Remembrance—Brubeck & Zurcher

Tonight, after reading about the passing of Dave Brubeck, I decided to listen to my collection of his works and let myself wander. Wandering is fantastic in that it takes you to places unexpected, although absolutely wonderful.

While listening, I was transported more than 30 years in the past, to 1980 or 1981. I can’t recall the exact year, but it was a great summer. After a week-long backpacking trip in the Mineral King area, we decided not to return home and instead extend our adventure just a few more days with an “easy” route up to White Chief Lake, then over the ridge and drop down to Eagle Lake. This “easy” day of travel resulted in a moment of exhaustion upon arrival at Eagle Lake and I found the most delightful little sandy peninsula near a campsite surrounded by adolescent trees. Pack dropped, shoes and socks removed, I walked into the icy water, then back on the sun-warmed sand bar where nap-time took charge. I thought it was a dream, but the reality of the mountain sounds turned on the cognitive mind and I awoke with one question—what the heck was I hearing?

Sliding feet, covered with grains of sand into leather boots, wet from sweat, and a frantic search for the source, I nearly tripped over a downed tree. But then it all became clear. Across the lake at the northern tip, I saw this man,wearing a traditional Austrian wool jacket and matching hat with the absolutely longest straw in the world pointing to the lake. The brain now fully awakes from its temporary stupor and I realize I am hearing someone play an alphorn!

Back to tonight. I realized that I have a photo stashed away in a box, so off to the shed, with headlamp and after a short search, it was found, scanned and attached to this musing.


After wandering over to the other side of the lake, introductions and a private concert, this wonderful man whom I today only recall as Mr. Zurcher (he had a first name that was proceeded by a first initial…) explained how the horn was crafted from a single young tree harvested from the Alps and that the “horn” end was the natural curve of the tree growing out of the side of the mountain. He then gave a brief lesson and allowed me the opportunity of giving it a shot. Epic failure in that what emanated from that magnificent horn, amplified and echoed throughout the amphitheater of that lake basin sounded more like something described by the word flatulence.

This man was not offended by my musical incompetence, instead he invited us to visit him at his cabin when we returned to civilization. His daughter worked in the Silver City general store and he and his wife had a weekend cabin in the same community. We met the entire family and shared fresh home-made berry pie over life stories. I recall one of how bears invaded their home and the repairs needed—all without any ill feelings.

The rhythms of Jazz and Mr. Brubeck have once again brought me back to the core, the meaning of life itself. Thank you to all that has been and all that is for this wonderful existence.


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