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Wheatland County Line (Acoustic Version)

It's Thursday morning at Falcon Ridge. Yesterday I woke to the alarm at 3:30 am, packed the ice and drinks into the cooler, remembered almost everything else I needed, got the RV on the road, and got to the festival at 5:30 am. I was in the second line of vehicles, third from the front. The first line was mostly made up of people who arrived on Tuesday. Music for the official festival performances doesn't start until Friday, but for people who have waited a year to get back, setting up camp as early as possible is a very good thing. I camp in the upper corner of the Ten Acre section, next to Camp Kerrville, and Lounge Camp. I will see friends (Dave, Sharon, George, Ethan, Jake, Dan, Brie, Theresa, Scott, Bill, Seth, and others), and family (my daughter Cori). Steve next door at Ca,mp Kerrville brought a lawn mower this year, so we have sheared lawns to go with the porta-potties and trash bins. Today started at 6:45 am, when I woke to rain and realized that I had left the roof vents open. I closed them and went back to bed, Tonight Dave Smith, Dan Carp and I are performing as the band "Donaker Road" at the Lounge Stage, an unofficial but very cool stage put together by Scott Jones, and Ethan and Jake from the band Pesky J. Nixon. It's going to be full-time music day and night from now through Sunday. Campfire music goes on into the wee hours, sleep will be in short supply, and we're going to have a blast.

Sharon Maroney and Dave Smith in front of the RV:

A view of the neighborhood:

I slept in Illinois last night, tonight I'm in Ohio east of Cleveland, and plan on making it to WMass tomorrow night. Three days of driving 1,424 miles. Tomorrow's drive will take 8 1/2 hours, mostly in NY, according to Google Maps. That's the concrete reality of how big New York State is: 330 miles long and 283 miles wide. It would be better for me if I don't obsess about it tonight, so instead I will look on it as songwriting time. Today I finally started writing, which I have not been doing on this trip. Perhaps my brain is willing to refocus now that the landscape looks more like home. It's like the hills put their clothes on, instead of presenting themselves without trees, bare naked, and I was the voyeur who couldn't turn my eyes away. Now they are back to being proper hills, staid hills, and I can let my brain do other things while I drive. I have a little Zoom recorder to sing into, and a spiral notebook to write in and then decipher later when I can finally look at what I wrote. Maybe I'll even get a keeper out of the drive. Even if I don't I will at least get home, and that's all the content tomorrow really needs.

I untethered the RV from the campsite water and electric, put everything in its travel place, and headed for downtown Lincoln to play at the open mic at the Crescent Moon Coffeehouse at 816 P Street. I called ahead to make sure it was on, left in plenty of time to make it there for the 6:30 sign-up. Parking spaces were full, but I managed to find several angle spaces I could park across a couple of blocks from the address listed on I got to the address, there was a coffeehouse, but it wasn't the Crescent Moon. One of the people that worked there thought it was up about 5 blocks further, so I started walking. There was a coffeehouse, but it wasn't the Crescent Moon, and my energy was flagging in the 90-plus heat. I remembered that the GPS had showed a West P Street, and thought perhaps I had written the address down wrong. I walked back to the RV, and by this time the signup time had come and gone. I directed the GPS to find 816 West P Street, which it dutifully did, and brought me into a residential neighborhood. No coffeehouse. Discouraged, I went back to the RV camp, re-hooked up to water and electric, went inside and turned on the air conditioning. I got the laptop out, found their website, which had a completely different address. They must have moved and not updated their listing. At this point I really wished I could drink without getting migraines, but I knew alcohol was not a solution. Besides, I had left the Jack Daniels at home. Food was going to have to be my consolation, and after careful consideration lasting about a minute, I decided on chocolate (of course), and fried apples. I would never travel without chocolate, but the apples were an inspiration found when I was rummaging in the refrigerator. Peeled, cut in narrow wedges, sizzled in a good quantity of butter that was melted in a frying pan, sprinkled with sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg and a dash of cloves, they taste like the inside of an apple pie, but cooked up fast enough to work as a sop for my sad experience. I am feeling much better now.

Yesterday I drove 625 miles. The day started at 3am when I decided that sleep was outside the bounds of the possible, and I should be driving instead. I ate a bowl of granola, drank a large cup of coffee, and was on my way out of Casper at 3:40. My next destination was Guernsey, WY to see the ruts carved into soft sandstone by the wheels of Conestoga wagons on the Oregon Trail. I-25 was empty and the sky was dark. The RV and I were suspended in a world in between night and day, silent and open to possibilities. I took the exit to go east on Route 20 because that's what the GPS wanted, not because I had planned on it. The sky was beginning to lighten, and I could make out the curves of the land even if the features were still in obscurity. The empty road became emptier. I drove long enough to make turning back no longer a good option. The GPS told me I would be taking a right onto Route 270, which I hoped would be in better condition than the gravel roads marked by numbers that I had been going by. I was incredibly grateful for the paved and painted road I turned onto. The landscape was beautiful, and it could have been due to sleep deprivation but in the early morning light the trip was dreamlike, outside the boundary of normal existence. There was a sense of wonder and expectation of good things around every bend. Mule deer crossed the road in front of me, antelope grazed by the fences, and dark Angus cattle were scattered here and there in the prairie. Route 270 was over 30 miles long, and there was only one car I met on the whole of it.

I made it to Guernsey by 6am, and found the Oregon Trail Ruts Historical Site. By now the sun was above the horizon, giving good light and shadows to the path the wagons took in the 1800's. I was in awe of the effort and determination the pioneers had to drive their wagons through incredibly difficult terrain in search of a better life. The ruts were dug deep into the rock, wagon after wagon after wagon, each driver following the other, heading west, travelers living hard and frequently dying before journey's end.

I continued on my way east and south. I was very tired, and stopped a couple of times for cat-naps, but kept on. My goal was Lincoln, Nebraska. I don't know why I didn't stop - the journey itself seemed more important than how I was feeling. The last 20 miles before I got to Lincoln were the worst: massive construction delays combined with triple-digit heat, aching shoulders and tired eyes. I pulled into Camp-a-Way RV resort, got my spot, hooked up the water and electricity and turned on the RV's air conditioning. I walked around, but there was no one outside; everyone was behind closed doors trying to keep cool. I did the same, and went to bed early. Tonight I will go to the open mic at the Crescent Moon Coffeehouse, and drive on eastward tomorrow.

I went to Pinky G's in Jackson last night for their open mic. Jackson's streets were full of tourists, even though the day was winding down at 8:30pm. I was toting a guitar and showing my tattoos because the day was hot enough to go sleeveless. The journey had been on the cool side through Montana and Oregon, but Jackson's temperature was in the 90's. I stepped to the bar to ask about the open mic, and was immediately engaged in conversation with a guy at the bar, a drummer. We discussed open mics and travels until the bartender came over and said there was no open mic tonight. The two worked to see if there was another one going on, but no luck. They were bummed, I was bummed, but left a tip for the bartender because she put some effort into searches and calls to find a place for me to play. I went back out on the streets of Jackson, meandering and looking in store windows. A couple was passing me by when the guy stopped, and asked about my guitar since he had never heard of Larravee, the name on the case. As it turned out, they were looking for the open mic to listen in, since he (Vince) had left his guitar at home and really wanted to hear some live music. I broke the bad news to them about the non-existent open mic, but got the guitar out so he could see it, and played them a song. I let him play it, he told me about his Martin, and we had a wonderful conversation and musical time on the sidewalk. We exchanged cards, and they might come up to Western Mass in the fall to go to the open mic at Luthier's. It was a good end to the day.

Today was hot to start with and then got hotter. The air was clear and dry as I left Jackson, but the further I went the more hazy it got. At first I thought it was humidity, but the air was extremely dry, and the wind was picking up, blowing 25-30 mph. It was dirt in the air, lifting from exposed ground. I saw streams of dirt flowing from a dirt track, pale wisps joining together to obscure even near hills and rocks. I drove out of it eventually. The wind stayed strong, and I didn't get as far today as I hoped, and hunkered down for the day in Casper. The price is right at the Walmart parking lot. The temperature was 98 when I stopped, but it's supposed to cool down to 60 tonight. I'm drinking lots of liquid and waiting for it to be a better temperature for sleeping.

I took a picture of the edge of the dust storm after I made it to clear skies:

I am spending Saturday and Sunday night at a small RV place near Heyburn, Idaho. I was going to leave Saturday morning and head to Guernsey, Wyoming to see ruts in sandstone worn by the wheels of the wagons on the Oregon Trail. Instead I decided that I would stay put for a day, do laundry, practice guitar, and then head to Jackson, Wyoming for an open mic on Monday night, and sample the craziness of an upscale tourist town. One of the problems with upscale tourist towns is the cost. I phoned in a reservation at the big RV resort near Jackson, and will pay twice as much as any other RV place I have stayed at. The free nights in Walmart parking lots are looking even better. This will be my splurge, all in the cause of open mic road tripping. I will then go on to Guernsey and see the ruts, and find a cheaper or better yet free place to spend the night. 

I feel completely at home on the road, alone and digging it, invisible in the way transients are, comfortable with driving for hours. With the blog I spin threads of connection and visibility, and open up my anonymity. I bring you all with me that way, so I'm not alone after all, in spite of being the nameless person in the small motorhome in spot #3.

Here is a view of the Malheur River in Eastern Oregon. I followed its winding way for miles:

Mel helped me dump the tanks this morning, and Ruth gave me raspberries. The two girls, Libby and Lena came by to talk. Their father Dave came over to wish me well on my trip east. Ruth's good friend Nancy had come for an overnight visit the day before, so she saw me off as well. I left Pleasant Hill with food (blueberries in my little freezer, strawberries in the refrigerator, and the raspberries), hugs, and a promise to return. The first stop was at Costco for $3.43/gallon gas, and then I headed east. I was feeling fine behind the wheel, self-contained and self-directed. I have no more promised stops until I get to my own place. I travel as unencumbered as I can be while driving a small house down the road. 

I took the road over the McKensie Pass. It is closed in winter, and this year opened on June 21, yesterday. The hairpins are so tight they do not allow rigs longer than 35 feet, and I thought it was tight even for my 24-foot unit. They marked each thousand foot as the road cliimbs higher, with a speed limit of 15 mph at the curviest spots, no shoulders, two narrow lanes. There were few cars and some exceptional bike riders making their way to the 5,323-high pass. I am very glad I didn't chicken out and take route 20 around to the north. At the high points there were still drifts of snow over 3 feet deep, and the volcanic landscape was mountains made up of chunks of black porous rock. I got out of the car at the lava field for Belknap Crater, and walked over the black surface of broken and fused patches. I did some research tonight, and found that Belknap is one of the youngest craters, at 1,500 years old. Its lava flows cover 40 square miles. Old conifers hold on to the black ground with twisted lichen-covered branches reaching out to claim their small piece of an inhospitable land. After 1,500 years the ground is still jagged, still black, still new. On the east side of the pass I dropped back down into the high plains of central Oregon. Sisters Oregon has an elevation of 3,168 feet, and Brothers, a little further east, has an elevation of 4,639 feet. sagebrush coats the landscape. The weather was rainy almost all the way to the day's destination in Burns, Oregon (at 4,147 feet). The clearing skies also brought a powerful wind, and I was glad to be parking instead of driving. Even parked, the RV rocked side to side as the wind caught it. After a while the wind stopped and the sun came out briefly before it set. I am in for the night, with warm comforters and a cozy bed.

In the lava field:

High plains:

On Wednesday night we went to Dexter Lake Club in Dexter, Oregon. Amy (my step-cousin) came along with Ruth and Mel, while Dave stayed home with the kids. DLC was used in the movie Animal House, but sat empty for a long time until the new owners bought it and brought it back to life. Gregg, the owner, is also a musician, and the sound for the Wednesday Songwriters Open Mic was super - good balance and tone, clear vocals, and I could hear myself in the monitor. There weren't many people in the place, and most of the people who were there were other performers. I brought my own audience. I think if I was around all the time their enthusiasm for going out to open mics with me might diminish, but I have really enjoyed having family come to see me perform. The first spot on the list was the owner playing guitar and singing with Scott, his bass player. They were talking about the different bands they had been in over the many years, and played really well, with Gregg singing his original music. I went up next. I was somewhat apprehensive about following such super musicians, but my set was a wonderful experience - I played for 30 minutes or more, sang well, and (mostly) did good on the guitar. Amy was recording on her phone so maybe there will be a video available. There were three performers after me, and as it turned out Craig, the last performer, was the son of someone Ruth and Mel know. Craig is an exceptional songwriter. After the open mic was over I asked Craig if he had a CD, but the answer was "No, but I'm working on it." I hope that doesn't mean what it usually means, and that he gets it out and available before too many years have passed. This open mic was the best by far of the ones I went to in the Eugene area. Dexter Lake Club is an extremely cool place, run by good people, and definitely worth playing at if you are anywhere near. I will get back here again.

My aunt and uncle have been coming along with me to the open mics in Eugene, an adventure for all of us. On Monday night we went to the Wandering Goat, and interesting little coffee and beer place down by the tracks on Madison Street. The coffee was outstandingly good. For my cup of decaf, the barista started with beans, ground them, and brewed my individual perfect cup of coffee. It was the best cup of decaf coffee I have ever had. The open mic was only for songwriters playing original music. We got there at 6:30, and I was the first one on the signup list. I was wondering what kind of turnout there would be, but others did wander in to fill up the list. Michael, the owner, played a set of his songs which were good so far as I could hear. The table next to us was filled with 20-somethings that talked loudly over every song. One of them signed up to play, but apparently couldn't be bothered to give the other players any respect. We left when it was his turn at the mic. The other performers were a real mix: two younger guys who were hopping freight and got into Eugene the night before (guitar, banjo, and Appalachian-flavored music), an interesting songwriter with quirky tunes, and the absolute worst group of three players it has been my (mis)fortune to hear on a stage. And loud. I had to go outside while they were playing, something I have never done before at an open mic.

Last night we piled into the car, guitar in the trunk, to Hot Mama's Wings. There are other open mics on Tuesday night, but this place was voted best open mic in Eugene. The place was crowded, with lots of conversations during the performances. There were some really good performers, including Robert Meade, who played an excellent set of mostly originals. I had a good set - played four songs, and people listened in spite of the noisy room. Sal Salvatore, the host, made me promise to come back. Life is pushing me to another tour next summer, a gigging tour with scheduled performance dates. I have had gig offers in Illinois, Montana, and Oregon, and told my brother Dennis if he could find something in the Napa Valley in California, I would include him on the tour. 

Tonight we will be going to the Dexter Lake Club for another originals-only open mic. The adventure continues :)

Ruth and I started out just before 9:00. The day was grey, but I do not pine for days of sunny weather - I prefer the days as they will be. Grey clouds and misty days have their own beauty. While I certainly wouldn't complain if the sun came out, from my point of view there was no reason to postpone the trip until a "better" day. It wasn't up to me to judge the worth of a cloudy day as somehow of lesser value than a sunny one. We wandered north and west until we got to the continent's edge in Newport, Oregon. There had been four whale sightings so far that day, and we scanned the water near the rocks for a spout or a grey smooth back breaking the surface. The whales were someplace else, and declined to give us a show. I bought a most wonderful bag of caramel popcorn, and we continued on our lookabout. We stopped at likely pullovers, took pictures, and developed a hankering for lunch. I noticed an awful lot of cars outside a small building with signs for crab cakes and fish and chips. We pulled in, and found the South Beach Fish Market. There was a line to order. We took our place at the end, which shortly became the middle, and then the front. Ruth and I both ordered the fish and chips, and didn't have to wait long to get our baskets full of chunks of local wild-caught fish nestled on french fries. The fries were so-so, but the fish was absolutely marvelous, just the right amount of batter, tasty freshfreshfresh fish. If you are ever in Newport, go there. They also will ship! After that stop, even if the rest of the day had problems, the drive was a great success. We continued poking down the coast, turned inland at Florence, and got back to their house in time to attend a Father's day barbeque at the house of Mel's daughter and son-in-law. Marinated salmon on the grill, shrimp on skewers, and tasty sides. I am eating way too well on this trip, and really don't think I should be standing on a scale any time soon.

Even with all the food, wonderful scenery, and the enjoyable company I kept, the best part of the day was when I got a call from my daughter Cori, letting me know that she had just gotten engaged. Greg is a wonderful fellow, and I am so happy for both of them.

The strawberry plants in Ruth and Mel's garden grow sturdy and close together. This is their second year, and suckers have grown up into the wide bed. I decided to pick the side closest to the fence because Ruth and I had casually picked the other side yesterday during a tour of the gardens, quantity limited then by the size of our hands. Mel had picked some earlier in the day, but I felt garden-deprived since mine was 3,000 miles away, and the thought of bending under the warm sun in search of red treasure pulled me outside. The red hearts shone when I pushed back the leaves. Overripe berries with mold growing on their ground side were snapped from the stems and tossed in a high arc into the raspberry bushes. Pale berry children were left cradled under sheltering leaves, but vibrant ripe gems were plucked and placed into the waiting container. I filled it up without picking on the other side of the bed, and went back up to the house. During a discussion with Mel we discovered that we had both picked the same side, so the haul tomorrow should be as big as today's. In the early afternoon we went to the Saturday market in Eugene, and I bought fingerling potatoes to go with the salmon and strawberries for supper. Tomorrow Ruth and I drive two hours to the Oregon coast, and I will be at the westernmost point on my trip. Perhaps that means the the drive back to their house tomorrow is the first leg on my slow return home.

Here is the view from their house:

In the garden:

Yesterday I started out from Spokane at 9am, back on the road and heading to my Aunt Ruth and Uncle Mel's house in Pleasant Hill, Oregon. After yesterday's storms the air was clear, the sun was shining, and I was up for the long drive. I-90 and I parted company in Ritzville, Washington. I headed south and I-90 continued west to Seattle. We had had a long and fairly cordial relationship, but it was time to move on. Gas prices along this leg were a stunning $4.09. Important travel tip: when filling a 55-gallon fuel tank, make sure you don't pay too much attention to the number of dollars on the receipt. Most fuel pumps have an automatic shutoff at $100, and I usually stop there instead of swiping the card again, but at Ritzville I filled the tank up. It was still a long way to Pleasant Hill. I took 395 to I-84 in Oregon, which winds along the south side of the Columbia River. A series of dams has created lakes in the drowned gorge interspersed with short areas where the river flows more closely along the original river bed. It is all beautiful. The dry country in eastern Oregon put no brakes on the crosswind that pushed the RV sideways in strong gusts that would suddenly quit, making my compensating steering immediately overcompensating. It was hard to take in the gorgeous views when I was focusing on staying on the road. This did not prevent me, however, from trying to take pictures on my phone through the windshield as I was driving, of Mount Hood as it rose unbelievably white to my west.

There wasn't a spot to pull over to get a better picture of the mountain, and the picture doesn't give the sense of otherworldliness it conveys as it floats snow-covered on the horizon. I did stop a few times along the way to give myself a rest from the constant buffeting. The shades of green and grey in the scrub were an understated foil for the the blue of sky and water. 

I made it to Ruth and Mel's house in time for us to pile into their car and head to Allann Bros Coffee Grinders in Eugene. It was a folky open mic, with only four people on the signup list, including the host, Steve Goodbar. We went around twice, I sang seven songs, enjoyed the other music and we headed back to their house.  I was really feeling road-weary by this point, but Mark was next door playing guitar, and so we went over there. I brought my guitar, we played a few songs and I had to call it a night before I became a sleeping puddle on the floor. There will be music again tonight with Mark and Dave, Mel's son-in-law. I have found good times and good music in Pleasant Hill.


I hugged my cousin Debbie and said goodbye. My first stop after pulling away from the house was at the gas station. It is 2,531 miles from home to Missoula, and I have put 285 gallons of gas in the RV. I was really hoping for 10 mpg, but I think the mountains have taken their toll. Crossing the state border into Utah put me into Pacific time, so for a little while I have gained another hour - three hours borrowed that I will have to pay back. A band of thunderstorms danced with me all the way to Spokane and so the mostly up and down drive also featured limited visibility and slick roads. I had thought I would catch an open mic in Spokane, but apparently the one I found on is no longer going on. I pulled into an RV park just off the highway and waited out another downpour before going out to hook up to the utilities. Eventually the sun came out. The guy who checked me in came by as I was hooking up my sewer connection, and saw that the previous occupant of the spot had screwed the cap for the drain on really tight. He retrieved a wrench and got the cap off, then gave me the wrench. He said someone had left it behind a couple of years ago, and he had others. A bit of random kindness to go along with the clearing skies. Tomorrow I plan to start early and drive all the way to Pleasant Hill, Oregon where my aunt Ruth and Uncle Mel are. It should take me about eight and a half hours to get there, if all goes well. If the stars align, maybe I can make it to the Alan Brothers 5th Street Beanery in Eugene for their open mic tomorrow night - signup at 6:30.

Debbie and I drove north on Monday when the clouds were finally lifting after several days of showers. I wanted to see the Mission Mountains, and she was happy to take the drive. On the way up the clouds were still low enough to cover the peaks. We continued on to Flathead Lake, stopping at the lakesidee in Polson to have some fruit and ice tea. The air was still cool, but the sun felt great. Seagulls were very interested in what we were eating, but abandoned us for other lunchers after it became obvious to them that we were not dropping any treats. We headed back down to Missoula after a bit, and stopped at the Ninepipes Reservoir to take some photos. No breeze was blowing, and the surface of the water shone blue, reflecting sky and framing dry stalks of teasels. The Missions rise straight up from the plain, unbelievably beautiful. I hadn't made the trip north of Missoula since some time around 1983, almost 30 years ago. I shouldn't have waited so long before I saw them again, but the mountains waited for me, a small tic of time in their lifespan. Monday night at 10pm I went to VFW in Missoula to take in their open mic, which couldn't start until the Bingo game was over. It was me and two other performers, one of whom was the host. My cousins, cousin's spouses and friends provided over half the audience. I took the first spot, and played for about half an hour, picking songs that I thought would go over well with the bar crowd. We all had a great time, and even people I was not related to gave me good applause.

This morning I took another bath in the 8-foot clawfoot tub I remember using as a small child in my grandmother's house. My cousin Debbie and her husband Monty bought the house after my grandmother died. The bathroom that seemed huge to me when I was young is now normal-sized, or maybe even small. The tub dominates the room. Grandma Huff was short and round. her long grey hair was braided about her head except when she was ready for bed, or had taken a bath. Grandma raised four children pretty much on her own, and owned a business back when that was extremely unusual. She gave the best hugs a child could get, and was there to listen when I needed to talk. One of the hardest things about living in Massachusetts was being so far away from her. Much about the house is as I remember it: the white picket fence between the garage and the house, the dark wood pillars separating the dining room from the living room, the kitchen, and of course the tub. No other tub comes close in its ability to make a bath a wonderful relaxing and cleansing experience. I wash my hair in the water running from the faucet to fill the tub, lather up my body, rinse off and stew for a while. My stretched-out legs don't begin to bump up against the faucet. They float, I float in a warm water heaven until the water starts to cool down. I dry off, more than ready to take on whatever the day has to offer. Today, that means a trip to see the Mission Mountains, and hopefully an open mic tonight.

I was born in Missoula. We moved to Massachusetts when I was a baby so my father could attend graduate school at MIT. When I was growing up, it felt like we were garrisoned in a remote outpost, removed from family and home, due to circumstances beyond my control. The one thing that we got to do was return to Montana every summer and get reacquainted with relatives I had not seen since the previous summer. This was always a trip I looked forward to, although it was the arrival that I liked rather than the trip itself. The trip was by car, in hot weather before air conditioning, three kids in the back seat with me in the middle (my little sister in front between my parents). It was especially wonderful to arrive in Missoula to my father's family: grandmother, aunt and uncle, and many cousins. I am back in Missoula now, staying with my cousin Debbie, and having long conversations that are going past midnight. I am, for a while, not in the outpost but back where I began. I cannot know what it is like to grow up in the place your family is from. In both Massachusetts and Montana I am at a place apart. Montana has my roots and my kin from birth, and Massachusetts has my children and the family I have made from close friends, and my heart is suspended between. For now it is wonderful to be here, and it will also be a great thing to get back to my outpost, my home, in Massachusetts.

I drove into Montana from Wyoming on Thursday, and spent the night in the Walmart parking lot in Billings. Friday morning I headed up Route 3, which would take me through Harlowton on my way west to Missoula. Harlowton is the county seat for Wheatland County, and is the place my mother grew up. I caught my first glimpse of the Gallatin Mountains, and was surprised by tears. I have lived most of my life in Massachusetts, but coming back here still feels like coming home. I finally had a good place to take a picture on my way out of Harlo on Route 12.

Mondo arrived at the camper at 6:30 am in his F-350 pickup. The pickup looked like it had originally been a two-tone beige, but right now it's mostly mud tone, including at least 4 inches of it caked on the running boards. When I came out of the RV he offered me the can of beer in his hand with the word "Coffee?" I declined. Dave from the camper next to mine came over, and also declined the offered can. We discussed the weather and youthful indiscretions as we waited for Pam and Cary to show up, which they did about a half hour later. I got in Mondo's pickup, and Pam and Cary followed in their pickup. Mondo had a rifle with a scope sitting between the driver and passenger seats. Bullets in a case sat on the passenger side of the dash, about half of them missing. Spent shells were on the floor. It brought to mind the conversation I heard at the Wasta Bar on Tuesday, between four ranchers about how many coyotes they shot in the past year. Mondo works as a ranch hand. He led us om to Rusty's ranch land to the spot Phil and I visited in 2008. The turns were familiar, as was the view. Mondo is sure this was where Red's ashes were scattered, and it looks like a fine spot for Phil's. I got the box from the truck, and walked down by a small cedar that Cary thought would be a good marker to remember the place. Cary, Pam and Mondo stayed by the truck, and stood silently as I spread the ashes. They settled in a dark grey layer on the parched light grey land, and I knelt for a while, reluctant to leave. I had brought some polished agates and a large flat rock I had kept since I was a kid collecting rocks, and placed them there to mark the spot. Cary brought me his water bottle to rinse off my hands ("to let the rest of Phil stay here"), and Mondo handed me a towel to dry off. We all agreed that it was a good spot to be at rest. Mondo left in his truck to go to work, and I rode back to Wasta with Pam and Cary. Cary said he originally didn't want to be cremated, but now he thought he would, and this spot would be where he would want to be spread, too. After I said goodbye to them, with many thanks, and hugs, and a promise to return, I painted a watercolor. I guess it's for Phil, or maybe it's for me.

Pam, Cary, and Mondo, by Mondo's truck:

The painting:


The word from Pam, Cary and Mondo is that they will be picking me up at 6:30 am tomorrow. It was going to be today, but Pam had to take both her parents into Rapid City for doctor's appointments, and they didn't get back until it was getting dark. Instead of scattering ashes, I went to the Wasta Bar with Doreen, the owner of the campground. She and her family took her sister's ashes out to the hills above Wasta today, and most of the family went to the bar to continue the remembrance. It was actually my second visit to the bar today, since I went earlier after I walked to the post office and mailed some letters. At my first visit I had a good conversation with Roxie about the clique-y nature of the town, and how she didn't fit in with the women who meet every day for coffee and bitch about the people they don't like. Roxie is on the gossip list, as is anyone who lives in a trailer, or votes down the ordinances they try to pass about how short your grass needs to be cut, or not allowing unregistered cars in your yard. They also tried to change the zoning so there would be no eating places or bars. Roxie, who owns the bar with her husband Tim, voted against that one too. Doreen, as she was giving me a lift to the bar in her dune buggy, started talking about the same thing as Roxie. Apparently, after two days in Wasta, I am now in with the out crowd. 

Tomorrow I'll be back on the road, heading west to Montana. I want to see the mountains in June. The last time I was here it was in August of 2008, and I was shocked at how little snow there was on the mountains, so different from the way I remembered them. Global warming is very visible here. I am hoping that this time of year the mountains will look more like my mental picture, but it is also 4 years later, warming continues, and glaciers continue to retreat...

I am in Wasta, South Dakota, where the temperature was in the 90's today as a hot, dry wind was blowing. The wind was not refreshing, but it was constant. I am hooked up to the electricity at the Sunrise Campground, so air conditioning is also a constant inside the RV. As I traveled along I-90, the wind pushed the half-grown grain stalks, and they moved like ripples on a green and silvery pond. At the campground the push of the wind rocks the RV and bends down the branches of the cottonwoods. There was no scattering of ashes today, as I wait for Mondo, who knows the way, to take me to the spot. He should have time tomorrow. Tim at the Wasta Bar gave me Mondo's phone number. Mondo had me call Rusty, who owns the land, to make sure it was OK to spread Phil's ashes. Rusty was OK with it. Doreen, a corporate refugee from Arizona who now owns the Sunrise Campground, is scattering her sister's ashes tomorrow, so there will be more than one send-off in Wasta on Wednesday. I have been lax in my picture-taking, but did do some today. Here is the view from I-90:

and here is the RV at Sunrise Campground:

 I pulled into Chamberlain, South Dakota as the horizon-high sun was burning into my retinas. I-90 runs due west, and even with sunglasses and a hat with a good brim, visibility was tough. I was really glad to get off the interstate - I drove 576 miles today. Tomorrow is Phil's birthday; he would have been 58. Tomorrow I will be in Wasta, SD, to spread Phil's ashes. We came through Wasta in 2008 on our way to the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, to find the place where his friend Red's ashes had been scattered a couple of years earlier. Red died after a losing battle with cancer, and Phil really missed him. We went with Pam, Cary and Mondo in an old pickup truck off-road through rangeland to a spot on a bluff overlooking the Cheyenne River. Phil told me then that this was the place he wanted his ashes scattered, to be with someone he considered a brother.

Phil's death created an earthquake in the landscape of my life. Familiar things were transformed in a moment to strange unknown places. I had to travel past many mile markers before I started to feel comfortable in this new country. This trip west has felt more natural than many of the days and months in Western Massachusetts, as if being among new places and faces is mirroring the internal strangeness. I am at home on the road, comfortable driving for hours watching the lip of the horizon continually flow towards me, unfolding the rippled surface of the earth for me to glide across. It's probably a good thing gas is so expensive, or I might never make the turn back home.

I had forgotten that George lived north of Chicago. Lucky for me, he saw my Facebook post on the planned stop in Elmhurst, and so I had a place to park the RV for the night, visit with George, meet his wife, and see his garden and dogs. Life is so unexpectedly good sometimes. The open mic at the Pizza Palace was good. The host, Rob, was really nice, the signup list was short because it's a fairly new open mic, and people listened. Many of the players were young, some performing for the first time. I had quite a few people come up to me afterward to let me know how much they liked the music. I will take a pizza joint (good food, btw) over a smoky bar with no one listening any day. If you get a chance, go to the Pizza Palace in Elmhurst IL on the first Saturday of the month.  

I'm writing this in Pleasant Springs, Wisconsin, at the Viking Village Campground and Resort. There was no-one to check me in because everyone is at the high school graduation. The woman on the phone told me to find a spot, and they would catch up with me later. The sun is shining, with a soft breeze whispering through the trees. I have electricity to charge the laptop and good water. The only Sunday open mic around was at 3:00 in the afternoon in Madison. It was way too easy to stay here in the shade of the trees. Today is a recharge day, and I am feeling amazingly content in my home away from home. 

The RV open mic road trip has begun. I'm on my way cross-country to Oregon, with stops for family in South Dakota, Montana, and Oregon. I got on the road a day later than I planned, due to an unfortunate encounter with a broken glass vase that gave me hours in the emergency room and five stitches in the little finger of my right hand. The good news is that's the only finger I don't use when I'm playing the guitar. Tonight I'm at the Walmart parking lot in Erie, with other RVs cozied up in a line. A late start, slowdowns around Buffalo and heavy rains kept me from getting to the open mic I wanted to attend in Erie, but tomorrow night I should be at the Pizza Palace in Elmhurst, IL for their Saturday night open mic. The night is cool; rain is pattering on the roof. My house has shrunk to 24 feet long, and I am discovering the things I left behind. 

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