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Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Contacted by a Brisbanite with ancestral ties to 103 Callowhill Street

I have some construction news about the Hannah Callowhill Stage, and it's good! But I don't want to tell you about it until after Friday, when (hopefully, if even mentioning it doesn't jinx me) the deal will be closed.

In the meantime, for all the lovers of historical minutiae out there, let me tell you with inhumanly wide eyes about an e-mail I got from a stranger named Lyndon Garbutt a few weeks ago. I'm reprinting it with permission here:
Hi Melissa

I thought I’d reach out to you, as I stumbled across your website/facebook post on the history of the Callowhill Stage building you are renovating and thought you may be interested in some further information.

To explain this random email - ironically I am researching the history of my own property in your home town, Brisbane.  My apartment was used by Madame Lotte Lehmann as her residence during her 1939 season at Brisbane City Hall.  I had googled ‘Lotte Lehmann’ ‘Brisbane’ and due to you having won an award and coming from Brisbane you were one of the hits.  It sparked my interest as I it looked out of place and I wanted to work out why.  I then noticed you were in Philadelphia and my ancestors were some of the original Quakers who settled there with William Penn.
Already I love this message and its Neal-Stephenson-like connections across time and space. The award he mentions is the ASCAP/Lotte Lehmann Art Song Competition; my piece for baritone and piano trio Black Thunder received an honorable mention back in 2009. I wasn't even aware that Lehmann had toured to Australia, but here she is singing a duet with a kookaburra in the city of my birth:

Oh my god, Lotte Lehmann is cooler than I will ever, ever be. Also, I miss kookaburras.
The next part of the message references my blog post on the history of 103 Callowhill Street. To recap: the first buildings on the site were erected by Benjamin Mifflin between 1740 and 1745.
When I noticed Mifflin and your reference to his journal, it prompted me to check a book on one of my ancestors, a well known Patriot (for Delaware at least), John Clowes. John was a business partner of Benjamin Mifflin and Mifflin’s diary records a few days/weeks spent at Clowes’ whilst looking at buying land there - which I think became his residence once he relocated from Philadelphia to Sussex County. Mifflin would later marry John Clowes’ mother-in-law - so in other words I am a direct descendant of Benjamin Mifflin’s final wife - who happened to find your post searching for Lotte Lehmann and her time in Brisbane.
I am here for this kismet.

The next part refers to this newspaper clipping.
So the information I have for you is that the article you identified as Mifflin publishing in the Philadelphia Gazette (referring to excrement) was part of what I understand to be a long running political affair where Clowes and Mifflin were outspoken against suppression of the opinion of juries during colonial times in Sussex County (thus the reference in the article you posted re Sussex on Delaware). Both Clowes and Mifflin, despite their status as wealthy businessmen, spent time in jail for their outspoken views.

The book on John Clowes, Broadkill Patriot makes reference to an article from the Pennsylvania Journal of 10 January 1771, which had the following six lines:

Let Wilkes and M’Dougal, and Mifflin and Clowes;
Those strugglers for freedom, dame liberty’s spouse;
But what’s the effect?-You see each of them fail,
And each one by turns have experienc’d jail!
Like men in a bog, when releasement they think,
The longer they struggle, the deeper they sink!

According to the author Wilkes was a reference to a British radical, who became a symbol for opposition to tyranny. New York Patriot Alexander Mcdougall was a general who opposed British restrictions on trade. All of these men experienced jail for their beliefs.

Needless to say both Mifflin and Clowes were regarded as patriots during the American Revolution. The John Clowes book indicates that Mifflin left his final wife, Sarah, a widow. She was executor of his estate.  Mifflin in the mean time was the official appraiser for one of my Clowes ancestors’ estates (either John Snr, or John Jnr), so I may have a copy of Mifflin’s signature in my records if that would be of interest.
Oh this delights me in all sorts of ways. It's always very cool when historical research is connected to the present not just by physical objects and words, but by living people! And in this case, a living person who clearly has the same love of historical details and the 18th Century penchant for putting all kinds of things into verse. I am pleased that, through the Penn Library, I was able to track down the full text of the 1771 article and provide Lyndon with the entire poem. And he, for his part, was able to provide me with a photo of Benjamin Mifflin's signature from his records, as mentioned:
That is a lot of loops. I like it.
But there's one more little coincidence yet to report.
The other irony is that one of John Clowes’ children (i.e. a grandson of Mifflin’s final wife Sarah) married the daughter of John Hazzard, who is credited as having piloted General Washington across the Delaware River in 1776 to beat the Hessians - the painting portrayal of which you had chosen to flag your summary of your building’s history.
I threw Washington Crossing the Delaware into my blog entry to illustrate the War of Independence, because the Hannah Callowhill Stage is located near the Delaware River, and because it's a cool painting. Little did I know that EVERYONE IN COLONIAL AMERICA IS APPARENTLY RELATED TO EACH OTHER, AND ALSO TO ME THROUGH MY BUILDING.
The wedding is recorded in Sarah Mifflin’s granddaughter’s diary from the 1780s/1790s, which is regarded as a very rare document, given the limited number of American women, let alone in rural areas, who were literate enough to keep a diary.  The diary makes quite a few references to Sarah (as grandmamma). This document was the feature of Women’s History Month in Delaware a few years back:

So great!

I have been sitting on this for a few weeks because of a paralysis born of a high amount of stress and grief, but now that the clouds are parting and I'm grinning looking over this again, I'm inclined to think that everything is going to be OK.

Sunday, March 06, 2016

The Hannah Callowhill Stage: Eyes on the Prize

Eyes on the prize, Melissa. Eyes on the goddamn prize.

What's the prize? The Hannah Callowhill Stage, with two apartments on top, one to live in and one to rent out, making this whole crazy theater venture financially viable.

What's in the way? A sum of money that doesn't seem all that astronomical if you live in Sydney or San Francisco, or if you earn maybe twice as much as we do, or if you're not in the arts. But to us, it's staggering. And it's money on top of what we paid for the property already.

Most of our "progress" in the eight months since my last significant Hannah update has involved talking to contractors. The general pattern in our interactions with contractors seems to be:
  1. We meet a contractor. They seem nice enough.
  2. The contractor decides if they are interested in or able to do the project. Most contractors are either too big (too busy, or our project will not net them enough profit) or too small (cannot handle structural steel and/or foundation underpinning that the plans require).
  3. If they are interested, the contractor will informally say that they think they can complete this project within our budget, because it really does seem reasonable, but they will need to look into pricing in more detail before giving a thorough estimate that we can use for financing purposes.
  4. The contractor spends a few weeks going over the plans and itemizing their costs, and eventually realizes that this project is going to cost way more than we all thought at first glance.
  5. Matt and I get very disheartened, and I probably cry a little in private.
The first estimate we got was so mind-boggling, Matt and I straight-up shut down for a month. I couldn't talk about it. I couldn't even negotiate with it, because it seems like such a waste of breath to tell a contractor, "Ssssssso, yeah, this estimate? Can you do it for, say, half as much? Because, ummmmmmm HOLY SHIT LOLOLOLLLLL *weeping*"

After months of this dance, however, we may have made a breakthrough this week. I don't want to jinx anything, but we believe we have found a contractor that is a fit for this project. He's competent and knowledgeable (having seen some of the cheap hackwork already in the building, I have no desire to go down that route, especially given the structural elements), and unlike a few of the contractors I've met, he looks me in the eyes when talking to me (as opposed to speaking exclusively to Matt, HEY MEN, DON'T DO THIS—WE NOTICE), and is willing to work with me as someone who can DIY some of the work, especially when it comes to finishing. Many contractors, understandably, are loath to let commissioning clients perform work or have too much input on their own project. It's the same in a lot of industries. You've seen variations on this, right?

But in this situation, (a) I swear, I am pretty good and pretty game at this construction stuff, and (b) we don't have a lot of choice because of financial constraints. I know, those are probably the same justifications and excuses every client uses in this situation. But this contractor believes me, and I think we're going to get on. (As an aside, I am thinking of taking the ICC National General Building Contractor exam—just for shits, since it's not necessary for any certification in Pennsylvania or Philadelphia. I have a copy of the latest International Building Code, which I know my way around reasonably well, taking the exam forces me to bone up, and the knowledge might afford me at least a small amount of cred when working and talking with people in the industry.)

So onto the next hurdle, and it's a big one. Acquiring the money.

In the throng of the Weblinc Christmas party last year, one of Matt's bosses introduced me to a man and told me to explain the Hannah to him. I had no idea who this under-dressed stranger was or what he did (I assumed he was in construction), but I drunkenly did as I was told. The next week, he gave me a call; as it turns out, he's a banker, and he has contacts in the financing industry who can help us get a construction loan in what might be the worst possible time so far this century for non-ultra-rich people like us to qualify for a construction loan. (He also connected us to our contractor, so top marks for this guy.) I filled out a stack of forms in January, marking the third time we have filled out a financing application related to this property. I have become depressingly accustomed to this grind.

There's an uncomfortable chicken-and-egg conundrum when it comes to construction loans. Contractors want to know how much money you can borrow so they can tailor their budget accordingly. Banks want to know what the contractors have budgeted so they can tailor their loan and draw amounts accordingly. It's a stressful dance to figure out how to get everyone on the same page at the same time without having a nervous breakdown looking at the number of zeroes in the rapidly skyrocketing totals. At some point, we hit a ceiling where we realized that the amount we qualify to borrow will be significantly less than the amount of the construction.

And so, we had to make a decision. Do we go all-in?

All-in means that there is a good chance that following this through to completion will zero us out. We'd be betting everything we have on red. We'd be putting all our eggs and chickens in the same handbasket and hoping it's not going to hell. No savings, no investments, no retirement—everything into the Hannah. And more than that, we'd be going into debt, because we still need the construction loan (assuming and hoping like hell we are approved for the amount we asked for this week).

  • When this property is complete, there is a good chance it's going to be valued in the $1 million range, based on current property prices in the area. That's far more than the total cost of the purchase + construction, so if everything goes well, it's an excellent investment. (Also, we'll qualify for the 10-year property tax abatement, so at least we'll have a decade to figure out how to turn a profit before taxes on a million-dollar property kick in.)
  • We're in our mid-30's. We are extraordinarily blessed (#blessed) to have investments and retirement funds and cash. To be honest, many of our friends are not in this position. Even if our bet fails, we still have time to start from scratch and be OK by retirement. Also, we don't have children, which gives us some leeway in taking a risk like this.
  • We're following an entrepreneurial dream, which I believe is a far more worthwhile pursuit than playing it safe by amassing cash. What is the point of hoarding cash if you aren't doing what you want to do when you're still young enough to do it?
  • This goes against every piece of advice I've ever been given about money and risk in my entire goddamn life. 
  • What if President Trump invades Russia and tanks the world economy, and global warming becomes so pronounced that the tidal Delaware River bursts its banks and completely floods out the neighborhood? I mean, we'll all be fucked in that scenario, but I feel like I will be extra bitter about it if I threw every drop of my liquid assets into building a beautiful theater home on a riverbank.
After much keening and hand-wringing, I have made peace with the idea that we're going to go all-in. And surprisingly, after I came to terms with it, I felt a huge sense of relief. There was so much energy and agony going into making the decision to jump, the sickening free-fall doesn't seem so bad by comparison. I just hope my parachute opens.

Please open. Please.

Meanwhile, I'll just keep my eyes on the prize. And work on my opera. I'll be way better at this hands-on construction business if that's out of the way.

Monday, February 22, 2016

The Lola Ridge songs, in one convenient blog post

Three generations of women composers at the Volti Choral Institute: me (duh), high school senior Morgan Orsolini, whose choral work Awaken Again was among those performed, and the incomparable composer/pianist/conductor Sue Bohlin

A few weeks ago, I returned to frigid Philadelphia from California and immediately came down with a nasty case of the flu. My bad for procrastinating getting a flu shot this year until I forgot about it, but I'm also feeling some animosity toward the lady who open-mouth-coughed on me at the Saint Louis Airport on the trip home. I'm sure it was her. 

Then my cat Tripoli passed away last week. She was about 14 and it was her time to go, but both Matt and I are still a bit choked-up over it.

It's time to get back on the horse, though, especially since I am in happy possession of the results of my California trip: live recordings of all of my Lola Ridge songs. To recap: back in 2014, I composed a treble choral setting of an excerpt from Sun-Up by Lola Ridge, a poet whose path from growing up in New Zealand to attending college in Sydney to immigrating to New York mirrors my own journey from Brisbane to Sydney to Philadelphia. She didn't begin writing poetry until she reached America in her thirties, which recalls my own "late" start as a composer in my mid-twenties, a sacrilege in the youth-obsessed world of classical music. And in another parallel with my career, the subject matter of her work was more often than not political and focused on social justice. I wrote about my connection to her and the composition of that first song, It's Strange About Stars in a blog entry at the time.

Bob Geary, the Artistic Director of San-Francisco-based choir Volti (I was their Choral Arts Laboratory composer-in-residence a couple of years ago and wrote The Oath of Allegiance for them) picked up what I was putting down, and approached me about commissioning a couple more songs to complete the set. I wrote Shadows over a cradle... a few months later for a young women's choir he directs, Ancora, then completed Different kinds of shadows last fall for the Volti Choral Institute.

The Choral Institute is a weekend-long gathering for high school choir groups; there's an SATB camp in the fall and an SSAA camp in the winter. Several high school choirs of an exceptionally high standard gather north of San Francisco (near Bohemian Grove!) and spend a weekend learning new music, rehearsing, and participating in workshops. It was wonderful, in all senses of the word. As someone who grew up at a girls' school singing in girl choirs, I felt so completely at home watching these talented and enthusiastic young women sing. And I was so overwhelmed and proud to be their composer—and a woman composer among young women. I tried to inspired them to compose their own works one day (see photo above—one student has already written her own remarkable choir piece, which her choir performed while there!), but more than that, I wanted them to see that the world is theirs if they aren't afraid to express themselves and look beyond whatever boxes society wants to build for them. In part, the proximity to Bohemian Grove made me want to rant: LOOK! OVER THERE! The most powerful men in the world are TERRIFIED of you! The patriarchy has spent thousands of years LITERALLY BURNING TO DEATH women who dare to express themselves and work together and fulfill their potential. They are so scared of you, they have banned you from their ritual costume parties; why else would they do so if you weren't full of such power and potential? They don't want you to rock the boat. ROCK. THE. BOAT. ROCK IT.

I tried to say some of this in a speech toward the end of the weekend, but I got emotional and I'm not sure it came out right.

Nevertheless, here are the videos from the final performance of the Lola Ridge songs, after only a few hours total of rehearsal. The titles above link to the pages on this website where you can download the score (for free!).

Shadows over a cradle...


It's strange about stars...

Different kinds of shadows

*     *     *

Coincidentally, just after I got home, my pre-ordered copy of a new (and the first ever) Lola Ridge biography arrived in the mail: Anything That Burns You: A Portrait of Lola Ridge, Radical Poet, written by Terese Svoboda. It is meticulously researched (over 150 pages of footnotes and bibliography!), and so far a fascinating exploration of a feminist leftist revolutionary whose voice was so ahead of her time—and most importantly, it's a great read. Pick it up:

Saturday, January 30, 2016

My chickenshit Bohemian Grove adventure

I am writing from the Volti Choral Institute, where about 60 absolutely lovely and lovely-voiced Californian teenaged women are singing my three Lola Ridge pieces (they've already made me tear up in rehearsal). I'll post some video from the camp in due course, hopefully, but I have to document something very important first.

Shortly after I arrived, I was discussing with Barbara, the Executive Director of Volti, what I might do to occupy my time this afternoon, when the girls were taking workshops and classes unrelated to my compositions. "I guess I'll just explore the area."
"Have you heard of the Bohemian Club?"
"Is that ... you mean like Bohemian Grove?"
"Yes, Bohemian Grove is right here."


Sure enough, I looked at a map.

Oh my GOD. OH MY GOD. I have made jokes about going to Bohemian Grove for over a decade, probably ever since I read Jon Ronson's Them. And now I was sitting less than ten miles away from the actual site, and I had no idea. I didn't even twig when I saw that the address of the CYO Retreat was on "Bohemian Highway." I am on the same street as Bohemian Grove.

So just a few hours ago, after lunch, I jumped in my bright red Mazda rental car and set off down the road.

After a few miles, I turned right onto Bohemian Avenue. Toward the end of Bohemian Avenue, I suddenly saw the low barbed wire fence that I had read in Alex Jones's (I know) account of infiltrating Bohemian Grove back in 2003. I had to pull over, I was so excited. There were No Trespassing signs every few feet, and just past the fence was the moat I had also read about.

I got back into my car and drove a little further. Through the trees on my right, I could see kind of a clearing, the sort of place where people or employees might park their cars for a Midsummer Encampment, perhaps.

And then ... OMG OMG OMG the entrance! The gate was open! But ... there were signs on either side about prosecuting trespassers.

As I stood in the middle of the small road taking a picture of the open pathway to Moloch, a white truck pulled over about 100 feet behind me on the road. I looked back and nonchalantly got back in my car. They didn't move. I had no idea if they were suspicious residents, security of some kind, or perhaps even just a curiosity seeker like myself. Nevertheless, I turned the corner and drove away while I thought about my options.

I was totally unprepared for this endeavor. In my head, a serious venture into Bohemian Grove requires preparation. For a start, I don't look like I belong there because I do not in any way, shape, or form resemble a moneyed old white man. I guess I could maybe pretend to be a deferential female food service employee, but not at this time of year, probably.

Moreover, it was the middle of the day, a very sunny day, and my rental car is bright red. I mean, Barbara actually commented when she saw it a couple of days ago that it was the brightest red car she has ever seen. It's not exactly built for stealth or blending. And it's a Mazda 2, not exactly the car of someone who belongs at Bohemian Grove (although, again, perhaps an acceptable food service drudgeon vehicle).

Thirdly, let's say I was arrested. There were about 60 young women back at the camp who are apparently quite interested in my insights—some of them were even full-blown excited to talk to me about composing. It wouldn't be very nice of me to get myself arrested and leave them in the lurch.

And what then? I don't have a criminal defense attorney. I could be injured or even killed by an over-zealous police or security force. I'd have to ask Matt to bail me out of a small town jail. I mean, it would be messy, and possibly even dangerous.

I thought about all this as I drove around the block and found myself with my car parked once again at the gates of Bohemian Grove, this time with no mysterious white truck behind me. I got out of the car again, and stood with my toe right at the border of the property.

I took this picture.

And I got back in my car, and decided, today is not the day I see the Moloch statue in the flesh, so to speak. Another day, but not today.

Instead I drove back to Occidental, and explored the overpriced craft stores there. I was sorely tempted to buy this tchotchke, but I resisted.

Next time, Moloch, next time.

P.S. If you have no idea what I am talking about with all this, here, watch this, if you can stomach it:

Friday, January 29, 2016

Just me, the rental car, and Big Basin Redwoods State Park

This break in your regularly scheduled updates about the Hannah and my career was brought to you by a schedule snafu which gave me a few extra days to spend in the Bay Area by myself while Matt flew back to snowy Philadelphia to attend to work matters. Although I had a few very kind offers of couches to crash on, I was surprised to find myself craving solitude, and uninterrupted greenness, and frugality. "I just want to drive into a forest," I told Matt. He raised his eyebrows and laughed. "I can't believe how much you hate people."

I mean, pretty much.

So after dropping Matt off at the airport, I picked up two days' worth of supplies at Target (sourdough bread, cream cheese, snap peas, canned coffee, bananas, beef jerky, a lighter, and a $4 pillow), and like some kind of hippy, I pointed my rented red Mazda 2 hatchback at the hills west of San Jose, without even bothering to make a reservation. Basically, a mini solo replay of our nationwide 2012 Roadtrop but without any planning or equipment or a Dodge Magnum.

The first state park I reached, Henry Cowell Redwoods, looked beautiful and green and sunny, but I was turned away by the ranger at the entrance because their campsites had closed for the "winter." LOL IT IS 65 DEGREES. "Yeah, it is nice up here," agreed the ranger, but closed is closed. All I could think of was poor Matt struggling through two feet of snow in our backyard back home, and also that time we camped at Sequoia National Park when it was 18 degrees Fahrenheit and actively snowing. Instead, the ranger directed me to a park with year-round camping less than 20 miles away: Big Basin Redwoods.

I passed through the ludicrously quaint Boulder Creek, which appears to be a frontier-themed town run by granola hippies but still littered with sad alcoholics left over from the Gold Rush. Also Jonathan Franzen apparently lives there, eww. About five miles up the hill, once the road passes the Taungpulu Kaba-Aye Buddhist Monastery, cellphone reception cuts out. And then the old redwoods start appearing.

The closest thing I've ever had to a religious experience was seeing the redwood trees in Sequoia National Park back in 2012, so I was very happy to be in their presence again. If there is such a thing as a soul, I could be convinced by redwood trees that plants have them too (and I would question the hierarchical organization of souls proposed by Jainism as an artificial way to make our human conscience comfortable with the fact that life necessarily feeds on life). I won't say that all my stress and tension disappeared, but I was grinning when I pulled up to the headquarters.

Camping was $35 per night, which is a lot cheaper than any hotel around here, although if you think about it, that's over $1000 per month, or nearly as much rent as our tenant was paying to live in our two-bedroom house in Downingtown. Or twice as much rent as we were paying for a one-bedroom apartment in Harrisburg ten years ago. For sleeping in a tent (or car).

Nice yard, though.

Wrinkle: despite the giant quantities of wood lying around, gathering of any firewood is prohibited at the park because they want to preserve forest floor litter. Bundles of firewood were available at park HQ for the grossly inflated price of $10.50, but I didn't feel like driving 10 miles back to Boulder Creek right away, so I paid out. Second wrinkle: the bundle of firewood I purchased turned out to be slightly damp (I guess it was the rains last weekend) and wouldn't catch easily, and kindling counts as firewood and is covered by the ban. So I ended up having to drive back to Boulder Creek anyway that afternoon to buy fire starters. I also grabbed a few handwarmers because as it turned out, Big Basin was higher up and therefore significantly colder than Henry Cowell, the park that didn't allow winter camping. Camping is always a little more expensive than you expect.

When I returned to my campsite, another car with a trio of campers had pulled into the site next to mine. We did that thing that campers at government parks do, where we ignore each other and pretend that we're each here in complete solitude, and try not to get too annoyed that there are visible people nearby.

Pretty soon, it got so dark under the towering redwoods, it was pretty easy to imagine I was completely alone with my fire and my cheese-and-bread dinner.

Around 6PM, this dark peaceful silence was interrupted very suddenly by terrifying shouts and running sounds coming from my neighbors that scared the everloving shit out of me. My suppositions were, in order:
  1. My neighbors are some kind of thrill-killers, and they are charging at my camp to slice me up with a machete, rape me, and leave me in a shallow grave in the park somewhere.
  2. Blair Witch.
  3. A mountain lion or bear is eating my neighbors, and I am next on the menu.
  4. Raccoons are stealing their food.

Surprise! Number 4 was correct. This did not really help my heart, which was thumping so hard I could hear it in my ears, but at least I wasn't about to die. The raccoons soon appeared in my campsite, and although I lunged at them, they were highly disdainful of my efforts to keep them away. Luckily my dinner was finished and my food all locked up in the bear safe, so they soon went on their way. I tried to take some video of them, but it was SO dark, all you can see is the suggestion of their eyes gleaming in my headlamp.

My neighbors told me they got away with a whole bag of chips. But at least they weren't mountain lions.

I crawled into the back seat of the Mazda not long afterward because I had a serious case of the willies after all the yelling - not an ideal solo campfire demeanor. I had no reading materials on my phone and no reception, so I spent about an hour reorganizing my data (SIX GIGS OF APP CACHE!? No wonder my phone is full. Fixed!) before dropping into a fitful, slightly cold and cramped sleep.

Dawn broke. Hike time! I had picked out the Sequoia Trail from the park map, and after breakfast of snap peas and banana and cream cheese bread rolls, I threw some jerky in my pocket, grabbed some water, and set off. Not far along, the sound of water rushing led me to the Sempervirens Falls:

I continued past Slippery Rock, where rounded holes in the stone were used as mortars by women of the Ohlone tribe, and steam rose constantly wherever the sunlight touched. At some point deep in the woods, it suddenly occurred to me that I hadn't seen another human being on the entire hike, and without cellphone reception, I was pretty fucked if I accidentally antagonized a rattlesnake or mountain lion, or fell and broke my ankle. But I survived.

The trail took me past the park headquarters, where I took a detour to walk the short Redwood Loop, where you can see many of the oldest trees in the park, like the 2000-year-old Father of the Forest, and Chimney Tree, a redwood that is completely hollow from bottom to top. The living parts of redwoods are in a ring around the dead heartwood, so their insides can completely disintegrate from fire and rot and the tree can continue standing and growing.

After my hike, I drove into Boulder Creek for the last time, to grab some cheaper, better firewood, and a couple of sausages to roast. The campsite next to me was empty, and I finally felt like I was hitting my woman-of-the-woods stride. I stayed up late just staring at the crackling fire, and listening to nighthawks and whip-poor-wills. The sausages were goddamn delicious.

Sadly, the next day I had to return to civilization to wash the stench of campfire and jerky off before the Volti Choral Institute. Still I felt a lot better for my solo forest trip. In another life, I think I would have made a pretty happy park ranger.

I didn't think about my opera or the theater at all.