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Yeah yeah, I know this looks like Hair Thursday instead of Hair Sunday, but I’m sure you understand.

It’s been quite an adjustment being home in The Woods for the first time since September, along with continuing to process our dear friend Laura’s sudden death.

It is both reassuring and sad to be on the land that Laura loved so much. I sense her spirit in every song of the bird, sigh of the pines in the breeze and rush of the water over the rocks in the river.

But she is no longer here to enjoy these things and we feel empty. A huge gap has been created in our lives and it will take some time to heal. Life does go on, and Laura would want us to enjoy it as much as possible. But we need to honor the grieving process right now.

After working so intensely since September, it is actually a relief to have some down-time. I can now turn my musical energies towards more creative pursuits. I am currently working on a synthesized ambient piece.

James is putting the finishing touches on a brass sextet (two trumpets, horn, trombone, euphonium and tuba) which is a suite of five movements in honor of our cat Rupert. It is truly a remarkable piece, and will hopefully become part of the brass repertoire. I view James’ progress as a composer with great amazement and pride. I’ll be able to say that “I knew him WHEN!”  😉

Unlike much of the rest of the country, the weather has been unseasonably mild here in The Woods. Now that I don’t have any gigs lined up for a while, I actually HOPE that it snows; we have nowhere to be, and could afford to be “snowed in” for a few days. We missed the one major snowfall around Christmastime. It is so beautiful here when it snows.

Twenty years ago today, the earth shook violently in San Francisco. The death toll was 62, 3757 people were injured and property damage exceeded eight billion dollars.

I lived in Sacramento at the time but just happened to be in San Francisco that day! Here is my journal entry written several days later:

Friday, October 20, 1989

We were in San Francisco on the fateful earthquake day of October 17th, 1989. We were in the City for appointments with a nutritionist that a friend had recommended.

We were done by 4 P.M., and decided to have an early dinner at the nearby Middle Eastern restaurant “La Mediterranee” on Noe St. before heading back to Sacramento.

Carl [a previous partner] & I were the only customers eating at that “in-between” hour, and had nearly finished the delicious meal when the earthquake struck! Our table started to shake vigorously which made it difficult to dip the “baba ganoush” into my mouth. The glasses behind the bar rattled and the floor swayed and buckled as the earth made curious roaring, rumbling sounds. The first shock was immediately followed by a heavier second one, whereupon Carl leaped from his chair, grabbed my knapsack and scurried to the front door. He tripped over himself in panic and knocked into a table on his way out, which crashed to the floor with a shower of glass.

I was surprisingly calm and walked out of the place as the earth continued to shake. Carl went into the street but ran back to grab my arm as I emerged, cautioning me about the possibility of flying glass from the front window. Carl was extremely upset and I wasn’t at all, for some reason. Mother Nature was doing her number and I couldn’t do anything about it – if I was supposed to die, well, then it was time to go…..I found myself fascinated by the whole thing.

Later, however, the gravity of the disaster sank in, and I apologized to Carl for criticizing his strong reactions to the quake.

We stood in front of the restaurant as the shaking stopped, and the entire city was shocked into silence for a moment. Then it erupted into screams and sirens and general pandemonium, which continued into the night.

Carl wanted to leave without paying for our dinner, which surprised me; he’s usually so honest. I still had another appetizer and half a beer to finish, so I went back into the restaurant to eat and pay the bill. The waitresses and cooks also went back inside, where they commented how this was the strongest quake they had ever experienced in the City. Carl, meanwhile, thought I was completely crazy to go back into the building, and paced nervously up and down the sidewalk. The restaurant didn’t suffer any damage that I could see; our food was still on the table and all pictures and ornaments were still on the walls. The only broken items were from Carl’s encounter with the front table; I thought it wryly amusing that he caused more damage to the restaurant than the quake had.

Of course, the power was off and the waitress couldn’t use the cash register, but the bill came to exactly $20 and she threw in the beer for free. I handed her the money and wished her luck. She laughed and replied, “I bet you didn’t think this visit would be so….eventful, huh?” I agreed with her.

I went outside and found Carl, and we decided to walk the three blocks up Noe St. to his parked car, sit inside and listen to the radio. We felt several strong aftershocks as the various reports of damage throughout the Bay Area trickled in. We watched people walking across the nearby intersection holding radios to their ears and open bottles of beer to their mouths, eyes glazed in shock from those fifteen seconds of Nature shaking her booty. I found it difficult to conceive of the quake’s powerful effect. How could something which lasted only a few seconds wreak such havoc?

The radio soon reported the horrible collapse of the Bay Bridge section and mile of Nimitz Freeway, along with the fires springing up in the Marina area. 60,000 baseball fans waited in Candlestick Park for the third game of the World Series to begin. Carl laughed, remarking how ludicrous it was for people to think about baseball at a time like this.

We sat in the car for over an hour listening to the news, then saw the nutritionist Irene passing by (since her apartment was down the block). Carl flagged her down to ask if we could hang out at her apartment while deciding what to do next, and Irene said, “Sure, join the crowd.”  She had been with two women clients when the quake hit, and I quipped, “They really got an earth-shaking nutritional reading today, didn’t they?”

Carl had no intention of trying to get back to Sacramento that night, so I suggested phoning my friend Paul to see if we could stay at his place. Luckily, the quake hadn’t seriously damaged the City’s phone system, so we were able to get through to Paul after waiting 20 seconds for a dial-tone. I told him that Carl & I would drive there after the heavy traffic had abated somewhat.

Irene’s upstairs apartment hadn’t suffered damage except for an overturned bookshelf. She left to check on some neighbors, so the two women clients sat with Carl & me on the front steps. That particular neighborhood of Noe St. just north of Market seemed fine, although the power was off. We watched the news on Irene’s next-door neighbor’s battery-operated TV, grimacing in horror as we saw the collapsed section of Oakland’s highway 880. Many folks congregated on the sidewalk in front of the neighbor’s tiny TV, many of them were in a mild form of shock. I realized that I must have been in a similar condition to have downplayed my reactions to the quake as I did when it was happening, for it was really quite a serious event. It hit me hard later.

It was soon dark —  very dark without electricity. We sat on the front steps and watched the groups of people walking by with flashlights and radios and candles.  Someone warned us that they had heard on TV that scientists were predicting a strong aftershock in about 45 minutes. One agreeable result of no electricity: the stars could be seen shining brightly in a clear sky. Luckily, temperatures were mild that night, after an unusually warm day.

Irene came back and went upstairs to her fridge, and brought down fruit popsicles for the gang. Carl & I thanked her for everything, then decided to drive to Paul’s. Carl allowed me to drive, and after looking carefully at a map determined the best way to go: south on Dolores, which turned into San Jose, on to Monterey and then to Paul’s on Staples. Traffic was light at 9 P.M. and we arrived safely. Amazingly, that part of the city had electricity; Paul & Liza said that the power had just come on five minutes before we got there.

Their house suffered no structural damage as far as they could tell — even their kitchen, an addition to the original house, was fine. Paul was in that room when the quake hit; only a few champagne and wine glasses crashed to the floor from a shelf.  He could hear things shattering in the livingroom, however, and discovered that Liza’s large grandfather clock had tumbled to the floor. Clay pots and knick-knacks on the mantel had fallen, but were cushioned by landing on the fireplace screen which had tipped over. A couple of pictures jumped off the walls, and that was the extent of the damage at Paul & Liza’s.

Liza, meanwhile, was on a MUNI train which had just arrived at the station where she usually gets off after work. No-one on the train actually felt the quake, and wondered why everything came to a grinding halt. Finally, an announcement was made about the quake; MUNI would follow “standard procedure” — sitting tight for the moment. The train hadn’t pulled into the station completely, so everyone evacuated from the front car. All sorts of wild thoughts went through Liza’s mind as she hurried home, and arrived to find that Paul had nearly finished cleaning up the mess. Relief!

By the time that Carl & I arrived, Liza had consumed a couple bottles of white wine and was feeling no pain. I decided to join her. It was wonderful to see Paul & Liza again, even under such bizarre circumstances, and we had much news to catch up on.

Liza reported that the San Francisco Opera House suffered extensive damage; the new additional building (behind the older, main section) had separated from it! So the current opera has been cancelled (and probably the rest of the season) as Management attempts to assess the damage. I asked what happens to the musicians, and Liza replied that everyone’s insured.

Everyone except me went to bed around midnight; I stayed up watching the news on TV, which was fascinating. As the hours went by, the quake information became more comprehensive. The news anchors did a wonderful job of on-the-spot reporting; they were very professional. Finally, at 3 A.M. I went to bed.

We slept late until 11. Paul had already returned from taking Liza to the airport, and he fixed us a delicious breakfast of pancakes and scrambled eggs.

Carl & I headed back to Sacramento at 1 o’clock. We had to figure out a good way to get to the Golden Gate Bridge; 19th Ave. was closed. We ended up driving along the ocean road, which eventually led us to the bridge. We breathed sighs of relief after successfully crossing the Golden Gate….then headed up Hwy. 101 to #37 to Vallejo and Hwy. 80. It was another unusually hot day, strange & oppressive.

We arrived in Sacramento at 3 P.M., two hours after leaving S.F. It was definitely a relief to be home, and we have spent many hours sleeping these past two days.

*     *     *     *     *

One of the things which strikes me the most, reading over this journal entry from twenty years ago, is that the earthquake itself lasted only the few seconds, but the aftermath lingered for much, much longer. For years — even to the present day.

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.

Greetings from Kansas City!

I am here to play three weeks of Phantom. Then on April 20th, James and I will drive to Hartford, CT to play two weeks of the show there.

We look forward to visiting friends in New York City, Boston and Nashville after my five weeks of Phantom work are concluded on May 3rd. We should arrive back home in the Woods sometime during the second week of May.

We are staying in the Airstream trailer at an RV park in Merriam, just south of downtown Kansas City. We have parked here several times before; once with the show in 2001 and other times just passing through. This central location is a convenient stopping-place.

It is so good to be out of the car finally, after three long ten-hour days of driving to get here. On our return home we have decided to take four days to get back to California from Kansas City, which will be less wear and tear on our bodies.

Since my previous post, Winter has receded in the Woods, but it is not quite Spring yet up in the mountains.

The snow melted during the last week of February. The run-off from the higher mountains created a large amount of water rushing down the Yuba River. James and I awoke on the morning of the 24th to the sound of the river, which was positively roaring!

In the month since then, the signs of Spring have been subtle. The new season will intensify while we are gone, culminating in an explosion of lupin and bachelor buttons in the meadow by the time we return in mid-May. We can hardly wait!

In late February I took this picture of ladybugs (breeding?) on a holly bush close to the back porch.

A couple of weeks later, I checked the bush again:

In mid-March, temperatures crept up into the upper 60s during the day. James brought out the patio furniture which we installed on the back porch, and we enjoyed several lunches out there until it got cold again.

Springtime means that we can dry our clothes out on the line rather than in the Music Room (we don’t own a dryer). There’s nothing like the smell of sun-dried clothes!

Cat Rupert enjoys being outside more now that the snow has melted.

The only patch of snow which remained on March 13th was on the north side of the Music Room where the sun does not shine.

You can see the chimney which had fallen after the first heavy snowstorm in December. We didn’t hook up the new woodstove this Winter, as staying warm in the Airstream was much easier.

In my next post (which I will put up soon, I promise!) I will describe our current life in Kansas City, so very different from the one we have in the Woods.

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!

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.

Perhaps this recent flurry of blog posts — three days in a row is highly unusual for me, eh? — can be attributed to the fact that part of us is reluctant to leave The Woods for The Big City. Our appreciation for this place is always present, but it feels stronger and more poignant now on the eve of departure.

We had originally planned to leave today, but when James found out that my first rehearsal on Monday in San Francisco is not until 7 p.m., we decided to wait until tomorrow morning.

This has given James more time to attend to the Airstream trailer, inside and out. He secured everything that we had brought into it yesterday in “travel mode”, hitched the trailer to our trusty red Chevy truck and towed it out of the barn this afternoon.

He washed the barn dust off and it looks much better. Now it is parked in front of the barn, hooked back up with electricity and water, and I’m writing this blog post in it as I did yesterday.

Home is wherever we have our computers, we’ve concluded with a laugh.

Earlier today, on this morning’s walk, we took yet another route. James has been wonderfully resourceful with suggestions lately!

We went up to the point which joins the main dirt road into town, but turned left instead of right, which we had done yesterday.

This takes us on a slight incline towards the postmaster’s house, but we before we reached his driveway, we turned left again on a little logging road heading back towards our place.

I brought my camera along again, but didn’t see any photo-ops until we reached this logging path.

There are two very large stumps on each side of the road at the top, where in olden times a large, heavy chain had stretched between the trees as a barrier. Here’s the stump on the left:

And here is the one on the right, with James extending the chain:

The chain “au naturel”:

Another old stump further down the hill:

James speculated that this tree must have been over two hundred years old when it was cut; maybe older. We fantasized that it had sprouted from the ground before the Mayflower landed at Plymouth Rock. It was probably cut in the early mine-dredging days in the mid-1800s.

This logging road leads back to the intersection where we usually turn off to walk by our nearest neighbors’ house. To the left are two discarded Franklin stoves, grown rusty with time:

In the exact middle of the intersection is this section of dredging pipe:

And to the right of this pipe is an assemblage of other mining debris:

We walked to the left, going slightly downhill, where the path leads into our driveway. I captured the tail-end of the Fall colors on a couple of trees:

I snapped a quick shot of James and Ringo, who had reached the end of the driveway near our place. (Ringo can barely be seen to James’ left.)

Cat Rupert was there to greet us when we arrived, as he’s done when we’ve returned from our past three walks.

Since we’ve been spending most of our time in the Airstream these past couple of days, Rupert doesn’t quite know what to make of our absence. He’s been staying in the Music Room alone for much of the day, except when I’ve been there to practice horn. James and I have continued to sleep in the Music Room, and will spend our final night there this evening.

My next post will be from the beach in Pacifica!

P.S. I’ve been having trouble formatting photos and text in posts lately; I create space between them in “visual” mode but they do not SAVE that way in the actual post. Everything gets crunched together. Do any of you have any suggestions? 🙂

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!

Now that we have a dog, we need to walk Ringo several times a day.

It is a good opportunity to be propelled outdoors and get out of our computer chairs for a change! I am thankful that dogs keep their owners somewhat active.

It’s funny, I’ve never considered myself to be a “dog person”, but I can’t imagine not having a dog now.

Our favorite walk is up our driveway to a fork in the dirt road which leads up to our nearest neighbor’s house, a quarter-mile away. We continue along a path carpeted with a thick blanket of pine needles, an evergreen arbor stretching over our heads. It is quiet and hushed like a cathedral; a perfect manifestation of the higher power of Mother Nature, or whatever you want to call it. I always feel reverent when I walk through this part of the Woods.

Another neighbor, Mike, often comes up from the Bay area for a few days at a time to do some controlled burning in the forest. He clears out tangled underbrush and trims the low branches from the pines, and monitors his little burn-piles. Now that we have seen some rain and the Woods are moist, it is safe to burn on designated days.

In fact, the US Forest Service is doing some controlled burning in the area this week.

We saw a small pile burning as we walked along the pine-needled path. Dog Ringo raised his nose and sniffed the pungent odor of smoke. Mike was nowhere to be seen, but we could see his car parked in front of his cabin near the river.

The house next to Mike is owned by Mr. H., who also lives in the Bay area, and comes up to the Woods even less frequently than the other neighbors. Here he was, burning a few piles of his own on his property this morning.

James has seen him on the rare occasions he comes up here, but I have not seen him in many years. It was nice to experience Mr. H’s positive energy again. I had forgotten what a warm, pleasant man he is.

Mr. H asked if we liked plum jam, and of course we said yes. His wife had made quite a few jars of it last summer and he’s been sharing it with friends. He gave us the last two jars, for which we thanked him profusely.

Mr. H’s wife had insisted that he bring their Scottie mix dog up with him, so “Scruffy” and Ringo got to visit. I am always amazed at how well Ringo behaves with other dogs; he never loses his cool even when the other animal gets excited.

We bid Mr. H goodbye and thank-you and continued on our walk. We passed Mike’s house, but didn’t see him — he’s probably out in the woods burning another pile. He so loves doing that!

As we approached our barn and outbuildings, we were treated with the brilliance of the liquid amber tree which is still showing its vivid Fall colors. There are more yellows than reds or purples this year, as it hasn’t been as cold as it was last Autumn.

We were on a point of the path which afforded a perfect view of the liquid amber surrounded by evergreens, with mountains and blue sky in the background. I went back to fetch my camera and captured the moment:

A couple of days ago, we took what we call the “river walk”, down through the meadow to L.’s cabin, then along the high banks of the Yuba River and back through the Woods to the north of us, accessing the meadow from the other side and then home. (This walk was documented in two videos here and here in a previous post last May.)

Just past the gully leading down to the ladder to the river, we came across the shredded remains of a raccoon. Bits and pieces of fur were spread out over the ground, the tail almost intact. A pile of entrails was not quite steaming, but obviously the kill had occurred recently. Later when I described the scene to L., she said that a bobcat had probably done it.

This is why we bring cat Rupert indoors at dusk!

Perhaps you are thankful that I did not have my camera with me.

However, further up the path was a good photo-op. Several large mushrooms sprang up in a group. I had never seen this kind of mushroom before, and reminded myself to take pictures of them before they disappeared.

So today after taking a shot of the liquid amber, I returned down this path where the mushrooms were still in evidence, and took the following pictures:

… the same two mushrooms taken from the top:

What an interesting size and shape this mushroom has:

Altogether a very nice display:

Near the top of the path leading down to the mushrooms was this clump of dead, browned flowers. I would rather enjoy this dried Autumn flower arrangement in the wild than on my diningroom table:

James and I are savoring our last two days in The Woods before going down to the Bay area for six weeks, where I will play the Phantom show in San Francisco. We are taking the Airstream down to an RV park in Pacifica, right on the beach. So for a while this blog could be called “Living on the Beach”.

James has been busy remodeling the middle space of the trailer, which will make it much more useful for our needs. He recently removed the sofa-bed and is putting in a counter and shelves for our computers and little piano keyboards. He has also upholstered the walls in (guess what?) several types of black&white fabric. I will take pictures when it is done — it’s going to be fabulous!