1999-12-99 Sailing to Arizona


"Is this anything like Sailing?"

JRobert, James Billie, John McEuen, & the Shackdaddys
This thing has wings!


06.12.99-Sailing to Arizona

"Is flying anything like sailing?" I asked the captain & co-pilot as I peeked into the cockpit of the Gulfstream III bulging with "Gyro Gearloose" looking electronic instruments… I consider anything fancier than a basic Raython depth gauge or an autopilot for my one-armed tiller, pretty damned extravagant.

"Yeh, if you don't mind pointing into a 21 knot wind at 43,000 ft. That really bites into our fuel when we're trying to maintain 800 knots."

I love it! …because this craft has no less than 3 GPS systems…one just to reference the two 27" tv monitors in the passenger lounge that scroll among four screens beginning with "Seminole Tribe of Florida" corporate emblem, switching to "Elevation- 43, 690 Waypoint Destination-431 miles ETA-30 minutes"…Then, "You are here!" …and a huge N. American Continental map folds out with a fat arrow just about to 'pop' the Florida peninsula right at the mouth of Tampa Bay.

Finally, my favorite screen appears. Topographical details balloon up, clear as a crystal ball…mainly green colored Florida flat lands with blue squiggles & puddles representing water bodies. I swear I could point out the exact location of Grandaddy Dooley's ferryboat landing at the mouth of Wild Cat Creek on the Little Manatee River!

By the time I scrambled back to my passenger window to check the accuracy of the ship's navigational indicators, we were sailing over the Skyway Bridge looking down on freightors & tankers lumbering under wing. The white wakes of powerboats zipping around the coast appeared as microscopic photos from an electron accelerator…or maybe sperm zipping around the evidence of the Florida peninsula.

"I wanta ride Jim Billie's airplane!

I wanta play in Jim Billie's band…

Sail the World up in the 'Jet stream'

I don't care if we ever land!"

I'm fiddling away at exactly 2 1/2 hours from Window Rock, Arizona where we'll be landing at 5, 679 ft Elevation.

"How many songs does it take to sing our way across Texas?" I wonder aloud…but there were so few, nobody kept count.

The chart on the bulkhead was starting to light up with shades of yellow, orange, red, and jigsaw shapes of terrain that definitely indicated we were a world away from Sanibel Flats!

When we landed, we were greeted by the Navajo Chief Speaker Kelsey Begaye and shuttled another hour drive from Window Rock high up into Juniper and Ponderosa country. Our escort, a young Navajo computer student from Dine' College, was giving us the scoop on Navaholand people, politics and gossip…

"Legend says that the huge redrock formation with a picturesque 'window' was created when a huge snake crawled through the rock."

"Our Chief sings and plays guitar too!" He said proudly, "But his gospel and country songs are only heard around his home fires."

Soon the sign "Welcome to Tsaile, NM Population 1,043" appeared. It's pronounced "Sail-ee", by the way, just like the Christopher Cross song…and my mind began to sing…

"Tsaile, takes me away to where I've always dreamed it could be…

Just the wind & a sail to carry me…soon I will be free!"

An audience of Navaho, Pueblo, Hopi, and perhaps a few Arapaho, Commanches, and Zuni were gathered outside the Arts Administration Kiva. Silversmiths, blanket weavers, and kachina doll makers were displaying their crafts. Buffy Saint Marie was the headliner…John McEuen was accompanying Chief Jim Billie… other acts included Red Earth, John Trudell, and Shouting Mountain along with singers, dancers, and storytellers from many Native Nations around the N American continent.

While I was warming my fiddle in the silence of the main Kiva…reverberating my strings with the ancient feelings inside this earth church, I was joined in chorus by a young guitarist echoing in the doorway. Soon he was singing a beautiful lyric of his wife and family. Our music was immediately sympathetic, and he invited me to perform a couple tunes on the mainstage. I accepted, and soon Derek Miller, the "Lou Reed of Native Music" was electrifying the people with his modal guitar, compelling verse, and a few complimentary brush strokes from my fiddle. Look out for this young voice to move mountains!

James Billie touched the crowd with stories of his people, land, and critters. Tribute was made to all the Native Americans who served for the United States Armed Forces in Viet Nam…including a Navajo rancher who pinned James with his own Navaho Nation Veteran's Medal.

The timing was perfect when James pointed to an ominous looking black Mesa in the distance & announced we were being invaded by a new "Encounters"…as the "Seminole Air Patrol" Gulfstream III jet circled the horseshoe valley and swooped over the crowd like a screaming eagle! We whipped into "Old Ways Will Survive" and bowed off stage to a tremendous climax of Indian enthusiasm.

We flew to Phoenix to drop John McEuen off with his sundry banjos, fiddles, & sequined River Boat suit…and landed back in the wet jungles of Big Cypress in a matter of hours.

The next morning I was back on "Blue Water" and cruising off Big Marco Pass thinking, "Man, to cruise from 8 knots to 800 knots in one simple leap of imagination…is flying anything like sailing, or is sailing like flying?"

MPEG


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•James Billie & the Shackdaddys

•John McEuen

•Buffy Saint Marie

•John Trudell

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JRobert@JRobert.net JRobert Houghtaling 2016