Saturday, October 22, 2016

Flouting My Flute

I’m not going to write about the US Presidential election—I don’t even want to think about it. I’m not going to write about my book tour—except to say I’m still sailing along.  I’m not even going to write about my grandchildren—though I did dedicate Santorini Caesars to them. And most certainly, I’m not going to dare even thinking about mentioning [fill in the blank].

Instead, I’m going to write about flutes.  Well, a certain kind, indeed a specific brand of flutes and their impact on my life…as well as on anyone within hearing distance of my playing.  But first, a bit of background:  Last 4th of July weekend Barbara and I journeyed from Greece to join my family in Whitefish, Montana (over by Glacier National Park) to celebrate the wedding of my oldest nephew.  While there I went to a local fair and stumbled (almost literally due to an unmarked guy wire) over a stall selling Native American flutes in an array of woods, keys, and sizes. 

Long before the dawn of man I’d tinkered briefly with playing the clarinet and side-blown metal flute, and even today often travel with a blues harp (aka harmonica).  That background, and an eye-catching display, made playing one irresistible. Ten minutes later I was the proud owner of a High Spirits, red-tailed hawk flute in the key of G made out of aromatic cedar.

And thus began the end of world peace as we know it.

I brought it with me back to Mykonos, and spent many afternoons sitting on my balcony staring at the Aegean and playing…think tinkering…figuring my way through the next twist of my new novel. Luckily for Barbara, she’d stayed behind in New York City during those early days of my competing with mating cats for harmonic tones.  

The flute came with written directions and an instructional CD.  The creator of the brand also posted a series of videos on the High Spirits website detailing every element of how to play.  Wisely (as a marketer) he also had clips demonstrating how each of their many flutes sounded.   And yes, he knew how to play, so the cats had no fear of competition.

Subtle forces were at work, creeping in upon my unconscious like kudzu of the mind.  It began with a simple sense of practical responsibility to my flute.  How could I entrust it to the rigors of travel?  It needed a case.  Though I’d bought a black, hard plastic one used for architectural drawings back in New York—cheap, simple, and effective—it struck me as unquestionably inconsistent with the inherent spiritual nature of my precious new friend.  

So, I convinced a bag maker on Mykonos to create an appropriate case out of leather, and all felt right again with the world.  Actually suede, not felt

We made it safely back to NYC, and though flutey didn’t come along with me to Bouchercon, it’s made many trips to the farm, where we’ve spent hours together keeping black bears at bay.

Remember the kudzu reference?  As some may know, in the right circumstances that poison ivy resembling plant can grow a foot a day—almost as fast as an obsession.

I think you’re getting the point. 

The more I played, the more I clicked back onto the High Spirits website, and the more my obsession grew. I began envisioning acquiring another flute, and searched the Internet for places where I might be able to find one while on book tour in Missouri, Arizona, and Colorado, all likely places for finding Native American flutes.  I sought out several shops, but found nothing to my liking. Then it dawned on me to call the flute manufacturer.

Foolish move.  The lovely young woman who answered the phone at High Spirits told me of places in Phoenix where I might find what I wanted, and when I said I would be in Tucson, too, she said, “We’re located only an hour south of Tucson in Patagonia and it’s a beautiful drive, so why don’t you come down and visit our showroom?”  She even recommended a place to stay in town.

The drive to Patagonia, Arizona along a two-lane highway winding through the Santa Rita and Patagonia mountains toward Mexico is transfixing, reminiscent of a desert version of the part of Montana where I met flutey.

Patagonia proper, with a population of approximately 900, is actually more like a hamlet than a town.  It came into being at the turn of the twentieth century, and its history is inexorably tied to once thriving nearby mining operations (currently attempting a resurrection). Today, though, it is a paradise for birders, insect collectors, butterfly watchers, artists, hikers, hunters, and flutists. 

I stayed at the Stage Stop Inn, and ate a delightful meal across from the town hall (a converted railroad station) at The Velvet Elvis Pizza Company located just a few doors down from PIGS—Politically Incorrect Gas Station.  All that, plus the “super moon” lighting up the Arizona sky that night, had me perfectly teed up for my first-thing-in-the-morning trip out to High Spirits—and the following high-tailing, three-hour drive back to Phoenix to catch a plane to Denver.

The narrow road leading the mile out of town to High Spirits had me thinking of any number of Bates Motel-like settings, and when I turned left at a faint sign marked “High Spirits” onto a dirt road wandering left and right back toward who knew where, another Bates came to mind…this one playing her part in Misery.  Thank you Mr. King for the flash back moment.

But, all turned out perfectly wonderful. 

The place turned out to be just as I imagined, with flutes and kind folk set off against a natural backdrop reflecting the historical spirit of what they represent. I felt as if I were meeting flutey’s family for the first time. Which I guess I was. 

And being the kind-hearted soul that I am, I arranged for some of the cousins (the long, thin woody ones) to come live with us back east. Just how many I shall not say, because they’re in transit as I write this, and I’ve not yet told Barbara the number of new places to set at the table. But I’m sure everything will work out fine, because at heart she’s a tinkerer, too.  And her sister plays the bagpipes.

‘Nuf said.



  1. Seriously, after that hair-raising story (no, no, no subtle dig at the sound coming from your flute), I think I'm suffering from flutey-envy. A pitch-perfect retelling of your melodic book-tour interlude.