Since June 3rd, I have been immersed in the eight-shows-a-week routine with my former employer, the national touring company of “The Phantom of the Opera”, currently playing in Sacramento. I am playing as a horn sub to fill in for the final half of the run, sixteen shows in a row without a day off.

The last time I played the show was sixteen months ago, in February 2007 — in Des Moines, Iowa.

I was assured by my pit orchestra colleagues that it was like riding a bicycle. I joked that I hoped I didn’t fall off.

Well, they turned out to be right; after ten shows here I feel like I’ve never left! It took four performances to feel completely at ease, but now the show is wearing like a comfortable old shoe.

It is interesting on a number of levels to be back with the company, even if briefly.

Although the road life is hard and the show schedule is demanding, there are lots of worse music gigs.

It is nice to have a regular routine with very few unexpected musical curve-balls. It is reassuring in its predictability — now that I’m not burned out.

The gig pays well and people LOVE the show.

It is nice to be able to wear “pit black” clothes — cotton pants and polo shirt — rather than donning a confining tuxedo or white tie and tails while being exposed under the hot, bright lights onstage as I am for symphonic concerts.

In the pit, unseen by the audience, it’s great to be able to read a book between passages; the horns do have minutes at a time during the show when we’re not playing. I got a LOT of reading done over those ten years!

Most people in the company — musicians, actors and stage technicians — are very happy to see me, and vice-versa. My presence was appreciated while I was on tour, but I had forgotten just how welcoming these people are. It is indeed a family.

I am glad to see that everybody is doing well. I admire them for sticking with the road routine, which is a very challenging life. But for me after ten years on tour, I decided to give notice because I was getting a bit frayed around the edges from the relentless schedule.

I wouldn’t want to gallivant all over the country and be away from home for months at a stretch, but I am interested in being an occasional sub, playing a few weeks a year. The two horn players on staff would be able to take more vacations if they can depend upon me as the first-call sub. So it’s a win-win for everybody.

I am already slated to play the three-week run in Spokane during the month of October. James and I will drive our little Scion up there, and will stay in a corporate apartment or at a B&B. At this point, we probably won’t take the trailer. Gas has gotten so expensive that it’s no longer cost-effective to use the big truck on long trips.

I had a brief window of free time late Sunday and the early part of Monday, so James picked me up from the theatre after the matinee and we drove back up to The Woods, which is an hour and forty-minute trip.

It was wonderful to be home again and stay overnight, even though it was for less than twenty-four hours. I had to be back in Sacramento to play the show on Monday night.

The aspect of being in The Woods which never fails to surprise me is how QUIET it is up there.

In the gathering dusk of Sunday evening, James and I sipped cocktails and sat on the back patio gazing out at the meadow, full of brilliant bluish-purple bachelor buttons. We breathed in the peace and quiet and thanked our lucky stars that we have the wonderful opportunity to tend this land.

The next morning, we walked along our paths in The Woods and I took some pictures of the new flowers which have popped up.

There are clumps of safflowers growing everywhere. They are not native to the region, but originated from bird-seed. Our nearest neighbors apparently fed a lot of birds in the past.

I wouldn’t have known that if our dear friend L. hadn’t told us on her recent visit. She and long-time partner D. came up from Nevada City to see the new crop of wildflowers a few weeks ago.

There is a larger variety of lupine which we’ve always called “forest lupine”. It has been gradually coming up over the past few weeks, but is now at its peak:

Here’s more, but in a darker purple variety in a separate clump, growing a bit further away from the shelter of the trees:

We wended our way down the “scenic route” path to the river (documented in a previous video). I may take another video because the path looks completely different this month, with much more leafy undergrowth.

For now, however, let us be content with a shot of a stand of ferns, where the largest bed of trilliums used to be.

One of the most fascinating aspects of watching these mountain wildflowers is how they come and go. Last month, the meadow was covered with a smaller version of lupine. This month, they are all gone and have been replaced with bachelor buttons. These brilliant little flowers are covering an even wider area:

Here’s a shot which includes the barn in the background. It is slightly to the right of the previous picture (to the south).

On our way back towards the barn, we stopped to take a picture of an ancient rose-bush which may have been placed there by the owners, long ago. The term “tea rose” comes to my mind but this may be incorrect. If anyone can enlighten me further, I welcome the feedback.

California poppies are quite common along the roadsides and fields further southeast towards Nevada City, but they’re not so prevalent in The Woods. So it is a treat to have several small stands of them growing right near our patio:

Lastly, here’s a video of several things: the Yuba River at the height of its flow on May 31st, contrasting with more recent footage taken last Monday in approximately the same spot. Then, you will see how extensive the field of bachelor buttons is in the meadow (please forgive the somewhat jerky panning; I was being attacked by a mosquito!) The final segment is of an industrious bumblebee visiting the tea roses.

I have six more performances of Phantom through Saturday. Immediately following the last show, James will pick me up from the theatre, kitty Rupert and our possessions in tow, and we’ll head on back up to The Woods late Saturday night.

The next evening, Sunday, I immediately jump into playing the local summer orchestra festival “Music in the Mountains” in nearby Grass Valley (which I participated in each June from 1985-2001) and will be busy with that through July 3rd. The horn will have been on my face constantly for about six weeks, so I’m looking forward to a break later this summer!