Sunday, September 9, 2018

Tales from a Contented Sloth: Summer at Ghost Ranch

I joined the Ghost Ranch community on April 30, and stopped journaling and writing to the Gang of Four.  It seemed that, since I was no longer traveling and being a nomad, the daily missives were less necessary, at least from a safety point of view.  I had housemates and workmates, and I was staying put.  Still, I rather missed the focus of a daily message to friends, even though the letters I did write were remarkably lacking in news.  Every day could be an adventure, with enough variety to make me feel like I was traveling inwardly, if not outwardly, but for the most part I was a contented sloth.  

1.  Settling in
There’s a huge windstorm blowing the dust around. I am unpacking my boxes and it looks like I’ll be able to bring most of what’s in storage because this is a very large three bedroom farmhouse. I’m alone at the moment so I got to pick the best room with the best view (of Pedernal.)
I was lodged in the old farmhouse. It has three bedrooms and living area and a long enclosed portico/conservatory outside the bath and two bedrooms. The only fly in the ointment was the mouse that I saw in the bathroom, and the fact that the clawfoot tub wobbled when I stood in it. It felt like I was going to topple out.  The next day I put in a work order, but I ran into an acquaintance from Taos, and he told me to put a quarter under one of the feet to shim things up.  Worked like a charm. Later, we discovered ants, camel spiders and the occasional scorpion, but my housemate handled those for most of the summer, as did the lovely whiptail lizards.

2.  More housesitting
In late June I house-sat for my boss’s friend, S.  She’s a retired nurse practitioner, on a kayak trip off Quadra Island.  It's a small world: I have fond memories of a trip to April Point, watching birds drying their wings, fishing (V displaying her catch with a grimace), and eating salmon with a huckleberry compote.  Also playing with phosphorescent water off the dock...but that was the place en route.  Memory fails me.

So, while S was enjoying the waters of the Pacific Northwest, I was watching smoke from the Sardinas Canyon forest fire, feeding the horse, donkey, and chickens and enjoying a pretty awesome house and garden.  It’s a half hour drive to Ghost Ranch, but it’s a beautiful drive so I was fine with that.  The $50 she gave me didn't  even cover gas, but it’s more than I got on my travels!  And I expanded my skill set.  I remained cautious around Ruby, the semi-skittish horse, but on a later visit she came up to me and rubbed her head against my shoulder, so I counted that as a personal triumph.

3.  The Library and other projects
The Library is open 24/7, so I can justify any schedule I choose to work, which is nice.  Because it's always open, the checkout system is manual and depends on an honor system. With the help of intern college staff, I started barcoding most of the library and discovered a bunch of titles that never made it into the online catalog.  So I guess I’ll have to be less snarky about the guests who insist on using the old card catalog (which I’m not allowed to move, along with the unused newspaper poles.)

I don’t know why I started this big project...I could have just sat back with the status quo instead of trying to get circulation and inventory into the 20th century (forget about the 21st).  And there are plenty of peripheral things that I could have been doing:  hikes and tours are actually encouraged for work time, because the more I know about the Ranch offerings, the better I can share them with guests.  However, the national forests surrounded the Ranch were closed during June and much of July, because of the severe drought and fire danger.  Even before the closures, the heat kept me from even considering much hiking:  I wandered down Box Canyon one morning and tried Matrimonial Mesa another morning:  both hikes were abandoned before I reached the end.  I only planned to take an hour for Matrimonial:  it goes along a ridge looking down into the Chinle formation and across to Orphan Mesa, and it gives a nice birds' eye view of the Ranch.  My plan was to start at the trailhead near my house and come out by the Staff House and Dining Hall,  but I kept getting lost trying to find the proper end of the trail. I retraced my path twice, drank up all the water, and spent 2 hours acquiring a sunburn before I gave up.  Still, it was a beautiful hike and I found a piece of petrified wood while I was exploring an arroyo.  I also startled a pronghorn antelope and numerous lizards.  No rattlers thank god.

In general, even without hiking, it’s a great place for wildlife. A voracious horde of hummingbirds drained the feeder daily throughout the summer, and my fearless paleontologist housemate set up a bat box to serve as home for a bat that got trapped in a museum bathroom. Coyotes howl outside our windows and apparently bears and cougars come out of the hills, searching for water.  I haven't seen or heard evidence of them, but the bears apparently killed the pigs before I arrived.

Anyway, instead of hiking, I started up a night sky tour, along with two of the Museum staff.  Many years ago a guest donated a large Meade telescope with many lenses.  It had not been used since the gent in charge retired 8 years ago, and pack rats had chewed through some key wires.  So JustJ cleaned up the shed and contacted Meade about a manual,  we got some training on the mechanics, and Telescope Tuesdays was up and running.  I was able to find and photograph Jupiter and its Gallilean moons, Saturn and its rings, and the pretty amber star, Antares.  Sadly, around the time that Mars appeared, the focus knob got torqued, the monsoons clouded up the night sky, and the telescope is now off limits while the powers that be come up with a plan for maintaining and sharing the equipment.  It was a nice run while it lasted.  I'd work until half an hour before sundown and then climb the mesa behind the Library to the pack-rat infested telescope shed.  While I fussed with the lens, the wind would come up and blow my skirts around, the sun would set, and the Milky Way would brighten into its pearly path across the sky.  Or, the gibbous moon would rise and the mica in the cliffs would shimmer in its light.

4.  Wedding crash
Security is not the best here.  We are very isolated, but we are also only a mile or so from Hwy 84.  One hot June night around 11 pm, JB and I heard a woman screaming, full-throated.  It took awhile to realize what the sound was...almost sounded like a rooster or some other creature.  Eventually we heard words:  "Don't let me go home!" JB was concerned there were drugs involved, so we turned off lights and locked doors and I called 911 at 11:15.  They said they'd try to contact Ghost Ranch security.  At 11:30 I called back, because the person seemed to be outside our house.  15 minutes after that, JB called and gave them our location and asked them to come by and check on us.  They never did, but about 15 minutes later we saw a car approaching down the dirt road from the highway (we can see cars from our living room window.)  It stopped for several minutes, near the climbing area I think, and we heard the screaming again.  The car then continued on and turned towards the welcome center.  We saw several other cars coming and going during this time frame, mostly from the road to the staff house to the welcome center area and back again. By 12:30, all was still, although I saw headlights until I finally got to sleep at 2 am.  Not sure when and if JB got to sleep.  We found out the next day that the woman was a guest at a Ranch-held wedding.  The incident sparked a discussion about night security and security for the many weddings that we have scheduled here, but it never got much better.

5. Tsankawi
I tagged along with a class field trip to Tsankawi. It's an Ancestral Puebloan site at Bandelier National Monument (located on the road to White Rock.) We had it mostly to ourselves, as the majority of tourists visit the the main site; but this one was replete with petroglyphs, pot shards, chert and obsidian flakes, cave dwellings, carved-out foot holds, and breathtaking views of ash-flow. The trail followed paths that cut deeply into the tuff, providing run-off from the reservoirs on top of the mesa to the now sage-filled fields below. It was a very hot day, and we stopped often for water breaks, but most of us suffered some form of heat exhaustion. After 3 hours in the sun, we cooled off at the Los Alamos Bradley Science Museum and thought deeply about radiation and atomic bombs. Then we took a dash to see snakes at the Nature Center before it closed. A long day, but full of wonder.

6.  Musical adventures
My friend C in Taos hooked me up with some of her musician friends.  (She is the Taos Community Chorus accompanist and plays violin duets with me.  She hurt her wrist and just had surgery, so she can't play anything for awhile.) They were in the Taos area for the month of August and wanted to play quartets.

The first jam session was rather a fiasco:  I turned the wrong way out of El Rito (a little town on a scenic route towards Taos) and thought, well, this road is going the right way, it'll just hook up with 64 eventually.  It didn't:  it turned into a dirt road and I had to turn around.  Because of the mountain road, I was unable to call the others until I reached the Rio Grande Bridge, by which time I was an hour and a half late.  I got there at 1 pm, just as they were finishing up trios, and they graciously stuck around another 45 minutes.  We played some Mozart and Mendelssohn and they sent me home to practise Op 44, #1.  We played that the next Thursday and the 2nd violin has a lovely moving part in the third movement.  I'm not a big fan of Mendelssohn (which is weird because I love Brahms and they are both emo treacly composers), but I loved this quartet.

We had a final session following week and then the cellist and violinist went back to their respective homes in Berkeley and Austin.  Fortunately, APO starts up in Sept, so I'll keep my chops up.

7.  Coffee house
The college staff ran weekly coffee houses on Thursday nights.  My friend DH read poems for most of them, and I contributed the following  (courtesy of Museum staff comments) for the last one:

Overheard at lunch:
“I have to go and flip the
Phytosaurus skull.”

Barefoot, she sweeps and
Steps on a beetle. Eyes closed,
She says “Don’t throw up.”

The monsoon rains pass,
Pitter Patter on the fringe.
We want a deluge.

One of the college staff interpreted them, physically, while he read.

The coffee houses in general were great fun:  instructors, guests (including kids), and staff all participated, and there is some amazing talent coming through.  I performed at 3 of them. At one I recited Jabberwalky, at another sang The Mouse and played a violin duet with one of the wranglers.  At the last coffee house I played a flute/violin duet with one of the college staff and sang "Cry me a River," accompanied by a VERY sweet and talented college staffer, whose career I plan to watch.  I flung a boa over my shoulder, leaned on the piano, and let out my inner torch singer. I wowed them, if the later comments are any indication.

8.  Hemorrhaging staff
Ghost Ranch got a little depressing after college staff  left in early August.  Museum volunteers DH and JustJ left too, and JB (my sweet paleontologist housemate) followed soon after.  LM (the best boss ever) gave her 3 week notice and I miss her terribly. Housekeeping and Dining Hall were understaffed, as they were in the summer, but with no college students to abuse, guess who they wanted to fill in?  I refused (because I did not contract for that, and, anyway my asthma kicks in when I dust and vacuum), so I was given extra Welcome desks and museum volunteers became the new janitors.  In addition to the staffing woes, the Ranch was at 20% capacity, and I started worrying about its future.  And the mosquitoes arrived in the wake of the monsoons and I got TOTALLY covered in bites.  The fires from CA and OR affected the views negatively and the sunsets positively, and other volunteers became friends.
So, I tried to focus on that.  But it's difficult, when volunteers leave every 10 weeks, and 8 key staff have left (without replacement) in the 4 months I've been here.

One of those volunteers, PS, is still around, but leaves at 5 am on Sept 14.  He is planning to drive for 12 hours, arriving in Kansas City in time to watch the Minnesota Twins and add that stadium to his list.  He can be such a geek!  MC (the remaining Outdoor Adventures staff) borrowed my cheapo bike for a ride to the base of Orphan Mesa:  he and PS climbed it last Thursday, but PS didn't make the last bit.  He sat clinging to a boulder while MC continued on, chanting "I'll cut off my arm, I'll cut off my arm!"  Apparently that is his mantra for doing what it takes to get back alive from a dangerous activity.  I would have found it quite disconcerting, myself, to wait at the saddle between two gulfs, listening to that.

The next night the three of us were playing Settlers of Catan when SL appeared at the kitchen door, seeking guidance and support:  apparently a sheep had been bleating frantically for some time, and SL was worried it was caught on the fence.  We gathered up flashlights and followed her to the pen, where we discovered all the sheep gathered around a white ewe and a shaky tiny black lamb.  They glared at us and we retreated hastily back to the kitchen, where SC watched the game for a bit. I won.

So, life continues into the fall.  I've started driving the tour bus, I've done some sunset and sunrise kayaking, one of the wranglers has started up campfire parties by his trailer (there was a ban on burning for the summer), and I'll have no excuse to avoid the hiking trails.  4 months down, 5 to go.

Misadventures in July: letter to a friend

As the curse goes, “may you live in interesting times...
I had a rather bizarre weekend.  On Friday I discovered that Forrest (my new/used 2013 Subaru Forester) wouldn't start.  A GR maintenance dude came by and discovered that pack rats had eaten some wires.  The poison I had put in the engine was gone, so apparently they ate it up and then returned for the wires.  On Sat I had a AAA tow into Hernandez (just north of Espanola) for Lio to fix the wires over the weekend.  My friend B from GR picked me up there and drove us to Santa Fe, where we attended the Intl Folk Art Festival and I spent $1400 on 2 old saris, an embroidered handbag, and a tunic.  The tunic was the big ticket item, at $1250.  It was an impulse buy:  the artist tossed it over my head and said "it's YOU!" and I said, yes, I think I need to take it, and then he took it to the people writing the receipts and told them the price and my jaw dropped but I just couldn't say, oops, my bad, not taking it after all.  I talked myself into the fact that it's a one of a kind, that I'm supporting indigenous craftsmen, and that he's an up and coming STAR!
Then I met some more GR people at Harry's Roadhouse for dinner, and my boss drove me to Tijeras.  I slept through Sunday and P dropped me at the ABQ rapid ride stop near Four Corners.  I bused down to the RailRunner, arriving at 7:22.  The train had left at 7:19and the next wasn't until 9:35.  So, I texted M, and she met me at a sweet hippie coffeeshop near by:  Zendo

Combining friendship
And the elixir of life.
Would not want to choose!

 I caught the RR at 9:20, and arrived in Santa Fe at 11ish, where I discovered that the Blue bus was leaving at 1:45, arriving in Espanola at 2:50, and then I'd have to wait until 5:55 to catch a bus north.  Lio's was probably going to be closed by then.  So I called a taxi:  $88.  No.  Then I called an Uber.  $1 a mile, so I paid $28.  I arrived to discover that they had another hour to go, and there were more wires damaged.  So, I sat and listened to books and texted folks at the Ranch about my late arrival and then Lio told me that they had fixed all the broken wires they could find, but the computer was not talking to the engine.  
Why would a manual transmission not have a manual starter, I ask you?!
Long story short, one of the gents at GR came and got me (an hour drive).  I'm home, and Forrest is still in Hernandez.  Sigh.  But it looks like my insurance will cover it all, so life is not bad.

Meanwhile, I’m enjoying life here.  Got to play with micaceous clay last week and made a mug, a bowl, a pear-shaped rattle, and several beads.

I also am playing duets with one of the wranglers, and I recited Jabberwocky at the coffeehouse (a weekly event run by the college staff) to resounding huzzahs!  This week, in honor of Forrest, I plan to sing “The Mouse” from Britten’s “Rejoice in the Lamb.”  

It’s monsoon season.  

After the rainstorm
The birds discover puddles,
Which make a great bath.
I leave work and walk
Into a magical hour
Of cloudlit delight.

And that’s my news!

Summary of my first few weeks at Ghost Ranch

This is a letter I sent shortly after I arrived at the ranch:

Sorry about the phone problem:  it basically doesn't work on the Ranch.  We're in a total dead zone, but fortunately we do have wi-fi, so maybe we can try another Skype session sometime!  I'm working a variable shift, depending on what is happening here.  For example, next week is the BlueGrass festival:  a week of people learning how to play bluegrass banjo, fiddle, guitar, and a few other instruments.  They end with a coffee hour on Friday and a concert on Saturday, so I'm going to work Mon-Sat, with Tues off to keep me from going overtime (they don't like overtime) and the following week I'll work Sun-Thu and take a long weekend for my birthday.
All this means that you won't be able to reach me until I leave the Ranch on my days off.
I was insomniac on Sunday night.  Don't know why, it wasn't a mental thing. I was quite content, staying at P's house and starting to retrieve my things from G's condo.  He wants me out of his hair, although he says there's no rush.  But his girlfriend is apparently threatened by strong female friendships, so it's time to move out physically as well as emotionally.

Maybe I was thinking about that, unconsciously? Anyway, I woke up every hour on the hour from 9 pm to 3 am, at which point I threw in the towel and got up. I had planned to get up around 5:30 so I could get to GR by 8 am breakfast, and that's basically what I did.  I took a shower, started loading the car, and then chatted with P when she got up:  she goes in to work at 5:30 too.  Unfortunately the oil light came on 2 minutes into the drive, so I had to stop by a gas station for oil and help.  That added some time to the trip.  And then I became so drowsy that I was literally weaving into the oncoming lanes.  So, after Santa Fe I pulled to the side and napped for half an hour.  I got to breakfast about 8:45.  The nap helped,  as well as another half hour at lunch, but I was sleepy all day.   I drank so much coffee that I was THEN unable to sleep again.  I took a sleeping pill around 11, but that makes me groggy too, and I totally slept in.  Fortunately, I was scheduled for an event in the evening, so I just started my day late, and skipped breakfast.
Anyway, that's why I didn't get back to you:  busy taking care of stuff in ABQ, and then sleepy here at the Ranch.
Tomorrow I go on a hike to the Tsankawi pueblo ruin, near Bandelier, but less well known.  I'm joining a group of kids and their Ghost Ranch guide.  It was my boss' idea:  she is very encouraging of my taking part in events and getting to know the area and history.

Right now I'm logged into  I end up making about $400 a month, which is nice, because I am going to be paying for the clutch to the car I was using in Norway.  It apparently gave out the day after I left.  But, my expenses were minimal while I was there, since the snow kept me from exploring and spending money.  So, I guess it evens out.
Mom called while I was in ABQ.  It seems she's not well again.  It's too bad, she looked so good when I saw her in April.
And, that's my news!  I'm sending a pic of the sunset from the other day:  I was sitting in my jammies, knitting and listening to an audio book, when I noticed a beautiful light in the southeastern sky that is my living room view.  So I got up to take a pic of that and then looked west and saw these amazing red clouds.  I put a jacket over the jammies and walked down the private drive to get past the telephone wires.  Every day is another stunning sight.  I wonder if I'll get tired of it?

Sunday, July 8, 2018

Next steps

I've been at Ghost Ranch for a little over 2 months now.  As per usual, I am flagellating myself for not being more creative and productive, and now that the forests are closed to hiking, I'm upset with myself for not getting out on those trails while I still could.  There's always something to regret.  And yet, I am so happy here.  Every morning I wake to a view of Pedernal.

 Every day I walk to work with a view of the mighty sandstone cliffs that surround this canyon.  Every evening I walk home with my face to the sunset clouds.  In between, there are beauties and books and people.  Almost everyone is so happy to be here.  So, perhaps it's okay that I'm just hanging out.  For 9 months, though?  I need another project.

My book went to press this week, and I started thinking about another one.  Yes, I have my own books (the haiku book and the family history and the NaNoWriMo novel), but I would like to be paid for something a little less personal.  Here's the pitch I sent to my editor (that sounds so official!)

The Treasures of Ghost Ranch
Ghost Ranch,  now an educational retreat center in the isolated Piedre Lumbre badlands of northern New Mexico, is famous for two things:  a dinosaur and an artist.  The burgundy hills with grey stripes are fascinating to paleontologists because their ancient stream-beds hold a treasure trove of Triassic dinosaur bones, from the "blueprint" dino Coelophysis to the 20-ft long crocodilian phytosaur (perhaps the source of the local legend of Vivaran, the huge carnivorous snake that would slither out at dusk to consume the unwary.)  Those same hills would ensnare the 20th century artist Georgia O'Keeffe:  after one visit in 1934, she knew this was her creative home, and she lived and painted here for the next 50 years.  Twenty-eight of those paintings would feature the flat-topped Cerro Pedernal, source of the ancient Puebloan's chert.  A mere 10 miles away, it dominates the southeast horizon, and O'Keeffe appropriated it, asserting that "God said if I painted it enough I could have it."

But the story of Ghost Ranch is so much more.  From cattle rustling in the 1880s to movie making in the 1980s and beyond, from a close connection to the scientists at Los Alamos, to visits from Charles Lindbergh (who shot aerial photographs for local archaeologists), from conservationist efforts to  impromptu piano recitals  by Leopold Stokowski and Ansel Adams, the wild geology of this remote sanctuary, has enchanted and summoned people from all walks of life.  For 30 years a dude ranch for the elite, this magical place is now home to artists, poets, scientists, environmentalists, hikers from the Continental Divide Trail, campers, and people who want to escape the stresses of modern living.  Is the treasure of Ghost Ranch it's dinosaur skeletons, the olla of gold buried and lost by the cattle rustling Archuleta brothers, the hundreds of paintings by Georgia O'Keeffe, or the shining mica of its mesas, shimmering in the moonlight?
On the other hand, that may be all I have to say about it.  It's a mishmash of the stories I tell people, questioning and awestruck, who arrive at the welcome desk or the library. While there does not seem to be a kid's book about Ghost Ranch, do I really have much to add to the literature?  Probably not.
It's enough to just be here, another enchanted wanderer.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Orchestral haiku

In June, 2012, my husband and I moved from Portland, OR to Albuquerque NM.  Our marriage was in trouble, and so were our finances.  The two facts were not coincidental. ABQ was our fresh start. In September 2012, I joined the Albuquerque Philharmonic Orchestra.  Within two months, I had left my husband.  During the next few years, the orchestra probably saved my sanity.  It gave me a community and a focus, both of which I desperately missed and needed. 

I've played in orchestras since I was in fourth grade, in semi-professional ones since I was 16.  In the latter, I've always been the worst player in the group, hiding in the back of the 2nd violin section, usually in front of the timpani or french horns, all of which serves as concealment.  I am lazy about practising and I lack confidence, but I am a pretty decent sight-reader.  And, while I feel guilty about my errors fuzzing the sound and dragging down the quality of the group, I care more about my own needs.  I love playing in an orchestra, surrounded by the music.  There's something deeply satisfying about the rehearsal process, learning how the other parts fit with mine, watching the conductor, watching the first stand for bowings.  I am part of a wonderful whole; I am part of the growth and unfolding of musical moments.  When I open the case and rosin the bow, and then find my chair and set out the music, I feel the comfort of a routine that cradles me, comfortable and right and mine. I am home.

A large part of the experience is determined by the conductor, naturally. Conductors vary in temperament and ability, but they are always interesting in some way.  One conducted rehearsals in snippets, and we didn't play the entire piece until the dress rehearsal. He  used to slick back his hair with water, and by the end of the concert, it would have dried into a frenzied mop like Beethoven's.  Another would say "Uff da!" when we messed up, delighting my Norwegian soul. Some would tell interesting anecdotes, and most would sing, scatwise, to emphasize a point about sound.  In Norway, the conductor began speaking English for my benefit, but soon he was back to Norwegian, telling long stories which my stand partner did not  bother to translate. 

In Albuquerque, I discovered two unique aspects to our conductor.  First, as a professional violinist, he could tell us how to produce the sound he wanted.  It reminded me of the teacher (who had also taught my Mom), who could describe the physical aspects to bowing and vibrato in a way that I could easily translate to my own motions.  It's a joy to work with someone who can succinctly explain the mechanics as well as the interpretation and emotion.  In May, 2013, I sent the APO conductor a link, alluding to his dual nature:
 "I saw this in a new book (pg. 42 in Sorted Books by Nina Katchadourian) and thought of you. 
(I'm the APO 2nd violinist who always comes flying in late and who works in a library.) "
The second unique thing about the APO conductor was allied to the first: his manner of giving directions was bright, snappy, funny and....haiku.
A revelation:
Our conductor communicates
In haiku format.

For years I've used haiku for my Facebook posts.  The idea was to take my mundane day and transform it into poetry.  At the very least, I would keep it brief.  Orchestra  rehearsals had already received the haiku treatment, but now I began to jot down the conductor's actual words, and then form them into haiku.  Today I have gathered up the observations from 2012-6, and I am posting them here.

About rehearsing, performing, and listening:
Sept 11, 2012:  and so it begins
I so much prefer
To just play, sans audition.
But, I'm in. Feels good.

Dec 2012
Waiting for the cue,
Listening to the solo,
I watch his baton.

At New Mexico Philharmonic Orchestra concert
Luscious, sweet, intense:
Mendelssohn played by the great
Rachel Barton Pine.

Once upon a time
Rehearsal breaks were a bond,
Bit mow we just text.

Recently saw a
Muted tuba. Awesome, but
Somewhat phallic, no?

The sweet notes trilled while
Melody soared and tears dropped:
The lark ascended.

March 2013
The engineer eyes
The violin fingering:
"It's inefficient."

That feeling you get
When you're performing music
You don't recognize.

We're playing a piece
Commissioned by "Q"'s father
(Cue Star Trek geeks' gasps.)

All dressed up at home.
Concert went well and I'm wired.
Firebird will do that.
August 23 2013
All I did was think
About skipping rehearsal.
Now i have a flat.

He plays the Barber
1. Precise yet fluid,
The music made visible.
Our guest conductor.
2.  Eyes closed, eyebrows raised
(The notes go by like the wind)
He's a vehicle.
3. Albuquerque folk
Please! You owe it to your selves
Come listen to this

On an evening spent with Bruckner...
1. After three hours of
Tremolo, my arm feels like
Overcooked pasta.
2. My stand partner wrote
"Terror!" at the beginning
Of the last movement.

3. At least there's only
One key per movement. But it's
Three flats. Sometimes five.

Observations....w/ Santa Fe Orchestra Chorus, Spring 2014
1. Before going out
To start the concert rolling,
He checks his zipper.
2. The French Horns emptied
Spit in perfect unison
And played the next bit.
3. Enthusiastic
Singing makes the risers bounce.
I'm told they will hold.

Sept 13, 2016
The same note repeated...
I get lost. Where are we now?
Yes, it does matter.

At dress rehearsal,
At last, NAILED the saltandos!
Cue triumphant grin.

She said, he is like
A border collie. We're sheep.
He was not amused. 

We walk in out groups.
The students are skateboarding
On the parking ramps.

I love to listen
To the Gorecki III, but
It's deadly to play.

She sings in Polish
But it needs no translation.
Somebody must cry.

Sept 27, 2016
On rehearsal break;
Checking posts and rejoicing:
I'm missing debates.

 Oct 2016
I just have one job
As second chair: turn pages.
Tonight I blew it.
Oct 4, 2016, my confession
For four years, I say,
I've quoted you in haiku.
He is quite amused.A conductor's words

"Listen to the brass--
They will not be hearing you.
I must follow them."

He adds, "That's the best
Deceptive cadence EVER!"
Now I like Bruckner.

On an evening spent with Bruckner...
"There are not many
Rhythms in this piece. We can
Really learn them." Right.
Humane conducting:
"Strings, adapt....they need to breathe."
Sounds reasonable.

Play pizzicato
With joy. (If you can,
he adds.)
We nod agreement.

Haiku for the APO spring concert
(Rachmaninoff, Rhapsody on a Theme by Paganini)

We play the 18th
Variation. He recalls
An awful movie.

(Bruckner 8, trio of Satz Scherzo.)
The trio's a search
For a lost dream melody.
He never finds it.
He says, I don't want
To conduct. But I'll be here
If you need me.

This concert's riddled
With transitions and also
With dotted rhythms.

He says, I won't stop
Unless I have to. Promise!

We stop seven times.

Thoughts on Schumann...
He was bipolar.
"And we need to reflect that."
Time to be manic.

"A sigh has two sides."
Crescendo is easy. Now

In the SFP,
P is the important one.
(But it's not as fun.)

Rehearsing the Barber
1,  It's a jig, he says
Let's try it at full tempo
And see what happens

2. A haiku to understatement.....
"It's going to be
An adrenalin rush if
We don't know it cold."
3. (Rehearsed the Barber
Third movement at half tempo.
It is still scary.)
 4. Ferocious triplets:
"See, it's what the people want."
If they only knew.
 We play the trio...
"It's a mid afternoon sound."
Um, that's naptime, right?

He tells us we should
Glue those eighth notes together.
It puts me to sleep

He says, "it's sul G,
All the way. It's not that high..."
Glad I don't play first.
A friend's response:  I pictured myself at the symphony, and all of the violinists were in g strings. Quite a sight!

A mild suggestion
To the strings: "Play together.
It'll be more fun."

I am quite puzzled
When I read "aargh" for "arco."
I need new glasses.

Notes from rehearsal...
1. Re: Dvorak
The maestro thinks its
Much more interesting when
We play together.
 2. Re: Adams
He places each note
Precisely where he wants it.
It's an adventure.
 3. Los peregrinos
Sing loudly nearby as we
Try to rehearse Grieg.
On the Brahms violin concerto in D...
This start is gorgeous.
By the time the soloist
Comes in.....who will care?

On playing Ives.....
1. He says, "You can strive
For rhythmic accuracy,
But..." and we all laugh.
2. Shadow notes can be
Left out. When he puts it in,
It's not optional.
3. When it's chaotic,
It is intentional, so
Don't try to listen.
4. You look so gloomy!
You're taking this melody
Seriously? Hmmmm.

Breathe, breathe, BREATHE, he said.
Breathe every two measures.
I breathe all the time.

You're rushing the eighths,
He said: no coffee for six
Hours before we play.

"It should be between 147 and 152. Yes, shoot for 152 in practice. It's easier. Except for the triplets."
A violinist
Conductor is NORMALLY
A very good thing.

To produce a continuous tone:
Try with half bowing
The opposite direction.
(It's disconcerting.)

He gives up nuance...
"Okay, I have to say it:
Just make it shorter."

 It looks so hard, yet
"It's not as important as
You might think," he says.

"Play it like clockwork:
There'll be time enough later
To get all Stretchy."
#ravel #maingauche

"Oh I remember:
You just flew in from England....
That shouldn't matter."

"Is it 2 or 4?
Does anyone really care?"
Not I: it's one note.

He says it's best when
We're controlling the bow. "Don't
Let it control you."

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

politics on the road

I wrote a post on Herding Cats about the trauma I am experiencing from a distance, but I only touched loosely on the political scene.  I don't know if that is a Nomad post or a Therapy post.  Maybe it's a little of both.  Being on the road, I find myself talking about American politics with a lot of people, and I usually revert to their own politics. That would be a Nomad post.  Libraries are shutting down in England and Ireland, Brexit is a mess from both sides, Spain has put Catalonia in a military lockdown, etc.

But American politics...gawd it's awful.  I receive daily emails from the Democratic party and from environmental groups.  They talk about elections, about the gutting of the EPA, about the other daily and hourly attacks on all I hold dear.  Sometimes I go through and remove myself from the mailing lists, but I am sending monthly contributions, so it's a temporary fix.  Despite the contributions, I still get messages:  WE NEED YOUR HELP, WHERE ARE YOU?!  I push the trashcan icon without reading, but meanwhile it's another assault.  Trump and his minions are at war with me, and I'm doing nothing to fight back.

This traumatic situation is not a function of being on the road: since I moved to NM,  I've been doing most of my activism from long distance, so this is just a continuation.. In fact being on the road is little different from being in Taos.  My social and personal life has mainly been online, where I share bits and pieces of my mostly-solitary daily routine.  I also got get my news online, and that's where the trauma comes in, and the need for a Therapy post.

But, as I said in my other blog, what can I do, how can I respond?  Only through words, it seems.  So, words were my response when Puerto Rico and Santa Rosa were both devastated by natural disasters, and Trump not only did nothing, he displayed his total unfitness.  He ignored the fires, and didn't know that Puerto Rico was an U.S. territory, filled with U.S. citizens deserving of aid.  And, he cared more about the personal criticism than the huge amount of suffering.  Don't even get me started on the climate change issue.

In tragedy's wake,
Why expect empathy from
A sociopath?

Wednesday, September 20, 2017


I was talking with R about a possible writing project. She asked me what I feel passionate about, and I realized that I don't feel passionate. I am fascinated by many things, but passions are beyond me. That's actually an ongoing angst/regret. It's part of my Jack of all Trades personality to be interested in many things, but unable to produce an excellent product. Still, as I age and I begin to become a little expert in various areas of fascination, I find that there is a product of sorts. I have songs and origami patterns and fudge recipes at my immediate disposal, for example. And I know a bit about wines, enough to buy or order something that I'll like. To my surprise, I realize it no longer bothers me that I remain a dilettante in all areas. I think I like it that way. In fact, I know I do. It's so much less work.

M thinks we fuss too much about things like passion and purpose. In her opinion, the activity of the moment is the passion. Looking at today, my passions have been eating toast and coffee, throwing a ball for Pekoe, cuddling the dogs, knitting, tutoring, listening to music, doing laundry, watching bad TV, and writing. Hmmm.

Facetiousness aside. I do get what she means. It's like the old adage: if you want to be a writer, write. Or, to be more psychological, your choices indicate who you are, what is important to you. The energy you put into a person or project is what gives it the meaning. "It is the time you waste on your rose..." in fact. I could take that silly list of activity/passions and say that my purposes are living a comfortable life, learning, creating, teaching, sharing and caring. It's a more generic list than the list of passions, but it's more encompassing. And the purposes can remain steady, while the passions change.

So, I make lists of my passions, or rather fascinations. I can choose to waste time on them, or I can be chosen by them. I deliberately don't say that I can be obsessed by them, because, again, obsessing is not what I do. Repetition, maybe. Many show up in blogs or Facebook posts: they have not been researched or developed, because that would be work. But if one can write about sheer observations and sound bites, here's the current list, which I shared with R.
  • Details in art: feet, patterns, fashions
  • Clouds and the desert SW Sky
  • Pterodactyls and other fossils
  • Ra Paulette: Cave digger
  • Waterfalls.
  • Columbia River Gorge.
  • Wild fires. Climate change.
  • Zozobra festival and burning Man and other traditions of burning
  • Dia de Los Muertos, marigold parade, etc in New Mexico
  • The tradition of the luminarias /farolitos: making them, setting them out, walking the paths.
  • Chimayo and other pilgrimage destinations
  • Stone circles
  • Andy Goldsworthy
  • Beauty and the beast, variations
  • Jane Austen
  • Dorothy Sayers
  • Georgette Heyer
  • Diana Wynne Jones
  • Strong girls in science fiction
It reminds me a little of Tim's 20-something to-do list: esoteric and eccentric. His included math problems and learning to speak with dolphins, so he had a creative product in mind. He was ambitious. I am not. There is so much to observe and experience, and I think that I am at the place where I'm interested in learning for learning's sake. And, it's difficult to focus on one thing. That's why I say I have no passions: what I really mean is that I have no obsessions.

That being the said, it's clear that I am, in fact, passionate about writing. In some way, shape, or form, I write every day. The question is, can I take that passion and actually create something coherent for R's imprint? I'm excited and confused by the prospect. Excited because it's new to me and has the possibility of actually being a remunerative activitiy. Confused, because I don't really know what's involved.

I'm thinking, though, that instead of writing about famous people or that earlier list of fascinations, I'd like to write about extraordinary ordinary people, people in my family, for example. Laura Ingalls Wilder is the closest model: she strung her family stories into a series of books which, while not completely factual, caught the spirit and experience of that pioneer lifestyle. All families are a product of their culture, and they all have stories that fit into the civilization's big picture. For example: women's roles changed with the advent of new careers and innovations. One result was my aunt, who, as The Flying Secretary, raced an airplane across the U.S. in the Powderpuff Derby in 1965. Women's roles were circumscribed after the War, but many had to work to supplement family incomes as the children grew older and needed more support in starting their own careers. And many wanted something meaningful to do. My Mom went back to school after we kids grew up and later took her teaching experience and love of music to start a community orchestra in a small town in IL.

There were other historical events that informed family trajectories. The Great Depression and World War II left their marks on everyone, of course. Esther, whose first husband worked at Los Alamos, left him for a woman and then temporarily left her to have a child. She lived to be over a 100; in that time frame she worked as a censor during WWII and did a similar job for 3 years in Germany after the war. Her mother supported the family during the Depression as a seamstress and a Christian Science healer. In my family, the Depression was responsible for much roaming. My grandpa played in a jazz band in Chicago during the Capone years and remembered being present for a gangster confrontation. "Keep playing," one of the gangsters growled. Dad, who as a radioman listened to Tokyo Rose, was at Guadalcanal after the Sullivan brothers got killed, and was on a troop transport that took wounded from Okinawa back to the West Coast. Mom lived through the Vanport flood. Dad went to college on the GI bill.

Then, there is the entire immigrant experience. So many stories, so many people. I remember hearing of a woman in Colorado who went crazy with the loneliness and hard work, holed up in the homestead, and held off her entire family with a shotgun. While insanity may not have been the only response, my great aunt told us that Grandma married at a very late age, mid-thirties, just to escape all the hard work of the eldest daughter on a farm.

I think I'd like to research family stories, for my family at the very least. It would be an interesting way to combine my interest in history and my attempts to find meaning in the lives that are lived around me. People have endless ways of being and creating and just living: how do we grow as a people and as individuals? How do we tell our stories, to ourselves and to others? My aunt's story is particularly tragic, of course, but it's also inspiring in its way. Her tragedy is one of mental illness within (or created by?) a stultifying society. What leads one to paranoia? What series of frustrations and attacks and sorrows brought her from the bright adventurous pilot to the ranting schizophrenic? And yet, she managed to break the mold that had been set for her, at least for awhile. She was a fighter, and it was unknown women like her who set the stage for later battles, who provided the background for the Amelia Earhearts. Not everyone can succeed, but everyone can fight.

No, I wouldn't write this for R's kids' nonfiction list. And, it's probably not possible to find all the facts of these half-heard stories. But it is possible to set that scene, that history. It's possible to find the arc of the family story. Maybe someone will want to hear it. Maybe it has meaning, in the big picture.