Background Switcher (Hidden)

Make a Joyful Noise

Monday, December 31, 2007

As you know, this tends not to be a timely blog. You're in the clutches of a blog ant, who stores up posts like wheat, writing when moved to write, and taking food out of the pantry when not. So it feels like an event for me when I've got any news, and actually get it together to do a post about it the next day.

The Swinging Orangutangs have done a bit of a phoenix trick, with a new lineup and a bunch of new material. Bill and I sat down at breakfast this morning and made a list of all the people we've played with in this band in the past 14 years. We've had five different drummers, six bass players, and four instrumentalist/vocalists in addition to the core members (Bill and me).

Bands are like gardens. Some years, certain things grow really well, and other years, other kinds of plants take over. Some incarnations of the Orangutangs have emphasized original music, such as was written and performed by Bill's talented brother Andy. Others have been dance/cover tune oriented. Some have been folkier. Others have been a little more kick-butt rawk.

Back in October '07 we needed to put some people together to play a benefit for the Colony Theater's renovation. Bill went to movies in the beautiful Colony Theater when he was a kid, but since then it's closed and fallen into peely, spooky, Phantom-of the-Opera style disrepair. So we've played music for ColonyFest for several years running to help raise money to resurrect it. We asked Clay Paschal, who's recently moved here from Indiana, to play bass...a growing buzz was out on him already in the local music community.
I can use only one word that accurately sums up his bass and rhythm talents: MONSTER. A tasty, melodic, unfailingly in-the-pocket monster. Last night at practice, I was playing "Empty Pockets," a fairly obscure fiddle tune, on my pennywhistle, and Clay began to whistle it, and then revealed that he plays whistle, fife, and has taught low brass (trombone and the like) in schools. Oh. One of THOSE people, those Stevie Wonder kind of people who can walk into a music store and pull anything off the wall and play it. Oh, and he's got a warped sense of humor, too.

Speaking of those people, here's Vinnie Mele, who has come out from behind the keyboard to play a guitar lead. He also plays sax and sings beautifully, like a crazy bird. Hilariously funny and ridiculously talented, Vincenzo brings a sparkle and dimension to our band that's addictive. And behind him is another natural wonder, Jessica Baldwin. Jess is a classically-trained voice teacher and pianist who teaches voice and directs choirs in a large local church. She has always wanted to branch out into pop and rock, but has never had an opportunity until now. Speaking of unleashing a monster...we're getting some four-part harmonies with Bill, me, Vinnie and Jess that literally bring me to tears. Jess has a lot to teach me about singing, and she's debuting Chaka Khan's "Tell Me Something Good..." singing while playing its quirky, offbeat keyboard part. She brought The Weepies' "Gotta Have You" to our repertoire, and we're tremendously excited about the dimension and vocal beauty she adds. Warped sense of humor, check. It's kind of hard to see here, but she's got her hair wadded into two Mickey Mouse ears for last night's on-site rehearsal. Chet Baker LOVES Jess, and he spends most of our rehearsal time here at home sitting on her lap as she plays keyboard, his ears pasted back in doggie joy, gently farting into our airspace. He has become our band mascot, a role he embraces with zest. There is NOTHING Chet Baker loves more than band rehearsals. He hangs with us like the white on rice, going between my and Jess' laps, roo-rooing at Clay and Andy, playing tag with Vinnie, and pestering Bill, but mostly just digging the music. He is one music-loving doggeh.
Andy Hall is an incredibly tasty, artful, creative drummer, and it's a privilege to play with him. I have to use the M-word on Andy, too. Monster. He brings a world beat savvy to our music. Complexity is his friend, but not his overlord. He spans genres like most of us walk across sidewalk cracks. My favorite memory of Andy was about a decade ago, when we went to a bar in West Virginia to hear him play with a band called Pole. As blood began to seep from our ears, we grabbed napkins, tore them up and made little ear-tampons, which barely helped. At the break, Andy came out to greet us. We complimented him on his work, which was stunning. And ventured an opinion that it might be just a teeny bit loud. Andy looked thoughtful, smiled, rocked back on his heels, and nodded. "Pole's a loud band."I'm happy to say that the Swinging Orangutangs is not a loud band. For my fifth and final monster, I present band leader Guillermo "Guitarzan" Thompson. He's in a special kind of heaven right now, playing songs he's always wanted to play with a dream lineup. With Vinnie helping on rhythm and leads, Bill's freed to sing more and soar on his Strat, Creamy Delight. Ryan Adams, Wilco, Tom Petty, Talking Heads, and a bunch of crazy 70's disco stuff; we've fattened the repertoire by about 15 songs, and more keep flowing. There is a sense of energy and possibility about it all that is heady and intoxicating. Bill burns CD's for everyone, calls practice in our basement music room, makes chili, keeps the cold beers coming, and the band rolls along like a well-oiled monster truck. We have a New Year's Eve gig tonight, with tons of our friends coming. A team of friends has transformed a downtown building into Party Central. We've got three digital projectors and some kind of fourth gizmo throwing swirly psychedelic shapes on the walls, every Indian tapestry we own hanging up, strange fiber-optic lighting gadgets, food and bev's. Me, I'm a pig in mud. I looooove harmony singing, and I love having another woman to balance the testosterone swirling through our lineup. I haven't laughed this much in a year. Tonight, I'm taking a mirror with me, because I have to stand directly in front of Jess, Andy and Clay. You can't be turning your back on an audience, so I'm going to hold up the mirror and grin and make faces at them. We're going to hard. Every photo in this post was taken by our band photographer, Phoebe Linnea Thompson. She was fighting some bad odds--poor lighting and the tendency of musicians to block each other thanks to being crammed together with a bunch of homely equipment. Thank you, Phoebs.

Phoebe has been taking photographs and writing for a couple of years now, with increasing success. She usually works with a small Canon Powershot point-and-shoot, but she prefers my Rebel XTi (naturally). More and more, I lean on her for off-the-cuff photography assignments. It's wonderful to watch her blossom. Speaking of blossoming...Phoebe has a blog now! She's got mad blogging skilz, born of posting for me and Daddy when we're indisposed, and spending lots of time getting Macs to do what they were made to do, without her mother's fear of failure. I can guarantee lots of Chetfixes on Phoebe's blog, since those two are rarely found far apart. I told Phoebs she needed to do five good posts before I'd link to her, and she did five in one day. Acorn don't fall far from the tree. Go check it out, and give her a twinkle in the comments section!

Waiting for Mr. Lewis

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Bill and I have a thing for Lewis' woodpeckers, another dream-bird of our childhoods. For me, it's all tied to color. A green, pink, crimson and silver woodpecker. Who wouldn't dream of seeing that? But this creature looks and flies just like a crazy little crow, dressed up for Mardi Gras.
Last year, ever-resourceful BOTB found someone online through the New Mexico Rare Bird Alert who was kind enough to suffer a phone call to find out where we might see Lewis' Woodpeckers near Taos, New Mexico. He gave us exact directions to a road north of Arroyo Seco. We arrived there in mid-morning on a November 2006, and three Lewis' woodpeckers appeared out of nowhere as if called to cue.
This year, we trekked to the same spot, same grove of cottonwoods, but it was afternoon both times we went. No woodpeckers. Bill was uncharacteristically pessimistic. "They're gone. I know they're gone. It just doesn't feel right here."
I was uncharacteristically sunny. "I think they're morning birds. Let's give it a try tomorrow morning. I know they'll be here."
While we were waiting for the Godot woodpeckers, a compact falcon stormed overhead and fetched up in a cottonwood. I swung my lens up, sensing it was something good, and caught this:and then this:
A little adult male merlin. Yummm! Not a great shot, but diagnostic. We very rarely see blue adults back East.

Another dream-bird, one I haven't seen for at least five years, one I'd been pining for, showed up--an evening grosbeak, uncharacteristically all alone, like the merlin, thankfully masculine--oh, those colors!
Melting. Rapture. You wear your golden coronet well.As the sun set the second afternoon while we were waiting for Mr. Lewis, a shorebird flew in to the seep beneath the woodpecker's cottonwoods and landed with a harsh scraping cry in a grassy puddle. A common snipe! It allowed us to creep close and capture its onyx eye and creamy stripes. Perfect camouflage.At this point, I'd like to see a Lewis' woodpecker, but I'm pretty darn happy with all the other birds we've seen instead. Bill is more goal-oriented, and he was still fretting. A small band of sheep burst through an open gate, thundered across the road right next to us, and began to graze in the late afternoon light. Oooooooh. Sidelight. Zick: Clicketyclickyclickclick. Woodpeckers forgotten. I looove backlight. It doesn't get much better than this.

On our third try, in the bright morning sun, yaks grunting from the yurt next door, we rolled up, got out of the car, and a lone Lewis' woodpecker came flapping in, looking like a truncated crow. Ahhh. He lit in the top of a cottonwood, and promptly came down within lensrange, and commenced to preen for about a half-hour.
This is just a ridiculous bird. Silver, pink, green and crimson. OK. Who thought that up?
Over the next few days, Bill and I would stumble into Lewis' woodpecker Valhalla--apple orchards along a river not far from Embudo, New Mexico. We saw them fly over, land in the apple trees, exit the orchards with big chunks of frost-burned apple in their bills. One even flew over our rented adobe house in Arroyo Seco on the last morning we were there, while we were shooting pictures of tame magpies in the back yard. But this was to be our only opportunity to photograph one, and we grabbed it. Be sure to get my fluffy pink flanks in this shot. They are especially filamentous today.

Another magical sight while waiting fruitlessly for the woodpeckers: a crow against the rising moon.Not to be trite, but: I think one major secret to happiness is wanting what you've been granted, what you've already got. Pink, green and silver woodpeckers are just the marischino on top of the big, rapidly melting sundae sitting right in front of you. As a certain goal-oriented someone I love has told me (again and again and again): Life is good. Slurp it up.


Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Everyone have a good Christmas? Good. Us too. It was terrific, but I took the tree down today and spent the entire day finding homes for millions of little things we didn't know we wanted and probably didn't need. I feel like I've been putting things away for weeks on end. First, I was putting them away to clear the decks for the present orgy. And then I kept putting them away so we could move through the tree-dominated living room. And now I'm putting away a brazilian new things that are as yet uncategorized. Blaa. I'm tired of stooping down and picking up foam darts.
Shall we go back to New Mexico for a bit? Yes, let's! (As if you have a choice.)

Every once in awhile, I get into some country where I think I could live. I get this restless nomadic prospecting gene from my Australopithecus ancestors, no doubt, directly via my father.

My mom could hunker down and stay anywhere as long as it had good schools and grocery stores and she didn't have to move from there. My dad fretted and dreamed his life away, talking constantly about that place in the country he was going to buy. He promised me I could have a horse and chickens when we got it. I think I was the only kid of the five who believed it might eventually happen.

I'm not sure when it hit me that Dad was never going to get that place in the country. Maybe about 1981, when it became clear to me that now and forever, I had a choice about where I ended up. And from then on, it was deep in the country. Sure, it was housesitting and tenant caretaking for a decade, but it was in the woods and fields, where I knew I belonged, where I always felt my dad belonged. Dear Old Dad lived long enough to see us married, and to see us buy this farm in 1992. My brother-in-law said that watching D.O.D (as he always signed his typewritten letters) walk through our orchard, leaning on the cane he'd made, was the happiest he'd ever seen him. "He was plotzing," David said.

Our friend Paul Tebbell recommended we check out a valley near Embudo, NM, for a neat hike. So resourceful and imaginative friend Douglas got out some platte maps and Caroline got out her GPS unit and we caravaned into the most spectacular place this side of Magdalena. It was pretty tame on the approach, lots of orchards, peopled by those magical Lewis' woodpeckers. They were stealing huge chunks of frost-bitten apple and flying off with them. Yeahhh! Here's one sitting in a low apple, the siren drawing us to dash ourselves on the rocks. I'm still haunted by the possibilities of Lewis' woodpeckers amongst luscious apples.Bill and I desperately wanted to stop and capture some images, but we didn't want to get left behind, either, so we reluctantly pushed on. Good-bye, pink and green woodpeckers. We'll revisit you in a future post. This woodpecker is flying left to right. You can just make out his greasy green wings, pink breast and shining bill.
Had we known what wonders awaited, we wouldn't have felt so torn about leaving the orchards.. It wasn't long before we were traversing a valley that tore my heart wide open. It looked like a set Clint Eastwood might have chosen for Pale Rider.
We were looking for a certain branch road to a hiking trail, and we never found it. Well, we found it, and Caroline thought we should turn on it, but we pressed on instead. I just wanted to stop right HERE and stay for oh, say a decade or so. I could paint these mountains, hills, buttes, mesas...I could just look at them.

My fantasy bubble was pricked by the pin of reality when we passed a small driveway with a Sotheby's realty sign next to it. Oh. Yeah. That. I guess it would be expensive to live in a place that looks like a Pale Rider movie set. Duh.

I should have figured other people would be enchanted by this landscape, too.

Before long we broke out into the little settlement called Ojo Sarco. It looked like a place I could live, if I didn't have this neurotic need to grow lush flowers and have orchids on every windowsill. Lush flowers and orchids hate 13% humidity. Like my naturally wavy hair, they lay down and die in 13% humidity.
But a girl can dream, and oh, I do, I do. You may say I'm a dreamer. But I'm not the only one.Yeah, I'd be puttin' goat skulls on my adobe, and I'd be sellin' crystals by the side of the road. But I would add alpacas.

Another dreamscape. It's the spine of a Stegosaurus, in rock. Take me back here somehow, someday.

Frosty Morn

Monday, December 24, 2007

Well, it's Christmas eve, and Bill and I got up to pre-assemble some of Liam's things at around 6 AM. We got 'r dun, thinking it was much preferable to be rooting around with 8 tiny screws and Allen wrenches on Christmas eve morning than Christmas eve night. I have a few more things to wrap, some beds to wash and make, and a good woods lope with Chet to take before church and family this evening.

I wanted to leave you with some images from a morning after a mass of humid air was replaced by some cold Canadian air, growing hoarfrost on everything. One of the things I love about photography is that it makes you realize how rare and special such events are. It makes you seek out beautiful light and appreciate it in a way you wouldn't, were you not trying to capture it. It makes you see beauty in an entirely different way--as fleeting but palpable. It gives you a way to catch it and keep it.Every weekday morning, weather permitting, we walk the kids out to the end of our driveway. The cow pasture across the road, which becomes a hayfield in spring, has a different mood each day. Shivering in frost, its rainpool frozen solid, it was a moody study in rose and dove-gray this icy morning.

I loved the way the warm morning sunlight played over oak leaves, rimmed with frost.Phoebe called me over to see a pattern she'd found, where ice crystals had etched the mud in the turnaround. Good Phoebe.
More leaves, more frost. Hoarfrost.Baker and I walked slowly back, savoring the changed scene, everything glazed with sugar.A little piney Christmas card for you.The closed baskets of Queen Anne's lace, gone to seed. That plant is really good at seeding itself. I wonder if the seeds shake out of the basket one by one as the wind whips them back and forth. Must see what happens to them as spring approaches. Maybe they're holding their seeds up out of the reach of mice and birds until they're ready to drop them. Knowing plants, I'm sure there's a plan in it somewhere.
Black raspberry on ice.Baker hears a rustle in the grass.I keep looking at raspberry leaves.The meadow beckons. Walk or hot tea inside? I chose tea. Now, I wish I'd walked. Given a choice, I hope you walk. You can make tea any time. Hoarfrost only comes a few times a year.It's always out there, but it's up to us to turn toward it, whether for solitude, reflection, strength, courage, inspiration, exercise, wonder, spiritual fulfillment, joy, or any combination of those.

I love the quote Nina uses to head off her lovely blog, Nature Remains.
So I'll borrow it, because it's at the heart of why I turn to nature again and again.

"After you have exhausted what there is in business, politics, conviviality, and so on-and have found that none of these finally satisfy, or permanently wear...what remains? Nature remains." --Walt Whitman

May you turn toward it at every chance in 2008.

The Other Side of Eden

Friday, December 21, 2007

One of my commentaries aired on All Things Considered on Friday, December 21. It's not the cheeriest, but if you'd like to listen in, go here.
And then go look at Chet and Oona again.

W.C. Fields Hates This Post

Thursday, December 20, 2007

I can't believe you guys are pestering me for another Chetfix. You cannot turn this blog into a dogblog, no matter how hard you try. There are plenty of people blogging about their dogs nonstop. I try to mix in things like snow geese and pinyon jays, plants and art, whether you like it or not. But, since it is about to be Christmas, and because it is also the winter solstice, and it's so darned depressing to have it get dark at 5:00, I will give you a little present: a Chetfix. With an Oonafix for those who find tiny humans appealing. Freebase it, mainline it, whatever you have to do, but here it is.

Every once in awhile, my friend Margaret gets in a bind when she has to be somewhere where Oona can't be. Like when she's elected foreman of a Grand Jury, one of the perils of being too smart. I have no doubt that Oona behaves better than most citizens who have been drafted to drop their lives and report to court, but she wouldn't like it as much as she likes Camp Zick. For one thing, there are strange new foods to try, like goat cheese. For another, there are baskets of toys that aren't old hat. There are two older children who fight over her and think everything she does is adorable (which it is). One is a little boy who can make her belly laugh. There is an aquarium to watch, and there's a surrogate mama, who loves her all up and does funny odd things, dances with her and sings songs about nothing, and kisses her about a thousand times a day.For me, taking care of Oona is a prescription for exactly what I need. I can't bury myself in work when she's here. I can't run up and down the stairs a million times doing laundry. I can't get lost in writing some tangled essay or take off on an Internet safari. I have to be absolutely present, live from moment to moment, hang out, cuddle, mess around and snorgle her. I will tell you that she's the sweetest baby since Phoebe Linnea, and I flash back constantly when I'm around her. It's tough work, but somebody has to do it when Margaret's busy.**

**All due respect to sweet sweet Liam, thanks to chronic ear infections and possible lactose intolerance, he was not a top seed in the running for World's Easiest Baby.

And the prime attraction of Camp Zick: Chet Baker. Oona has a very nice cat at home, named Edgar (who she calls Egger or Nenner), who loves Oo and lets her pat and stroke him. Baker is a tad more interactive, as you'll see. Oona responds strongly to pictures of Chet, and gives a gutteral series of barks when she and Margaret read my blog. She's gonna love this one! It's so cool for me to be able to watch Chet and Oona interact. We've had the pleasure of her company for several entire days, and he is transported with delight when she arrives. What's interesting is that he clearly considers himself in charge of her. And not just in spurts, but every minute she's with us. He supervises her. He places himself in front of her, whichever way she's trying to move. He walks along with her as she crawls, as if bound by an invisible harness. He seems to be worried she'll get into some kind of trouble. When she crawled over to look out the window, Baker was convinced she'd somehow get the door open and fall off the 12' deck. So he stuck with her like the white on rice.You're here. You're always here. I might as well pat you.

Well, you are not a very trustworthy small small baby, and you might fall off the deck. So yes, I am here, and I like to be patted. Just do not try anything dangerous.

Oona loves to stand on the couch and watch me in the kitchen. Chet is worried she'll fall off, maybe suddenly levitate and pitch over the back of it. He does not trust that baby farther than he can throw her.
She can get up and down by herself now, but he doesn't quite buy it. So little CatDog vaults up to supervise.
Oo is a good kisser, if you like baby piranha kisses--open mouthed, slobbery and a bit toothy. I happen to like them. Here, she moves in on Chet.You are not kissing properly. Kisses should be done with the tongue. Let me show you.That wasn't so bad, actually. I might get another one of those.

Chet also brings Oona a steady stream of toys--his very favorites--to share. She is less than impressed with his gutted Floppables, and pushes him away. That doesn't stop him from trying to engage her. You seem to be getting new teeth, and I know that hurts. Chew this cat. It helps.

On the rare occasions when Chet goes off duty, Oona seeks him out. Here she is on her way to crawl into bed with him.
Or should I say "crawl into beds with him?" Chet has four beds, and when it's cold we stack them so he sleeps in a big tower of softness.

A Jedd is in bed
And the bed of a Jedd
Is the softest of beds in the world, it is said. He makes it from pompons he grows on his head.
He's sleeping right now
On the softest of fluff
Completely exhausted from growing the stuff.

Dr. Seuss' Sleep Book, a book that makes me yawn uncontrollably, just like it did to Mom when she read it to me.

Cute doggie, I like playing with you.
And I like playing with you, cute human baby thing.Sometimes you stick too close to me, and then I tell you to back off! Because I can do more than you think I can do. Mether. Isn't she the cutest small baby you have ever seen? She thinks she can take care of herself. It is a very good thing I am here to make sure nothing bad happens to her. You told everyone I was a bad daddy. But that one I chewed up was a fake one, and this is a real real babeh, and I am the best at taking care of her.Merry Christmas!

[Back to Top]