Sunday, February 28, 2016

Gardening and The Winter That Never Was

The garlic are up several inches.  The irises and parsley and bleeding hearts are, too.
I've been riding my bicycle every day--sometimes without a jacket.
Matt went ahead and planted some greens and onion seed outside.  Its ridiculous to plant before the spring equinox, but its also ridiculous that its 65 degrees F in February.  Its all cold-tolerant stuff and if it doesn't work out, it doesn't work out.  If it does, well, that would be great.  Fresh greens all the sooner.
Ginger is overjoyed at the winter-that-never-was, as Matt keeps referring to it.  She is spending every possible moment out back, rolling in the dirt, eating grass.  Today she caught and ate her first mouse of the season.  It was simultaneously hilarious, impressive, and disgusting, as usual.
The onions and peppers are an inch or so tall in the seedling nursery down in the basement.
We harvested a quarter-bushel of carrots today.  There is no comparison to that freshly dug taste.  Its extra carrot-y, somehow.  Huzzah for overwintering.  Even if there really isn't much of a winter to speak of.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Dream Journaling

I have kept a dream journal since late 2006 or early 2007.  Matt encouraged me to pick up the practice (though he rarely dreams and so doesn't keep a dream journal) as means of developing the ability to lucid dream--that is to become aware of and take creative control of your dream state.  I still have never managed that, but dream journaling has still been a very rewarding habit in any event.

My dreams are hilarious.  So much nonsense.  I love to re-read them later, once I've forgotten about them.  Oh, how I make myself laugh!

There is also  quite a bit of worry in my dreamworld--trying to find something I've lost, or find someone I am looking for, or getting in trouble for something I did or didn't do.  I have a natural tendency to worry in my waking life, too--a trait I am working steadily to balance, to learn to be like the lilies of the field and all that.  It doesn't surprise me that I worry in my dreams, too.  I also have the occasional bad dream, but mostly its just nonsense--very amusing nonsense.

As I was recording my last dream I realized that I have just one page left in my dream journal.  I read through a good lot of them and it was, as always, quite interesting to me.  Sometimes there is no connection to the strange aspects of my dreams--like the one about finding a tribe of Lilliputian Native Americans living in a tree down by the river while I was out scouting for a goose in the dark one night.  I have no idea where that came from!  Sometimes I can plainly see where my mind conjured up the imagery from--like when Lacee posted photos of alligators from her trip to Florida and I dreamed I was crossing a river with alligators sleeping down on the riverbed the next day.

I don't think there is really any point, per se, to this journaling.  I find it interesting and funny, plus I like writing and record keeping, in general.  I like remembering things and do not always have the best memory.  Writing stuff down--dreams or otherwise--really helps me to preserve these fleeting memories for later enjoyment. Every now and then my dream journaling helps me realize that something is bothering me in real life which is, of course, the first step toward resolving such issues.  That is probably the most practical purpose.  I still can't take creative hold in my dreams--to realize I could do anything and change the course of them.  That is okay though.  Maybe I will someday.  Mostly though, its just fun.
"I dreamed a group of folks, including Matt and me, were trying to contact beings in outer space.  We had a large silver disk (think: satellite dish) on a string strung up between two poles (or maybe it was between two trees).  Everyone but Matt and I were also wearing metal space-looking suits with dishes and cones on their heads.  I don't recall if we ever got a hold of anyone out there."  January 25, 2010
"I don't remember for sure, but I feel like Sarah, Mom, and I were trying to teach Keleigh to fly (it seems we were all able to fly and transform ourselves into other creatures), but she was being a bad baby and wouldn't pay attention or follow instruction.  I kept having to catch her.  The problem was that she also kept transforming herself into a crocodile (a short, stubby, 2-foot tall crocodile that was mostly snout) so I kept having to catch flying croc-Keleigh which was even more challenging that usual.  What a bad baby!"  February 15, 2010
"Matt and I were walking along a rocky beach.  The beach was along a dry lake with a ridge rising up from the beach.  All of the sudden a huge wave came crashing over the ridge and swept out into the lake, filling it up.  I was swept out into the lake with the crashing wave.  Matt somehow managed to stay on the rocky beach.  It was as if Matt and I had been walking in a tide pool that was suddenly filled up at high tide.  As I was struggling with the wave the water turned into visceral pop-up ads on the internet (which is almost impossible to describe).  The ads kept coming at me, pulling me in all directions.  The ads were for Furbies."  March 6, 2010
"Sarah, Keleigh, and I were at my house when we could hear a ruckus and music outside.  Sarah said, "Oh, yeah!  Its the Pastor Parade." So we went outside to watch the parade going by.  I don't really remember any of the pastors, but I do remember finding a balloon on the ground.  I tried to pick it up and the wind blew it out into the street where my dad was directing traffic for the parade (like he used to do in Sidney in real life).  He hit it back to us."   September 21, 2011
"There was a birdhouse in our living room on the wall.  Decoration.  I was in the living room and could hear this noise.  When I got closer to the birdhouse all of the sudden a Flicker flew out of it at me.  It was flying around the room really fast and I was afraid I would get stabbed by its bill." January 2012
"I found a bunch of file folders containing info about/for a large group of people I know, mostly friends.  I wrote little notes to put in each file--just nice, funny things and things I liked about each person so that when they opened their file they'd have a nice surprise."  April 1, 2013
"I dreamed that Ryan was doing something hilarious.  I wish so much that I could remember what now....perhaps a dance culminating in falling on his face, but I'm not positive that was it.  In any case, it made me laugh in my dream, and apparently in real life, too, because I woke myself up laughing out loud in bed at Sonja's."  May 19, 2013
"I was involved in some sort of really important debate with a guy who seemed pretty evil.  I don't remember what he was trying to enforce, but it was not good and I was trying to stop it.  He had his arguments and rebuttals written down on big pieces of white bark, like from a birch tree."  July 3, 2013
"I dreamed that it was our wedding day and we realized that there were a lot of details we'd never gotten around to.  Most memorable was when we realized we'd failed to write our vows!  So we had to make them up on the fly.  I guess this is my subconscious being concerned about all the things we've got to do before June."  September 25, 2013
"I dreamed someone had sewn a fold into my big, purple bath towel so it was much shorter and had a big, useless flap in the middle."  1/20/2014
"I have a cold right now so last night I dreamed my nose was all stuffy and someone (I can't recall who, but it was either a friend or family member) said, "Oh, you should take a Sudafed."  She then pulled out a tin full of red tablets and capsules of a variety of shapes and sizes.  She picked through them and said, "I think these are the ones."  I declined to take them due to the uncertainty in her voice and the lack of labels."  10/28/2014
"I dreamed something elaborate with lots of people and boxes full of rainbows.  I can't remember any more than that, but when they opened the boxes rainbow light came out."  2/7/2015
"...As we were driving through the parking lot a group of people were coming across it en mass towards the hill down into the park.  It was like a mixture of Halloween and Christmas.  Witches and wizard hats, but with garland and Christmas lights and candy canes at the tops of pointed hats.  Some of them had entire pointy hats made of illuminated (from the inside) red and white stripes.  I can remember saying, "Don't hit the wizards!"  2/17/2015
"I dreamed that Blake found her black cat (who has been missing in real life) and brought him into the library all wrapped up in a towel, carrying him like a baby.  I'm not sure why he was in the towel.  Was he hurt?  I am not sure, but Blake was really excited and talking fast."  2/4/2016

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

A Simple and Good Day

Matt and I celebrate Valentine's Day.  We like to celebrate as much as possible, as a general rule.  I know a lot of people who are down on V-Day since its so commercialized and lacks some of the historic rituals and traditions of more popular holidays like Christmas or Easter (though many of those traditions are actually quite new).

But really, isn't love--between friends, family, partners, and spouses--worth celebrating?  Remembering how much love is in my life is a good thing, I think.  No one is saying a person must buy boxes of chocolates or dozens of roses or fancy rings to show their love.  People can--and do--but its not required.

Matt and I don't really buy each other presents.  We don't go out for a hot date night.  We enjoy an extra special meal(s) and a special occasion dessert, too, while we're at it.  We spend the day enjoying each other's company, playing Scrabble, say, and going out for a stroll at the park to watch the birds.  We saw almost half a dozen Bald Eagles.  It was sunny when we set out and raining as we returned to the car.  We visited a local arcade and played racing games.  It was a simple and good day.  And that is just right for our love.
The makings for some fabulous Moscow Mules.  This was our "present" for the both of us.
Nifty fungus.
Canada Geese.
The Yellowstone River rolling by under that big, blue sky.
A Bald Eagle in flight over the river. 
Take out Thai food--spicy eggplant--with homemade almond cheese filled wantons. 
Derek's Israeli falafel--something we'd not had in ages!
A (vegan) cheesecake--and half of the "wall" Matt built to keep it hidden.
My Valentine for Matt.  "You are the pepperoni on my pizza of life."

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

An Interview with John Skehan (and My Brief Foray Into Local Journalism)

Railroad Earth is one of those bands that is just about impossible to pin down to a single genre.  I think mandolin player John Skehan said it quite well when he described the group as, "...a string band, an amplified string band with drums."  The diversity of instruments, rhythms, voices, and styles is one of the things that ensures that each Railroad Earth performance is tremendously unique and spirited.  The New Jersey based sextet is a sort of musical chameleon going from rock to bluegrass to folk to tribal to...something delightfully indescribable, something uniquely Railroad Earth.  No other labels needed.
I recently had the opportunity to chat with John and catch up on what Railroad is up to these days.  He called from Tuscaloosa, Alabama, where the group was set to perform at the Druid City Music Hall that evening.  It is just one of many stops on a massive nationwide winter tour they are "really diggin' into"--a tour which includes three stops in Montana next week.
Railroad Earth's concert schedule will see them driving across pretty much the entire country--from Georgia to Texas to Colorado to Oregon (with many stops in between) and then, finally, back to the east coast for performances in New York, Pennsylvania, and Washington D.C.  Along the way they will play small theaters and huge concert halls and all sizes of venues in between.  When asked if he had a preference for any particular type of venue John responded, “The size of the place doesn’t really matter if the crowd is enthusiastic and feeds that energy to us and we, hopefully, feed it back to them.”  While winter tour doesn't necessarily lend itself to this he went on to add that, “Our music works really well in an outdoor setting.”  I must agree.  I've been lucky enough to see Railroad Earth both indoors and outdoors.  Performances in both settings have been phenomenal, but that sunny afternoon dancing on the grass at the 10,000 Lakes Festival will always remain fixed in my mind as one of the most perfect shows I've attended.
It is certainly no secret that these fellas cover a lot of ground both musically and geographically.  Loving to travel myself I was curious about the band's experience traveling this great country far and wide.  With a smile in his voice John replied, “Sometimes we’re lucky enough to get a break somewhere cool….and sometimes you get to see the parking lot behind the venue.”  He went on to say that their fairly packed tour schedule doesn't always allow them the freedom they had when they first started out.  “It’s not like the earlier days where we were pitching a tent and camping out for all three days [of a music festival]…”
Nothing in life stays the same though and evolution and growth is certainly an important aspect of the creative process.  The increasing use of technology by fans pushes the band to keep things fresh, to try new song transitions and combinations.  “You have to be willing to take chances and you’ve got to be willing to fall on your face,” John said with a laugh.  “It keeps it interesting for the audience…and keep it interesting for us, too.”  While at home in New Jersey the guys will get together for rehearsals, to jam and work out new material.  On tour where they're performing almost every night they utilize the sound checks before the show to keep their sound dialed in or test out new segues or jams they want to add to their repertoire.
Railroad Earth is one of an increasing number of bands which "allow and encourage" the free sharing of concert recordings made by tapers in the audience, in addition to selling authorized and higher-quality soundboard recordings after most shows.  This is in strong contrast to John's own concert-going experiences in which he had to wait for tapers to "come off tour" and send their recordings off through the US mail to those waiting for them.  There wasn't much in the way of quality control either or the ability to select recordings from specific shows.  As John put it, "you just got what you got."  It's easy to see that now is a great time to be a live music fan.
From his perspective there are certainly, “more pros than cons” to this increased technological presence at their shows.  The widely shared recordings are a tremendous "way to connect with a lot of people at once,"  and share the concert experience with a wide audience, even if they are unable to actually attend in person.  The only negative he specifically mentioned was having to be more discreet about playing new tunes live in advance of a new album soon to be released saying that the band tends to “hold back new [album] material because once it out there it’s out there.”  John went on to add that the fact that pretty much every concert is recorded and shared online is a good thing, encouraging the band to keep their planned setlists interesting and diverse.  It "keeps us on our toes," knowing that fans have heard the show from the night before and will be expecting something new set-wise for the following shows.
The variety of tunes they rotate through to make each set one-of-a-kind is truly remarkable.  John told me that they typically create the setlist in advance of each show though, “after the first set we might decide to reevaluate [the set] based on the setting and the response from the crowd.....it’s very intuitive.”  With about 15 years of music in their repertoire the band certainly has a lot of tunes to choose from during the crafting of the setlist for each show.  Everyone has a part in the process.  "It's definitely a group thing.  One person might start it…then everyone helps to shape it into the final thing.”
Railroad Earth's most recent album, Last of the Outlaws, was released in 2014.  That wasn't the last project keeping them busy in the studio however.  Railroad Earth partnered with guitar legend Warren Haynes to help put together an album called Ashes and Dust, a project Warren had wanted to bring to fruition "for a number of years," John said.  The timing was finally right and Railroad joined Warren in the recording studio as well as some live performances, including one at the Ole Oprey.  Ashes and Dust was released in July 2015.
Railroad Earth has a few summer music festivals lined up already--once again spanning from coast to coast.  Additionally the band is hoping to soon announce a run at Red Rocks Amphitheater in Morrison, CO this fall.   “Red Rocks is a very special place…” John concluded.  If you're looking at summer music festivals I'd keep your eyes out for these guys on the lineup.
Railroad Earth will be playing three shows in Montana this month and I highly suggest you catch them all if you can.  They will be performing Wednesday, February 17th at the Babcock Theater in Billings followed by a performance at the Wilma Theatre in Missoula on Thursday, February 18th, and lastly they will play for the Emerson Cultural Center on Friday, February 19th.  The three nights of music will be worth all the travel, I assure you.
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The backstory to this post:
Last fall I started writing music reviews for our local, independent newspaper--The Outpost.  It was an incredibly sweet gig for me.  I got paid to write about and take photos of great concerts that I was already going to attend anyways!  I got to share my love of music and writing with the whole town!  It was sweet.

Unfortunately, as is the case with all too many awesome print media sources, the paper closed shop at the end of January.  It is a loss for me personally and for our greater community.  The independent paper is where I got the GOOD news that was happening in our town.  Our mainstream city newspaper tends to focus on negativity and crime too much for me.

The Outpost's closure also left me with an interview with John Skehan from Railroad Earth which I had nowhere to publish except here.  And there you have it.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Hellroaring Creek Hike

Over the weekend I was talking to Matt about Yellowstone.

"Are there campgrounds open year-round?"
"What roads are open already?"
Leading ultimately to:  "When is the earliest you think we could go?"

At this point Matt felt compelled to remind me that just because it had been unseasonably warm in Billings lately it could be a whole different story up in those mountains.  He's right, but still.  I think we should try to go in March this year.  We went in April last year and that was keen!  So, maybe we can bump it up to March this year.  We're more equipped these days for camping when there is still snow with the addition of snowshoes, wool socks, and gaiters to help keep us dry and comfy while we romp about.  So, we shall see.

In the meantime, here is a May 2014 (yes, 2014!) hike write-up that I never got around to finishing until now.   I'd considered just deleting the draft a dozen times, but somehow felt I'd want to get back to it eventually.  It was from a very special birthday weekend for me.  And here we are.
When Matt and I were on the Glacier Megavaction we got to cross over the dazzling, green Kootenai River on a suspension bridge.  When we heard that a hike to Hellroaring Creek in Yellowstone also included a suspension bridge we thought we'd give it a go.  While the suspension bridge near Glacier proved to be an unexpected highlight of the hike the bridge in Yellowstone proved to be a bit of a disappointment.  Oh well, nature had plenty else in store for us that more than compensated for it.
The Hellroaring Creek trailhead is just under four miles west of Tower Junction on the Mammoth-Tower Road.   Heading out from the parking lot the trail starts to lose elevation towards the river for about the first mile, passing through forest that was burned in the fires of 1988 and is now regrown.  After bypassing the junction with the Garnet Hill trail the (now unburned section of) forest grows thicker, offering a more limited range of vision, but soon the sounds of rushing water gave us hints that the suspension bridge would quickly be in view.
We had that first mile to ourselves, save for the birds and other small critters we encountered.  The spring flowers were in bloom and bright green shoots was starting to poke up through the winter brown earth--though much of the area remained the more subdued shades of sage green.  It was a beautiful spring day in the country with sunshine and a blue sky dotted with fluffy, white clouds to compliment the sweeping mountain vistas and sweetly diminutive spring blossoms.
Pasque Flowers
The suspension bridge crosses a fairly deep, but narrow gorge-- a portion of the Black Canyon of the Yellowstone--carved by the Yellowstone River.  Unlike the bridge over the Kootenai this one was much sturdier feeling.  There was hardly any bounce to it.  This was a portion of our disappointment in it.  There was scarcely any of the Indian Jones type adventure about crossing it.  It was, well, pretty much just a bridge.
That said, standing on the bridge, watching the water rushing and surging below, was pretty mesmerizing.  We leaned over the rails gazing into the constant swirls and sprays, marveling at the thunderous sounds of the water against the stone walls of the canyon.  It was marvelously loud.
Once on the other side of the bridge the trail climbs slightly through a lovely, sun dappled forest.  This early in the year we didn't need the shade so much, but we could see that the forest would make a swell mid-way resting point on a hot summer day.   We paused to examine bison hair which clung to many a rubbed tree trunk along the trail.  The season was right for the bison to start ditching some of their heavier winter coats.  We'd explored a different bison rub on the Beaver Ponds trail the year before and found it very interesting.  A pair of 20-something men from the east coast--the first people we'd seen on the trail-- stopped to chat and inquire about what we were looking at.  We taught them what we knew about bison, a creature they were quite unfamiliar with--and understandably so, being from the urban east.  They were pleased to have the info and continued on their way.  After giving the pair a good headstart we continued down the trail ourselves.
A bison rub, complete with dangling bison "dreadlocks."
Soon the forest was a thing of the past and the landscape shifted to one of rolling sagebrush country under a wide, open sky.  The expanse was scattered with "erratic" boulders, left behind by the long-ago glacial activity.  These sometimes massive rocks seemed both out of place and utterly at home at the same moment.  We spotted a few bison grazing on a distant sage-covered hill.
It didn't take long for us to catch up with the eastcoasters.  They had stopped at a small rise overlooking a pond.  The pond is actually another legacy of the glacial age called a "kettle."  Kettles are made when big chunks of ice are left buried in the land in the wake of a receding glacier.  As they melted they left a sort of sinkhole depression behind.  This depression collects water, which in this case remains through the fall and offers a sort of oasis for birds, plants, and other lifeforms in the middle of a sea of sagebrush.
And a herd of twenty or so bison were, indeed, making good use of it.
The trail wrapped around the pond and the east coast duo had (wisely, in my opinion) not felt comfortable getting that close to the bison so they had stopped to wait for us, to ask our opinion on it.  I wasn't about to get that close myself, particularly since the bison had several tiny, redheaded babies in tow.  So, together we watched the massive bovines graze and drink from our hilltop overlook.
We could have gone off trail and skirted around them, but wildlife "TV" is always good watching by me.  So, we waited and watched and talked about Yellowstone with our new (and inadvertent) hiking companions.  In due time the bison started trotting up the hill on the far side of the pond from our vantage.  As they went up, we went down keeping our relative distance the same.   Watching the bison charge up that hill was pretty spectacular.  They've got such grace and power contained in that lumbering, dark body.
The whole time we could see Hellroaring Creek--our final destination--just past the glacial pond.  When the bison moved on we were finally able to continue down the trail, past the pond, to the grassy, green banks of the creek.
Hellroaring Creek
Matt and the two fellas sat and talked awhile on the bank.  I took off my shoes and waded in the cold, clear water.  No matter how cold the water is, I like to soak my feet if I can.  It refreshes and invigorates me.  The eastcoasters eventually left Matt and me to our creekside solitude.  The water clipped swiftly past the trees that lined the bank and was just about the only sound to be heard.  After hiking through the sweeping sage country the comparatively abundant trees were a notable feature of the riparian zone.
When we'd had our fill of lounging creekside we turned back and retraced our steps.  Of course, nothing in nature stays the same and our return trip offered delights we'd not had on the first go, including a pair of playfully sparring antelope.  I use the word playful because when we first spotted them the pair was placidly grazing together.  Then, without any warning that we could perceive, they locked their antlers together and starting pushing each other around.  It reminded us of tug of war--back and forth and back and forth.  As quick as it started they went back to grazing together.  And then, again without warning, they were going at it again.  I don't know enough about pronghorn antelope to say what exactly they were about.  I'd guess it was a practice match between two younger males.  In any case, Matt and I sure enjoyed watching.  It was quiet enough--and they were close enough--that we could even hear them as they cracked horns together and rustled the surrounding shrubs.
The return trip also offered additional wildflowers to smell and admire, brilliantly orange butterflies, and a very vocal Townsend's Solitare.
Sagebrush Buttercups
Shooting Stars
In no time we were back at the bridge with just the last mile of our four mile round-trip hike to go.  Even with the 600 feet in elevation gain in that last mile the hike was a pleasant and relaxing one.  Next time we need to bring a picnic to munch on as we sit on the banks of Hellroaring Creek.
Now I am even more excited to get out in the park again soon.