Jam Down On the Levee

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Here I am, in Baton Rouge with my friend and fellow tribal member, Corwin. We met at a didgeridoo gathering in Oregon back in 2015 and became Facebook friends soon after. Okay, I’m going to tell you a thing or two about the didgeridoo you may not know …

The didgeridoo is known for its signature low drone. For accents and sundry effects, practitioners toot out assorted trumpet notes (typically an octave and a bit above the drone) or “drop” down several tones. But these tend to be transitory and subordinate to whatever is going on with the drone.

Then various virtuosi such as Ondrej Smeykal began seriously messing around above and below. Then a couple of innovators went totally nuts.

Will Thoren, for instance, developed a “drop octave” technique that exploits the didge’s capability to deliver what I can only call subdrones, a full octave below the drone. He makes didges with special mouthpieces to facilitate the process, but mastery of the technique is fiendishly difficult.

It turns out my host not only rocked it in the subdrones, but he could circular breathe down there as well. Knock me over with a feather. This is part of the joy of jamming with another didge player – there is so much experimentation and innovation going on that life is a constant succession of opening presents.

Meanwhile, the wildly creative Dan Flynn has opened us to the possibilities in the trumpet range. Most of us are content to squeak out what we call the first and second trumpets. Dan actually belts out lengthy stratospheric passages. Not only that, he manages to tease out in-between notes.

Okay, independently of Dan, while playing in drum circles, I developed my own trumpet style, albeit far more basic. Very quickly, I realized that if you wanted to be heard in a drum circle, you needed to go trumpet. Drawing from my trombone experience from way back, I would improvise my own horn riffs.

Somehow, though, I never regarded my drum circle didging as part of my “real” didging. That began to change about three years ago. This sets the scene for our jam down on the levee.

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Here’s a pic of the Mississippi and its levee as seen from a small park in downtown Baton Rouge. Early one evening, Corwin and I took our didges down to the waterfront and began honking. Next thing, Corwin is laying down a line in the subdrone range – kind of like a funky bass – and I’m answering with my trumpets, swingband trumpets, no less.

NO DRONE!

“No drone!” I’m exulting in a wildly exuberant fit of unbridled enthusiasm. We’ve just wrapped up a brief duo. Here we are, I point out, both playing an instrument identified by it’s tell-tale drone, two didgeridoo players – and not a single drone between us!

Okay, maybe one or two, but very brief and just for accent. In effect, we turned our didges inside out, and – since I’m the one chronicling this – I’m going to say this is a historical first. In all the thousands of years of the didgeridoo – no drone!

A celebration is called for …

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Southern blackened salmon with asparagus, lovingly prepared by Corwin. The potatoes and avocado are my contribution. All too soon, it was time to go. A new signature and inscription to my travel didgeridoo, then, having made history, on the road, to whatever the future may hold.

Sound the trumpet, sound the trumpet, sound the trumpet!
Sound, sound, sound the trumpet till around
You make the list’ning shores rebound.
On the sprightly hautboy play
All the instruments of joy
That skillful numbers can employ,
To celebrate the glories of this day.

– Henry Purcell

Because you know I’m all about that bass,
‘Bout that bass, no treble
I’m all ’bout that bass, ’bout that bass, no treble
I’m all ’bout that bass, ’bout that bass, no treble
I’m all ’bout that bass, ’bout that bass

– Meghan Trainor

God and I Have Issues

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Even Texas eventually has to end. At the end of a long day of driving, I eventually pulled into Baton Rouge. But not without a lot of unwanted drama.

Here’s where Google Maps and every navigation system is totally useless: Google Maps correctly told me a right hand turn was coming some two-and-a-half miles away. What it didn’t tell me was that before that happened, I would find myself on a holy-fucking-shit deathtrap of a bridge hundreds of miles above the Mississippi, fighting off a panic attack.

God and I have issues. If God had been on the job, this never would have happened. It gets worse.

So, here I am, in fierce traffic on what amounts to a flimsy scaffolding a zillion miles above a body of water immortalized by Mark Twain, not to mention Paul Robeson’s excellent bass-baritone voice. My brain is “in case of emergency, break glass” mode. This is when I shout for all hands on deck. Angels, spirits, denizens of the ether, everyone. You up there! Look over me! Get me off this bridge alive!

An eternity …

Whew! Deliverance. Thank you, God. You are forgiven. We’ll talk later. Wait …

To my horror, I find myself on a ramp, heading straight back over the bridge. This is the work of Google Maps, with God’s apparent approval. This time, I am driving directly into a brilliant orange globe of combusting helium that poets and meteorologists euphemistically identity as a setting sun. Now you’ve done it, God.

When everything around you fails – breathe. I literally find myself breathing my way back across the Mississippi. Another eternity …

Now, here I am, off the bridge, in some shipyard, Google Maps pointing me over the same accursed bridge a third time. One Mississippi, Two Mississippi, Three Mississippi …

I clinch my jaw, I release the brake. Once more, into the breach.

This time, when I reach the other side, I deliberately turn left when Google Maps tells me to turn right. I drive into a neighborhood with real streets and places to turn around. Google Maps resets. I double-check. It is not taking me back over the bridge. God is making Himself scarce. You bet.

I arrive at my destination a few minutes later, the back of my shirt drenched in salty sweat. My ordeal is over. I should be grateful. But as I said, God and I have issues.

Through Texas

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My plan had been to get through Texas as fast as possible. But Texas is way too big for that. I entered the state via the scenic Guadelupe Mountains …

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Then the landscape turned harsh …

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And the warnings turned Biblical …

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After hours of unremittingly bleak country, I unexpectedly came across a state park situated in the dunes off I-10. I got my tent up just as the sun was setting …

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Two days later, not far out of Fort Worth, at a campground by a lake, I woke up to a flat battery. That is when I got to meet Frank and John …

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They were loading their truck nearby and very kindly came to my assistance, and got me up and running. I told them a bit of my story. This moved John to request a prayer. We bowed our heads as he thanked the Lord for bringing us together this day and asked the Lord to look over me on my journey. Hard to hold back the tears.

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A couple of hours later, I experienced a joyous reunion with Kinike. This was supposed to be a quick breakfast. Instead, we wound up going on till 3. Kinike is a legendary mental health advocate. It’s been at least 12 years since we last saw each other. Once we got talking, we couldn’t stop. And of course we had to have a didgeridoo-ukulele jam in the parking lot. This is what life is all about. All too soon, it was time to go.

A final night in Texas, beneath the pines …

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Road-Running Through New Mexico

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I would have loved to have stayed in New Mexico much longer, but I now needed to stick to a strict schedule. My drive-by visit didn’t do the state any justice, but the good news is that it will still be here next year.

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Here is the view waking up in the mountains outside Silver City. The day before, I had woken up to a blazing desert sun in southeastern AZ. Then back into the desert …

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White Sands National Monument. I was looking forward to viewing this wonder under a night sky, but a fierce sandstorm squelched this plan. Here’s the storm from my campsite at a nearby state park …

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It was only after the storm died down later that evening that I was able to pitch my tent. In the meantime, I strapped three didgeridoos over my shoulder and visited my new friend, Becky. As you may recall from an earlier post, she and her three kids stumbled upon me playing my didgeridoo among the ruins at Montezuma Well. We instantly hit it off, and through Facebook discovered our paths would be crossing again. We both rolled into the campground within minutes of each other.

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The boys, by the way, were naturals on the didge. Mom was pretty good, too. Husband Rob took the photo.

Later, dinner inside their RV. Plus pokemon and lots of good conversation. All too soon, it was time to go …

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What a difference a few hours and several thousand feet makes. New Mexico is full of surprises …

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Hours later, a sense of flatness asserted itself. Below, minutes from Carlsbad Caverns, where I was about to pitch my tent …

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Soon after, the flatness unexpectedly opened up into canyons. Then, before I knew it, I was on foot, 800-feet below the ground …

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A few hours later, this happened …

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By then, however, I was already looking forward to late this year and well into next year. New Mexico, I will be back.

Looking Back, Looking Ahead

Lots of catching up to do. It seemed like yesterday – it seemed like a century ago – that I was in Apache Junction, hiking in the Superstitions and hanging out with my now dear friend, Leanna. All too soon, it was time to make tracks. First stop, Tucson …

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Here I am with Jody, someone I haven’t seen in more than 20 years. She is a friend of my sister, who suggested I look her up.

The pic I forgot to take was with Mary Wayne, whom I haven’t seen in 45 years. I was fortunate enough to catch her for late lunch-early dinner, just before she had to head out of town. Back then, we were both in our early 20s, with our careers lying ahead of us. Now, here we were, in our late 60s, our careers behind us. So many paths, so many journeys.

Song of Songs, they say, is Solomon in his youth. Proverbs is Solomon in middle age, Ecclesiastes Solomon in old age. My back-to-back meetings with Jody and Mary Wayne afforded me the rare opportunity for my old Solomon to pull up a chair with my two earlier Solomons. Is there a way to reconcile the three? Can we at least come to some sort of peace? No easy answers, but sitting down with people out of your distant past sure helps.

So I commend the enjoyment of life, because there is nothing better for a person under the sun than to eat and drink and be glad. Then joy will accompany them in their toil all the days of the life God has given them under the sun. – Ecclesiastes 8:15.

Face-to-Face, At Long Last

Lots of catching up to do. It seemed like yesterday – it seemed like a century ago – that I was in Apache Junction, hiking in the Superstitions and hanging out with my now dear friend, Leanna. All too soon, it was time to make tracks. First stop, Tucson …

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Here I am with Joanne. Actually, we’re some three hours outside of Tucson in this photo. Never mind …

I’ve known Joanne online for at least four years. I’m not sure she knows what to do with me. You see, she gives me advice, and I actually follow it. She’s the one who came up with the title to my book series, “The Bipolar Expert Series.” She had a look at the draft to my first book and told me I was losing her with my ancient Greek esoterica. I couldn’t help it – I had all this cool stuff about Socrates and “knowing thyself” and Galen the Physician with the four temperaments. Just to make things even cooler, I threw in Shakespeare. Really, how could I possibly go wrong?

The problem, she explained, was I was basically front-loading my book with nerd-geek stuff. That could come later, she said. First, I had to explain myself and what my book was all about. Reveal a bit of myself. Get readers engaged. Then go ancient Greek. Well, okay. Edit, edit edit – the difference was night and day.

She made a similar critique of the first draft of my second book. This time it had to do with ancient Sumerians. We nerds simply can’t help ourselves.

Anyway, years ago, a personal crisis resulted in Joanne being unable to return to her well-paying position as an IT specialist on Wall Street. She downsized and hit the road with her service dog, traveling cross-country between one family in Connecticut and another in Arizona, learning as she went along. It quickly turned into a way of life.

Recently, with a friend, she went on a once-in-a-lifetime Havasu Falls hike in the Grand Canyon.

We had been aiming to meet up for the longest time, but it never happened. It looked like we would miss each other again, but then I got a text message from her saying she was in a hotel near the Tucson airport. She had just driven a friend there to attend to a family emergency. I responded that I was also in a hotel near the Tucson airport. Someone had put me up for the night there, which is a whole other story.

So here we were, coming to the sudden realization that we were both within walking distance of each other. Next thing, we’re helping ourselves to the breakfast buffet together.

A couple of years ago, anticipating my current financial crisis, Joanne suggested to me downsizing and hitting the road. At the time, this was way beyond the realm of my comprehension. Now, here I am, already looking forward to at least another year of being free-range. Life is funny that way.

We spent the day driving around, first up Mt Lemmon, 9,000 and-a-bit feet …

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Then through Saguaro National Park …

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A few days later, we met again, this time way off the beaten track three hours southeast of Tucson. Driving in on a washboard road, the underside of my car came down on a rock. I experienced the sickening bang! of catastrophe followed immediately by my car sounding like a motorboat. I managed to get it to my campsite, then, a few days later, 40 miles up the road to the nearest town, Safford. The exhaust had severed from the engine. Three places refused to touch it. Basically, the job would involve removing the engine from the car. It looked like my road trip was about to end.

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Then Rusty, here, had a look, and performed a spot weld for no charge. Turned on the ignition. It purred. God and I have a lot of issues. But sending Rusty my way was a blessing.

Anyway, here’s my campsite, out in the middle of nowhere …

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And here’s the view …

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Wish I could get a pic of the night sky over the Arizona Desert. Joanne and I and a friend of hers enjoyed two nights sitting out under nature’s splendid canopy, mere specks amongst the specks. Then one of the specks broke loose and bolted. It shone brilliantly for all of a second, only to extinguish into nothing. Such is our fate. No matter what, we will all return to the nothing from which we came. Our only crime is to never take up the challenge of breaking loose and and daring to shine when presented with that rare opportunity we call life.

Didge and Pasta in Tucson

Lots of catching up to do. It seemed like yesterday – it seemed like a century ago – that I was in Apache Junction, hiking in the Superstitions and hanging out with my now dear friend, Leanna. All too soon, it was time to make tracks. First stop, Tucson …

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Here I am, with Tara and Mike. I met Tara a few years ago at a didgeridoo gathering in Oregon. Tribal members are so special that I’m beginning to develop a theory that we belong to a special class of people I refer to as “outliers.” We just don’t fit into the statistical norm. Not all outliers are didgeridoo people, but just about all didgeridoo people, I submit, meet my criteria for outliers.

In my second book in The Bipolar Expert Series – In Search of Our Identity – I offer a sketchy take of the outlier type. I hope to fill in more details as I do more research and develop new insights, but basically we’re talking about people who have always felt different, almost as if they didn’t belong on this planet. In my book, I list a number of personality traits that separates us from the “normal majority,” including introversion, high creativity and intuition, and highly sensitive. We also tend to fall into various oddball categories on the Meyers-Briggs (in particular, “intuitive-feelers”).

Not surprisingly, we’re not going to be very fulfilled trying to live someone else’s version of “normal.” In fact, we can get extremely depressed. But around each other, we just light up. We don’t have to pretend, we don’t have to wear masks. We can just be.

Tara is a highly accomplished artist. She’s been playing the didgeridoo forever and has been to 12 or so Oregon didge gatherings. She drew Mike into the didge, and now he makes them. One of his didges, in particular, took me into a new dimension. I felt a vibrational sense I had never experienced. It was almost, when I wasn’t looking, a Boddhi Tree had taken root and sprouted up around me.

Back to earth, we picked up some ingredients for my world-famous pasta sauce. Here is the result.

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Mike had three helpings. The cat liked it, too.

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A Deeper Appreciation

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That’s me, inside the Wave Cave, in the Superstition Mountains. A little backstory …

The Superstitions was my first wilderness stop in Arizona. With my guide and host, and now dear friend, Leanna, we did two hikes, plus a explore a nearby reserve. Then I headed north, but not before committing myself to come back.

This time we did another two hikes, plus a guided night walk. Each new hike built on the experience of the earlier ones. With each footstep, each pause to take in the view, each gasp of exhaustion, each sip of water, the appreciation deepens. What begins as an introduction eventually resolves into a profound sense of connection. Then you reach a certain tipping point where your soul is no longer contained in your body. It has burst out onto the land.

Boundaries break down. You feel your spirit nurturing you from within, but you also sense it in every rock, every tree, every breath of wind. A relationship develops, a sense of oneness emerges, no self, no other.

It’s kind of like that when a friendship blooms. Leanna gave me a strong sense of that.

So back to our Wave Cave. We had a 990-foot ascent in 90 degree heat over a lot of loose rock. Toward the top, it got really steep and I found myself walking like John Cleese doing his Minister of Silly Walks routine.

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This is the terrain Leanne and I were scrambling over. Here’s a macro view …

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And here’s a micro view …

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Near the top was particularly strenuous, and I found myself taking numerous breaks. My legs were rubber. The air I breathed seemed devoid of oxygen. Here is the mouth of the cave, our destination …

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That’s me, below the “wave,” playing my didgeridoo. Those last 50 feet to the cave seemed like 50 miles. When I finally reached my destination and cast off my pack and plopped onto the sandy surface, I felt as if I would never get up. Then a funny thing happened. I spotted this guy …

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The little guy and his family were about to leave when I noticed his tee shirt. This was too good to pass up. Next thing – don’t ask me how – it’s like I haven’t experienced the rigors of the hike. Next thing, I’m blasting away on my didgeridoo. Next thing, I’m putting on a show. Today, my didge really wanted to play, and the sound fairly resonated off the cave walls. Good vibes. The kid and his family loved it. So did I. Other hikers in the cave burst into applause. Ah, my fifteen seconds of fame …

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My view looking out of the cave. The hike down was a breeze. Just one more interaction …

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It just happened to be International Hug a Cactus day. In case you’re wondering, I just happened to notice that for some reason this big boy possessed no pointy bits. I think Leanna is getting used to me, by now. Ah, friendship. Tomorrow, I will be hitting the road, but I am hardly driving out of Leanna’s life. Nor will I be loosening my connection to the magic of this wonderful piece of earth.

Deeper appreciations linger. Inevitably, they change you. Inside – and out.

 

Back in the Superstitions

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One of the joys of my journey has been to reunite with Leanna, who lives in Apache Junction, AZ, a community which nestles into the Superstition Mountains. Here we are, on top of the world. And here is the picture I will be sending to my cardiologist …

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We ascended 1400 feet, a lot of it scrambling up all manner of rocky surfaces. Endurance checked out just fine. Here are some more shots from Sunday’s walk …

Note the rare site of water. Nature out here is massive and in your face and full of mind-boggling surprises. But the desert also provides an eye-opening study in the subtle and the micro, especially when it has a a few drops of water to work with …

More hike pics …

Next day, another hike, a different section of the Superstitions …

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More pics …

And this cool one …

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Not to mention this …

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And the moon thoughtfully posing with this big-ass rock …

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Leanna scaled a vertical face to get to this cave. I took the longer way up …

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The Day Two hike was technically an easier one, but I had to push myself harder, as I still hadn’t fully recovered from our excursion the day before. Leanna was a bit slower, too, but she still had plenty left in the tank. I had every excuse to call it a day for me, but then something crazy happened: Where I should have felt fatigue, I suddenly experienced exhilaration and a sense of breakthrough. Suddenly, I had energy to spare. I’m sure there’s a life lesson in this.

Meanwhile, a friggin’ crazy cholla cactus that thinks it’s a tree …

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Finally, back by the roadside …

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This chapel featured in the movie, Charro, starring Elvis. Always a successful hike that ends in a homage to the King.