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Friday, July 08, 2005

Raiders of the lost hellhole

The next day after I came home from the lake, I was right back in the same area, hiking with friends in a gentle rain, looking for a fabled crack in a mountainside which the Forest Service had removed from their maps, in an effort to keep fools from killing themselves there. As soon as we'd heard of it, of course we had to go look.

This was cross-country work with a vengeance, as the Crack of Doom is well away from roads and trails. We had obtained GPS coordinates, however, and, observing caution as we neared the oddball canyon, were able to happen upon it without disappearing from the earth.

A great day with my peers, doing the kind of bushwhacking I'd done for a living for so many years. You can see from the photo that I'd dug out my old cruiser's vest for the day.


After resting up from my hikes, I took my son and daughter and a friend of theirs to Salem for a Floater appearance. Salem, unlike Eugene, has trans protections, even though it seems to me to be a somewhat rough-spirited town. But I no longer think much about that; to everyone I was just a mom bringing young adults to a festival, and that's because that was what I was.

The event where Floater was playing, in a large park on the banks of the vast Willamette River, is the sort of thing one most easily attends if one has a beefy husband and two screaming toddlers, with a cigarette in one hand and dripping hot dog in the other.

Floater's fans, including Daughter, follow the band around religiously, and many of them have beefy boyfriends, two screaming toddlers, a cigarette and a dripping hot dog as well, but also have eyebrow rings, lip rings, tattoos, and black t-shirts with foul language silkscreened on them.

The speaker systems kept grinding out shrill renditions of Sousa as the band tried to hear themselves tuning up. This was the third of July, and flags were everywhere. It would seem the festival organizers would have picked some sort of oompah band instead of cutting-edge experimental rockers known for driving rhythms, heavy bass, and existential lyrics. Sort of Talking Heads on speed. Out across the park were thousands of Middle Americans, many of them with American middles (like mine), sweating about in the sunshine.

It was a strange mix.

As Floater cranked up, some four hundred people gathered to listen, of both varieties, the fans standing close and even forming a mosh pit of sorts in the grass, the regular festival goers seated on rows of folding chairs in the hot sun, wondering what the heck was going on. I pottered off to the acoustic stage, where some eight people were in the audience, but couldn't here the musician over the rock band in the distance, so I went for a walk along the river, sipping a can of diet something, and watching a couple of kayakers. Floater began to fade after I had gone about three quarters of a mile.


I don't go to pop or rock concerts much.

In the Sixties, I made it to one appearance by Donovan, and one by Steppenwolf. Other than a few folk festivals, and one bluegrass festival, and a recent appearance by a tottering Peter, Paul, and Mary, it's been mostly classical. I haven't always had the money to go, but when possible, I've sought out chamber orchestras or performances by choral ensembles. A highlight of my life was the Brandenburg Concertos on period instruments. And I'm a sucker for operas, such as La Bohème or Rigoletto. Most of my access to these things has been through recordings and radio.

My taste in music was shaped by my uncle, who undertook my exposure to culture at an early age. He provided me with copies of Plato, Aristotle, Longfellow, Whittier, Thoreau, Paine, Franklin, Herodotus, Marcus Aurelius, Julius Caesar, Stevenson, Kipling, Tolstoy, and others in handsome editions. He introduced me to exploration and nature literature, such as Peter Freuchen, Gavin Maxwell, Rachel Carson, and Thor Heyerdahl. And he taught me to appreciate classical music.

He gave me a copy of the venerable Lives of the Composers and we went through them in order, listening, from Bach to Stravinsky. He honored my developing preferences, and though he enjoyed Mahler and Wagner, would sit with me through endless Haydn sonatas and quartets, or Mozart concertos. We were both held spellbound by the Beethoven Violin Concerto in D Major.

My uncle was not well, and lived at home with my grandmother. He mowed the grass and painted walls, and she cooked and did his laundry. We would be sitting around in the living room, my parents, my grandma, my uncle, and me, and as the conversation proceeded he would have some kind of massive shiver, that seemed to me to make him a blur, as if he were in the early stages of being beamed up to the Enterprise, and then begin listening again, sometimes having to ask for a refresher because he didn't know what had been said in the last few seconds. No one seemed to take notice of this and it was never explained to me. My mother, at various times, explained him to me as having schizophrenia, paranoia, or bipolar conditions, or all three. He was occasionally institutionalized by the family. In retrospect I'm a little surprised that I was left alone with him so often, listening to record after record on his one prized possession, a stereo console, with good speakers, in his room.

I knew that my uncle had a curiosity about sex and gender issues, and kept a copy of Havelock Ellis, among other things, on hand, but I was being raised in an intensely evangelical home and knew not to think about it much, if at all. He seemed to me to be mildly effeminate and sexless. I knew that he was supposed to have had some sort of accident in the military, and that it involved a drunk doctor and an unnecessary operation, which resulted in his having a regular check from Uncle Sam and absolutely no prospects of marriage. Some time after I grew up and went West, he moved out on his own.

He died at 47, alone in a studio apartment, from what I was told was a heart attack. There was a small, almost unattended funeral, and I inherited those of his LP albums that he had not already given me.

Only years later did I learn that he had drunk himself to death, because the family was shunning him. Apparently he was gay.

It would have been interesting to get his reaction to his nephew's turning out to be his niece.

Years later, my mom got to talking about him and all the trouble he had been.

"would you believe it, he even kept a picture of you on his bureau and would tell visitors you were his child!"

Really? Huh.

I ambled off toward the concert through the crowds, stopping to admire babies in carriages, and exchange smiles with their mothers. Shadows of riverside trees gradually spread across the sweltering audience. The band finished their set, applause went on for some time, and they returned for an encore, pleased with themselves and their fans. No one had known how it was going to go for them at a festival dominated by a twenty-four-foot fiberglass sculpture of a salmon and six food booths.

After the band began to pack up, Daughter and the others found me. I was accused of having wandered off. I didn't know she would pay that much attention to my whereabouts.

"I heard the whole thing. It was just as clear from the other end of the park as here. Less damaging to the hearing, too."

"Hear, hear," assented her brother, unpacking paper napkin earplugs from his ears.

Daughter asked my reaction to the music.

"It's good. They're a good band."

"That's all? C'mon, Risa, they're not good, they're great!"

"Well, you gotta remember, I grew up in the Sixties."

"Not fair! Floater's all we've got now."

But she likes to look on the bright side of things. She hooked her arm through mine and leaned her head on my shoulder.

"I'm really glad you came, Mommy Two, and not just 'cuz we got a ride."

"I had a really good time. Thank you for inviting me. Are there any more of those chips?"

-- risa b


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