Archive for August, 2008
Chamber music for commuters.
Ok, I know, I’m rubbing everyone’s nose in it now. So sue me. All I can tell you is that a week after my return from a 2.5-day blink-and-you’ll-miss-it trip back to Los Angeles, aka my home for 24 years, I still suffer from Post Traumatic Porsche Syndrome. Upon my arrival at LAX I was immediately flung into the wilds of L.A. driving at its worst: cars either screaming down lanes at obscene speeds, intent on getting anywhere at anyone’s fatal expense, or cars in a fast-moving parking lot, formerly known as a “freeway,” harboring people so inured to this insanity that they no longer notice what’s wrong with this picture. In either case, all vehicles appear to be controlled by disembodied heads, offering no proof whatsoever that any body parts below the shoulders might actually be attached. Perhaps this is a good thing. That way, the species can’t breed.
Oooh, I’m a toughie on this one, ain’t I. But sometimes a magical, and effortlessly normal experience, like the one I had here in the San Juans a couple of days ago, reels the past and the present into vivid perspective. They’ve both flopped at my feet within a five day period, causing me to take stock of the changes in my life this past year.
One of the reasons I decided to leave southern California, was that I could no longer bear the unsolvable traffic, the endless driving and the angry, frustrated people behind all those safety padded steering wheels. When I moved to Malibu in 1993, it took me about 40 minutes to get from the beach to downtown L.A. for a concert. In the context of big city life this was not unreasonable, and I was happy to make the drive in exchange for a life with toes shriveled from salt water. By the time I left in 2007, that same drive very often took me…. two hours. One way. Creeping along at roughly 7 MPH. Detours? Side streets? Secret back ways? Same amount of time. I felt trapped. Moving into the city was not an option; being surrounded by nature was too important.
It was challenging to relax and enjoy a chamber music concert after battling the myriad of variables that necessitated an alertness so intense that it left me with a throbbing head (unfortunately, never throbbing to the same beat as the music). With less than ideal eyesight, hopping in the car meant taking my life into my hands, plus needing to cut short my own work day by mid-afternoon, just to be able to meet a friend for a quick pre-concert bite and immerse myself in… what I love. Too many times, having given myself what seemed like plenty of time to arrive, I would miss dinner altogether and find myself racing to my seat, my heart still puffing as the opening notes were performed. It wasn’t fun anymore. It was simply crazy. But it was how I lived for many years. I used to joke that the hours and distances we blithely drive in L.A. to get to events across town would be the equivalent of going across two, sometimes three state lines on the East coast. No one would ever expect someone to drive from northern Connecticut or southern New Jersey just to attend a concert at Lincoln Center. And yet, that’s what we do in Los Angeles.
So, now one less person is doing it. And she was struck by an extreme and beautiful contrast on Wednesday, as she strolled on to the inter-island ferry at Friday Harbor, and walked off onto the soil of Orcas Island 35 minutes later to attend a concert of their wonderful annual chamber music festival. The photos you see here are from my peaceful commute. It’s a rather different vista than what I used to squint at beyond my smog-covered windshield. The end result– have dinner, see friends, hear fantastic music– is the same except for one big thing that’s missing: urban insanity. For me, at this time in my life, that’s a wrong, discordant note.
Ways to cross the water.
We spent this past weekend in Los Angeles to attend the wedding of two friends who I inadvertently introduced to each other a few years ago. This is not the first or even second time such magic has occurred after my innocent and often unintentional involvement, so I’m now confessing my unquestionable supreme powers to the world, and accepting applications from any blog readers looking for love. That’ll be $29.95, no money-back guarantee, no promises. Step right up! Shower first; that always helps with the dating thing.
It was really great seeing so many old friends at the wedding, and also at a casual hang I put together the next day on the beach where I used to live and blog: Paradise Cove. If you’re curious about the truth in the name of that place, just check out any of my blog postings prior to May 2007 in the right-hand sidebar archive, and you’ll get an excellent idea of my happy life amid the Malibu tide pools. The cover and booklet photos for my latest CD, Notes from the Kelp, were shot there, too.
Of course, everyone always wants to know what life is really like up here on Gilligan’s Island, and I regale them with stories of joy and delight framed in a world devoid of traffic lights and franchises. Without fail, people are fascinated by the machinations involved with getting on and off, and back on again, a bridge-less island floating in the middle of nowhere. When I speak to friends of this place I am obviously bubbling over with an ebullience so obnoxious and sickeningly sappy that it forces them, in self defense, to ask: “so, what don’t you like about living there? What do you miss about L.A.?”.
Well, the second part elicits one response: absolutely nothing, except of course my friends, and the baja mahi burritos at the Malibu La Salsa on PCH. As for the first part of the question, I admit, I am always stumped. Because nearly a year and a half into my life here I cannot think of anything that I don’t like.
Nonetheless, in an effort to assuage my pals’ impatient insistence that surely, no place can be perfect, I end up replying: “the challenge of getting on and off the island,” which I do almost monthly and cannot do in a hurry. Nor can travel be booked while under the influence, due to the dauntingly sober precision necessary to calculate the back-timing of ferries, puddle jumpers, and SeaTac departures so that everything coordinates and you are not stuck overnight somewhere other than where you are trying to end up.
My first photo above is what the “airport” looks like, when taking the sea plane to Seattle’s Lake Union. No security, no inane Kabuki dance of 1-quart plastic baggies displaying your private toiletries to the stranger next to you, and no taking off shoes unless you happen to feel like going for a brisk swim first. I can’t think of a more graceful manner in which to begin any journey. The view is just slightly nicer than what I stare at in the decrepit terminals at JFK and LAX. Just slightly. And the aroma: unquestionably so.
Then you see the noble little sea plane, ready for boarding, and next, the sole alternative for exit: a Washington State car ferry coming in, about to dock at Friday Harbor. Whether flying over this archipelago or gliding past each island on the water, any inconvenience in the many…many hours it takes to get where you want to go just fades into the peacefulness of being where you are at that moment. Ahhhh.
But don’t tell my friends that, please. They will accuse me of being waaaaay too mellow, and next time I’m in L.A. they might not want to see me, knowing that they will have to endure accounts of extreme happiness that, on last check, is possibly illegal in many parts of Los Angeles County.
What can I say? This life is not for everyone, but for those who are not everyone it is sublime. This weekend, my first visit back to Paradise Cove since moving, I anticipated twinges of melancholy and regret, remembering the fabulous years of my life spent here creating music and friendships and a closer bond with the sea. Instead, facing the beautiful crashing ocean and looking upward to squadrons of my beloved pelicans that regrettably don’t choose an air traffic pattern over the San Juans, I just felt blessed to have made my new home in such a gorgeous, if inconvenient, spot on the Earth.
Below, above for the first time.
These pix just can’t reflect the moving experience of seeing two pods of Orca whales pass right by my feet as they gracefully headed north up the west side of San Juan Island on Sunday. I lost count, but there may have been about thirty of them gliding across-and-in-and-out-and-briefly-above-and-back-in the water. Better photos of this too-rare event, along with better commentary, can be found on a co-islander’s blog right here.
Another magic ingredient that my camera can never capture is the otherworldly sound of the whales’ breath. Riveting, soothing, reassuring… amplified over water, the whooshy, slightly hollow, calmly paced blowing can be heard even before the Orcas themselves catch your attention. And with adult dorsal fins reaching six feet high, they DO catch it.
It was especially emotional for me viewing this slow motion parade of the ocean’s gifts, as the week before I had finished the final tweaks of a very involved mix of a brand new piece titled Below, for contrabass flute and electronics, which very prominently features a haunting humpback whale song. Commissioned by Melbourne, Australia-based flutist Peter Sheridan, it premieres there next week for anyone in the vicinity who might wish to immerse themselves for almost eleven minutes in this sonic underworld.
I will have much more to say about this music in future posts, but for now, what I wanted to share was the sense of hope and peace that an encounter with these creatures brings to anyone lucky enough to be near them.
Looking and listening south at South Beach.
Summer in these islands is usually coated with a thin layer of silt and dust. Mystical particles settle from the woods and the sky and the unpaved side roads that take my bicycle to new stands of thistle and gestating blackberry bushes. Everyone’s truck is known not as blue or silver, but “island colored,” as taupey beige nearly camouflages the hard metal that waits in our driveway. So it was a surprise last week and then again today, when heavy rainfall visited, washing away the indictments of July’s drought and bringing moisture to plants that had been prepared to tough it out until the fall. Between fits of downpour, the sun blazed and spent its Saturday painting canvases of magic.
I love the rain. I love the smell and the negative ions and the sharp color contrasts that pop like fireworks in front of my eyes. South Beach, photo-ed above, lends itself so well to all the vivid joys I sense when water pours down from the sky as well as in from the sea.
Here’s a secret about the tuba.
Eastward, across the San Juans to their looming guardian Mount Baker.
I snapped this from the plane (well, I suppose that’s obvious unless I have mystical levitating powers that I have heretofore not announced) a few days ago, before this week’s afternoons of searing sunshine and vivid blue kicked in.
It does not look like this now. That’s because “now” is the middle of the night, and the brightest stars, some falling and shooting and whizzing across overhead, most others staying put for the moment, have taken up all that space in the sky. I had ventured into the darkness a little while ago to place something in the mailbox, wondering what, if any animals I might surprise as I walked into the woods to the road. It was I who was surprised, by the unusually balmy air that embraced me and by the desperately sweet smell of plants as they surrender to summer. I stood still and inhaled, and my face was enveloped by a scent I could never identify but do not want to live without. Instead of continuing back to work, I laid outside in the hammock looking up and out and inward all at once, marveling at the perfection of 3 a.m. and the beautiful secrets it contains.