Thursday, August 21, 2014

We’re Home! (For a While)

Our home on the Rock (photo thanks to Jim Maya)
We’ve been on the road 46 weeks, traveled 22,000 miles, visited 37 states and 3 provinces, and now we know for sure that we live in the most spectacular, hopeful, and climatically welcoming place in North America. The Pacific Northwest seems to be the most comforting place on the continent, with its gracious weather, conscientiously raised food, natural stewardship ethic and opportunities for all sorts of people. We are grateful that we live in a place where we do not have to go to great expense and care to cool, heat, or dehumidify our living space. We have huge respect for the resiliency of humans who are tied by poverty or tradition to lands which experience ice and snow as in Cape Breton, humidity as in the Southeast, dust as in Eastern Washington, or hurricanes or tornadoes. We appreciate our great good fortune to have seen so many places and returned home safe and sound. Our little cabin on the southwest side of San Juan Island was lovingly stewarded by friends in our absence, and aside from shaking a few resident spiders from the corners, we had little to do in the way of making it operational. Two batches of baby barn swallows (who fledged the day after we arrived) and the deer and the fox born since we were away, all seem nonplussed about our presence. 

Cousins Patty, Denise, Renee, Addy, Janna, 
Burt and Melvin say goodbye to Aunt Mary
We did have a few great experiences since our last post, lovely times involving friends and family. Most touching was a gathering at the home of Janna’s cousin Burt and his wife Joan. Janna’s sister Addy (and brother-in-law Al) were there, and other cousins joined us as well to inter the ashes of Aunt Mary on the land where she was born: her parents' homestead in the foothills near the Beartooth Mountains in Montana. Mary was a spitfire and a loyal friend to many, and this gathering of friends and relatives made us all remember the importance of leaving a life well lived. We were invited to present some music so we sang Homeward Bound, a song about leaving the farm and returning again, and a remarkably poignant statement about Mary’s life. 

From there we took a leisurely course to Missoula where we over-nighted with Liz’s lifelong buddy David and his wife Shan. Besides being long-time friends they were our gracious hosts in Cetona, Italy a couple of years ago, so we had lots of catching up to do regarding families, friends and recent experiences. 

Sign at Sandpoint Farmers Market
Then we spent a couple of nights getting to know the town of Sandpoint, Idaho with some new friends: Amy and Glen, who we met last summer over the matter of the Illg Beach solar panel. Their small Idaho business produces the frames that support solar panel arrays and we were able to negotiate an exchange of a few nights stay on San Juan Island for personal delivery of our heavy new solar mount. We found we have much in common:  similar politics, music, and time spent in Alaska, so we had a good time singing and being shown the Sandpoint they love, including the Saturday Farmers Market and the best places to swim in Lake Pend Oreille.

We knew we were almost home when we finally crossed into Pacific Daylight Time and were greeted at the Washington border by our Vashon family, Angela, Lisa, Olivia and Xan who were returning from their annual visit to Grandpa Will’s place in Canada. We got to bring the kids home in Lilypad while the parents stuffed their car full of cases of organic fruit destined to be the canned goods we’ll all enjoy over the winter. We took our time getting back, stopping to swim near Spokane, camp overnight at Lake Easton and enjoy the wonder of Snoqualmie Falls. Then we were warmly welcomed by our extended family on Vashon Island where we got to see all the home improvements that have happened in the year we’ve been away. We also were delighted to enjoy the final games and awards banquet of Lisa and Angela’s slow-pitch team, the Hasbians (motto: “You should have seen us back when”). It reminded us of the community and family we have missed in our travels and made a future base of operations on Vashon Island an even more appealing idea.

Although we had always planned to return to San Juan Island in late summer (Liz got back in time to volunteer for a shift at the County Fair) there are a few states missed that we want to visit before we actually settle down again. We have places to go and friends to see in southern Idaho, Colorado, Utah, Arizona, Texas, Louisiana, Oregon and California so we plan to keep Lilypad for another year and fit in those travels over the fall and winter. Our great adventure is not over. We appreciate all of you who have followed our blog and sent us comments and ideas for visits. Please stay tuned while we have a vacation from our vacation at Illg Beach. We’ll be back in Lilypad again early in October.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Bikers and Bison

After driving through three states of GMO corn and soybeans, made even more toxic by the ever-present crop dusting airplanes, we were relieved to enter the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, our gateway to the Black Hills of South Dakota. We boon-docked several nights, first at Burke Lake, a pond built by the Civilian Conservation Corps, and then near Hot Springs at lovely Cold Brook, a lake and campground built by the Army Corps of Engineers. Liz was the only human swimmer in the lake at about 8pm.

Lakota and Catholic Chapel
Pine Ridge Reservation continues to be one of the most poverty-struck areas of America, but bold statements of cultural pride flourish among the graffiti tags. An area chamber of commerce has attempted to insert some vitality into the economy, and if other travelers are headed that way, we suggest picking up their publication. We stopped at the Red Cloud Heritage Center located in the building of an 1888 school founded by Jesuits and Franciscan nuns and now part of Red Cloud Indian School. Enthusiastic young alumni (one currently attending Stanford, the other the University of New Mexico) showed off the campus and chapel and gave us a history of the school. In the 1970’s the school ceased being a boarding school and began incorporating Lakota language and culture into the curriculum. Their development director told us his team raises $13 million dollars a year to support 600 kindergarten-high school students each year. There is no tuition and the school is proud of their 90% graduation rate. In the past few years there have been 58 Gates Millennial Scholars among the graduates (of which there are 35 on average annually.) All students take Lakota language and culture classes, and there is a sweat lodge on campus. A few exchange students reside with families on the reservation. 

Natural entrance to Wind Cave, a sacred place
From there we threaded our way up past Hot Springs, South Dakota to Wind Cave National Park. This intriguing site includes one of the longest caves in the world and was the first cave designated as a US National Park. The visitors’ center was full of families and young adults nervously awaiting their tour of the cave. Having not quite recovered from our underground encounter with the Cumberland Mine in Nova Scotia we decided to limit our visit to the exhibits above ground and a walk up to the original natural entrance to the cave. We enjoyed the bison, prong horn antelope and extensive prairie dog populations in the park and happily proceeded on to the adjacent Custer State Park. 

Every small town was lined with bikes
By that time we were aware that there were an extraordinary number of motorcyclists in the road with us. We had seen quite a number in Hot Springs, but we thought they were there in conjunction with an effort to save the local VA hospital (a parade had happened earlier in the day and the bikers were all parked outside the Legion Hall). Then it slowly dawned on us: they are going to Sturgis. We knew about Sturgis because niece Sue was headed to the motorcycle rally at Sturgis (despite her mother’s concerns.) Sturgis is a tiny Black Hills town of 650 people that for the past 74 years has invited motorcycles to come visit in the first few weeks of August. In the old days there were lots of rough and tumble interactions, but now the state stations about 1,200 law enforcement officers in the area. Any interpersonal violence tends to be between rival groups known to one another (locals call this “culling the herd”.)  Nowadays the concert, bike competition and hospitality venues report an excess of 400,000 attendees over a three week period and the local economy claims $800 million dollars in revenue associated with the rally. To fill their time between concerts, barbeques and sleeping off indulgences, attendees ride their bikes in the nearby hills. 

So there were many bikers with us on the drive around the Custer State Park Wildlife Loop and only the youngest animals and oldest tourists seemed bothered by the noise. At one point we were engulfed by a herd of about 200 bison determined to cross the road, weaving through parked cars and rumbling bikes. Some of the riders looked more perturbed than the animals. Others, like us, shut off their engines and enjoyed the show for the next 40 or so minutes. 

Famous faces
Our final stop in the Black Hills was a visit to Mt Rushmore. Somehow both of us have managed to avoid this shrine of American democracy and it was actually some progressive friends that persuaded us to stop. The defacement of a beautiful mountain and association of the primary artist with the Ku Klux Klan in Georgia had always made it seem unattractive. But it is truly spectacular and a very interesting site rich in American history. We enjoyed the movie about the workmen and design of the statues and the information about how it was funded.  The scene was suitably surreal due to the huge numbers of motorcyclists sporting colorful garb and body parts, but there were also a lot of families from all over the world. The parking was easy and the venue was beautiful and well designed to handle the millions of people who come through. 

We skirted Sturgis, and were lucky to find room in a campground near Deadwood where the bikers roared out at 5:30 am.  We roared out a few hours later, headed to Wyoming.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Sisters Singing in Illinois

Peggy Safford, Bread and Roses Director, sang next to Janna
It’s hard to convey the incredible feeling of good fortune that has been with us the last ten months as we travel from place to place finding treasures and unexpected delights at each new venue. The Sister Singers Network Choral Festival, on our calendar since January, was another such pleasure. We were two of over five hundred women who spent four days participating in choral music performance, both as singers and audience members. The event was held at the beautiful Krannert Center for the Performing Arts at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champagne. These feminist singers were truly our sisters: women who loved to sing, who love music that expresses deeply-held social, political and philosophical beliefs, and who cheerfully embrace you because you are there and a sister singer. All of that plus they know all the songs we know! 

The performances included choral presentations from seventeen feminist choruses from around the country with repertoire and music crafted by many of the women present. Each of the choruses performed several songs and all of the attendees also sang in one of two “mass choirs.” As part of our assigned “Prairie Choir,” we learned and performed five pieces, each conducted by a different, highly talented, woman director. We loved the rehearsals where everyone knew the music and cheerfully responded to the changes and nuances called out by the conductor. Thanks to her activist mother, Liz has been belting out social justice songs for over 60 years and both of us sang with the Anchorage W
Can you find us in the front row of the Prairie Choir? Janna (L) Liz (R)
omen’s Chorus twenty years ago. That and our more recent experience at San Juan Singers, plus Janna’s singing lessons last year, all contributed to our being able to participate at a reasonably sophisticated level. (Jokes from festival: How many choral directors does it take to change a light bulb? Answer:  No one knows, they weren’t watching. How many altos? Two; one to change it and one to tell her she can’t reach that high. How many sopranos? One; she doesn’t want any other sopranos in the room with her.)
With emma's revolution in front of you, it's hard to keep
 your eyes on the conductor
For us the topping on the cake, and perhaps the tipping point to justify the expense of the weekend, was the opportunity to be up close and personal with Pat Humphries and Sandy Opatow who comprise the group:  emma’s revolution”. We’ve been fans of Pat’s music since 1987 when Karen Carlisle taught us her great organizing song, “Keep on Moving Forward” in response to the Anchorage City Council failing to ratify protections for gay and lesbian workers. We renewed our membership in the fan club when Rhea Miller taught us “Swimming to the Other Side” just a few years ago. Pat and Sandy led off the weekend with a free concert, then a musical keynote the next morning, weaving in stories of social justice activism, mass music theory, and wonderful songs in true sing-along spirit. Pat, incidentally, learned at the knee of master song-leader Pete Seeger when she worked several summers on the Clearwater (Pete’s schooner that sailed the Hudson River urging environmental reforms.) She was one of those gathered at his hospital bed last January and helped sing him into his next existence. Many of us were moved to tears by her story of him and the song she wrote commemorating his work. Pat is truly a gifted songwriter. Check out their website.

In addition to the entertainment and the mass chorus rehearsals, we also attended some great workshops. We loved “Rhythm for Singers”  led by Sue Ford. Anyone who has stumbled onto the famous Friday Night Drumming Circle in Asheville North Carolina’s Perry Park will know of Sue's work which has been happening there for over a decade.  (Unfortunately when in Asheville a few months ago, we were there on the wrong day and were sad to have missed this tremendous cultural tradition.) 

In Urbana we also both attended “Teaching and Singing in the Oral Tradition”, led by Becky Graber, conductor of the Brattleboro Women’s Chorus (Vermont.) Since its inception in 1996 this chorus has learned all its music by rote and hence uses no written music. We found that by listening and echoing, then layering voices together, we are able to hear all of the different parts. This brings a shared experience to the music that is lost when one is focused on only her own part or struggling to read notes from a page.

“Feel the Music with Folk Dance” led by Heather Russell, a music education professor from Cleveland State University was another wonderful workshop. Besides teaching basic folk dance vocabulary, she illustrated how singing words we all know can be the catalyst for coordination for newly taught dance steps.

We didn’t let the huge storm where we were trapped in the parking garage get us down; in fact it added to the fun. The college cafeteria food just made us appreciate our usual organic diet. Other highlights included a songwriting workshop, a workshop learning about Hildegard of Bingen, meeting new friends (Kim and Beth we do hope to see you again) and so much more.  Off to Iowa now. We are truly blessed.