Tuesday, June 27, 2006


Back in the Big Apple

My reticence over the last three weeks has in no part been due to a lack of things to write about. It's more that, while traveling, Internet access and inspiration tended to happen at different times, and, for the last ten days, I've found that most of my time has been dedicated to catching up to my New York life and recovering from my return.

Since my last post, I have performed in the South Dakota Badlands and on the northern reaches of the Lake Superior coastline, driven through miles of the glorious Canadian wilderness, seen Niagara Falls, stopped for a burrito and ginger brew in Woodstock, and then rushed home--always under the legal speed limit--to do a last-minute performance at the Governor's Island music festival on the rarely-visited Governor's Island in the New York Harbor.

My cross-country drive was such a frenzy of activity, that by the time I returned to my apartment in Brooklyn, I could barely remember what my life in New York City was supposed to look like. I woke up on that first Sunday morning in Brooklyn to my two cats, my hardwood floors, and the Brooklyn cloudshine, trying to remember what it was that I did when I was in Brooklyn. I managed to unpack half of the ridiculous number of bags that had been cunningly wedged into the backseat and trunk of my Honda Civic, and then gave up on the last few. I thus relegated myself to an excruciating unpacking sprint a few days later when, in anticipation of company, I needed to rescue my room from the encroaching mess of half-unpacked bags.

It took a few days to come to terms with the new businesses that sprouted on my overly-hip street in the eight weeks I was gone. And then a few more to remember that I actually like my neighborhood. New York City is another species of existence from the rural areas I've had the pleasure of inhabiting and visiting over the last couple of months.

But before I write more about New York City, I'd rather tell you more about my trip home.

Leaving the Ucross ranch in Wyoming was bittersweet. I felt ready for my next adventures, but nostalgic for the two weeks of time and beauty that allowed me to write fourteen (yes, 14!) new songs. Finally getting in my car to leave was like pulling off a bandaid--painful for a moment, but a relief to be on my way.

I had to get from Wyoming to South Dakota for my performance that night, but I had enough time to stop at Wall Drug, the roadtrip legend. As rumored, the billboards for Wall Drug start hundreds of miles in advance to whet your appetite for the tourist trap extravaganza. I found the commercialism particularly challenging after two weeks away from all commercial media, but Wall Drug does have its touristy charm. I enjoyed browsing the western-themed shelves of the bookstore and buying way too much homemade fudge which kept me going for the next few days. From Wall, I took the Badlands scenic road to the Badlands National Park.

If you've never been to the Badlands, they are quite a sight. Rising from the seemingly-endless, gently-rolling grasslands of the South Dakota plains are gigantic and incongruously jagged rock structures. I performed at the main park lodge--the Cedar Pass Lodge, and got to stay in an adorable bungalow in the midst of the rocks and grasses. After my performance that Friday night, there was a viciously beautiful lightning storm. Since I wasn't quite ready to go back to my bungalow, I figured I'd drive the scenic drive in the lightning. The velvety nightblack of the darkened terrain was broken by strobe-like illuminations of ghostly rock structures. It was incredible. I turned off the headlights and sat watching for a little while, till I saw the lightning headed in my direction, and then I booked it back to my room.

From South Dakota, I headed northwest to get to Fargo and my old Minnesota haunts in Ottertail County. After a too-brief overnight stay, I drove through the Minnesota country-side to Duluth--took a short detour to Wisconsin for Vietnamese food--and then drove up the north shore towards Lutsen. The north shore drive on the Minnesota coastline of Lake Superior is beautiful. A highlight of the drive was a visit to a smoked fish shop, where I got permission to play some of my new songs on the dusty out-of-tune piano and picked up some delicious smoked cheese and beef jerkey.

The Lutsen resort is an old-time resort with a pebble beach on the shore of Lake Superior where the Poplar River enters the lake. I played two nights of shows, and spent the intervening day wandering the shops of Grand Marais, after an on-air visit to WTIP the local radio station. It was a particular treat to hear my album played on the radio as I was driving up to the station. I also did some hiking to see a panoramic view of the lake and some breathtaking waterfalls.

From Lutsen, I drove out of the country. Not the countryside, mind you. Really drove right across the border into Canada. It was amazing to me--to drive a few hours, and then be in a different country, where they require you to show your passport, and they measure distance in kilometers. I've done a lot of travelling in my life, but it's a rare occasion when I've crossed borders in a car.

After Thunder Bay--a city not far from the U.S. border--the terrain got more and more rugged and the road got less and less populated. The scenery was exquisite. Red cliffs tower over inlets and bays that stretch into the large blue mass of Lake Superior. Just north of Lake Superior, steep bluffs lushly covered with rough evergreen trees surround small black lakes. Route 17 splits its route between the coastline of Lake Superior and parks made up of small inland lakes. For many hours in a row I would see no cars, and just stare at my surroundings. At one point I saw a red fox calmly trotting by the side of the road with his quarry in his mouth.

My first night in Canada, I stayed at the lovely Beaver motel in Wawa. I wanted to make it to Wawa because I grew up with a Wawa convenience store in my hometown of Yardley, PA, and, always bemused by the etymology of the name, I figured I had to make it to a town by the same name. I had hoped to see the northern lights, but was informed that they usual happen in the late summer.

The next day of driving included much of the same beautiful scenery, until I got closer to Toronto, and then everything just looked like the American east coast again--with a lot more trees. After an uneventful Thursday night in Barrie, Ontario, I woke up to an invitation to play in a festival on Saturday in New York City. Coursing with delight, I took the opportunity, and aimed to get back home by the morrow. My only touristy intention was to stop at Niagara Falls. Since seeing that scene with Lois Lane and Superman in one of those Superman movies, I have had pictures in my head about crashing water and heart-shaped beds. I gave myself one hour to see the Falls--figuring that looking at falls, even very large falls, shouldn't take that long. What I didn't figure on was that parking to look at the falls would take that long. With some luck I found a meter, and true to my aim, I only spent one hour in Niagara Falls--though half of that hour was spent trying to find parking. Once the car was parked, I spent twenty minutes walking to and from my car, and ten minutes staring at the awesome force of large amounts of water pouring over high cliffs.

From Niagara, I aimed for the Catskills. My subletter had my apartment till Saturday morning, so I needed to find a place on the way to New York City, but not too close, where I could find an affordable motel. I found that motel just off the NY thruway at the exit for Kingston. And then got to spend the evening in Woodstock, one of my favorite little towns in the Hudson Valley. The Golden Bough bookstore was closed for the day by the time I got there, but the burrito store was open, and I relished my vegetarian burrito with some Raspberry Ginger brew alongside, and enjoyed being out of my car in the beautiful late spring weather.

The next day, I got to Brooklyn, dropped off my non-music gear, parked the car on the street, took a bus, three subways, a shuttle bus, and a ferry to get to Governor's Island (ah--MTA rerouting), and had an incredible time performing at the Music Festival. The next day, well, I woke up from my eight week dream of doing all music, all the time, and returned to reality, which I have been slowly taking in over the last week and a half.

There's not been much to report for the last week and a half. I'll be performing a lot in the next few weeks in New York State and nearby, and I expect I'll have more to write then. May your days be long, bright, and warm.

Well come and welcome home, Elisa. There's a funny thing about New York - it's always still here, after travels.
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