After a long and beautiful life on the road, Ottermobile’s life was tragically cut short by road debris the morning of November 25, 2014, just a few short miles from Plymouth Massachusets. Ottermobile was born in 2002 and spent his early years ferrying around the family of a schoolteacher. They provided him with good training for his chosen profession as a tour van by going on a number of long journeys and installing the DVD player which proved so useful in later years. Ottermobile achieved his lifelong dream of joining a band (despite his diminutive stature) when he won a position as Otter Creek’s touring van after fiercely competitive audition process. Ottermoblie proved a worthy candidate, powering Otter Creek through the rugged American landscape for two years of intense touring and carrying the band from sea to shining sea in the course of their journeys. Particularly amazing to those who knew him well was his ability to somehow hold all 10 of Otter Creek's instruments, all of their sound gear, luggage, and five occupants. Always willing to carry any burden for those he loved, Ottermobile even shouldered a backpack for their annual trek out to the Walnut Valley Festival in Winfield Kansas so they could haul all the gear for camp Otter Creek with them. Ottermobile had a special love of his muses and when they weren’t on tour enjoyed ferrying them to and from school, friends, and dance classes.
Ottermobile is preceded in death by Hopper (a 2000 Honda Oddysey that was decommissioned to make way for Ottermobile) and by a Nissan Altima. Survivors include Otter Creek (Peter & Mary Danzig), The Three Muses (Eliza, Kjersten, & Lucy), and their dog Flash, as well as many friends and admirers.
As a final act of love for his family, Ottermobile was able procure a spot in a junkyard near Plymouth Massachusets and provide his beloved Otter Creek and Muses with a little extra cash to help rent a van for their journey back to Salt Lake City. Memorials services are still in planning stages but will be announced as soon as possible. Ottermobile has asked that in lieu of flowers donations be sent to Otter Creek’s new CD project.
Rest in peace dear Ottermoblie. We'll miss you
“Stop fiddling with that or you’ll break it!”
“I fiddled around with it enough that I finally got it to work”
-Kate MacLeod, quoting her father
“Stop fiddling around!” I spent most of my school years in a fog of missed deadlines. I never knew about schedule changes, when my homework was due, or sometimes even what class I was in… I still vividly remember looking up from reading a book and discovering that the kids sitting around me weren’t the ones I had been sitting next to when class started. I must have totally missed a class change! It wasn’t that I didn’t pay attention, it was just that my attention was always drawn to the wrong thing, like a really good book, where I was going hiking after school, or how to construct a robot of myself so life like no one could ever tell if it was me or my robot sitting in that school desk.
I was one of those kids whose pockets, if turned out, could have probably filled a small rucksack. I was terrified of being caught with nothing to do (which was pretty much my view of “appropriate” school behavior) and so had enough materials with me, on the sly, to keep my attention occupied precisely where it shouldn’t have been. I still remember the day I realized that all the desks and tables height was adjusted with Alan screws. Most kids my age didn’t even know what an Alan screw was back then, but my dad was quite the tinkerer and I knew just where I could find the tool I wanted. I spent plenty of time working on a look of decided innocence and mild disinterest when puzzled teachers had to reseat classmates whose desks were now to small or too tall, or call the custodian when a table collapsed because the screw on one leg had suddenly given way. I didn’t view myself as a troublemaker, just a very curious student of the world around me. I couldn’t understand why my teachers valued repetition and sitting still more than imagination and movement.
My interest in music started at the age of four when I saw a performance of a violin concerto on the television at home. My parents traded and bartered to afford the cost of classical training with a family friend who played in the Utah Symphony. There is a VERY specific way to play the violin that has been carefully honed, honored, and cherished over the past 500 years. My instructor initiated me into the world of etudes, exercises, and note reading (with somewhat sporadic success) and I made reasonable if not stellar progress. I was expected to practice a lot. (Often two hours a day or more). As I advanced into more difficult music my teacher prescribed an abacus which I was to use to carefully count the number of times I played a difficult passage
correctly (often 50 or 100 times were ordered). I found the structure stifling and the repetition mind numbing. My sight reading skills negligible, my attention span crumbling, I often turned to the instrument and simply fiddled around, following my dancing thoughts up and down the fingerboard, growling with anger, or laughing with delight. Luckily I was blessed to have one of those rare teachers who could honor imagination and passion as well as rote learning. She always told me that to play music you had to be like a tiger, you had to take a risk and leap at the prey or you stood no chance at getting what you wanted.
I switched to Viola when I was 11. This more introspective instrument was a better fit. As the “poet-philosopher” of the string family its deeper tone and more dreamy nature spoke to me. Still, I found myself wasting my practice time “fiddling around,” making up tunes, trying out tones. I carried my passion for Viola into college, pursuing a double major of Music Composition and Viola Performance, but, as usual, I got involved in too many things and my graduation languished on the periphery of unfinished projects and an overbooked schedule. My composition teacher eventually forced me to make a choice. He advised me to drop one side of my double major and progress on toward graduation. Agonizing on which side of myself to favor, performance or composition, I finally went with the latter, feeling it offered more room for my “fiddling around.”
From the start it should have been clear I was more of a fiddler than a violinist. Naturally curious, I spent hours exploring the sounds the instrument could make. The fiddle is a remarkable canvas for the imagination. An embodiment of paradox, it can both break and heal the soul. Perhaps that’s why so many folks have been frightened or dismissive of the fiddle, it represents something other than business as usual. It refuses to sit silent, or still. A tool of dreamers and prophets it can both create and destroy. It can set the feet of the righteous dancing down the path to hell, stich up a broken heart, or leave one grasping on the edge of epiphany. It caters to those whose attention wanders the roads less traveled and whose feet march to the rhythm of a music only they can hear. As a musical explorer, the fiddle keeps me on the sharp edge of discovery; exploring new sounds and techniques, diving into the deep waters of tradition, or gathering the strands of a new song out of the immense shimmering firmament of notes. The fiddle can stand the strain due not to its rigidity, but because of its flexibility. For a long time fiddling was a secret side affair for me, something I did when I should have been doing something else. Now I realize that everything else was just getting in the way of fiddling.
I got up the other morning to discover that our 60 year old apricot tree had seen its last season, the weight of an early snow had overwhelmed the ailing trunk and the whole tree had tumbled unceremoniously to the ground during the night. Since pretty much anything that can break has been staging a coordinated descent into disrepair at our house, it wasn’t really a huge surprise. I grew up in a home where not everything worked, so I tend to have a lot of patience with bathtubs that take 4 days to drain, hinges that go bad, dishwashers that won’t wash, leaks in the ceiling, and well… just anything broken in general (I might note, oddly enough, that Mary does not seem to greatly appreciate my patience).
The day before was our Salt Lake CD release concert for our new album Shiver Into Spark at Holladay United Church of Christ (HUCC). Normally, on the day of a big concert I have a bit of a routine I like to follow: a quiet morning with a cup of coffee, and a newspaper, then a bit of woodshedding on some of the tough instrumentals, followed by a brief vocal warm up. Later in the day, I’ll go through the whole program with Mary, and show up for the performance in tip top shape. What we hadn’t expected was that our cars were in collusion with everything else that has broken. That morning we discovered our van wouldn’t start. Our other car was immobile due to an electrical problem I was exercising a little too much patience on. However, it was clear that if we wanted to show up to this performance at all, I’d need to be a bit less patient. Mary, who has even less patience than me for this sort of thing had already called a neighbor who is a mechanic and he said he could fix it sometime that weekend. I called my brother, who told me I was welcome to Dad’s old truck but that I’d need to put the spare on it as one of the tires was flat. Sounded fine to me… besides, I had an old broken trailer full of discarded bike parts, odd bits of wire, and some bent stove piping, and a wasp nest I’d been meaning to get rid of once I ran out of patience. A truck sounded like just the thing.
A brother in law gave me a lift out to my brother’s place and we set to work on the tire. Since the truck didn’t appear to come with a jack, we borrowed a high lift jack from his neighbor, and thought things should be a cinch with my brother’s set of pneumatic power tools… However, over the next few hours my usual patience gradually gave way to a mantra of whispered and sometimes grunted words that I think decorum indicates I should not repeat here. The lug nuts had obviously been tightened by some overzealous person armed with a bucket of superglue and the spare tire looked as if it had been entombed with an Egyptian mummy. We called a used tire shop to see if we could buy a couple of tires cheap and were told they had just what we needed and that the bay was empty. We got there 15 minutes later to discover that “empty bay” apparently translated to “there’s only twenty people in front of you.” Following a very patient 2 hour wait, we were surprised when he only charged me $30 dollars instead of the $80 I expected. “What luck!” I thought.
“Only one tire… not so good tire.” He said apologetically in his heavily accented English. Sure enough, it was as bald as Patrick Stewart. Still, it was inflated and meant I was on my way, with a full 30 minutes to spare! I got home, changed and dashed out to load our gear. The universe somehow picked that moment to stage a blizzard. Luckily I had run across a large tarp left over from our tent (which I had recently run out of patience with and discarded due to a large rip, catastrophically failed zipper and a long mosquito filled night) when I was cleaning out the garage a few days before. It was just big enough that all our gear could be wrapped tightly in the bed of the truck and we set off.
We made it to the sound check, out of breath but relatively on time. We had the good luck to be backing up Kristin Erickson (one of our favorite songwriters) for the first half of the show, and were playing tunes from our CD Shiver Into Spark on the second half. Having had no chance to warm up made the whole thing that much more exciting. Hugs all around helped center and calm us down and Kristin loaned me her spare guitar so I wouldn’t have to retune between songs. We had a great sound guy (Bill Green) and the church's music director had hot soup for us in the green room. The concert was warm, intimate and beautiful in a way that only happens when the weather outside is frightful.
When it was over we took our time getting back out into the cold. It had snowed another four inches and was still coming down heavy. I began to worry about getting home in a rear wheel drive pickup with no significant weight in the back and bald tires as well as regret the patience that had left my car (the best one we have for snow) out of commission. Our friend Sterling must have had similar thoughts, as unbeknownst to me he followed us out of the parking lot and down the street, a fact I only discovered when I gave up trying to drive up the .05% grade that lead home. I backed up and turned around, following the path of least resistance towards (and sometimes away from home). The roads were bad enough that the truck wouldn’t go uphill at all, and much to my dismay, I discovered that the windshield wipers had long since lost their rubber blades, and that the fan for the heat and defrost was not working often leaving me unable to see well enough to read the street signs. Adding to my stress was a crowded cab with two muses in the small seats behind the bench, and one muse sitting up front between Mary and I who began loudly worrying about needing to use the bathroom, a worry which continued to increase for all of us as the drive (normally 15 minutes or less) stretched into an hour and a half or more. My usually inexhaustible patience wearing thin, I switched back and forth between irritably explaining that if we pulled into a gas station for a bathroom we weren’t likely to be able to pull out and demanding Mary figure out where in the hell we were since I couldn’t spare attention for anything but the road in front of me. When we finally arrived at home (without any accidents inside or outside the truck) I was pleased to find all our instruments still snug and dry in the bed. All in all, it counts as the most exciting drive I’ve ever taken (even including the time my hood blew off on the freeway!)
Sterling pulled over to talk before he left. “I know you grew up here and know how to drive in this stuff,” he said (mostly I know enough to leave a rear wheel drive pickup with bald tires home when it’s snowing!), “but I wanted to make sure you got home ok. You’ve had a run of bad luck recently."
The phrase “run of bad luck” stuck with me that night as I ran through my mind the list of all the things that had gone wrong recently. It was indeed quite a long list. His words were still running through my mind the next morning when I looked out the back window to discover my beloved apricot tree was gone. It hadn’t crushed the fence though, and hadn’t damaged the outbuilding under it. I had a year’s supply of jam from that tree in the basement, family and friends who help me out in a pinch, a truck to drive, a neighbor who would fix my van, a guardian angel named Sterling, a smart, gorgeous, talented life partner, three beautiful muses, a warm place to sleep, a fantastic gig, a shower that ran, even if it didn’t drain, and people who would come out in a snow storm to listen to my music.
“If that’s a run of bad luck,” I thought, “Bring it on!”
Last weekend we traveled down to the San Rafael to scope out a location for our CD release party. We wanted to get the lay of the land and make sure we could give everyone accurate directions and let everyone know what to expect. We finally settled on the campground by the bridge.
As we set up camp and ate dinner under the giant twisted cottonwood trees, we breathed in the clean desert air and drank in the beauty of the surrounding cliffs in the evening sun. It was deeply satisfying. We saw only one other vehicle that evening. From where we were camped we could just hear the faint running of water from the San Rafael River.
After dinner we went down to the river with the Muses (our daughters, Eliza, Kjersten, and Lucy). Its waters were still muddy from a rainstorm a day or two earlier and the kids remarked that it looked like chocolate milk. They spent an hour or so wading in the lukewarm water, slipping over rocks and squelching the rich mud between their toes while Mary and I reminisced on our many trips down here while we were dating.
Back at the campsite we sat and talked and sang as the sun slipped lower and the evening sky began its colorful pilgrimage toward the moon and stars. We sat facing Bottleneck peak. As dusk turned into a rich luminescent darkness I pulled out the mandolin and sang Utah Slim’s song Sister San Rafael. It was a moment I’d like to have packaged and put away to pull out years from now and breathe in its beauty and stillness.
The front cover of Shiver into Spark is a painting of Bottleneck peak by Mary’s brother, Andrew. The album is about transitions, about the places in our lives and the universe where inexplicably, something old ends, and something new begins. It’s about things stripped down to their essence. Over the years the San Rafael Swell is a place we have returned to over and over to come back to that place in ourselves. As I sat in the moonlight I recalled Gerard Manly Hopkins poem...
THE WORLD is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.
And for all this, nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs--
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.
...and I realized what it was that called me back to the San Rafael Swell year after year. It is the chance to pull off the chains of living in the city, to drop the pretenses of the petty concerns that occupy me, to let my soul sink deep into the soil and the rocks, my sense of time slow to the rhythm of the seasons and the movement of the sun and stars. I gazed up into a sky free from light pollution, and looked out into the universe, drinking in the vision of vastness and the beauty.
I recalled a conversation I had with an astronomer a couple of years ago. He told me he was often asked what the most marvelous thing he had seen in the skies was. He told me his answer was that in all his stargazing, he had never seen something so beautiful, so fragile, and so glorious as this planet of ours. He told me that all of his searching and studies had driven home to him just what a gift we had in the planet that birthed us.
I recalled another friend telling me he thought that we humans would only change our relationship to the land once we discovered a sense of “sacredness” for our earth. I thought again of some of my favorite lines in Slim’s song. “This life is your temple… We have no sense of beauty, much less gratitude for grace which keeps this warm blooded planet alive in endless space… This here and now is all we’ve got and my sister’s not for sale.”
It troubled me that I couldn’t remember all the words to the Hopkins poem. I pulled out my smartphone to look it up and saw it had no signal. I smiled, laughed at myself, then settled back to gaze out at the universe in wonder.
Otter Creek will be hosting an intimate CD release party for their album Shiver Into Spark at the campground near the old bridge on the Buckhorn Draw road on September 29, 2012. If you would like to join us you can RSVP and get all the details by joining our event on Facebook or contacting us directly.
When I was a kid my favorite place to go was to my grandma’s house in Castle Dale, UT. Grandma would pack a picnic in an antique basket her family used when she was a girl and we would head out for the San Rafael Swell where she would fascinate us with tales about riding her Indian pony around the desert when she was young. A lady from Hawaii once told Grandma she couldn’t stand the thought of “living in such a barren place.” Grandma retorted that it was much better than Hawaii because she didn’t “have any of those darn trees blocking the scenery.”
The San Rafael brought out the quirky pioneer spirit of my family. We felt particularly free to be ourselves surrounded by sandstone cliffs, cactus, and sagebrush. One trip my dad did the unthinkable, he forgot his hat. My very bald father is of Scandinavian descent and once upon a time (before I was born) he had a full head of red hair. He still had the fair complexion associated with his lost hair, and never went anywhere without a hat. Grandma had a solution. She told my dad with a glint in her eye, “I have an extra bonnet." Grandma had quite a reputation in Emery County for making pioneer bonnets. I was very proud to know that Grandma was a girl people still wore them.
I loved all things pioneer. Laura from “Little House on the Prairie” was my hero. And Grandma, well, she was practically Laura. She had traveled in a covered wagon, worn pioneer bonnets, read by kerosene lantern and done everything else a proper pioneer girl would do. Her bonnets were awesome. The idea of my dad wearing one was not. Dad smiled mischieviously and placed the pink bonnet with a ruffle on his head and tied a bow under his chin. None of us kids wanted to admit we knew him. We tried to maintain a good distance from him. It was probably the most peaceful day Dad ever spent with us in the desert. (In hindsight I am kind of surprised that from then on he didn’t start wearing one perpetually). Later that evening Grandma surprised us all by spreading her sleeping bag out on the picnic table instead of in the tent. I thought it was hilarious imagining her spread out there all night like some kind of feast! She let me know that if she slept on the ground there would be no getting her up, and since it wasn’t in her plan to remain forever on the ground in the desert the picnic table would do nicely.
When I began dating Peter he was a frequent guest on these family outings. One winter trip my family was given two cases of bananas on the way out of town. It was cold that night and all the bananas froze. Unable to contemplate the waste of such a resource my mom forced each of us to eat all of the bananas before we were allowed to eat any other food on the trip. Peter, who was accustomed to eating no more bananas than absolutely necessary somehow managed choke down his share. It was a testament to his love of both me and the San Rafael that he never turned down a trip with us, even after being force fed bananas.
The San Rafael Swell is rich with reminders of those who lived there long ago. My family loved to visit an Allosaurus footprint. It was a magical to think that we could still see precisely where this creature had stepped. There were Native American pictographs and petroglyphs which filled me a desire to connect to a people who had lived long ago. As I looked at the art I would wonder what the people were like who made these pictures. What made them laugh, cry, what did their pictures mean to them?
From an early age I realized that not everyone regarded this land the way my family did. Some pictographs had been covered by graffiti and there were places where the hills and vegetation including the delicate, slow forming, erosion resistant soil crust had been torn up by newly popular ATV’s. It wasn’t the work of someone using a trail to get to a distant location, it was the repeated up and down of people looking for a thrill. From my earliest memory by brothers and I were incensed by this. We could understand the excitement of the ride, but thought that we had seen plenty of ugly hills where such recreation could be done without destroying something so breathtaking and fragile, a place that seemed sacred.
In the 1990’s more attention was paid to preserving the land. Even though it meant we could no longer drive up the wash to our favorite campsite, we were pleased that the graffiti was removed from the pictographs and relieved that the hills were protected from four wheelers.
In the years that have followed Peter and I have taken our own children to the San Rafael and watched their faces light up at their first sighting of the dinosaur print, or the excitement of finding a piece of petrified wood. I have heard my own children wonder aloud about the people who left their art on the walls so long ago. In those moments I feel a connection to my beloved grandma, who passed away many years ago. In this place I feel a connection to the generations of my family, and beyond that to the desert dwellers who left their art. I feel my connection to the creatures who roamed the San Rafael millions of years ago when it was a jungle. In this place I feel my connection to the earth and an overpowering sense of sacredness.
This is the basis of my environmentalism. I never want to have to say of my beautiful San Rafael, “She is gone, and we shall not see her like again.” I have no expectation that we humans will not leave a mark on her, we are after all, a part of the world, but I do hope we will not, in arrogance, trade her beauty for a short sighted season of convenience or a momentary joyride in the history of humanity. All of this is what Peter and I heard in Utah Slim's “Sister San Rafael.” Thanks Slim for giving us such a beautiful way to express our love for that place.
We’ve been working on arranging songs for our second album, and have been repeatedly drawn to the key of A (pretty low in my voice), viola, long neck banjo, and astonishingly low tunings on the guitar. It occurred to me that perhaps we were birthing a new sound… a “low lonesome sound.” I’ve made my share of lonesome sounds in my life. Many of them have been in the “High Lonesome” bluegrass style, singing and playing songs that sprang out of the soil long ago, but this seemed like something new.
At the Celtic Festival in Evanston last month I was reminded of the lonesome sound that happened the first time I played the Scottish Bagpipes. Several years back my in-laws came home from a trip abroad with a set, and presented them with great expectation to Mary and her five brothers. We were instructed that they were for sharing but that whoever showed the most promise could have a go at learning them first. There was no shortage of enthusiasm, and three of Mary’s brother’s rushed off to the other room to assemble the pipes. Moments later they came marching into the room accompanied by a sound I can only describe as a flock of geese dying of pneumonia while attempting to escape from a butcher.
With my musical training I felt certain I could do a little better. So after an excruciating half hour during which everyone tried to offer advice (which of necessity was done very loudly as at least one or two of the brothers at a time were always having a go at the pipes), I finally suggested maybe I should have a try. After all, I’m not bad with a penny whistle and how different could it be? Besides, with my hearing loss I had always imagined I would take up the pipes when I could no longer hear well enough to sing.
So I set to it. It seemed clear to me that one of the problem they were having was that they weren’t getting the chanter going and that perhaps the drone pipes were a bit out of tune. After 15 minutes or so of adjustments I felt I was ready to give it a go. I filled the bladder with air, squeezed, and…
Well, let’s just say it was a lonesome sound. Not one that anyone stayed around to listen to, although everyone was laughing hard enough it was difficult for them to leave. Later in the day an acquaintance who played pipes came by the house and we had him look at what we felt was clearly a defective instrument that my in-laws had been bilked into buying by some unscrupulous Scotsman. He picked the pipes up, made a couple of adjustments and burst into a glorious refrain of “Scotland the Brave”. All of us clamored for an explanation of why it hadn’t worked for us. He just winked and said “Maybe you just aren’t Scotch enough”. He left us with his card in case we wanted some lessons.
Several bottles of Scotch later we still hadn’t solved the mystery. The Pipes didn’t sound too bad after he had adjusted them, but none of us had the strength to blow, squeeze and play at the same time. Finally we decided he was right, none of us had enough Scottish blood. However, we reasoned that as all of us had some Scottish ancestry, maybe if we all tried at once we’d be equal to the task. Jobs were assigned and I managed to get the job of fingering the chanter as I was the only one with experience playing a tube with holes. One of us was in charge of blowing, another in charge of squeezing, and the last person just stood by shouting out helpful advice and encouragement. Finally we were able to launch into a halting but reasonably passable rendition of “Scotland the Brave”. Marching proved complicated however, with three of us attached to the pipes at various heights and with varying levels of force. We were finally forced to stop when the breathing tube was jammed up a nostril and we all tripped over each other landing in a heap. That was a “low lonesome sound” indeed.
Other low lonesome sounds in my repertoire include the rumblings of gastrointestinal distress (sure to clear a room in a jiffy) and the sound of me attempting Tuvan throat singing (also a crowd repellent). One lonesome sound I’ve left behind is snoring (this is such a lonesome sound that had me banned to the living room at times). Apparently losing a little weight was enough to clear that one up and I’ve been less lonely since.
There’s no need to fear, the only lonesome sounds you’ll hear at our upcoming concerts are the folk and blues inspired low lonesome songs of people far from their homes and safety. We’ll steer clear of the rest. Hope to see you in the audience. Be sure to say hello! We may play a lonesome song now and then but we love the company of music lovers!
-Peter is a very poor piper, and pecks of pepper make him sneeze, but has done himself proud in the pickin' and singing world. Come see Otter Creek do their thing April 21 at the 9th and 9th concert series in Salt Lake. Full details available on the calendar tab.