Saturday, September 26, 2009

Give Me A Sign

I stood wrinkling my nose at a brown sign that said, "Doggie waste is unhealthy for children and the community. Please clean up after your pet." It was kind of odd because the message didn't pertain to me, I don't have a dog, and I wasn't walking a dog ... but apparently this was exactly where I wanted to be. "Are you sure this is it?," I asked. My friend stared at his iPhone. "Yeah. But keep in mind, that it only has a twenty foot accuracy." This was my maiden voyage in geocaching.

Such was the outcome of dinner. My wife was out with her girlfriends this evening, so I met my friend at Chevy's. He's my age and we enjoy just getting together. Sometimes its for nothing more than to listen to a baseball game and burn a cigar. Tonight it was Mexican.

During dinner he asks if I've ever heard of geocaching. It turns out, that on his latest visit with the Oklahoma grandkids, they all went geocaching for the day and had a blast. For those of you who aren't in the loop, geocaching (check it out here is a contemporary form of orienteering, but it's done with GPS devices rather than maps and compasses, and there is usually a little treasure or registration pad at the geocache site. We pulled out the iPhone to search for geocache sites within reasonable distance of the restaraunt and were surprised to find ten, one within a quarter mile. "Wanna do it?" I asked. "It's just over there."

Part of the geocaching fun is finding the hidden cache . It can be very small and subtly in the open (like one of those hollow rocks for hiding house keys), or it can be the size of a shoebox and cleverly hidden. So now you have to imagine a couple of old guys, who as far as anybody knows could be lost Alzheimers patients, wandering back and forth between three park signs at 6:30 in the evening. My friend has memory issues and I can't see. So I'm down in the grass looking at rocks through my bifocals and he's staring at his GPS, when a woman came out from her home asked, "What are you doing?" My friend looked at me as if to say, "I'm not sure ... what ARE we doing?" I just squinted at him and said, "You've got the iPhone." She shook her head and smiled knowingly. "If you are geocaching," she said, "then you're warm." and walked away. This was obviously something she's seen a few dozen times before. She's probably the person who set this one up. And she's probably hidden a camera and has gotten footage. Sometime soon I'm going to see myself on YouTube crawling around with my nose in the grass at the foot of a Doggie Waste sign.

Within a few minutes, we found the cache in a magnetic key box tucked away behind a frame 12 feet away from the original target. We autographed the tiny registration book, mustered our remaining dignity and called it an evening.

Today's Influences and Soundtrack:
James Thurber, The Thurber Carnival
P.G. Wodehouse, Golf Omnibus
Pat Metheny, Still Life Talking
J.S. Bach, Violin Sonata

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Confessions For All

Tonight its Silbelius ... all night long. So little time. I have 7.6 hours of music and only 4.5 hours until I turn into a pumpkin.

My introduction to the work of Jean Sibelius took place in high school when I participated in the symphonic band. For the Spring concert of my sophomore year we performed Finlandia, and being a trombone - baritone player, I got charged up by the opening bars. Ominous, brooding, imposing, anticipatory, dark and dramatic, they stirred in me some sense of adventure and called to life the expectation of descent from a stony vista overlook into a fog filled ravine with a defined notion of the goal. Sounds like a lot for a piece of music, but once you've experienced it, there's no going back. In fact, Allen Bloom (Closing of the American Mind) revels in such experience while detesting rock and roll because rock merely stirs juvenile passions with no context for the richer appreciation of achievement. While preparing for the concert I purchased an LP of Finlandia, En Saga and The Swan of Tuonela. I drove my poor mom crazy, because the high volume wasn't high enough.

Shortly after that concert, I found a recording of Symphony No. 5 and Pohjola's Daughter. That was it, I was hooked. The liner notes declared Sibelius' compositions to be nationalistic, anchored in his love of the Finnish landscape and the brooding shadows of the fjords. While I barely comprehended nationalism, I did detect that there was more. There was ancient story, legend, mythos, identity of people and their place. His music was a conversation concerning the battles of the gods and the kings. It recalls the stealthy approach of Beowulf to Grendel and the bloodletting that ensued. It reminisces about the Volsung and their exploits. It prefigures the ride of the Rohirrim against the amassed forces of the Dark Tower on the wide fields of Pellinor outside Minas Tirith.

It was ten years later when I stumbled upon yet a fourth recording of Symphony No. 4 that I actually fell in love with Sibelius. I had heard the 4th Symphony several times before and didn't like it. I don't know what it was exactly: ... sluggish, swampish, confused, a bad adagio, fairies dancing over a slime pit?? it was hard to put my finger on. These were probably the same kind of reasons that audiences hated it when Sibelius first performed it ...he was booed off of one stage. But he never changed it .. he was resolved... this is how it would be. The recording that captured me was by Paavo Berglund and the Helsinki Orchestra. Berglund interpreted the symphony with a clarity and vigor that I had not heard before. (This isn't really surprising since composers occasionally find someone else who do a better job at communicating their compositions; Samuel Barber for example relied upon Thomas Schippers to present his work.) Somewhere deep in the liner notes an aside was made regarding Sibelius' health; he wrote the symphony during a time when he was fearful of throat cancer and was awaiting the results of tests. That was it. And that's where I fell in love. The symphony was brooding worry laced with dark patience and the struggle for hope. No wonder he wouldn't change a note of it. It was his very heart and psyche. To the devil with anyone who didn't like it. His every composition was a letter, a poem, a diary entry, a confession. And thus with every other composer ...

Tonight its Sibelius. So much music, and so little time.

Today's Influences and Soundtrack:
Jean Sibelius, Finlandia
En Saga
Pohjola's Daughter
Swan of Tuonela
Valse Triste
Symphony No. 4
Symphony No. 7
Scenes Historique
Pelleas et Mellisande
Symphony No. 2

Friday, September 18, 2009

Lawyer Shaped Life

Groping around in my daughter's kitchen this morning I stumbled on a package of Cedar Grilling planks. I perused the packaging while imagining the meal possibilities where they could be used when my eye landed on The Warning.

California Proposition 65 Warning:
Combustion of wood or charcoal products may contain chemicals known to the state of California to cause cancer, birth defects, and/or reproductive harm. This warning is required and issued by pursuant to California Health & Safety Code Section 25249.6

I cannot imagine living in a place where leaders were so hyper-concerned about death or perfect health that it was required by law to warn people that harm could come from burning wood. One would think that they had evolved in paradise and were suddenly introduced to the horrible reality of harm; that they never had an occasion to burn wood or get their eyebrows singed by the flame. When in the 10,000 years that we have been wandering around on planet Earth did we not figure out that life is dangerous?

Et In Arcadia Ego

Very soon we should expect to see the following warning on sidewalks and in fields:

California Proposition 721 Warning:
Walking in the upright position entails risks of loss of balance and subjection to gravity, and is known in the state of California and throughout the world to result in broken bones, contusions and even death. For best results, please crawl. This warning issued by pursuant to California Health & Safety Code.

Wouldn't that be a boon for Health Care lawyers?

Today's Influences and Soundtrack:
Tim Richardson, The Garden Book
Francis Schaeffer, Pollution and the Death of Man
Will Ackerman, Past Light
Ralph Vaughan Williams, Orchestral Essays

Sunday, September 13, 2009

The Path Out and Back

I was asked during lunch conversation today who Wendell Berry is. What mostly came to my mind was his set of poems entitled The Country of Marriage. And so I picked them up this afternoon to linger over them again. Refreshing poems well-rooted in the soil.

I’ve been married 36 years. Sometimes I thrash and chafe, not wanting to be married. (I am certainly not alone in this occasional squall.) When it happens it does so for any number of reasons that all seem to be anchored in one; namely that I am profoundly selfish and truly ignorant of what I am. It’s a radically stupid attitude to have since to the best of my recollection, every blessing I’ve ever received has come to me in marriage.

As I write this evening, I am not writing out of that dissatisfaction. I am content in my marriage.

In one of Berry’s poems, he describes his marriage as a path that leads from a well tended garden into the unknown sections of a dark woods. The known allows him to strike out into the unknown with a fresh sense of stability and anchoring. But then being in the unknown produces a deep sense of longing to return to the comfort of the known.

This is true of my marriage. There are large portions of it that are a lovely, orderly, well tended garden with paths that thread through groupings of fragrant blossoms and nourishing fruit. Familiarity of those paths lead me into dark regions that I don’t know very well at all. (What man could not say this about his wife?) Those dark areas, while fascinating, become unnerving, being filled with peculiar vibrations and scents and movements that startle and keep one off balance. After a short while, I take the return path with deeper appreciation to the safety of the known, realizing that the dark areas are bigger than I suspected and what is unknown will only ever be known slowly.

In this ebb and flow of content and discontent, I concede that my marriage is not an end-all-be-all in the Romantic ideal, but a country to be explored and mapped, settled and sometimes left wild.

Today’s Influences and Soundtrack:
Wendell Berry, Collected Poems
J.S. Bach, Goldberg Variations, Cello Suites
Pat Metheny, Still Life Talking

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Looking for Renewal

Tonite, all the old pains of a lifetime have come back to visit.

I fell down the stairs, about two hours ago, and every injury I sustained while growing up seems to have been renewed. When I was a kid, I was climbing an old pear tree in my grandmother’s yard and as I reached up I grabbed a dead branch. The branch gave way and I watched in wonder as 16 shades of green rushed upward to a blue sky just before I landed on my back. I couldn’t straighten myself for two days. Back troubles have plagued me since.

When in high school, I got into a psychological scuffle with a friend and kicked his books off the stage where we were practicing for a musical. He made gestures as if to reconcile and reached up his hand in order to shake on peace. When I grasped his hand, he pulled me off the stage, where I crashed headfirst into the orchestra pit. I broke my collar bone and had a concussion for three days. Another friend drove me to the hospital and he reported that the only thing I did was ask him every 20 seconds “What time is it?” for more than an hour. When the weather changes, my collar bone notifies me.

When living in New York, I fell off the roof of a house, shattered my elbow, fractured my hip and gave myself a concussion that lasted two days. In surgery, they removed the pieces of elbow because they couldn’t reconstruct it, and I spent 6 weeks doing therapy to get my range of motion back. The leftovers were chronic arthritis type weakness and pain in the right arm. but that is consolation when i think that I should have been paralyzed.

But deeper than these, I talked with a woman today who just gave her child to another for adoption and she is grieving over what she will not experience and enjoy; all those blessings of motherhood as he grows up. She won’t get the privilege of the first laugh, the first steps, learning to read and sing, t-ball games and puppy love. In addition, she has two other kids that she hasn’t been with in two years and is feeling the loss of motherly connection with them. Soon she will move to a new city, having been emptied of the common joys of life because of bad choices with ugly consequences.

My body hurts and my heart hurts. I long for the world to be renewed.

“Life is pain, Princess. Anyone who tells you differently is selling something.” -Princess Bride.

Today’s Influences and Soundtrack:
J.R.R. Tolkien, The Two Towers.
Solomon of Israel, Proverbs of the Ancient Middle East.
Roy Whelden, Galax
Richard Souther, Cross Currents
G.F. Handel, Water Music