Edward Abbey’s desert: ‘You only get so many chances…’

Grateful Blog: Day 94: 94 Days of the ‘Grateful Blog’…my God…only 272 days to go. ‘94’ makes me think of 1994. I was 26 and had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. I had a girlfriend who I’d just driven over 10,000 miles with from Seattle to Lower Economy Nova Scotia and back (via Yosemite, Eldorado, Oklahoma and the Great Smokey Mountains no less) in a Toyota Corolla. By the time we got back its safe to say we were borderline no longer able to stand one another. Later we found out that friends had been taking odds on how long we’d ‘last’ before killing each other. There’s a lesson in there somewhere…

I had another friend who’d just read and then sent me Edward Abbey’s ‘Desert Solitaire’ and I’d read it cover to cover and wound up fascinated with the Utah desert. Somehow I procured a pamphlet on opportunities to volunteer with the Student Conservation Association (SCA) and they listed a position in Canyonlands National Park. It paid $198 per MONTH, but I’d get paid me to go check out what I’d just read in Abbey’s book. I was hooked. Sign me up! And they did…

I packed up everything I owned, threw what I couldn’t pack away, and drove 18 hours to get there. It was February and the interstates of Oregon, Idaho and Utah were snowy, treacherous and full of semis. But I got there to the SE Utah desert on the high Colorado Plateau just as spring hit. There were still some cold days but there were lots of sunny days in the 70’s. And it was gorgeous. It was everything Edward Abbey said it was and more. I worked in this place called the ‘Maze’ and ‘Horseshoe Canyon’ for about 2 years. To begin to describe either would take a book and even then you’d fall short for lack of words or lack of pages. At some point words fail to describe something THAT beautiful and just being quiet and listening becomes more important.

I learned that from the desert and a 100 more things it taught me. I’m Grateful for all of them, even the ones like heatstroke that damn near tried to kill me a few times. ‘Watch your step.’ ‘You only get so many chances.’ I learned those too. But everything has 2 sides to the coin. And while you do ‘only get so many chances’ you have to remember to take more than few—because you ‘only get so many…’

I’m Grateful I took that chance in 1994. When it gets to be ‘Suicide Weather’ in winter here in the Pacific Northwest there’s always a day in February when I realize that this is just about the time I’d be getting the call from the Park Service to go back to the desert. I know it’s been almost 20 years but I still feel that pull of the desert in springtime, I still need to go explore the canyons, see the endless, vast blue sky by day with its high rolling clouds and see ALL the stars at night. I need to soak in a hot spring for 4 hours and then come back later and do it again. The desert is all part of the process of losing yourself in something bigger to find yourself again. It taught me that too and I’m so Grateful I was listening because ‘You only get so many chances…’

What’s in a Name??? More than I thought…

Grateful Blog: Day 82: I’ve know this for a while. My whole lifetime actually. My last name is ‘Weber’. I often joke to people when I tell them ‘It’s like the grill’ so they spell it with one ‘b’ instead of 2. The ironic part is that despite being named ‘Weber’ and owning 2 grills of the same name; I am without a doubt the world’s worst griller. You name it; I can burn it, split it, stick it and generally kill it beyond taste or recognition. It’s a gift of sorts. Usually when it’s time to barbeque all it takes is a few minutes of high heat and shouting ‘oh crap!’ that brings the ‘Real’ cooks at the party running to ‘help out’. You know, the guys who just HAVE to be the one grilling (it’s either a pride or power thing I’m not sure which). They say ‘Hey Dan, can I help you with that?’ I look sheepish and hand over the tongs and the reigns, and rejoin my drink, the party and my friends in progress, which is what I’d rather be doing anyways. I’m not saying that was my plan all along and I’m not saying it wasn’t…

It turns out, that the name ‘Weber’ really has no connection to the grill and so I’m relieved by that. It’s generally thought to be derived from the noun ‘Weaver’ which I feel more qualified to do, that is if we’re not talking about working with yarn and we’re talking about TELLING yarns. That I CAN do. It comes natural somehow. But I think that comes from the ‘Winterkorn’ side of my family (Mom’s side) and I’m not sure how that relates. The meaning of ‘Winterkorn’ is likely more obvious and I’m thoroughly charmed by how the names of my ancestors come from their agrarian beginnings: Back ‘in the old country’ as my Grandparents used to say.

The thing is the world keeps getting smaller by virtue of the speed of travel, social media and the sheer volume of information available at a few keystrokes with our fingertips. I found lots of famous Weber’s out there. I may be distantly related to a few. There’s also a famous Winterkorn or 2, even one who’s now the Chairman of the Board at Volkswagon. Who knew right? In any case I’ve got a website now, www.danwebermusic.com and this blog, so I keep putting myself into cyberspace and sometimes you just never know where the connection is going to be.

So just recently I was contacted by a guy in Montana, near Kalispell. His name? ‘DanWeber’. And he’s a musician. His great-great Grandparents fled Germanyto avoid being drafted into the Prussian army against Napoleon. My Grandparents fled Germanyto avoid Hitler. Dan had his DNA sequenced a ways back and we’re checking notes to see how far back we have to go before we find a common ancestor. But I think we already have plenty in common right here in the present.

Just yesterday Dan was telling me that he “once won 50 silver dollars and a kiss from Miss Yucca Valley for playing a song.” Miss Yucca Valley “brought the silver dollars out in her apron, but said under her breath, “I aint kissin’ no hippy!!” But she did anyway right there in front of everybody!” Dan went on to say that he’d also “kissed a bear once” (waking up and have the bear’s nose right in his face) and that “having kissed both, I can authoritatively recommend the bear as the more memorable ‘kiss’…”

So you see Dan’s a ‘Weber’ and obviously a weaver too and he’s got stories to tell. We should get together. Swap a few tunes and stories. I’d even break out the grill. Put on some bratwurst from the local German deli. Maybe roast some corn. If he’s a better man with a ‘Weber’ grill than I am so be it. I’d be happy to hand him the tongs in a heartbeat. Turns out I’m not a griller, I’m a Weaver…

Let the Mystery Be: The search for Amelia Earhart goes on…

Grateful Blog: Day 81: I read in the paper this morning that there’s a new expedition in the South Pacific looking for clues of Amelia Earhart’s disappearance, which happened 75 years ago. I’m too young to have grown up with Amelia Earhart but her flight and subsequent disappearance are legendary. Somewhere on July 2nd 1937, after leaving New Guinea her plane, a Lockheed Electra 10E, disappeared and she was never heard from again.

I think I first learned of her watching old 1980’s episodes of the show ‘In Search Of’ where the host Leonard Nimoy (Star Trek’s ‘Spock’) would delve into topics such as the Bermuda Triangle, the Loch Ness Monster and Amelia Earhart. Later, when I used to attend bluegrass jams at Seattle’s New Melody Tavern in the early 90’s, occasionally someone would lead the group in a rousing version of a song dedicated to her. There’ve been many songs dedicated to her, from artists as diverse at Joni Mitchell to Kinky Friedman to Bachman Turner Overdrive. I once stayed in the ‘Amelia Earhart’ room in the La Posada Hotel inWinslow, Arizona. Amelia Earhart’s legend got around…

But nobody exactly knows what happened to her that morning while attempting to circumnavigate the globe with her only crew member Fred Noonan. One only need to look at her Wikipedia page to see it rife with theories, myths and urban legends of what may have happened flying over the vast South Pacific ocean. The most salient is that through a series of navigational errors, they missed the island they were attempting to land at, ran out of gas, and crashed at sea. And for 75 years, only Amelia and of course Fred Noonan, know what happened…

The new expedition used the phrase of ‘finding a needle in a haystack’ when explaining their chances of finding meaningful evidence but I honestly hope they don’t. In today’s technologically driven world it feels like we’re one step removed from a computer algorithm telling us that we’re not human or real at all, that we’re somehow less than the sum of our parts. I know that’s far-fetched but we’ve already broken down the world into it’s smallest atomic particles, mapped our DNA and explored the new frontiers of nanotechnology and the far reaches of the universe alike.

It’s not that I’m a Luddite or that some of those scientific findings might not be good in advancing the cause of the human race, it’s just that I’m a romantic at heart. I like to think that some mysteries should just remain exactly that. That maybe the legend of Amelia Earhart should live on, in songs and stories and in our imaginations, rather than in an inglorious ending finding an aluminum strut washed ashore on some remote South Pacific beach.

So let them search for Amelia’s needle in that vast blue haystack, let them search and search and search until they’ve exhausted their wits and their funds. And let them return home empty handed like so many have before. Let the mystery live for another 75 or 175 years before technology rules every square inch of our beautiful and endlessly complex planet.

This morning, in the absolute middle of 64 million square miles of the beautiful, vast and calm South Pacific, there is only the rhythmic sound of the waves, the sea birds that sail over it’s waters, and the low, throaty ‘rat-a-tat-tat’ of Amelia Earhart’s silver Electra, still looking for a place to land…

I’m Grateful that Amelia’s still out there, and that some mysteries may never be solved…

A Phone Call, A Diamond Ring and an Old Friend…

Grateful Blog: Day 78: Last night was typical Saturday night. I didn’t have a show to play but I did have at least 4 friends that had gigs. I meant to go to one or possibly 2. But then you know how that saying goes ‘Life happens when you’re making plans.’ An old friend called. I think we’ve known each other 16 going on 17 years now. When we met I was getting ready to ask my girlfriend to marry me. I made the tour of jewelry stores, big and small, downtown and in malls. And yeah, I even went to the Shane Company because I thought I ‘had a friend in the diamond business’ (I didn’t). I asked questions but mostly I think they see you coming like used car salesmen see you coming. My friend was working for a time at one of the other mall stores. What I remember most when he sold me my ring was he said ‘Look, it’s going to be beautiful. She will absolutely love it and she will say ‘Yes’. But if in some strange case she doesn’t, bring it back, no worries”. I have no idea if he could actually back up that boast but I was sold. Frankly, he’s about the best salesman I’ve ever known.

So I bought that ring from him and my girlfriend Diane said ‘yes’. The rest as they say is history. Except when I bought the ring from the guy I said ‘Well, if I’m going to spend that much on a ring, the least you can do is buy me lunch!’ It seemed like it took him back at first. Buy you lunch? But then he said ‘I’ll do one better, once your girlfriend says ‘yes’, call me, and then you can both come over for dinner’. So we did. Weird right? Perfect strangers. The salesman who sold me the ring. Perfect strangers until our wives met and we looked at each other and said ‘Uh, I think we’re friends now’.

So that was 16 years ago. We’ve seen each other’s lives change immeasurably since then. There have been some real triumphs like the birth of his son and some real low points, personal and financial where both of us despaired for the future. So when he called last night and said ‘I know it’s St. Patrick’s Day, but today’s the 11th anniversary of my brother’s death. Come over for dinner. I’m making soup’ (he’s the world’s BEST cook btw) I put off going out to spend the night seeing friends play music to re-connect with some old friends who I treasure dearly. The company couldn’t be better. We shared laughs and some of the same old stories we always tell and we talked about the future like it would always be there. The meal was this amazing homemade lentil soup; Desert was that morning’s leftover Voodoo Doughnuts. In a word it was perfect.

I had brought him a copy of my new CD ‘Ash and Bone’. He hadn’t heard it yet and he opened it, said we had to listen to it right then and there—loud(!), and to be honest it sounded better than I remembered it. He took out the booklet and asked me to sign it. For about 10 minutes I just stared at it because I had no idea what to write on it. There’s not enough room in a 5 inch square to say what needed to be said. As we drank wine and caught up I kept looking back down at that cover and wondered what I could say that would cover 16 plus years of friendship. Finally, standing there next to my lovely wife of 15 years I wrote the one thing that maybe scratched the surface of those years just a little bit: ‘I’m so glad you sold me that ring’.

I can’t tell you how Grateful I am that he did…

‘What if Today we were Grateful for Everything?’

Grateful Blog: Day 75: Today was one of those days. I was Grateful for everything. You know: I woke up. (Amen!) There was coffee in the house. (Yes!) There was hot water too—and heat. (Sweet!) And I still have hair, and my jeans fit. (Nice!) And my wife loves me—a lot. (Yea!!!) And I had a job to go do, which pays me actual money. (Phew…) Then I had practice with my great guitar playerJerry Towelland we rocked it out a bit. (Righteous!)  We talked for awhile, the way a couple guys do, about nothin’ and everything. (Yeah…)

Then I came home, to my favorite cat of all-time, Zeke (Prrrrrr…) and my wife Diane, who still loves me a lot, even if it’s harder to fit into my jeans and I have less hair than I used to and I spend Thursday night practicing and rocking out a bit. She knows that tomorrow we’ll both be Grateful that we woke up, were able to get out of bed, fit into our jeans and have jobs to go to. Mostly she’ll be Grateful that our cat Zeke worships the ground she walks on, that I still love her—a lot, and that I’ll come down stairs early tomorrow morning and make sure the coffee will be ready when she get’s up to start her day. Yeah, that’s it in a nutshell.

So ‘What if Today we were Grateful for Everything?’

Indeed, I am.