on the importance of space

Bringing our home with us wherever we go, even Yellowstone National Park

Bringing our home with us wherever we go, even Yellowstone National Park

We have lived in just over 100 square feet, together with our dog and two big instruments, for the last 11 months. Our home-on-wheels was made in 1959, 28 years before we were born. It doesn’t have automatic leveling jacks, control panels, slide-outs, battery packs or even a water heater like the new RV’s. But it is our space. With its warm wooden walls, craftsmanship that has proved strong over almost 60 years, curved aluminum body and a coziness that makes you feel safe, our trailer has allowed us to be home no matter where we are. I had never understood or felt the importance of having one’s own space – no matter the size – until this tour. A space where I can let all consideration of others’ opinions fall away; a space where I can cry without fear of making someone else uncomfortable; a space where I can leave my dirty t-shirt on the floor, or keep everything clean and tidy.

When it is raining and we are dry, or it is cold outside and we are warm, I am thankful for our space. When I am thirsty and we have water to drink, or I am hungry and we can take food from our well-stocked pantry and cook a warm meal, I am thankful for our space. This appreciation for some of the more basic elements of life is an unexpected gift from our year on the road.

Our project is called Music in Familiar Spaces. We are constantly thinking about spaces, spaces in which to bring classical music. In what kind of spaces do people feel comfortable, at ease to perhaps try something new? What kind of spaces create communities and welcome people from all walks of life? In what kind of space can a solo cello be heard by 100+ people? Is the space beautiful, somewhere pleasant in which to spend a couple of hours?  

Our camping spot in the Badlands, South Dakota

Our camping spot in the Badlands, South Dakota

This last month Steuart and I have had the opportunity to visit some amazing spaces, some made by man, others by God. On our way from Iowa to the west coast we stopped in the Badlands in South Dakota.  We were able to find a free camping spot on some public land right on the edge of the Badlands National Park.  It was stunningly beautiful and epic and terrifying. I felt uneasy for the first couple of days, my eyes not able to adjust to vastness of space, my mind not being able to comprehend this totally alien landscape. We had been listening to John Steinbeck’s Travels with Charlie on audiobook and had kept in mind what he recounted from his visit:

I was not prepared for the Bad Lands. They deserve this name. They are like the work of an evil child. Such a place the Fallen Angels might have built as a spite to Heaven, dry and sharp, desolate and dangerous, and for me filled with foreboding . . . And then the late afternoon changed everything. As the sun angled, the buttes and coulees, the cliffs and sculptured hills and ravines lost their burned and dreadful look and glowed with yellow and rich browns and a hundred variations of red and silver gray, all picked out by streaks of coal black.
It was so beautiful that I stopped near a thicket of dwarfed and wind-warped cedars and junipers, and once stopped I was caught, trapped in color and dazzled by the clarity of the light. Against the descending sun the battlements were dark and clean-lined, while to the east, where the uninhibited light poured slantwise, the strange landscape shouted with color.
— John Steinbeck

There were many passages in Steinbeck’s telling of his cross-country journey with his dog that resonated so deeply with our experience, almost 60 years later. This was no exception.

The long horn sheep grazing just next to our trailer

The long horn sheep grazing just next to our trailer

Eating dinner overlooking the sheep on the clifts

Eating dinner overlooking the sheep on the clifts

After spending 4 glorious (totally off-grid) nights in the Badlands we headed to Wyoming. We were invited to a small city in the middle of the state called Lander by a woman I had met on a plane last fall. She was excited about our project and thought that her community in Lander would be too. That community was one of the most special we have ever encountered. Coincidentally, there was another Oberlin cellist (originally from Lander) playing a glow-in-the-dark concert two nights before Steuart’s Bach & Beer! Despite an entire week of great live music – including Lake Street Dive! - the residents of Lander showed up in full force to the Music in Familiar Spaces concert at the Lander Brewery!

The backyard of our wonderful hosts in Lander, Wyoming!

The backyard of our wonderful hosts in Lander, Wyoming!

Two Oberlin cellists meet in Lander, Wyoming

Two Oberlin cellists meet in Lander, Wyoming

From Lander we headed north up through Yellowstone National Park! We were warned that campgrounds in the park fill up by 9am (the first-come-first-serve ones) and a fellow traveler recommended a campground just outside the gates where we found a great spot (see photo at the beginning of this post)! The next day we met some very dear friends in the park who come to the area every year from the Netherlands! We were so grateful that our visits could overlap and we had the most special reunion.

Our time in Yellowstone was made even more special by the occasion of our seventh wedding anniversary! We celebrated with a horseback ride through some Montana mountains. It was spectacular.  

A very special reunion with friends from the Netherlands in Yellowstone!

A very special reunion with friends from the Netherlands in Yellowstone!

An unforgettable horseback ride through the mountains in Montana

An unforgettable horseback ride through the mountains in Montana

From Montana we headed to our next stop on the tour: Seattle. With the help of a Seattle Times feature article, the Bach & Beer concert was packed, totally packed. I think we shocked the brewery a bit – who knew a cellist would bring so many people? – but they handled it like the pros they are, bringing in picnic tables from outside for more seating and serving beer as fast as they could pour it.

The moment it hit us: "We've made it to the West Coast"!

The moment it hit us: "We've made it to the West Coast"!

Those who didn't find a seat inside stayed to listen through the window

Those who didn't find a seat inside stayed to listen through the window

The brewer at Machine House Brewery in Seattle talks to the audience about his English-style ales

The brewer at Machine House Brewery in Seattle talks to the audience about his English-style ales

The next day we drove down to Portland, thankfully just a short 3.5 hour drive (we drive slowly…). Despite only having a few days in the city, we fell in love with it. Maybe it was the adorable neighborhood where we were staying and our sweet hosts, maybe it was the incredible food trucks (literally everything we ate was amazing), maybe it was the friendly people saying “hello” to us on the street, or the dog-friendly spaces. I’m sure the concert had something to do with it too: it was perfect. The brewery Baerlic Brewing, was a perfect collaborator, it was packed, but not too packed, the space was cool, the beer was great and the audience was awesome! I’m not sure we’ve ever had so many musicians in the audience either, which made us feel totally welcome.

The two owners and brewers at Baerlic Brewing shared with the audience how they are adapting traditional styles to the modern taste. The third beer on offer was called "Old Blood & Guts", and went perfectly with Bach's Suite no. 4

The two owners and brewers at Baerlic Brewing shared with the audience how they are adapting traditional styles to the modern taste. The third beer on offer was called "Old Blood & Guts", and went perfectly with Bach's Suite no. 4

our niece and nephew!

our niece and nephew!

It would have been hard to leave Portland were we not going to visit family next! But we had a super cute niece and nephew to look forward to hugging in Eugene, so we packed up and hit the road. We’re in Eugene for a week now, spending time with family and catching up on some work (like the blog!). From here we head down the California coast. At the moment we’re planning the last concerts of the tour (WHAT?!). If you’re in Arizona, New Mexico or Colorado and would like to help, please be in touch