Monthly Archives: July 2013

Quick Sketch of a 15-year-old

A Red State relative came to visit last week.

-Moon-shaped face; strong brows; growing her hair chin-length as a concession to Mom. She’d prefer to crop it. She wears a custom black do-rag. Custom shit-kicker suede lace-up boots. Cutoffs, two tanks showing about 2 inches of decolletage. She’s pulling off a ‘tude I call the Guiless Bad-Ass (strongly influenced by Anime and Hunger Games, I think).

-Speaks her own eccentric patois, a blend of baby talk and an upper-crust Brit educated in an outpost of Her Majesty’s far-flung empire. Sample syntax: “Father, what was the name of that wonderful gun you taught me to shoot?”

-Yes, she’s learning how to handle guns, and wants a permit to carry (allowed where she lives). She also wants a big-ass truck. She doesn’t like men (and women?) with weak handshakes. She parrots her mom’s lamentations on Obama, Biden and Nancy Pelosi.

-Home schooled by an adoring mom with strong anti-government opinions. Mom’s not only a helicopter mom, she’s a Hercules helicopter mom. However, I think the home-schooling has helped both mom and daughter. Mom’s learned tolerance and acceptance of her daughter’s gifts and eccentrities; daughter has been allowed to explore her unique personality.

-Despite her relative isolation, she keeps in with friends who seem to appreciate her.

-Because I’m a writer, she expected me to listen to her stories. I negotiated for three – she was really eager to tell them all. Each one was at least half-hour long. (When my kids were little and they saw a movie without me, they’d tell me the movie plot in meticulous detail. Just like her). I really made myself listen but it was kind of hard since they were summaries rather than narratives. I’m impressed with her interest in bigger philosophical issues and her attention to character motivation. Like me, she sometimes forgets the names of her minor characters. She wants to be published by Tor. More power to her!

-Favorite word during our visit: “predominately.” When I asked her how much of her third story she’d written down, she said, “It’s predominately unfinished.”

-My prayer for this girl: please stay strong, and sharp and brave. Keep reading, keep exploring, keep an open mind. Keep writing, no matter what distractions come your way (and they will!).

Written with affection–

Outlaw Mountain

Devil’s Gulch is a trail on Mission Ridge near Cashmere – on the sunny side of the Cascades. A while back, on a hot Saturday, Kirk tackled the trail on his mountain bike while I went to my first bluegrass festival at the Chelan County Fairgrounds. A flat grassy expanse with only a few skinny trees, the fairground was surprisingly empty. The real action was in the RV lot, where bluegrass lovers packed in with their RVs, trucks and camper. They rigged up little jam sessions under temporary awnings, and picked, strummed and sawed away.

I was in that last category. About a year ago, I picked up the fiddle again, after decades of not playing. Playing the fiddle had always been a difficult endeavor. On the one hand, I truly loved figuring out tunes. On the other, I listened to artists like Stephane Grappelli, Joe Venuti, Bill Monroe and Natalie MacMaster, and figured what’s the use? I’d never be as good as I want to be, so I quit.

Another reason (I told myself): I can’t write AND play music. God forbid I become a dilettante!

But music makes me happy in ways that writing doesn’t (vice-versa, of course). Music taps into a subconscious part of my brain. I don’t know how I remember tunes, or how those tunes make the leap from my brain to my fingers on the keyboard, but it feels so satisfying when I’m in the flow. I still play some stinky note; my bow still skips and screeches – but I’m getting better, and I hope, more musical. I’ve developed this theory that two arts can complement each other, sort of like cross-fit training.

For the past year, I’ve been going to Jack’s Thursday jam, practicing harmonies with my friend (and wonderful fiddler player) Teresa, and working up my nerve to play with others. Except for a few gnarly gnomes who shall be nameless, the bluegrass community is very open and welcome. I’m not sure if bluegrass is where I fit in, but there a whole lot of great stuff to learn and play there. I feel like a sponge, soaking in as much as I can.

I spent a hot sunny afternoon jamming with near strangers and then began to worry around 6pm when Kirk hadn’t returned from his bike ride. He’d been gone about 12 hours. I went to the festival’s night concert with friends and nervously checked my phone for his text. Finally, he texted and said he’d just finished. An hour or so later, he showed up, exhausted but happy.

He said the forest service signs had been shot at and blasted to smithereens and at one point he lost his way. Not only that, but he kept running into entire families or morel-hunters. The pricey little mushrooms thrive in areas of recent forest fires. Morels sell for $25-30 a pound. Our Wenatchee friends said there’d been some violence due to competing morel-hunters (though when I did a little research, I couldn’t find any news articles about it).

Kirk and I sat and listened to a terrific band called “Dirty Kitchen,” a progressive bluegrass group in the Alison Krauss tradition.

Outlaw Mountain – that’s my nickname for Mission Ridge. Why all the shot-out signs? Has the Forest Service retreated?

Maybe some bluegrass band will write a song – Outlaw Mountain.

Dirty Kitchen