BY MIKE LEONARD
“An actor, a painter, and a musician wandered into the wilderness one day,” Malcolm Dalglish recalls with a laugh.
It’s a setup with no punch line, however, unless you consider that the three men were hiking the 210-mile John Muir Trail in California last summer when the actor and the painter had to quit due to physical ailments they incurred along the way. That left Dalglish, the musician, utterly alone in the wilderness to finish a week’s worth of hiking and camping.
“It was kind of an awakening, a kind of opening a window on the universe,” the longtime Bloomington resident says. “Being in the wide open spaces so distant from civilization, it makes you feel that there was so much before us and so much after us that’s going to be there. If we don’t mess it up.”
Dalglish and his family have traveled to the High Sierra region to hike and camp many times over the years, inspired by the famous natural beauty and the legacy of John Muir (1838-1914), the naturalist and preservationist who is known as the father of the national parks system. One of Muir’s early and life-changing quests actually began in Indianapolis after he temporarily blinded himself in an accident working as a sawyer making wagon wheels. When he regained his sight, he trekked 1,000 miles from Indianapolis to Cedar Key, Fla., and thereafter devoted himself to the study, appreciation, and preservation of the natural world.
Dalglish, 61, returned to Bloomington from the John Muir Trail, eyes opened as well, and immediately dived into a characteristically eclectic array of activities. In early December, he headed up a program of “Found Sound” fundamentals at WonderLab science museum, teaching children how to explore the sonic possibilities of a variety of real and improvised musical instruments.
In late February and early March he will lead Indiana schoolchildren in the development and singing of a piece commissioned by the Indiana Music Education Association, titled (surprise!) “Tramp Upon The Land: A Vision of John Muir.”
In the meantime, he’s enjoying the almost existential long-distance collaboration between his own master work on hammer dulcimer with Indian sarod players Ayaan and Amaan Ali Khan on a CD, three years in the making, called Headwaters.
“I realize I like to learn things and do things with my whole set — my mind, my hands, my eyes, my feet, my ears … I think I’m at an age where there are things you don’t want to do anymore and things you’ve never done that you want to do,” he says. “Just like my hike on the Muir Trail. It’s where the mundane and the celestial come together. There’s something profoundly satisfying about that. Being a human being — and using all your stuff.”