Archive for 2012

Whales and sails

Tuesday, July 10th, 2012

[IMAGE] whales and sails

…click to listen:

…about the music

Through the archipelago.

These simple photos from a little July 4 jaunt from San Juan to neighboring Lopez Island, tell the whole story.

It was very calm.

Awoke at home to a pod of orcas just past the deck.
Headed down to the dock.
Loaded the sailboat (quite similar to the one in the above photo) with getaway supplies:
dinghy (in case a getaway was needed),
freshly grown salad greens,
wild salmon for the boat grill,
red wine,
and Swiss chocolates that came from a real live Swiss friend who visited last week.
Oh, and good coffee for the morning, too.

[IMAGE] Olympics across the Salish
Looking west to the Olympics, while sailing south.

It was very calm.

We glided across the water, sometimes at 4 knots
and more often at less than 1.
More time to talk to the passing seals or birds.
I’ve always been a stop and smell the kelp kind of sailor.
And, apparently, a protégé of Dr. Doolittle.

[IMAGE] dinghy
The dinghy followed like a cute puppy.

It was very calm.

And as twilight arrived,
it was

[IMAGE] view from port
Anchored with plenty of room at Fisherman’s Bay, as seen from a galley port.

Until it wasn’t.
When all that calm
was interrupted with colorful
reflected brilliantly in the water.

[IMAGE] fireworks

And the next morning?
It was even calmer.

[IMAGE] Orcas and Shaw
Looking east toward Shaw and Orcas islands.

So calm, in fact, that we had to do what sailors
to do.
We turned on the engine.

We must have known there was a party waiting for us back at the house, and didn’t want to be late:

[IMAGE] orcas

The scene was exactly as it had been left, with the ironic commentary of a little sailboat
by a little powerboat.

[IMAGE] orcas

But only when it comes to photos. I am grateful for the whales, the sails,
and the very,
calm quiet of this island summer.

Si, see the seaplane

Monday, July 2nd, 2012

[IMAGE] seaplane

…click to listen:

…about the music

Music for easy ascension.

Earlier on this hazy day, a small private seaplane flew quite low over the roof of my house. In the summertime, while not legal, this isn’t entirely unusual, and I didn’t think anything of it.
Until it landed right in front of me, about 100 yards from the shore.

This hasn’t happened since I’ve lived in this spot. Sure, there are tons of float planes here, but in this corner of the island, they remain floating– in the air. A pod of orcas had passed by not much earlier. Was this a newfangled whale-watching tour?

[IMAGE] seaplane
From my desk as it came from the sky…

It was a controlled landing, so if it was an emergency, at least it was a slow-motion one.
I palmed my binoculars.

Maybe it was a student getting flying lessons. Lesson #1: do not land on a whale. Lesson #2: do not fly into a bald eagle. Lesson #3: do not crash into someone’s bathroom (in all cases it will be quite a mess and not work out well for any involved).

The pilot shut down the propeller. The starboard hatch opened and human legs dangled. The person, at best guess a female, was dressed in all-black that looked like either a neoprene wetsuit, or a typical New York City art world fashion statement.
Finally, someone bringing a little style to the ‘hood.

[IMAGE] seaplane

She got out, stood, looked at the struts and under the body.
What, did she drop her keys?
Then she knelt on one of the floats.
Maybe it was a SCUBA diving tour?

After calmly checking around, she (I think) climbed back in the plane to join what seemed to be more than one person inside. The little Lego flying object floated on the water a while, bobbing like an adorable bathtub toy.
And then, it headed straight toward me.
At slow speed, thankfully.

[IMAGE] seaplane

I stood barefoot on the deck, thinking:

1. They are in distress of some sort, their communications are down, and they’ll call out to me to get them a tow.

2. It’s a woman pilot who is not afraid to ask someone for directions and hey, I happen to be handy since there’s absolutely nothing between me and Port Townsend.

3. They are baking a cake on board and need to borrow a cup of sugar.

The other thought that went through my mind was the one that occurs to many an artist who works at home, when an unexpected visitor comes to the door:

“It’s 1 p.m. and I’m in my bathrobe. Crap, what are these people going to think??”

The plane came so close to the house that I could easily have accommodated any and all of the above requests. In the comfort of my bathrobe, no less.

But none were made: just before touching the strands of bull kelp, it turned and continued a couple of hundred yards south.

[IMAGE] seaplane

Right into the cove. A dead-end if ever there was one.

[IMAGE] seaplane

Unless, of course, this is one of those amazing amphibious vehicles that can crawl up onto the beach, get into four wheel drive, and tromp around the island. When I lived in Santa Barbara, I remember seeing a similar tourist bus called the Land Shark.
Maybe they’re paying a surprise visit to one of my neighbors?

Then the little Tonka Toy spun around to face the open sea, its engine revved, and like an awkward bird, it made use of a good amount of watery runway before lifting into the air.

[IMAGE] seaplane
I think I can, I think I can, I think I can…

Well, sort of lifting into the air: two seconds later it ducked down and the starboard float hit the water. I was momentarily worried. Then happily, The Little Seaplane That Could, did.

Bye bye cute toy!
Safe travels, wherever they take you. And may you remain aloft, until you choose to be afloat.

[IMAGE] seaplane

Cuba, not yet libre

Tuesday, June 26th, 2012

[IMAGE] rum

…click to listen:

…about the music

I am reminded of Juan Rulfo’s short story, “Luvina”.

Few experiences are more decadent than chugging through hot, thick green, humid countryside in a huge, brand spanking new, air-conditioned tour bus, only a quarter of which is filled with fellow tourists. That these traveling companions happened to be sixteen spirited art advocates devoted to the United States’ oldest artist residency program, The MacDowell Colony, and that I happened to be the lucky composer invited to come along as the Colony’s “arts ambassador,” made the journey particularly special.

Of course, so did occasionally swigging from bottles of cheap rum in the back of the bus like misbehaving school kids.

But most strikingly decadent of all was that this wasn’t the usual straw-hat-and-SPF tourist junket Americans tend to favor. No.

We were rumbling through the streets and countryside of Cuba.
And we were riding in luxury…

[IMAGE] tour bus
(Irony doesn’t begin to describe it: during part of a four hour ride from Havana to Cienfuegos, we were shown the 20/20 interviews Barbara Walters did with Fidel Castro).

…in a place in which very, very few can afford any ride at all.

[IMAGE] bike bus

[IMAGE] horse bus

A month after returning, I’m still processing the trip, though the rum has long since filtered through my happily besotted liver. I’m certain I’ll still be thinking about Cuba for a very long time. In fact, I had so many contrasting experiences in the mere eight days inhaled on the island, that pondering just how to present them all within these pixels, I concluded that the most verbose composer you may know is incapable of choosing the words and photographs that could possibly do any of it justice.

But of course, being the most verbose composer you may know, that does not stop me from posting something.

Um, how do you say, “loquacious” in Spanish?

And so, I depart for a moment from my regularly scheduled giddy blog programming of San Juan Island nature, in all its freedom and joy, so that I may bring you a glimpse of another isle that is the exact same, meager, 90-mile distance to Key West as my home is to Tacoma. That linear span, and the non-linear one of joy, are possibly the sole things Cuba has in common with the States. Freedom has been missing there for a very, very long time.

[IMAGE] La Cabaña
One of the many 18th century canons overlooking Havana’s harbor from the Fortaleza de San Carlos de la Cabaña.

The hypocritical convenient workaround to be able to enter Cuba from the U.S. these days, is that our arts-oriented trip had to comply with being deemed a “humanitarian mission.” Thus, we each lugged roughly ten pounds of school and medical supplies with us, to donate to a church that will distribute them. As I observed throughout the week, the gifts of band-aids, Bic pens and chalk– quite simple by U.S. standards– were much needed.

[IMAGE] donations at the church
Our group, with Jesus’s torso dangling above our heads, and a very kind nun sticking real close to me to make sure I didn’t drink all the communion wine.

The art-making in Cuba is fantastic. We viewed a terrific amount of it during the visit, which coincided with Havana’s Bienale, a city-wide festival celebrating Cuba’s contemporary art with a surprising degree of stark socio-political commentary. Visual arts, performance art, theater, photography, dance, and of course, music, are vibrant there, and the artists are highly active and valued. In fact, artists are among the best paid people in this country, in which the average monthly income for professionals like doctors and engineers can be as little as $20. Hmmm…

So there I was in the midst of it all; by day, visiting studios and passing sophisticated art installations along Havana’s seaside Malecón, and by night, swinging my lilting hips to the incredible sounds of the Buena Vista Social Club musicians…

[IMAGE] Buena Vista Social Club

… as Fidel…

[IMAGE] Fidel

… and the ghost of Che…


…lorded over the deterioration and slums surrounding the venues in which those amazing artists worked and performed.

From their soviet-era perch over Plaza de la Revolución, the former rebels, who once might have offered Cubans an option more attractive than the Batista-era corruption (replete with tacky mafia casinos and big-time Hollywood celebs), remind artists and their fellow Cubans that they best not take their free expression too far. After seeing plenty of paintings that were obviously critical of the country, I asked a Cuban how it was possible that these pieces were allowed to be publicly displayed. The answer: as long as no artist disses The Man himself, Fidel Castro. Should they dare, they will be essentially blacklisted and unable to participate in government exhibits (read: the important ones), nor will their, uh, standard of living, be nearly as comfortable.

Um, how do you say, “plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose” in Spanish?

[IMAGE] Plaza de la Revolucion

It’s as if the hope these men once offered is frozen on the face of a broken clock, by which people are ordered to tell accurate time.

Graphics, particularly of Che Guevara, abound throughout the city. Perhaps it’s metaphoric that his image is often found on peeling plaster.



Gazing high into the clouds, turkey vultures can almost always be spotted circling above Havana.
They are waiting for the buildings to die.

This tree grows defiantly, five stories above the middle of the city, like an air fern clinging stubbornly to a soil-less rock. Human nature is like this: it will find a way to survive under the most inconvenient of circumstances.


But forget about living analogies. Daily life in Cuba is like an iceberg: the part seen above the water belies the magnitude of what lurks beneath the visible surface.

And in Cuba, much occurs beneath the visible surface: not only amidst the rulers, but amidst those who are ruled. Despite the endless list of basic necessities that Cubans are either denied, or out-priced from obtaining, they still find very creative ways to wheel and deal for what they can. Everybody’s got an angle on something. Everybody knows somebody who can line them up with what they need, at a better price. The problem is that it’s still never enough to make a real difference.

[IMAGE] Tropicana

Unless, of course, it’s almost too much. Well, for the tourists.
Everything you’ve heard about the Tropicana? Yes, it’s true.
Except that all those gorgeous writhing dancing bodies are wearing body suits, dammit! Nonetheless, I was not about to leave Cuba without experiencing this quintessential outdoor nightclub’s titillating extravaganza-on-a-communist-budget spectacle. Just imagine.
That’s right, you can’t. And I still can’t, and I witnessed the damn thing.

With every ticket, a table gets a fifth of cheap rum.
Let me confess, that was not quite enough rum to anesthetize my comrades and I, once the singers departed from the great Afro-Cuban numbers, went on to the well, okay, disco-Cuban stuff, and then launched into a cheesy-synth, harshly mic’ed, Phantom of the Opera set.

Um, how do you say, “oy, vey!” in Spanish?
Moving right along…

After several days in Havana, we timed our arrival on the other side of the island in lovely, 500-year old Trinidad, to coincide perfectly with that of a tropical storm. Undeterred by a little bit deluge of warm Caribbean rain, one evening after dinner a handful of us ventured a quarter mile from the hotel to see what music was going on at the local joint, Casa de Trova. It was not: the locals had far more sense than silly tourists. And then it was, thanks to a chance encounter I had while paused in the wet darkness across the street from the entrance, trying to figure out how to cross a suddenly raging current that was quickly turning the cobblestone into a river bed, in order to join two friends on the other side. Yes, this sounds like a chicken joke. Anyway, as I stood there like a drowned rat, a young man hurried past me in his effort to get home. It was the sole person I knew in the village, Edgar the magician, who had given a few of us an impromptu performance at the hotel the previous night.

I mean, really: what are the chances?
When I explained that we had shown up hoping to hear music, Edgar heroically announced, “I’m a musician!”
Unconcerned by the veracity of his claim, I removed my shoes and we made it across.
Edgar got a friend to bring over a guitar. Bongos were already mounted on a stand.
He and his friend were terrific. We sang and clapped and danced and drank our Bucanero beer from happy red cans.
And the rain came down. And down. In torrents.
And the raging river of the main plaza began coursing into the club.

[IMAGE] Trinidad flood

There may have been six or seven of us in there, and as the water rose, so did we. Migrating with a relaxed sense of, uh, urgency, to the back section of the Casa de Trova as a stream now impressively cascaded down the stairs that were inside the club, we proceeded to hole up for the next couple of hours, hoping the electricity would stay on if only to keep the beer cold. A set of rapids zipped through the streets at calf level, and the little village was now impassable. But the more convincing reason to hang out with another cerveza and a few more rounds of Guantanamera was that the locals feared power lines were down (did I mention the really high winds?) and we’d be electrocuted. Oh, that.

Sometime before 1 a.m. there was a slight break in the downpour, and we decided it was safe enough to try to return to the hotel. Edgar and his friend were quite noble and insisted on seeing the three of us back, which was entirely the opposite direction of where they needed to go.

The most memorable parts of a trip are often the most unexpected ones. The sensation of hard, slippery cobblestone under my bare soaked feet as I tried to keep my balance while negotiating 500-year old, empty streets-turned-creeks in the dark of Trinidad, is one I will not forget. I suddenly felt connected to the generations before me, for whom this would have been the norm.

Um, how do you say, “thanks, guys!” in Spanish?

[IMAGE] Casa de Trova

It was not yet 2 a.m. when I opened the door to my very nice hotel room to find half of it lightly flooded. Being on the second of several floors, I had no idea where all the water had come from. It didn’t matter. I found a dry spot in which to sleep, and by eight the next morning, our bus and its still-damp occupants retraced the path back to Havana.

[IMAGE] Cuban countryside

The Prado, which boasts the five-star hotel in which we stayed, was once beautiful. Its polished stone benefits from the shine of the rain, the way dim light in a cocktail bar catches the high cheekbones of an aging woman who was a stunner in her twenties.

[IMAGE] Prado

Turn up the lights, and be confronted with the truth.

[IMAGE] Prado

As I hiked down one side of the wide colonnade and up the other, conflicting emotions of “this is so wonderful/this is so deeply sad” were interrupted too regularly by aggressive cat calls. A necessary uptick in my gait precluded my ability to shoot as many photos as I might have liked.

[IMAGE] Prado

Walking through Havana is like experiencing the fall of Rome in a stop-animation film. This was an elegant city, filled with outstanding Colonial architecture that has been allowed to decay nearly beyond recognition. Gazing into the deepening layers of crumbling plaster is an exercise in socio-political archeology. Like jaw-breaker candies, every few licks of weather, history and strife reveal a new color of paint from a previous era. And every one of those colors has a story.
Oh, if these walls could talk.

[IMAGE] Prado

Bare, decaying flesh of architectural history. Vibrant, warm Cubans. They share a technicolor exterior.

A revolution is indeed needed.

[IMAGE] revolucion

And the Cubans are still waiting.

Could a tourist take a look at seedier parts of Manhattan and make the same, negative assumptions about the United States? Sure. You can stay at a five-star in some parts of town, and walk half a block to a neighborhood whose residents couldn’t afford even one of the hotel’s washcloths. But the U.S., for all its many faults, is a free country in which the majority, if sadly not all, of its citizens have the option to do better.

Cuba is a world of contradictions. Where the promise of boundless utopia is slapped with the reality of unnecessary limitation.

Cuba provides free housing, but many of its people cannot afford electricity, telephone service, or house repairs.
Cuba provides free education, but many of its school rooms have few pencils and paper, much less computers.
Cuba provides free medical care, but many of its clinics and pharmacies remain understocked, lacking even the most basic necessities.
Cuba is covered with abundant, fertile countryside, yet vast landscapes of it lie unused in the face of a hungry population that has the potential to feed itself– and others.
The Cuban leaders say they want to help their people, yet they make it almost impossible to have WiFi, and censor what little of the internet can, at great expense, be glimpsed.

And the American government remains stuck in a 50 year old grudge-match embargo that has accomplished virtually nothing.

[IMAGE] Old American cars and truck

There is such beauty in this place.

[IMAGE] Cuban countryside
The vista on the way to Cienfuegos and Trinidad.

There is such potential.

[IMAGE] Theater
The Gran Teatro de La Habana is absolutely gorgeous.

There is such hope.

[IMAGE] Instituto Superior de Artes
The art being made at Instituto Superior de Artes is first rate.

There is such frustration.

[IMAGE] Capitolio
Taxi drivers repair their sixty year old American cars in front of the Capital building.

In electronic music, we refer to four, alterable states of sound collectively known as the envelope: Attack. Decay. Sustain. Release. Each of these events occur in linear time, and each can be adjusted from lasting an instant to a very, very long duration.

If only I had an envelope generator in my state-of-the-art digital project studio that could adjust Cuba.

This decay has sustained. Far, far too long. We wait for the release of the spirit and freedom of the wonderful people who call this beautiful island home.

Um, how do you say, “viva Cuba libre!” in Spanish?
Oh, wait…

Meanwhile, pass that rum to the back of the bus, por favor…!

[IMAGE] viva

Upped in the air

Friday, June 15th, 2012

[IMAGE] gull

…click to listen:

…about the music

A who’s who of who’s not.

My next post will offer a few ponderings about last month’s Cuba experience. But today, having just returned from a quick trip to New York, I thought I’d share this amusing, if meaningless moment. Kelp Lite: half the pith but just as filling!

Faithful followers of my peripatetic adventures know that I bop around quite a bit, particularly during the three seasons that are not referred to as “summer.” That one, I do my best to preserve for algae-laden forays right here on beautiful San Juan Island.

Did you ever see the 2009 George Clooney film, “Up in the Air”?
Remember how he played a guy who worked so much he was virtually never home, constantly flinging himself around the U.S. on a particular airline, eagerly anticipating the day when he would be dubbed a Ten Million Mile Flyer? And the emotional scene in which he finally, finally achieved that heady goal?

I am not that character.
Nonetheless, though falling quite short of AAA-rated airborne wealth, I’ve managed to accumulate enough junk bond/penny-ante miles to launch me to the front of the plane more than half of the time I’m on one (I’ve blogged about the perks, here. ). Upgrades are very nice. Free booze and electrical outlets. And a dearth of tireless toddlers to torment the back of my seat with their toes and their tirades.

[IMAGE] Wind

On my most recent flight this week from New York back to Seattle, I was upgraded to my favorite spot: row 1, a leg-roomy bulkhead window seat. I could have co-piloted the plane, and would be the very first person off when we landed (giving me the giddy, if fleeting, illusion of disembarking from a private jet chartered for my sole use. Well, of course.). I immediately settled in for the five and a half hour jaunt with my comfort necessities: noise-canceling headphones, plus my iPhone, MacBook Air, and their respective power cords. Barely audible through The Magic That is Bose was the standard announcement over the PA system, thanking Delta’s frequent flyers, and in particular their Gold, Platinum and Million Miler flyers. They usually don’t bother to mention that last category, much less in plural, and I momentarily imagined a plane full of humans whose shoes are in perfect condition because their feet rarely touch the earth. And, how pathetic that would be.

The flight was uneventful, which is precisely the quality everyone looks for in a flight. Just before the head attendant had to strap herself in for whatever type of landing (and oh, there are some creative ones) was imminent, she stopped in front of me and extended her hand. I was wearing my magic headphones and had Radiohead cranked up to eleven on my iPhone. I assumed I was about to be sternly scolded for not having “powered down” my electronic device. This is one of those delightful directives brought to you by the ever-vigilant TSA, who fear that the power of any Apple product is so divine and extraordinary, it can bring down a 757. Interestingly, there has never once been a report of a large commercial airliner experiencing communications interference from a text message and plummeting to earth. The aircraft are shielded, of course. But why should this fact this stop the TSA from finding yet another way to hassle me?

[IMAGE] gull

I looked up from my sonic immersion, almost startled, and probably appeared to be a combination of confused and guilty. The TSA Kabuki theater is an effective behavioral modifier, even when performed in front of the philosophically defiant. The attendant’s hand remained suspended in front of me, and now her lips were moving. I removed the headphones.

She gazed at me and cooed. “I just want to thank you for being a Million Miler flyer, and want to tell you how deeply Delta Airlines appreciates your business and your continuing loyalty. You are a valued customer.”
Still in possession of that befuddled look on my face, I instinctively reached my right hand toward hers, and graciously shook it.

I could have just said, “Oh, you have me confused with another passenger who probably booked this seat and then cancelled it.”
Yes, I could have said that.
I did not.
I simply smiled professionally, looked right into her eyes, nodded confidently, and replied,
“Thank you.”

I was first off the plane, and walked proudly down the jetway with my millionth and one mile now neatly racked up.
At least, in my mind and that of one sweet, ill-informed flight attendant.
The heady illusion of deplaning my own private jet had never been stronger.
A gull like me could get used to this.

[IMAGE] gull

Hola, baby.

Tuesday, May 29th, 2012

[IMAGE] Havana cars

…click to listen:

…about the music


From Cuba.
It was a profound trip, and I’m still searching for the best ways in which to describe it all.
More rum will probably help. That is, if there’s any left.

This is a country of great beauty and mind-boggling contradictions. Of enormous potential and infuriating limitations.
Of fantastic, fantastic, music and art and people.
It is a place that is stubbornly stuck, looking backward to an era that at the time appeared forward-looking to many.

So for a post or two, I’ll substitute images far from my kelpy home for those far from my comfort level. And maybe yours.

I’ll be back. To Cuba, someday, because it’s riveting.
And right here on this blog, very soon, because I have glimpses to share, if I can find the words.
And the rum.

[IMAGE] Havana cars

Island hopping and offline

Tuesday, May 15th, 2012

[IMAGE] quail

…click to listen:

…about the music

A little unconnected music.

Well, tomorrow I leave for yet another adventure on yet another island: Cuba! I’m the lucky bird who’s been invited to be the “artist ambassador” on a trip organized by the oldest artist residency in the U.S., The MacDowell Colony, on whose board I serve and of which I’m a former Fellow. Along with roughly 15 other fun MacDowellophiles, I’ll be meeting with cultural organizations and wonderful Cuban artists from all disciplines, basking in their work and sharing what we do here in the U.S. Oh, and perfecting my Mojito mixology…

I won’t be bringing my laptop, so my email access will be limited. But I’ll be taking lots of photos and video to share here on the e-pages of Kelpville after I’m back home on the 26th. As you’ve probably noticed, I rarely discuss my work or non-nature-based travels in this algae-infused corner of the internet; I figure if anyone’s curious about how I make my living and spend my time when I’m not sneaking up on unsuspecting wildlife, they’ll click on through to the other side. But I suspect that the experiences from this trip will result in a worthy exception, even if the local wildlife is brightly plumed salsa dancers. Especially if.

So, hasta mañana! ‘Til then, hold all my quails, please.

Alex in Wonder-island

Saturday, May 12th, 2012

[IMAGE] meadow

…click to listen:

…about the music

Beauty that turned my world upside down.

There are lots of nifty benefits that result from being an active composer-kelpista blogger. One of them is the serendipity of making new friends from all over the planet. I get emails from every continent. Well, almost: not a single soul on Antarctica has written me. Yet. C’mon, you glacial-based scientists! You’re freezing your butts off down there and stuck inside with nothing but your computers and chocolate bars! What else do you have to do other than read my blog?

I will report back when I hear from someone living on Antarctica. Promise.

Other times, my readers are right in my back yard. As in, living on a neighboring island directly across the moat surrounding mine. Not long ago, I got a Facebook message from a fellow San Juan Islands-er (not to be confused with a San Juan Islander, who lives on San Juan Island in addition to living in the San Juan Islands. Oh boy, this can get confusing to visitors). Phil Green, the longtime caretaker of Yellow Island, extended an invitation to me and two other local bloggers he loves reading, Shann Weston and Monika Wieland, for a private visit to the enchanted floating nature preserve he stewards: a quiet atoll of almost-but-not-quite 11 acres that can only be reached by a small boat, or Diana Nyad. Frankly, all visits to this botanical oasis are private, as there are rarely more than six humans afoot on the isle at any one time. The thing is so small, it would probably sink under the weight of several average Americans. To be hosted by Yellow’s sole resident is quite special, indeed. In return for fetching and, presumably, returning us to and from Friday Harbor, Phil suggested that the three of us, each photo-shooting maniacs with a unique voice, blog about our afternoon.

And so, at midday on a Tuesday, we played hooky like a giddy group of junior high kids and met on the dock. The three of us, plus two of our partners who are also avid nature types, hopped onto Phil’s groovy new skiff, and off we went.

Not too long after revving the engine, we had arrived.
To nowhere. And everywhere.

[IMAGE] ashore
Yes, one could hear the theme from Gilligan’s Island wafting through the air. As I said, presumably, we’d return at some point. Uh, maybe.

The day began a little on the gray side, but as soon as we walked up the first hill, sun and color surrounded us:

[IMAGE] expanse

It’s the height of wildflower season up here, and Yellow is renowned for its display. With neither actors nor grazing mammals to chew the scenery, the native plant life is a multi-sensory encyclopedic explosion of vast beauty.

[IMAGE] creatures
Well, there were no actors or animals, but I did stumble upon two homo sapiens crouched low in the fields. They appeared potentially dangerous if disturbed, so I was careful to keep my distance.

It goes without saying that photos cannot possibly do justice to the overwhelming experience of standing alone in an isolated meadow with millions of flowers, bees, birds, and a pollen count that would lay any allergy-prone creature flat. Every sense is heightened and thrilled; atop one of many knolls, dwarfed by Pacific Madrones and staring out to other islands across a sea of endless buttercups and camus, I had become Alice in Wonderland, and even without the LSD, everything looked reaaaallllly psychedelic.

[IMAGE] Alex in wonderisland

[IMAGE] meadow

Looking a little closer, every flower popped like one of those black light posters from the late 60’s:

[IMAGE] meadow

[IMAGE] camas

If it weren’t for the little path…

[IMAGE] flower path

…you could easily lose yourself…

[IMAGE] a new view

…just like Alice.

Composers are incapable of stopping the composing gerbils that run the musical wheels spinning endlessly in our skulls, and those goofy little rodents hit pay dirt upon landing in this fantastic buzzing, chirping, splashing, lapping, branch-rustling sonic environment. The timbres and rhythms and frequencies and motifs all served to really get the gerbils going. No telling what the heck is going to spew from me musically next, but it might make someone sneeze.

The bees even donned spiffy attire for their concert performance:

[IMAGE] bee

As gorgeous as the flowers, are the Madrones that love the island’s sunshine. Many refer to them by their Latin name, Arbutus; I call them Arbeautiful, because they truly are. Abundant in this part of the Northwest, they’re among the most sensual trees I’ve ever seen, with trunks that look like dancers:

[IMAGE] trunk

Even better, sometimes like nude dancers:

[IMAGE] trunks

Oooh, you just want to reach out and stroke the hard, muscular smoothness…

[IMAGE] trunks

…which alternates with varying degrees of sharp, peeling bark (maybe some sort of kinky pleasure/pain thing for nature’s amusement, I dunno):

[IMAGE] bark

Tucked into all of this magic is the very, very old driftwood cabin where Phil lives.

[IMAGE] cabin

[IMAGE] cabin

It’s weathered decades of storms and is ready for more. Just like Phil.

A few years ago, friends and I kayaked onto this same beach at a far higher tide, when sand, not kelp, was the substrate. This day featured one of the year’s absolute lowest tides, and the moon’s proximity pulled back layers of water that normally protect all these squishy secrets. A lone dinghy teased me with a reminder of possible escape. But who would want to?

[IMAGE] shore

While I most certainly didn’t want to leave, in this photo, I look as though I needed directions:

[IMAGE] Alex
“Let’s see… take the crosstown bus at 86th to the IRT#1 going south, get off at 66th, Lincoln Center is across the street and there’s a Starbucks on Columbus… oh, wait, wrong map…”

There are more than a few moments during the year when I’m keenly aware of the two extremes of my life, from the ultra-urban to the über-rural. Standing in this precious wilderness, and realizing that it only took me 10 minutes in a tiny boat to get here from where I live, was definitely one of those times.

To the south-ish, a passing reminder of civilization was the postcard-perfect view of a ferry in the distance.

[IMAGE] ferry

And to the north-ish, at least one other human shared my view of Canada’s southern Gulf islands from their sailboat:

[IMAGE] sailboat

And at the end of the day, six humans felt exceedingly peaceful, joyous and fortunate to call this wonder-island archipelago home.
Thanks, Phil. What a perfect Tuesday afternoon.

[IMAGE] bloggers
Your faithful scribe, Monika, Shann, and Phil. Do we look totally blissed out, or what?

Adventures in web(footed) dating

Monday, May 7th, 2012

[IMAGE] gull love

…click to listen:

…about the music

One bird’s effort pursuing the gull of his dreams.

[IMAGE] Gull love
Ok, I’ve gone all out. THIS is a great gift. I know she’s gonna love it!

[IMAGE] Gull love
Hey, beautiful: this is for YOU.

[IMAGE] Gull love
Uh, beautiful? Hello?

[IMAGE] Gull love
Hmmph. Man, I look like an idiot.

[IMAGE] Gull love
All right then: I’ll boldly take the initiative, and bring her proof of my love. And, my bank account. This stupid thing cost a fortune…

[IMAGE] Gull love
Yes! I got her to look! Success! She notices me! Ahem: I HEREBY PRESENT YOU WITH…

[IMAGE] Gull love
…THIS PROOF… OF… Wait! Where’re you going??

[IMAGE] Gull love
Whoa! Beautiful! Hold on! Come back! It’s your color and everything! [Geez, this thing is heavy. Next time I’m just getting flowers like the cheap gulls. None of this root-ball-o’-sincerity crap…].

[IMAGE] Gull love
Oh, bea-u-ti-fuuullll..?! Come heeeeeere?! I got this for youuuu… Huh? What? You like it? Really? Oh, wow… oooh… ohhh… mmmmm… you DO like it! Ahhhh….

[IMAGE] Gull love
(intentionally blurry for a PG-rated blog post)

[IMAGE] Gull love
And this is all I’m left with. She had her way with me. She took everything. Geez, I’m so, um, gullible… But the promise of love is worth it… sigh… well, at least I think it is?… maybe?… wait, how much did that thing cost…?

Sunday morning walk

Sunday, April 29th, 2012

[IMAGE] eagle mom and chick

…click to listen:

…about the music

An old lullaby from this chick’s 80’s synth era, for this new chick.

Above: a heartening sign of spring. There are actually two fuzz-balls in that nest, but only one kept poking its head up to see what the world looked like this morning. I don’t blame the other one. I often refuse to poke my head up to see what the world, or even my coffeemaker, look like this early in the day.

It’s worth noting that the “nest” is about one ton’s worth of everything you see below the chick’s head, resting 80 feet or more up the incredibly strong branches of a Douglas fir. Eagles’ nests should be included in the seven wonders of the world.

When I made plans a few days ago to take a nature walk with friends on Sunday at the crack of dawn*, I failed to remember that I’d be at a late-running, wine-infused dinner party with other friends the night before [*Okay, not the crack of dawn, but 9am, which feels very much like the crack of dawn to me. Especially when I blithely, dumbly smile and blurt out, “Oh! Come over for coffee around 8:15.”]. What was I thinking??

I don’t know what I was thinking. But I’m awfully glad that I wasn’t thinking, “now that’s a silly idea; you’re not a morning person, and you’ll want to sleep in.” No, thank goodness I wasn’t thinking that. Actually, thank goodness I just wasn’t thinking. Otherwise, I would have missed out on the mama and chickie above, seen on this morning’s deeply peaceful walk through the wildflower-infused meadows and prairie land to which I gaze from my desk every day. American Camp is among my favorite places on planet Earth. And stunningly, I can see my house from it. I am beyond grateful to live where I do.

So, in the wee hours that most normal people refer to as “morning” and which I refer to as “the middle of the friggin’ night,” my pals and I, accompanied by very kind Ranger Doug of the National Park Service, filled our lungs with the unspeakably wonderful scent-combo of overcast sea air and newly blooming plants, and ambled through the windless, almost-warm almost-mist. To the east is Griffin Bay:

[IMAGE] Griffin Bay

With buttercups and green green spring green grasses in the foreground.

[IMAGE] redoubt

[IMAGE] Griffin Bay

Mount Finlayson looms between the two “sides” of San Juan Island on its narrow southern edge. At 392 feet, it’s far from a mighty “mountain,” except to the perception of my pathetic thigh muscles each time I summit, which during the remarkably steep incline of the final 50 yards, deem it not only Mighty but Supreme and Omnipotent.
No, we did not climb it this particular morning.
I guess I was thinking, after all. Just a little.

[IMAGE] hill view

Here’s the view from the top, looking west at Vancouver Island, in a photo taken last summer when my muscles were more awake:

[IMAGE] hill view

And here it is in the other direction, from which you can see the atolls strewn off the south of Lopez Island:

[IMAGE] hill view

That was last summer. But it looked remarkably similar this morning. Not much changes here.

Meanwhile a fox hung out on a far more climb-friendly rock, and took in the view to the sea, and to the rabbits…

[IMAGE] fox

As did an immature bald eagle….

[IMAGE] eagle

As its parent went grocery shopping…

[IMAGE] eagle

And a pair of geese reflected on what the day might bring, while the sea reflected their beauty.

[IMAGE] geese

All the while, mama and chick calmly observed.

[IMAGE] eagles

I don’t know what they’re thinking. But I’m so glad I wasn’t thinking. So, so glad.

Squawking and stalking

Friday, April 27th, 2012

[IMAGE] laughing gull

…click to listen:

…about the music

Be afraid. Be very afraid.

Yes, gulls have tongues.
And they laugh.
At me.

Composers are fragile creatures. We toil and stress over every note, every measure, every nuance of each phrasing mark.
This visage, in front of me as I strive for utter, unobtainable-but-yet-neurotically-necessary perfection,
is not especially helpful.

He doesn’t care.
He just laughs.
At me.
And waits.

It’s easy to be paranoid when one of these guys just won’t take no for an answer.
Everywhere I turn my gaze, there he is.
Laughing at me.

[IMAGE] gull

Looking at me.

[IMAGE] gull

Staring at me.

[IMAGE] gull

Occasionally trying to be coy, as if I won’t notice he’s there. But in his mind I know he’s laughing.

[IMAGE] gull

And, expecting table service.

[IMAGE] gull

The nerve.

Like a whale out of water

Saturday, April 14th, 2012

[IMAGE] orca wannabes

…click to listen:

…about the music

Something funny on the black and whites, for these funny black and whites.

It’s an exciting time of year around here: Orca Watch 2012.
Well, for me, at least.
This post of mine from last summer explains why. We’re quickly approaching the season when the resident pods of orca whales– J, K and L (thanks to the nice folks at the Whale Museum, you can read about this weird naming process here), return to this part of the shoreline to get their fill of the salmon running yards from my toes (I wish the fish realized they could save me a trip down to the dock by simply flinging themselves right onto my grill).

Since their traditional departure from the San Juans in mid October, I’ve missed these creatures. I call them my “floating pandas,” and despite their bad rap as Killer Whales, they really are quite adorable. Sometimes they swim by so close to the rocks and kelp beds, that I could just about reach out and pet them.
Don’t worry, I won’t.
Besides, I’m quite certain they’re terrified of me. Really. They call our species Killer Humans, because we murder and eat cows and sheep and pigs and all sorts of mammals just as cute as sea lions, without a second’s thought or remorse.
Heck, as far as the orcas know, they could be next.

Tiding me over throughout the six months of provisional orca deprivation (P.O.D.) has been the most kitsch item in my house, (ok, next to Big Mouth Billy the Singing Bass, and oh, that fabulous Santa hat with the antlers, tree decorations, and light-up red nose):

[IMAGE] Santler Claus
I can’t believe I just posted this pic.

A pair of salt and pepper shakers.
Not just any pair.
A pair that I found last year right here in little Friday Harbor, that gives me so much joy I might need to start watching my sodium intake.

So when I am missing this:

[IMAGE] orcas spyhopping
Thanks to Jeanne Hyde for this shot from her beautiful blog,
Whale of a ‘Purpose’!

I can always have this!:

[IMAGE] salt and pepper spyhopping

Quick! Someone save me from myself before I put a little swaying hula girl on my dashboard to tide me over until my next trip to Maui. Please…

A goose taking a gander

Thursday, April 12th, 2012

[IMAGE] goose

…click to listen:

…about the music

The view from here.

I wonder if this goose, clearly having a deeply pensive, introspective moment, is thinking about filing taxes on time.