Flash in the Pan
A Quarterly Posting at Tiny Lights
by Catherine Montague
I'm standing in a field at Ranchero Mark West, where the creek runs down the hillside and into the Russian River Valley. The first-ever Ranchero Mark West Music Festival begins with the sounds of the banjo, fiddle, guitar and mandolin floating up the hill. Joining the early-arriving handful of listeners, I watch people draw near the tent-shaded stage. Along two sides of the field, we've got food vendors, kid's activities, and the Ranchero's old red barn. Mark West Creek runs under laurels and oaks and redwoods, plus big-leaf maples sending golden leaves into the water. Word is that 30 coho salmon were counted here recently, ample cause for celebration. Years ago, these hillsides were logged-off and barren, but now the shady grove of trees is as pretty as the girl in the old song.
The Mighty Chiplings are playing, local high school boys. What a pleasure to watch them grow up learning classic bluegrass tunes, starting out at eleven or so. Tall now, and maybe shaving more than once a week, they sing the words to the old songs like they mean it:
Shady Grove, my little love
Shady Grove I say
Shady Grove, my little love
Bound to go away
The fiddle cries, the banjo rings, the guitar twangs, and around those centuries-old lyrics the mandolin works its silvery magic. Nothing beats bluegrass music on a sunny October morning, here on the shoulders of the Mayacamas mountains. Some good luck charm chased away last week's fog and drizzle, settling the summer dust. It's perfect weather for climbing the mountain, but I can't leave yet, while the boys make harmony on the chorus. Five years ago, when they first learned their craft from Chip Dunbar (hence the band's name) it was impressive to hear them sing and play in tune. Chip passed on but the music he inspired floats across the hillsides; he couldn't get any more immortal than this.
Something about young voices singing old songs is perfect for today—it's a Landpaths benefit for an outdoor education center. On this former tree farm, young people from Santa Rosa and other urban areas will share in the restoration of the watershed.
Plenty of kids arrive and check out the activities, but inevitably, they're drawn to the creek. Bouncing like frogs, they hop across the rocks, then squat down to check for tadpoles or tiny fish. The music flows on; time passes quickly, while I think about how fast kids grow up.
Catherine Montague is dangerously close to finishing the first draft of her novel “Running Like Crazy.” When she’s not writing, Catherine likes to hang around with horses, dogs, students, musicians, poets, bikers, birds, and video game fanatics. She lives in Sebastopol, CA, and frequently attends outdoor events sponsored by LandPaths and the Laguna de Santa Rosa Foundation.
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