Friday, July 31, 2009

Wave Over Wave

I was looking for something else yesterday when I came across this video. The musician is Poss Slaney, the tune is Jim Payne's "Wave Over Wave". No frills, just a pleasant little tune.

Here is a neat sung version of the same piece, by a St. John's band called Tarahan:

And here is the tune I was looking for in the first place. Poss Slaney again, this time playing "I's the B'y." Somehow I get the feeling that it is very odd of me to not know this tune. . .but I didn't. Now I'm working on it.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Another View

I took a few photos at the park last Saturday with the intention of taking them home and editing them into black and white. Back in the days when this log still had bark, beetle larvae had their heyday tunneling around beneath it. (Yes, it would make a much better story to tell you that the picture below features mysterious Viking carvings but really, they are what's left of the tunnels, now that the bark is gone.)
The best part about the river was the way the water rearranged itself around each snag. (Well, that and the fish, who didn't make it into the picture.)
The sun was too high and bright for some shots, such as landscapes, but it certainly did make nice, sharp shadows.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The Pipes, the Pipes!

See, I knew Facebook was good for something! If you post that you are listening to Planet Pipe, as one of my friends did this morning, other folks might have a listen as well. . .and what a great listen it is! It is (aw, you never would have guessed, would you?) an online piping show, but they seem to lean towards the ensemble aspect of the pipes, largely featuring groups who use pipes alongside fiddles, guitars and all. It's dangerously listenable.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Does that mood ever take you. . .

when nothing will do but accordion music from Newfoundland? I'm not the biggest fan of all accordion styles, but this one gets me every time, especially if the tune is a toe-tapper like "Mussels in the Corner." Here's "Mussels in the Corner" in a set with "Rowed up in a Dory" and played by a group called the Baccalieu Rovers.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Cool, Clear Water

You expect the desert to be hot and dry, but for some reason, brittle brown grass and soaring temperatures come as a bit of a surprise in other places--even if it happens that way year after year. It seems, if possible, drier than a desert, just because you have the memory of a promising green spring to hold up in comparison.

That was what I was thinking as I was walking in the American River Parkway on Saturday; it was a little inaccurate, since I never saw the place before at all, let alone in the spring. Still, the place was terribly dry, as if just thinking the word "spark" might be too much for it. The dry margin of the riverbed, with a grove of eucalyptus trees growing out of a vast, alien plain of sunbaked rocks, was surreal. Impressive as the thirsty, forgotten borders of the river were, the river itself was a grand contrast. At the edge, where the current had slowed, tiny fish darted about in two or three inches of water.
Further out, the river was running with a good will. Raft after raft of boaters passed by swiftly, riding the current with little assistance from the oars. One group, which I didn't see, as I was behind the willows looking at the fish, was singing, "Row, Row, Row Your Boat," and they had plenty of breath for singing.

It was an interesting place to sit and watch for a bit. All of the bright rafts floating by made it look as though the American River was the latest and greatest place to be on a Saturday afternoon, but its history goes back much further than that. Part of the land across the river from me had been owned by John Sutter of gold rush fame--indeed, the discovery that touched off the gold rush happened on this same river. A sign in the park informed the passerby that bits of gold are still panned out of it at times. . .but until the weather cools, I think I myself would prefer to watch the fish.

Sunday, July 26, 2009


Yesterday morning I went down to the Effie Yeaw Nature Center to see a presentation on insects. I had a pretty good idea that it was going to be aimed at people much younger than myself (and I was right), but I hoped I might thereby get a gentle introduction to the local bugs. It would have been worth going anyway just to hear the questions the people much younger than myself were asking: "Does a bug see like us?" asked a small person, who had just had compound eyes explained to her, "Or does it see the same thing lots of times?"

After the presentation the group was lead on a short walk around the nature center to see what we could see. A tiny child, with a fluff of fine blonde hair that made her look rather as though a hearty wind could blow her away like a milkweed seed, spotted the first bug--really a bug, I mean, something like this one, but after that, the pickings were rather slim. The naturalist in charge had thought ahead in case of such an emergency and knew where we were likely to find a few galls. Here are some on a black walnut leaf.Yes, they are a bit freakish, especially when you stop to consider that they are made from cells of the leaf itself. I'm not sure what sort of critter was responsible for these; it may have been a mite.
The oaks were becoming a bit of a neighborhood. Whose neighborhood, again I can't say.
Off the subject of galls altogether, a plant which the naturalist pointed out in particular was the Dutchman's Pipe Vine. Here is a specimen from the hands-on exhibit inside the nature center.
It's not blooming season now, so the real live Dutchman's Pipe Vine lacks those fantastically shaped flowers.
The plant was pointed out because of its status as the host plant of a very picky eater, the Pipevine Swallowtail.
After the presentation was over, I went a-hunting through the wilds of the American River Parkway. It was a glorious place, full of sun (okay, I don't like it, but the bugs seem to) and trees and deep grass and all things fine. Fabre would have loved it. Then again, possibly even Fabre would have been driven out of his mind, because of The Rule: you are kindly reminded to stay on the paths, please, thank you very much.
This is a logical rule, since it is not an enormous park, and, judging from the number of visitors in there today, could be walked right down to nothing in short order. But the pipevine swallowtails take heartless advantage of it. You might think that they have plenty of space to go on living their little butterfly lives, off in secluded nooks. Perhaps they do live that way, but if so, they like, at least, to take an extended lunch hour (which probably lasts all day) and spend it perched on the flowers nearest the paths. They're clever about it, gracefully lazy, opening their wings up to just the right angle so the naive photographer thinks, "Man, that pose couldn't be more perfect if I set it up myself. . .now if you'll just wait for me to turn on the camera. . ." The butterfly watches out of slitted compound eyes as the camera comes up. It stretches drowsily, and examines its fingernails, and then, in the millisecond just before the shutter closes, it takes to the air and begins to do an interpretive dance to "Flight of the Bumblebee."

"And it was such a perfect picture," the photographer sighs. But wait! The miniature cyclone is settling down over the flower it just left. Down, down. . .and the camera is following. . .down, and--vrooom! the butterfly, was just doing a low fly-by, and accelerates into the centre of the patch of star thistles where it once again becomes a delicate, picturesque insect, meandering from flower to flower well out of the reach of the macro lens. Of course, the photographer feels cheated if she doesn't get some sort of shot, so she switches to a longer range setting and presses the shutter in a state of panic. The results are not particularly stellar:
That is a pipevine swallowtail's favorite trick, but it has others. Occasionally it tires of waiting on a flower and looking picturesque, and it takes off while you are still fifty feet away. It flies towards you. To optimize the effect, it usually calls one of its friends over and they hold a mock-dogfight right over your head. If you even think about the camera, they part company and fly up into the highest, darkest branches of the nearest oak.

Another popular move is the quail imitation. With any other butterfly I would lay the phenomenon to my own clumsiness, but judging from its other habits, I must give the credit entirely to the pipevine swallowtail. It lurks unseen in the grass at the border of the path, and then, just as you come within what would have been excellent macro range, it takes to frantic and almost vertical flight. I did not see that it had yet perfected the skill to a point where it had gathered a covey of other butterflies for the maximum effect, but it is an impressive start. The finish is, as above, in whichever patch of flowers contributes to the most impossible camera angle.

With the aforementioned methods, combined with its uncanny ability to gauge the difference between too far away (which can be shrugged off) and just too far away (which is excruciating for the photographer) when landing, one insect can keep a human occupied indefinitely. (It helps, of course, if the human is is unused to thinking of insects as sly, manipulative creatures.) Add to that the fact that there were dozens of swallowtails in the park. . .and the result is more than enough pictures like this one which fall into the Loch-Ness-Monster-could-be-just-about-anything category of photos:
("See, I told you I got a picture of a pipevine swallowtail!"

"That's not a pipevine swallowtail! Nobody gets pictures of The Pipevine Swallowtail. It's a hummingbird. . .maybe. Or a bat."

"No, really! I was looking at the flower, and it was there, and--"

"Enough of your tall stories! Clean that smudge off your lense and go chase a ground beetle! And stay on the path!")

I did make one very interesting discovery:butterflies laugh. And it sounds like this: "Mwahahahaha!"

Saturday, July 25, 2009

And More Education

I am trying to get over a severe attack of writer's block. That is neither here nor there, except that the cure is worse than the disease. I found a book which suggested several ways to get words (any words) on paper. The most fun--and the most alarming--exercise so far is a redo of a game my sister taught me a year or two ago. You open the dictionary at random, latch onto the first word you see, and spend five minutes madly writing anything that the word brings to mind. Well, I'll tell you what! I opened the dictionary at random and the word I got was diadromous. Nice, eh? So I wrote:
A fish, if it is diadromous, spends its life running back and forth between
fresh water and salt water. Well, probably not running--even a diadromous
walking catfish probably couldn't run. . .I feel kind of like that
sometimes--migratory, I mean, not like a walking catfish. Going from one place
to another, but always knowing someday it will be time to pack up and leave
again. I do hate packing, and so would a walking catfish, diadromous (I still
can't spell that) or not, if it had any sense. . .

No doubt I could have added an extra sentence or two had I not had to take up time repeatedly to look up the spelling of diadromous, but there you have it. With cures like that, no wonder I let myself think I have trouble writing!

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Higher Education

Well, come to find out, there is an area of study called molecular archaeology, and if you specialise in it, you have equipped yourself to revisit the earlier forms of beer. Of course, there is always the good ol' linguistic approach for those of us less scientifically inclined.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Irish Variety

With apologies for the lack of recent posts, the MySpace page for the day is. . .two pages, those of a musical sister and brother from Inis Oírr (Inisheer) off the west coast of Ireland. Lasairfhíona Ní Chonaola has a rather huskier voice than one is usually treated to in Irish music, quite a pleasant change of pace, especially in the effortless way she floats it around the twists and turns of traditional ornamentation. Also, rather differently from the average Gaelic singer (at least those I have had the pleasure of hearing lately), she includes a few songs in English. You can listen to a thorough sampling from her albums at her website here.

MacDara Ó Conaola. . .well, for starters he should most decidedly go down in history for being the fellow who sings a terribly catchy lead on "Bímse Féin ag Iascaireacht"--make sure you hear it! Of course, it will probably make you want to stick around for a couple more. The mournful "Dun Aengus" is a bit too soft-rock for my taste, but that is by no means the sole tone of the songs offered; "The Love Token," is in English, with an unassuming fiddle complement, and "Caislean an t-Sleibhe" is your solid Irish piece. Unfortunately, MacDara only has the MySpace page, so what you hear there is all you get for today.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Jenna Reid

A quick post for today--the MySpace page for the Shetland fiddler Jenna Reid. She has an exceptional drive to her playing, and a nice singing voice besides.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Local Talent

I forgot to mention, the very first thing I saw when I got to the Dunsmuir Games on Saturday was the band Banshee in the Kitchen, an Irish-oriented trio from Bakersfield. I have run into them on and off over the years at games and Burns suppers, but at games I'm usually scheduled to do something besides stand around and listen, so it was nice to have a moment to take in a few tunes. I don't think this video does the fiddler proper justice in conveying her tone, which is exceptionally sweet, but it gives you some idea of the band's style with "Farewell to Milltown," "Pigeon on the Gate," and "Providence Reel":

And here's one more neat set, O'Carolan's "Planxty Drew," into the smashin' modern reel "Catharsis."

Monday, July 13, 2009

Seismic Teuthology

Something I missed from Saturday: a bunch of rather large squid came ashore in La Jolla. There is some speculation that an offshore earthquake (4.0 magnitude) may have confused the critters somehow.

Sunday, July 12, 2009


Here are a few pictures I got at the Dunsmuir Highland Games in Oakland on Saturday. Whenever there are sports events, I revisit my old ambition of getting one of those perfect action shots, where the fellow is jumping to head the ball, or diving to make a save, and the photo catches him midair in some impossible position. The one below, of a shinty match was not that shot, to say the least, but it gives you a bit of a view of Dunsmuir House, which gives the grounds, and subsequently the games, their name. At least you can actually see what the athlete is trying to do here! To learn the finer points of the caber toss, read the short article at the bottom of the page here.
The Prince Charles Pipe Band played a set in front of the house.
Dunsmuir House is down in a narrow valley, quite secluded even today, but a climb to the top of the hill revealed a big-city skyline (the lighting is not accurate, as I took this around 5:30, just before I got in my car to go home. I played with the contrast later to sharpen the silhouettes as much as I could).
P.S. They were letting folks go in and tour Dunsmuir House, so I did. However, a condition of the same was--no photos. On the inside it looked surprisingly comfortable, not as opulent as the outside might suggest, although I would not like to have been the person in charge of cleaning the floors. Speaking of floors, those in the front room and dining room were made of wood of different shades, inlaid in intricate geometric patterns. I wasn't sure whether that was the most impressive bit, or whether the house's main claim to fame should be its four pianos!

Saturday, July 11, 2009

One More Round

These are "the other mission pictures" from last year's costal wanderings. Mission San Luis Obispo was being remodeled. It was fairly late in the day when we were there, and I'm not sure the chapel was open to visitors anyway, but we could look in through the top of the half-door. The painted walls were wonderful, blooming with a trellis full of flowers that might have grown out of a medieval manuscript.
I assume the painters were following some sort of historical precedent with putting that design on the walls, but even if they weren't, it gets my vote!

Friday, July 10, 2009

Short and Sweet

I went to my grandma's for dinner the other night, and had, needless to say, a most enjoyable time. The conversation was a kick, but you had to be there to appreciate it, so I will confine my report here to dessert. We had a flourless chocolate cake from Trader Joe's, and a family friend brought a carton of port sorbet. Yes, port, as in wine, and sorbet as in frozen. That chocolate cake is insanely good as it is, thick and rich (don't let the "flourless" label put you off--it's actually a virtue, as it leaves more room for the chocolate) but add the flavour of port and. . .wow! It's worth a blog post, anyway!

Thursday, July 9, 2009


The Canadian dime has to be one of the most beautifully designed pieces of money in the world. It seems such a thorough balance of aesthetics; the coin itself is so graceful, almost weightless, and then on the back is a tiny, perfect engraving of a schooner under sail, fairly flying.

Supposedly Emmanuel Hahn, who designed the picture on the back of the dime, based his depiction on three separate vessels. However, people tended to refer to the schooner as the Bluenose, after the Lunenburg, Nova Scotia vessel that had, by the time of the dime's first minting in 1937, won numerous titles in the International Fishermen's Race.

The Nova Scotia government has a good deal of material on the Bluenose on their website here, which is very interesting reading and includes a few 1920's pictures from the Fishermen's Race.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009


I'm leaning rather hard on "The Archives" this week in the interest of posting at all; I'm trying several different leads in the job search, all of them intriguing, but all time consuming, what with resumes, applications, cover letters and such.

So here's a year old (actually, I looked at the date--it's only 364 days old) picture from Cambria. It was late afternoon, and wonderfully foggy. I was standing on the cliff enjoying the sound and the smell of the ocean, and letting the old imagination out for a run about what might be out there in the fog. I didn't even notice the glimmer of the almost-hidden sun on the water until Chey pointed it out to me.

Monday, July 6, 2009

A Bit of Music

I was looking around to see if I could find any recordings of Gaelic music from eastern Canada, and I found this video. The singer/fiddler is Glenn Graham, and the video was taken at the Celtic Music Interpretive Centre in Judique, Nova Scotia.

One of my firmest beliefs (which you might gather from my inclination to post clips of mouth music) is that singing is an indispensable element of musicianship. I suppose I could label it neatly as "a good way to internalize music," but it's deeper than that--it's the most human way to approach music. Comparatively few people claim to be good singers, but a surprising amount of people do sing, to the radio, or to their favorite CDs while sighing all the while that they are not musical. One of the big disadvantages of the recording age (says I, from the top of my soapbox) is that a certain musical "sainthood," you might say, is bestowed on the people who manage to make it onto a recording, or onto the stage. They may have the fame, but it is a huge mistake to suppose that the purpose of music is fame or fortune (well, ha! I s'pose very few, even among the professionals have any delusions about fortune, but still. . .), or that it is an elite occupation. Music, if you sift back a few years, to the sea chanteys, the waulking songs, the spirituals of the South, or the ballads of the prairies, was very much the provenance of the common man. There is an undeniable delight in hearing a musician who is at the top of his game, and who can play or sing things that nobody else can play and sing, but appreciation of the same stems from the fact that music is a natural human expression. As such, it doesn't take years of training. It takes sitting down and singing.

P.S. I declare! Speaking of musicians, as I write this one of my neighbors is learning to play the trumpet. Still in the beginning stages; it sounds like he (?) is still working on training his lips to hold a note for more than a second or two. I for one, am quite delighted. . .those who endure the misery of learning an instrument which is rarely private (the pipes) can't help but love a little company!

Thursday, July 2, 2009

From the Archives

I still haven't posted the pictures I took of Carmel Mission last July, so here they are, starting with a view of the famous chapel window. I took a few pictures inside the chapel, but I never did get the lighting sorted out. I saw an experienced photographer (judging from the camera, and the way she handled it) setting up this shot, and had to try it for myself afterwards. I could rest my hand on the back of the pew and hold the camera fairly steady, but in the long run I had to use the flash, and glass is unforgiving in that respect.
This is the outside of the chapel, facing the graveyard. The cracks in the mortar were full of flowers.
This is from the other side of the chapel, about noon, judging from that sky!
Things certainly grow well around there. You could hardly get a shot without some sort of plant in it, even if you wanted to!

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Irish Harmonica

Here is a very talented New Zealander named Brendan Power:

He plays many different styles, but his Irish recordings are my runaway favorite. To that end, his best album is New Irish Harmonica; you can read more about it and hear a few samples by selecting it in the column on the left here.