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yellow cottonwoods in Taos

Biodegradable adobes, yellow cottonwoods, & more

There they go, the leaves, brilliant yellow and then they’re gone. Another cold front with 60 mph gusts like we had this afternoon and that’ll be the end. Seems like we hardly just got started, and now we’re at the end again. I don’t know about this mountain shit. It’s just so impossibly, terribly, beautiful and thrilling, even as it sucks your brains out and you give yourself another day.

Something big is going to happen, though. The coming winter makes no sense to me this year. I’m not ready to hunker down, I’m ready to explode. The feelings, the emotions are too much for my person. They want a bigger space.

There was this little incident of cargo shifting in the hold, but in a good way. Instead of taking licks for all the things I haven’t done, I somehow knew I’d won the prize. This takes off so much pressure. There’s nothing left to lose! Not sleepwalking any more, either. That hurts, the time thing, if I think about it, but the amazing thing is that I still did great. No matter what, I killed ’em dead. The only thing I haven’t done is make a million dollars, but the night is young. I’m glad something is.

And now you really must play the video. It’s Leo Kottke singing Tom T. Hall’s “Pamela Brown” and owning it. I could write many pages about what feels so validating here. One is released to become whole, in a way, by lessening of struggle and relaxation into joy. There’s clearly pain beneath the bounce, and that big booming twelve-string! I’ve played it a couple dozen times since I found the video two days ago. (Kottke’s coming to the Lensic Theater in Santa Fe, and that made me want to look it up.) Hearing it again triggered a wild cascading boojum. I remembered how the song helped me meet a friend I haven’t seen in twenty years. I don’t even know if he’s alive. His name is David Ashworth, and this is how it went.

Something like almost forty years ago good-god-just-shoot-me-now, I was at a party in Maryland and put a Kottke LP on the turntable to play this one song—I must have heard it on the radio before, implausible as that may be, considering where I was. At any rate, someone’s brother and a class-A jerk decided it was “shitkicker crap” and yanked the tone arm off. I was plenty mad and told him so, got in his face the way I’ve rarely done with other guys. He pulled a whiney “Oh, I’m so scaaaared!” and backed away. I dropped the needle down on “Pamela Brown” and cranked the volume up.

While I was standing there enjoying my music, this very tall, bald-headed, instantly discernible über-Texan wearing an Army field jacket strode across the room and handed me a beer. A dark green Yuengling, I believe, which we called “ying-ling” at the time and maybe everybody does, cheap and plentiful from nearby Pennsyvania. He’d seen the whole thing and wanted to congratulate me. I was glad of that, because he was also kind of scary.

In what seemed like less than thirty seconds, I’d learned he was a Green Beret who’d fought in Vietnam, a potter, and owner of a hot-rod Bronco four-wheel-drive. That I was from Texas too helped make for instant bonding. There was something of a fatal Buddhist in him. He had a voice as low as rocks. I knew this was someone who could kill me with his bare hands in a second if he had to. Later I discovered he was also monster smart, enjoyed his laughs, and had a streak as black as death inside. We got on famously, of course, although next to him, I was strictly third-string when it came to women, alcohol, or danger. I had the impression he’d come from darkest redneck poor-boy hell, been struck by God and given brains, and had to pay the price.

The key thing here, boys, is authenticity, and who or what confers it. I don’t know, but I am off the hook a little bit somehow, and we are out of time.

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  • Duncan October 13, 2014, 8:16 AM

    Great story, greater video.
    They don’t make music like that anymore, do they?

    • JHF October 13, 2014, 8:24 AM

      Thanks, Duncan! Well, I don’t know. Maybe we don’t make it like we should. I sure feel something coming on, though. (Kottke is just a month younger than I am, incidentally.)

  • CarolfromBatonRouge October 13, 2014, 9:26 AM

    “Voice as low as rocks”
    Love it

  • CK Sandberg October 13, 2014, 2:26 PM

    I heard Leo Kottke play at a beautiful little venue (Arts Center) in Grand Marais, MN, about three years ago. It was a magnificent evening, and he is as droll a story-teller as he is an amazing musician!

  • Marti Fenton Whitedeersong October 16, 2014, 12:13 AM

    Loved your word portrait of the Green Beret.
    I could feel his presence.

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