May 6, 2009
The scene unfolds. I’m standing out on the poop deck and fumbling with my bird book just after daybreak. The coffee mug in the other hand isn’t helping matters much as I attempt to flip pages from "warblers" to something with a pure-white breast and a more prominent beak. So naturally, the coffee spills and the book, like the albatross it has become, takes wing.
The week previous had been all about patience and waiting first for the new Dylan album to arrive, then for the impending National Geographic press conference concerning the long missing DNA of Everett Ruess, and finally for the Kentucky Derby.
Dylan’s latest, "Together Through Life," proved to be not much more than expected. More brilliantly crafted songs. More lyrical profundities, this time penned in collaboration with Robert Hunter. More gravely, raspy, wryly phrased vocal deliveries washing over the right brain: "I’ve been listening to Billy Joe Shaver and I’m reading James Joyce. Some people, they tell me I’ve got the blood of the land in my voice." We are lucky to be alive in his time.
The press conference underwhelmed, as most followers of the National Geographic Adventure magazine storyline had assumed it would. As to whether the remains discovered in a crevice gravesite on Comb Ridge had proven to be those of long-missing Everett Ruess, "The DNA evidence is irrefutable," according to scientists from the University of Colorado.
The pieced-together skull fragments had already been shown to match up perfectly with old photos taken of Everett by famed photographer Dorothea Lange when Ruess stayed for a spell with her and her husband, painter Maynard Dixon, in San Francisco prior to his final trip to the desert Southwest.
Remaining questions, such as why he headed east when his final letter home stated he would journey to Lees Ferry, southwest of his last known campsite, were not addressed. Nor was the conundrum of the burros.
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The two pack animals that accompanied him out southward out of the town of Escalante in November 1934 were found by the search party the following spring. How he came to possess the two that were with him at the time of his death is only the latest mystery in the now 75-year saga.
NGA magazine’s take on this particular perplexity is that the burros found in "the desert," as Escalante locals have long referred to the canyon country to their south, were discovered well before the search party headed south. The implication being that the burros Everett had with him at Comb Ridge were the same ones he’d had with him all along. How he would have fed and watered them along the way in that country is anybody’s guess.
I have a feeling another trip to Comb Ridge is in the works, this time a bit farther south, toward Chinle Wash. It’ll be another chance to share a swig with the lad. It sounds like he could sure use one.
Which brings us to the Kentucky Derby, the old run for the roses held annually down at Churchill Downs in the quaint burg of "Looavull" the first Saturday of May. There’s usually not all that much to do preparation-wise in order to be totally up to speed for "playing the ponies."
Not to say the few chores that are part and parcel to the ritual aren’t important. One must have in possession a list of the 20 three-year-olds set to leave the gate, of course. However, this year, with a "scratch" or two surfacing each day prior to the "draw," and with even the pre-race favorite "I Want Revenge" going down early on the day of the race, the process got a bit more complex.
For some reason, there were no lyric-sheet printouts of "My Old Kentucky Home" this time around. My own take is that this outfit will do almost anything so as not to be burdened by the sound of my voice in song. And as last year, the new recipe mint juleps proved a perfect prelude to the race itself.
So, when all was said and done, 19 colts and geldings had lugged their assigned 126 pounds around the track in their first-ever go at a mile and a quarter. And when 50-1 long shot "Mine That Bird" came from way, way, way back and "closed in a rush" (as Bukowski liked to say) to win going away, we railbirds went nuts.
Meanwhile, back on the poop deck, the still unidentified bird is being harassed by the resident canines who, it would seem, would rather bark than eat. The larger one, a baritone of sorts, had joined a trio of miniature tenors in what was either a rather disagreeable "Il mio tesoro intanto " from Mozart’s Don Giovanni or their interpretation of the Dylan album.
Jay Meehan is a culture junkie and a free-lance writer with a background in commercial and community radio, among other pursuits. He has been a columnist and feature writer for various Park City publications going back to 1973.