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I’m still almost too tired to write about it! What a LONG drive.

James and Rupert picked me up in front of Gammage Auditorium after my final Phantom show in Tempe, AZ at 9:25 p.m., Sunday November 22, 2009.

 

It’s always exciting when James picks me up, Airstream in tow, bound for our next destination. We usually drive for a few hours before resting; it feels good to get some distance between the past and the future.

Through the desert darkness we drove up through Flagstaff and then stopped at a KOA campground (kampground with a “k”, actually — how kute!) for the night.

 

We woke up on a cool, bright morning on Monday the 23rd and continued our journey.

At the Arizona-New Mexico border, there were several places with Native American themes selling various schlocky items:

 

We entered New Mexico at about 1 p.m.

 

The countryside there is starkly, dramatically beautiful.

 

All went smoothly until we were stuck in a 3-hour traffic jam just outside of Albuquerque in mid-afternoon.

 

A semi-truck had run into a highway paint truck. The semi caught on fire and the paint truck overturned, spilling gallons of paint on the roadway. It took several hours to clean it all up.

 

The mail must get through! But it was certainly late that day.

 

We were amused by the sight of a pickup truck towing a real MONSTER truck, along with various motorcycles and even patio furniture!

 

The long delay put a kink into our travel schedule. We decided to pull over into a rest stop just over the Oklahoma border (at about 2 a.m. Tuesday) instead of staying at our usual RV park in Oklahoma City, a few hours further east.

We woke up a few hours later and continued our journey. We arrived in Oklahoma City just before noon, and stopped by our favorite Airstream mechanic’s shop on the western edge of town.

 

We bought a new water pump which James will install. The old one died after more than thirty years of service. I’d say we got our money’s worth!

We drove all day through the endless state of Oklahoma and arrived at the Arkansas border by late afternoon.

 

You can see part of our cat Rupert lounging on the dashboard in the foreground. He’s turned into quite the traveler! Here are a couple more shots of Rupert:

 

The first shot was at the beginning of our trip. Now look at how tired he is in the next shot, taken three days later:

 

I’ll let Rupert tell his own story in his blog; he should be posting by tomorrow: http://rupertkitty.blogspot.com/

There was a lot of traffic on I-40 as we crossed the state in the gathering darkness. We entered Tennessee at about 8 p.m.

 

We stopped at an Olive Garden restaurant east of Memphis for dinner.

The waiter was 6′ 5″, had a beard and ponytail, was overly jovial with a booming voice. “My name is Steven!” he announced to us several times in stentorian tones.

It was his first night on the job, and was waaay off the charts on the Perky Scale.

James asked if he sang and he said Yes. I imagine he plays the gittar too!

I wish that these people would be more sensitive to their customers; had he paid close attention to my adverse reactions to his forced joviality, he would have toned down his presentation a bit. But NO, he ploughed through the evening in his high-amperage fashion, totally insensitive to us weary travelers who just wanted a little peace and quiet with our dinner.

I suppose that the Corporate Headquarters of Olive Garden insist upon this kind of overly-enthusiastic, in-your-face waiter style. I remember a similar perky waiter the last time we ate at one of their restaurants, several years ago.

I took over the wheel after we got gas a few miles later, and drove for about 250 miles before pulling over into a rest area at Crossville, between Nashville and Knoxville. Lots of VILLES in Tennessee!

James drove for the next couple of hours. The sun came up as we crossed the Virginia border. We were both so tired by then that we decided to pull over into a Cracker Barrel parking lot to catch a few z’s.

We set the alarm for two hours and actually felt a bit refreshed when we hit the road again, at 10 a.m. Wednesday.

We wended our way through the Appalachians of southwest Virginia and were pleasantly surprised by the beauty of the Piedmont countryside spreading out far below us, towards the North Carolina border.

 

This still shot from the video footage I took of our trip (posted soon!) doesn’t do the view justice. It was truly stunning.

Traffic was extremely heavy on I-77 northbound. We were glad that we were heading south in the opposite direction, with relatively light traffic until we reached the cluster of larger cities in North Carolina.

Everyone must have been going to their various Thanksgiving celebrations. Apparently there have been 36 million people on the roads this weekend.

We went through Andy Griffith country in North Carolina, and I took a picture of Pilot Mountain:

 

Yes, we were definitely in Andy Griffith country!

Traffic was heavy through the maze of Winston-Salem, Greensboro, then on to Durham.

We found the RV park in the middle of the woods surrounding Duke University. We pulled up to the manager’s office but couldn’t find anyone around. A little Asian girl on a tiny bike came riding up and said “He’s not here” but assured us he would be soon. Just as James called him on the cell, the front door opened and it was the manager’s wife, on a walkie-talkie with her husband.

She wore a very colorful black silk blouse with big purple polka-dots.  We could barely understand her English but her beautiful smile was welcoming. She laughed when she couldn’t seem to communicate effectively with her husband on the walkie-talkie to answer her question which lot they were going to assign us.

She opened the door to a tiny general store. I was amazed at the messy clutter of the place — there were stacks of boxes of random spare parts on the floor, almost bare shelves with a lone tube of toothpaste here and a stick of deodorant there; yellowed large potted plants in front of very dusty, empty freezer cases.

We wrote her a check for our month-long stay, and she indicated on a map how to get to our lot.

We got back in the truck and drove down narrow streets with rusty mobile homes and old fifth-wheel trailers and motor homes which have seen better days. Everything was surrounded by tall pine trees.

I would call this a “down-home” trailer park; the neighborhood seems safe and quiet enough, but it’s definitely not upper class. We prefer this kind of basic place, actually. Not much snob appeal here. (We live in a shack in The Woods after all!)

Just before James pulled into the lot, the manager husband drove up to welcome us. His English was also very hard to understand, although it appeared that he understood the language well.

He seemed amazed that I was a musician with the Phantom of the Opera company playing at the brand-new Performing Arts Center in downtown Durham. He commended me on “having a job” and joked that my check probably wouldn’t bounce, hinting that this was rather uncommon with tenants at his RV park.

This is our next door neighbor’s car:

 

It is definitely a culture-shock to be in this part of the country!

This is our current spot:

 

I will (hopefully) post again soon to bring you completely up-to-date. But my mind refuses to work any more this afternoon; I am still fried from the very long drive. Now I need to warm up before tonight’s show (our first show was at the end of a lengthy workday on Thanksgiving).

I hope that you all had a nice Turkey Day!

Okay, we took the pictures on Sunday but are posting a day late.

We were so busy packing and getting ready to leave Tempe after my two-week run of Phantom there, that posting slipped my mind.

James reminded me about Hair Sunday just as I was walking out the door for the second show. Uh-oh! We hurried back into the Airstream for our photo-shoot and I resolved to post after we started our long drive east to Durham, NC.

James picked me up from the theatre after last night’s show ended, and we started the first leg of our journey. James had made reservations at the KOA in Holbrook AZ, which meant driving a few hours until about 1 a.m. This is our usual pattern when we leave a city.

So here we are in Holbrook. It is sunny and in the low 50s (got down to 27 last night!).

We have a Mi-Fi card which allows us to connect to the internet wherever there is a 3G signal. So I can post during our travels (dream on!).

Here are the latest Hair Sunday pics:

As you can see, we’re getting wild and wooly!

Here is where we are parked at this very moment. We’re sipping on our little Japanese thermoses of black tea and surfing the internet at the KOA. I stepped out to take this shot.

Have I mentioned that our cat Rupert has his own blog? Please check it out in my link list: “The Adventures of Rupert”. Rupert is a better writer than I am, and has been posting more frequently than I have lately (after a very long absence).

I’ll share one of his blog pics here, from today. He is waiting for the inevitable get-picked-up-and-hauled-off-to-the-truck routine. We will be pulling out of Holbrook shortly.

We hope to make it all the way to Oklahoma City tonight. That’s  a twelve-hour drive, but we have to cover 2000 miles in only three days!

The longer I go between writing posts, the more difficult it becomes to resume.

Part of me resists writing because the blog title “Living in The Woods” does not currently fit my life working in the San Francisco bay area.

Lame excuse, I know.

I keep telling myself that someday we WILL be back in The Woods permanently. But for now, financial necessity requires me to go far afield to make a living. I’m still not ready to retire from active professional horn playing, for personal as well as financial reasons.

I figure that I can continue playing horn at a high level for another five to ten years, if I choose to. But I’ve finally grown smart enough to avoid giving myself a deadline; who knows how I’ll feel in five years (or even two!), and what my life circumstances will be then?

For now, I am thankful to have show work in San Francisco a few times a year. The long-running show “Wicked” has created opportunities for more musicians to be hired to play other shows which come to the City. I have been lucky to play three shows since late November: Phantom, Spamalot and now South Pacific, for a total of nineteen weeks’ employment.

Along with this work is my occasional subbing with Phantom. After the six-week run of South Pacific is over in San Francisco on October 25th, I’ve got seven consecutive weeks of work lined up with Phantom in Tempe, Durham and Ft. Lauderdale. The last city is during Christmas week.

After that…who knows?

My first blog in 2005 was entitled “On The Road”. Should I rename this blog?

After this show closes, James and I will take the Airstream down to Arizona, where I will play the last two weeks of Phantom’s run in Tempe in mid-November.

Before I resume work, we will have two weeks to get our house ready to sell, in a certain small town in the extreme southeastern corner of Arizona. We left there over two years ago and the house has been vacant; we decided that it was too much of a hassle to be long-distance landlords.

We recently contacted a close friend who still lives in the area, to go over to the house and assess what needs to be done. Spiderwebs and dust need to be vacuumed, the fridge needs cleaning (someone turned off the breaker box at some point and the inside of the fridge is black with mold!) and of course the jungle of a yard needs to be hacked down. We’ll probably do at least some of this work ourselves.

We’re going to stay in the Airstream in an RV park on the edge of town while there. The house is livable but our little trailer is really our HOME — everything we need is already in place and we enjoy living in it.

I could write a lot about what’s been going on in my life since my last posting in mid-August — or very little. I’ll opt for the latter, since most of it is work-related, anyway.

James and I have been busy composing and arranging music for recorder ensemble, and have gotten together with a core group of four excellent players several times over the past few months. Our eventual goal is to sell our music online. Someday this will happen when we’re more settled.

The beach at Pacifica has been beautiful for nearly two weeks now; no fog! Autumn is the best season in the Bay area, I think.

We like our little spot in the back, in the corner of the RV park. It’s close to traffic but is actually quite private; most of the short-term tourists rent the spots in the rows closer to the ocean.

We arrived here on September 11th. Here’s a video of our drive from The Woods to The Beach:

Well, this isn’t the most exciting blog post in the world but it will have to do! 🙂

Thursday afternoon, James and I returned to The Woods from a two-day stint in the Bay area.

I played Principal horn in a backup orchestra for Canadian jazz singer/pianist Diana Krall, at Davies Symphony Hall in San Francisco.

It was one concert only, on Wednesday night. I was pleasantly surprised to see that the auditorium was packed, starting at $75 a seat. The audience was extremely enthusiastic and Ms. Krall put on a good show.

“WHAT recession?” I thought to myself.

It seems that Broadway-style shows and jazz/pop/rock entertainments aren’t as adversely affected by the current economic downturn as traditional symphony orchestras and opera companies are this year. People are still willing to pay for popular entertainment in challenging times, taking them away from their financial woes for a few hours.

The orchestra consisted of forty freelance musicians from around the Bay area. I had played with several of them in the recent production of “Spamalot” at the Golden Gate Theatre. In fact, the same contractor hired for both gigs.

The stage was set up in a series of risers in a horseshoe surrounding Diana Krall’s band, a trio of very fine musicians: drums, bass, and guitar joined by Ms. Krall’s piano.

I was on the second-highest riser on the right-hand side of the stage, as seen from the audience. In fact, I was on the edge of my riser closest to the people, with the rest of the French horn section further away to my right.

The higher riser behind me contained the other members of the brass section: two trombones (one of whom doubled on tuba for several numbers) and three trumpets.

The riser below me had the six woodwind players, clarinets and flutes.

On the opposite side of the horseshoe were the strings, banked on all three tiers. It was very visually effective, all those pretty violinists (yes, mostly young women) bowing and swaying to the music together.

It was a glitzy Lawrence Welk moment. Or a Vegas one.

Neutral dark grey curtains served as a backdrop to the orchestra. Spotlights splashed through various colors and patterns onto the fabric to provide further visual interest.

Each musician had a light on his/her stand, which was essential for being able to read the music in the dimly-lit, mellow atmosphere of this jazz concert.

There was a pleasing variety of music, with Diana Krall’s occasional solo piano accompanying her sultry voice; several upbeat numbers with the jazz trio, and then the big orchestral numbers with us.

Our pieces were generally understated and muted, with very long, quiet notes. Nothing “fortissimo” except for a very occasional swelling of chords, but always lower in volume than Ms. Krall’s vocals.

The musicians’ performance attire was all-black. Along with black pants and shirt, I wore a black suit jacket and black tie. (Most of the other men wore jackets but no tie.) I’d never worn this particular combination in my “performance uniform” before, and I dare say that it was spiffy! I’ll probably do it again for special occasions in the show pit — which always calls for black — such as Opening Night or perhaps even on a Saturday night.

After several encores and standing ovations, Diana Krall and her band bowed one last time, acknowledged the orchestra by calling us ‘supremely talented artists’, and left the stage.

It was just after 10 p.m., and I wended my way backstage through a narrow, curved hallway lined with shelves, where the San Francisco Symphony violinists usually put their cases during the orchestra’s performances. In fact, it is called “The Violin Den”. During this concert, all of the musicians hired for the Krall gig put their instrument cases there.

After packing up my horn and strapping it to my back, I walked a few blocks down always-colorful Market St. to the BART station at Civic Center, where I caught a late night train to Lafayette in the East bay.

James and I stay at my friend R.A.’s house whenever we’re in the area for only a few days; it’s too much trouble to bring the Airstream down for only a one-day gig.

We’ve been back in The Woods for three days now. It’s a completely different world; peaceful, quiet and remote.

James has done several loads of laundry in the washer in the barn, and hung the clothes on the line to dry. The smell of sun-dried clothes is wonderful!

I noticed that most of our clothes and sheets go together; nearly everything is black or white or a combination of the two. I thought it would make an interesting picture. (Is your laundry this artistic?  😉  )

We wouldn’t be hanging up clothes today, however. The sky is covered with a thick haze of smoke from fires burning less than 60 miles due west of us. Apparently one of the several fires was caused by a “bird on a wire”, literally.

Notice the difference in the sky from the above pictures of the laundry and the fire below:

The air is too toxic to breathe today, so we are spending it indoors.

I am back to practicing horn on my own, without the benefit of keeping in shape by playing in an ensemble. It is much more challenging to keep up my chops, so to speak, by myself.

It is also a challenge to be unemployed. On one hand it’s nice to have a break, but I always feel more useful and productive when I’m playing the horn professionally.

Here in The Woods, I do not earn any money this way. So I feel rather disconnected from this area, this community. For me, it’s more of a vacation home at the moment.

I know that this will change in the future when I’m “retired” and won’t be schlepping to the Bay area for gigs, but that time has not arrived yet. I have a few more years of good playing left, and I intend to make the most of it. I am just now working my way into the freelance music scene in the San Francisco area — something I’ve always thought of doing — and now it’s actually happening! I’m gradually getting more employment as I make more musical connections. I’m learning how to deal with the ins and outs of the freelance scene, which requires tact and diplomacy, as well as a certain skill in wending one’s way through the minefields.

The day after we got back home, James wired a 30-amp RV plug into our breaker box so that we can run the air conditioning in the Airstream. Our first A/C in the Woods! I’m so proud of him.

We moved the trailer from the front of the barn to the back, where there is more privacy and shade in the afternoon, and a view of the meadow to the west. It feels right there.

My next gig in the Bay area is in the middle of September. Until then, we shall enjoy our time here in The Woods.

So James & I continue to live a double life. It has its advantages and disadvantages, but mostly it is good.

Although I have not written in my blog in the longest period of time since I started it a couple of years ago, I read my usual list of other people’s blogs daily. It’s part of my morning routine.

I have had flashes all summer of feeling like life is passing me by without documentation, while my blog-mates are busily recording their day-to-day existences to share with the masses.

However, I have been handwriting my journal almost every day since I arrived in the San Francisco Bay area on May 17th. My penmanship, once admired by the recipients of my profuse handwritten letters “back in the day” before computers, became rusty from disuse over the years of clacking away at the keyboard.

In these cyber times, it seems that many people have forgotten about handwritten letters or journals.

This summer, it has been very satisfying for me to revive and refine my handwriting after all these dormant years, penning my journal. I started writing at age fourteen and continued writing in that mode until I was in college, when I switched to typewriters of various sorts. Then I kept a journal on the computer.

Handwriting a journal feels so personal. Of course I don’t get any comments because no one else reads my entries except for me. This is okay.

I celebrate the fact that my penmanship is gradually coming back. I am beginning to love it again. My third-grade teacher instilled in me the beauty of handwriting at age nine. She had the best hand.

I am starting to feel less stilted in my handwriting, having to form my thoughts complete before setting them down, without the benefit of computer editing. It is improving with each page that I scrawl out.

Sometimes my handwriting is VERY jerky on the fast-moving train!

I write on the BART train every day on the way to my various music gigs, and then again on the way home.

It is a good release for me to write down my private thoughts.

I write mostly about work and the freelance scene of musicians here in the San Francisco Bay Area. It is a very different world than the peaceful, idyllic life that James and I live in The Woods, where we do not interact with very many people.

I do not play in any musical organizations when I live in The Woods. So I have to go other places — big metropolitan areas — to work. Most freelance musicians have to settle in such places in order to make a living.

For me these days, the San Francisco bay area is the “happening” place work-wise. James & I are very fortunate to be able to travel in our Airstream trailer to wherever my musical employment is.

Right now it’s in the City by the Bay.

The freelance musical scene here is a curious combination of comeraderie and competition. It is an extended network of classically trained musicians, scattered throughout the Bay area, highly qualified in their field. We are all vying for the same gigs. It is a tight-knit, friendly group of people from their mid-twenties fresh out of music schools to musicians in their seventies, playing in orchestras all over the area.

Everyone keeps the pulse of “who’s hiring who” and why aren’t they being hired any more for this gig or the other? Buzz…buzz…buzz…it’s very incestuous. Yet, almost everyone accepts the vagaries of the music business and manages to remain cordial with each other.

It is amazing, really. An exclusive club of musicians trying to make a living from their craft.

I am currently playing the two-week Midsummer Mozart festival. We play in four different concert venues around the Bay area each week. When this is over at the end of next week, James & I will finally be able to return home to our beloved Woods!

Until a few days ago, we had parked our Airstream on the front row of RVs closest to the beach. But we got tired of the constant shifts of energy as short-term neighbors were replaced by new ones. There were some good folks, but our most recent parade of neighbors was extremely invasive and obnoxious.

This finally pushed us into changing lots, to one “in the corner in the back in the dark”, as James puts it. It’s in the line of RVs furthest from the beach. We’re on the end, so there are no neighbors on the left side. The neighbor in the rig on our right is hardly ever there (I’ve never seen him) so it is very peaceful.

Here are some pictures of our life right on the beach, ending with our present location.

Dog Ringo loves the RV park because of the numerous dog smells here. Highly stimulating!

One of the advantages of having a lot right on the beach was that we had our own little “back yard” facing the ocean. This view looks south towards the Pacifica pier.

This view looks north towards San Francisco and Marin.

On my rare nights off, we would have cocktails and watch the sunset. It’s almost always cool by the shore, so we have to bundle up!

James doing his Kenny of South Park imitation:

This is the shot that EVERYBODY takes of the beach at sunset. If you’ve seen one, you’ve pretty much seen them all!

My attempt at being artsy with one of our bicycles:

I did enjoy our time on the front line closest to the water, but looked forward to moving to a quieter location.

It was a relatively quick and simple operation to move the trailer to this back lot, last Saturday, July 18, 2009.

It’s wonderful to open the windows on the side with the bushes and see a canopy of greenery instead of a rig parked only a scant few feet away.

Whenever I’m on the road, time distorts. It either goes by in a flash or seems to stand still.

Or both.

Looking back on the past five weeks, there’s really not a whole lot to write about. Yet, I’ve been very busy.

Eight shows a week is a relentless schedule, especially when half of them occur in only two days, over the weekends.

It is a predictable work routine which I am very comfortable with. Although demanding, I know what to expect. After many years of doing it, I have learned how to pace myself.

I am amused (and gratified) to see how my father’s strong work ethic manifests in my nature. Over the past two years of on-and-off employment, I seem to be happiest when I am working.

As a musician, this means playing. My work is my play and my play is my work!

Lately, it feels good to bring home a paycheck every week too. I’ve been fortunate to sub with Phantom for a few weeks, literally here and there, over the past year.

Here’s a shot of me playing the harp with Ringo and Rupert providing an ever-appreciative audience:

I am now down to my last five days (and seven shows) in Hartford CT. This is the second week of the run here; James and I arrived on April 21st.

I still have a hard time believing that I’m all the way across the country! This is a BIG piece of dirt.

We left the Airstream at the RV park in Kansas City because the northeastern part of the country is not very RV-friendly; there are very few places to park.

So we’ve brought just the truck the 1200 miles to the East Coast, and are staying in a Residence Inn just north of downtown Hartford. In fact, we stayed at this place the last time Phantom played here, back in early 2002.

Thankfully, the dog and cat are good travelers and good sports. They’re doing fine!

We stopped in Delaware on our way to Hartford to visit briefly with our dear friends Caroline and Peter, who had flown from England to stay with their family who moved to the States. It was wonderful to see them, even if for only a few hours.

Backtracking: our three weeks in Kansas City were pleasant; it’s always nicer to stay in our own little space, the tastefully and artistically decorated vintage Airstream. It’s a very comfortable environment, and works well for us.

It was also nice to be able to spend time with our good friends Jerry and Judy. It had been several years since we’d seen them, and we always have a good time together.

This usually involves visiting Kansas City’s fine art galleries, seeing movies, and eating at various restaurants, including KC’s famous barbeque. (Yes, we’re 99% vegan, ha ha!)

Jerry is an enthusiast of the French horn and has a large collection of instruments, hanging from bicycle hooks in his basement. In fact, we originally met in 2000 when Jerry found out that I was selling a horn. We became fast friends.

It’s always fun to play on his instruments, and Jerry often invites other area horn players to his house to play ensemble music when I’m in town. I was particularly gratified that the horn section of the Kansas City Symphony came one afternoon to play through my new horn quintet. They sounded great on it and were very complimentary.

One of the other players at this fun gathering commented that my piece should be in the standard horn ensemble repertoire. High praise, indeed!

This has inspired me to finish the other two movements. Until this latest flurry of activity to finish the first movement of the horn quintet in Kansas City, it has been a long time since I’ve composed any music for horn; all of my energies have been devoted to writing for recorder ensembles.

When we left California on March 27th, Spring had arrived a couple weeks earlier. In Kansas City, the season was just starting to manifest with little buds on the trees and slightly higher temperatures. Three weeks later on our two-day trip to Hartford, we discovered that Spring’s clock was turned back yet again a couple of weeks.

Until a few days ago, when the temperatures soared into the 90s. Crazy!

This morning it is a more seasonable 57 degrees, and the weather is expected to continue cooler through the remaining five days that we are here.

Today I am busy editing video footage that I took on our trip from California to Kansas City. When I finish doing that, I will finally post!

(Later: The total footage was too long to put into one video, so it’s in two parts.)

It’s SO good to be home!

After our extensive time away from home from Thanksgiving through the beginning of February, it is a profound relief joy to be back in the Woods.

This spot has a certain laid-back pace which is best experienced at length. Although it is certainly possible to enjoy brief visits, it takes time to sink into the slower rhythm and deliberate, majestic beauty here.

It took a few days to settle in. At first, the profound silence seemed a little too quiet. Without the usual over-stimulation of the hordes in “civilization”, I didn’t know what to do with myself. I had been immersed in the quick pace of the Bay area and of L.A. for nearly two months.

It did feel good to be working regularly, playing the horn, but I expended a great deal of energy.

Gradually I have relaxed back into the slower rhythm of this place. The puffiness under my eyes has receded. My city pallor has been replaced with a warm woodsy glow. The fat around my midsection is slowly melting away.

The first few days were mild and the traces of snow from the storm of January 26th finally disappeared.

James and Ringo and I take walks around the neighborhood every day, choosing new routes each time, passing by all the houses and cabins which are mostly unoccupied during the winter. It feels so good to be outdoors and get exercise, without the distractions of people all around us.

James and I are fortunate to be able to enjoy one another’s company on our own, although we do treasure our associations with family and friends.

Ringo the dog and Rupert the cat provide a surprising amount of company and entertainment. I can’t imagine not having a dog now, especially out here in the Woods.

I practice the horn every day to keep in shape, and have gotten back into playing the harp daily as well. It has taken quite a while to build up my callouses again, after months of not playing.

It snowed about four inches on the night of February 8th and I took some pictures the next day, on our usual walk.

James cleared a path leading from the trailer, parked in front of the barn, to the little road which we call our ‘driveway’. Both James and I have these incredibly warm, thick terrycloth robes with hoods which are wonderful to wear in the winter. Now we’ve started wearing them outside. I suppose that any passerby would think that they’ve encountered a monastery!

This one is of the intersection nearest our barn; the neighbors have probably put this unlikely figure here to guide visitors to their place:

Okay, let’s go up their driveway!

A few hundred feet takes us to their house:

Then we walked back to the intersection and went in the opposite direction, up the road (where we had gotten stuck just before Christmas) towards the main road:

James and Ringo stopped to let me take their picture.

Now let’s walk back home:

This tractor, which dates from 1947, has been a yard ornament for many years.

We walked around the other side of the barn to the north, where I took this shot of the outbuildings of the barn. The section to the right walled green tar paper is the Music Room. The porch on the end, facing west, is a great hangout except during the Winter months.

We went down through the meadow westward towards the river and I turned around to take this shot:

Then I faced the river. Winter is the only time of year that it can be easily seen from the top of the cliff, as the trees are bare. You can see the creek bed, which leads to the metal ladder going down to the little river beach, on the lower right side of the showing water.

We wended our way south along the bottom of the meadow, then continued through a section of woods. Ringo LOVES the snow! He acts very wolf-like in it. He enjoys running through it and eating it. I took a shot of Ringo and James playing frisbee:

We continued south up the hill to where James had arranged some ancient folding chairs (harvested from the treasure trove of the barn) last summer as a “usable art assemblage”. He wanted me to take shots of it in the snow. Here’s one:

Turn about is fair play, so I asked James to take a picture of me, with Ringo. He says that I look either Flemish or Russian in this outfit. Hey, it’s warm!

Last summer, we had moved this bench from the porch to the south side of the barn. I thought it looked interesting in the snow:

Back in the trailer, cat Rupert cried to go outside. Okay, kitty! Do you really want to deal with the snow? Here he is looking just a bit hesitant (but then he decided to proceed).

It snowed again the next day, February 10th. There was now a total of at least ten inches on the ground. I decided that it was a perfect time to take some video! The first consists of snow scenes, and the second is of James playing with Ringo in the meadow.

MORE SNOW: February 11th and 13th!

I’ve been working on this blog post for several days now and the pictures and videos of the snow keep piling up! Hang in there, folks, there’s more to come!

We woke up on the 12th to find that it had snowed during the night. The sky was crystal-clear blue yesterday morning, and the cold temperatures kept the snow piled on all the trees. These conditions made for some wonderful pictures.

Rupert does surprisingly well in the snow. Perhaps the fur growing between his toes helps him stay on top of things!

James encouraged me to take lots of pictures of our view to the south, where the snow had turned the deciduous trees into a sparkling filigree.

A closeup of a bush covered with snow:

Here’s a view of our main living space, the Airstream, parked next to the Bunkhouse. The liquid amber tree is sandwiched in-between the twin cedars:

This shot faces east. A few hundred yards further on is the infamous road where we’ve gotten stuck:

I faced in the opposite direction westward to take this shot of the hundred-year-old barn:

I walked down towards the meadow, then turned right (north) to take a shot of our little home on wheels.

Trudging through the ten inches of snow westward again, here’s the south end of the barn:

I rounded the corner of the barn and faced northwest to take this wonderful brilliant-blue shot:

Turning slightly to the left with each new shot to face more directly west:

I also took some video footage of yesterday morning. James, Rupert and Ringo co-star:

UPDATE:
It snowed yet again overnight, and we woke up to find a foot and a half of new snow this morning! It’s nearly two feet deep now.

I took yet MORE video of this amazing event and will edit it soon. Meanwhile, you have quite enough to wade through in today’s post!

Over the past month, James and I have lived at the beach in Pacifica, the central valley in Sacramento, back at our home in the mountains, and NOW, in the completely different vibe of LA-LA land.

Backtracking…

The Beach
We spent the first day of 2009 with my cousin S. She lives in a quaint fisherman’s cottage, a stone’s-throw from Half Moon Bay.

It was a gorgeous noon, sunny and mild. We walked along the water along with many other beach wanderers and enjoyed the springlike weather, and laughed at S.’s two dogs frolicking with the crowd and other canines.

Here’s a shot of a little Australian boy who was perfect for the camera:

I’ve very much enjoyed reconnecting with my cousin, who I hadn’t seen in thirty years.

We had been very close as kids, since S. lived in San Francisco and I was in Sacramento, and our families would get together several times a year.

In high school I moved to the East coast and I didn’t see S. again until after I’d graduated, when I visited the West coast. Then we went off to our respective music conservatories (Cincinnati, Baltimore) during our college years.

Until recently, I hadn’t seen S. since she was in Baltimore, at the end of 1978. I was in the city for an audition with the orchestra, and stayed with my cousin and her college roommates in a big, rambling house that they rented. (I was playing in the Nashville Symphony at the time.)

Working in the San Francisco bay area for six weeks during the holidays provided me with a chance to connect with a few friends and relatives that I hadn’t seen in years. But the show schedule is always relentless and it was challenging to set aside little chunks of free time to see people.

I’m glad that S. and I found time to visit on two occasions during my sojourn in the Bay area. I look forward to having her come visit us in the Woods when the weather warms up.

Here are some shots taken during our stay at the San Francisco RV resort in Pacifica:

I faced away from the beach as I took this picture on the night of a Full Moon:

The view towards the ocean:

Early on in our visit, I had James take this shot of Ringo and me:

Rupert trying out his new scratching post:

It was challenging to practice horn in the small space of the trailer. I used a mute to dampen the sound.

Whenever James and I walked a few blocks to the grocery store with Ringo, I stayed outside with the dog while James went inside to shop. I sat on a nearby bench and watched the passerby, many of whom smiled at Ringo and often stopped to chat. Having a dog is a good way to meet people!

I finished the very successful Phantom run in San Francisco on January 4th, then had a rehearsal with the Modesto Symphony (in the central valley) the next evening. James and I made the two-hour drive there and back the same day, arriving back in Pacifica at midnight.

We decided to stay at the beach a couple more days, to allow the road conditions to further improve at home in the Woods. We didn’t want to repeat the disaster of getting stuck as we had on our previous visit! Every mild day that passed would increase our chances of being able to get our trailer back up the hill and parked in front of our barn.

The Valley
We left the beach on the 7th and went to Sacramento (on the way home) to see our family. We had regretted missing them at Christmas and looked forward to spending time with my brother, his wife and my niece and nephew. The latter was home from music school in Boston and I was anxious to hear about his first months there. He’s maturing so quickly!

Originally we had planned to spend only a few days in Sacramento, staying in our Airstream parked in the family driveway, and then venture on up the hill for home.

But a drive up to the Woods for a brief exploratory visit that weekend convinced us to wait another few days, as that last steep dirt road to our place (where we had gotten stuck just before Christmas) was still covered with ice and snow. Nearly a foot of snow continued to blanket the meadow and area around the barn, which doesn’t get much sun this time of year. It would be very difficult to back the trailer over that slippery mess. It was best to wait a few more days.

So it was fine to go back down to the valley to hang out with the family, and had a lovely visit. There were many excellent meals alternately prepared by my sister-in-law and James, while my brother is a master at the barbeque grill.

My niece and nephew, home from college on break, had a steady stream of their friends in and out of the house. The place was very much enlivened by their presence and we all enjoyed each other’s company, an extended family. There were several meals in which we managed to fit ten people around the huge round table in the diningroom. What fun!

James and I both preferred staying in our Airstream in the driveway rather than in the guest house as we usually do when we visit the family in Sacramento, because it’s our own familiar, intimate space. It also minimized the hectic atmosphere in the main house, at least a little bit.

My father designed and built this adobe brick house in 1952, and it is amazing that it continues to be the family home.

The weather in Sacramento was unseasonably sunny and warm for January. The standard winter day there usually entails fog and cool temperatures. We were very thankful that the weather was so nice while we were there, although the region desperately needs rain.

Meanwhile, much of the rest of the country suffered with snow and sub-freezing temperatures. Living in California can feel like being on another planet, in more ways than one! (Especially in the southern portion of the state, which I’ll get to in a moment.)

The Woods
We finally took our leave of the family in Sacramento on the 18th, and towed the Airstream back up to our home in the Woods. There were a few slippery sections on the steep dirt road where it was shady, but not enough to pose a serious problem.

However, there was still quite a bit of ice and snow in front of the barn where we wanted to park the trailer.

The truck’s wheels spun on the ice as we tried to back up the rig to level it properly. We spent the next hour-and-a-half trying to move it a few inches. We finally thought of putting tire doormats under the truck’s back wheels, which helped.

A neighbor happened to pass by and he suggested that we put a series of boards under the trailer wheels rather than try to back it up on the large metal chocks, which we usually use to level the trailer on uneven ground.

This worked! The trailer was finally level, on a combination of snow, ice and mud.

Besplattered with mud from head to toe, we thanked the neighbor and James filled the Airstream’s water tank directly from the well so that we could have running water inside. He needed to replace the pipes by the pump and by the faucet in the barn that had burst in our absence.

It was so nice to be home!

The peace and quiet. The lovely views of evergreens and mountains.

Temperatures were mild all last week and the snow and ice gradually receded, helped along by much-needed rain for several days. The trailer needed to be leveled again as the ice melted.

Here is a shot of the snow behind the barn, near the meadow. This area doesn’t get much sunshine during the winter as the sun dips behind the mountain in early afternoon. As you can see, there was still plenty of snow even a month after the storm:

It was quite different to live in the trailer rather than in the Music Room as we had done last year. The Airstream is so much easier to heat! James had basically spent three months last winter tending the woodstove, so we wanted to see what it was like to spend the winter in the trailer this time. As we had lived in it full-time since before Thanksgiving anyway, it was a very familiar, comfortable feeling to be in that small, cozy space.

We still need to install the new woodstove in the Music Room. Meanwhile, we are using a combination of kerosene heater and small portable electric heater, which warms up the large room quite adequately during my horn practicing sessions.

I needed to keep in strong playing shape for my upcoming stint on Principal horn in Phantom in Los Angeles this week. I prefer playing the horn in the Music Room rather than in the small confines of the trailer. Brass instruments like a lot of space!

It was also nice to play my three harps again. I had to devote quite a bit of time tuning them, as the cold temperatures had changed the strings’ pitch, and a couple of strings had snapped.

It always amazes me how musical instruments feel “dead” when they haven’t been played in a while, and how they magically come alive when they are played.

Of course, our dog Ringo loves the Woods. The wolf part in him definitely comes out as we walk the trails. It was nice not to have to pick up his poop as we did at the RV park at the beach, and he was much more calm not having to sniff the traces of numerous other dogs.

The week went by in a pleasant blur. Neither of us wanted to leave our beautiful slice of heaven on Sunday, but duty called! We needed to get to Los Angeles for my week of Phantom.

We woke up on Sunday morning to find three inches of new snow on the ground! And it was still snowing heavily at 9:30 a.m.

We had intended to leave the Woods in late afternoon, but decided to get the heck out of there immediately, before the roads became difficult to navigate.

So we threw a minimum of things together and packed them into the car, along with the dog and cat, and managed to escape just in time.

It amazed me that only twenty miles down the hill, there was no snow whatsoever in Nevada City.

We spent the day at my brother’s house in Sacramento, and stayed overnight. Although the kids are back at college, one of my nephew’s friends is staying in the guest-house and the five of us had an enjoyable dinner together at the Big house.

We left Sacramento at 10 a.m. on Monday morning.

LA-LA land
The weather on our drive down the state was beautiful — sunny and cool. Interstate 5 is often a very boring road to travel, but it is considerably faster than State highway 99.

We arrived at the huge, sprawling apartment complex at Toluca Lake (in the Hollywood Hills) in late afternoon. Traffic was zippy and aggressive but not too horrible on Highway 101 going towards L.A. at 4 p.m. I imagine that it got worse not long after.

We’re staying in a one-bedroom corporate apartment which is completely furnished. It feels HUGE to us! We would have preferred a studio but they were all taken.

This complex was built in the ’70s and has seen better days, although it is certainly tolerable for one week. Our apartment is on the end of the building and has nice wrap-around windows in the corner of the livingroom.

At the front desk, I had to sign an affidavit accepting the fact that the walls contain lead. “Don’t be licking the walls,” the clerk quipped.

There are twenty-six large buildings nestled in these hills, from A to Z. We are in building Q. No comment!  😉

Parking is at a premium. The tiny, narrow spaces fill up completely in the late afternoon after work. When James picked me up from the theatre at 10:45 p.m., we had to park in another lot further away from our building.

After we had brought our possessions into the apartment and made a cup of tea, we ventured out to a nearby Vons grocery store (in Hollywood) for supplies.

What a trip that store was.

Lots of trendy, packaged foods. Young women wearing black jeans and t-shirts with gold sequins, spelling “PINK” on their butts. Older women in power black suits with lots of gold jewelry and major attitude. People racing their shopping carts with great urgency down the narrow aisles, as if they were speeding in their cars down the congested highways.

Everyone on cell phones.

I imagined that there would be a wide selection of health foods since Southern California has such an emphasis on keeping fit. There was indeed a wide array of juice drinks in attractive bottles, but not many natural juices. There was no bulk food health section. Almost everything is packaged in eye-catching and glitzy ways.

The produce was adequate but not inspired. The aisles were very narrow and the attitudinal women racing here and there got on my nerves.

All of a sudden, all the commercials and TV programs make much more sense, watched in this setting of L.A. It’s like a light bulb has gone off in my head. Most of the commercials here are different than the ones shown further north. I have never seen so many weight loss, home fitness “systems” and weight-reduction surgery ads as I have here!

My first Phantom show of the week was on Tuesday night at the Pantages Theatre, on Hollywood Boulevard in Los Angeles.

It dates from 1930. You can read its history here

The orchestra pit is twelve feet below stage level, so most of its occupants are invisible to the audience. I was amazed at how informal the musicians can be in such a setting, unseen by the public.

Several players have tables next to their music stands, where they surf the Net on laptop computers. Others are busy online with their PDAs. There is quiet laughing, joking and talking while the show is in progress, when the musicians aren’t playing.

This behavior would not be allowed amongst the traveling musicians on the road. But this is a different kind of situation, with mostly local musicians who play regularly in that particular venue. Most pits are visible from the audience, but the one at Pantages is not.

The locals have been very welcoming and complimentary to me, which I appreciate. I will enjoy the week, but am greatly looking forward to spending more time at home. At last!

On this morning’s walk, James suggested that we head in a different direction than usual.

So we turned right at the fork at the top of our driveway instead of left. This secondary path brings us to the main dirt road which goes downhill for a mile to town.

“Look at that!” James exclaimed as he pointed to a log at the side of the path. It was a multi-colored blob of fungus growing on the sawed end of a tree trunk.

The camera’s flash captured the richness of the colors in this closeup:

Further up the path, James called my attention to this hanging fungus and moss:

Breathing a little heavily at the top of the secondary path — great exercise! — we went up the main road past the gate and then sharply to the right down our neighbor’s driveway. (When I say “driveway”, I actually mean a dirt road.)

There was more of the same variety of fungus, but hanging more dramatically from the side of the path:

And just a bit farther downhill, more mushrooms! These are quite different than the ones I took shots of yesterday:

A side shot:

Nearing the neighbor’s compound, we passed two water tanks which had been used regularly years ago, when the neighbors had tapped into a spring — the same spring that our property had also utilized “back in the day”. Each neighbor has his own well now.

The first of these tanks reminds me of the one in Petticoat Junction (but a much smaller version):

The second tank has an interesting camo effect:

At this point, the path turns abruptly to the left, leading down to the neighbor’s group of buildings. I captured an affectionate moment between James and Ringo:

The neighbors have an interesting array of old artifacts from long-ago mining days:

Their property is almost entirely covered with trees, so the ground is blanketed with pine needles and the light is rather gloomy, and mosquitoes love hanging out there during the summer.

I am glad that a good deal of the land we inhabit is open meadow. It’s a different world, less than a half-mile away.

I write this post from our 1976 Airstream travel trailer, still parked in the barn. James has just finished this phase of his design project and it is fabulous as promised!

At this moment, we are in the process of loading the stuff we want to bring along for our six-week sojourn in the Bay area, and trying out our new “office space” for size. The space is very cozy and already feels like it’s always been this way.

We will leave either tomorrow or early Sunday morning. New adventures await!