The Cover Comes Off!

It’s June, the Chateau has been well protected all winter from the elements, and it’s longing to see the sun. So, this must come off:


Remember those Taut Line Hitch knots I used to secure the cover with ropes? And then we burned the ends of the ropes to create a hard, splayed end that will not easily slip out of the knot. That really works. It took patient fingerwork to undo all of the knots.


The next step was to unzip each panel.

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Just like it was when my mom and I had put the cover on…  It was a windy day when we took it off.

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I got to climb up onto the roof again.

  IMG_2415    IMG_2420 IMG_2421   I grabbed the back of the cover, tugged it up onto the roof, and walked it across to the front. Then I let it down piece by piece over the front cab.

The next challenge was to get it into this box.


We discovered that some new neighbors had moved in underneath the cover… Time to evacuate.



Here’s my mom starting to stretch the entire thing out on the ground.

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Like a sail, each panel flap collected the wind as we folded them over one by one.

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And with some pushing and stuffing and sitting on top of it…


…the cover got rolled up into the outer bag, and fit snugly inside its box.     



There are two things you can do with an RV in the wintertime. You can drive it south, spend the winter there and avoid snow and ice altogether. Or, if your RV stays up north, you can put it into storage. It’s not a good idea to drive it around in winter weather for many reasons.

So I’m storing mine for the cold months here in New Jersey. It’s at KADCO Camping Supplies & Service, and Ken showed me how to do a couple of things.

Preparing an RV for northern winter weather is called “winterizing.” There are many ways people winterize their RV’s, but here are the basics: You need to flush out the plumbing — make sure no objects or water is left in there — so the pipes don’t freeze and break. You also need to remove your coach batteries and store them in a cool dry place so they don’t freeze. And to prevent condensation from doing any damage, you can cover your RV, to keep it safe from snow and rain.

So these are the things I did. Ken did the pipes for me because that takes special machinery and plumbing experience.

Winterizing Part I, The Coach Batteries

The coach batteries are different from the engine battery. They power the ceiling lights and little 12-volt things. Some RV’s just have one coach battery but mine has two, and they are beneath the stairs:


So remove the connectors that hold them in place, first one


then the other


then lug out your batteries


(they’re heavy but luggable) and cart them home for safekeeping.

Winterizing Part II, The Cover

My mom helped me with this one.



That’s what it’s supposed to look like when it’s on. Did mine end up like that? Read on to find out…

Here’s the Chateau parked at KADCO with all the other RV’s. Only a handful of them had covers, mostly the travel trailers. You can see the sun guard in the windshield of the neighboring Class A.


So how to get the contents of this box


up and over my RV? The directions seemed doable. Unfurl, identify front and back, climb the ladder while carrying the cover, clamber around on the roof, attach the ladder cap (which protects the inside of the cover from the ladder…) and throw the cover over the front, sides, and back. Then secure with rope and knots. This cover fits 24′-26′ Class C’s, and mine is a 24-foot so I knew there would be a little extra room.


IMG_2090IMG_2091There’s the unfurling process.

IMG_2099Very helpful that they labelled that.

We tied a rope around it to make it easier for me to carry it up the ladder, and we unzipped the panels:


But first I had to put the ladder cap on. It really does look like a baseball cap, when it’s on right.

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I finally got to use the ladder! All this time I thought it was reserved for air conditioning repairpersons. (RV air conditioners are on the roof.) Then, I dragged the cover to the front and tossed the front and sides over.

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Somehow, amid a lot of yelling back and forth… pulling this side and letting out slack on that side… reaffixing the ladder cap… pulling this corner to that corner… and walking to and fro over the roof… it got to look like this:

IMG_2101and then we had to zip the side panels (there are ropes attached to the zippers so you can reach them).

IMG_2103I walked around the whole RV and took a video, which you can see here.

You’re not actually supposed to do this on a windy day. But at least it was sunny out.

Now, the next step was to secure the cover with ropes running underneath from one bottom edge to the other. I wanted a secure knot, so Ken showed me the Taut Line Hitch,

and I did that for each of them.

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The final step: burning the frayed ends of each rope to stop the fraying!

Before IMG_2108 After IMG_2109

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Not bad for the first time!

IMG_2115Sleep tight, Chateau! See you in the spring!

Mount St. Helens, Washington State

Mount St. Helens is an active volcano. It last erupted for nine hours in 1980.

From “Nearly 150 square miles of forest was blown over or left dead and standing.

At the same time a mushroom-shaped column of ash rose thousands of feet skyward and drifted downwind, turning day into night as dark, gray ash fell over eastern Washington and beyond. Wet, cement-like slurries of rock and mud scoured all sides of the volcano. Searing flows of pumice poured from the crater. The eruption lasted 9 hours, but Mount St. Helens and the surrounding landscape were dramatically changed within moments.

A vast, gray landscape lay where once the forested slopes of Mount St. Helens grew. In 1982 the President and Congress created the 110,000-acre National Volcanic Monument for research, recreation, and education. Inside the Monument, the environment is left to respond naturally to the disturbance.”

Here is the wide, gaping mouth of the mountain today.

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The remains of pine trees once tall and majestic:

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The scenery now is a story of life re-emerging from destruction, color re-spotting a dry and barren landscape.

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And you can find beauty in the texture of the rock.

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Here’s David, my hiking partner for the day.

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This is the trail we hiked:


And here are some little friends we met in the parking lot.

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That’s a grouse. They make very distinct sounds.


People here are very protective of the area’s vegetation, which is growing back at the rate of the tortoise, not the hare. It is very important not to step on it. We were often admonished to “Stay on the path!” Walking off the path… sometimes you can easily see the vegetation and step around it, but sometimes it is a soft, icy green color that blends right in with the surrounding pebbles — so yes, it is safer to “stay on the path.”

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Driving to the mountain, I loved the different layers and shades of color on these pines. You can see tinges of blue atop furls of spring green, and the deep greens hidden below.



The volcanic landscape.

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The Destination: Jim Pepper Fest

Here’s what it all came down to.

Thanks to my cousin Greg Flynn for taking this video. 🙂

I set out for this cross-country trip on August 31st, and needed to be in Portland, Oregon by September 13th. That was the goal. I wanted to play in the Jim Pepper Native Arts Festival, to pay tribute to one of my musical heroes, and, well, just to get there.

Jim Pepper, or Flying Eagle, was a Native American jazz saxophonist from Portland. He is a hero there and is also well respected in Europe and among the Native community. There is a 1969 Pepper recording called “Witchi Tai To” — if you know me, you’ve probably heard me talk about it. There’s something about that song. I could listen to it all day (and I have). So I played it in the festival.

Having stopped and spent time in all these places along the way, I was cutting it close as I approached Portland. Had to race the RV through Idaho and down through Washington State. I was supposed to play in an afternoon session of the festival, but I had to call and tell them I wasn’t going to make it. But I made the evening concert! Pulled into the parking lot at Parkrose High School, changed into my concert clothes, went in and met everyone, and finally got on the Portland piano after this “long, strange trip.”

There was Native American chanting and dancing, a great Native jazz band from New Mexico… they had traveled a long way to be there, like me… and a re-creation of Jim Pepper’s band, playing his music. It was an intense cultural experience and a real honor.

“Witchi Tai To” has been covered many times by many artists. Here are some examples:

Jack Johnson

Oregon (Ralph Towner) (live)

Here is someone doing a pretty cool dance to a remix of the song:

And here is the original:

(There is a chant in the beginning, then the rock song starts at about 0:35)

Here are some photos of us in front of Jim Pepper’s former house — a very spiritual experience to be there. Photos courtesy of festival organizer Sean Cruz. 🙂

Pepper1 Pepper2 Pepper3

Mitchell, South Dakota

In Mitchell I visited the Corn Palace, a monument to an ideal. photo 3-1

I thought it was going to be a museum dedicated to corn, or an all-corn-recipe restaurant, or maybe a whole building made out of corn… But here are some of the views that greet you when you step inside. photo 2photo 5photo 4

Looks like a basketball gymnasium, right?

I thought, Where’s the corn?

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The answer is, Corn is all around us, because it represents friendship between the natives and the white settlers. If you know a bit of settler history, you know there are many stories of natives showing the settlers how to harvest and eat corn, and giving them gifts of corn when they were hungry.

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If you look closely at those images on the walls, you will see they are made entirely of dried blue and yellow ears of corn. And they all depict scenes of whites and natives working together, planting, building, talking, sharing. The Corn Palace is an events center like the PNC Bank Arena (formerly the Garden State Arts Center) or Madison Square Garden. But it is also a touching tribute to human hopes and dreams. I discovered that new murals are designed and constructed each year according to a theme, and this has been going on at the Corn Palace for 125 years!

Corn. It’s not just what’s for dinner.


P.S. This is amazingly good-tasting stuff.

A Little Friendly State Rivalry

When I was in Minnesota I stopped at a folk music festival and heard some great local bands. At one point the announcer said, “I’m very proud to tell you that all the musicians here are from Minnesota. Well… We do have one group from Wisconsin,” he admitted ruefully.

But he brought it back together with, “That’s okay. We have nothing against Wisconsin. They make fabulous cheese.”

And I thought, if there is friction between Minnesota and Wisconsin, what would he say about New Jersey..? Better not tell anyone where I’m from…

And then I remembered a time when that did happen. I went to college in Appleton, Wisconsin and served as editor of the student newspaper. We were invited to a special dinner with Wisconsin political figures and university administrators — I don’t even remember what the dinner was for, but I remember this.

I was sitting at a round table right in front of the podium. Someone was announcing the next speaker. He sung the praises of Wisconsin, and then somehow, New Jersey was brought up in the topic of his introduction. He gave a chuckle and said, “Anything they can do, we can do better!” This was met with appreciative laughter from the audience, including all at my table.

Now I was the only New Jerseyan at the table, probably one of very few people from the East Coast in the entire room. Oh, my young, passionate Jersey blood boiled. How I wanted to stand up and yell something. But I could just sit silently in my ladylike dress and radiate waves of frustration and hope somehow they reached that unsuspecting man.

Later, I found out that the president of the university was also from New Jersey. I’ll always wonder if he felt the same Jersey fire at that moment.


Hymn to the Walmart Parking Lot

Walmart, O Walmart,

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Thou friendly RV neighborhood.

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All that we need, thou suppliest.

24-hour free wifi,

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Fuel for our engine and generator, and to keep our coach battery charged,

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A dumpster

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A post office

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Even pets to play with.

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And should we desire to consort with our fellow travelers,

Thou hast provided binoculars to spy on them

Or websites with groups to join in the hopes that someone in the group is peradventure in this Walmart parking lot.

Even a campground angel visited us,

hawking his wares


urging us to desert our chosen lot for his.

A haven, a school building hallway bustling with students, a quiet birds’ nest tucked away, an inexpensive motel room with lava lamps. Such are the RV meanings of Walmart.

Superior, Montana

It’s a humble town. Much of it looks like this:

photo 5-1photo 3-5photo 1-2(That was a loud and determined dog. Can you see it?)

The Wells Fargo Bank was the newest and shiniest building.

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Superior looks like many other small American towns look — except for its backdrop.
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Most small towns have quiet streets, but this quiet feels different. What is it about very large, still objects that imparts quietness? In the presence of these mountains, or the California redwoods, you sit in the comfortable spaces of your mind where questions dwell, such as “Why do pieces of cars end up in rivers?” You think about telling your problems to the mountain.

Its vast size and stillness impart a sense of dominion over time. In time, your problems will ferment and bubble over and dissolve, but this mountain will stand here giving you its strength and comfort — and there is hope that you will be here too. You will outlive your problems. The mountain reminds you of that.

Superior has evidence of faith and good character:

photo 1photo 3-2(that’s a church and a Masons’ lodge)

but also this:

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Some faces smiled and a few frowned as I walked through their inhabited space.

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I happened upon Superior on a perfect, sunny, late summer’s day. But in the yard of almost every building sat an omen of colder times to come:

photo 4That’s a propane tank.

I have a friend in South Dakota who says he pays $1000 a month for propane to heat his home, in the winter months.

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Lead, South Dakota

I did one thing in Lead.

I had parked the RV in an empty lot at one end of town, intending to walk the length of the main street and experience a throwback to history. First I walked by a video rental store — nope. Next, I came to this:

operahouse(photo courtesy

It looked like a run-down opera house. Upon opening the door, I could tell they were closed, but I went in anyway… Seeing no one, I thought I would have a private look around. I got all the way to the stage before guilt set in and I turned to leave, and heard an expletive. “Aw, you f—ers.” A man was bent over something in his office and did not know I was there.

This is him:

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His name is Dennes.

A moment passed as I debated whether to hide and wait for him to leave. But, I stayed in plain sight until he caught sight of me. He was surprised and of course wanted to know who I was and what I was doing there. I told the truth: that I was a tourist, and a musician, and the door was open. “Well, we’re closed,” he snapped, but I was undeterred. “Can’t I just take a quick look around? I’ve come from a distance.”

“They all do…” he said doubtfully. But something made him drop what he was doing and blow off his board meeting upstairs, and take me around the entire building for a couple of hours, showing me everything, explaining the history and current restoration project of the plasterwork and molding

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and ceiling beams

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and the artifacts

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and the electric light board backstage

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and what used to be the underground swimming pool

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and Phoebe Apperson Hearst, philanthropist and champion of education and quality of community life, whose brainchild this whole place was

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and what it was like in its heyday

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and the fire that gutted the place in 1984.

And finally, I asked Dennes if I could play the pianos in the lobby. One was a full step out of tune, so I moved to the other one…

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We moved the posters and things off of it and I played some ragtime and boogie-woogie and blues, to match the era. That piano had a special life and energy to it. It was a joy to play. I saw the look of rapture on Dennes’ face as he listened. He said that they had been planning to donate that piano — but after hearing me, he would personally see to it that it was moved back to the stage, and I could play a concert there.

It’s a new dream!

Mankato, Minnesota

Mankato’s neighborhoods are as small-town America as can be, with traditional, comfortable houses and sweet yards — just blocks from a huge concrete highway overpass to the northwest and a sugary landscaped college campus to the southeast.

Downtown, you see square old-style brick buildings, revealing the city’s past. One with large faded letters proclaimed “GROCER,” but a small, cosmopolitan, elegant sign reading “Daniel Dinsmore, Photography” was hung below. I saw modernity pasted on top of history from street to street.

I love to feel the tension, the push and pull of small-town America which must move forward even as lateral forces slow the tide of progress.

Mankato is not technically a small town. It has 40,000 people. But it seems to me that the city grew up around the heart of those little neighborhoods.