Saturday, April 30, 2011

“Beside the Still Waters”

Stories: history—myths—dreams.  The dreams we inhabit, either individually or collectively, & thru which we try to find our way; the dreams that seem to open into a larger reality & the dreams that enclose us; even the dreams we refuse to share & the dreams that threaten to destroy us.  These dreams are the stuff of Jacqueline T Lynch’s fine ebook novel, Beside the Still Waters.  The ebook, one of four published by Lynch, is available thru Amazon, Amazon UK, Barnes & Noble, & SmashwordsThe Smashwords edition, it should be noted, doesn't require a Kindle or Nook; it can be read as a PDF or in other formats on any computer.

The novel is a family saga, following the Vaughn family of Massachusetts Swift River Valley from the turn of the 20th century until just before the onset of World War II.  The family history is indeed compelling: the brothers John & Eli who almost enact a sort of Jacob & Esau story, but with the twist that in this case, neither wins the inheritance; their cousin Alonzo who clings to a doomed way of life & an obsessive love; & Eli’s high-spirited daughter Jenny, whose coming of age is a central focus.

But as much as Beside the Still Waters is a saga about a family, it’s also a saga about Massachusetts—about its Puritan past, on thru its wars with Native Americans & its own brief, late 18th century civil war, the Shays Rebellion; in fact this latter conflict, which pitted the farmers of western & central Massachusetts against the new state government & urban merchants, looms large as a backdrop to the novel’s own story.

That story involves the creation of the Quabbin Reservoir, which was completed in 1939.  The Quabbin Reservoir is the largest inland body of water in Massachusetts, & is the primary water source for the city of Boston & much of the Boston metropolitan area.  The Reservoir was one of the many large-scale public works of the 1930s, & an impressive undertaking from an engineering viewpoint.  Its creation, however, caused the “discontiuation” (to use Wikipedia’s word) of four towns: Dana, Enfield, Greenwich & Prescott, all agricultural communities & all firmly ensconced in a 19th century world even as Massachusetts’ urban centers moved into the 20th century, with its electrification, cash economy, immigration & automobiles.

Beside the Still Waters then is also a fable about culture & its mutability.  Early in the narrative, we read about a Native American who would make an annual pilgrimage to the Greenwich Cemetery: 

The old man would come one day in the spring, and just sit there in the cemetery all day long, still and quiet, until the sun had set behind the Prescott ridge.  Then he would leave, to return the next spring. This last was nearly twenty years ago.  The old Indian was probably dead now…. “He gave me the shivers,” Sam had said, rubbing his hands together, “like he was saying, my people are gone. We thought we would be here forever, but now we are gone.  So, don’t be too sure of yourselves, you can go this way too.”

We recall this anecdote later in the story as the old cemeteries of the four doomed towns are moved—bodies exhumed, markers uprooted—so that the human remains won’t contaminate the water.  In the end, there are only ghosts:

Even fifty years later rumors would pervade to the effect that if one looked deep into the clear water of the reservoir during a period of drought when the water level was low, one could see whole houses standing there like bitter ghosts. It was not true. Only the ghosts were there.

The characters of Beside the Still Waters are indeed haunted: Eli Vaughn is haunted by the land of the Swift River Valley, specifically, his father’s Prescott farm, which he’s doomed never to inherit—even by the orchard he could never plant.  That land also haunts his older brother who forsook his inheritance for urban life & a “fast” lifestyle, but who is inexorably drawn back to a landscape he can only possess thru the mediation of a camera lens.  & the Prescott farm haunts Alonzo Vaughn, Eli’s cousin, who inherits it by default & whose bound to the land eventually becomes an obsessive & destructive bondage.  He refuses to relinquish the farm (which, ironically, is not legally his) to the State, & continues to live there as a hermit as all the other residents inevitably sell out; in the course of this, the farm itself goes to ruin.  Late in the novel, a kindly old doctor tries to make Alonzo see reason:

You’re doing terrible things to y’self, son. You’re going to be living here like an old ghost in a graveyard soon....”  “The graveyards,” Alonzo said with a sneer, “are empty.”

Against the backdrop of this haunted generation, we have the character of Jenny Vaughn, who we watch from childhood thru early adulthood.  She has “promise”—she is strong, both physically & mentally, intelligent & grows into an attractive young woman.  The men of the older generation “read into” her—John Vaughn sees Jenny’s promise as a reflection of his own, which he threw away for drink; Eli sees Jenny’s willfulness not as a mirror of his own, but as a headstrong rejection of the heritage he holds so dear—her ambition to attend college seems selfish; & Alonzo sees her as a potential fantasy wife who will share his own fictionalized life in a world that no longer exists.

Beside the Still Waters is a great read: Ms Lynch has a thorough grasp of the historical back story, & the novel provides a fascinating narrative of the Quabbin Reservoir project.  Ms Lynch also has a firm grasp of the New England landscape, both historical & natural—her descriptions of the fields & woodlands & towns are vivid & true.  Consider this:

In every New England town it seems there is a hill, even if only metaphorically. At
the top of this hill, there is a plain, white Congregational church. Pristine and quiet,
painted and photographed, emblazoned upon Christmas cards and revered in the hearts of even New England Catholics, this architecture stands for New England the way cranberries and autumn foliage does. It has become a symbol. The gospel according to Currier and Ives.

Lynch’s observation about the church is not only accurate in the most real sense, but also opens up the idea of symbolic landscape, which is so important to the narrative—how the landscape provides meaning, how it gives life & how it potentially can destroy us. 

You can find out more about Jacqueline T Lynch on her website, or on any of her fine blogs: Another Old Move Blog, New England Travels, & Tragedy & Comedy in New England.  You can also read Jacqueline T Lynch’s entertaining Writers Talk interview right here on Robert Frost’s Banjo.

Lovers of historical fiction, of New England, or of just good writing will enjoy Beside the Still Waters.  Lynch's style is clear & assured & highly readable; her background as a playwright certainly comes across in her facility with dialogue, & as I've mentioned, her descriptive skills & characterizations are strong.  I recommend it! 

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Brief Announcement About Our Schedule!

Revised to say: our schedule is haywire.  Am expecting to have a post up on Saturday, & that should be the review of Beside the Still Waters by Jacqueline T Lynch.

churchmouse news! & rockstar poet!

Hi, folks!  If you've been following along here regularly, you know that Eberle & I have formed a new band along with our friend, singer & guitarist Wendy Carson (Wendy has also been known to play fiddle & uke!)  The band is churchmouse, & we've booked our first gig, an afternoon affair May 7th at the Tearoom in Council, ID.  The Tearoom is pretty much the town's newest business & a very cool space, so we're happy to be performing there.

The set list is still a bit of a work in progress—we'll be putting that together at rehearsal on Saturday.  But it does look like it's likely to range from Dock Boggs to Jimi Hendrix with lots of fun, interesting, &  perhaps unexpected stops in between.  I'm also happy to say that I'll be playing with my good friend & bandmate Heather Uebelhoer to kick the festivities off—same great songs with Heather singing & playing guitar & me providing support on resonator guitar & banjo, but now with an official band name: Motherland (& yes, we do perform that song.)  If you're one of the local readers stay tuned for more info on the May 7th gig—or whether you're local or not, check out the churchmouse page on Facebook right here, & consider giving us a "like!"

In blog news: there will be some exciting changes here coming up in May!  One that I'm especially excited about is that we have a new contributor: the pride of Asheville & our Rockstar Poet in Residence, Barbie Dockstader Angell, whose poetry will be appearing her regularly in the near future.  If you missed Barbie Angell's Writers Talk interview, you can check that out here.  I'll be giving a more formal introduction a week from tomorrow, so stay tuned! 

Speaking of poetry, a quick reminder: you'll find a different poem from my most recent book, The Spring Ghazals, posted each Wednesday & Saturday on my blog of the same name.  For those who were surprised/intrigued to learn of my interest in the Star Trek shows in yesterday's post, a heads-up: today's poem from The Spring Ghazals, "Fondue," has some Trekkie themes!

Have a great Wednesday everybody!

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

7 Random Facts

A happy Tuesday everybody!  Something a bit unusual for Robert Frost’s Banjo today: a meme.  Yes, if you read on you will discover seven random facts about yours truly.  Interestingly enough (to me at least), I discovered that I’d done this same meme once before & had come up with seven completely different facts.  We really don’t ever step twice into the same river.

As a rule, I don’t go in for memes, but I was (pleasantly) surprised this weekend to find out that I’d been named the recipient of a blog award.  I should be clear in saying I decided quite a long time ago not to display awards on this blog or to pass them along, as I find the latter  situation more than a bit awkward—someone is always bound to be left out.  But in acknowledgment,
here are seven random facts:

1.    I played in an amateur baseball league while I lived in San Francisco; I was an outfielder/second basemen on the Mission District baseball team; we played in the Roberto Clemente League.  I was not particularly good—a slap hitter with a slow bat & a very so-so & inconsistent player in the field.  But I had some good moments & mostly had a lot of fun.  Although we were playing hardball & at times against some pretty talented dudes, the Mission District team was mostly made up of musicians & poets! 
2.    When I was junior high, I played sousaphone for about 6 months.  I played it very badly, & also had a teacher who was not a patient (or particularly pleasant) man.  It was also notable because I was quite small until I was in my mid teens—I think the sousaphone was as big as me!
3.    After I received my MFA in poetry from the University of Virginia, I stayed in the grad English department for a year with the intention of becoming a medievalist!
4.    My mother was 40 when I was born & my father was 42.  That’s not so uncommon nowadays, but was considered quite old for having children when I was born in 1956.  My mom is still with us—she turned 95 this February.  Because I was born in my parents’ middle age, I only knew one of my grandparents—my mother’s mother lived with us until she passed away in 1966. (I suppose those are facts #4 & #4A.)
5.    I’m particularly fond of “classic” mysteries as nighttime reading, with my favorites being Conan Doyle & Dorothy Sayers.  I like Agatha Christie, Josephine Tey & Ngaio Marsh as well.
6.    In my youth I owned (at different times) both a Volkswagen Bug & a 1978 Chrysler New Yorker.  The latter actually could fit 10 people (as we proved one Charlottesville New Year’s Eve)!
7.    My wife Eberle & I have watched every episode at least once of the original Star Trek series, Deep Space Nine & Star Trek Voyager, & have watched each of these series from start to finish in order.  We’ve watched most of the Star Trek Next Generation episodes as well, & are planning on watching that series in order later this year.  In fact, in the case of Deep Space Nine & Next Generation we’ve watched a number of episodes multiple times.  We’re big fans, but no Klingon suits, Vulcan ears or conventions for us!

NOTE: This post was revised on 11/2/11 because the blog I originally referred to is one I can no longer support.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Any Woman’s Blues #9 – Rory Block

Happy Monday, folks, from rainy Idaho.  Gettong a late start today, as yesterday was a rather wild churchmouse party involving lots of music & lots of curry!  But I’m here at last with the Monday Morning Blues, & an exciting one, because I get to write about a blues performer who's been a huge inspiration to me both as a musician & as someone who loves the old time blues.  Yes, I’ve postponed adding Rory Block to the Any Woman’s Blues series long enough.

I don’t recall exactly why I bought the cd Gone Woman Blues back in the mid 1990s, but I doubt I’ve listened to any cd more over the past 15 or 16 years.  What is it about this cd & Rory Block’s music in general that I find so compelling?  Of course she is a masterful guitar player—that’s a given.  She has a dazzling array of chops—great slide playing, dynamic rhythms, intricate fingerstyle playing: as far as “country blues/Delta blues” playing goes, Rory Block has it all.  & her singing is also amazing—a huge vocal range, with power & feeling in all parts of that range.

“Feeling”—I would say, “passion” is indeed a quality that sets Rory Block’s playing apart.  Let’s face it: there are lots of great guitar players out there in the blues field—simply being able to string together amazing licks doesn’t make one a great musician.  & when you’re talking about professional singers—well, a good number of them can sing an impressive range of notes.  But without bringing that extra dimension to the playing & singing, it just doesn’t rise to the highest level.  I had the chance to see her perform live last year in a small venue in Eureka, Montana, & I can assure you, her performance in person was every bit as masterful as what you hear on her recordings!

Rory Block adds that extra dimension, & to spare.  She doesn’t simply “preserve” the old blues traditions, she makes her repertoire her own.  & while I can’t play or sing like Rory Block, I’ve tried to take this lesson with me as much as I can when I play & perform the blues songs I love.

I realize I haven’t given you much background on Rory Block—but if you’d like that, there are plenty of sources online, such as the bio on Rory Block’s own site or the old standby, Allmusic.  You can even get Rory Block’s autobiography When a Woman Gets the Blues as an e-book/pdf at this link!  Since I do mention the guitars performers favor, I will note that Rory Block typically plays a Martin OM-28 VR

I think Rory’s performance on the following two classic Delta blues (by Son House & Robert Johnson) will give an idea of what I mean—enjoy!

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Fly Away, Hazel Dickens

I was saddened yesterday to learn that Hazel Dickens has passed away—this being the the social media age, I learned this from a Tweet by folk songsters Cathy Fink & Marcy Marxer.  Although Ms Dickens was not known to as wide an audience as she deserved, it’s undeniable that she was a great country musician & in fact, a great woman. 

Ms Dickens came from a West Virginia mining family & she was an activist & unapologetically pro-union; she was a talented songwriter who wrote feminist country songs such as the great “Don’t Put Her Down, You Helped Put Her There”; she was also a pioneer in opening up the fields of bluegrass & old-time music to women performers— Hazel Dickens was singing & playing bluegrass & what’s now called “old-timey” music back in the 1960s.  At the time, she partnered with Mike Seeger’s wife, Alice Gerrard, & the two released five albums between 1965 & 1975.  Hazel Dickens then embarked on a solo career which saw her release three albums in addition to a compilation, all on Rounder Records.  A documentary titled Hazel Dickens: It's Hard to Tell the Singer from the Song, directed by Mimi Pickering, appeared in 2001, & Ms Dicken also appeared in John Sayles’ 1987 film Matewan, as well as Maggie Greenwald’s ’00 film Songcatcher.  She also contributed to the soundtracks to four films: Harlan County U.S.A., Coalmining Women, MatewanBlack Lung.

It was difficult to pick just two videos to represent Hazel Dickens’ work.  In the end, I decided on her cover of Edd Wheeler’s “Coal Tattoo,” which shows her concern for mine workers & also displays her singing in a bluegrass setting, & her own composition, “Pretty Bird” (from the great 1973 Rounder release Hazel & Alice).  This a capella performance is breathtaking in its beauty & soulfullness & shows the depth of Hazel Dickens’ power as a singer.  It is one of my very favorite singing performances in any genre.

Fly away, Hazel Dickens.

Friday, April 22, 2011

The Land of Nod #3

fragmented sunlight in a strange
land helter-skeltered in yellow wind:
black umbrella, white paper box kite, a

fistful of goldenrod, an email arriving thru
ether any given Sunday—an array of
things that may in fact be hopeless: a

pink inflatable Easter bunny nodding in yellowish
breeze beneath a pine beside the highway—
where are you going—fragmented sunlight

a plate of toast, the the silver-yellow
clouds to the east, the lies you told yourself—
an array of things: a packet of Carter Hall

pipe tobacco—you are always awake—
laundry shaking on a rope clothesline in
yellow gusts & lies you tell yourself a-

mong thin air & fragments—anxious
rib cage, a box kite’s pine frame
snapping when you don’t let it go

Jack Hayes
© 2011

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Writers Talk with James Weeks

Writers Talk returns this Thursday, & we are welcoming a most special guest to Robert Frost’s Banjo.  I first met James Weeks in the early 1990s when he & I worked with a “major consumer goods manufacturer” headquartered in the Bay Area.  In some ways, I think both James & I were “strangers in a strange land”—in the same year that he & his family moved to the Bay Area from St. Croix, I moved there from Charlottesville, VA.  While the culture shock was certainly more intense for him, we both felt it.  & I believe we were both indeed “strangers” in the world of the corporate U.S. where we found ourselves, in facing cubicles.

I’m happy to say that a warm friendship grew, based not only on shared ideas (& humor), but also on a willingness to welcome difference: James’ upbringing & experiences in the Virgin Island certainly were different than my upbringing & experiences in a rural Vermont community, & while I’d spent most of my young adult life in academia, he’d served in the army & started a family.  But we shared a lot as well—an interest in diverse things, in good food (often searching Oakland's Chinatown for the perfect dumplings), in good humor, & in music generally & the guitar in particular.  I’m very happy that James has agreed to participate in Writers Talk!  Here’s a brief biography:

James Weeks is an award-winning photographer and writer with more than 19 years of experience. His writings have appeared in Parenting, the Virgin Islands Daily News, the S.F. Weekly and other publications. He is currently working on Across The King's River a documentary film that explores African spiritual and healing traditions.  A native of St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands, Weeks is also a private pilot and a certified scuba diver. He currently lives in Oakland, California with his wife, Stephanie, and his three children, Malcolm, Diallo and Tulani.

Please check out James’ piece “House of Exile” both in the post immediately preceeding this & also on the Writers Talk blog!  & now—here’s James!

When did you first realize your identity as a writer?

I loved to read as a child and I always had a facility for words. I’m somewhat embarrassed to say that I didn’t really consider myself to be a writer until I was hired as a reporter for a newspaper in St. Croix Virgin Islands. That was back in 1985.  Working as a writer was the first job that I truly enjoyed.  Though I eventually went on to work for other newspapers and magazines, my passion for writing left me for many years. I’m happy to say that my passion for writing has returned now that I’m working on my first documentary film, Across The King’s River.

Describe the creative process involved in any one piece you’ve written—this could be book, a story, a poem, an essay, etc. 

I don’t have a process - I write from the heart. I do meditate every morning, however.  As I meditate I pray that my writing might be useful for others. I don’t really write for myself. I write for the benefit of others - to move their lives forward in some way. At times, I visualize people that I long to have a conversation with. Much of my inspiration comes from the culture and spirituality of Africa - I also draw inspiration from nature and women.

Could you describe your relationship to the publishing process (this can be publishing in any form, from traditional book publishing to blogging, etc)?

The filmmaking process is daunting.  I love it and hate it. One has to be somewhat crazy to consider trying to make it as a filmmaker.  Yet, I feel that I have no choice. I love the battle.  I like the fact that the odds are against me.  The challenge inspires me to no end.  Great inspiration comes from great difficulty.  We become better by learning to embrace adversity.

How has being a writer affected your relationships? 

It’s difficult. I believe in total commitment to one’s art.  I believe part of each day should be dedicated to one’s craft. I also believe that we should be aware of our vision and our art 24/7.  We can’t wait until we’re “in the mood” to write.  My family isn’t always understanding.  They think I’m “not really here.”  They’re right about that.  However,  I strongly believe that visions and art allow us to live deeply again.  We should never apologize for following our passions and for being dedicated. Despite the “hell” that one might have to go through, following our dreams ultimately make us better people. Richer on the inside, more aware of our own power - and ultimately happier.

How would you describe the community of writers you belong to—if any?  This may be a “real” or “virtual” (in more than one sense) community?

I don’t belong to a community of writers, but I draw inspiration from the FB fans of Across The King’s River. They inspire me to keep moving forward and to keep my heart open. They remind me that  creativity and wisdom are meant to be shared.

What are your future goals in terms of writing?

Not sure yet.  I plan to write a companion book about the making of Across The King’s River. I’ll share all the insights I learned along the way.  After that - who knows?  A script for a feature movie?  I’m open to anything.

Bonus Question: If your writing were a musical instrument, what would it be? 

A guitar - no doubt about that.

House of Exile – James Weeks

House of Exile

My address is Oliver Ave, Oakland CA 94605; I welcome cash, money orders, credit cards and flowers. Do not send ill will or personal problems—we strive to get our troubles locally. Several years ago, for example, an elderly woman in my neighborhood, who might be en route to hell, called the Oakland authorities and claimed I (of all people) was raising chickens in my backyard– something that immigrants and rural folks have been known to do. These days, I get my eggs from the supermarket just like everybody else.

Chickens are not welcome in Oakland. Neither are goats, roosters, ducks and pigs–the very creatures that remind me of home. Chickens played an important role in "Operation Breadbasket" –my ambitious project to become somewhat self-sufficient in food production. Besides chickens, Operation Breadbasket also called for growing organic vegetables and raising New Zealand rabbits for meat.

But "Operation Breadbasket" was about more than just food. Deep down, I think, I was trying to reconnect with my Caribbean roots. Chickens strut in and out of backyards back home, without a care in the world. And one of the things I miss the most about home is the sound of roosters crowing. Shouldn’t all beings awaken to this concert of nature?

My neighbors don’t seem to think so. We live on the same block but in different worlds, and sometimes these worlds collide. And when one isn't clashing on the outside, one clashes on the inside –often it's rooted in nostalgia but sometimes it's prompted by plain old guilt.

"When are you coming back to live?" asked the mother of a close friend the last time I went home to visit. "Are you going to stay away while outsiders come in and take over the island?" She wasn't joking; she was visibly upset and wanted an answer.
This badgering went on for several minutes. I felt like I and other expatriates were being blamed for the islands' woes. I didn't know what to say. "I'll be back," I finally said sheepishly. But honestly –I don't know when. I'm married, and I have a family. When making decisions I have to think about the welfare of five people. Maybe I'll return to live when I retire or when the kids are in college, I sometimes tell myself.

Nostalgia, however, has to be weighed against economic, political, social and cultural realities, and sometimes the realities conspire against you. The Virgin Islands are in dire economic straights, salaries are low and we have mounting social problems just like anywhere else. Yet I still feel the ancestral pull....and the years passing.

James Weeks
© 2008-2011. All rights reserved

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Adams County Makes the News - Adams County Leader #29

The Adams County Leader  Official Paper of Adams County
Price $2.00 Strictly in Advance
Published Every Friday by E. E. Southard
Matter for publication should reach this office not later than Thursday noon – earlier if possible

December 18, 1925

This week a letter similar to many that find their way into any newspaper office was received.  It was from an entire stranger, and was as follows:

“Waldport, Oregon, December 9, Official County Paper, Council, Idaho: Dear Sirs: Enclosed find stamp.  Please mail me copy of your paper, so I can get an idea of your city’s business, and what is doing in your section.”

Of course, the paper had to be sent: the man had sent stamps to pay for it, and had every right to expect to receive what he had paid for.  He wanted, most likely, to change his residence, and was casting about for a place to enter business, or to at least make for himself a new home.  He wanted to find out what sort of a district he was headed for before spending too much money running around investigating.

Now what impression did this man get of Council?  The official county paper, of which he did not know the name, will show this man that Council is in Adams County, and in Idaho.  It will show him that Council has, so far as he can ascertain, no bank, no meat market, no grocery store, no creamery, no candy shop, no stationery store, no Christmas goods of any kind for sale, and only one firm handling general merchandise—and that a rather small concern, if he is to judge from the advertisement-- and of course he has no other way of judging.  His first thought will doubtless be: “Goodnight, I don’t want to go there!”

Of course, the impression he gets of Council will not be true, but whose fault is it?  Who is knocking Council—is it the paper, which urges merchants to advertise, or is it the merchants themselves, who thus cause to be sent out from the home town every week a worse knock against this section than anything that any paper on earth could ever manage to print, if it should do its very worst.  Who is it that is doing the real knocking?  The fact is that this whole thing is just plain foolishness and unworthy of grown men.


The missionary tea will be held on March 4th, with Mrs. E. H. Fears.

Found- Fountain pen on street.  Enquire at Leader office.

Why don’t you bring the missus and have your Sunday dinner at the Evergreen café? 40 cents a plate.

The bridge at Middle fork, which the recent high water swept out, is undergoing repairs.   Two new piers are being put in, and the expectations are that it will be ready for traffic in  a couple of weeks.

Jess L. Bedwell, who was forest ranger in Council but is now located in Spokane, was
called to Washington D.C. on the investigation concerning the white pine blister blight.

The Lappin Family listened to the radio in the George home till a late hour last Saturday

Persons intending to go to the McCall Winter carnival in March should notify their local railroad agent in order that arrangements may be made for enough sleds and teams to meet them at New Meadows and transport them to McCall.  If this is not done, persons will be running the risk of facing insufficient sleigh accommodations to meet the demands of the traffic, and general confusion and inconvenience to everyone.

Christmas Shopping Made Easy

Seventeen piece Doll Tea Set; Small Iron Gas Stove with Utensils; Small Sewing Machine. 

Other items from Toyland: The Dolls, The Trunks, The Erector Sets, Books, Stationery, Iron Toys, Wooden Toys, Game Boards, Tricycles, Kiddie Kars, Wagons, Buggies, Beds,  Skooters, Sand Pails, and Blackboards.
5-10-15 Cent Store and Variety Store.  Weiser.

Winter Carnival at McCall March 6th and 7th.  Excursion Rates over the P. & I. N.   Railway.  New Meadows to McCall and Return by 4-Horse team and sleigh.  Why go to
Switzerland when Payette Lakes are so near?

Read your home paper.  Only $2.00.

February 5, 1926


Every depositor in the defunct First Bank of Council is invited and expected to be present at the meeting to be held at the courthouse in Council, Monday afternoon, February 8, at 2 o’clock.

February 5, 1926



The Leader is taking the liberty of printing the following excerpts from a letter from Fred Cool, formerly president of the First Bank of Council, now a resident of Portland:
Friend Southard: I cannot tell you how much I regret to learn of the closing of the First Bank of Council, for while I have very small personal interest there now, it still seems like home, and I willingly admit I have not been able to make the close acquaintances and true friends on other places that I have in Council.  Of course I realize that this will work a temporary hardship on everyone in the community and slow up business.  And after all, business is community life.  I heartily agree with you in your statement and request for the people to get together, cease local controversy, and boost for Adams County.  For without a doubt, you have one of the best communities in the west, and better times are ahead.

Sincerely yours, Fred Cool.
February 5, 1926


New Meadows, Idaho—My Dear Mr. Southard: It is with a great deal of pleasure and satisfaction to us and we know to you, to learn from us that this bank has suffered no loss to speak of during what might have been exciting to us on account of the closing last Friday of the bank there.  Numerous ones here came in and asked if there was anything they could do for this bank and if we needed assistance.  We were assured of strong support if needed and we are glad to state now that we have numerous accounts on our books from Council; each train brings us new accounts, this now being the only bank in Adams County.

We are sorry with you that Adams county should lose one of its needed institutions, and if there is anything we can do to serve those there until such time as they will likely organize another bank, we would have you feel free to command us.

With sincere best wishes we remain yours very truly,
E. F. Kimbrough

compiled by Eberle Umbach

Tuesday, April 19, 2011


[I have nothing to add except I love L.E. Leone's latest poem - hope you enjoy it too!]


I arrive by plane
at a thought and there
is Meaning, at the gate
waiting with a sign:

Dani, Not Even Your
Cowboy Hat
Can Save You Now

What’s that supposed to mean?
I ask Meaning, meaning,
What the fuck?

A: “Your limbo is waiting.”

L.E. Leone
© 2011

Monday, April 18, 2011

"Levee Camp Moan"

I just can’t be satisfied, to quote the great Muddy Waters.  Always tinkering a bit with things on Robert Frost’s Banjo!  I’d thought that the Any Woman’s Blues series was going to be a Monday staple, but I’ve since decided I needed a little more Monday elbow room than a single series offers.  & I’ve also had some other blues related ideas for the blog, so I’m going with the idea of a new version of the Monday Morning Blues, where Mondays will be the day for all blues-related posts, including Any Woman’s Blues, posts about various artists or songs, reviews of books about the blues, & my own recordings of various blues numbers.

Speaking of which, this week I’m posting an “out-take” from my RFD Blues cd.  I dropped this version of “Levee Camp Moan” at the very end of the process—the take is good, but I wanted to keep the cd close to 45 minutes in length & since “Levee Camp Moan” is a long song, it seemed the logical one to drop.  As such, it exists as a “starter song” for some future project.  Oh, & by the way: this is not the same recording as the one I posted last summer
—I believe it's significantly better!

“Levee Camp Moan” is a Son House song, tho he recorded a few different versions.  There’s also a well-known song by Mississippi Fred McDowell called “Levee Camp Blues,” & another old song called “Levee Camp Holler.”  A levee camp was temporary housing for levee workers.  A lot of the old blues performers would travel to various work camps—sawmills, turpentine mills & levee camps—where they could usually find money for their music-making.  Zora Neale Hurston writes about this in her seminal work Mules & Men.  

I recorded “Levee Camp Moan” in Eb—in open D with a capo on the first fret—slide style, naturally.  The guitar is my Gold Tone resonator.


The photo shows a Greenville, MS levee camp in 1927.  The image is from the jwinfred's photostream on Flickr & can be found on its original page here

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Photo of the Week 4/17/11

Pink Easter Bunny & Holiday Installation
US Highway 95
New Meadows, ID
Wednesday 4/13

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Miss Mousie & Mr Moose Agree

When playing music with others, the most important skill is listening!

Some exciting news: a new band has formed, going by the name of “churchmouse” (tho there is some lobbying for “churchmoose” as a variation for more “moosey” gigs).  The band is Eberle Umbach playing flute, melodica, possibly cello & who knows what; Wendy Carson playing guitar & possibly uke; & yours truly chiming in on resonator guitars, 5-string banjo, & maybe a little tenor uke too.  We’ll be making our first public appearance a week from Sunday (very much in churchmouse mode) as we play back-up on a couple of Eberle’s pieces that she & some church singers will be playing before mass at her church next week. 

But the overall idea is secular (yours truly not being one of the churchy tribe) & highly eclectic.  Our initial set list is shaping up as follows (in alphabetical, not performance order)

  • Amelia’s Waltz (instrumental)
  • Banty Rooster Blues
  • Big Railroad Blues
  • Blue Train
  • Cactus Flower (an original by one of Wendy’s friends—a great tune)
  • Cold Rain & Snow
  • Cold Virginia Rain
  • Far Away Waltz (instrumental)
  • Jim & Judy’s Wedding (instrumental)
  • Little Wing
  • Mama ‘Tain’t Long Fore Day
  • Norwegian Wood
  • Rainy Day Blues

Everything from the Delta & Appalachia to Hendrix & the Beatles!  Will keep everyone posted!

Friday, April 15, 2011

Homegrown Radio 4/15/11 – Ami Worthen

Friday is here, & hope you’re ready for today’s edition of Homegrown Radio, because it’s an exciting one!  Once again, we’ll be featuring Ami Worthen of the band The Mad Tea Party.

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you know I love the Mad Tea Party’s music; I gave them a write-up here.  In addition to Ami Worthen’s singing, songwriting & ukulele & guitar player, the Mad Tea Party also features Jason Krekel, who is simply one heckuva guitar player—& Krekel also sings, plays fiddle & composes! 

I’m jazzed that Ami Worthen agreed to supply a couple of songs for this month’s Homegrown Radio series, & I also should mention that Ami has just released an ep called 4 for 40, which you can download on a pay what you can basis right here.  Hope you check her album out, & please be generous when paying what you can: Ami Worthen is a seriously talented musician.

The two songs Ami submitted for Homegrown Radio are not on the ep, so these are a bonus!  This week’s song is “On a Summer Night”—let’s see whatAmi has to say about it:

Another old song, written in the summer of 2004 when gas prices were way high, Asheville was in a drought, and things felt sort of hopeless. Luckily, love and romance supercede most troubles.

Doing solo home recordings like these liberates me from some of the standards we hold for Mad Tea Party. As a band, we strive to put out professional sounding recordings. In contrast, I am comfortable with releasing free solo downloads that are not studio quality. Also, since Mad Tea Party is such a rock 'n' roll dance band, these home recordings are a place where I can embrace my folkier side. I hope to do more over the course of the year.

Thanks again!

You can hear Ami’s first song, “Pounding Down the Trail,” here, & you also can follow Ami Worthen on her aptly titled blog, Ukulele Rockstar.  She posts regularly, & her interesting observations on music, art & more are always interesting!  So enjoy the music, & don’t be shy about commenting—I know Ami would love to hear from you!

  Summer Night by Ami Worthen

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Me & My Guitars

Money has been a bit tight here at Robert Frost's Banjo central for awhile, & while it would be an exaggeration to say the wolf is at the door, maybe we can at least hear him in the hills—coyotes anyway!  As a result I've been "liquidating some assets" in the form of musical instruments—a bit sad, tho I haven't sold any instruments that I'm using in my current musical incarnation.  But I thought you folks might like to take a look at some of my past & present guitars.  As an added bonus, there's an embedded mp3 of yours truly performing Lightnin' Hopkins "Rainy Day Blues" at the end—the guitar on that one is my Beard Gold Tone Resonator guitar.  Enjoy!

My first guitar, an old Washburn OM-still have it, love it—great fingerstyle instrument!
A Takamine jumbo that I've sold—good guitar; a friend once called this a quintessential "guy & guitar pic!"  
I've had this Ibanez electric for quite a while—pretty basic, but I'm holding onto it until I get a Telecaster!
I performed/recorded/composed a lot with this Ibanez hollow body electric—sold it recently; a bit sad, but it went to a good home!

Love my 1958 Harmony Master! Have only performed with it a few times, but it's a cozy instrument to play either fingerstyle or with a flat pick!
Me & my Regal single cone resonator! Love! At the Council Mountain Music Festival in 09
Me & my Beard Gold Tone Resonator—Ditto! You can hear it in the mp3 below!

A nice Recording King squareneck tricone—lap style playing just isn't my thing, so we never hit it off; this one's for sale, & I'm hoping I can find it a good home.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The Land of Nod #2

the molecules congeal the molecules dis-
sipate, The Seven Samurai black-white-gray on TV in
a Bozeman Comfort Inn—you’re learning exhaustion’s alphabet

one cup of coffee at a time—steam from a Vicks vaporizer—
another Silver Surfer comic book, magenta &
gray splayed across a card table’s diamond veneer in-

lay—you are floating between your body’s past &
what’s to come several inches above a green
upholstered sofa, the molecules

congeal the molecules dissipate—a spiral
notebook covered with doodles of your name &
geometry’s leftovers—a grandfather clock with wooden

gears & lead weight—you are floating between
solid & air like a bright yellow school bus
in November flurries—short of breath in an Astoria

courtyard in March drizzle—an oxygen concentrator’s
lugubrious sigh in murky hours—an
espresso machine huffing between the poem’s

syllables on Valencia Street on an evening pungent as
licorice—you are learning exhaustion’s alphabet
floating gray between your body’s dimensions

Jack Hayes
© 2010

It appears a sequence may be in the offing—stay tuned!  As a reminder: my most recent book of poetry, The Spring Ghazals, is available at the following online spots:
Barnes & Noble (new—& a bargain at $11.40 US!)
Amazon UK (£7.94)

Both Amazon & Lulu have the book for $12 US. 

Monday, April 11, 2011

Any Woman’s Blues #8 – Mattie Delaney

A happy Monday, all!  I’m hoping to get back on a more regular posting schedule.  This isn’t being helped by a bout of fatigue that laid me up much of Sunday, but I’m forging ahead with this week’s Any Woman’s Blues.

Very little is known about this week’s featured artist, Mattie Delaney; in fact, she is only known to recorded two songs during her career, “Tallahatchie River Blues” & “Down the Big Road Blues.”  These were issued on a 78 that’s extremely rare—apparently a mint condition copy of this record would be worth about $6,000 to $8,000 on the collector’s market. 

We do know that Delaney was born in Tchula, Mississippi & that she made the two Vocalion recordings in 1930.  It’s also true that around this time the effects of the Great Depression began to have a profound effect on the recording industry & that field recordings were sharply curtailed. 

As things stand, Delaney is an enigmatic figure.  While there were many women who became big stars as blues singers—in fact, in the early 20s all the blues recording stars were women singers—very few women in the blues were also “guitar slingers.”  There was Memphis Minnie, of course, but she was associated with the city sounds of Memphis & Chicago, while Delaney is very much a “country blues” performer.

My suspicion is that Delaney was not alone; that there were other talented women guitarists playing the country blues in the “classic period” just as there are today.  It’s important to remember that what we have on record from the 1920s & 1930s (& beyond) was largely determined by the tastes & biases of the men who were setting up the sessions & making the recordings.

Rory Block has covered both of Delaney’s songs, recording “Down the Big Road Blues” as “Travelin’ Blues” (on her High-Heeled Blues & Best Blues & Originals, both on Rounder); her version of “Tallahatchie Blues” appears on both When a Woman Gets the Blues & Gone Woman Blues, also both on Rounder.  Lucinda Williams covered “Down the Big Road Blues” on Car Wheels on a Gravel Road from Mercury.

Hope you enjoy this rare & wonderful piece of music!

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Photo of the Week 4/10/11

Llama in Pasture
Indian Valley Rd 
(our property, our llama Penelope!)
Indian Valley, ID
Saturday 4/9

Saturday, April 9, 2011

the land of nod

nighttime busy as a ship the stars frozen the
radio signals crackling along a north wind an
orange teddy bear ditched beside the highway in

April—in the middle of life under a eucalyptus—
you must excise all the connections—in the middle
of life in a sodium light spotlight, the moon’s

fingernail, the porch on Myrtle Street its
chipped paint railing & clothesline
nighttime busy as
a semi truck on a 6% grade a sheet of

particle board a  toy cat’s porcelain
face with inscrutable grin, in a sepia photograph a
gin bottle in the mirror—in the middle

of life on interstate 70 west of St Louis the gas tank
leaking—a rope hammock above the
blue blue crocuses its dreams decomposing:

there was a guitar with f-holes an
N-scale train depot, a wind-up toy duck
dressed like a clown on a trike but

wound down—a fire escape in green streetlight glow—
nighttime busy as a ship off the Oregon coast a
frozen light in blackness between dreams

Jack Hayes
© 2011

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Adams County Makes the News - Adams County Leader #28

The Adams County Leader  Official Paper of Adams County
Price $2.00 Strictly in Advance
Published Every Friday by E. E. Southard
Matter for publication should reach this office not later than Thursday noon – earlier if possible

February 13, 1925


August Schirmer, rancher and miner, residing in the Wildhorse section, came in last Sunday direct from Germany where he went some months ago on a still hunt for a wife.  He brought her back with him, and the two went out immediately to the home property to take up their residence.

August 28, 1925

Persons are much exercised over the alleged fact that “prohibition does not prohibit,” meaning, of course, that anti-booze laws are not enforced more strictly.  In this connection it may be worth while to remember that about nine out of ten booze enforcement officials are appointed by “wet” higher-ups—as, for example, Charley Moore in Idaho and Al Smith in New York, both governors so wet that you can wring corn juice out of their undershirts.  What sort of law enforcement can you expect from officials who openly preach against the law, and one of them at least even refuses to cooperate with federal enforcement officers? And in many counties and states, people vote for preliminary and trial judges because “they belong to my lodge,” or “my clan or clique,” even while they themselves are demanding stricter enforcement.  When the people learn to vote for law enforcement, they will get it—not before.
December 4, 1925


The Leader is in receipt of a letter from Dr. Frank E. Brown, formerly a resident of this section and still a heavy property holder here, telling of conditions here in the “good old days” we hear so much about:
Twenty-five years ago we moved to Council.  Six saloons and their complement of brothels which served drink were there.  A wide-open town it was.  We know in part of the wasted lives, the immorality, the blasted homes, the tragedy which was the result of the sale of liquor in the community.  Enough to demonstrate to all the world that the traffic should be outlawed. The potential murderer is the man who manufactures alcohol.  I have always had extreme consideration for the victims of its ravages.  Most of those first saloon-keepers in the early days on Council died in middle-life from over-indulgence, and at least one of the wives went the same way.

We will still strive to protect the weak.  In the United States, in the five years previous to 1918, deaths from drink averaged five and one-tenth to the ten thousand population.  In the five years following national prohibition, the deaths from drink averaged one and one-tenth to the same population.  Citizens who made possible prohibition and now stand solidly and actively behind its enforcement are potential life savers and promote happiness to many lives that would otherwise be miserable.
Yours truly, Frank E. Brown
December 4, 1925


The merchants of Weiser will run excursions the whole length of the P. & I. N. line this winter, according to present plans, to enable people along the line to go there and buy the goods that they are now buying from mail order houses.  The first excursion run will be on Thursday of next week, that is to say on Thursday December 10, and a two-cent rate is being put into effect by the railroad company for their accommodation.  A big show, “Blossom Time,” also will be staged at the Wheaton theatre in Weiser the same night, so people can “kill two birds with one stone” by doing some shopping and seeing a good show at the same time.

While there will no doubt be a good many articles advertised that could be bought from home merchants if buyers so desired, it is urged by the lower county business men that the main object of the excursions is to head off the business now being sent to the mail order houses.  Weiser business men are strongly of the notion that the business of this section belongs by right to this section, and they propose to get their share of it away from Monkey-Roebuck or anybody else who is now trying to corral it and take the money out of Idaho.

Weiser has had three bank failures in the last year or so, has in common with other sections suffered severely from light crops and unfavorable price conditions for a few years past, and still is right up on her toes looking for the “main chance,” and advocates the theory that Idaho money ought to be kept in Idaho.  In this they will doubtless establish a good case for themselves before the court of public opinion.  As to the excursions, if they are considered successful, they will very likely be continued all winter.

December 4, 1925

Last Friday, Mr. And Mrs. Joe Collins and the little brood of Collinses all climbed into the family Ford car, on which Joe had built a special body designed for traveling in all conditions and weather, and hit the trail for the lower country and eventually Arizona.  The Collins family had lived here several years and had become much endeared to all who knew them.  Joe is a carpenter, a painter, and almost anything the occasion demands, and had been a very handy man about town.

compiled by Eberle Umbach

Tuesday, April 5, 2011


[At times in her life, L.E. Leone has been a chicken farmer.  She usually is a hopeful person.  This clearly is a poem.  Hence, this title makes sense—enjoy!]


So suddenly bugs
make sense to me and
smells like lavendar – finally!
Who knew
that a dried up leaf
would sound like that
under a stray cat's paw? So
I planted
a blueberry bush next to
the blackberry bushes. Next
year, if the chickens
don't scratch it out, who knows?
Maybe a pie’s worth, and
if not, well … anyway,
a pie.

L.E. Leone

Monday, April 4, 2011

Miss Mousie Sez….

OK, so that wasn’t a very long hiatus, was it?

Miss Mousie puts her banjo aside & fixes me with a school marm’s gaze over her wire-rimmed glasses—the fact that these are more than a trifle askew doesn’t seem to phase her a bit.  “If you are always telling people you are going on a hiatus, & then popping up again the next day, they simply won’t believe you when you really do go on a hiatus.”

I acknowledge that Miss Mousie is right in this instance.  Indeed, she almost always is.  But L.E. Leone emailed me a new poem right on the verge of taking flight from Baghdad by the Bay to NoLa in search of true love & the perfect po’ boy, & given how amazing it is that Robert Frost’s Banjo even crossed her mind under such circumstances, you can bet her poem will be posting bright & early tomorrow morning!

There’ll be a post on Wednesday, too, but you knew that.  I don’t have any specific plans between then & Sunday, but once you’ve posted one post while on hiatus (& as Miss Mousie again correctly points out, this will end up being two, strictly speaking), there’s no telling what will happen.

I suspect we haven’t seen the last of Miss Mousie.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Photo of the Week 4/3/11

Ewe & Lambs
North Grays Creek Rd
Indian Valley, ID
Saturday 4/2/11

NOTE: The blog will be (mostly) on hiatus from Monday April 4th thru Saturday April 9th.   There will be a post on Wednesday, which will be the already scheduled installment of Adams County Makes the News.  I need some time to get perspective the blog’s future direction—I foresee some changes, possibly big ones.

Of course, there will be poems posting on The Spring Ghazals on both Wednesday & Saturday.  & I will be checking in on your blogs, as well as spending time in my other usual cyber haunts.

Hope to see you on Wednesday or next Sunday.
Today's Photo of the Week is by Eberle Umbach!

Friday, April 1, 2011

Homegrown Radio 4/1/11 – Ami Worthen

A happy Friday everyone!  It sure is a happy Friday here at Robert Frost’s Banjo because I’m very excited to announce a special guest for this month’s Homegrown Radio feature: Ami Worthen of the band The Mad Tea Party

If you’ve been a regular reader here, you know that I was delightfully blown away by the Mad Tea Party’s music when I first encountered it last year (the band has been around for several years, so I’m a Johnny-Come-Lately), & I gave them a write-up right here in this space.  The Mad Tea Party has many musical strengths—Ami Worthen’s partner Jason Krekel is a fabulously talented guitarist, for one!—but to my ear a big strength of the band is Ami’s exceptional songwriting ability—not to mention her fantastic singing voice. 

So when Ami Worthen agreed to supply a couple of songs for this month’s Homegrown Radio series, I was stoked.  I should mention that Ami has just released an ep called 4 for 40, which you can download on a "pay what you can" basis right here.  Ami has generously made the album available without setting a minimum price, but if I can add my 2 cents: please pay what you can—this is a seriously talented musician & she should be compensated for her art!

The two songs Ami submitted for Homegrown Radio are not on the ep, so these are a bonus.  In addition to “Pounding Down the Trail,” today’s selection, I’ll be posting her second song on Friday April 15th, so make sure not to miss that.  Also, you can follow Ami Worthen on her aptly titled blog, Ukulele Rockstar.  She posts regularly, & her observations on music, art & more are always interesting!  Now let’s see what Ami has to say about “Pounding Down the Trail”

This is a previously unrecorded old song that I decided to document recently. It's pretty straight-forward. It's a reminder to myself to focus on the process rather than being attached to any particular end goal. Easier said than done. It also acknowledges the power of my calling to make and perform music, despite the impracticality and frequent uncomfortableness of it. I can't expect anyone else to understand why I continue to put myself out of my comfort zone. But I do believe there is magic in doing.

There’s definitely magic in Ami Worthen’s music making—enjoy!  The lyrics follow the mp3 player!

  pounding down the trail by Ami Worthen

I am pounding down the trail
if I walk then I won't fail
this is what I'm here to do
my aim is true
there is sunlight through the trees
and the birds they sing to me
I know that this is right
even though sometimes
I can't sleep through the night 


I'm gonna do what I gotta do
I don't care if it doesn't make sense to you
I take each step along the path
it's a privilege to be bold
I am climbing up the hill
so glad I'm climbing still
though the peak is far away
I see something beautiful each day
the cicadas in the trees
one of nature's mysteries
they give me faith
sometimes in life
you simply have to wait


I am walking down the line
I will get it right this time
At least I'm gonna try
So I can look myself in the eye
the wonders to behold
the adventures that unfold
the dream is all around
the magic in moving is profound


music & lyrics © Ami Worthen 2011.  All rights reserved.