Thursday, November 29, 2012

Eating the Fiddle and Playing a Pastel. (I mean the other way around)

Ain't days off wonderful?! I was able to practice Angeline The Baker today for a couple of hours. I have the very basic melody down. The next step is to practice with a drone string added to the playing which is to say, playing two strings at once. One string is the melody and the other is an open (usually) string that you bow at the same time as the melody. The sound of double strings is the unique sound that I associate with Old Time and Bluegrass music that I am and was accustomed to hearing while growing up in the Appalachian and Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. I've also begun working on a new song, Old Joe Clark. Again, I will be working on the basic melody. The first few measures are great.

I have been referring to other material sources for practicing in conjunction with attending the fiddle circle at the Glass House. Such as You Tube and downloadable video lessons one song at a time for a very insignificant fee. Also it's great to have someone who actually works on fiddles and knows how to fix them residing here in Terlingua. I had trouble with my E string playing properly. When I would pull the bow across the strings the open E sounded fine but when I attempted to place my fingers on the first, second and third positions, I could not get any sound at all except an occasional very weak squeek. I was referred to a man in town that we all know that could possibly look at my fiddle and figure out what was ailing it. I usually don't like name dropping in such a public forum so I won't but he wears a uniform. He looked at it and placed one tiny piece of folded paper between the bridge and the E string and also a tiny, tiny piece of folded paper between the E string and the nut, which is where the string crosses before being wound around the peg.

Bam! Like magic. He played a little bit on the fiddle and it was like new. The E string once again sounded wonderful.

Well, it's back to practicing some more this evening before bedtime. I enjoy the evening time. It's quiet and most of the world is asleep.

Raoul had made Puerto Rican pasteles a few weeks ago and had frozen some of them. Earlier tonight we had one and they were delicious! I have no idea what was in them exactly but they were very tasty. I did make one slight mistake. The word tamale accidentally slipped out of my mouth and...isn't that the way it goes? I know, I just know! You know the word is right inside your mouth and then when you open it, Bam! It's exactly like an unleashed cat with the door open. Out it goes and no amount of chasing it will do anyone any good. I tried to chase it and slam my mouth shut but nope. It didn't work. Never attempt to compare a Puerto Rican cualqueir cosa to anything else in the world. I'm just forewarning you as a friend should.

See? While living in Honduras, I had tamales out the wazoo. I could spit with my eyes closed and hit a tamale. Which by the way, seemed to be called two things that to this day, I have not a single gringo clue as to what the difference was but I heard tamales called; tamale or nacatamale. But tonight I found out that under no circumstance was it the same as what they make in Puerto Rico. Oh no. Nope. No manera. Ninguna cosa existe en Puerto Rico. Nope. It's called pasteles. However, between me, you and Farmer John's fence post down the Honduras, a pastel was a sweet corn masa wrapped around a sweet fruit compote of some sort and fried or cooked in some way. But I guess if asked, first you need to find out where they are from. If they are from Puerto Rico, my best advice is just say that whatever it is it looks delicious! Don't argue cuz, girlfriend, you ain't gonna win.

Well, until later just remember...

You need to be yourself before you are anyone else.


Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Another Damned Terlingua Sunset

Since arriving here in Terlingua, TX and the Big Bend region almost five years ago, I have found that the sunsets here in the desert have the characteristic of being quite spectacular and especially so if there are clouds in the evening sky. Working evenings at the front desk at the Big Bend Resort & Adventures (or as most folks still refer to as The Big Bend Motor Inn) gives me the advantage of witnessing those sunsets most every night. And every night it is a different sunset. Most of the time if I am not occupied with front desk duties I can capture those sunsets with  my camera.

The photos displayed here are of the same sunset but at different intervals. The storm clouds consisted of several layers and had already delivered their rain. As the sunset it would highlight a different layer.

I have a Canon EOS T2i DSLR. I purchased it two years ago so that I could take photos of the wonderful flowers, large and small, that bloom here in the Chihauhuan desert. We have had a drought the last two years. That, unfortunately has impacted my ability to take those photos but the sunsets have been beautiful.

The front desk has an unobstructed view of the west and the setting sun. Often times it is blinding but I don't mind at all. Nowhere else it seems, of all the places that I have lived, has there been such an unobstructed view of the setting sun. No, I take that back. San Francisco has such a view but unfortunately the west coast has a marine layer of fog that often times resides just off the coast and approaches the beach and invades The City as the sun sets. My friend, Mary Diesel, or as she is calling herself these days, Mary Paloma, told me that someone here in Terlingua, upon seeing a beautiful sunset a while back, turned to her and said, "There's another damned Terlingua sunset!" That is how often we have those beautiful sunsets here in Terlingua.  so, without further ado. I am going to introduce yet, "another damned Terlingua sunset."  There are photos I have taken, not just a few, of these sunsets so you will from time to time see them posted here. I do not tire of them.

The sunset above was actually the day before. This post says Wednesday but it's actually for Monday. I mean really, who actually writes on the day that this daily adventure called life really happens? Well, not me at any rate. After working in the evening and getting home when anybody sensible (that's not me by the way) has already been dreaming for about three hours now. Anyhoo...

I will post this evenings sunset (which was last's clear as cowboy coffee ain't it?) at this time. Tuesday is also the night when I attend the Fiddler's Circle down by the Glass House at BBRT (pronounced as BeeBurt. I've been living here almost five years and I just found out what that is when the locals refer to BeeBurt. It isn't someone's name...I've been wondering all this time, "Who the hell is Beeburt?" It's what people call the acronym for Big Bend River Tours which is right down the street. If I was a champion spitter I could hit it from here...but don't worry. I haven't spit in a good right while now. You can get a little closer without any worries.) It sure is great going to the Fiddler's Circle and it's something I look forward to with anticipation each week. It's just wonderful to hear everyone picking on the banjo and guitar and fiddling with the bow. Hearing those Appalachians songs brings back the feeling of being in those mountains again and hearing the accent and everything that goes with it.

I have been practicing the fiddle now since the day I returned from the Fiddler's Convention in Galax this past August and I can now play the melody for Angeline The Baker. Now I have to put in all the (I call'em decorations) details like the drones and the extra things that make it sound like a good Ol' Time fiddle song. I will start to work on Old Joe Clark and Little Liza Jane next.



Saturday, November 10, 2012

Dog Canyon hike with my friend, Mary

"...and the meek shall inherit the earth".

Next March will mark my fifth year of living here in the Big Bend area of the Chihuahuan Desert. I have observed the four seasons and the ebb and flow of the different weather patterns. The flowering of the desert cactus during the months of March, April, and May. The small bit of rain that arrives with the summer months of June through September and also the accompanying scorching heat that also arrives during those same months. The small bit of cold that usually is felt for brief moments in February or March. I have experienced the recent drought from August 2010 until March 2012.

All of the above mentioned moments usually garners alot of attention. However, there are the small and at times inconspicous tiny flowering wildflowers that appear throughout the year. Regardless of the weather or drought or burning heat. Those are among my most favorite of residents that I have found while residing here in the desert. I purchased a Canon T2i DSLR camera and macro lens for the express purpose of capturing these tiny and meek neighbors that share with me this Big Bend region.

Trailing Windmills. The first tiny flower I encountered on the trail not two feet from the parking lot . 
Today, my friend, Mary Paloma, and I went on a hike into Dog Canyon within the Big Bend National Park. There I was able to find some of these tiny friends and take their photo so that I and others could enjoy their beauty.

A low growing cactus near the trail head
We started out early this morning so that we could do the hike and be out of there before it would begin to heat up too terribly much.  Mary picked me up at my place at 7:30am and after a brief stop at the nearby Big Bend Cafe to get a breakfast burrito and water we started out on our mini adventure. I was very eager to get some photos of some of the wildflowers. Due to problems with my feet this past summer, (I seemed to have developed what is called, peripheral neuropathy, due probably to a medication I had taken to alleviate my Crohn's disease) I have been unable to really get out and do any amount of hiking or exploring in the desert. So today would be my first venture in hiking since about January of this year. I had been hearing reports from guests at the resort where I work at the front desk about all the wildflowers sprouting up in various areas of the National Park and surrounding areas. So I was more than eager to discover this for myself.

I was not disappointed. It was an hour and a half to the Dog Canyon trailhead and so we passed the time chit-chatting and enjoying the beautiful weather and sunshine. We arrived at the trailhead, parked. The moment that we stepped onto the trailhead I began to encounter wildflowers and color. Mary laughed because of that and the fact that I had barely begun the hike and I was already kneeling down and getting personal with the flora of the desert.

Mock Vervain
The hike is wonderfully level with only a few moments when you are climbing a few feet down a bank or up out of the wash onto the bank.  The hike is about, Mary figured, 1.9 miles one way.  But with the oncoming heat, this being my first time doing a major hike since recovering from my illness, and Mary having just done her morning ritual of practicing for the upcoming marathon in February, we were both feeling a bit worn. And we still had to hike the way back. No taxis here to return us to the car. We didn't even stop to rest because I think we were afraid that if we did stop and sit to rest that there would be no getting back up onto our feet. So we returned to hiking back out of the canyon towards the vehicle.

As we were eventually dragging Mary and I played a word game called, "The Minister's Cat". That swallowed up about five minutes so then we began a monologue with imaginary alter egos which brought us finally to the parking lot. It was so nice to finally sit down.

I did gather some nice photos of the wildflowers. Enjoy.

This wonderful fiery red wildflower

Dog Canyon in the distance and our destination today.

Just this wonderful dusty blue tiny flower along the bank of the wash we were hiking.

A little breeze and I had to hold this little one still for the photo.

Our approach to Dog Canyon. We were about to be dwarfed by the height of the canyon walls on either side.

Dog Canyon

The last wildflower we encountered before the return hike back to the parking area.
All of the tiny flowers that I encountered today and in days and years past while living here have impressed upon me an irony. The tiny things here survive more than the large things. I feel that in our culture we think of tough things being large things. Large men and women are tough from having to survive in the past as pioneers. Our culture promotes the idea that tiny things are weak and large is the tougher option. I beg to differ. Here I have watched large yuccas and trees wither from the heat. While along the road and out in the desert alone and surrounded by dust and sun baked earth there are these unbelievably tiny flowers in such beautiful displays of color surviving.

Have a beautiful day and don't forget to look down every once and awhile to discover the tiny things.


Saturday, November 3, 2012

Happy Samhain and Dia de los Muertos!

The two Catrinas and Catrin
Minutes, Hours, and Days pass so quickly that they are gone before we even realize the moment was present at all. I have lived here in Terlingua for four and a half years now. I find it difficult to perceive that time has passed at all unless I compare my photo of when I first arrived in Terlingua and a glance in the mirror. There are a few more lines in the face. The hair is grayer and any hint of brown hair is gone. The cowboy hat is still black but black straw instead of black felt (the felt hat collected so much dust that it is now retired to a hook on the bedroom wall).

Living here in this tiny community I have been introduced to cultural items that I would not normally find in the midst of the Appalachian mountains. This evening was a chance I had to experience a Mexican holiday that few people outside of Mexican culture in the U.S. understand. October is the month when the leaves on the trees are turning a full range of colors. Warmer clothes are being brought out from storage to ward off the  increasingly colder temperatures. And that sacred of holidays is celebrated by young and old alike, Halloween. However, the day after most Americans have celebrated trick or treating and costume parties, Mexicans are celebrating El Dia de Los Muertos, or as it is translated, Day of the Dead.

Every year, thousands of Mexicans and Mexican-Americans, honor family loved ones and friends that have passed on. The celebration is usually celebrated with a more festive atmosphere than most non-Mexican Americans are accustomed. A cena, or dinner is prepared. Families dress up in their best clothes and then gather around the grave site of their loved one and share their time with their departed family members while sharing a dinner amongst themselves. Gifts or mementos, coins and fresh decorations are sometimes added to the cemetery plot as well. Music is also enjoyed either by recorded music or if members of the group play an instrument then they play and sing.

Oftentimes figures depicting skeletons dressed up in clothes are sold in stores to commemorate this day. People also sometimes dress up in costume with faces painted to appear as skulls with white and black paint. Popular figures seen during this time are the Bride and Groom or most often referred to as Catrina and Catrin.
An celebrant dressed in costume

Most non-Mexican Americans observe death in negative terms whereas most Mexicans with Native American heritages observe death as an integral part of the cycle of life. It is not a day or subject to be feared but observed with respect. El Dia de los Muertos is a moment when the living and the departed are reunited if only during this brief moment each year. Even in other cultures such as the Celts of Europe, All Hallows Eve or Samhain was a time when the veil between the living world and the dead was the thinnest and could be breached at times.

Today I had the opportunity to celebrate and observe this holiday with my friend, Mary and my partner, Raoul. Usually I am working at the front desk of the hotel, since this day usually coincides with the very large Annual Terlingua Chili Cook-Off which attracts thousands of chili heads and their followers. However, today was my one day off during this busy time and I accepted Mary's invitation to accompany her to the festivities. We arrived while it was still daylight and we were able to take some photos which I have posted here. The figures you see dressed up as Catrin and Catrina represent the continuing to be popular Bride and Groom figures. The Bride and Groom as they are known in Anglo terms were made popular in Mexican culture by Mexican artist, Guadelupe Posada. Here in Terlingua, someone in the community volunteers to dress up as the Catrin and Catrina and pose in front of the altar. The altar is located at the front of the cemetery in Terlingua Ghost Town. The altar is a place, during the celebration, where people can place photos or images of a loved one they would like to visit with and remember during this special time of the year. The Catrin and Catrina, this year there were two Catrinas, one dressed in black and the other dressed in white. I have seen most Catrina figures dressed in a white wedding gown. One year I gave Mary a Bride and Groom Day of the Dead figurines as a present.

After spending a few minutes there in the cemetery we decided to walk to the Starlight Theater to get something to eat and have a drink...or two since Mary had not eaten before starting out tonight. Of course, the Starlight Theater was decorated in the Halloween theme with cobwebs and spiders nests suspended from the light fixtures. After the sunset we began out walk back to the cemetery.

The bonfire and altar for mementos
As we began our dark walk, lit by a single flashlight, to return to the cemetery we did not see any lights or signs of the usual bonfire. It appeared as if we had missed the important half of the celebration which is the bonfire, live mariachi music and candles lit at every grave site. Well, at least we were able to get photos earlier. We walked to the car and as we got up over a small rise in the road, there laid out below us was a cemetery lit by small candles at each grave. There were alot of lights and we could hear music and there was a bonfire. We hadn't missed it after all! We walked into the entrance to the cemetery and began to find friends and neighbors that we recognized in the darkness. There were people seated around the campfire while listening to the local band, members of the Pinche Gringos, strumming on their guitars while singing songs. I looked around and the small flickering of lights seemed to go on for quite a distance into the night. In the four and half years I had lived here, this was the first time I had entered the cemetery. It was a good feeling to be here among friends to observe and pay respects to these people that had arrived before us many years ago and established this town. Someone or some people had taken great care to place a candle inside a glass jar at every single grave here in the cemetery. There were a lot. Soon though, the time arrived for us to leave since two of us at least had to work the next day.

A grave with lit candle
Grave site with crosses

I was so glad to have had the opportunity to experience something that before now I had only heard about. After today, this day each  year would have more meaning for me. More understanding of another culture and their interesting and different perspective on our world.

Happy Samhain and Dia de los Muertos.