Saturday, October 4, 2008

Plum Alley

Eberle & I live on a dirt road—it’s called North Gray’s Creek Rd, to distinguish it from South Gray’s Creek Rd & (just plain) Gray’s Creek Rd. There’s not much traffic on the road; because I’m an early riser I know someone goes to work on the road each weekday morning about 4:00 a.m.; but otherwise, hours can pass by without seeing a car or truck. This isn’t one of the “things seen” series, but you can also see atv’s & horses on the road pretty frequently, & occasionally there’s a cattle drive, too—or just a cow that’s jumped the fence.

The fact there’s no traffic is certainly a restful aspect of North Gray’s Creek Rd, but to me it’s not the distinguishing characteristic. If you walk out of our front door to the road, you could then go north up a steep little rise past our eastern neighbors' pasture (especially used in calving season) & a little wetland at the foot of a hill belonging to our northern neighbor. Then you could head down the road, still bearing pretty much north, with a large irrigated pasture for sheep to the east & a dry grass pasture with horses to the west. After about half a mile, the road will bear sharply to the east, down a long steep grade, then up a steep grade & past a gravel pit, then continue winding & climbing until—walking along Gray’s Creek itselfyou come to the green gate at the Payette National Forest. That’s a walk of a few hours—at least if you’re mild-aged & easily winded & out for a comfortable stroll with a picnic along the way. I know, because Eberle & I took that walk several years ago on my 45th birthday.But let’s go back to the corner where the road bears east. Right along that corner, particularly along the south side of the road, are lots of wild plums—tall shrubs, or short trees, however you want to classify them. Their fruit has a kind of yellowish or light purple flesh, & even when they’re ripe, they tend to be tart. A few years after the walk to the forest, we took that walk on a beautiful September afternoon following our wedding party with several California friends who were spending the whole weekend; & I recall people eating the plums with abandon. We walked all the way up to the gravel pit—you can see a pond from there, though one into which the cattails are inexorably encroaching. At one time, all the land round about here (except, oddly for our “little” patch of slightly under 10 acres) was part of a large 1,000 ranch; I suspect this pond was man-made & was used for watering livestock & possibly for irrigation. Now it’s reverting to a wild state, & is only really visited by ducks & bullfrogs—it would be practically inaccessible from the road.
Eberle & I have taken that walk many times, both together & with various friends. At a certain point, Eberle named the walk, & especially that section where the road veers east, “Plum Alley.”

We also have plums on our property; there’s
a hedge of them between the lawn I associate with our old house & the lawn I associate with the garden. These plums are a deeper purple, & somewhat less tart. We’ve always planned to make chutney from them, but there always seems to be one thing ahead of that on the list every fall. If you go north thru our pasture (perhaps over the stile I was quite proud to build several years back) you’d climb a ridge & you could also find some of the same wild plums you’d find down North Gray’s Creek Rd—the ones with tart, yellow fruit.

So for some years, we’ve associated ourselves with Plum Alley—we have “Plum Alley Productions,” “Plum Alley Music,” I’ve written a
(rather dark) poem about a walk home on Plum Alley, but most especially Eberle wrote one of her best songs about it, & titled it (appropriately enough) “Plum Alley.” It’s a gorgeous tune with an odd genesis—it started out as a warm up we’d do with our friend, clarinetist Bob George, when he joined the Alice in Wonder Band. Then the tune expanded, & Eberle wrote the beautiful lyric, which is both about “Plum Alley” & about memory & loss. I’ve always loved playing that song, which we used to perform with the Alice in Wonder Band. You can hear an mp3 of the Alice in Wonder Band performing “Plum Alley” live at the Alpine Playhouse in McCall, ID back in 03 right here. “Plum Alley” is the first link in the right hand column “Songs” section (right under the poster pic). The line-up that night was Deadre Chase on vocals (this was also one of Deadre’s favorite songs, & she sang it that way); Eberle on piano, Lois Fry on violin, Art Troutner on oboe, Bob George on clarinet, Barb Dixon on djembe, Deb Cahill on percussion, & yours truly on electric bass.

The other great Plum Alley presence is in our music room. Our Cambridge, MA pal Margot Kimball, a friend of Eberle’s since high school days, & a fantastic artist painted the picture you see at the bottom of this post straight onto the wall as a truly treasured gift to us. The pic, especially reduced in size, doesn’t do the painting justice.

Plum Alley is our corner of the world—it doesn’t belong to us in any sense of the word, but we live there….
Top pic: The corner of Plum Alley
Second pic: North Gray's Creek Rd north from the bottom of our driveway
Third pic: Plums in Plum Alley
Fourth pic: Margot Kimball's painting

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