Saturday, August 16, 2008

Mandocellos & Helicopters

It’s about a year ago—a bit less—we’re enjoying a brief, impromptu visit from our friend Bernie Jungle (his real name), woodworker/message therapist/musician extraordinaire, passing thru on his way back from a wedding in New York state—a truly epic affair where we could have seen everyone we’ve known from a certain crucial part of our lives but for various reasons can’t make—so we catch the folks as they head back west.

Anyhoo—it’s August & we’re just back from Portland, OR ourselves & it’s hot of course & there are dry thunderstorms & about half of Idaho has burned up already what with a humungous range fire down in the southeast that lasts most of the summer & all sorts of fires threatening to burn down all the old mining spots like Warren & Burgdorf to the northeast of us, & all the smoke from said fires being pumped every dawn into Indian Valley because Indian Valley draws all the smoke in the summer as if it were a chain smoker inhaling hard (it also draws in the frozen fog in the winter, but the metaphor kinda falls apart there), which isn’t so great for someone like yours truly with bad lungs...

Anyway, I’m showing Bernie this new instrument I have—what looks like a guitar (or slightly larger) & has eight-strings arranged in four courses (i.e., four pairs) like a mandolin? A mandocello, of course—though few of us in the states have ever been lucky enough to get our hands on this weird machine. Of course, Bernie is playing it like he’s played it for years within minutes of picking it up….

Mandocellos aren’t used much in the States—more so in the British Isles—at least so I’ve been told (in the email sense) by Mike Soares' y of Soares' y guitars in Queens, from whom I purchased my mandocello. But back at the turn of the 20th century & a bit earlier, there was a big craze in the U.S. for “mandolin orchestras.” The mandolins (however many they could recruit) would play the melodic lines, like a violin section(s) (mandolins & violins, as you may or may not know, being tuned to the same notes), then there were instruments called mandolas that would take the viola part— & you guessed it—the mandocellos played the cello part. The orchestras also would have a bass & usually a guitar or two for the chords—& sometimes another remarkable device called a harp guitar, which is sorta like a guitar that sprouted several bass strings with no fret board. The orchestras played popular stuff of the day, & popular classics—a genre that died out about 100 years ago.

Meanwhile, apropos of nothing at all mandocelloish, my wife Eberle & I see Bernie out to his Toyota van & see a Forest Service fire truck headed down our (dirt) road, & wonder where the hell he’s going, not realizing that probably while Bernie was noodling beautifully on the mandocello, there had been three lightning strikes about five miles due east of here on the far side of a ridge—& a bit later on while doing dishes & looking at the view, I see columns of smoke coming up over the ridge— & then there are tanker planes & all hell breaks loose as the locals claim the Forest Service kept them from getting out with heavy equipment & digging lines that might have contained the whole thing & the Forest Service trying to answer all these accusations & meantime setting up a command post in someone’s pasture a few miles south…

In the evening the fire is running up to the ridge top & threatening the big new house half way down the ridge, & we’re trying to decide which instruments to throw in the back of the pick-up & which to leave behind. I think the mandocello made the final cut… I don’t remember now… but the fire turns northeast & heads for the big Tamarack resort up by Donnelly & coincidentally becomes a number one priority fire nationally. It ends up burning 25,000 acres but, miraculously, only one outbuilding somewhere along the way…

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