Posted on September 1st, 2020

The Soft Core of the Earth – 46 Days

This summer was supposed to look a lot different for me. After reigniting my love for the band Phish a few years ago, I was slated to head out on parts of their tour, seeing 10 shows in total in four states and three time zones. (As a side note, it should be mentioned that Brock McCarty used to be a total Phish phan back in the 90s – he saw roughly 80 concerts back then!) Then, when the pandemic came along, eventually all concerts got postponed or cancelled, with Phish’s tour getting moved to summer 2021. Phooey. Well, about the time of the postponement, I got an offer from a friend to stay for free in Colorado for 5 weeks – which as I wrote about last month, I jumped at the opportunity. Tying that to some other travel plans I already had, it came to 46 days out West, and I truly did enjoy every last one. I saw a few old friends from when I used to live out there full-time, but aside from that, I mostly hung out with the friend who invited me to stay with her for free for the first 5 weeks, then was on a solo mission for the remaining 2 – well, with my dog, of course. Now, Phish comes back into the story: they have a song called, 46 Days. Kind of weird, huh? Well, I guess only if you care anything about Phish…

It didn’t actually register with me that I’d been out west for 46 days until close to the end of the trip when I started tallying all the miles the pooch and I hiked – which came to more than 300, but I called it just that because it was simple and impressive enough in its own right. I don’t know who I was trying to impress, nobody, honestly, so perhaps it is more accurate to say that hiking some 300+ miles with my dog symbolized something for me, in that I love to hike with my little friend and was/am happy to have had the opportunity to do so, for there may not be that many more options to do so before I know it – or am ready for it. Yeah, this story starts to get a little sad now, sorry.

She’s waiting for us to start mile 301.

My “pup” turned 11 shortly after our 46-day trip, and from an uninformed outsider, you’d think she was half that age, both in appearance and energy level. Sometimes I wish she were, though that would simply mean I’d have had less time spent with her up till now, so aging is a blessing and a curse in that right. So, she hiked more than 300 miles in high elevation; must be doing pretty well for an 11-year-old dog, right? Yeah, mostly. But roughly 18 months ago she was diagnosed with a heart murmur, which was kind of a shock based on her energy and level of activity, and my vet said I should go to a specialist and get an EKG and an x-ray of her heart to measure growth; and to see if there was any aorta or valve damage. That first trip to the specialist, June of 2019, turned up an enlarged heart, but still within normal range. The second trip, in December 2019, resulted in the same. So, when we went back for our third check-up, after our trip out west, the heart size was okay still, but she was starting to show some wear and tear on her left ventricle valve (sorry if that’s incorrect medical terminology), and therefore we had to start some medicine. The veterinarian said that the meds should slow further damage for up to 15 months, and I’m hopeful it will, but it was simply an unneeded reminder that my dog is starting to get to the limits of how long dogs live. That is beyond sad, and I will be devastated when she is no longer with me. Not that I needed another incentive to enjoy every moment I have remaining with her, but I got one. I guess that’s okay. I look forward to every day I have left with her – hopefully she’s got a few good years in her, because I’d like to do another 300 miles with her next summer…

Alright, that’s out of my system, I’ll turn it to a lighter subject now: 46 days out west. Basically, all that trip did was remind me how much I miss living out in the Rockies. Where I’m stationed for work will prevent me from taking up permanent residence west of the Mississippi anytime soon, but I’m hopeful to be able to spend my summers, working remotely, in the near future. That costs a lot of money, obviously, so I’m trying to figure out how to make that feasible, knowing full well that I won’t get too many more offers to crash somewhere for free for 5 weeks going forward. Not that I’m even looking for that; I’d rather have my own place, my own space; who wouldn’t? So, I’m far removed from buying a second home (I did just refinance my first/only home, so hopefully I can pay it off a little sooner and start putting that money towards a lean-to or hut out west or something), but it’s not inconceivable that I could find some long-term rentals if I act quickly and get lucky. The thing is, I’m still not firmly settled on a location I’d like to call (my second) “home” yet, though I did quite enjoy Ouray County – if it weren’t for all those damn tourists, mostly Texans. There are still some places I’d like to check out in Idaho and Montana, so hopefully I can do that next summer. The only other thing I know I want (in addition to simply being out west) is low humidity (easy out there) and low summer temps. Some cities fare better than others, but the higher the elevation, the better, at least for Colorado. Montana and Idaho don’t have that high of peaks, but maybe because they’re farther north it appears that some spots have far more reasonable dead-of-summer temps than others. I’m not made for the heat and humidity, and that’s exactly what I have to suffer through on the Eastern seaboard. Yuck.

Now, 46 Days, the song. So, I never really gave much thought to that song. Until recently I probably just thought it was “fine,” and if I ever heard it live, I don’t really remember and it was probably a bathroom/beer refill song. But now after my (our) trip, it has some significance for me; I imagine it always will now. “Sit yourself down when you’re ready to stay,” goes the song. I’m surely ready to stay (out west), it just ain’t that easy yet. Life costs too much money. But I guess me here complaining about not being able to afford a 2-3 month vacation every summer or buy a second house sounds pretty silly considering so many people live hand-to-mouth. But I’ve already gotten heavy once in this essay and I don’t aim to do it again. We’ll gloss over the socioeconomic and sociopolitical issues for this column this month…

I often hear songs randomly come up on the radio, or on shuffle in Spotify, that I haven’t heard for a long time, or perhaps even forgot about. Often, it is a blast from the past, and frequently I’ll add those songs to a list of old favorites. Sometimes new songs get added to that too. But aside from that one lyric, the rest of the song, like many from Phish’s catalog, is inane. That’s a frequent and valid critique of the band: they write a lot of esoteric weirdness that simply doesn’t make sense. Everyone knows they took a lot of drugs, so that may explain it partially, but you’d also think they weren’t native speakers of English sometimes. So, as much as I’d like to drop in another lyric, one brimming with insight and existential magic, I can’t – if I were to choose anything else from that 15-line, 2-stanza song, you’d go crosseyed looking side-eyed at me. Sigh. Trust me, Phish is awesome, and some songs do have a degree of profundity, but not that one. But it doesn’t matter: like many songs, I’ve attributed something meaningful to it, even if it’s based largely on the title (and certainly my love for the band): it captures a very special 46-day period of my life, a lengthy journey with my best pal, confidant and sidekick. Dogs rule.

Marco Esquandoles
On Tour with My Dog

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