Travels with MaryE

Most things I love best are about good light and good timing. That's where the adventures start. Don't be in no hurry here. Here you'll find a little bit about bluegrass music, fox hunting, life on the road, time on the mountain, and a whole lot about other things, too.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Small coinkydinks

A fox has his day in the sun...and the last laugh, too. He refused to pose.

Any of you out there like me? I don't believe in coinkydinks. No sir. There's no such animal as a coincidence. Just ask me; it's all part of the plan. Paths cross for a reason.

Yesterday I picked up about a week and a half's mail at the local post office (it's a long ride on a mule but I ain't got a mule so I had to drive my Toyota down there). Mind it's like 100 degrees yesterday even way up here on the mountain. I get down to the intersection where there's the postage stamp-sized post office, a small service station and a tiny market and as always there's a collection of pickup trucks in various states of dilapidation parked outside, skew, askew, and however in relation to the narrow 2 lane road that leads on up the hill. But one big red truck gleams, casting all others in shadow. And on the front of that manly truck is a big ole...snowplow! Can you imagine seeing a snowplow hooked up to a pickup on a day when it's 100 degrees in the mountains? So I figured out who the "culprit" probably was and walkly in and casually called over to him, "They callin' fer snow to-night?" and that brought a bit of a roar. John's a good ole fella so I figured he could handle the grief all right.

The mail includes two packets from the UK (my thoughts kept turning to the UK several times yesterday.) Hmm. Coinkydink? I think not. There's a CD from my singer/songwriter buddy Mark Evans whom I met at Sore Fingers last year -- he's put out a CD called, "I Crawl Out," and it's a dandy, too. I was reading the liner notes and....there's my name, thanking me for giving him the song. Well, I did not. But it was probably meant to be (and I'm sure proud to see my name on his CD). But I did NOT deserve it. See I was writing about a songwriting class he and 20 others were taking with Nashville songwriter Darrell Scott and there was this bit in the beginning where everyone had to go around the room and tell their "story" so to speak - you know, a kind of "getting-to-know-you" sort of exercise. And most of these folks were a little sort of touchy-feely, talking about their muse and (oh my God!) emotions and things that few of the Brits I've ever met would dare even think about in the privacy of their own caves, let alone reveal to a roomful of other living souls! Pretty amazing. So folks are telling their names and all this good stuff and maybe a bit about particular songwriting interests or bents. And toward the end of it there's this very sort of dark cloudy quiet guy who speaks very softly and doesn't really make eye contact and he starts telling about how there was a time some years ago when he actually went out and did an open-stagey kind of thing for songwriters and some media person really liked what he did and wrote him up large in the paper....and how he got kind of scared and "crawled back in" to his hole, cave, or wherever he was living at the time (kind of like that little teeny turtle I kept in that plastic container with the island and the palm tree used to do when you scratched him the wrong way).

And so I found that intriguing and took careful notes of just how he said it. When breaktime came, being naturally intrigued by my opposites - reticent type folks - I walked up to him and said something about how I enjoyed his story and knew what he meant - and how I hoped that now that he'd crawled out again with his songwriting that he wouldn't get scared this time - and would stay out for awhile and let folks hear what he has to say. He looked a little puzzled at first and I believe I just happened to have my reporter's pad there and I read what he'd said verbatim. The light came on and he laughed self-consciously. Well I didn't think much more about it after that, but Mark did. I ran into him on the night after the final day of classes, just before we were all heading out our separate ways for home and he looked really really bad. Like sort of barely alive and I started thinking, uh-oh....what's wrong with this guy?

So he says he's been up for two or three days and nights straight working on this "I Crawl Out" song. I asked if I could hear it and it was a KILLER song. Hey, I lived in Nashville for 15 years among lots of talented songwriters. Made me cry the first time around. He put his whole self into it, you know. It's a great song. Anyway, I heard Darrell Scott walk by and I don't know him that well, but I went after him, snagged him, and BEGGED him to come and hear Mark do this song - "just give us 3 minutes, Darrell!" I could tell that Darrell did NOT want to do this, but he was nice enough to come along (just to get me out of his face). But it was clear he was touched by the song as well and saw a lot of value in Mark's song. I sort of tried to give him an "easy out" now that he'd heard it - but instead he lingered asking Mark lots of questions. Pretty cool. If you read the credits on the CD you'll see that Darrell ended up playing dobro on it!

Next thing I know, Mark has taken his first trip to Nashville (pretty intimidating by anyone's standards, not knowing a soul there - and Mark being such a quiet character). And it wasn't long after that he'd made a second trip there....and created this CD which I highly recommend!

Anyway, I said all that to say this. I had absolutely nothing to do with this song - or, if I did, it was simply that I took note of what Mark said...threw it back at him - call me the messenger ..and the rest is his-story, if you know what I mean. Good on Mark. I should be so focused! I hope we'll hear a lot more from Mark Evans in the years to come. I love that "Pass On By" song, too. Gets you to thinkin'. Lots of thought and a pretty good share of darkness behind these songs. But it just goes to show you. Mark paid attention to what was there for him to hear and it turned into something good for him. No coinkydinks, remember.

The other UK packet was from my buddy Steve, a terrier man for one of the foxhunts I follow during those wonderful months I spend in the UK. I'd sold him some photos and while he was cleaning out his Land Rover he came across a cassette tape he reckoned I should have so I wouldn't be missing the sound of oh, 50 hounds speaking in the woods (a cry sure to raise the hackles on your a very good way). It was a tape of foxhunting songs. Really cool stuff. Talk about some care packages. I'd go to the post office more often if I thought I'd have stuff like that waiting for me there. I'm not sure the tape was a coinkydink, but I do think I should learn at least one of the songs in appreciation. Not sure I can understand that Cumbrian accent but I'll give it a shot! Or there's that song that EC and Orna Ball do - I think it's called "The Fox." It's a dandy, and my friend Enid over in Wales was raised up singing that song. Oops. Small world. No coinkydinks.

And then today. My sister's friend is up visiting and she's a really cool lady and when I came down from my 3rd floor aerie (eerie?) after sweating over my hot laptop since 6 am, she handed me these lovely collage cards she'd made for me - all photography stuff - and I was thinking what a cool gift. I really don't think I've been living right, so why is all this stuff coming to me? Anyway I have this rule that for everything I bring into my possession I need to give away at least as much, so be careful if you get a packet from me in the mail. It could contain art I made when I was 5 (faded construction paper, crayon scribbling and Elmer's glue), one of my tweed miniskirts from 10th grade (did I really climb the stairs in front of those boys in that???), pictures of Sajid Khan, lyrics to a Peter, Paul and Mary song, Minnesota Fats's autograph - or a whole bunch of other scary choices. I can't keep it all; I've done passed the half-century mark - time to lose some excess baggage. Too, I've been helping my sister and a couple of other people clutter clean their homes and I feel like a fraud and a hypocrite if I hang on to all of my own stuff! Seriously, though, I do want to lose a bunch of stuff, so if you see anything you need in the list above, do drop me a line! I have many other useless items to pawn as well.

Anyway, after a nice glass of orange juice and raspberry seltzer we all headed down to the Antiques and Crafts fair in a nearby village and it was surprising how much stuff and how many folks were there. Ain't summer great? We each found a small item or two we couldn't live without (an old hymnbook and a foxhunting print for me) but the weirdest thing was yet to come. As I was dickering over the price of this print (marked $3, I offered him $2) this guy and his wife were standing there and I was asking the vendor if he had any music books. He kind of laughed since I was stood next to a table full of them (but they were NEW - ack!) and the guy says, "I think I know you from somewhere...." and he looked vaguely familiar to me, but I travel so much everyone looks familiar to me. I asked where he was from...and then it dawned on us. Fifteen years ago my old boyfriend and I were caretakers for an elderly couple just about 3 miles down the road from where I am now. My old boyfriend had a drinking problem and we weren't getting along and it came time to move back to Nashville. So I was at a bluegrass festival maybe 3 or 4 hours from here talking to Laurie Lewis and a sound guy I used to know like 20 years ago - and anyway he introduced to me to his wife...long story short, it was this guy. And turned out he was living right up here by me. And they were looking for a place to live....and I told him about our situation - a beautiful 100 acres to watch, some wood to cut, a tractor and plough to use when it snowed, a riding lawnmower in the summer...but all expenses paid....a pretty good gig to live in paradise for nothing. It really wasn't much work. And they took it....and stayed seven and a half years. Anyway, we all ended up in the same place, one little booth out of 200 in a tiny town in the middle of the mountains...all there at the same moment...saying things that triggered memories though we couldn't put our fingers on what those memories were. A little conversation and it all fell into place. I sure felt good about that. They were bemoaning the loss of some of the local bluegrass festivals - one at Accord NY; one at Peaceful I got telling them about a couple of others that I really love and we're going to get together (they're about 12 miles down the road from me now) and talk bluegrass and maybe end up at the same festival (that would be Pickin' in the Pasture or Thomas Point Beach) sometime in the next month. Now ain't that cool.

Remember: small world. No coinkydinks. Good night.


Feed my sheep. Green pastures of plenty.
  • It's time to start writing again.
    Time to finish that photo book.
    Time to call some old friends whose voices I haven't heard in too long.
    Time to go to another bluegrass festival, stay up too late, sleep too little, do it all over again, live that joy.
    Time to laze around a campfire the night after the festival has ended and enjoy those sleep-deprived, nostalgic conversations that always take place when the time is right and we're clinging to the longing to remain in the cocoon of kindred spirits on a summer night huddled around a fire, coming together, opening up, for just a blink in the span of a lifetime. It's magical.
    Time to settle old differences and rather find that common ground. It's there.
    It's time to be grateful for what has come my way in this life (lots of good things).
    Time to give more - and freely.
    Time to be more physical (as the ages roll that good food catches up with you if you don't exercise more).
    In the immortal words of Tim O'Brien, it's time to learn. Always time to learn.
    Time to do more and talk less (my friends will be glad of that one ).
    I could go on about time for hours...but it's time to move on.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Escape from Hell

The COLDEST day (Radnor&West, Wales)

Now and then I get a hare(or is it hair?)-brained idea and I sure had one this week. See, I've become a fairly committed digital photographer and my camera is dying again. So I decided it was time to purchase body #2, a Nikon D200, to be exact. When I'm laying down that kind of money I don't want to just order it through the mail. So I pick the hottest day of the year (over 100 degrees air temp) nearly an hour at 5:45 am to the nearest city and hop on a Trailways bus for a couple of hours guessed it...New York City.

There are few things that smell worse than NYC on a 100-degree day; in my experience nothing comes close to that boiling-stale-urine-rotten fish-decomposing trash putrescence of NYC on Wednesday. Give me a dead skunk in the middle of the road any day.

The bus drops me in Port Authority (42nd St) and I head out to 9th Avenue and then walk the 9 blocks to B&H Photo at 33rd Street. Have you ever been to B&H? If you're a photographer, you owe it to yourself. It's the adult equivalent to the largest, most expensive toy store in the world. Geez, you can get in a lot of trouble there. The staff are knowledgeable and professional almost beyond belief (though they won't stand around going from foot to foot with you for two hours or anything - there are usually queues of people wanting to have their moment to ask questions and hold the merchandise). They have Nikon lenses that are big around as your head and as long as an umbrella. You get the idea. Trouble is you see the "cheap" lens and then you just ask to see the expensive one in the same sort of range, say 70-200, and you can go from $150 to $1700 in the click of a shutter. I came away without the 70-200, but it's on my mind real big-like; never mind the booger weighs about 3 pounds and pretty much requires a tripod or at least a monopod to use!

I spent a sort of dreamy 3 hours in B&H (thank goodness I had to meet my sister over on the East Side at 12:30 or I might have spent more) getting my D200 and a lens I've been coveting (the 85mm f1.4). Because I'm getting to that age I had my reading glasses on the whole time and I wrote down the lenses I wanted to see and the questions I wanted to ask. If I was venturing into hell on the hottest day of the year I didn't want to come away saying darn! I forgot to ask that!

If the streets of NYC were hot the telephones were hotter. They don't have phone booths in NYC (people do nasty things in them like urinate - and sleep - and leave needles) and I HAD to call my sister to agree on a meeting place. One of the last things I wanted to do was pick up one of the receivers near 42nd street and put it up to my ear but I had no choice. I just had to not think about it. Turns out I had to pick up about 6 of them at various streetcorners before I found one that worked and fought down the urge to barf every time. My mind's eye could just see the germs and bacteria jumping off onto my face. Maybe I'll loosen one of my principles and get a cell phone. At least they'd be MY germs. Times like these I do regret my adherence to the "no cell phone" rule.

Two hours later I was back in Port Authority scrambling for my bus. The mass of humanity everywhere, the braying of incessant horns and roar of people screaming into their sanitary cell phones makes me want to do anything to get out of there. Fortunately the bus scooped me up and I was off to the north, out of the Jaws-like grip of the gates of Hell.

But it was all worth it. The D200 is a beautiful camera and the salesman who helped me assured me it was a good thing I'd called the day before to place a body on hold; they were now out of stock! (the reason I went to NYC on such a hot day was that they'd been backordered for months and I feared this would happen all too soon).

A happy ending, no?

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Up On Poppy Mountain


Confronted with something like this it's sort of like stand there, scratch your head and say like, "what the hey?" I found this beauty up on Poppy Mountain, one of the red-neckest places I've ever been (lots of great folks there, too, by the way - and you can't beat it for the great lineup of bluegrass bands.

I came across this photo earlier and it made me laugh - as the truck itself did when I saw it backstage at Poppy Mountain. There were little kids climbing all over it pretending they were driving. Ack.

Poppy Mountain (near Morehead, Kentucky) last September was a great time. Good folks (and a few bad ones, too). We heard a lot of great music there, got the chillblains listening to Patty Loveless do "You'll Never Leave Harlan Alive," right there in the midst of more than a few folk who know their way around a coal mine - or their daddies or granddaddies did. As she sang I looked around me and there were some pretty swimmy eyeballs up and down the rows.

The people of east Kentucky are good folk. I saw old friends at Poppy, made a few new ones, rode and walked around the hill a few times (but mostly stayed down in safety near the stage), heard a couple of killer jams (especially those late-nighters when Marty Raybon got up on Jammin' Ridge I and stayed up darn near all night - he was still going strong when I turned in around 4:30 or so - Marty is a down-to-earth kind of guy and he was happy to pick with anyone and everyone who wanted to pick with him. Impressed the heck out of me.)

Poppy Mountain isn't for everyone and I darned sure wouldn't want my kids or teenagers there (plenty of opportunities to get in some serious trouble/accidents there) but all in all most folks have a darned good time. The festival lasts 4 days but some folks stay there for about a month!

Wally and Marsha who manage the festival are darned nice folks and Marty Stephens has some of the coolest vintage cars - and various other collections of vintage stuff - you've ever laid your eyes on. Much of it is on display on Poppy Mtn. And you can even catch a ride in a vintage car - up or down the hill. Pretty cool deal. I stayed a couple of extra days at the end of the festival and enjoyed some very laid-back, quiet, blazingly beautiful sunsets.

As they say on the mountain, "Happy Poppy!"

Monday, July 31, 2006


This is not a good night story. About this time last year I was out in the field behind the house near the trash barrel burning a bunch of burnable trash (folks do burn stuff out in the country - we don't have a garbage truck coming around every week).

I'm standing there thinking about something very important, no doubt, when I hear this blowing noise like a horse makes and in my little mind I'm thinking, "Hmmm, that's weird. There are NO horses near here. Someone's horse must have gotten loose. I casually turn around expecting to see a beautiful Welsh cob...and there, 40 feet away from me is....a big black bear! Mind, I'd just heard on the radio that one had demolished someone's tent with the person in it not so far away, so I'm just a little alarmed. Since I don't generally go to zoos I haven't spent a lot of time around bears. That Anthony Hopkins movie flashes through my mind (adrenaline is amazing, isn't it? All these thoughts occur to me - hmm, horse, no...bear, wrecked tent, about a mini-millisecond. Normally it would take me about 20 minutes to have that many thoughts).

Anyway my feet have more sense than my addled brain and I just sort of calmly and casually saunter the 50 yards to the back door, keeping in mind that it's not a good idea to RUN from a bear no matter how much you want to. Quick peek behind me as I slam the bear.

Then my good sense takes hold. So I charge up 2 flights of winding stairs, grab my lens and camera and head back out to face this wild bear who has somehow grown to twice its original size. By now it's standing on its hind legs beating its big hairy chest with its forepaws tongue sliding back and forth across its big jagged teeth as it grins at me in a very hungry fashion.

My lust for a good shot lures me closer, closer to this wild creature who wants me for lunch and from whom I've just escaped (outwitted, you know). With no care for my own safety, thinking of the greater good of mankind, I creep closer yet, then, pausing in the shadow of the horse trailer, I snap away. Here's one of the shots I managed to capture before this evil bear tore me to shreds. That's beareality for ya.

[Seriously I realize this bear isn't interested in me in the slightest - it's busy eating this pile of stuff I'd dumped up in the woods at the edge of the field - stuff that had been in cans in the pantry for like 20 years. I bet he had a tummy ache].

Anyway, night before last a bear paid us another visit...tipped over the trash can and spilled its contents around the yard, tipped over the trash burning barrel (and that's HEAVY - no raccoon did that)....and tore a huge limb out of the peach tree - one that's laden with nearly ripe fruit. Every year the bear has a limb out of that tree.

A little background here...a couple of winters ago my sister arrived up here to find the back door (mostly glass) broken down and the refrigerator door torn off and its contents spilled all on the floor....bear tracks, bear tracks! And not so long after that she'd put a bag of trash in her car trunk to take to the county dump...she came back inside to get her purse, went back out...and there was a bear in her back seat trying to claw its way into the trunk! It had opened the door!! She swears it. These Catskill black bears ain't dumb. Made a mish-mash of that car it did.

Anyway, I've studied black bears a bit since then and have learned that they're generally harmless (I don't want to meet a rogue, however!) and usually aren't much of a danger to people. But if you're camping don't store food in your tent - or your trunk, either, unless you want to meet one up close and personal. There doesn't seem to be a good way to keep them out of your berry patch or your peach trees, though. Let nature take its course.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

From the Mountain

What I see when I look out

Picture a big Adirondack-style porch with a double hammock swinging in one corner, quiet except for the calls of birds and butterflies (their wings are quiet today). When it rains the stream below the evergreens roars over the round rocks. From the comfort of this old wooden porch the storms that come up over the mountains seem like old friends shouting, "Hey!"

Each evening in the stillness at the edge of dark deer quietly pick their way across the field as they sneak down to the creek.

This porch was once populated by several Adirondack chairs but most of them have succumbed to the harsh winters; one survives. So here are a mixture of "comfort chairs" - one Adirondack, two wooden rockers, one red with a flowery cushion, and several of those old lady metal lawn chairs with scalloped backs and peeling paint. It's a good porch, wrapping around 3 sides of this 103-year-old house.

From here, overlooking this tranquil little world, I feel like I can do anything. You know what I mean? It's a timeless kind of place with no worries, no noise apart from the deafening silence and cries of creatures out in the wilderness.

Ah! My silence now is broken by the clanging of a breakfast bell at some B&B down the mountain. It's a good old-timey sound, though and I'm tempted to answer the call. Sometimes on this porch I get the same kind of feeling I have when I watch "On Golden Pond," a sort of wistful nostalgia. Maybe it's just the state of mind I'm in when I sit here for hours with the sounds of this natural kind of quiet as my only companions. Communion; better than a church with a big fancy roof. It's a good life here at this writer's retreat.

A storm sweeps across the distant peak just now; wonderful light. The locals say this may be the wettest summer ever. The lush green of the mountains seems sweet as August looms; more like Wales, the land of my dreams. When I'm here in the quiet privy to the birds' call-and-response I feel a lot closer to that wonderful land across the sea...and to God.