Saturday, May 19, 2007

Superstition Ride - - - Day 2 - - - Packing In

I woke up about a half hour before dawn. The eastern sky is behind the mountains so there isn't any judging the halflight. I put some hay out for the horses, changed the water in their bucket, and scooped a measure of oat and molasses mixture into a frisbee for each of them. I had a muffin and some coffee. Then it was time to get to work.

The load for Sally was about 120 lbs. It was mostly water in bags that hang off of the pack saddle. Even though there are known sources of safe water all along this trip, this is the desert. You simply cannot have too much water. I also make it a point to never count water that I haven't seen. Along with the water I packed in a field medical kit, GPS transponder, satellite phone (2 spare batteries), several blankets, and some very light, very basic foods. One of the main foods I like to carry in the wilderness is Hardtack. This is my favorite recipe. It was the ship's biscuit served to the intrepid sailors who followed the great John Paul Jones.


In a bowl combine:

2 1/2 cups rolled or steel cut oats (not quick cooking)
3 cups stone ground whole wheat flour
1 1/2 teaspoons sea or kosher salt
1 teaspoon baking soda

In another bowl combine:

1 1/2 cups buttermilk
3 tablespoons honey
1 1/2 cups plus 2 tablespoons bacon drippings (or be a wuss and use lard or crisco)

Mix the dry and liquid ingredients together to form a tight dough. Separate this into eight equal size balls. Roll these out on a floured surface to about 1/4" thickness. Place onto ungreased pizza pans or cookie sheets. It helps to stipple the surface of the crackers to ensure even baking all the way through. This can be done by rolling with a pegged roller or using a meat hammer once the dough is rolled out.

Bake in a 450° oven for 5 1/2 minutes, use a spatula to turn the crackers over and bake for another four minutes. When done the result can be golden brown at the edges but you want dry, light, and stiff units. Cool totally on racks and leave uncovered in the open air for at least a full day before storing in plastic bags. This stuff is nutrient dense, light, and doesn't even taste all that bad. One of the things you will miss when foraging through the wilderness is carbs. This is all carbs. I use it crumbled into soups and stews, or dunked into coffee. Trying to bite into it like a saltine or ritz cracker can cost you money and dental pain.

Along with the hardtack I packed dry cure bacon and some elk jerky left from my hunting last year and a bag of dried fruit. There are also some lemons and a bag of saliditos. For an extra treat I stowed two jars of canned peaches. Then a small hand coffee grinder and some beans, some alfalfa pellets and cut oats. Some pennywhistles to amuse myself and to keep from going into shock from not making some form of music everyday. For a three day trip, even if I find no water and no other food along the way, I won't starve, the horses and I will have plenty to eat and plenty to drink.

I saddled up Rosalita with a McClellan, crossfire rigged saddle. Behind the saddle are two light canvas saddle bags where I have some extra clothing, black licorice nuggets (my horses won't do shit without proper bribery), braided rawhide riata, combination hatchet/hammer, .410 breakaway single shotgun, box of 3" shells, .22 long rifle Remington pump (both in saddle scabbards), shoulder water bags.

I checked Sally's pack rig for balance and comfort one more time, gave her a licorice treat, locked up the truck and trailer, stashed the keys in a hubcap, mounted up and started out on the trail.

The weather was gorgeous. Cool, with a light breeze. Not a cloud in the sky. After about an hour of easy walking we were in full on Sonora desert, the saguaro, cholla, prickley pear, ah hell, all the cactus are in full bloom. Most of the arroyos have a dusting of wild flowers. There had been a decent rain last week, but the melt off from the Mogollon rim and the Tonto range is in full swing. I'm seeing quail, rabbit, lots of coyote sign. A couple of times I see the tails of gopher and king snakes disappearing into the sage stands. The sage is loaded with tiny purple flowers and makes the trail smell like incense.

Another half hour brings us to the first water. Taking a side canyon up about 300 yards (with slight incline) brings me to "the horse tanks." These are brimming full. I take Sally's gear off first and she plunges into the water right off. Even though I'm on the way to Rosalita, she lets me know that I have violated herd senority standards by not letting her play first. She hops right in.

When the horse come out of the water I dry them off well with sage branches and we saddle and mount up again. I get back into the main trail and begin to go through a series of narrow passes. Having shade from the stone walls of the passes is a welcome comfort. The heat isn't brutal, but it is most likely in the mid-eighties and climbing steady. There is a spring fed pond on the outskirts of the abandoned ranch where I am headed after the third pass. We'll stop for a drink and meal when we get there. I reach behind me and pull out my little silver "G" pennywhistle. The high trebles bounce off the stone walls gleefully as I play "I'll Tell Me Ma" and the "Rakes of Mallow." When I start to play "Poor Wandering One" Sally begins to snicker in anticipation and sidles up to me expectantly. I pass her a nugget of licorice then have another ready for Rosalita. I take out one of my lemons, take a plug from the center, stick in a couple of saliditos and suck the squeezed juice merrily. We are making good and easy progress.

At the spring pond the horses drink deeply and Sally begins to browse among the bushes like she's at the best salad bar in the world. Rosalita stands watching, then joins in with gusto. I break out the sterno stove and make a small pot of coffee and soon am happily dunking hardtack and jerky into a steaming mug. For dessert I stick a few dried apricots into my cheek like a chaw of tobacco and we saddle up for the final push of the day. There are about four hours of daylight left and we should be where I plan to make camp in about two and a half hours.

The trail is on a steady incline, but easy travel for my desert bred horses. There are Red Tail and Cooper's Hawks in the air. I am seeing many signs of the people that used to live here. A broken down corral, a section of fence, what used to be fields in cultivation. Once I pass the outline and crumbled chimney of what was once a line shack for a winter fence rider.

A Red Tail shrieks and I answer with the pennywhistle. We come to where the main ranch buildings once stood. There is a large pond, and a creek running full. I take care of the horses and begin to make myself at home.

The quiet of the place is beautiful. The sun is setting with its typically Arizonan gaudy show. I wander through the old orchard snapping off dead sticks to build a small fire. I feed the horses, but they have decided that there is better browsing in between the old fruit trees and are not interested in alfalfa pellets. A measure of oats also goes uneaten. I boil the horses leftovers into a porridge and eat it with a couple slices of bacon and a chunk of hardtack. My coffee tastes like nectar.

I am sitting with my back resting on my saddle. Blankets spread over a patch of soft grass smoking a welcome cigarette when I hear a another set of horse hooves clopping lazily.

A voice I recognize calls out "You got good coffee. Hope you brought me some peaches."

I grin and walk toward the sound of the voice saying "I came up here to be alone, but I do have some coffee and peaches."

Silas grins at me and says "You go be alone then. I'll just help myself. Then we can have a smoke and talk about things."



Thursday, May 17, 2007

Superstition Ride - - - Day 1

The day of the funeral I busied myself packing and checking stuff for most of the morning. Then I put brass strung celtic harp, my National Steel Body guitar, a small crate 25watt amp, and my "parlor" pipes into the car and drove to my friend's house. There were many other friends and family there. I made my presence known, and drove to the church.

I got with the sound tech at the church, together we decided that I would set up my own gear and run outside the church's system. I tuned the harp and began to play. For myself. I played some Bach, Turlough O'Carolan, some Palestrina, some Stephen Foster. When I noticed people starting to file in I winked at the organist and went outside to smoke a cigarette.

The family was just about ready to come in and be seated when I returned. As the honor guard brought in the casket I played "The Navy Hymn" (appropriate for a Marine) and "The Marine's Hymn." Then I went down to sit with my friends and my daughter.

The minister wasn't a complete and total asshole. He didn't blame the Iraq war on women's rights and tolerance of gays. He wanted to but he didn't.

After he read some stuff and harangued at little while I went up and played "A Sailor's Grave on the Prarie," on the national followed by my daughter joining me to sing "Mo Ghile Mar" while I played the harp.

I rejoined my friends while other friends and family members gave small little eulogies. I received simultanious elbows to the ribs from my friend and my daughter and went up.

All I said was "I loved this boy. I will miss him from now on. I would rather have been playing Mendholsson and Wagner at his wedding, and sung Irish lullabies to his children. Instead, today, I am doing what I must to honor the memory of a fine young man who has died too soon."

Then I played "The Ashokan Farewell" on the harp and picked up my pipes.

As the honor guard took him out of the church I followed behind playing "The Skye Boat Song."

At the cemetary I played "A Sailor's Grave on the Prarie" one more time because this young man loved that song. Then, after the salute and presentation of the flag I played "Amazing Grace" on the pipes.

I said my goodbyes at the cemetary. I had my daughter drop me off at the house and she went back to our friend's house to be with the family. I was ready to be alone.

I loaded Rosalita and her tack into the trailer, checked the water tanks to be sure that they were totally full and not leaking. I brought Sally and her gear up into it and fired up the old truck. It was about an hour and a half to get to the trailhead point where there are no motor vehicles allowed and I turned the horses out, put some water into a big bucket, threw some hay and made a light camp. It mostly was grinding up some coffee beans, brewing up some good black coffee and sitting there alone watching a glorious sunset. I listened to a little NPR jazz and turned in. I wanted to be riding out into the mountains at first light.



Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Laying Pipe

When my screenwriter friends are faced with problems of exposition they call it "laying pipe." You see it all the time without knowing it if it is done well. Since I can't do it all that well I will just let you know that a principal presence in the story of my time up in the hills requires some explaining.

His name is "Silas" and he is an haattaallii which is a medicine singer. He knows the three and four day ceremonial procedures that have been used by the Apache as long as there has been memory. He is also an herbalist and all around gifted healer of both bodies and souls. Nobody that I know has any idea how old he is. He has been old since I can remember.

He really lives somewhere beyond this world. I am not a believer in anything remotely supernatural. Not gods, ghosts, demons, ESP, or any of that bullshit. Here's the thing about Silas though, my whole life I have seen him do things I can't explain for reasons I don't understand. He does this thing where he just shows up.

A couple of quick Silas stories.

This last summer I was booked and ready to do a short run with a very well known singer. I am not a big fan of the road anymore, but this was not only a chance to put away some serious paydays it was a chance to make some incredible music with people I was having a ball doing it with. During the third show of our trip the singer's throat blew. Surgery bad. Instead of going home I was intending to get off my plane at Sky Harbor, pick up my car out of the long term lot, and drive into L.A. to be with the singer as he went through the process of finding out how much damage and what the recovery curve would be. I did this because this person is not only somebody I work for from time to time, but a real and true friend, which is something very rare in a competitive and often vicious business.

When I got off my plane in Phoenix I was startled to see my son waiting for me. He had a bag with him and he said "Silas showed up at the house last night and told me to give this to you. It's for your friend's throat. It's a tea." I hadn't even told anybody what my plans were, the flight thing was done by going to the airport, looking at the schedules and taking the first available flight. I have no idea how Silas knew that the singer I was working for had blown out his throat, I have no idea how he knew when to tell my son to meet me. He's done stuff like that for as long as I've known him. We had the tea checked out by the Ear, Nose & Throat guy in L.A. and he said that there wasn't anything in it that would interfere with the procedures and medications that he was intending to use. My friend (who is Irish and understands the workings of magic far better than I) drank the tea faithfully. His recovery was rapid and complete. The surgeon who sprayed his throat down with the teflon said it was one of the most rapid recoveries he had ever seen.

Another thing with Silas happened around November. I was playing the Phoenix show for La Primera Diva du Monde. My cousin and his partner were also there and because they represent some of the social service programs on the rez that were being benefited by La Primera, they were given double secret awesome access passes for after the show. Their passes were better than mine and I was in the goddamned show. No biggie though. I complained about that shit right away and got my stuff beefed up. The thing was that after the show, Silas was there with my cousin and his partner. He didn't have a ticket but he had gotten in to a sold out show. He didn't have a security pass, but there he was in the deepest, highest access area. La Primera came over to shake hands and schooze with my cousin, we introduced her to Silas and she sailed off into the night. A few weeks later we were talking on the phone and she mentioned meeting Silas. She said that the strangest thing had happened. She remembered him vividly, but, outside of her husband, nobody in her entourage had any memory of seeing him. There was no mention of him on any of the access lists.

I told her not to trip. I said "My whole life, Silas has done things I can't explain, for reasons I don't understand."

Anyway, when Silas turns up as the narrative progresses, you'll have a better idea of what is going on.



Sometimes A Fight Isn't The Worst Thing That Happens

I'm going to take a moment to write about something really important. The NBA playoffs. I mean, hey, the Suns, my beloved Suns, are in a struggle with the forces of evil. The San Antonio Spurs. The league has just suspended Amare Stodamire and Boris Diaw for tonight's pivotal game five. Why? Because they took exception to their friend, team leader and two-time league MVP being body slammed into the scorer's table by Robert Horry.

They left the bench area to see if the Sun's heart and soul had been turned into a chalk outline by yet another cheap shot from a team with a history of dirty play. Now, the league has seen fit to reward the cheap shot by suspending two of the key players for the Suns.

I understand that the league wants to keep its image bright as they prepare to go "Global" and stuff. But, here's the thing. Stopping the fights actually increases the number of cheap shots that take place. It removes the "McSorley Factor" from the game. When Wayne Gretsky was ruling the ice people wondered how a slight, not real scrappy kid from Winnepeg could skate so freely amid the sometimes brutal world of ice hockey. The answer was simple. Marty McSorley. If you took a cheap shot on Gretsky, McSorley would make you pay in pain.

There used to be basketball players who performed the same function. Kurt Rambis, Rick Mahorn, Charles Oakley and a host of other marginally gifted athletes made careers off of being willing to spend all six of their fouls making someone regret laying a cheap shot on Kareem, Dr. J and Michael Jordan. It was a crude system of justice and penalty but it worked.

When they instituted harsher penalties for fighting in hockey, cheap shots increased exponentially. The same thing has been happening with basketball. Bruce Bowen spends his entire career dishing out sneaky, dangerous little kicks to the achilles tendons and the sides of people's knees because the other players are not allowed to simply beat the living shit out of him.

Before the suspensions were handed down Charles Barkley made a very wise statement: "Nobody would have done that to one of my team mates when Rick Mahorn and I were in Philly."

Damn right Charles.

I'm not going to be at tonight's game. I have given myself the same suspension as Amare and Boris. My son and his girlfriend are going instead. I'm going to watch the game at Mom's. If the Suns can pull this one off they will be the champions for sure. If they fall, I'm going to put an Apache Mojo down on David Stern's head.


Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Jerry Falwell Is Dead.

He died of heart failure.

I haven't had a joke write itself like that since Kobe Bryant blew the passing part of the NBA Skills Competition.