Monday, November 3, 2008
Friday, October 31, 2008
Well, rain it did, first thing this morning, and the day remained cloudy, even threatening to rain again as the trick-or-treaters began their yearly pillaging. The best part of the downpour was the smell; I drove home after dark with the car windows just barely cracked open, for the night was rather chilly. Before long, I had to roll the windows down further, just to get more of the damp air. I wish I could transport the smell of a good rain in Tehachapi and post it like a picture so you all would know exactly what I'm talking about, but that failing, I can only say, it is an awake sort of smell, as something that had drowsed away a long, hot summer was again alert and tense for action. I think it is mostly the tang of rabbit bushes, which can only be described as a very vaguely piney scent, but wilder, if such a thing is possible. There is also a strong, woody tinge of oak, and of last year's grass, that dried early in the spring, and dust slipping off the pavement at last--all in all, it is a thankful sort of smell.
Tuesday, October 28, 2008
Monday, October 27, 2008
A preying mantis, it was, to be exact. (No scientific name, sorry; I'm supposed to be cramming for a tutoring session. . .No, I'm tutoring, not being tutored, but I put it off as expertly as any student ever did.)
Sunday, October 26, 2008
So, I have resorted to Chesterton, who was a man of many original phrases; the new blog title comes from the quote at the top of the page which, in turn, appears in the novel "The Napoleon of Notting Hill." If I keep on here long enough we may, at any rate, get to see the thousandth bug, eh?
[Edit: October 27: Weeeel, it seems that despite thorough (?) searching, I missed an existing "The Thousandth Time". . .and a blog, at that! But temporarily, anyway, I shall leave both the address and the title as they stand. Suggestions for a permanent title would be greatly welcomed.]
Here is a birch leaf: And here is a tree. They tend to have a lot of leaves:
Sunday, October 5, 2008
Saturday, October 4, 2008
Getting away from the band aspect of piping, the show also included a lovely piece performed by Margaret Stewart and Allan MacDonald. They have recorded some wonderful combinations of traditional Gaelic singing and pipe tunes; in this case, the singer presents a Gaelic hymn and the piper weaves a piobaireachd variation into it. I read a short article the other day (the one I give the link to, I believe) which stated that Mr. MacDonald's Master's thesis explored the ties between the Gaelic language and piobaireachd; if that doesn't sound like a thoroughly absorbing scholarly work, I don't know what does. (But I am admittedly prejudiced!)
Friday, October 3, 2008
Wednesday, October 1, 2008
I found out several interesting facts in the course of this project, the main one being the sharp contrast between the leaves of the Valley Oak (Quercus lobata) and the Blue Oak (Quercus douglasii). Even when the leaves are closer in size than those pictured below, the shapes are quite distinctive.
Also, while hunting for the scientific names, I ran across the trivia that the Valley Oak is the largest kind of oak found in North America. And, though it does not seem to be as widely known, Blue Oak leaves tend to make very smudgy prints indeed!
Tuesday, September 30, 2008
Saturday, September 27, 2008
Below, the dog is working carefully, trying to coax the four sheep up a ramp.
And here. . .patience is a virtue.
For my money, dog trials are one of the most beautiful events in the world. The herding is mostly done by border collies, who move like sunlight moves in and out of the shadows on a river. They're terribly clever too, and they look like they are enjoying the outfigure-the-sheep bits as much as they are the running. The interaction between the dogs and their handlers is fascinating; it is teamwork, rather than a show of a dog running through a handful of tricks. Though the basic rules of getting a small herd of sheep through an obstacle course are easy to follow, I don't know the finer points of the art--I just love watching those dogs work. You yourself can find out some finer points here. Of the few dogs I watched, most were trained to voice as per the chart in the link, but at least one was trained to a whistle, and that was the most fascinating. It was eerily quiet in the arena; you could just hear the occasional thud of the sheeps' hooves, and floating on top of the silence was the weird, thin warble of the handler's whistle. The dog, in all its grace, was fairly dancing to the sound, turning for one phrase, dropping soundlessly to the ground for another. The whistle might have suggested music, but the careful motion of the dog just plain was music.
Explanation for those of you who are wise and do not follow the link: it takes you to the website of Julie Fowlis, a Gaelic singer from North Uist in the Hebrides. I heard a mention of her last week and was curious enought to buy a track from her previous CD off of iTunes. Then, of course, I had to just sample her new CD, and at present, the price of that CD has leapt from my pocket and is hurrying itself over to Scotland. At present, I'm most looking forward to hearing "Ille Dhuinn, ’S Toigh Leam Thu" in its entirety (I just liked it. That's why.), but the whole thing sounds like quite a treat. Perhaps it was just a phase, or, more likely, I was just running across the wrong artists, but for a while there, it seemed like Gaelic singing carried with it an obligatory synthesizer humming in the background. The approach on this album may not be traditional in the strictest sense (Chris Thile, a very innovative American mandolinist has been included on a couple of tracks, for example), but it is all. . .well, real music, tasteful and pleasant in every way, and bursting at the seams with more talent than I can get my head around all at once.
Friday, September 26, 2008
This is the Marine Band from San Diego. It would be redundant to say that they are perfect. They played several times during the day in front of the grandstand. Watching them march and countermarch through a piece was impressive enough, but listening to them play was one of the grandest things that has happened to me all year. They nailed all the standards, "Semper Fidelis," an exquisite set of American folk tunes, even "Scotland the Brave," then they added some unexpected icing to the cake: an amalgamation of the themes from "Ben-Hur". Perhaps because they were playing in the middle of the racetrack? Probably just because it sounded good. And it sounded very, very good. Still, there was something about the end, when they went marching off to the Marine's Hymn that might have topped it. That was perfection!
Later, I was able to have a few words with their drum major. I had hoped very much to lay my hands on a CD so I could give the folks back home some inkling of the wonders of the day, but he told me they can't make commercial CD's, something to do with them being run on Department of Defense money. So, for the rest of you, you'll just have to take my word for it. It was grand--and if you get a chance to see them, do!
. . .The band was marching through the tunnel under the racetrack prior to playing.
Sunday, September 14, 2008
Therefore, aware that I am presenting you with something a good deal less than the full experience, I offer a few pictures of the Games on Saturday. It was by far the most varied Scottish festival I had ever seen. . .and, yes, I had haggis for lunch.
First of all, the reason I go to Scottish Games (beyond the piobaireachd):
Unless I am much mistaken, this is a Canadian band, Edmonton and District.
Quite a treat to listen to, and I hear they were in the top 2 of both events in the Grade III competition.
This is what many people refer to accurately as a "hairy hielan coo," or, in broader English, a Hairy Highland Cow. They had a pair of them there, ingeniously named Bonnie and Clyde. The presence of Scottish animals did not stop there; somebody had also brought a few Scottish Fold cats, and of course there were Clydesdale horses, which are a good deal more pleasant (in my opinion, which nobody asked for) than any cat, Scottish or otherwise.
Even though there were several million pipers (or at least it sounded like it) there were bands of other kinds too. It was certainly a first for me to see so many harpers in one place at once--there were probably a dozen harpers in this circle, playing different parts, as you would expect in any orchestra.
The wonders would not cease. They had soccer matches! It was five-a-side teams, on a field to match, and games limited to half an hour. I spent a very pleasant hour. . .how often do you get a pipe band practicing at the end of a soccer field? (It is hard to see in the picture, but that white pole in the background is supposedly holding up a very high net which would prevent overly ambitious goal kicks from braining pipers. No pipers, that I know of, suffered any injuries, but at least one kick missed the net.)
I had to watch this team--they're from San Jose, but they wear Celtic FC jerseys.
Well, that's a round of pictures. Now to tell you what you missed, as far as a comprehensive presentation goes:
- They had several shinty matches over the course of the day. I kept trying to make it over to watch, but every time I reached the field, there was a break in progress. I did run into a gentleman who mentioned he was writing this article, however, so you can get an idea of what went on.
- Highland dancing. I'm sure there was plenty of it, but, like the shinty, I was always somewhere else at the time. It is certainly a beautiful art, and I was sorry to miss it. I did catch a bit of the Scottish Country Dancing competition. (I should know something about Scottish Country Dancing, as I spent a semester with a club at school, but I was kept so busy trying to tell my right foot from my left foot that I missed all the finer points.) The set I saw competing was all children, none of them over twelve, I would guess, and the smallest boy was probably about six. They were being presided over by a judge with the most trim and impressive white beard and the most contagious smile I think I have ever seen. It would be very hard to find a soul anywhere who looked so delighted; the only people who might come close were the children who were doing the dancing.
- Heavy events. As hard as it is to miss the sight of a man tossing something that resembles a telephone pole, I did somehow manage to miss it here.
They weren't fighting at all. They were. . .talking. Well, communicating somehow, anyway. It was rather disappointing because all this committee work started just about sundown and,being black on a blacktop driveway, they were difficult to see in the dusk. Furthermore, if you shone a flashlight on them, they would move out of the light and back to their silent campaigning in the dark.
Whatever they were discussing must have been serious because quite a few of them were carrying young ants around the melee. Just a guess--perhaps a part of the hill's citizens were being evicted, but how they were chosen, I could not guess.
I was a little disappointed that the light (or lack of it) made it impossible to watch them properly. I could recall just enough time-misted references to studies which linguists have done on chimpanzees, and even chinchillas, to make me curious as to whether there might be patterns in ant behaviour that could translate into a sort of "language". At the very least, it would be very helpful to know the proper phrasing for, "Please stay off my toe."
"And someone raised the question 'twixt the coffee and the cakes:
'Does the Piper walk to get away from all the noise he makes?'"
--From "The Ballad of How MacPherson Held the Floor" by Robert W. Service
Pipers are noted for their ambulatory habits. Robert Service is not the only one who has commented on it. There is also the old supposition that they walk (or march) because moving targets are harder to hit. Competing pipers in Grade 3 and higher march, even among their own kind, because the judges expect them to.
I did some accidental research on the subject this afternoon and discovered that, even if you do not have a neighbor with a rifle trained on you, moving while you play is very beneficial. It is the time of year when you try to eke the last dregs of summer's benefit and wear sandals. Unfortunately, it is also the time of year when the big, black ants are whispering to each other that the weather is about to change and that they had better store up every edible they possibly can. It would appear that novice pipers are considered edible. I have been disturbed in mid-birl many a time by a very ambitious ant which attaches itself to my toe and will not let go. I have never been dragged by one more than a few feet, but it always pays to be cautious, so I have taken to strolling, even while I tune.
Wednesday, July 16, 2008
"Mystery insect bugging experts at London museum"
On the same subject, more or less, here is another quote from O. Henry, which my sister sent me. No typos, I promise (read it carefully).
“May Martha’s father was a man hidden behind whiskers and spectacles. He lived
for bugs and butterflies and all insects that fly or crawl or buzz or get down
your back or in the butter. He was an etymologist, or words to that effect. He
spent his life seining the air for flying fish of the June-bug order, and then
sticking pins through ‘em and calling ‘em names."
--from "Buried Treasure"
Sunday, July 13, 2008
The animal below is, I believe, called a moon jelly:
And here are some spotted jellies. They are a South Pacific species. The brown tint is due to a type of algae which the spotted jellies cultivate on themselves and use to enhance their diet.
Spotted jellies up close:
Most of the jellyfish we saw seemed to be slowly tumbling through the water, with little regard for up or down, but the species below (aptly called an upside-down jelly) has a definite preference for the position in the picture. In fact, the jellies have a sort of suction cup on top (if top it is) that enables them to anchor on a stationary object.
The Mediterranean jelly moves like a slow-motion cascade of confetti:
Sunday, June 29, 2008
Tuesday, June 24, 2008
Sunday, June 22, 2008
- There were likely around 100 different native languages spoken in California ca. 1800.
- "The "pattern number" of European and European-American lore is three: fairy tales have three brothers, or three sisters. . .a hero makes three attempts before reaching his goal. . .But in most of Native California, the pattern number is four. It is the fourth try that succeeds; characters and episodes come in fours." -page 37
- "It is not in the basic vocabulary that native Californian languages have had any great impact on English. The only well-attested word I know of is "abalone," probably coming from the Rumsen language." -page 95
- The Wintun word buli, which means "hill," has left its mark on northern Californian geography. "At least twelve peaks in Shasta, Trinity, Tehama and Lake counties are designated by the name, usually spelled "Bally," "Bully," or "Bolly. . .Folk etymology has led to many other renditions of buli: Hayfork Bally is sometimes known as "Hayfork Baldy." Little Baldy and Indian Creek Baldy both come from buli." -page 99
- Many European methods of counting involve a decimal system (groups of ten). Some native Californian languages are based, instead, on five. This is a logical enough system to anyone who has ever counted on his fingers, but still other languages are quarternary, based on four. Hinton hypothesizes that this still has a straightforward basis; there are four spaces between your fingers, to which sticks can be added for increasingly higher calculations. (page 113-120)
Saturday, June 21, 2008
We have a lot of these little lizards around here (but usually on rocks; this is the first time I've ever found one on a cello case). I've always known them as "blue bellies". You can find the scientific name and a nice picture of the reason for the common name here.
I wasn't sure I could catch it, and was pretty sure that customers would not be thrilled if it should happen to resurface later so I carried it outside, cello and all. If I had been thinking, I would have taken these pictures out in the sun instead of in the shade with a flash, because when he finally hopped down off the case and ran away, I noticed that some of those greyish spots on its back gleam bright blue in the sunlight--quite pretty, really.
Sunday, May 18, 2008
Here is a dire warning! If you don't believe me, I'll post a picture of Mom's goat one of these days.
I found this one in a book at work and got a good laugh. This is just about how I feel when I practice new tunes too close to civilization, although my pipes are not medieval style, and I have yet to be abused by people with English accents.
Wednesday, May 14, 2008
I finally got a chance to use the camera just before I went home. I don't have the best setup for photographing sunsets (and my hands were shaking) but you can get some idea of the colors that were up there.
Wednesday, April 23, 2008
Tuesday, April 22, 2008
Anyway, there were quite a few of them.
In fact you might even say there were a lot of them.
Friday, April 18, 2008
[EDITED 04/23/08] It appears to be a wild heliotrope, Phacelia distans, or something closely related to it.
Sunday, April 13, 2008
Before I could get a really good shot, the cat had had enough.