Sometimes things happen that completely change our life direction. I know this well. If I had not taken a “gap year” in middle age to ride my bicycle through all fifty states almost thirty years ago, none of the wonderful stuff that happened after that would have ever been. One of those things was becoming a father and partly as a result of that I became a bluegrass fan.
When my daughter Juliet was little I took her on bike camping trips every summer. We called it the Julie Tour and I would entertain her with whimsical stories while riding to our destination, whatever it took to encourage a small child to suffer through the agony of riding thirty to fifty miles in the course of a day. As a concession I allowed her to be the boss of the journey. If she wanted to stop at a waterfall we passed along the way, that’s what we did. As long as we could arrive at our destination safely in the end she was in control.
When we left our campsite in the shell of an old redwood tree near Weott in the Avenue of the Giants one morning our destination was Albee Creek, a modest distance to the north. I had already arranged for a hiker/biker campground site there but when we arrived the site was rocky and rather desolate whereas the regular sites across the stream looked much better.
The campground didn’t appear to be very full so I decided to pay for a regular campsite instead. It was a decision that likely changed both my life and my daughter’s. We spent the rest of the day picking blackberries from the lush bushes while watching out for bears that had been spotted the day before. Juliet ate blackberry after blackberry, encouraging me to pick the ones from the higher branches and squeeze them to make sure they were soft and juicy. I’ve never seen a happier kid, purple stains all around her broad smile, and I actually worried that there might be some unknown toxic dose of blackberry for such a little kid.
We feasted on camp stew for dinner and retired to our tent before sunset. About eight o’clock some people showed up to take one of the campsites next to us. They set up pretty quickly and I was a little annoyed to be honest when they brought out instruments and started to play music. Juliet and I were both ready for sleep after an active day.
I’m not a confrontational sort of person so I just listened quietly and hoped we’d get to sleep anyway.
I didn’t get to sleep as I’d intended because they were pretty good musicians and I overheard how much fun they were having by their jam-side conversation. The idea formed in my head that maybe I could have fun like that too.
Less than a month later, I bought a brand new mandolin online even though I had no idea how to play it. I practiced like crazy until I was ready to try my chops at the CBA Father’s Day Festival in Grass Valley. It took a number of years to get comfortable playing with others but by that time both of my kids were having fun going to the festival every year. Juliet learned to play guitar and sang with the other kids at festivals on stage and just hanging out. Ethan learned how to play fiddle and now plays a mean finger style guitar.
None of that would have happened if I hadn’t changed our camp site at Albee Creek. A twist of fate.