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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:

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! 🙂

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:

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!

After a very hectic but successful first week of shows, James and I drove back to The Woods yesterday afternoon for our one day off. He’s got a dental appointment in Nevada City this morning and then we drive back to San Francisco for tonight’s show. (We’ve got nine shows this week to make up for having Thanksgiving off last week.)

I am always amazed at how QUIET it is at home. Only the sound of a barking dog, a mile down the hill on the main street, could be heard on the crisp, cold starry night.

The barn feels bare without the Airstream trailer in it. There’s no fully-functional kitchen or shower in the adjoining rooms. As a temporary measure, James has a garden hose attached from the well to the toilet in the barn bathroom, but the sink isn’t hooked up yet, nor is the one in the modular metal sink unit in what we call the Summer Kitchen.

We have a small refrigerator and freezer in the Summer Kitchen, and a toaster oven and a propane cooktop stove with two burners. So James “whipped up” frozen lasagna for dinner last night which was actually quite good.

We slept under a mound of blankets on the bed in the Music Room and I got up a few times to turn the small electric heater on and off throughout the night. It got down just below freezing outside, and in the upper 40s inside.

We also have a kerosene heater which warms up the room nicely. James made a pot of tea on the propane cooktop stove and I am sipping on it at my usual spot at the diningroom table.

It’s time to pack up and head down the hill, but before we do, I am posting a video of our trip to the beach and some shots of the Pacific Ocean. I could not upload the video from the RV park wi-fi, which is very capricious.

Perhaps I’ll bore you with the story of the wi-fi company, TengoInternet (which we “lovingly” call NO-TengoInternet!) in a future entry.

The month of August slipped by without an entry and I’m thinking back on what happened during that period of time to share here.

I finished the Midsummer Mozart festival on the 4th and came home. It was wonderful to see James again after an unprecedented three-week separation, and it was certainly a relief to be back in The Woods, basking in the peace, quiet and beauty of this place.

August was mostly very hot. This discouraged any real activity for most of the daytimes; James and I ended up going to the river to cool off, then took naps every day during the height of the afternoon’s heat.

I spent many hours at the computer but didn’t feel like writing words. Writing music took up much of my time. I worked on an arrangement of three tarantellas (Italian dances) for recorder orchestra which we will read through at the September 6th rehearsal in Berkeley. I just finished it last week. Hooray! What a relief.

James worked even harder on his arrangement for recorder orchestra, a medley of popular Italian songs. It is a masterpiece!

We drove down to Nevada City every couple of days, where James took care of our friends’ yard and garden while they were away in Ireland.

Another dear friend and her husband are now visiting us from England for ten days! I met Caroline at the MacJams music site several years ago. We quickly became close “on chat”, emails and telephone calls. Then we met in person last summer when she came to visit us in Arizona, and the three of us got on so well that Caroline has made a return appearance, bringing her husband Peter along. The two of them are delightful guests and are enjoying the serenity and “gorgeousness” (Caroline’s word) here.

If you look at this blog’s earliest entries, you can read about Caroline’s previous visit last year.

James and I now have a DOG! Ringo belonged to our former next door neighbor (“Cowboy”, in Arizona) which he reluctantly decided to give up now that he’s taking a job on an offshore oil rig in Texas. A mutual friend brought Ringo to California a week ago Thursday, and we picked him up at her sister’s house in Oakland.

Ringo immediately recognized us and wagged his whole body furiously in greeting. We were extremely pleased that he remembered us.

He’s the most intelligent dog James and I have ever encountered. Ringo is a mix of border collie and wolf, and began his life “cutting cattle” on a ranch in Oregon with Cowboy. Over the years, the dog has been trampled on by horses and cows and run over several times at Cowboy’s car shop, and has a slight limp. But this doesn’t slow Ringo down when he fetches the ball!

He understands and obeys every command. James is keeping him close to his side for the next two months, to ensure that Ringo bonds with his new owner effectively.

He’s about seven years old now — the same as our cat Rupert, in fact.

Rupert’s first greeting to Ringo was a growl and a hiss. As with all dogs, the cat stood his ground; he’s fearless. Ringo respects Rupert’s claws and is very laid-back around the cat, which is helping Rupert accept Ringo into our family. Although Rupert is still very protective of his “personal space”, the two of them occasionally sit close together, as in this shot:

I’ve always been more of a cat person but I really, really like this dog! Ringo is so smart that he’s no trouble around the house, and he’s a lot fun to play with.

He seems to be loving it out here in The Woods, and would be very tempted to explore on his own. But James keeps him close with either leash or commands at this early bonding stage.

This hot phase of late summer has minimized the variety of wildflowers in the area, but I did take this shot of chicory growing in front of the barn:

Caroline just showed me pictures of a couple of different red wildflowers that she recently took (that I will research and identify later). They are growing along the north side of the house:

In fact, Caroline has been taking LOTS of wonderful pictures of the visit, so I’ve been particularly lazy about using my own camera. (All of this post’s shots were taken by Caroline except for the cat/dog and chicory pics.)

By the way, James and I got married last Wednesday at two o’clock.

We took Caroline and Peter to “Trailer Trash” potluck on Saturday night. Caroline has had dreams of mashed potatoes every night since, and pines for more. The locals embraced both Brits with their “interesting attempts at a British accent” (Peter’s phrase). I found Don’s Aussie accent the most amusing. He apparently got it from watching too much of Crocodile Dundee.

Having guests relax in our environment makes it easier for James and I to do so. These past few days are passing by in a pleasant blur, as the four of us sit outside at the picnic table under the shady cedar tree, or kick back on lounge chairs under another cedar at the opposite side of the barn, or hang out on the back porch facing the meadow.

It cooled off enough on Sunday night to light a fire in the Franklin stove on the cement patio. The sky was clear and moonless and sprinkled with stars. It was like camping out. I love moments like these!

Caroline and Peter will be with us until Saturday morning, when we take them to the Sacramento airport for their flight to the East Coast. They will visit family and friends in the Philadelphia area for a week before flying back to England.

The day stretches ahead without any real agenda. Delicious slothfulness. I will feel that I have accomplished at least something by finally posting to my blog!

not “that cigarette”, as the lyrics go — but smoke from numerous fires currently raging throughout Northern California.

The local paper advises that outdoor activity should be avoided today because of heavy smoke from fires surrounding Nevada County.

The news article went on to say that if you can see and smell smoke, you are most likely breathing unhealthy levels of particulate.

It’s the worst particulate levels since the district started measuring air quality 15 years ago; almost 400 micrograms per cubic meter, and the hazardous level is 260.

Our little town is at the top of the priority list because “that’s where we have the most residences in proximity to the fires”, according to Greg Cleveland of the U.S. Forest Service this morning.

No evacuations have been ordered but the complex grew to more than 2,000 acres overnight and inundated the Grass Valley and Nevada City area with heavy smoke.

The Scotchman Fire was on the north side of the South Fork of the Yuba River Monday and stopped about one mile east of town.

This is the fire closest to our house, just over a mile away.

The entire Yuba River Complex is only 5 percent contained, according to authorities.

The U.S. Forest Service, which has established a blaze command center at the Nevada County Fairgrounds in Grass Valley (only a few yards away from our trailer!) says: “The fires are difficult because they’re spread out.”

With only 259 personnel on the fire, the command center is hoping to get more firefighters and equipment in coming days as other blazes die out, the Forest service authority said.

He went on to say that the main area of concern is our little town. The Forest Service will hold a community meeting at 6 p.m. tonight at the local Fire District Hall for a fire update.

At about 10 this morning, I took the following footage of our Airstream trailer at the Nevada County Fairgrounds. It gives you a rough idea of how smoky the air is — but you have to breathe it to really believe it!

My final rehearsal for the Trio for Horn, Violin and Piano is this afternoon at the hall; then I’ll have a three-hour break before the concert.

James suggested driving me to the concert hall — even though it’s only a seven-minute walk from our campsite — to minimize my exposure to the excessive smoke. I am already hacking and coughing, even inside the air-conditioned trailer. There’s a little tickle in the back of my throat which won’t go away.

As for James, he is feeling ever-so-slightly better as a result of taking antibiotics. He also needs to stay indoors as much as possible.

On Saturday afternoon, ominous black clouds filled the sky over the Nevada County Fairgrounds where James and I are staying in our Airstream trailer.

We are currently being hosted by the Fairgrounds management; the summer music festival is going on right here. It’s a much more convenient commute than from our place in The Woods. In fact, it takes me all of seven minutes to walk from our campsite to the concert hall.

Seeing the dark clouds made us hope for rain, which is so desperately needed all over California.

It didn’t precipitate in our immediate area, but other areas reported some brief moisture.

There was a great deal of lightning; over 3000 strikes were reported throughout Northern California which resulted in 602 wildfires.

One of these fires is burning only a mile-and-a-half from our house. We had no idea about any of this until D. called on the backstage telephone yesterday as I was about to play a concert. D. agreed to drive over from Nevada City to notify James at the trailer, since our cell phone was turned off.

They drove up to The Woods to scope things out. D. went up the hill a mile to our neighbors who are situated closest to the fire, while James stayed at our house and gathered together our musical instruments, important papers and computer equipment and put them in the truck.

Needless to say, I was somewhat preoccupied during the concert, wondering how things were going up the hill.

We finally got in touch after the concert and I had returned to the trailer and turned on the phone. James told me that the area was extremely smoky, although the fire had not crossed Scotchman’s Creek just below the neighbors’. The wind had just shifted and was coming in from the southwest, so the fire would be heading away from our neighborhood.

I breathed a sigh of relief.

Several hours later, I met James and D. at D&L’s house in Nevada City to help unload the harps and trunks. We were grateful that they were willing to take care of our instruments. We transferred the trunks into the Scion where they will remain until the fire danger has passed.

Today we’ve been in touch with the neighbor as well as L., who told us that the fire is not spreading further, but is smouldering out. Hooray! The winds are light and are not expected to pick up much, so the fire should stay confined to the ground — rather than igniting the tops of the trees, which would be very bad.

Our neighbor will let us know immediately if there is a change for the worse.

On another note: the music festival is going well, although the pace of rehearsals and concerts is very hectic. I can’t believe how much playing I’m doing! And this is immediately after performing sixteen shows in a row of Phantom.

It feels very good to play and it is wonderful to see my old musical colleagues again, but I wish I had more time off to rest. Today is the first free day I’ve had since June 2nd.

Today won’t really be free, however, because I need to practice a brand-new piece of music which we are performing tomorrow night. It’s a trio for violin, horn and piano, and is extremely difficult. Virtuosic parts for all, in fact. The composer worked with us the other day and will do so again for our final rehearsal tomorrow afternoon; then we perform the concert a few hours later.

Between practice-sessions, I am listening to a MIDI file of the piece while following the score, and am writing down cues in my horn part so hopefully I won’t get lost!

We are staying inside the trailer today because the air is very smoky, even thirty miles away from the scene of the mountain fires.

For the past ten days, James has been suffering acutely from a sinus infection, brought on by allergies to cottonwood and other things blooming around here. He’s been so ill that he spends most of the time lying down. He was starting to feel better yesterday but then the smoke aggravated his sinus condition. He finally went to the clinic today and has begun taking antibiotics.

It always distresses me when James is sick — it doesn’t happen very often but really zaps him when it does.

Last year at this time, I was the one who was sick (with bronchitis) which lasted for over two months.

Our global environment seems less and less hospitable than it used to be.

Here is a video of bringing the Airstream down from The Woods to the Nevada County Fairgrounds last Wednesday. In all the excitement, I forgot to take footage of our actual arrival at the campground, so I’ll take pictures of our current location next time.

Rupert rode with me in the Scion and was pretty good, although he vocalized his usual displeasure of traveling in the car.

Lately, I have been busy making music rather than making words.

Last week I spent in the San Francisco Bay area, playing a very challenging concert set with Symphony Silicon Valley. The program: Copland “Appalachian Spring”, Vaughan-Williams “Tuba Concerto”, Richard Strauss “Till Eulenspiegel’s Merry Pranks” and “Rosenkavalier Suite”.

This ambitious program was demanding for all the instruments in the orchestra, but especially for the horns. I was also challenged by playing 2nd to a very talented young woman who holds the distinction of having contracts with nine different orchestras in the Bay area. She substitutes in many more ensembles, and has become famous amongst the freelance musicians for playing a high number of gigs in the area.

I wanted to make the best impression possible. The 2nd horn’s job is to make the Principal horn sound good. She didn’t need any extra help because she already has considerable playing ability, but it was important for me to match her well.

It could also lead to more freelance work in the future, since she is so well-connected in the local orchestra network. Hopefully word will continue to spread that I am a valuable asset to any horn section.

I like to think of myself as a musician who “brings a lot to the table”, so to speak. For risk of blowing my own horn (pun intended), I pride myself on a high level of professionalism and I am easy to get along with in the orchestra.

My horn teacher in college insisted that I develop these qualities in order to be a successful musician, and I thank him for emphasizing this into me early on.

I had the privilege of playing in an excellent horn section in the Sacramento Symphony from 1982 through 1996. Our playing was in sync and we got along well professionally. Over a decade after the organization’s demise, people still talk about how good our horn section was.

Spending time in the SF Bay area is so very different from being In The Woods. The pace is crazy-fast; there are so many people (seven million in the metro area) and the physical environment contrasts sharply with the higher, woodsy elevation of my home.

At sea level, many flowers and trees were already in bloom in the Bay area, although the air still had a cool neutrality about it last week; not quite Spring yet. But you could tell it was coming soon!

I am very fortunate to be able to stay with my violinist friend R.A. in the house she shares with her father, in Lafayette which is only an hour commute north of San Jose where the orchestra rehearses and performs.

I have my own room and access to the internet in the adjoining room which is being used as an office.

I adore both R.A. and her father, and always look forward to seeing them.

Still, my heart is home in The Woods with James, who stays behind to take care of the cat and the place.

He’d accompany me on these trips to the Bay area if we were able to bring Rupert, but R.A.’s father has made it clear that he doesn’t want cats in his house. He is a retired veterinarian and saw his fill of pets during his long, successful career.

When R.A. first moved in with her father a couple of years ago, she brought her old cat Jazzy. It was sometimes incontinent and was kept in R.A.’s quarters upstairs, which was the only real alternative but not an optimum one “for man or beast”.

When Jazzy passed on, Morrie said something along the lines of “Never again!” as far as cats were concerned.

So James stays home with our puss, while I work intensely with the orchestra and shuttle back and forth to San Jose from Wednesday through Sunday.

Sometimes Morrie cooks dinner for us, and other times R.A. and I grab a bite out, or I buy a few things at the grocery store to nibble on. I made R.A. peanut butter and jelly sandwiches on two occasions. Other sandwiches over the course of the week included sprouts and tofu, and tuna. This was often supplemented with carrots, apples, pretzels and a little cheese.

On Saturday evening before our first concert, Morrie made us shrimp louie salad, accompanied by a fresh, crusty baguette. I supplemented this with ready-made veggie minestroni soup from the store deli. This nice. light meal sent R.A. and me off to San Jose in good style.

I don’t like to eat heavy foods before performances. I’ll leave it to your imagination to think of why this might be so, for a horn player — or any wind player for that matter. 😉

This gives you an idea of the food I eat when I’m away from James’ excellent cooking. It’s fine, and particularly good when Morrie cooks, but I’m always glad to return home. Yes, I’m very spoiled!

I arrived back In The Woods late Sunday night, after a successful week with Symphony Silicon Valley. It was wonderful to see James (and Rupert) again, enveloped by peace and quiet and the smell of pine trees, and to sleep in my own bed.

I woke up the next day, exhausted from expending all that energy down in the “flatlands”. But it was a good kind of tired — a satisfaction which comes from a job well done.

However, I didn’t have much time to rest; James and I have been busily working on various recorder arrangements and compositions for the local recorder group in Nevada City.

I have been expanding some of my recorder duets for the larger ensemble. One piece requires eight players and two other pieces use seven. I had finished the largest one last week, and completed another at R.A.’s over the weekend. Then I worked most of Monday and Tuesday on the next piece, which I finished in time for last night’s rehearsal.

We recently bought a basic black&white laser printer, which is fine for music. I’m very pleased with its output; the music score and parts look professional.

I printed out the three pieces yesterday before we went down to “Big Town” for our weekly Wednesday grocery shopping/errands and recorder rehearsal in the evening.

We rehearsed at one of the member’s homes, which was a treat. Hostess Vanessa was gracious and accommodating. Eight of us set up in her living room (the furniture was pushed back) and rehearsed director Richard’s arrangement of “Carmina Burana”. Each movement calls for different combinations of recorders, and he wanted to add harp and hurdy-gurdy to some sections.

So I brought my small 26-string lap harp, which has a wonderful bell-like, “folky” tone perfect for recorders and Renaissance music.

But Vanessa’s hurdy-gurdy stole the show. What a fascinating instrument! Its concept began in the 13th Century. I had never seen or heard one before. This ancient instrument is difficult to explain, but I will say that it’s basically a rectangular wooden box, about two feet long, ten inches deep and ten inches high. It has a drone sort of like a bagpipe’s and has four strings, and is operated by a crank on the side.

In fact it sounds rather like a bagpipe, but is much more subdued — thank goodness! Some of the movements in Carmina Burana are perfect for the sound of the hurdy-gurdy, and Vanessa got very excited when she was able to play the melody, after we helped her tune a couple of the notes which needed to be changed to fit the key of the piece.

I enjoyed alternating between tenor recorder and the harp. It just so happened that the movements which didn’t call for tenor work out well on the harp.

The time flew by quickly during this creative process. Before the rehearsal ended, director Richard wanted to make sure we had a chance to play through one of my compositions, so I put on the CD of the computer-generated score in order for the players to get a rough idea what the three pieces sounded like.

I was pleased at the positive reception, but even more pleased when we played through one of the selections. I’ve composed various pieces over the years, duets mostly, so it was a real treat to hear these musicians play a composition with seven parts.

In fact, I was almost overwhelmed with emotion.

Obviously, they enjoyed playing the piece, “Hymn”, which had started out as a duet shortly after my mother died in 2005. It has sort of a churchly flavor, like a quiet organ in the lower register. I’m hoping that it will eventually become a best-seller, when James and I get our recorder music website going.

Richard wants us to perform it at our upcoming Spring concert in late May. I feel very honored.

I am excited about the prospect of having my compositions performed with this group, and possibly with an even larger recorder ensemble which Richard directs in the Bay Area. James and I plan to attend their Spring concert in Berkeley on April 19th, to hear what the group sounds like. We may join them when their new season starts in the Fall.

If time permits at next Wednesday’s rehearsal, we’ll play through my other two pieces. Richard expressed interest in including another of them on the Spring concert program. So there may be two compositions by Cameron on that performance, which is exciting.

I was gratified to see that he (along with the others) seem enthusiastic about having a “resident composer” in their midst.

Actually, TWO resident composers — James has some wonderful recorder compositions too. They are quite different from mine in that they start out as arrangements of various jazz and pop songs, but are adapted and modified so that they have become original pieces.

I can hardly wait for the group to play James’ version of “Corcovado” (Quiet Nights) when he finishes it. The piece takes its roots from a version performed by Engelbert Humperdinck — jazzy, upbeat and corny, and I think that the recorder players will love it!

Ah, the Vernal Equinox arrived early today. It’s wonderful to experience the upsurge of new Spring energy.

It’s going to be a busy season — full of rehearsals and concerts with symphony orchestras in Sacramento, Modesto and Nevada City, as well as our activities with the recorder group — not to mention all the MANY projects which need doing here In The Woods!

More about what’s going on In The Woods in my next post….