August 2011

Going Lower

August 24, 2011 23:16

Every time the sheet music stacks up a staircase of ledger lines, I'm less than thrilled to ascend them; high notes have never really held much appeal to me.   A nice, dark chocolate C string, on the other hand--now that has always been my secret envy.  So when a prospective client informed me that her son bought a viola and wanted to know if I would teach him, I jumped on it.  Since I already play by ear, finding the pitches on a new string setup wouldn't be a problem.  The only thing really left to conquer would be the notes of the alto clef, and then I'd be all set. 

I wrote Shirley Givens to see if her method books included Adventures in Violaland, so I could use them with my new student.  She wrote back saying that unfortunately, Violaland didn't exist yet, but suggested I transpose her existing violin material as needed.  Suddenly, I could picture my own illustrated Alaska-themed version, complete with finger-ravens, grizzly bear workouts, and even a Bogman treasure map.  What fun!

But first, I had to have a viola.  My folks and I were ready for a road trip, and of course Kansas City barbecue always sounds good, so I scheduled a viola trial with Matt Wyatt on Monday afternoon and printed out directions to Arthur Bryant's.  

Who knew a business trip could taste this good?  

The shop was bustling with back-to-school business, but Matt took time to lay out a nice selection of violas and bows, still managing to be as incredibly helpful and courteous as ever.  I didn't really have to select an instrument, actually.  The first one I picked up that day, a 2009 Jay Haide Maggini model from Ifshin, had a full, sweet, woody tone that blew all the other violas in this price bracket out of the water.  It sang deeply, wooing me with its cello-like voce.  We were meant for each other.  It's just a shame it took us so long to meet; I mean, I feel like I've lost so much time, and now we have a lot of catching up to do.  

Hours passed.  Matt and I had fun, messing with sound posts and chin rests and picking out new strings.  After selecting an Arcos Brasil bow and a Bobolock case,  I reluctantly concluded my shopping spree and bid farewell.  Could've stayed longer, but I felt kinda sorry for Matt, who missed lunch and it was already 7 in the evening.  (Maybe I'll send the shop a batch of thank-you cookies or something; they deserve it.  Hmm, what kind...)

My mom and dad had a couple of cd's they'd picked out while they were waiting (ever so patiently, I might add), and stuck a collection of Lewis-and-Clark era fiddle tunes in the player for the car ride home.  Daddy drove 'til midnight while I sat in the back seat, taking turns picking out melodies and accompaniments on my violin and my viola, jamming softly alongside the faceless musicians.  Together, we resurrected a past-time from the days before surround sound systems and turnpikes, a time when people took a whole lot longer to get across the country, and made some excellent discoveries in doing so. 

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And now I'm in Oklahoma, for business and for pleasure.

August 21, 2011 20:32

I walk and walk until Alaska's cold grip finally begins to wear off, and the backs of my arms heat through.  Lawn grass and fertilizer saturates the air, accompanied by the sound of mowing blades.  Curled june bugs and cidadas line the gutters, while overhead, a pair of scissor-tailed flycatchers stab at the ones still buzzing along.  I remember, we used to catch those big yellow grasshoppers and let them spit tobacco juice on our fingers.  I'm tempted, but content today just to poke one off his brief perch upon the ragweed stalk and watch him fly. 

The scent of yarrow and goldenrod takes me back to bareback rides across the pasture; my legs were always stained with horse sweat.  I'm sweating now--not just a dampness, but a good, honest drip; it seeps through my eyebrows, stinging my eyes.  Acute.  "Hot enough for you yet?"  It's the neighbor, puttering past me down the gravel road on his tractor, buckets and fishing rod in tow.  I give him a cool thumbs up.  It's possible, maybe it's obvious to him that I'm not from here, 'cause I'll be a long time before I get tired of 104 degrees today.  I'll spend the rest of the afternoon lying in the pool, talking to my mom and watching the black vultures catch thermal drafts. 

I may live in Alaska, but I'll always be an Okie at heart.

Tomorrow, business.

1 reply


August 16, 2011 16:43



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August 15, 2011 01:17

After the spring semester concluded, I happily shut the case on my violin and forgot about it, save the sporadic summer student appointment.  The mountains were calling, and all my attention went to my training.  In twelve weeks, I lost an unprecedented 9 pounds of fat and gained 3 pounds of muscle, which resulted in a 4  minute improvement on my race time up Mount Marathon this year.  Bumped up 20 places in the results.  I was all about mountain running, there for a while.  But then I turned in a race application one day too late and didn't get in, and my trail running buddy had to cancel the next race for a wedding, and just like that, all the wind went out of my sails.   

June proved to be rainy (again), and my weekly phone calls back to my folks in Oklahoma began to fill with repetitive drear.  They, on the other hand, were suffering from a heat wave like no one had seen before.  As the puddles splashed on the porch, I heard my dad asking, "Do you see any alpine bogs on any of your trail runs?"  I thought for a moment.  "Daddy, I'm pretty sure we live in a bog, actually."  I googled "bog" as he languished longingly over wetlands, and stumbled across this curious sentence:  "In the 19th century it was thought that the bog itself somehow 'attracted' the rain that sustained it."

I researched further and found that there are many types of bogs: sphagnum bogs like the one in my backyard (muskeg, to be more specific), valley bogs, alpine bogs, quaking bogs, and fens (differentiated from bogs by their alkaline nature).  Perhaps the most interesting feature about bogs is their uncanny ability to preserve human bodies  (and cheese).  A quick google of bog bodies revealed a curious freak show of various human sacrifices from the Iron Age that were so well preserved you could still see their 5 o'clock shadow (though by now it's a "2400-year-shadow").  You could even take their fingerprints!  Certainly the bog must have supernatural powers.  Indeed, being neither solid ground nor water, bogs captivated the ancient peoples, who viewed them as the gateway to the world of the gods.

In the kitchen, I relayed these discoveries to the others, and the plot began to build.  We named our unseen nemesis Bogman, Lord of the Rain, empowered by the will of the bog entity.  We assigned Cody G., a superhero with weather-control superpowers, to battle Bogman and his bog-zombies, who try to steal your soul by burying you in the bog to become one of them.  It was up to Cody G, with the help of Cody B, to battle Bogman and make the rain that fuels the bog go away.  We had great fun spinning the plot and fleshing out the characters.  (In the end, Cody J gets the girl.  Or does he?...) 

 It was a great distraction from my looming mid-life crisis, which has been persistently infiltrating my silent thoughts as I press out yet another pan of Rice Krispy treats. 

But don't we all want to know that what we're doing is worthwhile?  No one really wants to look back and say, "What a waste that was."  Or, "Wow, I kinda sucked."  My personal inner nemesis tells me I will never live up to my full potential while working a dead-end baking job at a summer camp.  But as I work, and our discussions revolve around good and evil and the powers that be, I think, maybe Rice Krispy Treats is just as good a transitional point as anything else to spark an idea that could change someone's life.  Who knows, maybe it's the snickerdoodles that will lure them back for more. 

I get bored.  I change the recipes and invent a few new ones.  My original molasses cookies got copied by a chef who is now making them for 500 people working up on the north slope in the oil fields.  It's not an original violin composition or a stunning performance, but it's definitely something.  Worthwhile?  Ah, vanity is just a chasing after the wind.

Every night, I sit down at the drawing desk to work on a color pencil of Juneau Falls for my granny, who wanted something to hang over her fireplace.  She had a stroke this summer, and I wanted to be sure to have it done when I visit her in Oklahoma next week.  Every night, the trees loom like taxes, waiting to be filled out, no cheating.  Such a big blank space of white left, and I can't wait to get away from it to do something simple. 

I walk around the lake again.  For the thousandth time.  Rumor has it there's carnivorous plants there in the bog.  I've never seen them.  I've always walked this same old path on the sawdust trail, mostly to burn calories and get my dog a chance to pee.  Today we will both step off the trail and try something new.  Lured into the bog by a string of ripening cloudberries, I pick my way across the spongy peat.  It's not muddy or sucking me down.  The water looks like tea.  I have to shout at Ben to keep him from pissing on the berries, but once he figures out what I'm doing, I have to shout at him for eating the berries before I get to them.  Cloudberries are sparse; one more day and they are through.  First frost came earlier than it ever has this year, which makes us wonder what the winter will bring. 

And then I spy them.  They are so small, they make the moss look big.  I'm already standing on top of them when I gasp at my discovery: they are everywhere!  Ducking down into their microcosm, I'm amazed by their sticky prongs, set to trap their prey.  In excitement, I lean in for a photo shoot as a gnat wriggles in vain.  This is something I've always wanted to see.

I haven't been this excited about something all year.

7 replies

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