Miss Leo High Sierra Love Song

Driving home from City Farm on Friday morning, I recognized the sound of a favorite voice on KCBX, and soon after heard Neal Losey announcing that Miss Leo was having a CD release party that night in Morro Bay.  She and her mandolinist, Andy O’Brian, had played at our last Fall Harvest Festival in precovid 2019, and at the time, the beauty of her voice kept distracting me from the bustle of activities that needed attention.

When I got home for my midday nap I lay on the couch, logged on to her website, purchased and downloaded the new collection of 13 songs, and dropped off to sleep soothed as if by lullabies.

Jan agreed to a date at the Libertine Pub, and after checking out the leftovers of the witches’ paddle in the nighttime fog, we arrived there in time to say hi to Leo, her husband and in-laws during the warm up acts.  Dressed up as a unicorn of sorts for Halloween, Leo recognized me and said she’d noticed that I had bought the album. At the start of her set, she told the audience of her surprise and delight to hear herself earlier on the radio.

The pub crowd was loud enough to have drowned out the earlier performers but when she and the three other band members started “Desert Queen,” the driving first cut on the album, either they quieted down or the music was strong enough to overcome the noise. The combination of original tunes and lyrics square on country music conventions along with honey sweet instrumental and vocal harmonies plunged me into another pre-sleep state of relaxation, but this time fully absorbed by the animated performance.

As she started singing “High Country Love Song,” I felt an echoing recollection: as I had half-consciously heard the song earlier in the day, there was a vague sense that I’d been to the place she so vividly described, in particular its references to pure flowing water and mule trains.

But as its idyllic pastoral unfurled in performance, I suddenly realized she was singing about experiences at a Yosemite Park High Sierra Camp, just like ones I treasured from the summer of 1961, when I worked for three months at Merced Lake as a “Camp Helper” between my sophomore and junior years in college. That was 60 years ago, but nothing had changed, the water, the absence of electricity, the mule trains, the ten mile run to the nearest camp or road, and the young romance.

When the song was done, I called out, “High Sierra Camp Helper,” and she stopped, stared at me and said, “how did you know that?” I don’t remember if and what I replied, I was so taken away.  By chance I’d recently come across pictures from that summer job which I’d scanned and put into my Mac photos library and might be able to access on my phone. I scrolled back through the years and there they were.






At that point the band took a break and Miss Leo came over to the table next to us, where her family was sitting. I told her of the memories the song brought back, and she said that was where she met her husband Mitch, just as it was narrated in the lyrics. I brought out the phone and showed them the pictures.  This got every body worked up and Jan captured the moment.



Mitch said he’d been the cook at Glen Aulin camp and she worked at Tuolumne Meadows. Every Thursday for his overnight day off he would hike the ten miles to see her. He noted that the camp configuration of 1961 was identical to that of 2013 when they met.  Then his mom said she worked at the Tuolumne store in 2017. He showed me a picture on his phone of a Camp Helper Party, and I almost correctly identified the peak in the background–it was not Vogelsang but Fletcher. I immediately recognized the mistake.




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