Archive for 2012

Happy Newt Year

Monday, December 31st, 2012

[IMAGE] newt gecko

…click to listen:

…about the music

I am a newt music composer.

Yes, I know that this is probably a gecko. But in order to wish you all a happy newt year he’s gonna have to do, ‘cos for all my gazillions of creature pix, I ain’t got no newt.
And you know what they say:
no newt is good newt.

Later this week, it’s back to this fella’s home: Hawaii, for some much-deserved R&R. Last January it was Maui; this one: the Big Island. With Big Volcanoes. And Big Lava. And Big Snorkeling!

[IMAGE] Alex Cousteau
Smile and say, “Sea Urchin!”

And my ability to shoot waterproof photos!
I cannot wait to be doing this again. San Juan Island is paradise, but the water is 48 degrees.
Looky, but no touchy.
Definitely no newt beaches here, I tell you. Clothing is not optional. Much as I’d love it to be.

So here’s to the start of 2013. Out with the old,
[IMAGE] newt gecko

and in with the newt.

[IMAGE] newt gecko

Well, for all the upcoming photos. These were from last year!
But you newt that from the gecko.

(get-go. get it? huh? eh? ohhh… well… never mind…)

To cap off the year

Wednesday, December 26th, 2012

[IMAGE] jelly

…click to listen:

…about the music

Something’s jellyfishy.

You, kind Kelphistos (Kelphilos? Kelphisti? Lovers of the kelp-following?) have become used to my now-six-full-years of nearly exclusively natural-object explorations and often-dopey commentary. But there have been a few occasions, like county fairs and airport wanderings, when I’ve deemed the human-made to be worthier of your precious e-reading time.

And this, fair blogspherians, is one of them.
Behold: the shower cap.

[IMAGE] cap

Yes, I know, I know: a shower cap looks remarkably similar to a jellyfish. You would appreciate this even more deeply were I to post a photo of one of those east-coast or Caribbean clear-variety jellyfish. Or those gorgeous creatures we can see wafting around in awesomely disco-lit aquariums. Sadly, you’ll have to make do in this instance with my pic above of the common, red, Pacific Northwest denizen, our lovely crimson threat, the Lion’s Mane Jellyfish. Just looking at it makes me go ouch. It is VERY potent. We have loads of ’em up here. Watch your step.

I’ve just returned home from almost two weeks on the road: the first in New York City and the following one in Chicago. I am convinced that I met, talked, dined, drank, walked or exchanged passing grunts with roughly 3623 people. Ok, a slight exaggeration. But only slight. My approach to art-making is a social one: I value people and I love making contact. And I remain loyally connected once contact has been made. The result of all this congeniality is quite wonderful on many levels, but also means that by about Day Ten I have nearly lost my voice. Many are thankful for that result, surely.

[IMAGE] Alex at Hilton
At the Hilton Chicago, working ardently on losing my voice.

On this particular trip, I slept in two different Hilton hotels on three separate occasions. Good trick, huh? Meaning, the night before my departure to NY, and the night of my return from Chicago two weeks later to the Seattle airport, I stayed in the same SeaTac Hilton, which I snag for a tiny fraction of cost thanks to my masterful, well-practiced Priceline bids. And for the week in Chicago, I set up camp in the historic (and well renovated) Hilton on Michigan Avenue, at the merciful Midwest Clinic conference rate. I smiled broadly at the woman checking me in, and she gave me a corner room on the highest floor. And later that day I scored free Wifi, just because I called the concierge to see if there might be a weekly discount from the stultifying $16.95 daily rate, and instead of instinctively shouting “what a @#$% rip-off!!” I was very nice to the person. Niceness often pays.

Staying as I do in so many hotels throughout the year, I have become expert in assessing the little amenities that greet me when I open the bathroom door. In recent recession-fraught years, even the swankier outfits have cut back on the goodies (no more free toothbrushes, mouthwash or plastic shoe horns, and shoe shine cloths and mending kits are harder to come by). Even still, there is most definitely a parity between the class of hotel and what’s next to the sink.

The Hilton is a good hotel, so along with the shampoo, conditioner, body lotion and two kinds of soaps, they always make sure that my plentiful long locks can stay dry while bathing. Frankly, I almost never use a shower cap. Maybe once a year, if I absolutely don’t want to get my hair the least bit damp before going out into freezing temperatures, thus turning me into an Alexicle. So after a shower-cap-less year, last week I finally deigned to pick up the box.

[IMAGE] cap

I really had never studied it before. Immediately, the logo and font scream out “designer quality! This is chi-chi, baby!”. Verrrry Madison Avenue. And then there is that magic, if overused word:

I admit, I was already considering donning one of these bizarre, sex-appeal busting contraptions (I was alone in my shower), but now, my curiosity was duly piqued. What, I ask, what, is the difference between a shower cap, and a deluxe shower cap?

[IMAGE] cap

I was frighteningly naive all these years. I really thought that these ugly-fying things (seriously: not even Cindy Crawford could look seductive in this getup) had been invented a long, long time ago. Back when dinosaurs roamed the earth and shower heads lacked the snazzy directional spray options on which we have grown to rely so heavily. I mean, it’s like the internet: I can’t even imagine life before it, and heck, I lived more than half my life [so far] without it. And shower caps?
Been there, done that.

But I was wrong.
This– this Deluxe Shower Cap– was designed AND developed by a man with three names and no spaces.
I mean, we are talking high end, expensivo, too hip for the room, wake yo’ mamma, shake me I think I’m dreaming, this is too good to be true.
First Class, I tell you.
The three Ds: Deluxe, Designed, and Developed.
My pulse quickened.

And look! There’s even a web address!
Very handy, in case I need assistance with the whole deluxe shower cap application process. I mean, granted, the designer took the time to print clear instructions on how to use this thing right there on the outside of the box, but gee– there aren’t any pictures. I bet the website has some nifty diagrams.
Plus, I can type in that URL if I want to order a bunch of these as gifts for my closest friends (after all, the ones I like the most bathe regularly).

I nearly had to sit down.
The excitement of opening this very, very special offering was making me dizzy.

[IMAGE] cap

I fumbled with the elegant box momentarily. Maybe one needs the website in order to cope with the vaguely opalescent, multi-pronged and sided packaging, which is almost as contrived and challenging to decipher as one of those Apple products housed in a clear-plastic and white, hermetically sealed and possibly bulletproof case. I was never good at these kinds of three dimensional puzzles.

[IMAGE] cap

Inside this precious origami: a shower cap.
Not just any shower cap: a DELUXE shower cap.
I could not wait to unravel it and bask in the glory of this item which has been so carefully designed and developed. Really: it’s one thing to design something like this. But it’s not really deluxe until it’s been developed.

I was learning quickly. I had never been so up to speed on shower caps in my life, and had progressed from ingenue to connoisseur in three minutes.

With the care and attentiveness I would give to any fine object d’art, I unfurled the sheer plastic.
My hands trembled slightly. I think I might have even forgotten to breathe.

[IMAGE] cap

Lo and behold! It’s a…
Shower… cap…

Didn’t you already see this shower cap, earlier in this post?
Yeah, just like we’ve already seen this shower cap, time and time again, earlier in our lives.


Plus ça change, plus c’est la même shower cap.

The Hilton.
Clean and comfortable corner room with a fabulous view.
Free WiFi for their smiling guest.
Really nice staff.
But man, they are such a tease.

There’s a reason for the similarity between a jellyfish and a deluxe shower cap:
If you’re not careful, you can get stung!

Alpacalips, now

Tuesday, December 4th, 2012

[IMAGE] Alpaca

…click to listen:

…about the music

Music that sounds anything but alpacaliptic.

It’s early December, and the countdown to the end of time has begun in earnest.

Admittedly, it’s hard to be too earnest when staring at this adorable face. If it’s the last thing I see before the calendar goes “poof,” well then, I will have died happy.

With waaaaaaay too many unfinished projects,
but happy.

[IMAGE] Alpaca

On the chase

Thursday, November 15th, 2012

[IMAGE] eagle and scoters

…click to listen:

…about the music

Notes at play.

I am chasing after little black notes much in the way this eagle above appears to have been chasing little black sea ducks.

[IMAGE] eagle

The difference is that I have captured the notes I wanted. Turns out the eagle didn’t want the sea ducks at all.

[IMAGE] eagle

More, soon, when I can stop chasing all those notes and they can once again float calmly.

[IMAGE] surf scoters

The cat came back

Saturday, November 3rd, 2012

[IMAGE] cat eyes

…click to listen:

…about the music

Quiet kitty.

Before Detroit, there was:


Well, camo-kitty is back.

[IMAGE] kitteh

Different rock.
Same camo.
Keep looking. You’ll see him, eventually.
But not before he sees you.

Water and tunnels

Monday, October 29th, 2012

[IMAGE] incoming

…click to listen:

…about the music

Mood. Altering.

According to the above photo from Detroit’s airport, hurricane-grounded planes (aka, hurriplanes) were inundated with high, wind-driven water from the eastern seaboard all the way to Michigan. I was fortunate to be able to escape New England a day earlier than planned, but rather than arrive as hoped in Seattle, I made it only to this lovely fountain as that bitch Sandy followed on our tailpipe, shaking her fist and walloping my pals on the East coast.

This is normally a blog about the wonders of nature. When a storm hits I’m the first to share the eye-wetness report from the front lines, as I did from the north edge of San Juan Island in 2010 and from the same isle’s southern edge almost one year ago, on a memorable, nervous-giggle-infused Thanksgiving Day, 2011. Yes, you will find action-adventure movie entertainment of the highest order within these links. Make some popcorn. Take your Dramamine.

Unlike the cold, drenched and battered reporters we see on CNN and the Weather or Not Channel, I much prefer to do my investigative journalism from the cozy interior of a structure that’s about to wash away, rather than from the exterior of one. Then again, those masochistic reporters get paid a lot more than I do. Meaning, they’re paid. To stand out there and be miserable. I have yet to figure out a way to get someone to pay me to stand in my house and ponder when the roof will finally give way under the 70+ MPH winds seen in my home-brew near-disaster pix. Then again, no one ever put a gun to my head to make me live in such an extremely exposed and über geo-meteoro-logically dramatic locale in the first place.

Artists are a little bit crazy. Ok, yes, I’ve just admitted it. After watching my videos above, you may agree.

Last night I had an encounter with something wonderful that was not of mother nature, but of human nature. It was man- (or, woman-, I dunno) made. It made me feel good. So of course, I want to share it with you. Since almost everything I post here is a reflection of all the great things in my daily life that would make anyone feel good. Okay, ‘cept for those amazing shots of the harbor seal eating a Giant Pacific Octopus. No one in that scenario really felt good at the moment, although I’d say the seal was in a better mood overall.

[IMAGE] airport art

I strongly dislike the majority of public art I’ve seen in U.S. cities. My pissy gripes on the subject are worthy of an entirely separate posting, and I promise I’ll spare you my whining. So it was a particularly unexpected joy the first time I found myself in the Detroit Metro Airport, which treats travelers to at least two mood-uplifting, grin-inducing (grinducing) socio-artistic interactions on a physical plane. Before they get onto one. Or, after they’ve left one (when we deplane, I guess that means we become the dearly departed? Or maybe that’s just after the cabin doors have closed and the wheels are racing down the runway). Ah, the many planes of existence.

I have since returned a few more times to DTW, and though I can’t figure out why the initials aren’t DMA, I don’t care as long as I get to play with the fountain and wander through the light tunnel.

[IMAGE] airport art

I hate non-stop flights, but if I have to connect I love doing it in Detroit. That’s where, no matter how weary, hungry, cranky, or achy I may be (the rest of my entourage of seven dwarfs are: woozy, punchy, and needadrinky), I suddenly turn into a little kid, totally charmed and endlessly bemused by DTW’s grinducing and ultra-groovy tunnel of shifting color love. The experience is very much like being inside of a lava lamp. If that’s your kinda thing. I admit it’s my idea of a good time, but hey, so is standing in front of 30-foot windows during a violent storm, steadying a tiny video camera. As I said, artists are a little bit crazy.

[IMAGE] airport art

Dragging rollaboards attached like stubborn polyps, flyers must pass through this enclosed moving walkway tube in order to be digested thoroughly and deposited into the main terminal.

[IMAGE] airport art

Usually when I find myself here, I’m high-tailing it over to another, very distant gate, and have no time to luxuriate in fine art. But the hurricane turned my plans into a Motor City sleepover, which meant I had all the time I desired to stand and admire, after finding a safe spot to avoid obstructing the path of hurrying passengers and risk being trampled in the name of cultural and artistic immersion.

[IMAGE] airport art

Oh, how I love this… all my favorite gem colors in one place. I think the etchings on the [plexi]glass are of sea creatures…

[IMAGE] airport art

The installation includes a shifting soundtrack, too, some of which I love until it turns into a b-movie cue with cheesy synth sounds pretending to be a string section. I mean, really, people: there’s no need for Bad Synth in 2012 when we have endless access to Good Synth. But regardless, the overall effect is wonderful. If this doesn’t alter one’s whacked travel consciousness and de-stress them into a smiling heap of boarding pass bliss, I dunno what will.

[IMAGE] airport art

The subway, train and car tunnels of my home town of Manhattan and its environs are flooded tonight. It’s a complete mess that has disrupted the lives of millions, and will take a long time to repair. Meanwhile, each day and night at the Detroit Metro Airport, someone is experiencing the visceral offerings of flooding water and a long tunnel in a very different, and exceptionally beautiful way.

[IMAGE] airport art

Where’s Waldo?

Saturday, October 20th, 2012

[IMAGE] rock face

…click to listen:

…about the music


Tumbling out of the dinghy one day this summer and stepping foot on the little uninhabited island of Sucia, I was soon met by the above, um, native. He (yes, I think it’s a he) glared at me as I approached. Threatening. Massive, at twenty feet across.
“What sayeth thou who dare to pass here?” his gravelly voice boomed with disdain. I think the earth even shook a little bit.
Unfazed, I raised my camera.
And he turned to stone.
Ok, well, he was already stone.

But I was fascinated by this visage, and by the Rorschach-like effect on my perception. This sort of thing happens around here quite frequently: creatures appearing out of nowhere. Even before I start taking the psychedelic hallucinogens. Which clearly, I do not need. I am my own acid trip. Probably way too much of the time.

There are far more interesting and important musings I could share with you right now. Oh, yes yes yes. Life has not been dull recently, what with another jaunt this past week to Manhattan, a side trip up to Yale to give another very fun ASCAP Composer Career Workshop, a new piece, Kettle Brew, for timpani, percussion and prerecorded electronics that is dangerously close to being completed, and an entertaining, if ominous looking, hail-infused storm that sped across the Strait of San Juan What the Fuca quite suddenly this afternoon:

[IMAGE] storm

…which accompaned me as I caught up on everything on my desk, having survived everything in the above paragraph.

Yes, I could share other things with you. But instead, I am choosing this: the sight for a short while from one of my windows yesterday.

[IMAGE] blended

Pretty exciting, huh? Sure, you see the edge of my deck railing, some well-dried tall grasses courtesy of about 80 rainless days in a row, and then a really wonderful glob of igneous rock called “ribbon chert,” that upon closer inspection, truly appears as though lava is careening right toward the house. It looks like this:

[IMAGE] Rock

What you probably do not see, at least on first or second glance, is the decent sized animal in the photo. Gazing out the window in search of some of the right notes (having done a superb job finding many of the wrong ones for that piece I’m dangerously close to finishing), neither did I.

[IMAGE] blended
Nice rock.

Until it moved.

Wait for it…

[IMAGE] blended

And moved again.

[IMAGE] blended

Wait for it…

[IMAGE] blended

The ultimate, um, catouflage. If I can make my musical notes as gracefully elusive and perfectly blended as a soft cat can make itself against this hard rock, well, I’ll have achieved something magical. Stealth has never been so impressive, nor so cute.

My return from the high planes

Saturday, September 29th, 2012

[IMAGE] prairie dog

…click to listen:

…about the music

A very grounded Wyoming prairie dog.

I’ve achieved a “personal best” in my flying life; I can’t recall ever having to endure so many take offs and [phew] landings on so many planes through so many states within a ten hour period. In light of the Virgil Thomson/Gertrude Stein opera, “Four Saints in Three Acts,” I think I’m well positioned to compose a sequel titled, “Five Landings in Four States.” On four planes, no less. Because that’s the description of my travels home yesterday after a really marvelous week as composer-in-residence for University of Wyoming’s New Frontiers Music Festival, whose talented music department faculty and students made the entire, lengthy commute entirely joyful and worthwhile.

The people in Laramie are very, very wonderful. But the small town is in the grips of a geo-political battle, and suffers sadly from a bitter fight between the academicians at the university who announce their research findings on the altitude:

[IMAGE] 7200 feet

and those who staunchly insist that, in fact, Laramie is a mere 277 feet above sea level.

[IMAGE] 277 feet
Where’s Vanna White when you need her? They don’t need a vowel, but they could stand to buy a “7.”

Since the latter are under the auspices of the U.S. government Federal Aviation Administration and are in charge of the airport that hosts this signage, I’m inclined to side with them on this divisive community issue. After all, these aviation experts are the ones who deal with altitude on a very regular basis. Surely, they must be right.

So on Friday, I awoke before dawn on the high plains of Laramie, Who/What/When/Where/Wyoming (elevation 277 feet). I then flew to Denver, Colorado (the “mile high city,” although now I’m wondering if they, too, have a delusional university faction that randomly adds 7,000 and claims that the place is 12,430 feet high). Then on to Salt Lake City, Utah, after a gate change from hell that rivaled any Olympic long distance race without offering a gold medal, which I surely deserved. Ok, maybe just the silver. Yes, this is how I stay in shape. And next, Seattle Washington, my final state for the day, not counting “blotto.”

[IMAGE] Mt. Rainier
Blotto or not, I will never tire of the thrill of flying past Mt. Rainier.

Thankfully, I was among the fortunate holy anointed ones upgraded to first class on the major legs of Denver and Salt Lake. As for the other two: the little planes from Laramie and to the San Juans wouldn’t be able to differentiate between business and economy class while keeping a straight face. The choices would be more like, First Class = inside the plane, and Coach/Economy = have fun riding on the wing and please don’t forget to hold on real tight.

Of course my aerodynamic fun did not stop in Seattle: I poured myself, and the intrepid 22″ that follows me everywhere like a devoted puppy (or whiny, stubborn toddler, depending), into a van that shuttles about 20 minutes north from SeaTac to Boeing Field. And soon I was putt-putting my way in a flying Tonka Toy to the San Juan Islands.

[IMAGE] Leaving Seattle
The view from starboard, passing Whidbey Island, with Mt. Baker in the distance.

Landing #4 of 5 was on Orcas Island, which is not the island on which my coffeemaker or plastic dino collection is located. Part of the fun of returning home is that I never know until the propeller starts spinning whether I’m going straight to Friday Harbor, or making a stop elsewhere first. But the flight over the archipelago is so damn gorgeous, I don’t mind the extra putt-putt miles at all.

[IMAGE] Eastsound airport

The command center of Orcas’s airport, located walking distance from the center of its town, Eastsound, is comprised of a cute little house they earnestly call a terminal, and looks like the kind of place one would buy hay, fertilizer, and a few small tools to bring back to the farm. Or, like you’re pulling up at Aunt Emma’s to pick up some of her fresh made applesauce. Except that the plane pulls up much closer to the little house than you’d probably be able to pull up to Aunt Emma’s. And I think she has more security. The TSA has thankfully decided to disregard our little piece of quirky paradise, and thus a small bastion of aeronautical civility remains somewhere in the U.S. Besides, in a place with so few residents, there’d be something creepy about getting a pat down from your neighbor who lives just down the road.

[IMAGE] Eastsound airport
Gotta love the airport hippie flower-child sign.

Houseplants, a little hanging box for the mail pickup, and a nice porch, offer a homey touch to greet you here. Two friendly blue doors next to each other are importantly labeled, “OFFICE” and “TERMINAL,” while a small sign to the right reads, “PILOT/Fresh food Eastside of Terminal.” Which would be about 47 inches to the other side of that door: hardly far enough to cause one to work up an appetite. Is this the corner I need to peer around, like hide-‘n-seek, in order to find a pilot to operate the little Tonka Toy? And is all that fresh food they keep there reserved just for the pilot, or might it be shared– or at least rationed? I have no idea where they keep the stale food, but it’s probably just as conveniently close by. If they’re like me, they’ve got a compost pile behind the house.

[IMAGE] biplane
We enjoy all modes and colors of transport here.

Three of the seven passengers on this fully booked flight got off here. Then finally, it was up in the air again to reach my final destination, the fifth takeoff, fifth landing, and, what I feel deserves to be considered the fifth state of the day, San Juan Island.

[IMAGE] wheeee

[IMAGE] above Deer Harbor
Flying over Deer Harbor, into which I had sailed just the week before.

[IMAGE] above Friday Harbor
Coming in for a landing, in the bustling metropolis of Friday Harbor.

Awakening the next morning, I opened my eyes to a flock of starlings that were making their own touch-and-go landings and take-offs from my deck railing, without the involvement of the FAA or the TSA, much less the Audubon Society. I thought to myself, “these guys do this hundreds of times each day. Who am I to be such a wuss that a mere five times seems notable?”. I plopped my head back down on the pillow, closed my eyes, and thought about the inspiring week with my musical colleagues in Wyoming, that was totally worth all those newly collected boarding passes. The faculty made me feel exceptionally welcome, and the wonderful students made me feel like I offered something useful to them. But if only I could help Laramie with its serious elevation problem, and mend the painful strife in that charming town, well then, I’d really feel like I accomplished something meaningful! Sigh. A composer can only do so much.

[IMAGE] starlings
The Strait of Juan de Fuca defined between the Olympics and my birdie deck-orations.

I yam what I yam

Friday, August 31st, 2012

[IMAGE] Popeye

…click to listen:

…about the music

The sailor gal.

My gradual adaptation from urban city kid to rural gritty adult has been, at least in my view, pretty effortless (those who have witnessed me rush to keep a smoking weed whacker from erupting into flames, or once heard me claim that carrots grew on trees, might beg to differ). I adore this island so much that it’s inconceivable to me how I could have been equally happy years earlier, as I maneuvered in my Porsche 928 (yup, and it was a beauty!) between dueling big rigs on the gazillion-lane-wide Santa Monica Freeway. Or, as I dashed in my stiletto heels across Broadway between dueling taxi drivers whose sole amusement is to watch pedestrians scramble for their lives. Yes, I prefer island existence, with nary a traffic light nor angry cabbie to impose on my daily bliss. Sure, we have a few cabbies here in Friday Harbor, but they’re verrrrry laid back.

The pattern of these summer days seems a near-perfect blend of workworkwork that compels,

[IMAGE] Alex working
Error message??? This is not the way I prefer to be compelled.

friendsfamilycolleagues who delight,

[IMAGE] star and crabs
No, I don’t usually cage my pals. But just like this sunflower star and Dungeness crabs who feasted on the surf-‘n-turf offering of stinky salmon head and extremely old hamburger, they’re well fed.

sailing outings that relax,

[IMAGE] sailing
On the way to Sucia Island, passing by Yellow Island.

walks that inspire,

[IMAGE] kelpy walk
Yes, those are my feet in those mud boots in that squishy kelp.

food from the garden that nourishes,

[IMAGE] yum!
The vitamins alone are blinding.

food from the sea that provides,

[IMAGE] yum!
Two salmon, caught by a [generous!] friend an hour earlier, right in front of the house.

and wine from wherever the bottle might come from (not from trees, this much I know).

[IMAGE] yum!
My version of the healthy food pyramid.

I call it all near-perfect because if it were true-perfect, a day would be 37 hours long and I’d actually be able to get a heck of a lot more done. AND sleep. Amidst this idyllic setting (well, for me; I know plenty of folks who can’t comprehend living this far from a good deli), and desiring a life in which all these wonderful things– nature, people, work, navel-gazing– are organically integrated, it’s tough to find the time for everything I want to accomplish.
Hardly a unique problem. Heck, everybody’s busy.

And so, I don’t find time.
Nor do I try to artificially make it.
I just allow it to appear, by staying focused on the visualizations of what, and who, makes me happy.
Damn, that sounds obnoxiously hippie-Zen-woo-woo, doesn’t it?
But magically, when I turn around, having reluctantly given myself permission to not “get everything done,” I realize that despite this, plenty of things have managed to get done. Just not all at the exact same time.

I’m reminded of this, because earlier today I stumbled across a response I gave to an interview question about time management a while back, along the lines of:

“All these zippy computers appear to be multitasking to the nth degree, accomplishing numerous daunting tasks at once in response to our repeated, insistent clicks. But the truth is, computers are only doing one thing at a time: they give the illusion that they are multitasking because of how fast they can process each separate request. Well, composers should be the same way.

We’re faced with a long sticky-note list of many different tasks that seemingly all need to be accomplished simultaneously, and it can become maddening. Composing the new piece. Filling publishing orders. Correcting a typo in an older score. Fixing a software glitch. Updating the web presences. Booking the next gigs. Returning emails/phone calls/carrier pigeons. Etc. But if we take a moment to breathe in and breathe out, and then peer closely at all those important things tugging at our sleeve, we’ll usually discover that we can triage them, ranking each item according to when it actually does need to be done, as opposed to when our fearful, adrenaline-ridden amygdala lizard brain thinks it has to be done.”

To which I’ll now add, “Then put the fancy-schmancy triaged list to one side of the desk, and make sure that while you’re regularly glancing back to it, you’re also having a good time.”

Screw the lizard brain.

I never take any of these joys for granted, yet I was particularly struck by the mundane minutia of a morning last weekend. The first three, non-working-when-I-should’ve-been-working hours of that day summed everything up. In short:

Within two minutes of opening my groggy eyes I witnessed a Bald Eagle swoop down to the sea in front of me and grab a creature resting atop the bullwhip kelp (fish, crab or gull; gosh, who knows, it was a stunning blur), and fly off with it in its talons.

[IMAGE] eagle

Having coffee 20 minutes later, a black fox sprawled by my feet on the deck. Geez, the wildlife around this place are as chilled out as the cabbies.

[IMAGE] fox
Here he is a day earlier. Um, ding dong, Avon calling?

An hour later, after dropping a pal off at the ferry on her way to Canada, I walked down the dock to the floating fish market, and offered a breakfast of some small anchovy-like creatures to Popeye, the best known harbor seal on the island:

Not being quite as big a fan of smelly little fish myself, I opted instead for a few pounds of wild salmon for the evening’s dinner party, and waddled back up the dock through a bobbing maze of boat masts. It was a sunny, poetic morning. But instead of spending the day sailing, I knew I really needed to get straight to work on one of the new pieces I needed to deliver soon. I got back in the car and headed home.

[IMAGE] dock

Nearly out of town (town being all of three blocks long), I spotted someone I knew on the roadside looking for a lift, so I picked him up and off we went to the opposite side of the island from where I live. Writing schedule be damned. As the dirt road narrowed and the darkening woods thickened, the theme song from Deliverance and news flashes from 1996 of the Unabomber flashed in my head. I drove to the remote acreage where my friend and his wife are building a straw bale house, and was rewarded with the full tour, which meant climbing atop hay bales to get to the second floor and managing to eventually jump back down with 100 years of knees still intact.

[IMAGE] island woods
…and she was never heard from again…

Finally ready to start working, on the road back to my place I slowed to watch deer graze by a pond on one side while on the other, sheep and goats rambled in a field. Two girls traveled in the bike path next to me in far more eco-friendly, fuel-efficient vehicles than mine: their horses (I have no photo for this, since I was holding the reins of my steering wheel).

Walking up to my door, bag o’ fresh fish in my hand and lots of musical notes in my little head, I paused on the deck and watched as a killer whale and his beautiful spout-spray passed by. It was not yet 11:30am.

[IMAGE] orca

The afternoon was still ahead of me and I had plenty of music to compose, in the glow of an already-full day that reminded me of life’s graceful interconnectedness. I seek an existence in which I have/make/create/allow room for everything that matters. There will never be such a thing as enough time, but perhaps if I keep visualizing what I need, my inner clock will softly drape across a branch like a Salvador Dali conjuring, and tucked within the melted parts will lie every answer.

If Popeye can get rewards for managing her time so well, then so can I. I just hope mine aren’t quite as greasy.

Fairgrounds for dismissal

Monday, August 27th, 2012

[IMAGE] incoming

…click to listen:

…about the music

Blue ribbon birdie.

Remember my utter glee last year, as I released my inner cowgirl at the San Juan County Fair?

Well, once again (my fifth summer, now!), it was back, and so was she. I. Her. Well, whoever that dimpled chick with the humongous pile of french fries is…

[IMAGE] carbo-loading
How does she keep her girlish figure? With this carbo-loading extravaganza!

Yup, I did the fair three days in a row last week, toting various sets of off-island visitors along with me. Every one of them thought the whole thing was as adorable, fun, and downright hilarious as I do.

Lacking the nerve to belly up for the logrolling or beer drinking contests (were there any?), I did enter three county fair competitions: for nature photography, essay writing, and poetry. I humbly and proudly report that I received a first prize blue ribbon in each. Given the fact that I failed to bring home a Pulitzer, Oscar, Grammy, or MacArthur “Genius” award this particular year, much less win a $1 lotto scratch-off, these shiny regional recognitions made me smile. Plus, there’s something extremely rewarding about being given a nod by others for things that one loves doing, but does not do for a living.

[IMAGE] writings
I wonder what I’ll write about next year…

The photo, “Incoming,” (this post’s lead pic, and subtitled “Duck!! No, eagle”), had been awarded a prize earlier this summer in the Ernest Brooks marine life photography contest. The event was sponsored by the legendary Mr. Brooks, and the San Juan Islands Museum of Art, on whose wall the photo has been displayed all summer during their show of Brooks’s recent, truly stunning works. What an honor to be a tiny part of the exhibit!

[IMAGE] exhibit
At the museum: this photographer’s first-ever exhibit. Or, framed photo, for that matter! Thanks go to fellow islander Bob Stavers, for getting the bird off the computer and onto the paper.

Other personal county fair highlights (of the digestible kind) included a coconut/watermelon Sno Cone, and the “Hungarian” curly garlic and cheese fries as modeled three pix above (if you’re reading this and happen to be Hungarian, fill me in on this exotic health food tradition, since I missed out when I was in Budapest years ago).

And, of course, since you all know me so well, a trip or several here:

[IMAGE] Beer here
Apparently, this is what happens when you plant beer seeds.

After strolling through the cheery, colorful sprouting beds of beer, we opted for a stronger crop:

[IMAGE] tequila
I am not going to explain what happened to all the tequila that was in this bottle.

Milling around the hot, dusty fairgrounds, locals run into lots of friends, which makes the whole thing a very social event. Truly, as I’ve said before on these pages, it’s really like living in a Rodgers and Hammerstein musical. And visiting the various and, uh, diverse booths can be almost as entertaining.

For instance, since every woman knows that firemen and paramedics are an unusually handsome subset of our species, I couldn’t help but stop here for a little while:

[IMAGE] booth
Just look at that gorgeous cut-out face… he’s a little two-dimensional, but cute.

And although San Juan County happens to be overwhelmingly Democratic, fortunately the Republicans showed up, if only to remind the Democrats why they are not Republicans:

[IMAGE] gallery
A sign to the left instructed, “shoot first and then ask questions.” Hmm. God bless America. Soon, I hope.

And then there are the weird, random [possibly heartbreaking?] booths like this:

[IMAGE] booth
Really? Is this a commentary on the specific needs of San Juan County?

Friday afternoon, I got one helluva perfect tattoo:

[IMAGE] tat1
Long-brown-haired busty kelp mermaid meets orca. I mean, perfect.

As did my fellow San Juanian “Island Sis” Lorraine:

[IMAGE] tat2
Her house includes eight dog paws, but her arm could only support one.

In true drunken sailor fashion, both our tats were preceded by very potent margaritas. And they were followed by a raucously giggle-infested ride: Lorraine had the brilliant post-cocktail idea to fling ourselves around in this slapped-together contraption:

[IMAGE] Ride
Well prepared with tattoos and tequila, Thelma and Louise throw their collective weight around the county fair. Hang on to your hats!

Once aboard and airborne, this ride tested the laws of physics and gravity far more thoroughly than either of us had expected. I do not think we ever stopped shrieking, laughing, occasionally swearing (mostly Lorraine; I’m a @#$%# saint, of course), and wondering whether we were about to be unceremoniously face-planted in the beer garden when these randomly moving metal parts, assembled by underpaid men with beer on their toothless breath, suddenly disintegrated.

[IMAGE] Ride
The two paratroopers, coming in for a landing, mouths still agape and thankful their chutes stayed opened, too.

[IMAGE] Ride
Zooming in: Notice the death grip I maintained on my iPhone the entire time. And no, that was not our shoe on the ground. I think Lorraine was exclaiming something unpublishable.

Yes, there is incriminating video of this, in which, just like the poor little children on the ride with us, you, too, can experience the decibels of our ridiculous screams and guffaws.

And I’m delighted to share with you that while there was plenty of tilting and whirling, there was no hurling. Classy broads like us not only can hold onto our straw hats, but also our lunch, even when hitting Mach Two in a kiddie ride.

Lorraine and I have decided to get tattoos again next year; a new tradition. That is, if we haven’t ended up in a parlor with real ink sometime between now and then, after yet another debauched day of carbo-curly fries and tequila. Next time you run into me at Lincoln Center or Carnegie Hall, dressed politely in my skirt and heels, ask me to roll up my sleeve, just to check.

Table service

Sunday, August 5th, 2012

[IMAGE] moonrise

…click to listen:

…about the music

Nothing fishy about this film cue.

This delicious moon was served up to us a few nights ago.

Meanwhile, when I walked out to the deck with my morning coffee recently, I was given a fine suggestion for what kind of breakfast omelet I might create:

[IMAGE] crab
Into every life, a little crab must fall.

This immediately reminded me of last year’s culinary offering. Maybe I should open a seafood restaurant.

The commercial fishing season has begun here, and what is normally a quiet, isolated view:

[IMAGE] Cascades
from the Cascades…

[IMAGE] Olympics
…to the Olympics.

…suddenly becomes the flotilla equivalent of the San Diego Freeway in rush hour:

[IMAGE] trawlers

[IMAGE] fishing boats

One large purse seiner, The Emancipator (not exactly the Abe Lincoln of fish), anchors right next to my house for a few days.

[IMAGE] trawler
People who live in glass houses should consider putting clothes on.

It’s endless amusement for me and any friends who happen to be here, watching the smaller boats sidle up and toss their catch, one hapless salmon after another, over to the larger boat.

[IMAGE] fish toss

[IMAGE] fish toss
Look closely and you can see the flying fish.

I swear, it’s as though Pike Place Fish Market has come to my doorstep.
Now, if only I could get these fishermen to turn in my direction and fling one of these salmon onto my deck with their best pitching arm!

A huge flock of gulls is waiting for table service.

[IMAGE] gull flock

As is a fox, who sits on my deck, licks his chops, and hopes something fabulous might fall from the sky, since that seems to be what happens around here.

[IMAGE] fox

[IMAGE] fox

And he keeps waiting, right there under the table. Looking more than a tad disdainful. Ultimately, everyone complains that this restaurant just isn’t what it used to be.
But they all admit that the view remains superb.
Location, location, location.

[IMAGE] moonrise

Summer visitors

Thursday, July 12th, 2012

[IMAGE] Alex at the lens

…click to listen:

…about the music

An excerpt from a restful new release.

Despite all the beautiful beautiful beautiful things I see when I’m in the air,

[IMAGE] Mt. Rainier
Zipping past Mount Rainier… oooh…

[IMAGE] On approach to SJI
Approaching the narrow South Beach area of San Juan Island, with other isles in the background… aahhhh…

I’m celebrating being in the midst of a three month stretch during which my feet are not leaving the ground.

I sail and hike and kayak and scramble and drive around this beautiful beautiful beautiful place. When human visitors come to my doorstep, I take them along for the adventures.

And every day, when non-human visitors come to my doorstep, they take me on their adventures.

[IMAGE] Wind
Escher-esque: editing a twilight photo I had just shot of the eagle on the rock in front of me, while the eagle is on the rock in front of me.

[IMAGE] orca pod
A pod of orcas glides by my toes.

[IMAGE] orca breach
YIPPEE!!. Or something like that.

It’s hilariously distracting when I’m on a business call and these guys are hurling themselves out of the water in front of me (I will never get over my great fortune to work at a desk with this view, instead of, like, an airshaft). Sometimes I giddily describe the scene to whoever’s on the phone. And other times (during more, uh, professional calls), the person on the other end has no idea that as I’m oh-so-professionally discussing whatever professional bit of professional stuff we’re talking about, I’m silently going !!OHMYGAWD!! and clicking away on my camera. Sometimes.

[IMAGE] hummers
Also airborne are these folks. Except in the brief moments their teeny tiny feet curl around the feeder.

And then there are the land-based guests.

[IMAGE] fox
This fox comes around regularly, and has mastered the art of the marvelously pathetic, pleading stare. The aliens do their best to ignore him.

[IMAGE] fox
I can’t quite tell what he thinks about my music.

[IMAGE] fox
Until he comes to the door and reports to me in no uncertain terms exactly which notes I need to change.

So, that’s this week’s chamber of commerce visitor tourism overview. Stay tuned for more Island Adventures with Al!

[IMAGE] grader
Yes, I AM behind the wheel of a road grader. Don’t even ask… is that the theme to Green Acres I hear?