Friday, May 26, 2006


Clouds marching

I spent this afternoon sitting barefoot with a guitar on Little Pine Lake near Perham, Minnesota. It was a glorious day with a turquoise sky, and puffy white clouds marching across the plains. Even the occasional lawnmower noise didn't diminish my pleasure at being near the water with an instrument and a notebook. Oh, and did I mention the swing? I felt like a kid come home again.

You can take my almost ten days of silence as a sign that I've been too busy too write. I'm going to try to put down everything that's happened in the last week, and I'm sure I'll miss something. But, that's the joy of blogs. You can keep adding to them. Here we go...

Last Thursday, I spent an evening with a group of real-life hobos at "Hobo Central," a small house located about a hundred feet from a railyard in Staples, MN. It was one of the most unexpected and rewarding experiences I've ever had. It started when Colleen, a member of my audience at Ma's Barn, told me she was going to visit her friends the hobos. I was surprised that hobos still existed and that she knew some, so I asked to learn more. Well, Colleen did me one better, and invited me out to their place for a visit. Mickey (AKA Dante Fuqwah), Frog, and Dogman Tony--well known hobos who have since retired from the rails--were lovely hosts. And they had a few of their hobo friends come by while I was there. I ended up doing an impromptu house concert on the couches on their front lawn, and got to know their half-wolf dog Tramp. I played those of my songs that seemed most appropriate to the hobo life, and realized in so doing just how much I felt in common with these wanderers. I played "Lost is on the Way" (a newer song that needs to be recorded), "Road Trance," and "Gypsy Cab," and I felt like Mickey, Frog, Tony, and their friends listened and took in my songs on a level I've never experienced before. It was a performing experience like no other. Below you can see Colleen center, Tony walking behind her, and Frog sitting in his wheelchair.

And here's a picture of me playing, with Mickey dancing in front of me and Frog sitting back to the center. You can also see Tony's tent--he hasn't slept inside in fifty years, the rails behind us between the trees and some box container cars waiting for containers.

Here's a definition of a Hobo that Frog showed me--it was sent to him by his friend Little Hobo:

"A Hobo is a man on the open road that breaks with the hiway of stress. He rather be a bm on freedoms road, than a slave to the bonds of success. Rather leave welth to the pushers with pull, and go when the commers have come and leave the false gold, in the laps of the fools, and stay in the world of the bum."

I know a song will be coming out of this experience. But it's going to take a little while for it to filter through.

The hobo experience was so awesome, that I haven't even mentioned that Colleen also took me to a building she owns in Staples, which includes the oldest intact opera house in the country, circa the 1900's. It's a Vaudeville stage, and it's incredible. I hope to play there someday.

Okay. Now we're up to Friday. The day started at the New York Mills elementary school where I did a special performance for the entire 6th grade. It was a blast. I ended up only playing three songs, as the third song was "Andy the Lightbulb Eater," and it lasted thirty minutes with all the student's suggestions for what characters or styles we could perform the chorus with. My favorites included George Bush, Paris Hilton, old Grandpa, Ahnold Schwartzenegger, and Barbie. I think we did about fifty different versions of the chorus. And the only reason we didn't do more is because the class period ended. The kids were great, and I invited them to my show at the Creamery the next day and promised to do the Lightbulb Eater song for them there.

In the evening, I was invited to a good old fish fry. Jerome, my friend from the antique store, and his wife Lina, former executive director of my host organization the New York Mills Cultural Center, invited me and some other lovely locals to their decadent Victorian home in Perham where we ate fried sunfish, potatoes, and fresh bread. Their house is almost my dream house, only missing a stream and a weeping willow. Good thing too, or I'd be really coveting it!

Saturday was the final performance of my residency, held at the Creamery, my favorite coffeehouse around here for songwriting. It went famously, and since I had a few 6th graders show up at different points in the set, we ended up doing the Lightbulb Eater song twice that night. After the show, I went over to Pam and Gary Robinson's house, where they were having a small town party, complete with steak, potatoes, rhubarb pie, and the largest bonfire I've ever seen. Pam Robinson is a local artist, who makes colorful sculpture out of various found objects--her husband Gary, the town doctor, calls her technique "ass-in-the-air art," because she spends a lot of time bent over picking over what she might find on the ground. Pam and Gary came on my canoe trip a few weeks back, and Pam made me two beautiful necklaces out of some of the stones she found on that trip. I love her art, and was touched to receive her gifts. I staggered home exhausted at 11pm, as I needed to get enough sleep to prepare for my backpacking trip the next day.

I spent Sunday and Monday backpacking through Itasca State Park, which is the location of the headwaters of the Mississippi River. Chris Klein (pictured)--Board member of NY Mills Cultural Center--and I loaded our packs with camping equipment and two day's worth of goodies, and set off. Okay, full disclosure: Chris carried the vast majority of equipment and food. Hey, he's a triathlete. I figured he could handle it better than I could. But, hell, that was one fun trip. We camped at the DeSoto lake, which had the clearest water I've ever seen. Chris brought his fishing rod, and caught a large-mouthed bass. He wouldn't let me cook it up though, because it wasn't bass season yet. Instead, we made bratillas--bratwurst in tortillas with cheddar cheese. Heart-attack heaven. Then we tried to have chocolate chip cookies, but they burnt to a crisp, so we ate the dough raw. Which, actually, works really well as a camping food. We got loads of wood-ticks, as did Bodhi, our canine Goldendoodle companion that Chris was taking care of for the weekend. I had never been bitten by a tick, and I pulled off five of them by the end of the weekend. Got back to NY Mills later that night satisfied and exhausted, and had one of my best sleeps in years.

Tuesday and Wednesday were spent trying to catch up on the writing and playing that had gone by the wayside as I found all these other adventures to occupy my time.

Last night I returned to Rich Paper's home, where I'd had the most incredible dinner a couple weeks ago, and he cooked me a authentic Sri Lankan meal of the most delicious lentil curry, fresh home-made millet pasta, onion and coconut relish (from fresh coconuts), and palm-sugar custard. As appropriate for this meal, we ate it with our hands, which was a treat. I love to eat with my hands--it makes the eating experience even better. I was fortunate that there were leftovers, so I had the meal again for my picnic lunch at the park today.

That brings us back to today. Two more days till I drive to Wyoming. Tomorrow, I intend to go boating on Big Pine Lake on a pontoon, from which we shall do some swimming, fishing, and playing.

More next time. May your roads be empty and wide.

(Me--on the Straight River. An excellent trout stream.)

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