Saturday, June 23, 2012

One More Trip Around the Sun — On Turning 72

I turn 72.
This week I turned 72, and that gave rise to some thoughts.

It is sometimes said we should live each day as though it were to be our last. I find that impractical.

On the other hand living each year as though it might be our last  to me makes great sense.

A year is a good time frame for planning. A year has all the seasons, the holidays,  the birthdays of those we love.

The year stretching before us is elastic. It renews its full length with each sunrise.

My bus turns 43.
We celebrate each year as James Buffett once observed as One More Trip Around The Sun. That is the way of things on this planet. Annuals have one big year to get it done. Perennials get to come back and do it again — but one year at a time

Insects, animals, rivers, lakes, trees all are tied to this cycle of the sun. Even stars in the heavens reset.

Living each year then as though it were to be our last really does make sense. We get to plan ahead and do the things we want to do the best we way we can. Remember all the birthdays. Express all our gratitudes. If we work hard and practice we may even get good at it.

So that when that last year really does roll around we'll  be ready for it and do a bang up job without even having to try that hard.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Conversation With a Cyclist

Something made me look up. I saw a man riding a bicycle. A minute later I looked up again and he was at my door.

"Pardon me," he said. "Can you tell me where there is  park nearby?" It was late afternoon and broiling hot outside. "Sure," I said. I gave him directions to two. He sat down on the grass near my bus. I offered him water. "Been riding far?" I asked. "About 38 miles today," he said.

Matthew Smith
His name, he said, was Matthew Smith. "What brings you here?" He shrugged. "Homeless. Since November. Been living in this state (New Mexico) for 35 years and this is the worst I've ever seen."

Not just New Mexico but the world, he said, was no longer to his liking. "Unemployment?" he snorted. "Oh, you can find a job you might get a living wage. But is a living wage? Enough so you can eat? — Eating baloney sandwiches, maybe. It wasn't always like that, not in my life time.

"You know they have MOABs (Mother of all Bombs) in Syria, and this we have president kills people out of the sky."

He shook his head. "I was a farmer for 18 years until November."

He pauses and rolls a cigarette in the short thin paper that comes with Bugler tobacco. "They've done away with habeas corpus today. There are no civil rights anymore. They can hold you for anything. We go around the world invading countries in the name of freedom, and we destroy it at home."

My guest was tired. He sat in a full lotus position until his legs began to cramp. He stretched. His bike was a big one, solid and heavily and loaded down with most of his possessions.

"We live in a world of NewSpeak values."
"Where are you going?" I asked him

"I guess I'm here," he said


I've met a lot of men and women like Matthew Smith. They grew up in one world and now struggle to live in another.

Like many, Matthew embraces parts of the new order and while decrying changes he doesn't like.

He uses his cell phone to access Genesis Communications Network for news. He is a fan of the Alex Jones Show.  (Jones, in a blurb about his show shows, claims he sorts through "government cover-ups, mass media red herrings, and corporate scandals" to give Americans what they need —  information withheld or ignored by the mainstream media.)

Matthew disgests what he hears. The police state is here, he says. "Do you know Homeland Security is buying 450 million rounds of .40 caliber hollow point ammunition? For what? To use against civilians?"

(I was curious so I went on line to check it out. I found this video.)

He credits Aldous Huxley and George Orwell for warning us of what was coming.. He blames America for acquiescing to a big brother state of NewSpeak political values and terms, and embracing consumerism — where going to war is keeping the peace, and going in debt is living well.

U.S. Flag on his chest
He rolls another cigarette from the blue pouch of tobacco with the silhouette of a bugler standing tall on it. "Ironic, isn't  it, that we now see in camouflage a symbol of America?"

Smith is not anti-American or anti-military. He wears a blue sleeveless T-shirt with a flag of the United States in he shape of a map of the country on it, below a red bandana.

Many of his friends, he says, are veterans. Some died in the streets. "We did that to them."


"You ask where I'm going?" he says, getting up and walking to his bike.

I tell him there is park close by on the Rio Grande, that the water is high and cold. He should be able to find shade.

"You ask where I'm going?" he repeats. "I think that's a question we all should be asking." And he pedals off.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Can Music Save America — Again?

There was a full moon hanging lantern-like over the campgrounds as I walked back to my VW bus last Saturday night. Music came from all directions. Performers gathered in groups around tents and tuned and sang. I remembered another soft time like this, more than forty years ago — 1967, dubbed the summer of love when music seemed to pour from everywhere. The year of  Woodstock when seemingly a whole nation came together in song.

Performer at the ABQ Folk Fest
The heritage is everyone's.
Joni Mitchell sang about it (Woodstock). The songs of that era everybody knows even if they were not as yet born. And the idealism captured in Guess Who's Share the Land was part of it.

The 1960s have been written about ad nauseum. But what did they mean? We sometimes forget that the 1960s was a time of deep division in the land, from the war in Viet Nam, to racial injustice and rioting, to the cold war with the threat of nuclear annihilation, to the awareness of pollution and  the environment, to women's issues and deep divisions between the young and old. We were a nation torn apart in many ways.

It was music of the 1960s that did something no politician, no statesman, no author, no poet, no intellectual could do. It gave a voice to the people. Soon we all were singing.

It was revolution in song, ideas in lyrics.

Now maybe — just maybe — it is starting to happen again.

Before there was Bob Dylan there was Pete Seeger. Before there was Arlo there was Woodie. The origins of the music that flourished in the 1960s had roots that run deep in the folk song soil of this nation.

It has been so forever at every turning point in our history. Yankee Doodle during the Revolutionary War. The Star Spangled Banner when the British invaded in 1812. The Battle Hymn of the Republic and Dixie during the Civil War. Over There during World War I. This Land is Your Land in the Great Depression, We Shall Overcome during the Civil Rights Movement, Blowing In The Wind during the anti-war movement, and so on. America comes together and unites in song.
I thought about this as I went from singing group to singing group — that movements come in waves, that we dig deep in our songbook to find was unites us. Or make up new songs.
Silhouettes of song and singing at ABQ.

I've lost some friends over the years. I've gained some new ones. On moonlit nights with music in the air you think of all of them. You think of the songs and the music made together. You think of the pain and the healing.

This nation needs healing now to build a new and sustainable world we can leave to our children and theirs and theirs.

I'd like to believe we can come together once more in music. A few chords, a few strums, some harmony and let it sweep across the land in a blaze.

Who knows. It happened before. It could happen again.

Everybody Get Together got to love one another right now — The Youngbloods

Saturday, June 2, 2012

ABQ Folk Festival — 24 hours of Joy

Officially, the  Albuquerque Folk Festival began today at 10 o'clock today — a one-day blast of singing, yowpping, workshopping, eating, playing, fiddling and just plain having fun. In fact the woman at the teller window of the Albuquerque International Balloon Museum which is hosting the event flat refused to sell tickets before 10. Never mind they could be bought in advance elsewhere.

Dueling banjos at the ABQ Folk Festival
Not to worry. The real festival began last night in the free camping area.

There may have been 200 or so of us at the most. But what made it fun is that about half were musicians. Real Musicians. Talented Musicians. And they came to play.

They set up venues at two different makeshift locations . By 4 o'clock the fun had begun and lasted until midnight.

Much of it bluegrass. But there were smatterings of cajon, Irish, Israeli, American blues and traditional folk songs.

Players came and went trundling in a wide assortment of instruments. Anyone and everyone who could play was invited to join in. Many did.

Those of us less talented sat around in chairs and listened, tapped our feet or began singing. Food was potluck. Mellowness pervaded. A three-quarters full moon looked  down on the dark campground.
Fiddle with a soulful wail 

The Albuquerque Folk Festival had its origin 14 years ago as part of an arts on the park program. Gradually it took on its own life, with a nonprofit board of directors and a host of volunteer members. In recent years it has been held at the state fairgrounds. This is the first year at the balloon museum.

Tickets are $20 but it doesn't take much to get in free. Anyone showing up can do three hours of volunteer work at the festival and enjoy free admission and a t-shirt. Or be (or claim to be) a musician and walk in free.

Admission pays for only about a fourth of the cost, I was told. Most of the rest comes from supporting grants. Costs are kept low by relying on volunteers for everything — as many as 700 this year doing everything from promotions, scheduling and printing up the elaborate guide.

Hammered dulcimer needed constant tuning
There are vendors, to be sure, but it is not a big money-making event. Festival t-shirts sell for just $10. If you don't need a 2012 edition you may purchase three "venerable" t-shirts from previous years for the same $10 price.

Mostly the vendors sell food, drink and a smattering of jewelry, creams and such.

It is a true participation festival. There are no stages. There are bands, to be sure, performing in tents and rooms inside the building. Sometimes as many as eight to ten events go on simultaneously, mos of the audience participation

These are not just singalongs. Musicians wander  freely from one performance to the next. The distinction between audience and performer  blurs.

The result is something special. Our roots, our heritages are in our music. When several thousand folks come together to play, to sing, to share we're just hearing hearing America sing. We're singing along with her. And it really feels good!

Bass player lost in his music

Beth Sabinal -- half of the Sabinal Sisters

Meanwhile, south near TorC  the Gila National Forest fire has consumed 227,000 acres and is now the biggest fire ever in New Mexico. The smoke has left skies ashen and mountains shaded gray. A few nights ago the half moon high in the sky shown an ominous orange. Sunsets however are magnificent.

Sundown in Torc blanketed by smoke from the Gila National Forest fire

One of 1200 firefighters battling New Mexico's largest fire
The fire is not considered dangerous. Some 1200 firefighters are battling the blaze.

Although remote from human habitat the rugged Gila Mountains are home to bears, mountain lions, coyotes, lynx, fox, rabbits and a large number of birds as well as rugged pines and mountain shrubs.

The 227,000 burned acres represents about 8 percent of the national forest's 3.3 million acres — making it the sixth largest national forest in the continental United States.