Late one frigid winter night in 1979 I was driving west to New Mexico on a lark. I just wanted to get away from big cities for a while and roam about alone on some vast, remote wilderness area where no one else would be roaming aside from rare wildlife I hoped to encounter there. I had set sights on the Grulla National Wildlife Refuge near Portales, where I once visited my cousins about a decade earlier in life.
I was feeling good at the time as I had just wrapped up my second year in music school and had neatly aced my most recent performance guitar jury. But it was time for change as I had been living, studying and working in dormitories for two years and I was running out of money to stay in college any longer. I needed to return to the common labor workforce for a couple of years before I could resume university studies. A fast track welding course and a lucky break led to an interview which went well enough to land my first job working as a weldor building and repairing boat docks and ramps on Possum Kingdom Lake. I had a feeling I was going to enjoy being a weldor plying the waters of the lake on the Argo Barge, and I did. It was the most enjoyable common-laborer job of all I ever worked at.
The truck was running well, its heater keeping me comfortably warm and cozy in the cab, so I decided to stop and get supper. I had been flipping between AM and FM radio stations while progressing steadily and smoothly across west Texas where reception was iffy, especially in the 1970s. And as I arrived in Farwell I managed to pick up a strong signal from KDKQ FM out of Borger. Listening to crystal clear FM music while eating burger, fries and shake at a little drive-in joint, my good mood intensified. Wolfing the meal down and resuming my westward journey, the truck was rumbling over railroad tracks straddling the state line in Texico when the DJ announced a new album by an up-and-coming banjo picker.
I cranked up the radio and the title track started. I had never heard anything like it before and had never heard of its composer, either. An utterly amazing new banjo piece played by some youngster named Béla Fleck. That new musical composition indelibly kindled location, tune and artist in my mind. The tune was titled "Crossing The Tracks".
Listening intently, I was stunned by the mastery of the artist in both composition skill and performance of the wonderful musical creation. It sent tingling waves of thrill up and down my spine as it played out on the radio. The French call it frisson. Some call it skin orgasm. No matter the term for the sensation, I knew I would soon be spending some portion of my hard-earned income working as a weldor to buy a copy of that album.
So every now and then, especially when life is changing significantly, I take time to travel west to Farwell again, stop to have a burger supper there, put that first album of Béla Fleck's on the stereo to play as I cross the tracks in Texico, and ponder at whatever changes are happening in life at that moment.
This most recent change in life brought about by prescribed burn turned monsterous wildfire calls for another trip there sometime this coming spring. And this life change has been as interesting and thrilling as any experienced to date. Recent acquisition of a pair of custom creations purchased from an artist in Vilnius, Lithuania have accentuated the thrill and both instruments will be with me on that trip. After making a stop first at a favorite small-town music shop to pick up a nice little tube amp, and at a sprawlmart store next to buy a solar-charged power station to energize them all, I'll make my next journey to New Mexico–with a detour through Texico–where I'll ultimately play them at the burned out homestead, their superb sounds echoing as best they might from charred foothills of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains as I ponder what might happen next in life.
Many thanks to Rapolas Gražys for agreeing to provide these beautiful creations to add to my musical instrument arsenal as it is being rebuilt from scratch after the fire. My apologies, Rapolas, for being so unvideogenic.