Friday, September 28, 2012

Of Music and Memories

A few years ago I went into a self imposed exile to the worst place a kid from Oklahoma could go. To this day I'm not really sure why I went to Texas. There is a large part of me that feels it was necessary, yet the part of me that keeps telling me it was one of the worst mistakes I've ever made in my life is the one that seems to resonate the loudest in my heart. There was a bit of romanticism and familiarity involved. My grandfather's grave was a 15 minute drive from where I lived for the first 6 months of my stay, and it was in a place I was very familiar with considering I spent a lot of time with him in his final two years on this earth. But in the end, the main reason I went into exile was to attempt to figure out what it is I am supposed to do with this life I've been forced into.

Up until this point I had been working in a field that requires one to spend more time on the road than Bruce Springsteen. Anything that makes you live like a rock star makes you party like a rock star. And therein hides the danger. It only happened once in my time on the road, but I was in a town where a man that shared my profession died in a hotel room. I overheard his "friends" scheming to get out of town before too many questions got asked and before the body was cold. It took me a month or two after this incident to figure I should really take a look at the life I was facing. In fairness, there are a lot of people in this profession that are not going to meet the same fate that young man did. But still the possibility made me rethink what it was I was going to do with my life, and a few months later I was living in Waxahachie, Texas. I had traded hotel rooms by the week for a rent house by the half-year.
I had hoped that by removing myself from the things that had become too familiar in my life, I would have some clarity and focus enter my field of view. This was easier wished than done. I found myself struggling with the responsibilities of the settled life and trying to shake off the carefree lifestyle the road had drawn me into.

My small house in Waxahachie was about a block from the railroad that ran along the south side of town. At night I would sit outside with a bottle of Buffalo Trace whiskey and a few beers for chasers. I would turn out all the lights to my one bedroom house, sit on the porch, and embrace the sky. To me that was the one thing in Texas that made me feel comfort. I could see the same stars and constellations that I saw as a child growing up in small towns in Oklahoma. 

In those days I was pretty low. I made it to work, though most days I didn't feel like walking out the door. There were two albums out that I would listen to every night. From the time I got home to the time I passed out on the couch, bed, or floor I would listen to these same two albums. I purchased both of them at Hasting's in Waxahachie.

The most important one that helped me bleed through those strange nights was Bob Dylan's "Modern Times." As I type these words I am listening to "Workingman's Blues #2" and I still recall the hopeless feeling of loss that haunted me. "I'm listening to the steel rails hum." A line that takes me right back to hearing that train roll down the track. It felt like my short life was flying by, just like that train, going somewhere that I knew not. "Meet me at the bottom / don't lag behind / bring me my boots and shoes / You can hang back or fight your best on the front line / sing a little bit of these working man blues." Dylan's words helped me to work my way back to those front lines. "Nettie Moore" also holds a meaning to me. I won't go into it here, but if you listen to it you can figure out why.

The other album that pulled me through, and one that I played before I sat down to stare at this once blank screen, was Lucinda Williams' "Live at the Fillmore."

Those were strange times. Long nights of self reflection and self destruction and hoping that was was built in its place was an improvement. Asking myself those unanswerable questions. And tonight, I felt like revisiting that time to see how far I've come from that point in my life and how far I have yet to go.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Highways Flew By...

I just returned home from a long weekend in the Colorado Rockies in a place called Union Park.

The feeling that several hundred miles and an extra 9,000+ feet of elevation can instill is something that is hard to describe to people who've never experienced the mountains. It's one thing to see pictures or videos. It's another to drive through the mountains. It's something spiritual to pitch a tent in a place that is void of any artificial light (not a radio/cell tower or house in sight), highway sounds, or generators from some Texan's 28' Fleetwood Mallard (IF YOU WANT TO SLEEP IN A BED AND WATCH TV GET A HOTEL ROOM LIKE A NORMAL PERSON!).

The picture below was taken as we first entered Union Park. It's about 9 miles from the main road to our camp and the terrain makes the drive last about an hour.

Union Park is the kind of place that allows a person to shed the weight of paying bills and looking for the cheapest gas in town, if only for a little while. The next picture was taken looking to the east northeast from the edge of our camp. The field in the foreground is carved up by small streams and beaver ponds. There is far more water here than the picture shows and contains the best trout fishing I've ever experienced. You don't catch a lot of large fish, but you catch a lot of fish.

A few of us decided to take a hike to a lake about 2 miles away and a thousand feet above out camp. None of us had been there before so it took a bit of navigating to get there. About a mile and a half from camp we stumbled upon the remnants of an old log cabin near a small stream. 
The lake sits at a little over 11,000 feet above sea level. There were a couple of campsites that showed sign of recent use. A raft sat on the dirt under a foot of water. Until I saw this lake, it was hard for me to imagine a place more secluded than our campsite. The next time I come to Union Park I plan on camping here at least for a night (even though the night before we broke camp a myself and a couple others heard a Mountain Lion screaming nearby).
So, here I am. A short week of classes ahead of me and I'm trying to figure out what the Clint Eastwood speech was about (this took place on the way to the woods and I have yet to view the video), and looking forward to football season. Every team could stink and the season would still be more entertaining than the coming's late...I'll save that noise for next time.