at the top of a horn of cornucopia, we could see deep into Colorado: what spilled out of the vast horn was a landscape full of descending planes and colors, rocks and trees—while far on the horizon loomed a another range of mountains, the San Juans.

We crossed from New Mexico into Colorado; the map told us we were leaping back over the Continental Divide, but if there was a sign commemorating that fact, we didn’t see it.  We paused for tea in Pagosa Springs, and pushed on to Durango.

We arrived as Venus was beginning to transit the sun, and were handed a welder’s mask to take a look at the tiny fleck of black floating across the glowing orb.  Our host, Dana Ivers, was my brother’s first girlfriend, and is like a sister. She is just 5’ but in that tiny body is a huge spirit.  She has sent a lovely invitation around to dozens of friends and there is some serious talk about moving the concert into the street if her backyard won’t hold them all. Dana made us a fine dinner

Dana cooks.

and we ate outside and shared stories about our beloved brother and friend, Tad/Oakley.

Dana prepared a sleeping space for me in her marvelous camper, and Maggie shared a bed with Black and Sochi.

Maggie, Dog-Whisperer, attempts to get space on the bed, and while Sochi will do anything for her, Black is reluctant to budge.

Yesterday Maggie and I indulged in the local hot springs and a much-needed massage.  Back at Dana’s house we practiced a bit,

Maggie & Sands on Dana’s porch
Photo John Thomas

which turned into a concert on her front porch, with her friend John and her visiting son Roddy sitting on steps, and various neighbors stopping by to listen a bit and then move on. These included another John, with daughters Elly and Ila who wore bicycle helmets the size of teacups;

Elly & Ila

and a stoned-looking young man named Ryan who took a long time to get out a single sentence. He’d been called by the sound of acoustic music floating up the street and was charmingly struck dumb by words and lyrics.

“Do you have a trashy love song?” he managed to utter at last.

I was working through some chord changes, and stilled my fingers on the guitar. “Trashy?”

He tilted sightly, and moved a foot to catch himself from going over. “Yeah… it, like… trashes… you know.”

“Sure we do,” I said.

Maggie laughed. “Songs of loss and death and sorrow.  Tons of ‘em.”


“Here’s one,” I said.

“The Dirge,” Maggie said. “One of Sands’s songs. Otherwise known as ‘The Stars Fell Down’.”

“It’s pretty much one chord,” I told Ryan.

He nodded. “Yeah, that’s what I mean, trashy.”

I was excited. “Really? That’s a definition of a trashy song?”

“Sure, you know, one chord, it kind of…. trashes….”

Dana was perched on one step, her friend John on another; Maggie and I on chairs on the porch. For some reason we all knew what he meant.

“OK, I said, dropping the top E string to D, which makes the six strings pretty much one huge open chord. I strummed the diminished D that starts the song. “’The Stars Fell Down’.”

I met you on the new moon

We watched the stars fall down

We kissed and then we harbored

And then you went back home

Those were moments of perfection

There was this yearning to abide

Here Ryan’s whole face contracted, as if he couldn’t fathom this idea—or maybe it was simply that he didn’t understand the lyric.

But the moon it wasn’t full

Or whatever it needed to be

You said, It wasn’t the time.

The song really is pretty much one long celebration of D: for the instrumental break I strum 14 measures of it before briefly going to an A and returning to D.  Maggie took a beautiful, eastern-influenced melancholy and heart-wrenching break. The evening was closing in, darkness finally dropping. Dana’s eyes gleamed. John had his head flung back, resting it against a bit of house siding. Ryan had his feet spread wide, as if he were on a train heading around a long long curve.

And now the moon is at its fullness

It’s a lamp blaring at me from

The fixéd fixéd stars

I miss you

As if I’d lost you

When I never had you at all

But those were moments of perfection

There was this yearning to abide

But the moon it wasn’t right

And it never is going to be

It just wasn’t the time

And it never is going to be

It just wasn’t the time

It just wasn’t

We sat now in the gloaming. “Beautiful,” Dana said.

Ryan stirred and nodded. “Trashy,” he said, happy.

After bidding Ryan goodnight we walked a few blocks into downtown Durango to get some a dinner, which we found at the new and very attractive restaurant El Chimayo.

Dana and son Roddy at El Chimayo

Here’s a version of “The Stars Fell Down” with the astoundingly talented Randy McKean  on alto sax. This was recorded a year ago at Flying Whale Recording. That’s Maggie providing those deep breaths on the accordion.

Posted in The Great Water Dragons Southwest Tour | 5 Comments

Santa Fe & Taos

Our delightful adventure at Sparkeys in Hatch had made us quite late, and we lashed Rogue hard, galloping as fast as we could towards Santa Fe.

Near Albuquerque the sun slowly squatted and then poured out of sight over a western horizon; high in the still-light eastern sky a moon began to glow.

Moon near Albuquerque

Miles later we veered off the freeway  to pull up our skirts and pee, and took in the moon. Not quite but almost  full: a flawed coin, bright and beautiful.

Not a Rustler’s Moon, in other words, which is just a sliver in the sky; described by my friend Dana in Durango as: “Bright enough to see by, but not bright enough to be seen by.”

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

A sickle’s edge that gleams against the sky

It’s a rustler’s moon

And he saddles up his pony

Her hand trembles as she holds the light

Someone’s going to lose something tonight

Our host in Santa Fe, Sharon Ross, had prepared a lovely dinner for us. She and her mother had already eaten, and late though we were, she served up delicious chicken and mashed potatoes which we ate in her living room with a bottle of chardonnay. However, she’d been struggling with some bad news, and the concert we’d hoped to have in her beautiful home would not manifest. In the morning, Maggie and I headed into Santa Fe for whatever adventure the day might bring. We started at the Georgia O’Keefe Museum, and left with affection for the beauty of wrinkles in a woman’s face.

We browsed the jewelry laid out along the portal of the Governor’s Mansion, especially intrigued by guitar picks made out of brass and silver. We’d thought about busking in the plaza but once we saw the little licenses posted in various violin and guitar cases realized that wouldn’t be an option. But one of the fragments of music floating around the square was coming from an accordion, and we made a beeline to his corner of the square.

Of course we know what happened:

Maggie plays Pedro’s accordion at Santa Fe plaza

Pedro was delighted to watch Maggie conquer his huge instrument, and very happy to have his photo taken with us in various configurations.

Sands and Pedro at Santa Fe Plaza

Naturally we had to have lunch at Café Pasquals.

We shared a delicious enchilada mole and a salad and had a beer.

The maitre’d entertained us through lunch. He told a story: When he was 14 he was standing at a bus stop pissed off about everything and at everyone. And then he had a huge epiphany: They were winning. “They were just going about their lives,” he said, “doing what they were doing, and I’d handed them all this power. I decided then and there to adjust the way I was thinking about it. That’s been true ever since. It’s a choice, how we feel about things. It’s a choice we make every moment.”

Sands and Roblair at Cafe Pasquals

I thought I might be meeting the love of the 3rd third of my life, but alas, we discovered he’d “lost his heart to a woman in a green dress.”

I recovered by buying a beautiful white skirt.

Maggie splurged too.

Senoritas lean against the pillars in the square

She can hear his spurs a-janglin as he rides

It’s a rustler’s moon

He’s headed cross the border

She watches ‘til he’s disappeared from sight

Someone’s going to lose something tonight

Our friend Naima had alerted us to an Open Mic at the Adobe Bar, located in the Taos Inn. To our delight it fit perfectly into our schedule. (15 years on, I still recall the bowl of green chile I ate in that  hotel’s restaurant, Doc Martin’s.)

Sharon, Wolfie, Lula

Monday morning, after fond goodbyes, we headed to Taos, stopping to put our feet in the muddy Rio Grande.

Maggie wades into the Rio Grande

Gloomy day. Gray clouds roiling above the vast landscape, promising rain. And rain it did, a relief, after all the hot aridity. We checked into the Taos Inn, landing a corner room with two twin beds above the Paseo de Pueblo Norte.

Beds, Room 121

With rain rattling on the tin roof I read about the history of the Inn: In the 1890s, “Doc” Martin arrived in Taos and “through rain and snow to set bones, break fevers, and deliver babies” (love that parallel construction!) He purchased the house that is now the eponymous restaurant. After he died, his intrepid wife Helen purchased other houses one of which is now the Adobe Bar, and put a fountain where the town well had once been.

Once the town well, now the middle of the Adobe Bar, Taos Inn

It’s been a center for Taos art and culture ever since.

We donned our new skirts and tied up our hair and selected earrings. Footwear? Black boots, of course! Feeling like senoritas, we descended the stairs and ordered a margarita (no sweet and sour mix, please) and split a bowl of the excellent green chili. We kept an eye on the concierge’s desk, as Stacy had told us she’d put out the Open Mic sign-up sheet at 6:30. So we were first amongst those jostling to get at the piece of paper, landing an 8:30 slot. Perfect!

The excellent M.C., Don Conoscenti, got things underway with a lovely version of “Hallelujah,” an odd and even melancholy way to launch us into what promised to be a multifarious evening, but he’s an excellent guitarist, and sings beautifully. We were all entranced.  We heard from various singer-songwriters and a woman sang torch songs acapella—veering into some Ike & Tina tunes. At one point Don Con, as he dubs himself, asked for a poem. I volunteered Maggie—we’ve been including her recitation of Robinson Jeffers’ moving poem “The Beaks of Eagles”  in our set list.

Maggie recites Jeffers’ “Beaks of Eagles”

Shining away, she did a beautiful job in the jostling loud bar of making them listen.

Just before Hall & McKaig hit the stage,  a wizard on the electric guitar performed,  channeling the screaming guitar riffs of Led Zeppelin and the vocals of Janis Joplin. After about 20 minutes of this—and he went on for 30—Maggie and I wanted to cup our hands over our ears, but the crowd in the bar loved it. It was quite an act to follow, although I forbore from saying so. Out we stepped, we two senoritas, and as Don Con rustled around us, setting up our vocal and guitar mics, the people in the bar quieted and focused. We started with “Leaning into Loneliness,” which received a gratifying round of applause, followed by “Night Rider’s Lament.” We’ve worked hard on the yodels that end the song—Maggie rising to a most satisfying 3rd above me as we finish—and there were loud catcalls and whoops as we finished.

“Rustler’s Moon” was next, and I started with the little story about Dana describing what a rustler’s moon is—”bright enough to see by, not bright enough to be seen by…”

The idea that it might be a perfect metaphor for clandestine love caused the crowd in the  Adobe Bar to nod and laugh. “A few years later I had an opportunity to experience such a thing,” I said, to more laughter, “and the phrase and the idea came circling back to me.” I plucked the G chord that starts the tune.

Maggie’s on the accordion, and sings an evocative harmony under the melody in the second verse, and through the bridge:

It’s a rustler’s moon

It was a rustler’s moon

That night she wore red ribbons in her hair

And she knew where he should be

But she had him on his knees

Now it’s her turn to rail at the moon

He’s riding off again

Beneath a rustler’s moon

As Maggie took her accordion break I watched the crowd watch her—heads cocked to one side or the other, eyes dreamy, smiling with pleasure, and with recognition:

He splashes cross the river down near Smithy’s Ford

She holds his shirt and stares into the dark

It’s a rustler’s moon

And he gallops towards his bounty

She’d rather lose him in a dagger fight

Someone’s going to lose something tonight

We did one more song, “South Coast the Wild Coast,” and after a gratifying amount of applause, hoots, whistles and catcalls said thanks and good night. We stuffed instruments into cases, carried them to our room, and returned to lift a celebratory dram of scotch.

Sands & Maggie toast a great set.

Onward to Durango!

Posted in The Great Water Dragons Southwest Tour | 8 Comments

Saguaros, Chiliburgers, and Rains of Gold

Several years ago, when my parents still lived in their beautiful Macondray Lane flat, my father and a man named Paul Robinson, who was visiting from Tucson, struck up a conversation. The marvelous upshot of that chat on a street in San Francisco was an agreement to rent the flat to Paul and his wife Leslie while Dad and Mother summered in Squaw Valley. Every June Dad mailed Paul the key to the apartment; at the end of July Paul dropped it back through the mail slot for the Ps to pick up on their return.

When Dad’s health began to falter, and the Parents moved to be closer to family in Nevada City, I picked up the rental arrangements, and came to look forward to my annual phone call from Paul.  He and Leslie loved the Lane—they called it their Shangri La. Even after Leslie passed away, of cancer, Paul has continued to make his annual pilgrimage to Macondray Lane.

Two summers ago, Paul and I realized I’d be in the City while he was—I would be recording a few of my tunes in a friend’s studio—and he was just as charming across a café table as he was over the phone. Paul took an active interest in my music, and in a “nothing-ventured” gamble, as I began to arrange this Water Dragon tour, I asked if he might be willing to host a house concert. To my delight, even though he’d never done anything of the kind before, he was game.

With the help of Mrs. Snow, Maggie and I found our way to Paul’s house and met his lovely new sweetheart, Lucette Barber, and his son Keith, a poet. We determined a configuration of the furniture for the gratifyingly large number of people who’d responded to his invitation for what he’d dubbed the “Sands & Maggie Show.” We headed out to a delicious dinner at the delightful La Cocina, and after a margarita and fish tacos followed Luce back to her house, where we were to sleep.

Fanny in the guitar case

What a house! We felt as if we’d landed in our own Shangri La. Lovely works of art abound, and there is a cat named Fanny and a rescued greyhound named Carter.

Carter finishes romping

We were already fairly charmed by our lovely hostess, but Luce cinched our affections when we asked her what on earth those strange and lovely things were on the table.

artichokes salvaged from the compost pile

“Well, a friend gave me some artichokes,” she said, “but I didn’t cook them quite soon enough and they were looking a little old, so I put them in the compost. A few days later I went to add some coffee grounds to the bucket, and there they were, looking just like that. I had to pull them out—they were so beautiful.”

We sat up for awhile with a glass of wine, sharing stories and laughter.  In the morning, Luce, responding to our desire to get a closer look at the Saguaros, took us to Sabino Canyon, where grow thousands of the tall, multi-armed cacti we’d seen only fleetingly through Rogue’s windows as we sped towards Rio Rico.

Sabino Canyon

We were just in time to catch the tram that wends its way up the canyon, passing through what is essentially forests of Saguaros.

The tram’s driver told us that Saguaros are capable of living for hundreds of years.


They don’t sprout their first “arm” until they are 65.  In the rainy season, they can soak up enough moisture to endure four years of drought.


So as Paul and Keith, back in their living room, moved couches and set up chairs and put out cheese and wine, Luce and Maggie and I twisted and turned in our tram seats, peering this way and that, trying to take in the beautiful canyon.

One can hop off the tram at any time. About halfway back down we did that, wanting to get closer not only to Saguaros but to some of the other fascinating plants of the region. Such as prickly pear, the staghorn cactus and the Yucca, also called century plant as it blooms so rarely.


Tucson suffered its hottest day on record that day, and even though it was just 11:00 a.m.  we were practically prostate with heat stroke by the time we sank into chairs in the air-conditioned visitor’s center.

On our return from Sabino Canyon Maggie jumped in the pool and we had a bit of lunch, after which we set up in Luce’s kitchen and worked on our music for a few hours before heading to Paul’s. The living room had been transformed into a veritable concert hall, and at 7:00 the doorbell started to ring. The space was soon filled with a generous crowd that responded beautifully to our music. While we all had cameras, we forgot to take pictures. However, Keith videotaped both sets, and I’ll see if I can wrap my head around editing a bit of it to post. It was a fabulous night.

Saturday morning, after a final cup of coffee with Luce


and breakfast with Paul

we said our reluctant goodbyes.

Luce, Paul, Maggie

We had a long day ahead of us—it would be at least an eight-hour drive to Santa Fe. Before we left Rio Rico, we’d looked in Tracy’s bookshelves for a book we could borrow and read aloud as we drove, and settled on Villasenor’s Rain of Gold, which I’d never read, though Maggie had—she adapted a portion of it, one of many plays-with-music she’s written over the years, and it was performed at the Marsh Theatre in 2005.

Rain of Gold cover

The book had come up in conversation during our walk along the Fence, and it seemed a perfect choice for the long arid drive that would take us through landscape that is just as Mexican as it is American.  With great Books-on-Tape flourish, Maggie launched us into the story. I was absolutely enthralled—the hours soared by.

Tracy had encouraged us to be sure to stop for a green chiliburder in Hatch, New Mexico, the “Chili Capitol of the World” and we set our sights on that as a good resting spot for a late lunch. As we neared Hatch, Maggie browsed her Droid (we are constantly amazed at the reception available in the most uninhabited of places) for the name of a place to have that chiliburger. Sparkys Barbecue came right up.

“Hmm,” Maggie said. “Cool. Looks like they have music there.” She clicked around on her phone for a while. “Sands.” Her voice was full of laughter. “They have an open mic. Saturdays, between 1:00 and 4:00.”

We both looked at the car’s clock: 2:57.

’Leaning Into Loneliness,’ Maggie said.

I nodded. “And ‘Rustler’s Moon.’ And ‘Night Rider’s Lament’.”

But the stage was empty, and a final band just packing up when we arrived. It was not 3:00 but 4:00—we’d forgotten the time shift at the New Mexico border. A bit glum, we ordered our chiliburger, and Maggie, on her way back from the bathroom, veered over to talk to the men around the stage. In seconds I could see that she’d told them of the grand coincidence of an Open Mic and Rogue full of instruments. She came to the table beaming. “They want us to play.”

Jerry and the owner of Sparkey’s, Teako, set us up with vocal and instrument mics, although there were so few people that even in the big room we probably could have done an acoustic set. On either side of the stage little colored lights strobed away, lighting us in blue and red and yellow and green.

And we did, grinning like maniacs as Maggie played the bluesy riff that launches us into “Leaning Into Loneliness”:

Leanin’ into loneliness

With my elbows on the bar

Sipping from a shot glass

Wondering where you are

As we sang, people filtered in from outside, and from the other part of the restaurant.  Maggie does such a great job on “Night Rider’s Lament,” and out here in the Southwest “Rustler’s Moon” is a special pleasure to sing.  Our tiny crowd begged for one more and after a brief conference, Maggie and I decided on “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

I tend to push the rhythm on this as we get into the wild instrumental break, and Maggie and I kept are eyes locked, hers alight with a joy that I’m sure also radiated from mine, and we lashed on through on tempo and in rhythm, turning back to our mics for the final chorus and the high emphatic harmonies that end the song:

Cause we’re dancing through the heavens

Swinging through the stars

Holding onto moonbeams

Loving you that’s how things are

Empty stage, and instruments, Sparkey’s Barbecue

Teako offered us a new chiliburger, as ours had gotten cold, as well as anything else we might like to eat or drink—on the house.  He wanted to know if we culd play next Wednesday, or any other time, when were we passing through again? We had to say our route wouldn’t bring us back, not this year, anyway. He sat with us as we ate, describing his love of music, and how what had just happened—traveling musicians showing up to play a set—was exactly his dream.  Teako is clearly a lovely soul and Sparkey’s a terrific family-run operation. If you are ever even close to Hatch, New Mexico, we can’t encourage you strongly enough to stop by for some delicious food and great music.

Sands, the Colonel, and Maggie, outside Sparkeys

All of this had made us quite late—especially as we’d misjudged that extra hour. Around 5:30 we clambered back into Rogue and galloped towards Santa Fe. Uuntil the setting sun made reading impossible, a few more chapters of Rain of Gold helped the miles fly by.

Speaking of Rains of Gold: Our short set, in front of our little audience, garnered us $12 in tips.

Tip Basket

Posted in The Great Water Dragons Southwest Tour | 1 Comment