Harps in Heaven? Who said? It’s mandolins, man!

& I enjoyed the Rapture Saturday evening. While most of you were missing it, I was right in the middle of it. I got transported. At least for a few minutes.

It happened only a couple of hours after the end-of-the-world moment that the old preacher had predicted. And it wasn’t in the middle of an earthquake in California, it was in the midst of an explosion of music, just up the road from me, at a place coincidentally named Ghost Ranch. It’s a place that’s owned and run by the Presbyterian Church, but that didn’t have anything to do with it…the Presbys weren’t buying into that end-of-times story, were they? Nah, I don’t think any of the big non-prophet churches were gathering under preacher Harold Camping’s apocalyptic tent, even though they, too, might have brought in a few million bucks from their flocks of sheep by hollering “Wolf!”

Seems like all sorts of scary things can be turned into dollars these days, even ruptured raptures.

Preacher man talkin’ on the teevee,
He’s a-puttin’ down the rock ‘n’ roll.
He wants me to send a donation
Cuz he’s worried about my soul.

He says “Jesus walked on the water,”
And I know that is true,
But sometimes I think that preacher man,
Would like to do a little walkin’, too.

Long-Haired Country Boy/Charlie Daniels

I wonder where old man Camping went walkin’ Sunday? Not on the water, I would guess.

But I digress.

You’ve probably heard of Ghost Ranch Education and Retreat Center. It’s this beautiful spread tucked up into a stunning wall of red and yellow rocks, overlooking the Valley of Shining Stone — the Piedra Lumbre — in north-central New Mexico. According to archeologists — and who knows any better than an archeologist? — humans have been hanging around these parts for about 10,000 years. About 400 years ago, the armor-plated Spanish Conquistadors clanked into town, riding strange things with four legs, hellbent on enlightening the New World with Christianity, but basically scaring the bejesus out of the Indians. (Or, should that be scaring the bejesus INTO the Indians?) The point being that there has been a lot of time for a lot of stories to get told around here — some of them actually truthful — and there are a few about how Ghost Ranch got its name. I like the one about the two cattle-rustling brothers who created a 19th Century beachhead in what was then known as wild Injun country, and went about making up their own laws, mostly because nobody was  around to argue with them. Long story short, they hanged a bunch of lawbreakers from a tree up there near those cliffs of shining stone, and the ghosts of all those ne’er-do-wells were flitting all over the place until the Presbys showed up to set things straight. Or something like that.

But I digress.

I was talking about the Rapture and how I got transported.

Now that the ghosts are gone, or at least trained to keep their distance, Ghost Ranch is a pretty popular place, particularly in the summertime, to spend a few days at the real edge of what was really the wild, wild west, right up to the beginning of the 20th Century. They come to Ghost Ranch from great distances to participate in any number of classes, seminars, workshops, retreats, conferences and you-name-its on everything from Archeology to Yoga, and often put the results of the students’ efforts on display for the rest of us to see, stuff like writing, pottery, poetry, art and music.

Last Saturday, it was music. It was the annual bluegrass concert, performed by pickers and strummers and singers and fiddlers who’d hauled their instruments across the desert to spend a week as students of eight talented instructors. And, as usual, it was a fine concert, featuring several bands made from the student ranks, and a few performances from the instructors, who’d found a little time to get away from their teaching duties and work up a few numbers themselves. Let me tell you, these people are good musicians. They know their way around a guitar, or a fiddle, or a banjo, or a bass or a mandolin. And Saturday, it was particularly the fiddle and the mandolin.

It was shortly after Ryan Drickey and Matt Flinner launched into their duet that the rapture began.

I wasn’t paying too much attention when Flinner introduced the song — I think he said he wrote it, I think he said he’d never before performed it in public, and I didn’t catch the name. But, when Flinner’s mandolin started talking on top of Drickey’s mournful bluegrass fiddling, I started paying attention.

At first, I was thinking about that Jimmy Buffet song that tells us

There’s somethin’ so feminine about a mandolin
The way that they feel, the way that they ring

And then I started losing myself in a delicious arrangement that could be delivered only by two excellent musicians, who not only knew the mechanics of the song they were playing, they knew its soul. And, as the performance intensified, and the power of the music grew, and as we locked in to the moment, there was, well, an experience, something you don’t run into every day. Something that transported us, temporarily, to another place. Something along the lines of a mini-Rapture.

I wish I could explain those few moments under the spell of Flinner and Drickey. But I can’t. Who can explain the Rapture, eh?

And whatever Flinner named his song, he should change it. He should call it Apocalypse.

& Understanding, now, that the Rapture actually did occur, and we didn’t know about it because only three people, all from South Dakota, were called to the Pearly Gate, I’m outta here.

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