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 12, 2006

Catskill Chill...and New Light is CHILLY here this morning. It's nice - and kind of lonesome - to look out the back window and see an open field instead of an imposing line of limb-locked 90 foot high pines. The crew yesterday were amazing. Three guys took them down and did a very tidy job - in about 9 hours. I simply couldn't believe it. The first tree fell about 8:30 and they seemed to go faster as the day moved on. It's a pleasure to watch people who are good at what they do, be they musicians, artists...or laborers. Surely there's a science - and a sort of art - to felling huge trees and these guys were artful and resourceful. There was the chainsaw guy, Joe, and his assistant Mike (who turned out to be a Cornell pre-med student who aspires to be an orthopaedist), and then Tommy was operating the big Cat. Tommy and the Cat crouched behind the giants, house side, and the Cat reached its huge paw up and leaned against the trunk about 15 feet up and kindly pushed a bit. Joe, quick and small of stature,, a man of few words and deep quiet eyes, grabbed his Husqevarna and yanked the cord, triceps flexing, and got 'er done, biting into the trunk with skill and precision. Seconds later the tree decided to ease on down to the ground without much fuss at all. Joe and Mike jumped over the trunk, Joe deftly cutting each branch off where it joined, Mike grabbing two and three at a time and feeding them into a ravenous industrial chipper which spit tiny bits of mulch into the back of a dilapidated one ton dump truck. The truck was a sight with about 5 different colors of doors and body (they use a lot of salt on the roads up here!) with rickety board sides and looked like it belonged to Jeff Foxworthy if ya know what I mean. It got 'er done.

So here's this 90 foot tree stretching out across the open field behind the house. Tommy has moved into a new position with the Cat and jumps down to help feed the limbs into the hungry chipper. Joe is so fast with the saw (he's switched to a "smaller" yet equally deadly Husqy) and is flying up and down the trunk zzzzip zzzzip zzzip like some guy trying to win a hotdog eating contest or some lucky woman who has won a five-minute shopping spree to pack as much as she can into her cart. He doesn't waste his breath on talking, he just _does_. Mike has this sort of young and swift grace as he tirelessly rams the limbs down the chippers throat. In what seems like the blink of an eye those limbs have all been munched and spat into the truck and Joe's saw is still a-whirrin' as he whips out a tape measure and sections off the trunk into 12 foot segments ready for the log truck. He throws down the "small" saw and whisks up the big, fires her up with a yank and makes short work of pushing down through the trunk several times, turning the tree into huge logs. Tommy jumps back into the dancing Cat and clutches and maneuvers the logs onto what became a huge pile.

Then I have another surprise when they take the top 20 or so now branchless feet of the tree, cut it in half, heft it to their shoulders....and feed THAT into the cruel and wicked teeth of the chipper. Yikes! One time Joe doesn't like the way it's feeding in and jumps up onto the lip of the chippper, dances around, pushing on the trunk all the while as Mike has jumped up onto the front and is guiding the chute so the tree chips fly into the corner of the truck that's got the most room.

That was the first tree and the other eight went much the same way. It was like a flawless kind of dance as they went at their task as if it were child's play. Tommy later said he'd hefted the saw a time or two to cut a branch and it wore him out. He's a bit older than Joe and Mike and he said, "That's why I'm an equipment operator" with this knowing grin. But Mike - and especially Joe - the chainsaw man were absolutely amazing. They sat down for a very brief lunch then jumped up again and worked a breathless few hours. They really made it all look like it was nothing. Joe and Mike's tanned and lean, sinewy arms were nothing short of marvellous and I felt a huge admiration for the amount of work they were able to pull off in a day's time. They were blessed with one of the pleasantest Catskill days I've seen - a rich blue sky with puffy white clouds, a nice cool breeze, and though it was sunny it wasn't too hot (though it surely was for Joe and Mike). Cheers, boys!

This morning the house is brighter for the openness at the back and the cool of impending fall is all around. It'll be a good night for a fire.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Goodbye to the Pines

Today's the day they cut down nine towering pines out behind sister's house. I'm project manager, I guess, since sis ain't here. Luckily that doesn't involve either wielding a chainsaw or operating the chipper and not even manning the controls of that big Cat just out behind the house. For me it's kind of sad to watch these big trees tumble down and get chewed up and spit out (well, the limbs, anyway). But it's a necessary evil. Lesson: don't plant trees that are going to grow to be 80 or 90 feet tall immediately behind your house. 'Course my sis didn't plant them, but someone did! Lovely trees...just inappropriately placed. I'm pulling for some nice maples set a good deal further back. Somebody some day will enjoy them...

Things are moving along with the demolition cleanup. By tonight those pines will be history. Next week excavation for the footings, then concrete, then framing. It's all a process and it's a lot of fun to watch (especially 'cuz I'm not paying the bill). The weather here on the mountain has been picture-perfect all week and while the guys messing with the trees are probably plenty hot by now, I'm thinking about putting on a long-sleeve shirt. They're calling for frost up in the Adirondacks this weekend. While winter seems so distant it's just around the bend - at least here in the mountains.

But first there are 3 or 4 bluegrass festivals to go to, the big IBMA family reunion, and a whole lot of work! Speaking of work, I'm documenting this demolition, tree-felling, construction process so I'd better get out there and do my thing. Pictures later.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

"Bean Blossom: Its People and Its Music" by Jim Peva

Jim Peva at Bean Blossom with friends from Bluegrass 45.

My good buddy, Jim Peva, who recently self-published the delightful book, "Bean Blossom: Its People and Its Music" reminds me that I haven't shared my June 2006 experiences at Bean Blossom ("BB") with my blog I will soon! But first, check out Jim's book at this link: There are numerous reviews of Jim's book (all raves, by the way) at this site. And here's my take on this wonderful book to add to your bluegrass collection or to give to a friend:

Crowd at Bean Blossom, June 2006
(left - photo by MaryE)

Bean Blossom: Its People and Its Music. Reviewed by: MaryE -- Colonel Jim Peva is a man who knows what he loves and he's not the least bit afraid to share his passion for the music of Bill Monroe - and the music park Monroe held dear to his heart - with any and all who will listen. Here in Peva's captivating book of memories and anecdotes, illustrated with photographs he and others have made, is a gem of a book that each and every bluegrass lover should well consider adding to their collection. Here's a bare bones Bean Blossom history from a man who has well earned the right to share it. Along the way Peva dishes up some general bluegrass history as well. Written in a casual, down home style, you'll find this right-priced guide to Bean Blossom an exceedingly easy read. Go sit out under a tree and read this book from cover to cover, linger over the photographs contained herein and take yourself back to a time when the world was content to move a little slower. Savor the precious moments Peva shares and dream about having similar times at Bean Blossom or a bluegrass festival near you. Peva's book is especially noteworthy for his keen insights into the heart of Monroe. I particularly found Jim's perception of the way Monroe took the sights and sounds of the natural world, filtered them through his soul and then gave them a voice through his fingertips on the fretboard of his mandolin as a true revelation; on that could only be made by a person who had the good fortune to know Mr. Monroe well. In this book Jim Peva talks about the musical melting pot at Bean Blossom - and it surely is. With more than a few Bean Blossoms under my belt I can attest to his assertions. Peva points out that Monroe's music bridges "social, economic, educational, political cultural and international boundaries." Mr. Peva pays special homage to the Japanese visitors who have been making pilgrimages to Bean Blossom since 1971 (in fact, this year Bluegrass 45, the Japanese group that played at BB 35 years ago, returned to BB and put on wonderful shows which were very well-received). Along the way Peva points out some thought-provoking political insights. I enjoyed the anecdotes Jim shared about Monroe's life as a farmer and the way he liked to drive fans at Bean Blossom around the grounds in a wagon pulled by a team of mules. Peva offers in this book a good picture of Monroe - the man - a clear sense of the ambiance and grounds that make up Bean Blossom, the people who come again and again to share memories on this hallowed ground, and the special feeling we return to there among the trees. Peva has a nice, easy way with words and his photos convey a clear sense of "what is Bean Blossom." In additon to his many photographs and long-ish story captions, Peva adds 9 pages of narrative further describing his heartfelt, personal connection with the place - and with Bill Monroe. This may be Peva's first book about Bean Blossom, but I hope it won't be his last. It's that good. Buy it!

Hope you enjoy your copy as much as I'm enjoying mine. And it's the perfect thing to bring along to Bean Blossom to get those autographs!

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Duel at Sunrise (or Pickin' in the Pasture)

Pickin' in the Pasture - Lodi, NY

If you're a fan of traditional bluegrass music and you've never been to Lodi, New York, mark your calendar for August 24-27 and head on over to one of my favorite festivals. It's held in the heart of New York's Finger Lakes region on a working sheep farm. One of the highlights of this year's festival is a Sunday sunrise duel between me and one TC, though he claims he'd rather have the missus' maple syrupy homemade pancakes. If it's REAL maple syrup I might join him (can't take the Yankee out of the girl, you know) (so maybe it'll be a duet instead).

This all started a while ago when TC, a member of the bluegrass bulletin board, BGRASS-L, suggested that I take my "lengthy" bluegrass posts to a more appropriate forum. This caused a stir among my loyal pals on the L, but I got to thinking that TC was close to the truth. Sista Smiff ( told me about, and the rest is...well, it's here. What I like about this little neck of the woods if that 1) people can read all my blah blah blah by choice and 2) I can include some (admittedly greatly reduced and dis-qualified) of my photos to go along with all my words. So what seemed like a slap in the face ended up as a Good Thing, I think. Thanks TC and sistasmiff.

I heard TC was going to be at this great little festival and so I thought...ah, revenge! I started cleaning my pistol and looking for a second. Shepherd extraordinaire (I told you..this is a working sheep farm) Andy Alexander found me one in the person of Ed who sleeps under Danny Paisley and the Southern Grass's bus and helps flatten out the bumps in that long bluegrass road. So Ed and I have been planning our strategy (how can I be sober enough for this duel after prowling the jam sessions all Saturday night with that bunch dragging my knuckles in the dust) and now TC has chickened out and threatened to toss it all aside for a steamin' plate of pancakes with real Vermont maple syrup. I reckon I'll have to join him since I can't beat him, leastways not after eatin' a mess o' pancakes. Andy, sensing a dime to be made on ticket sales, reports his advance sales are up, up, up all because of our high-profile duel. Seems the folks on the L sense a good fight when a fiesty redhead with a gutful of Rolling Rock squares off with....well, I don't even know what TC looks like, but he sure pissed me off!

Anyway, I feel pretty sure that, duel or no, the folks who bought their tickets to Pickin' in the Pasture (PIP) are going to be glad they did....with two days and nights (and even late nights, no doubt) of Danny Paisley and the Southern Grass, 1946, and all the other fine bands plus the added attraction of a plethora of all night picking sessions out in the campground....well, it's good bang for your buck, folks. As you can see from the low-res photos above, it's not a teeny festival, but it's small enough to keep the "family" sort of attitude, yet large enough to produce some of the finest jams I heard all last summer (though I attended many larger festivals). The grounds are largely unshaded, but there are several tents in the concert area to provide shade for those who seek it. Most of the folks at PIP arrive in caravans and I presume they do their own cooking, but there are a few food vendors who sell good food at reasonable prices. It's a good family-style festival; a bit of drinking here and there, but nothing out of line and you'll find little babies, toddlers, teens, and on up through quite elderly folks mixed all together and getting along very nicely, thank you. You may be disappointed that there won't be a whole lot of swoop-dancers and DeadHeads there, but it's just a regular old country kind of festival so accept it and listen to the music.

Anyway, catch up on your sleep, bring along your instruments and come to Lodi prepared to have a darned good time, upstate New York-style. And who knows, you might even see me and Thom Collins square off....or at least a sheepdog demonstration (no, they don't carry placards and march around angrily)....Andy - I don't know how he does it on no sleep and a bellyful of ale - gets up early, early on Saturday and goes out there with his real live sheepdogs and shows the folks how those dogs are some of the smartest creatures on God's green earth...brilliant, actually...I'm going to get out there and watch him this year....)

Surprises...A Demo Story

Don't you love surprises? I had one yesterday. A work crew of 5 guys showed up to knock the entire back off my sister's house. I knew the foreman was coming to look at the job, but things got serious when the backhoe roared up the narrow drive taking about half the overgrown pines in its wake. Had to shift the old proverbial gears and haul stuff out to the barn right sharpish. The demo involved an 8x10 foot stone porch PLUS a 25x30 foot addition. That is a LOT of rubble I learned today when the boys returned for round 2 - actual demolition of a major part of the house - along with a 30-yard dump truck. Yikes. One dump truck load full...2 or 3 to go!

It was sort of like watching some slow dance but without the twinkling disco ball above (unless you want to liken the blazing sun to a disco ball) . Anyway this monster Cat crawler with gigantic iron jaws looking more like T Rex than a giant scale version of some kid's Tonka toy advanced slowly, opened its gaping jaws and AARRRGGGHHHH, crunch, there went about half the addition like it was made of construction paper. I reckon the wrecking bit went a whole lot quicker than the cleanup bit will. But it was fascinating. And I think I got just about every possible wide angle camera shot of the process, except for the one where I'm lying the the path of this hungry monster who is quickly closing the gap between us. Just time enough for one last photo before I draw my last breath in a sharp intake....Even I stop short of getting some shots. I was impressed with Tommy, John and the boys. Good work! (and good riddance of that ugly back part of the house.)

Monday, August 07, 2006

Eureka Moments and A Stanley Epiphany

Over on bgrass-l (a bluegrass music bulletin board - I think that's what it's called) a few folks have been talking about their eureka! moments - how they came to bluegrass. It's quite an interesting topic. Many came to BG (bluegrass) on the worn and rutted folk music roads made dusty by the Kingston Trio, Peter Paul & Mary, Pete Seeger and others. Some heard Flatt & Scruggs on television or Doc Watson on record...and a whole bunch were brought home to bluegrass by that landmark album "Will the Circle Be Unbroken," which featured Bill Monroe, Doc Watson, Jimmy Martin and a slew of others (and, of course, the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band).

My epiphany came about gradually as the awareness of "what is bluegrass" eventually sunk in after teething on Joan Baez, Judy Collins, Gordon Lightfoot and PP&M (with a little California Dreamin' - Mamas & the Papas thrown in), being weaned on the Beverly Hillbillies (although it was granny's no-nonsense approach to skillet-wielding and fiesty rants, Elly Mae's cooking, Jethro's rope belt and Jane Hathaway's romantic overtures and Jed's impressive dancing skills that won me over, not the F&S segments) and finally, as a teenager who loved buying LPs, I somehow decided to purchase "Will the Circle Be Unbroken" album and it - and the Tennessee Stud - changed my life. The epiphany part - if I had a true awakening - came a little later, in 1982, when my whimsical nature led me to drive an hour from my home town - alone - to go camping at this thing called a bluegrass festival. I knew I liked the music (though at that time I didn't know who Ralph Stanley or Bill Monroe were!) So I was fortunate enough to wind up at the Berkshire Mountain Bluegrass Festival in Cooperstown, NY which, at least from the perspective of a fledgling fan, was a top-notch festival back in the day. Little did I know that I landed at a festival that featured nearly ALL of the top bluegrass bands. It was a riveting and yes, life-changing, experience. I sat on the front row all weekend, leaving only when essential, and listened to each and every band. Most of the young people around me (and I was a young people then myself - a mere 26) were fanatical about the Seldom Scene. They were truly smooth and seemingly flawless, I agree; nothing at all wrong with their performances and I listened intently. But I came to realize that weekend in Cooperstown (and it's still true,k folks) that I liked a more PRIMAL (if you will) - a rawer, more emotional (at least from my perception) kind of singing. So it was there in 1982 that I "came home" to bluegrass music in the form of one Ralph Stanley (and the Clinch Mountain Boys).

Ralph Stanley appears at Bean Blossom 2006

I've tried to describe this before and never succeeded to my satisfaction. Twenty-four years later I'm still trying to put into words why Ralph Stanley captured my being with his voice...and for all the words I write I still can't quite say. In Ralph's voice I feel and hear the wild things I love up here in the Catskills - the stream rushing over rounded rocks, the mist above the water at twilight, the birds scolding in the trees, the leaves whooshing in the breeze, the sun beating on my back as I tend the flowers....somehow it's all there in Ralph's voice. I think of his voice as an ancient and timeless cry, an ancestral thing. When I heard Ralph sing I was riveted and tingly and I knew - I really did - that my life was changed. It was like he connected me with a part of myself that I never knew was there - he touched it and gave it life. After the show I waited near his record table, waited till everyone else had bought their albums, t-shirts and caps and had moved on, then I sidled up and began asking Ralph questions. Now Ralph must have been tired but he never let on; he answered my questions about his music and where I could hear more of that sort and he even took the time to write down the address of Bluegrass Unlimited so I could subscribe to it. Ralph's not a big talker, as you know, but he gave me all the time I wanted and my initiation to the bluegrass world was a positive and remarkable one.

All these years and festivals later Ralph remains my favorite. I can't count the times I've heard him perform at festivals, concerts...and even in the recording studio. His voice - especially on gospel songs and things like Hemlocks and Primroses still gets at that ancient ancestral kind of memory that must be brewing in my veins.

I don't know if you'd call it a Eureka! moment or not, but Ralph Stanley's voice sure changed my life (in a good way). I went home and quit my job - one I'd had five years - loaded up my new little car (a Toyota Starlet, the first car I ever owned) with my guitar, a North Face tent, my Canon A-1 and a few other essentials and spent the next several months literally on the bluegrass road. When my family took vacations I ususally stayed on my grandmother's farm so I'd never seen much of America. It was fun to take the two lane roads like Route 11 and go from place to place seeing the unique town squares and mom and pop restaurants, cabin courts and so forth all up and down America as I wended my way to the next bluegrass festival. Along the way I met some of the most wonderful friends - folks who, 24 years later, remain dear to me.

Not so long ago I looked through my address book and discovered that nearly every single friend I have today has come to me through music, and more specifically, through bluegrass music and some of its off-shoots - or should I say forerunners - old time and classic country.

It has been a good run and I hope I have many more festivals ahead of me before one day I travel to that big festival in the sky. The tunes are bound to be long because there are sure a lot of 'em up there wanting to take a break on this number! I miss those who have gone on and think of them often - and I cherish those who remain here showering us with their musical blessings. It's a good life.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Ever Wake Up....?

Ever wake up and wonder what to write about? I know what I _should_ be writing about (bluegrass) but I'm so contrary that I rarely do what I _should_ do. So it's August 6 on the mountain and I wake up to what feels like frost. I've left both the top and bottom of the stable door in my room (I don't live in a barn; it just has a stable door) open all night (ah! fresh air) and the temperature has plummeted. Mind, it was about 100 just 3 days ago. Fall is on the way. There must've been something to that snow plough I saw mid-week. The locals see the signs in nature. Better hunt my wellies. Anyway, the local foxhunt (and I've never been to one in America!) the Rombout had their opening cub meet yesterday and I sure wanted to go...but you know that hesitation you sometimes have going to a new place where you don't know a soul and wondering how you should dress and all those things? I was having it big time. It might have had something to do with having to be there at 6:30 a.m., too, though surely it was a lovely time of day. So I didn't go. Now today I'm all bruised from kicking myself for failing in the courage department. I must be getting old. Those doubts never would have stopped me ten years ago. At the HITS Horse Show in Saugerties last week a woman told me that people over here _don't_ follow the hunt - the only people you're going to see are the mounted field. I don't get that. Over in Wales at least half the folks involved with the hunt are what are referred to as "foot followers;" in the good ole days they actually did walk with stout sticks and the traditional garb (moleskin trousers, tweed wool jacket, flat cap, vest and wellies or leather boots); nowadays they're mostly following in Land Rovers, Suzukis and other 4WD vehicles.

There aren't so many flowers in the garden this year; maybe conditions weren't right, maybe the deer found them delicious. But somehow I surprised myself with the cut flower arrangement I threw together Friday night before my sister and her friend arrived. It looks pretty nice on the big table in the room that's all delicate green and pink and flowery anyway. A sort of tall arrangement with various colors of lillys, liatris spicata, rudbeckia, echinacea, daisies, moonbeam coreopsis, veronica, sedum, russian sage and a few other varieties to round out the mix. Mister Pip the cat has been enjoying nibbling on them the last two days.

Last night some friends came over and we made this big meal. There was roast pork in jerk sauce, my sister was supposed to pick up chicken at the local fireman's barbecue but got there after it was all sold, so I went into high gear and made my special pasta sauce with plenty of onions, sweet peppers, hot italian sausage and a few other secret ingredients. We had to scrounge and come up with the rest, but found some nice asparagus, sweet potatoes, and the friends brought along a delicious Waldorf salad. I also made my spicy guacamole; turns out a couple of the guests don't like cilantro (imagine!) so I made 2 batches - with and without. It turned out we had way too much food...and a very strange mix! We rose to the occasion and polished off a lot of it - even before tackling the homemade apple-raspberry pie from Roger & Alyce's fruit stand topped with a scoop of Ben & Jerry's ice cream. Does life get any better? No wonder I'm so willowy .

So this morning I wake up and a fall-ish nip is in the air and I have to put on long trousers and even a flannel shirt. I find my thoughts turning back to Wales and the joys of following the hounds, the warm cozy scent of horseflesh, the easy camaraderie of the foot followers, the sight of the gorse and the bracken on the moorlands. I'd better get on with this bluegrass book..Wales is calling me.