Saturday, January 10, 2009

Out West

Today I moved the CD player from beneath a table and behind lumpy containers of Christmas wrapping accessories to the top of a table beside my bed. To celebrate this emergence I dug back through music, overlooked or misplaced, to find Nanci Griffith's "Other Voices, Too (A Trip Back To Bountiful)" on which she and many pals of the folk persuasion (of which I am an unrepentant fan since teen years) celebrate classic, traditional songs of the genre.

Many of the selections, like "Desperadoes Waiting for a Train" and "Darcy Farrow" not only conjure visions of our country as it was but paint for me scenes known mostly from film but partly from life, perhaps some from dreams.

Portions of my childhood were spent in the shared backseat of a series of Ford stationwagons, trying, as were both of them, not to have any human contact with my brother or sister, pulled entirely into myself, body and mind. I can hear my sister shriek, "Mike's shirt is touching me," and see the hand reach around the driver's seat and begin swatting blindly with a bunch of maps or newspapers to make us shut the hell up.

These journeys were sometimes called vacations, though I suspect there was always a business aspect, for mostly they were embarked upon to fill the columns our father wrote for various regional travel magazines. He shot his own photos, did on-the-spot interviews, collected history through research - this was way before computers, probably before electric typewriters - and compiled information on highway conditions, tourist destinations and anything one might want for a recreational drive around the less-traveled roads of California.

Something in me responds to aspects of the American western migration, especially when it involves mining. Our first visit to the Mother Lode, land where gold was discovered in 1849 which started a world-wide frenzy to find a treasure-filled spot of earth or stream, felt for me like returning home. I cannot say just what it is in those rolling hills or visions of panning the waters, ghost towns and their names, that resonate for me but the response carries over to movies that edge on that sort of life, like MC CABE AND MRS. MILLER, even THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES BY THE COWARD ROBERT FORD (both of which are made all the more atmospheric by their music, the first by Leonard Cohen, the second by Nick Cave). I have almost stopped puzzling over a connection that can't be reincarnation or cellular memory, at least I don't think so, but must be more alligned with what lived in the hearts of those seekers and dreamers, those with the vision of, as Cohen writes, "...the hand so high and wild you'll never have to deal another." I have never felt that I possessed an adventurous soul but it seems I must share the impossible visions, pipe dreams even, with the foolish and daring from stories real or invented.

So I listened to Nanci Griffith, songs filled with longing and lament, wonder at how it could have gone so wrong in spite of such good intentions. I was left with more melancholy that I wanted to handle this afternoon, so chose, instead, to write about it. Perhaps all our experiences are mystical, we only mistake them for ordinary since processing them seems beyond our skill.


Karen Mireau, Founder of Bio.Graphia said...


Your posts are so eloquent, so deeply touching. They are anything but ordinary. As I read them all, I can't help but vivdly imagine you lassoing tumbleweeds, heeding the wild call of gold in the hills and bristling at even the thought of snakes in your backyard -- all of these wonderful details that you are able to conjure so effortlessly and share with us that make us feel, ultimately, that we are not alone in the painful resonance of our memories. Thank you, dear friend, for that, and for giving us a bit of your self in these pages.

Anonymous said...

Marylinn, that last line:

"Perhaps all our experiences are mystical, we only mistake them for ordinary since processing them seems beyond our skill."

... just might be the most profound thing I've read in a very, very long time. Maybe, ever.

Thank you!

Anonymous said...

I sat, absorbed, completely through that stoy and several others down the page.

So glad that jen mentioned you, I feel refreshed and soul fed.

Teri said...

I happened upon Jen's site late last night and was "pointed" to your site. So glad that I opened it up and have now added it as a feed so that I can read it on a regular basis. I live in the Sierra Foothills that you write about and feel connected to in some way. I think that we are all linked in some odd sort of way for when I read your blog or Jen's blog and see her art, I feel a kinship that I cannot explain yet feel "connected" to the two of you in some odd way. Perhaps it is that we do the same art, feel the same thoughts and emotions, experience(d) the same (or similar) things in life? I was born 1950. You?