48 minutes

I timed myself.  From the moment I entered until the moment my transaction ended it took 48 minutes, which seems like an awfully big chunk of time when you’re not used to waiting in line for much of anything.  But it’s Christmastime and the holiday season wouldn’t be complete without at least one very long wait at the Homer Post Office.

There is something noble about saying that you waited in line at the Post Office for a long time.  It insinuates that you are getting your gifts sent off to distant relatives in a timely fashion, but I have to confess, I haven’t purchased a single gift yet.  Shopping is my least favorite aspect of Christmas.  I prefer the baking, which is why I was willing to stand in line for the better part of my lunch break on Monday.  I had no choice.  If I wanted the organic Saigon Cinnamon and the organic cocoa powder that I’d ordered online then I had to take the plunge.

I do quite a few things around town to keep me feeling connected; I go to the contra dances, I volunteer for the Homer Nutcracker, and I work in the library, but I don’t think anything makes me feel more a part of the community than a nice, long wait at the Homer Post Office.

When I first walked in the door I was greeted by cheering and clapping.  Well it wasn’t for me, but for the lady walking out.  The crowd was congratulating her for making it through the line.  After it was clear that I was not one of the people who bailed upon seeing the length of the line, a man three people in front of me informed me of the expected wait time. “It’s taking about thirty minutes,” he said.

Way up ahead of me in the line I could see one of my close friends who appeared to be conducting business from her cell phone. First someone came in to have her sign paperwork then a few minutes later she was delivered a batch of cupcakes.  I weighed the option of running my pink slip up to her so she could pick up my package for me, but I didn’t want to be the one responsible for turning the mostly cheerful crowd hostile by cutting, besides, her hands were full.

A well known local conspiracy theorist happened to be there that day, and he decided to talk rather loudly and incessantly about how the postal service was going south because of the government’s war on drugs.  According to him, all packages were being opened and inspected in the back and that’s why it was taking so long.

Another woman, someone I didn’t recognize, talked on her cell phone about some fairly private matters concerning the health of her friends and family.  After hearing the words “colonoscopy” and “questionable pap results” I was thankful, for her family’s sake and my own, that I didn’t know her.

About twenty minutes in, my business conducting friend who had been near the beginning of the line finished sending her packages and came to chat with me.  We made a date to sit in her new hot tub, exchanged stories about our teen-aged daughters and compared notes on how we were holding up during the coldest, darkest part of winter.  Then as she was walking out she looked back at me and said, just so most everyone could hear, “I don’t wear a bathing suit in the hot tub, so don’t worry about bringing one.” – So glad she left me there with the townsfolk after giving them that image.

Then there was the lady that kept trying to get the group to sing Christmas carols, and the young woman who never looked up from her texting the entire time, and the guy who was reading his mail and swearing.  It made for some good people-watching and I never got bored.

Overall it wasn’t a bad 48 minutes.  It was better than shopping and it reminded me of why I love this quirky little town.  And I had something to think about when I finally got my box of spices and it had been opened.  Maybe the conspiracy theorist guy was right after all.

Smith River, Montana

I didn’t spend much time with my dad.  At age thirteen I moved away from his house to live with my mom in another town.  And although my dad was a great guy, one of the nicest people you’d ever meet, he wasn’t great at keeping in touch.  And as I became an adult I wasn’t the best with that sort of thing either.  Sometimes we saw each other only once every year, and as my kids got older and traveling became more cost prohibitive, our visits were even less frequent.  I did always call him on his birthday though, and now that he’s gone I miss picking up the phone and having a nice, long conversation with him every year on November 21st.   We’d talk about his garden, his plans for the future (he always had a plan), and often times we’d reminisce about the time we floated the Smith River in Montana.

Dean and I had been married for one year when my dad drove from Grand Junction to Missoula for a visit.  When we asked him if he’d like to go rafting with us he sounded a little reluctant but then said he was game to try anything once.  I interpreted that to mean that he wasn’t crazy about the idea, but he didn’t want to say no.  Dean and I latched on to that “try anything once” statement and planned a four day rafting trip.

My dad was an outdoorsy guy, but he went about battling the elements very differently than Dean and I did.  Let’s just say that his savvy came from more of a cowboy/huntsman place, whereas Dean’s and mine came from more of a backpacking, rock-climbing, REI catalog kind of place.  It made for some educational moments on both our parts.  My dad learned that while oiled cotton canvas might keep you dry should you get caught in a brief rain storm, it’s not really meant for rafting.  Dean and I learned the nuances of fly-fishing for brown trout, and discovered that expensive gear really isn’t the key to catching more fish. While Dean could read the river and keep us out of harm’s way (for the most part), my dad could identify all the plants along the banks.

When our yellow rubber raft began to fill up with water on day two of our trip, my Dad didn’t panic or get stressed out.  If he was worried at all he covered it well by cracking jokes and telling stories of his own youthful misadventures.  At one point when we were trying to identify where the leak was coming from my dad held up his two pointer fingers about six inches apart and said, “I can’t see the tear in the bottom of the raft, but I think it must be about this long.”  I asked him how he knew and he said, “Well there’s a fish about that size swimming around my boots.”

It became clear after a very short time that no amount of bailing was going to get us anywhere, so we looked for a good spot to pull over and repair the raft.  Dean had planned ahead for this sort of thing and had purchased a repair kit before the trip, but the patches that came with the kit were way too small for the gash that we found once we emptied out the raft and turned it upside down on the gravel bar.  To make matters worse, we realized we had forgotten to pack a roll of duct tape, something we had learned on an earlier trip to never leave home without.  When Dean resorted to patching up the raft with year-old, used duct tape that had been wrapped around the handle of one of the oars, my dad expressed a little concern, by saying, “You go ahead and work on that.  I’ll start praying.”

Other highlights of the Smith River raft trip include coming around a bend in the river and seeing a black bear cub standing on a boulder that jutted out over the water.  We were silent and still as it watched us float past.  I also remember my dad’s excitement at seeing a huge bush of ripe red currants.  He insisted that we pull the raft over and pick them for a few minutes so he could make currant syrup for our pancakes the next morning.

We also spent a lot of time building huge campfires in an attempt to dry out my dad’s gear because even though our dry bags were superior for keeping the sleeping bags dry, he insisted on wrapping up his belongings in his Australian oilskin duster.  He did have a bit of a stubborn streak.

When my dad came to visit Dean and I in Montana all those years ago we could have easily hung around the house the whole time or just taken a few sight-seeing drives, but instead we shared an adventure. Those four days of eating around a campfire, sleeping under the stars and floating down the Smith River have given me a lot of comfort over the past few years.

Full disclosure

I learned a couple of years ago in a memoir writing class that it’s good to put some time and distance between certain incidents in your life and when you attempt to write about them.  My instructor said that you would get a sense when you started writing as to whether or not you’re ready.  I’m thinking that twelve years is enough, and I can finally write about the time I got arrested.

I’ve told the story dozens of times, each time laughing at the ridiculousness of the whole event, but something has stopped me every time I’ve attempted to write about it; probably because it was humiliating.  Putting it down on paper just makes me remember how awful it felt to see the neighbors drive by as I was handcuffed on the side of the road, how stunned I felt as I sat in the cold, barred-off back seat of the trooper’s cruiser and how angry I felt when my name appeared in the local newspaper’s police blotter the following week.

I hadn’t thought about the incident for quite a while, but it came back to me recently when I watched the video of a reporter getting detained by the security guards hired by a certain Alaskan politician.   The two young security men in the video  were trying to keep other members of the press from talking to the hand-cuffed reporter.  Their buzz-cuts and their determination to look official reminded me of the trooper, (I like to call him BabyTrooper as he looked like he was about nineteen years old) that decided to cuff me on the side of the road all those years ago.

Before I go any further I should reassure everyone that I am not a criminal.  Really I’m not. And I wasn’t at the time of my arrest.  I was a stay-at-home mom trying to finish up my Bachelor’s degree.  I volunteered in my son’s kindergarten class.  I took my three year old to play group and I looked after the neighbor kids on a fairly regular basis.  For fun I was learning how to knit and how to make awesome homemade bread.  And no, I wasn’t one of those moms that lived an “after hours” life of partying and carousing around town.  My evenings were spent doing things like reading and watching movies.

It all happened because I didn’t deal with a fix-it ticket.  Two years before my arrest I had been pulled over when I was driving home from Soldotna because a headlight was out on my Subaru.  I got the light fixed within a few days, but I failed to take it back to the Alaska State Troopers office to have them check it off as having been repaired.  And for that oversight they put a warrant out for my arrest.  Little did I know that the next time I would be pulled over for a minor traffic violation (yes, another headlight out on the same Subaru) I would end up getting hauled down to the station until my husband could pay the $40.00 to bail me out.  (And before you start to imagine me behind bars please know that it didn’t go that far, thankfully.)

Now, I understand the importance of headlights.  I realize they are significant safety features on cars.  And believe me, I’m quick to get broken headlights fixed these days.  But honestly, is not dealing with a fix-it ticket an arrest-able offense?  Apparently it is.  I do believe that BabyTrooper could have handled it differently though.  Perhaps he could have asked me to follow him to the station, or at the very least he could have let me ride in his car without the handcuffs.  But I think he got a little charge out of humiliating the hell out of me.  And I blame him for the split-second of panic I still feel whenever a trooper drives past.

I’ve learned a lot from this incident and I hope in my writing about it I can pass on some of my hard-earned insights.  First of all, if you own a Subaru that was manufactured anytime between 1983 and 1995 just know you’re going to go through a lot of headlights.  It might be a good idea to keep a few spares at home.  And, should you get pulled over for having a headlight out, don’t forget the very crucial step of driving it over to the police station so they can officially make note of its repair.

Also, it’s a good idea to have an open mind when reading the local police blotter.  When the Homer News and the Homer Tribune reported my particular crime to the general public they didn’t explain that it was all over a minor traffic violation.  They left out the part about how the trooper, fresh out of trooper school, was trained to follow protocol but had not an inkling of common sense.  All it said was:  Teresa Sundmark, 29, arrested for outstanding warrant.   Which leads to the most important lesson I learned from the whole getting arrested event; sometimes, even though you’re a law-abiding citizen and all around good person, people will treat you otherwise, and at such times it’s helpful to hold your head high and not let the bullies and the uninformed make you feel bad.  And if they do, just tell the story lots of times and laugh about it a lot.  Then, when enough time has passed write it all down and hope that you can finally put the whole thing behind you.

An Ode to Fiddle Camp

Jam (photo courtesy of Nicole Christianson)

All through September I kept having the feeling that summer couldn’t possibly be over yet.  There were a few things that didn’t happen; things that make summer feel complete.  This was the first time in the fourteen years that we’ve owned our skiff that we never launched it, which if you live in Homer just seems crazy.  We also never hosted a salmon/halibut barbeque with a campfire.  Incomplete as it may seem without those aspects of summer, the even bigger hole in the season comes from the fact that this year there was no Fiddle Camp.    And I really, really missed it.

In 2005 when I first attended Fiddle Camp I had taken a few Suzuki lessons and had picked out a few Irish tunes on my violin.  I knew I loved playing, but didn’t really have much direction, so on my first day of camp I signed up for an Irish fiddle class, a very basic bluegrass workshop and a “how to play in a band” workshop.  At the end of the day I was happy enough, I had been challenged and had plenty to work on, but then something happened that night.  I witnessed an old-time fiddle jam that changed everything.

It was music different than anything I’d ever witnessed.  Someone would call a tune and the whole group started to play.  Nobody soloed, nobody tried to outdo the next person; everyone just played the same tune together, for a long time. I noticed that after the first five or so times through a tune there was a shift in energy, it became almost meditative for the players, and the music seemed to take on a life of its own.  The melody of each tune stayed true throughout, but the driving force was the rhythm.  It’s difficult to for me to describe an old time jam, but the word “tribal” comes to mind whenever I try.

The next morning I rearranged my schedule to old-time fiddle 1, old-time fiddle 2, clawhammer banjo (even though I’d never held a banjo in my life) and Appalachian singing.  My teachers were Kirk Sutphin and Riley Baugus, so it’s safe to say I had a pretty amazing introduction to the genre.

I’ve been hooked on old-time music ever since. I play whenever I can; at home, with friends in town, and at festivals. But it’s not quite the same as being at camp.  Where else can I immerse myself in music for an entire week, share meals and stay up until all hours of the night with friends who share my passion?

And really it’s as much about the friends as it is about the music.  I’ve gotten used to seeing certain people every August and I missed them this year.  I missed singing hits from the eighties with Travis.  I missed hearing Eamon sing Irish ballads (and the Bee Gees) at two in the morning.  I missed Jay and Brian’s witty banter.   I missed everyone and the whole scene, especially the poignancy of Saturday night when nobody wants to go to bed because we all know it will be a whole year before we’re all together again.

Here’s hoping that Alaska Traditional Music Camp (Fiddle camp for short) will come together again someday.  My summer just wasn’t quite the same without it.  But even if it’s over, even if I have to get my music fix some other way in summers to come, I’m thankful to have been a part of it for the past five years.

September

It’s blindingly beautiful outside right now.  The birch and cottonwood trees are turning yellow; the fireweed stalks are dark pink.  The sky is a brilliant blue.  Grasses are the deep green of late summer and the water on the bay is calm, punctuated only by the trail of a skiff or a raft of sea birds.

It’s almost too nice out there, which sounds strange, but it’s making me feel melancholy.  It’s sort of taunting me, reminding me that these nice days are numbered and soon enough it will be winter.  And winter is long, and cold, and dark.  Soon I’ll have only reminders of summer, like the food the season has provided preserved in the freezer and pantry to be parceled out over the next several months, and the memory of the smell of dirt in the garden and the feel of sun on my skin.

I’m not ready to let go of summer.  It was too short and I didn’t do nearly as much as I’d hoped to.  Yet I know that once winter gets here I’ll be fine.  It’s just the transition that seems to be difficult.  We’re losing close to five minutes of daylight each day right now, and so this change of seasons doesn’t feel as though it’s sneaking up on me, it feels more like it’s jumping out from behind a wall and hitting me over the head.

Recently I’ve been reminded that really life is all about the transitions, and how you get through them seems to say more about the kind of person you are than just about anything else.

My grandparents had been married for seventy-three years and still lived together in their own house when my grandmother died unexpectedly early one morning last month.   That August day would mark the beginning of a different life for my granddad.  Not only had he lost his wife, but he could no longer stay in his own home.

Already his short-term memory was failing him and the shock of all the rapid changes seemed to amplify his disorientation.   Sometimes he seemed very lucid and could remember that his wife had died, other times people had to remind him of what was happening.   A few days after my grandmother’s memorial service he admitted to my mom, “For all of my life I’ve always known what to do next, and now I don’t know what to do.”  My mom reassured him that she would be there for him and said, “We’ll just take it one day at a time.”

He thought about it for a moment and then started to sing,

“One day at a time sweet Jesus

That’s all I’m asking from you.

Just give me the strength

To do everyday what I have to do.

Yesterday’s gone sweet Jesus

And tomorrow may never be mine.

Lord help me today, show me the way

One day at a time. “

Then he sang it through a second time in Spanish.

Seasons change, grandparents die and relationships you thought would last sometimes don’t.   Children grow independent, parents grow dependent and our best-made plans sometimes get derailed. The transitions can break our hearts or fill us with more joy than we ever thought imaginable.  All any of us can really do is try to embrace the changes with a touch of grace and carry around a song or two that will help us get through the hard times.

The Four Corners Folk Festival in Retrospect

So much more could be said about the Four Corners Folk Festival that Marla and I just attended.   It truly was a beautiful event.  I would have liked to blog more from the festival grounds, but my laptop battery was limited and in retrospect it was nice to have a couple of days without plugging in.  I also didn’t want to be known as the geeky girl, always in front of a computer at one of the most happening parties ever.

The highlight of Saturday was attending the late night show at the Pagosa Springs Community Center.  We left Ricky Skaggs early in order to acquire a good seat, which turned out to be a good move.  The venue was the equivalent of a middle school gymnasium and we were in the third row.

First up was a band called MilkDrive.  This Austin based group wasn’t one that I’d heard of before the festival, but their musical prowess was impressive.  All four of these young men were extremely talented but I must say I had a soft spot for the guitarist Noah Jeffries.  The way he looked and played reminded me of my son Dillon.  I so wish he could have been there to see the show.

After MilkDrive it was time for Crooked Still.  Their energy and musical ability created an experience for me that bordered on the spiritual.  All of the band members seem like lovely human beings, which added a huge dose of charm to their nearly perfect sound.  When I first heard their song Ecstasy several months ago it hit me on a very emotional level, so much so that I listened to it repeatedly for many days.  I even dedicated an entire blog post to it.  Often times I have trouble finding the words to describe how music makes me feel, and to say that  hearing Crooked Still perform Ecstasy live, from the third row of a small venue was the highlight of my weekend is an understatement.  I’m not really sure what it is about that song.  Perhaps the low cello notes hit me on a cellular level.

The Infamous Stringdusters, along with musicians from all of the aforementioned bands wrapped up the evening around 1:00 AM.   They took to the stage in a variety of combinations; four banjos, five mandolins, three guitars to name just a few.  Watching the musicians interact and visually display their awe for one another gave me the sense that I was invited to an intimate party. They all seemed to be having a fabulous time.

One of the problems of being an aspiring musician is that I sometimes have a hard time just enjoying the work of other musicians without my incessant critical voice making me feel bad for not being as good as them.  Somewhere along the way on Saturday night I lost that invalidating voice and accepted the gift the musicians were giving me without any strings of guilt or regret attached.   In Kundalini Yoga there is a move called the Ego Eradicator.   The term seems to apply in this situation as well.   By the end of the evening I felt refreshed and inspired.  My ego had been sufficiently snuffed away.

By early Sunday evening the official festival line-up was finished, which left us with a night of jamming with our new friends from Paonia and New Mexico.  We played until around 2:00 and then found our way back to our tent for a few hours of sleep before the long drive on Tuesday.  Sleep did not come easily with the sounds of music and laughter wafting around the festival grounds, and as I tossed and turned I thought of ways to bring some of the experience with me into my real world.  It’s never easy to maintain the high after a great festival or a week of fiddle camp, but the friends made along the way, the exposure to new, invigorating music and the tunes that I learn keep me going until the next gathering.  It’s  addicting for sure, but in a good way.

For my take after the first night of the festival:

https://loftyminded.com/2010/09/04/live-from-the-four-corners-folk-festival/

Live from the Four-Corners Folk Festival

photo by Michael Pierce

First of all, I can’t imagine a more beautiful setting for a festival.  Maybe Homer has vistas as beautiful as Pagosa Springs, Colorado, but I’m certain it couldn’t muster up blue skies and eighty degrees.  And if you think it sounds too hot, not to worry; the festival grounds are located in a Ponderosa pine forest.  Shade and sun abound.  Beyond the big, white, open-air tent that houses the stage, a panoramic view of the San Juan mountains acts as a frame for the entire scene.

Yesterday after setting up our tent we made our way to the meadow, spread out our blanket beneath one of those Ponderosas and enjoyed The Black Lillies, a country, rock, roots band out of Tennessee.  For the next band up we moved into the tent (skin was turning pink on this pale Alaskan girl) and gave Frank Solivan & Dirty Kitchen a listen.  Frank, an accomplished bluegrass and classical musician, has Alaska ties and in fact came to Homer for one of the Bearfoot Bluegrass camps that Dillon and Adella attended several years ago.   The last band of the night kinda blew my socks off. The Infamous Stringdusters, a six man string band, put more energy into their performance than seemed humanly possible.  They are young, they are cute and they rocked the house.  They managed to stick to traditional bluegrass, add an element of jam-band magic and throw out some phenomenal solos to create something modern sounding, and incredibly fun.  Thankfully they play a couple more times over the next couple of days.

Festival people know how to have a good time.  And they take their festival set-ups seriously.   I’ve seen a couple of camp arrangements that are more comfortable than my own home.  Marla and I in comparison feel like little orphan girls.  Our creature comforts include a back pack tent and a fleece blanket.  This morning while the camp next door was frying bacon on their triple-tiered fold up camp kitchen unit, underneath their twenty foot shade tent, while sitting at their picnic table on their deluxe camp chairs next to their pop-up camper, we  sat next to our rental car on a couple of rocks and ate our gluten-free sesame bars.  I’m not complaining though.  I’m happy to be here.

Most everyone here is friendly.  We met some folks from New Mexico who welcomed us into their fold for a while to enjoy their chairs and the heat from their campfire.  And they let us play a few old-time tunes with them as well.  We also met someone who went to Alaska Fiddle Camp a few years ago.  While we were chatting with him about Alaska two members from the band Hard Pressed out of Paonia, Colorado wandered past, turns out they were at last year’s Anchorage Folk Festival.

Most amazingly, the people here are strangely civilized.  Last night the whole place was silent by about 1:00 AM.  No fireworks, no loud parties, not even any music.  I can’t imagine it will be that way again tonight, but who knows?  Maybe Colorado people are more sane than Alaskans.  What the quiet night meant for me was a good night’s sleep.  I woke up well-rested and ready for another day of sun and phenomenal music.   On today’s schedule we’ve got more of the Infamous Stringdusters,  Crooked Still and Ricky Skaggs & Kentucky Thunder.  Right now, at this very moment, I’m sipping my double-shot Americano on my blue fleece blanket, listening to Sweet Sunny South play old-time tunes.  There’s not a cloud in sight.

Saturated (part 2 of the Anderson Bluegrass Festival experience)

(See previous post for Part 1)

On Friday morning Jay sent us on our way armed with some amazing smoked salmon and a warning to watch out for the “knuckle draggers.”  It turns out he had taken his family to the Anderson Bluegrass Festival several years before and had almost been run over in his tent by someone who went for a middle-of-the night motorized excursion, after consuming much alcohol no doubt.  Jay and his family ended up leaving the festival early.  Sherry had also warned us about the festival, saying it was a wild one.  Maybe it was the alluring weather forecast that called for clear skies and temperatures in the 80’s, but after taking heed of the warnings of our friends we decided to give Anderson a shot anyhow.   We could handle knuckle draggers, or duck out early if we felt so inclined.

We stocked up on more groceries than three women could possibly consume over the span of three days and in order to have optimal awareness before the long drive north we stopped at the Modern Dwellers Chocolate Lounge for some drinking chocolate, (like we needed an excuse.)  I was looking forward to the drive with two of my favorite ladies, to listening to all the old-time music I liked (something my family doesn’t really appreciate) and getting north of the Alaska Range to where the summertime temperatures get well above what us coastal folks are accustomed to.

Honestly, our first impressions of the festival had us a little worried.  We didn’t feel like we fit in very well.  Not a one of us sports a tattoo or has piercings in unusual places.  We didn’t bring a keg or a hula hoop or a dog.  We drove around the grounds looking for a place to camp, feeling discouraged by our options until we spotted a group of people who looked a little like us.  They were about our age, clothed, and most importantly they were playing stringed instruments rather than a boom box.  We found out they were a bluegrass band from Anchorage called Bootleg Brown and they turned out to be great neighbors.  I think they appreciated us as well.  The group that camped beside them on the other side brought a pig, not the little pet pot-bellied sort, but more of a hog; the kind that would be in a 4-H display at a county fair.  We were the neighbors without the pig, which automatically made us more favorable I think.

After getting our camp put together we headed over to the main stage.  Peter, the birthday boy from the night before, was playing with the old-time string band Lost Dog from Fairbanks.  It was a stroke of luck to get there when we did because out of the hundreds of people at the festival they were the only other old-time musicians we ran across all weekend.  We took a close look to see who they were so we would know who to track down when we wanted to play tunes later in the evening.  Kate is a great friend and a ton of fun to travel with, but I also discovered an added bonus of going to music events with Kate; she knows and remembers the names of musicians from all around the state.  It turns out she recognized the band members of Lost Dog; fiddler Thomas Hart, banjo player Pete Bowers, Kim Blair on the mandolin and Ryan Bowers on the bass.

While watching Lost Dog on the main stage it hit me that I was as warm as I’d been all summer.   It was already late in the day, around 8:00 pm, and the sun was still high in the sky and beating down on my skin.  I haven’t spent much time in the interior of Alaska but at that moment I was a convinced there was no place on earth I’d rather be.  There were a few people in the crowd I could imagine slipping into “knuckle-dragger” mode later in the evening, but I was willing to give them the benefit of the doubt.  For a while we were just a bunch of people reveling in the sunshine, happy to be away from the real world for a little while.

Saturated (part 1)

Sometimes a person reaches a saturation point.  The dampness of this coastal Alaskan summer was beginning to take its toll on my mood.  My imagination was stuck on replaying a scene that involved waking up in the morning and seeing blue sky and a yard that could be navigated without getting soaked.  I needed some sun and I wasn’t going to get it in Homer.  A field trip was in order, so my sister Marla and my friend Kate and I headed north, to the Anderson Bluegrass Festival.

There were no guarantees that the weather would be nice in Anderson, but whenever people gather to play music there is different kind of warmth that is created, a kind of heat that is a close second to that which comes from the sun, and I needed some of that as well.  Lucky for me the weekend did not disappoint on either front.

We left on Thursday afternoon and headed toward Anchorage to stay one night with our friends Jay and Sigrid, host and hostess extraordinaire.  They have an enviable way of making people feel right at home the moment you enter their presence (not just their home.)  Sigrid attended the play of one of her nieces that evening so we didn’t get to see much of her, but Jay whisked us away to a birthday party of a fellow musician and fiddle player, Peter.

Several friends that I’ve made over the past five years of attending Alaska Fiddle Camp were there, and it was great to get to see them, especially since there will be no camp this year.  After visiting for a while we found our way to the dining room that had been cleared out to make room for the purpose of playing music.  My brain was dull after the drive, and I could feel the beginnings of a headache (I should have known better than to substitute dinner with a mocha,) but thankfully my friend Sherry, another fiddle player, was there with her plethora of tunes, and between her and Peter and George, I enjoyed the luxury of just playing along without having to think too hard.  We played until just after midnight (in order to usher Peter into his 40’s) and ended the evening by passing around a gallon of raspberries that George had picked from his yard and given to Peter as a birthday gift.

It was raining again as we left the party but it didn’t really matter.  I felt content, and warm, and glad to be in Alaska among my friends.

Halfway through summer

Somewhere in the early days of this blog I think I wrote something about trying to post something at least twice a week.  In retrospect it may have been a little too lofty a goal.  I seem to be doing well to get something out twice a month at this point.

There is always the hope that somewhere in my future I will find more time for writing and reading.  Realistically the six to seven months of winter we get here could work to my advantage.   During the long season I go to bed early and therefore find it relatively easy to get up at 5:30am and take advantage of a quiet house.   Summer in Alaska is a different story.  There is this climate-imposed pressure to fit as much into three months as others in a more southern locale could spread out over as many as six to eight months.   The garden needs tending, firewood needs stacking.  There are fish to catch, berries to pick and recreation to be had, all in addition to the regular household chores and my job.    I’ve heard people talk about “lazy summer days” but honestly I haven’t experienced many of them in the 18 years I’ve lived here.   Perhaps we’re programmed to keep moving until darkness settles in, which this time of year is around midnight. It’s a rather manic existence and I can sustain it for a while, but just lately I’ve reached the part of the summer where my concentration is low and my attention span is short.

Lately I’ve been craving some serious couch time.  The other day I found myself fantasizing about catching a summer cold that would force (allow?) me to sit still for a while with my books and my laptop.  When my reading and writing habits become mucked up in the long daylight portion of summer, I feel a little out of balance.  A sort of literary mania comes over me.  The problem is compounded by the fact that I work in a library.

It starts with me checking out more books and magazines than I could ever possibly find the time to read.  Then, when I start feeling bad about taking so many items out of circulation for the public use I begin digging through the book donation boxes in the back room.   My stack keeps getting higher and in my attempt to make up for all the years I spent reading Glamour magazine and listening to 80’s pop music when I should have been reading the classics I start having thoughts like, “How can I possibly be a good writer if I’ve never read Moby Dick, or anything by Steinbeck?  I must remedy this situation right now.”   The guilt I inflict upon myself is emotionally exhausting and by the time I actually have time to sit down on my couch with my oversized stack, (usually around 11:30 pm) I’m overwhelmed by the choices.   I do a lot of page flipping and a little reading (remember the short attention span I mentioned earlier) before I find myself too tired to think straight.  Then I fall into a hard sleep for about six hours.

Coherence returns, for a while at least, after a good sleep, so that’s when I try to write, even if it only amounts to a page or two in my notebook.   Some would say that journaling is a waste of time but I find that it’s a valuable tool for helping me keep my wits intact.   A while back it led me to a most obvious solution to my reading and writing problem of late:  short stories.  I’m working on a short story of my own, and what better way to learn the workings of the genre than to read a bunch of them?    And beautifully, I can manage complete works of fiction that are only 5-12 pages long, even during this crazy time of year when daylight lasts much longer than my brain’s ability to stay fully engaged.

And as for this blog, I still aspire to post more often, and maybe even liven it up with pictures once in a while.    In the meantime I’ll do what I can, and continue to enjoy the process.  I think I’ll also try to slow down a little and savor some of what summer has to offer.

Thanks everyone for reading.  I can’t tell you how much I appreciate your support!