March 26, 2007
We drove through rain and hail and a dark cloud that swallowed us and spit us out the other side, straight into Terlingua. Heavy rains all day yesterday made the road in and out of camp nearly impassable. In fact, we passed Doug's stuck truck on the way to town this afternoon. He left this morning, optimistic, I guess, and obviously had to walk to the highway, but then he has several cars in various states of mechanical viability parked there for just such occasions. We four-wheeled it in the Tundra (we're talking 4W Lo, not Hi) and tracktered our way through mud, as described without exaggeration in my story "Truth or Terlingua." We blazed a new trail around some bottomless mudholes and actually drove through the mostly-dry wash part of the way where there's at least some gravel to get a toe hold on.
We've been cooking feasts at camp, courtesy of a shopping binge at Trader Joe's in Tucson. Lamb, shrimp, salmon. Ooh la lah. Good thing we had all this because we arrived here with two overdrawn accounts and a grand total of $42.87. We're not starving, and I've hawked some books, and we've got good paying gigs on the way home when we leave next weekend. The life of fluctuating fortunes of the itinerant ...
I didn't realize how much in the fast lane we've been until we got to camp. I've actually had time to read and ruminate - a luxury - and marvel at the prickly pears in bloom. Bees are buzzing in those yellow cups, drunk with pollen. Ocotillo sprout orange flames at their tips and leaves push out of the woody sticks after all this rain. Blue bonnets abound.
Every time we come here we're welcomed home. Warmly. Somehow we've crossed the line from tourists to Terlinguans, at least part-time. Last night Phil played banjo in camp and three of Doug's ten dogs (seven are new puppies) lay at our feet, jumping up, alert at the coyote chorus between storms. Lucky, the puppy that escaped the jaws of a mountain lion last time we were here, has a dog's version of PTSD now, but after several days, has come to trust us. She licks our hands. She lets me pet her. She anticipates biscuits. Maggie regards these other dogs as her minions. She complains that they should be out toiling in the fields, paying taxes to support her royal abode, to plump up her princess pillow at her beckoning. Mostly they defer to her, the matriarch of the camp. They gaze upon her with a certain awe, reserved for royalty, especially surly ones.
We'll decamp next Sunday then wend our way Arkansas-ward with stops in Menard, Breckenridge, Decatur, Sherman and Henderson. All Texas. All Orphan Train whistle stops to put some jingle back in our pockets.
More later, from East Texas ...
March 19, 2007
Back in the Old Pueblo, as they still call it here. My sister Sandra flew in from San Francisco and we've had a week out here in the desert drinking gallons of hibiscus tea, talking away the mornings, evenings and afternoons...
The reading at Antigone Books last Friday brought back my deep love for this part of the country where I first felt myself to be a writer. Former students showed up, new and old friends and the bookstore itself, a miracle of survival in the mega-store era set up a seating area for the reading. Phil and I did a mini-orphan train performance with two songs and the recitation of the story. I also did "Liberty" which fits here, so close to the border. Afterwards, we walked up and down 4th Ave. and then ate Guatemalan food at Maya Quetzal, an old haunt. The next evening Mike Fitzmorris had a pot luck music gathering and we jammed with 7-year old Joseph, son of Paula Maas and Marty Turner. We played "Soldier's Joy" and "Cripple Creek." Next year, he'll be blowing us away.
We pack up the Scout, our canned ham trailer, with its home improvements: Mexican tile sink and tiled counter, now grouted and in place. A newly-wired interior gives us many outlets instead of one long extension cord coming up through the drain hold in the bathroom connected to a strip bristling with plugs, one slightly singed from an over-extended space heater back in the winter in Fayetteville. After dropping my sister, Sandra off at the airport tomorrow, Phil and Maggie and I will head west and make a detour to see "the rattlesnake man," the inspiration for my story "Snakewoman" in The Middle of Elsewhere. Then we'll make another tour to Bisbee to visit "Shady Dell," the vintage trailer motel. Then on to Columbus, New Mexico to stay at Pancho Villa State Park, our half-way point to Terlingua. But we won't get down to Big Bend without one last detour to Chinati Hot Springs in Pinto Canyon south of Marfa to soak in lithium-laced waters and stare at clouds and stars, depending on the time of day we look up. All this while the world is trembling. Bees are dying. Iraan tries to tune out the sabre-rattling of the west. And maybe, just maybe, Karl Rove will be subpoenaed after all...
March 12, Tucson
A lot has happened, or not happened. First, I am not able to report on Sisters on the Fly who are meeting, as I write this, somewhere near Phoenix. I registered too late to get in, so will have to wait for the next round, hopefully in Texas. Since I last wrote, we went to Austin and basked in 80 degree weather but were unable to gloat as the weather in Fayetteville turned (naturally) as soon we left. However, we can gloat about seeing Butch Hancock for free at the new venue, Mercury Hall, a church that was dismantled somewhere in Texas and moved to South Austin. Jimmy Dale Gilmore showed up and sat in for a few songs - that kind of thing happens in Austin. We said hello to Butch afterwards, said we'd see him in Terlingua at the end of the month. He's another Trailerite with several Airstreams corralled in his "yard." And speaking of trailer lust, we converted Deborah Hogan, a friend from Kerrville who lives in San Antonio. She's on her way to Salt Lake City to pick up a little silver trailer she got on ebay and will meet us here in Tucson. I guess we'll have our own Sisters on the Fly in Mike Fitzmorris' yard.
We got the news a few days ago that we no longer have a home at Terra Studios in Durham. The short-lived Trailerama is up for sale. Hopefully it won't sell while we're on the road, but if it does, I doubt the new owner will want to try to move the 42 ft. Spartan anchored there. It's strange to be on the road and feel our new home dissolving behind us. I guess we're truly homeless now and I'm out and about in a tarnished trailer hawking my wares...
Okay. So back to What's Happened. After seeing Butch Hancock I did a "house concert" at Andy Corwin's house (he's one of the Limelighters) and lots of Kerrville friends came to hear me read. Several said they knew I was a writer, but didn't know I could really write.
The Gemini Ink class in San Antonio didn't make enrollment. That's another thing under the "what didn't happen" list. I guess the collaboration theme was too esoteric. Next time I'll offer a class entitled "Ten Hot Tips for Plot Development" and probably have a waiting list. As compensation, our friends Nan and Don Cuba took us to the Jumpstart production of August Wilson's "Fences." Every time I see live theatre I'm mesmerized and the cast came out to meet everyone afterwards. How do you thank somebody for moving you with a mere handshake? But even that little bit of contact is quintessentially human and grounding in the midst of a world of chaos.
I flew to Atlanta for the Associated Writing Programs Conference, kind of a Kerrville Folk Fest for writers. Thousands roamed the Atlanta Hilton with their little canvas bags, buying books signed by hopeful writers like me. There were readings, seminars, panels, dances, and, most amazingly, an event organized by The Fiddlin' Poet from Alaska called "Writers Who Play." I was on the bill with Jeff Talmadge, played and sang on one of his songs and did one of my own. I'd have to say that was the highlight of the whole AWP conference for me. There's that collaboration thing again. Guitars - you can't get away from ‘em for very long.
I flew into Phoenix and Phil picked me up and I felt a bit shell shocked, going from the glut of people at the conference to a moonlit lake in the Superstition Mountains, saguaros silhouetted on the crags. Not a soul in sight. Even my own - it took several days to catch up with me. Part of it caught up with me in Prescott where I did two readings at two colleges and I noticed when I did the Orphan Train presentation at Prescott College that I slowed down, lingered on certain phrases because the room was filled with writers. At libraries I tend to speed up a little because sometimes there are children in the audience and I'm afraid I'll wear out their attention span, but these students were listening to every word.
Right now, we're regrouping in Tucson where I'll do a reading on Friday. My sister Sandra flies in tomorrow for a week (an unscheduled bonus) so we'll get to have the rendezvous we didn't have in Fayetteville in January. I guess that's a new category to add to the what did happen and what didn't. Out of Left Field Bonus.
Lastly, we saw "The Lives of Others" last night. I still can't talk. Go see it. Now.
On the road again for Part B of the Buy My Book Book Tour. We left Fayetteville on February 17 after packing in 30 mph winds and a wind chill of 10 degrees. We beat out record of last tour by leaving town at 4 p.m. instead of 11 p.m. and this time we made it all the way to Clinton, OK before we collapsed. We headed south on a new road to Abilene, trailer hunting on the way. In Lone Wolf we found a fleet of Spartans on Lloyd Weber's back forty. He uses them to take his field hands to Montana for the wheat harvest. I'll bet they don't appreciate their vintage accommodations and would swap any day for a Winnebago.
The library gig in Abilene went well, with 60 in attendance, but the real gem was the following day in Ranger, TX, a tiny town on I-20. The library shared a meeting room with the Lion's Club in the Ranger Community Building. Pine paneling, wooden floor, old upright piano in the corner. Librarian Diana McCullough got half the town out. For a population of about 1300, we had 47 very appreciative people there including one young man whose grandfather had been an orphan train rider that came to Greenwood.
In Comanche, TX we found several "canned ham" trailers and made note of them; we have friends who have put in their orders with Phil, the Trailer King.
We made Austin by 9 p.m. and parked the Scout at Steve Taylor's place south of Slaughter Lane. Two acres that Maggie roams with Steve and Jackie's dog Lonnie. The first morning we sat in folding chairs in 80 degree weather and were ready to call Fayetteville friends and gloat only to discover it turned 70 the day after we left. Oh well, we can still gloat about great music and unmatched TexMex food. Our first night here we got wind of a free concert at a new venue: Mercury Hall in South Austin. Butch Hancock played and Jimmy Dale Gilmore showed up to sit in on a few. See? We do get to gloat.
I did a "house concert" here with Austin friends, reading "Miniature Graceland" and playing a few songs. A lot of our Kerrville friends came and some were amazed - they knew I was a writer but didn't really know what I did. Maybe they thought I wrote pot boilers about the folk scene.
San Antonio was all pleasure, no business. The Gemini Ink class didn't make minimum enrollment so we went to an August Wilson play, "Fences" at Jumpstart Theatre down in Southtown's Blue Gem. A great production and the cast came out to talk to everyone afterwards. Every time I see live theatre I swear I'll go to more plays. I swear it.
We're back in Austin and creating a construction project in Steve and Jackie's front yard. We're in trailer renovation mode, having bought a Mexican ceramic sink at El Mercado in San Antonio. Now we have tiles to match for the counter. Phil painted the wheels bright red to match our red curtains. Soon, we'll have a Day of the Dead motif inside in time for my debut at the Sisters on the Fly roundup in Phoenix on March 10. I joined, finally, this collective of women with vintage trailers. Usually they go fly fishing, but this meeting is a week-long campout. Cocktail hour and trailer show and tell. I'll have a lot to report. Stay tuned. Meanwhile, it's off to Atlanta tomorrow for the Associated Writing Program conference. Nobody will have any vintage trailers. Just a lot of academics swapping stories in the bar. But there'll be a lot of my Warren Wilson cronies there, including Jeff Talmadge, a fiction writer turned songster, who will be my host. We'll smuggle a couple of guitars into the place, make some noise. Academia could use a little, after all those committee meetings.
Our last night in Austin, we're showing the Townes van Zandt documentary, "Be Here to Love Me" on DVD in Laurie Ramos' back yard. Big screen, blankets. Popcorn. Wish you were here ...