It’s one of those afternoons that anywhere else you’d call miserable: low clouds, spitting rain, and a wind that telegraphs through your spine the possibility of snow. I couldn’t care less. I’m sitting on the old wicker rocker on our cabin porch, watching as the mist rises from the tall pines across the river to form clouds a few hundred feet up the draw. Must be snowing up there.
I love the smell of a Montana canyon rain. The parched trees perk up along with my senses; they know an opportunity when they see one. Rain up here is a gift not taken lightly, and the river is singing even more jauntily than usual now that it has company. I’ll have to try transcribing some of these tunes for my cello sometime. It’s funny; I come to the cabin to get away from playing concerts, and all I hear is music of a different sort. Must be a musician’s curse.
There’s no more musical sound than raindrops on a cabin roof, Beethoven notwithstanding. A real resonance there, especially if the place has a few decades on it; tarpaper and old wood marry pretty nicely, and they don’t mind letting you know all about it when it’s raining.
My eyes wander to the river itself. There’s something about watching the clear green water flowing over the rocks that makes my insides untie and warm up a degree or two. I imagine the trout are paying extra attention now in hope of a washed-down hopper or two; the big boys are wondering if maybe a mouse lost his footing on the edge, saving them the trouble of snacking on mere bugs for a few hours.
The cup of coffee in my hands is beginning to cool; time for a refill. Fire needs touching up too; old cabins never have much trouble welcoming a draft, so the stove is almost always malnourished. Good thing there’s a cord or two out back. I don’t want to be gone too long; I might miss some subtle whisper in the play outside. Ah, these old wicker rockers have it over the best of Bloomingdale’s. Fancy upholstery never creaks its approval at your return. I believe the sun’s thinking about a repeat engagement; it’s just shot a glance at the rise across the river. Clouds are in full retreat all of a sudden. Well, not for long; maybe it was just intermission. They’re back again, and even more brooding. I love weather in a canyon. There are no advance notices, and encores depend entirely on the quality of the performance. This one was apparently a bellringer, or maybe it was just the first act.
The cabin is my password to enter another world in myself. It’s my launch pad to a universe that outwardly has little to do with my career, yet it gives me access to a deep well of creativity that keeps me from running dry in my performing life.
I’ve noticed that I have a tremendous tendency to focus on music at the expense of the rest of this whirling world. I think, “I’ve got to fix this lousy bow arm,” “I wonder how his career is doing,” “What the heck did Beethoven mean by that,” “I need a new fourth finger,” and so on. I have a theory that at some point after man stopped worrying about being eaten by saber-toothed tigers he started missing them, so he began making up mental predator substitutes. My predators are things like low fees, bad trills, instrument loans, and intonation. I find them every bit as terrifying as a snarling beast. Did you ever see those movies in science class where they stick pins in amoebas? At first the amoebas bounce right back into shape, but after a while they start to contract into tight little balls: Pavlov’s protozoa. I’ll tell you one thing, tight little balls don’t play Mozart or Beethoven or Brahms very well. Hence my fantasies.
Of course, unless you can retain the active mind of a three-year-old, it’s difficult to create wholly imaginary worlds. I constantly scheme to get more cabin time, fishing trips, and mountain climbs so that I can fill my body’s library with more natural classics; but that’s only part of it. When I’m surrounded by the great outdoors, I start to feel my physical armor melting away, and then some of that wild green stuff can sink into me. The first week or so at the cabin after months of city life, I feel a little like a Teutonic knight in full gear. I need that hard shell to protect me from Boston drivers, but once at the cabin I gradually shed it.
With my supply of mountain memories now fully restocked, I find I have a better perspective on the difficulties of my life as a musician. It’s like a dream where a wall in front of you suddenly transmutes into a door than will open if you can only think the right thought. What’s behind that door is different for everybody, but we all need a password. My password is the cabin.