Archive for the 'Musings' Category

Now, with fifty percent more kelp!

Friday, August 15th, 2014

[IMAGE] kelp

…click to listen:

…about the music

Electro-aquatic music for my favorite sea vegetables.

It’s been a while since I’ve posted any photographs featuring the actual kelp that surrounds me, and from which all my notes– musical and otherwise– appear to spring (at least, per the title of this blog). Thus, dear reader, I humbly submit this slippery, salty offering.

One of the great things about my beach is that order to get onto the sand, you’ve gotta walk down a narrow trail lined with dense Pacific-Northwesty vegetation. No matter how brightly the sun shines above, it’s always mysteriously dark and cool here. Trees, ferns, mosses and dirt compete for space alongside a little creek, and the smell is indescribably green green green. That’s a smell, isn’t it? The uninitiated might ponder littering breadcrumbs in their wake, just to find the way back.

[IMAGE] path to beach

But by the time those Big Bad Wolf thoughts appear, your eyes are greeted with a sudden expanse. This usually happens just after you remind yourself that phew, there are no wolves on San Juan Island.

[IMAGE] path to beach

Ahhhh.
Every shore I’ve ever seen in this archipelago is laden with an astonishing amount of large driftwood. Each is a piece of evidence divulging the tale of wild storms and endless high tides that shoved these heavy logs allllll the way to the base of the hillside. Try lifting one of these puppies sometime, and you’ll be in awe of the sea’s power to alter landscapes.

[IMAGE] entrance to beach

Or course, not only the sea, but a few short neighbors, have also been known to be beachfront property real estate developers.

[IMAGE] real estate development

Any Northwest beach visit begins with a hazing ritual to be endured in order to reach the sand. I do my best to gingerly step on, over and in between the rickety driftwood and avoid twisting an ankle. Or two. Been there, done that; please remind me to post an entertaining account someday of how, on a Malibu beach in September of 2002, I managed to break both of my feet in three places, simultaneously. That’s right. No mere amateur can pull off that stunt; only a well-seasoned professional klutz like yours truly.

[IMAGE] oops
You can’t make this stuff up. I stayed amused at the expense of the dignity of my toenails.

So yes, I try to avoid maiming myself yet again (lemme tell ya, life in a wheelchair for a month results in a sobering sympathy for those seated there permanently). I also try to appear like the experienced local I am to anyone else who might be watching. Except that in all my many years living on beaches in So Cal and San Juan, tromping amidst wood, rocks and tidepools, I will never quite look like the mermaid sprite I wish I were. Just the awkward nerd I truly am.

[IMAGE] habitats

Having cleared the terrifying hurdles of the driftwood blockade, my mud boots and I are rewarded with the security of a smooth beach (oh, those boots not only keep my toes warm in the 48 degree water and declare that I’m a local, but scream that I’m the marine biologist I aspire to be when I’m not aspiring to be a mermaid sprite). I walk toward my favorite kelp-encrusted rock, beyond which I can see my favorite roof.

[IMAGE] habitats

Beyond this rock at low tide, are my favorite patterns of the sea’s artwork.

[IMAGE] sand view

Onward to more kelp. So many kinds. And yup, I can name most of them, but I’d prefer that you keep reading so I won’t bore you to tears with my wannabe marine biologist bad self.

[IMAGE] kelp garden

[IMAGE] kelp garden

[IMAGE] kelp garden
I love how the curl of the clear sea magnifies the plants for a precious moment.

I try to be careful where I trod,

[IMAGE] kelp garden

because the kelp protects its small, squishy neighbors, like these anemones,

[IMAGE] kelp garden

and sometimes unexpectedly serves as an elegant display stand for a skyward visitor,

[IMAGE] kelp stand

and once in a while, balances delicately, with no one other than me to protect it.

[IMAGE] standing kelp

Last week a dam in British Columbia burst, and millions upon millions of gallons of toxic waste from a mining operation suddenly flowed freely into some of the most pristine waters in the world. It’s entirely possible that now, on the eve of their migration back to the Fraser river, the largest run of Sockeye salmon will be devastated.

Not to mention the effect of the toxicity on every other life form in the area, kelp and all.

One could string together many of my blog posts over the years and create a chain of love letters to the sea and its diverse life forms. I share these little moments of appreciation, hopeful that my viral delight is contagious through your screen, and that you too will feel as protective as I of those creatures unable to fend off the abuses of our thoughtless bully species. Here’s one more link in my chain of adoration, and hope. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if someday, human societies evolve into a culture of awareness that is as careful where it trods as any lone, klutz-prone beachcomber.

[IMAGE] just missed
Lucky sand worm!

Company’s here

Tuesday, July 1st, 2014

[IMAGE] Orca and Mt. Rainier, July 1, 2014.

…click to listen:

…about the music

I’ve posted this excerpt before, but now it’s finally entirely appropriate.

It was an other-worldly sound.
I’d never heard anything like it before.
And it was CLOSE.

My face was staring deeply into a 27″ monitor, as my brain was staring deeply into a new electroacoustic piece for double reed choir. Throughout the day, the sounds in my head had been accompanied by the sultry blows of killer whales. They glided past my window in tight duos and trios, first up the coast, and later, down the coast. And, back up again. Islanders call this “the Westside Shuffle.” I call it a welcome distraction from all my work.

WHOOOOOSSSHH!!!!

What the hell was THAT???

The sudden sound was twice as loud as any blow before it, and twice as low in register.
Very startled, I looked up.

And there, lumbering gracefully past my nose, was a Humpback whale, hugging the kelp line.
It was no more than 50 yards away from me.
And it was huge.
Although they’re known to traverse these waters, I’d never seen one here before. It absolutely took my breath away.

I only managed a handful of shots before s/he took a deep breath and submerged until well out of view.

Here’s the unmistakable dorsal that puts the Hump in Humpback:

[IMAGE] Humpback dorsal

And the fluke:

[IMAGE] Humpback fluke

I was in awe.

Photos– particularly my pitifully amateur ones– cannot do justice to a natural world experienced in all dimensions. But to give you an idea of scale, here’s what I’m used to seeing in front of me on a very regular basis each summer: a 25 foot Orca, next to a 26 foot fishing boat:

[IMAGE] Orca and boat

Or next to a few [slightly intimidated] kayakers:

[IMAGE] Orca and kayakers

Or, next to my friends who were fishing (for salmon, not Orca despite what it looks like) in a 16 foot boat:
[IMAGE] Orca and boat

“We’re gonna need a bigger boat.”

Now, imagine a mammal at least twice as big in all directions.
Unspeakably wonderful.

[IMAGE] Orca and three sea birds

Editor’s Note (yup, that would be me, Alex): I post photos on my Facebook page far more frequently than I post to this blog these days. Nope, I’m not resigning from Kelpville, and I plan to blog more frequently this summer now that I’m in one whale-filled place for a while. But I invite any of my Notes from the Kelp readers to “friend” me on Facebook if you’d like to see more of what I see. If you don’t think I know you, just mention something about kelp, and I’ll approve the request!

Welcome home

Saturday, May 31st, 2014

[IMAGE] balloons afloat

…click to listen:

…about the music

Unabashedly thrilled.

Someone unwittingly sent me balloons. Or perhaps they knew that I’m celebrating: after many months of travel– all very wonderful– this coming week is my final business trip of the season. Very soon I will be home, sweet and salty home, for three solid months.

Oh no, I’m not complaining about the insanely fortunate life that I have created which regularly places me virtually via Skype, and physically via claustrophobic metal tubes hurtling through the air, in front of countless fellow artists and arts lovers (and others who have no idea why I’m talking so passionately, yet politely tolerate me nonetheless). But after two and sometimes three body-vaulting trips each month since last autumn, boy, do I appreciate the joy of staying in one place to compose, run my business, and commune with the humans and animals I adore who also call this rock, “home”:

Like this juvenile Bald Eagle,

[IMAGE] Juvenile Bald

headed back to the mound where his brother (and, um, the entrails of some unfortunate but tasty creature) awaits.

[IMAGE] Juvenile Bald

Like this raccoon,

[IMAGE] Raccoon

who knows that home is where you put your paw prints. And where the birds are, happily, really messy.

[IMAGE] Raccoon

Like the Orca, returning each May to the San Juans,

[IMAGE] Orca and Olympics

checking to see how her summer digs fared over the winter.

[IMAGE] Orca

Like this giant male Tenegaria house spider on the prowl for some hot love,

[IMAGE] Tegenaria

happy to be scooped up and released back to a waiting mate. Well, he hopes.

[IMAGE] Tegenaria

Like the foxes,

[IMAGE] Foxes

who know that someone’s bound to open the door if they knock.

[IMAGE] Fox calling

Like Bella, excited to see her house at the bottom of the road,

[IMAGE] Bella driving

so she can settle in and do what she does best: procrastinate on her work (you don’t think *I* write all this music, do you?).

[IMAGE] Bella procrastinating

And like me,

[IMAGE] Flying home

so damn happy to be home all summer long, as I admire the sun and the moon and the sea and the stars alongside my flippered, feathered, finned,

[IMAGE] May moonrise

and multi-legged companions.

[IMAGE] Dan and Alex at home.

I am celebrating being home! Thanks, whoever you are up the coast, for those pretty balloons.

500 and counting!

Tuesday, March 25th, 2014

[IMAGE] otterly staring at me.

…click to listen:

…about the music

Music that’s otterly fun, and very busy.

Well hello!
It’s been a while.
Yeah, I know, I’ve been a bit scarce around here.
Not my norm, as seasoned Kelphistos know! I’ve published this pixel-sonic blog for eight full years without stop [she says somewhat sheepishly as she guiltily glances at the sidebar calendar]. As I logged on to write this entry (geez, finally!), it was either ironic, or just one of those “mystical signs from the Universe” that my skeptical self prefers to chalk up to “random odds,” that the words, “500 posts” greeted me.

Wow. I’ve written exactly 500 posts. Since 2006.
Welcome to number 501.
Not bad for a composer chickie who just blogs in order to share all the beauty/funny/bizarre/breathtaking/mundane things that my website and Facebook don’t show you.

[IMAGE] Lenticular cloud on Mount Rainier at sunrise
Okay, I admit that I did Facebook this pic of aliens landing on Mount Rainier, in all its otherworldly color one sunrise as I awoke. Sometimes I spread the fun around.

I had never before gone quite this many weeks between posts, (um, seven). Sure, entries have slowed down over the years from the initial blog-frenzy of “A New Post Nearly Every Day!!”, to, “A New Post Three Times a Week!,” to “Well… Twice a Week!” to, “How’s Once a Week Workin’ for Ya?”. And finally, more recently, I joined the calm, sedate, “Blog O’ The Month Club. “Yessiree folks, each new month you can anticipate the joy of some weird offering from Ms. Shapiro in between all the weird offerings that people pay her to create!”

That’s about the right pace for me at this point in my wonderful life. Once, maybe twice a month… but always with INTENT. This is the key, for any artist.

[IMAGE] Bella
Bella insists: Free Tibet!!. A kitty with intent.

So indulge me in a little reflection, at this 500 post mark.

From time to time I’ve perused my past sillykelpyalex.com offerings, and I will unabashedly admit to you that happily, I don’t feel that I’ve totally wasted anyone’s eyeball efforts. Whether a short handout, or a longer one, there’s always something of pith and personal meaning (well, at least to me!) within these screen dots. I’m just not someone who can waste screen dots on something that’s NOT worthy on some small level.

Much as I’ve been an early adopter of All Things Social Media and Tech, and in fact, am professionally known for mastering this happy affliction, I hereby admit: I am not now, nor have I ever been….

[IMAGE] Alex and sea stars

…a person who can be in the intense throes of LIVING and CREATING and EXPERIENCING and BEING, while able to simultaneously post ABOUT these events, in real time.
Nope. Not me.

Sometimes I can come close, by being a sequential, serial life-liver/poster (that reads like something from the abdominal disease ward), but almost always, it’s one,
and then,
the other.
In this case, seven weeks apart.
But: with intent.

So, what’s been riveting my monkey brain attention and thwarting my post-modern e-life? There’s been lots of travel– often every ten days I’m on a plane to somewhere else. In four months I will have been in Chicago, San Antonio, Kansas City, Kona (don’t feel sorry for me, not like you would), Vancouver, Los Angeles, and New York City– twice. And there’ve been lots of pieces being written under deadlines, and each gets the full and undivided attention of my giddy muses the moment I return to this sacred island I get to call home.

[IMAGE] home
Sometimes my house gets a little damp. Ok, yeah, this pic made it to Facebook too.

There’s been lots of contact with the wonderful music-makers around the world who add my notes to their fantastic recipes. There’s been lots of speaking and presenting at huge conferences. There’s been lots of service to forward the work of my colleagues in our challenging field (and this newest appointment is a biggie). And, yes, in my still-balanced existence, there’s lots of love and an immensely happy home life.

[IMAGE] Turkey Vulture couple
Me, and Dan. You get to guess who is who.

500 posts, and more to come. Promise. The balance of the busy, with the blog, is achievable!

Happily, again

Friday, January 31st, 2014

[IMAGE] hawaii sunset

…click to listen:

…about the music

A syllabus on how to realign your chakras.

It’s become an annual tradition for Dan and me, with conveniently placed 1/10 and 1/11 birthdays respectively, to fling ourselves into the balmy tendrils of the Hawaiian islands. The first year we went for 5 days, and kicked ourselves for not carving out more time from our schedules. The second year: 10 days. This year: two weeks. And we’ve already planned to spend at least three weeks and possibly a full month, on one of Hawaii’s islands next January. What can I say: we’re both self-employed and had the dumb luck to be born at a time when business is still digesting from the bloat of holiday scurrying. Our physical absence is less noticeable this time of year, and I can keep up with most of my work remotely, as you’ll see below. Put another way: no one really needs us around, and damn if we’re not gonna take full advantage of that.

Among the many benefits of living in a gorgeous place on the planet to begin with, is that in order to get to this:

[IMAGE] hawaii sunset

we must pass by this:

[IMAGE] Rainier
Mighty Mount Rainier!

Ooooh!

Once we arrive, we always look forward to being greeted by this:

[IMAGE] baby gecko


While watching the local evening news the first night, when much of the U.S. was crippled by the sub-zero degrees of the dreaded Polar Vortex, we realized that our idea of cold temperatures is somewhat different than that of Hawaiians:

[IMAGE] weather report
We were particularly amused by the icy-font lettering used to stress JUST HOW COLD IT REALLY WAS!! BRRR! Shouldn’t she be wearing long-sleeved flannel?

Everything is relative.
We managed to endured the frozen tundra-like 80-degree temps of the Big Island.

So, in between this:

[IMAGE] the Alex fish



and this:

[IMAGE] beach walk



there was usually this:

[IMAGE] umbrella drinks!



Which, regrettably, sometimes led to this:

[IMAGE] hula grrl gone bad



Yup.

Almost as colorful and entertaining were these creatures:

[IMAGE] boxfish
Among my very favorite cartoony pals: the female spotted boxfish.


[IMAGE] snowflake eel
The snowflake eel, aptly named for those chilly 80 degree days.


[IMAGE] weird fish
Note how both the male and female of the species employ tropical coloring highlights for aquatic camouflage. Darwin was on to something.



But truly: for as much as there was of this:

[IMAGE] ahhhhh



there was actually a great deal of this:

[IMAGE] oh yeah


[WARNING: GEEK POST!]:

Once one has figured out how to do one’s work on a remote, bridge-less island in the middle of nowhere (aka, San Juan Island), it matters not from which island in the whole damn world one might work. So long as The Smiling, Kind and Merciful God of The Internet shines down upon me, I can earn my living.

Fellow hedonist geek composers of the world, take note: here’s how it’s done, baby:

1. MacBook Air running Sibelius 7
2. Data colostomy bag (aka, 2 terabyte USB external drive)
3. iPhone running a wireless MIDI polyphonic controller that inputs notes (no need to pack a large keyboard)
4. Mini USB hub because there aren’t enough on the laptop:
Port 1: camera cable
Port 2: mini usb trackball mouse
Port 3: iPhone cable
5. Bose noise-canceling headphones (damn, those crashing waves are loud)
6. Binoculars
7. Camera (not shown, since in hand)
8. Glass of decent red
9. Aforementioned crashing waves in a balmy environment (shown here: Keauhou, Hawaii).

Each day, I accomplished three or four hours of real work, in contact with clients all over the world, as enormous green sea turtles loped their way onto the shore in front of my toes, sternly suggesting I reconsider my enharmonic choices.

[IMAGE] honu



I remained supervised at all times,

[IMAGE] gecko



but the boss was really cute so I didn’t mind.

[IMAGE] gecko head



Two weeks was not enough. Our island winters are very mild– mostly mid-40’s– but it felt great to bask in that chilly 80 degree weather and swim in water that wouldn’t plunge us into hypothermia in eight minutes. The consolation for leaving Hawaii of course, was that we were returning to another version of paradise. Once again we gazed at the beauty of Mount Rainier from the other side of the plane, as the tendrils of our own native archipelago called us home.

[IMAGE] Rainier



Here’s to next time!

[IMAGE] gecko with a view

The paths I choose

Saturday, December 28th, 2013

[IMAGE] kayaking toward Saltspring Island

…click to listen:

…about the music

Bang the drum loudly.

Mine is a happy life filled with many hellos,

[IMAGE] Hello, sea stars

[IMAGE] Hello, fox


and seemingly endless welcoming paths.

[IMAGE] southern San Juan Island

[IMAGE] island woods


Sometimes there are structures pointing the way,

[IMAGE] bridge

[IMAGE] dock ramp

[IMAGE] dock ramp


but more often, the sole path is my imagination.

[IMAGE]Alex at island's edge


I’m easily tempted by paths of beauty,

[IMAGE] Lavender farm


or shrouded mystery,

[IMAGE] False Bay


or even a little danger.

[IMAGE] Lava cave

[IMAGE] Lava abyss

[IMAGE] collapsed lava

[IMAGE] dangerous umbrella drink
Drinking an umbrella drink underneath an umbrella means there are TWO ways to poke your eye out. Very, very dangerous!


Almost always, I’m happiest when I make my own path.

[IMAGE] Alex in the road grader
What? You’ve never seen a Manhattan chick in a road grader before?


Sometimes a path leads me to say goodbye,

[IMAGE] leaving on the puddle jumper


in order to say hello somewhere else.

[IMAGE] Alex in Hawaii snorkeling


But that path always returns me back home,

[IMAGE] home


where my hellos begin all over again.

[IMAGE] Hello, Mr. Fox


Here’s to a new year, in which everyone’s cup is filled with as many colorful paths of their choosing as possible!

[IMAGE] Hello, Mr. Fox


Oy, vey

Sunday, November 17th, 2013

[IMAGE] mossy ride

…click to listen:

…about the music

Eco-friendly.

Well, it’s official: one glance at the photo above, and it’s clear that my car and I have lived in the Pacific Northwest for quite a while now. Going on seven years, in fact. I hang my hoodie in a place where 1. it rains more than it did in my former home base of southern California, and 2. there are no fancy-schmancy events to attend on San Juan Island at which one’s sparkling clean ride is a sought-after status symbol. Yes, back in the day, I tooled around in a sexy teal Porsche 928S for nine of my fifteen years in Malibu, before I switched gears (so to speak) to a convertible 4WD Jeep Wrangler, prior to inexplicably turning into a super-boring-but-reliable compact SUV chick (what my vehicles suggest about my various life phases is worthy of an altogether different blog post).

[IMAGE] otter
Face palm, otter: “‘Save the rainforest’ doesn’t mean carry it around with you on your SUV. Sheesh!”

I suppose I should be embarrassed that not just a touch of green scum,

[IMAGE] car slime
Ok, this is more than, “just a touch.”

but an entire bed of forest-worthy MOSS, has taken up residence on my spare tire cover (apparently, moss-sprouting is what the lettering is intended for).

And I haven’t even shown you the photo of the lichens growing on the side moulding.

[IMAGE] car lichen

Well, okay, I guess I couldn’t resist.
My car is rapidly becoming a Chia pet.

What can I say: with the promise of rain on a regular basis, very few people up here wash their cars. In fact, all of our vehicles, whether white, silver, red, or blue, share the local distinction of being “island color.” Which is varying, mottled combinations of mostly rainforest slime green and dirt road grey (hey, these could be this year’s new fall fashion colors for the style-conscious country bumpkin). Since my driveway is not a proper driveway at all, but more akin to a stony, rutted dry creek bed kicking up either dust or mud, there’s just never any point in bothering to hose things off. Heck, I probably get a tad less mileage per gallon due to toting around all these natural resources.

[IMAGE] sea lion
Face palm, sea lion: “I can’t believe what this neighborhood is turning into.”

The car is a lot like me when I’m home composing: basically stationary. When I’m not traveling for work, I instantly morph into a happy hermit in loose fitting pajama-like togs just weird-looking enough to scare the dickens out of anyone who dares to show up unannounced. And, I hole up. For days at a time if possible. Even a simple trip into the tiny stress- and traffic-light-free town of Friday Harbor is a disruptive undertaking to be staved off until supplies are perilously low. The dire need for peanut butter… eggs… wine… cat food (not for me, I promise)… chocolate… becomes so urgent that I have no choice but to put on “decent” clothes worthy of public appearance (an enormous effort right there), and hop behind the wheel to take myself and my volunteer plant life collection on the 15 minute jaunt into civilization.

A rolling stone gathers no moss, but a working composer might end up like her car if she isn’t careful. Happily, I’ve just checked and I can proudly report that nope, there is NO MOSS growing in any of my nooks and crannies. Yet. [Phew]. There are, however, a lot of musical notes sprouting up, and I’ve been tending this garden of muses with great care. Which is a lot more than I can say for how I tend to my poor terrarium-on-wheels vehicle.

[IMAGE] kitty
Face palm, house cat: “Over and over… and OVER again. Of all the people out there, I end up being adopted by a composer. How many more times do I have to hear that @#$% passage until she gets it right???”.


You can’t shut this down

Monday, October 7th, 2013

[IMAGE] angry Bald Eagle

…click to listen:

…about the music

REMEMBRANCE, live premiere, August 2013 by the U.S. Army Strings, Major Tod. A. Addison, conductor, at the Church of the Epiphany, Washington, D.C.

I’m blessed to live in a rural neighborhood that abuts one of the most spectacular gems of the United States National Park Service.

[IMAGE] American Camp

As of last week, the entrances to this, and all other such parks in the nation, have been blocked.

[IMAGE] road block

In response, I submit the following letter. Each point is accompanied by a photograph I’ve taken from, in, or of, the aptly named American Camp National Historical Park. Normally I would provide a link that readers could click to learn more, but alas, the National Park Service website has been taken down.

[IMAGE] NPS shut down

To Those Members of the U.S. Congress who voted to hold hostage the government services you were elected to oversee:

As a U.S. citizen and taxpayer, I write to readjust your perspective, by reminding you of how little power a politician actually possesses.

You have loaded your ideological weapon with the ammunition of irrationality and meanness, and you have fired it in the direction of the innocent. This dangerous combination of both the ability to aim well, and the lack of wisdom to know better than to do so, is currently preventing countless U.S. government employees from being able to pay their bills. Since the National Park Service is under federal purview, you have also shown that you can punish everyone else, whether from the U.S. or abroad, wishing to commune with our nation’s natural treasures.

Unwilling to accept the results from the same democratic process that placed you in your office, you have thrown your tantrum, and have effectively, if temporarily, shut down your own country.

But you can’t shut down the sunrises that stir American Camp’s horizon,

[IMAGE] sunrise



nor the sunsets that drape the Park’s peninsula with pastel affection.

[IMAGE] Golden Point



You can’t shut down the navy blue clouds,

[IMAGE] blue clouds



or the grey ones,

[IMAGE] grey clouds



or the orange ones,

[IMAGE] orange clouds



or the geometric ones,

[IMAGE] shelf clouds

whose journey to an unseen future endlessly shifts the light and shadows of American Camp.

You can’t shut down the sunshine,

[IMAGE] sunny vista



nor the fog,

[IMAGE] fog across American Camp



nor the kiss of the full moon on the weathered fingertips of ancient trees,

[IMAGE] moonrise



nor, for all your presumed power, can you stop the moon’s unfolding tongue from lapping at the Park’s waters: a glorious scene, witnessed by that most American of birds, the Bald Eagle.

[IMAGE] reflection



You can’t shut down the waves barreling toward the Park’s shores,

[IMAGE] storm waves



nor the massive logs of driftwood violently thrown upon American Camp’s pebbly beaches.

[IMAGE] driftwood on South Beach



You can’t shut down the rainbows that passionately spear the point,

[IMAGE] rainbow over Golden Point



nor can you blockade the storms that remind the cliffs that they cannot step out of the way.

[IMAGE] crashing waves



You cannot shut down the vistas,

[IMAGE] vista from American Camp



or the butterflies,

[IMAGE] American Camp butterfly



nor can you coax the secrets from these forests,

[IMAGE] American Camp woods



or from the mountains that frame this National Park.

[IMAGE] Cascades beyond American Camp



You can’t cordon off the Great Blue Heron’s tarmac,

[IMAGE] Heron landing



or prevent American Camp’s rugged coves from grinning at the Olympic National Park across the Strait.

[IMAGE] American Camp coves



You can neither halt the hypnotic motion of American Camp’s protected grasslands,

[IMAGE] grassland in American Camp



nor the chill of the snow that tickles them.

[IMAGE] snow in American Camp



You cannot shut down the unruly, un-policed, rioting wildflowers,

[IMAGE] wildflowers in American Camp



or the unkempt beauty of the Park’s sweet foxes.

[IMAGE] island foxes in American Camp



You can’t even stop the ones who, despite the park closure, defiantly visit the placard for Senator Henry M. Jackson, Conservationist at Large (he happened to be a Democrat).

[IMAGE] napping fox in American Camp



You cannot shut down the killer whales who hug American Camp’s shores,

[IMAGE] Orcas in American Camp



or the peaceable deer who graze its land,

[IMAGE] Black Tail deer in American Camp



and I assure you, Congress members, that though you can barricade my neighbors and me from this abundant acreage, you are powerless to ever, ever block our national bird from his home.

[IMAGE] Bald Eagle



I am fortunate that I can publish this pictorial letter so that others may have a tiny, pixelated glimpse of the beauty that Congress, in its shortsighted grab for elusive control, has temporarily wrested from us.

And it is most ironic that I type all of this to you, on Monday morning, October 7th, 2013, with the nation’s noble-feathered emblem standing calmly in front of me. We are both gazing out to American Camp.

[IMAGE] Remembering



My wish for you, members of the U.S. House of Representatives, and for all elected officials, is that you will remember what our beloved Bald Eagle represents, and more importantly, that you will remember who you were sent to Washington to represent. “E Pluribus Unum:” out of many, one. Unity. One nation. One which is a Democracy, in which when the majority of citizens and leaders have voted for something such as affordable health care insurance for everyone, then despite your political or personal preferences, you must uphold the will of the people.

This is not about politics, it is about decency. In the best of circumstances, you are stewards and caretakers. Like all of us, you, Congress members, must think of the needs of others, and protect those who cannot take care of themselves.

[IMAGE] Bald Eagle and chick

Along with the photographs of the national park I love the most, at the top of this post there is a link to my string orchestra piece, REMEMBRANCE, which was beautifully premiered this summer by another gem of this nation: the U.S. Army Strings, who are among the very best musicians in the country. I am proud to have an association with them and with other ensembles in the U.S. Armed Forces, and it is my hope that these groups will soon be able to return to the exceptional music-making for which they have been hired. Long after history has forgotten the squabbles of politics, it will always remember the culture of a civilization. Please cherish the arts we have nutured in the United States.

And finally, members of Congress, I hope that you have enjoyed these photos. Should you ever visit San Juan Island, it would be my pleasure to show you any of these stunning scenes, for they are considerably more remarkable in person than in pixels.

But for the moment, these pixels are the only access to this beauty that most people have.

Sincerely,
Alex Shapiro
San Juan Island, WA

[IMAGE] Bald Eagle
Our national emblem of freedom, above the Salish Sea.

To be and to see

Monday, September 30th, 2013

[IMAGE] tent site

…click to listen:

…about the music

Being and seeing. And, C-flatting. Which brings us back to B-ing.

Since I haven’t been filling this blog with as many entries as usual lately, this post will at least pick up some of the slack. Admittedly, my Facebook page gets Kelp Grrl’s quickie uploads of byte-worthy photos good for a one-shot lookie, if only to coax some fun responses. Yet the gist of this seaside site is that ideally, it’s a [mostly] nature photo essay (with a little music, even!) of whatever I deem not only byte-worthy, but… life-worthy. And so, dear readers, come along with me for a little ride through… British Columbia. Specifically: ten days in B.C.: also known as… a vacation!

[IMAGE] tent
I love camping.

This summer, filled as it was with friends, idyllic sailboat crabbing expeditions (ok, not quite as idyllic for the crabs), and great meals, was also filled with a tremendous amount of music work, throughout. I found myself juggling everything from composing new pieces, to adapting an older one, to creating a large distribution contract for the bigger ones, to preparing one work for recording, one for mixing, and yet another for publication, to prepping many of my best photos to entertain audiences during intermedia concerts of my music, to coping with the responsibility that comes along with being selected to present a big workshop on my new, passionate specialty, electroacoustic symphonic band music (say that five times fast), at the two largest conferences in the U.S.– one in Chicago in December, and the other in San Antonio in February.

I’m exhausted by simply reading all this, and if you click on each of the links you’ll see why. Who did all this stuff, anyway? It couldn’t have been me. I was too busy thinking about my end-of-summer va-cay.

And so, deadlines precariously tamed for the moment, on the Wednesday prior to Labor Day we packed up the car with essentials, and pointed it to the ferry headed for Sidney-by-the-Sea, in beautiful British Columbia. Our neighbor across the Haro Strait, 300-mile long Vancouver Island is just 9 miles from my house as the crow (or anything other than a zig-zagging bat) flies. Yet driving and ferrying there from here takes… wonderful… caaallllmming… hooouurrrrsss.

[IMAGE] ferrying
Passing between Spieden Island on the left, and Sentinel on the right, shrouded in mist that obviously spells out “bon voyage!” if you squint.

The trip had three distinct, geo-triangulating prongs: first, to visit friends 150 miles north, on Quadra Island in B.C.’s Discovery Islands (trust me: if you thought that San Juan Island was remote, Quadra is a lot more remot-er). Three relaxing days were spent in varying combinations of eating incredibly well, drinking notably well, visiting talented islanders in artist studios and on organic farm B&Bs (would you expect anything less up here??), watching movies each night in the luxury of our pals’ awesome pro screening room (not a whole lot of those on Quadra), and during the day, hiking around in gorgeous, damp, deep, moss-draped woods like fairy tale gnomes.

[IMAGE] mossy woods on Quadra

One afternoon, we picked [5 pounds of!!] chanterelle mushrooms, and then turned those fungi into even more incredibly great food that thankfully did not kill us.

[IMAGE] chanterelles
What a haul.

A full circle of complete delight, framed in something like a Beverly Hills hedonistic version of “Survivor”-meets-”Lost”. Except we smelled marginally better, and I only got directionally disoriented in the trail-less forest for about 17 minutes. During which I found even more mushrooms, so I considered that a win.

It was another 180 miles down from Quadra to the contrasting civilization of Victoria, where two fun days of more friends, more food, partially besotted strolling, and a terrific classic boat show awaited. Plus, they’ve got a really great weekend art fair. Our favorite booth was this one:

[IMAGE] bugs!

There must have been a hundred frames on the table. We were beside ourselves trying to decide which one to take home, and eventually settled on this aptly named Phyllium Pulchrifolium (having had three years of Latin I can tell you that this means “beautiful leaf”):

[IMAGE] bug!

She now hangs next to the wine rack in the kitchen, and intimidates the hell out of the fruit flies (remember: this is a mostly-nature blog. I get my fix however I can.).

Take this, for instance: seasoned Readers of The Kelp know that I rarely post photos of buildings or people. Unless there are killer whales in front of them. Score!

[IMAGE] orcas in Victoria

Quadra and Victoria conquered, the main course was upon us: a week of camping,

[IMAGE] outdoor kitchen
Why rough it, when you can bring the adult equivalent of an Easy-Bake oven??

on the beach,

[IMAGE] tent view

under a lovely canopy,

[IMAGE] tent view

on the very wild, western edge of Vancouver Island,

[IMAGE] B.C. beach

which is a lush, windy, no-services-for-a-reaaallllly-long-time-so-good-luck-pal five hour drive away,

[IMAGE] lush

just south of a hippie surf town…

[IMAGE] nice ride

… called Tofino. Everyone in these parts adores Tofino, and it’s easy to see why:

[IMAGE] deck view
A nice little cafe offered this deck for WiFi and good cappuccino.

[IMAGE] bay view
We found serenity at the botanical garden.

[IMAGE] marina view
Even the marina at Ucluelet is stunning.

After a summer of deadlines and one heck of a lot of notes attached to one heck of a lot of simultaneous projects that my feeble brain attempted and sometimes failed to keep straight, it was beyond blissful to be here, with nothing on an agenda, for days at a time. I read three books, which is three more books than I’ve read in almost three years because I’m so busy reading lots of other things that are not exactly books. Two by Annie Dillard, and another by Henry Beston, the subjects of which mirror my life as a writer living in a remote place surrounded by nature. Yes, I could have chosen political non-fiction or fanciful mystery novels, but I wanted to immerse myself in the words of artists I admire whose hearts were tugged by the same environment which tugs at mine. It felt so, so, wonderful to have their kindred companionship on this trip, and to read about something while experiencing the thing itself. The wind. The sand. The trees…

[IMAGE] Beston

[IMAGE] Dillard

…the two-minute showers.
Oh wait. Nope, there was nothing in these books about that. One of the, ahem, highlights of our campground was the pay-shower: one loonie (a Canadian dollar) gets you exactly two moderately warm minutes of cleanliness. Not one second more. Unless of course, you want to really splurge and make it a two-loonie shower. That seemed awfully extravagant, and we prided ourselves each day by reporting back to each other just how many extra seconds we had left on our sole loonie.
Camping definitely adjusts one’s perspective.

While one side of the Tofino area is barren, windswept beach, the other– right across the road!–is a wildly different temperate rain forest. Walking through the moist botanical gardens one day, I stumbled upon the remains of the last blogger to visit here:

[IMAGE] typewriter

As well as some petrified lovers.

[IMAGE] oh yes

And back at the beach, it was a total orgy.

[IMAGE] oh yes
Sea stars, anemones, and free love.

How utterly fitting that as I plunked myself down in the sand one late afternoon, something shiny glinted up at me. I dug out the used beer cap and smiled; a Salish Sea friend had followed along.

[IMAGE] orca beer

Oh, what a fabulous ten days it was. We were sad to leave, but rested and energized for the coming season of Lots More Work Which We Are Lucky to Have. We had come to B.C. from paradise, spent ten days in paradise, and then had the amazingly great fortune to return to paradise. For a vacation of the verbs to be and to see, B.C. was definitely the perfect place to act them out.

[IMAGE] going home

Excuses, excuses

Tuesday, August 27th, 2013

[IMAGE] well read

…click to listen:

…about the music

Waiting.

Well, the reason I haven’t blogged for a month is the exact same reason I haven’t finished this big piece of music yet:

[IMAGE] access blocked

All access blocked.
Unless I only need to type plus-signs and end-quotation marks.
I mean, really: how am I expected to be able to work under these conditions?

Companion humans such as I, owned by loving animals who allow us shelter, are very tolerant of these sorts of inconveniences.
(I try to explain this to my clients).

[IMAGE] pet human

And so, blog readers wait for the next installment.
Audiences wait for the next piece.
And Bella and I wait for the muses to be kind.

[IMAGE] waiting

There’ll be more coming; stay tuned.
Or at least, microtonal.

[IMAGE] stay tuned

Serenity from the kelp

Saturday, July 27th, 2013

[IMAGE] low tide

…click to listen:

…about the music

Ahhhhhhh.

Each summer, perfectly timed for the dramatic Salish Sea’s lowest tide of the season, the Friday Harbor Laboratories has a little get-together called the “beach walk.” Graciously hosted on the private property of one or another friend or board member of the Labs, about 40 people as inquisitive about sea life as I, but far more knowledgable, rise early in the a.m., tug on their mud boots or rubber-soled water sandals, and do their best to remain upright on the slippery kelp while examining all sorts of fascinating creatures who, more often than not, live well beyond reach.

[IMAGE] Blood star
Yikes! She cut herself! Naw… but the wonderful Blood Star is aptly named (hand model in this and all other pix: unknown).

None of these critters expected to have their beauty sleep interrupted by prying fingers gently coaxing them from upturned rocks, but they gamely played along as marine scientists enthusiastically described their eating habits and sex lives. Oh, the indignity! Depending on the luck of the animal, the scientist would chose whether to toss it back to the sea, or into a collecting bucket for further lab study. Yup: life is unfair.

[IMAGE] worm in captivity
Apparently, the early tide-pooler gets the worm.

And so, last weekend, on an exceptionally tranquil, hazy Sunday at 8:30 a.m.,

[IMAGE] low tide and kelp

…I was unusually social in my own hazy state. I’m not a morning person, but the dual joy of hearing from marine experts about what sea life has been up to recently, and hearing from my island friends about what they’ve been up to recently, makes it all worthwhile. Plus, as a member of the Labs’ Advancement Board for the past five years, it’s wonderful to invite new people and get them more involved in the great work that this extension of the University of Washington’s College of the Environment has been doing for so long.

[IMAGE] purple urchin
And speaking of extensions, this’ll wake anyone up: an impressively large Purple Urchin. Uh huh, those pointy spines are sharp. Just looking a them makes me go “ouch!”.

[IMAGE] star
An adorably small sea star. I named him Gumby.

[IMAGE] nudibranch
This nudibranch is stylin’ in its teeny weeny polka dot bikini.

[IMAGE] decorator crab
Unlike the snail above, decorator crabs aren’t nearly as discerning when it comes to fashion choices. They’ll just wear anything right off the rock. I mean, rack.

[IMAGE] worms
Here’s both a big worm, and a small worm called a “feather duster” in this jar (complete with nutritional information). Hard to see in this pic, but there’s an actual feather duster-like appendage on the lefthand end of the smaller worm. What they lack in fashion sense, they make up for in tidying up around the place.

[IMAGE] rower
In the distance, a man in a very small row boat floated on the placid, foggy horizon.

[IMAGE] bull kelp
Nature’s art: a flower-like mass of bull kelp at my feet.

Having spent enough time harassing innocent sea creatures, by the late morning it was time to return to my studio, refreshed, inspired, salty and slightly gooey. Surely, there must be many, many notes in this tangle of kelp! I’m avidly searching for the best ones, as I embark on several new works. There are many things I love about summers here at home on San Juan Island, and one of them is being here, at home, on San Juan Island. Apart from some sailing and camping adventures, I don’t leave the island for any work-related trips until late September. That has me smiling, “Ahhhh,” while it has my muses looking to the kelp, for all the right notes.

Once more unto the breach

Thursday, July 4th, 2013

[IMAGE] orca backflip

…click to listen:

…about the music

Music with a splash.

The only thing cuter than an Orca breaching,

[IMAGE] Orca breach

[IMAGE] Orca breach

[IMAGE] Orca breach

[IMAGE] Orca breach

Is a baby orca breaching, trying to keep up with mom!

[IMAGE] baby Orca breach

[IMAGE] baby Orca breach

[IMAGE] baby Orca breach

At least, I think so.

[IMAGE] splash