Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Where Maya Meets the Sea

December 26, 2007, Puerto Morelos, Mexico

It is known as the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico. It's also abbreviated as Cancun for the airport, city, and tourist strip that bring the dollars here. But it is really home to the Maya, an ancient people of great strength, artistry, and civilization, and it is now home to my youngest daughter, who has married a fine Maya man, and with whom she is expecting their first baby in April. Our day of celebration spanned December 24 and 25 this year, as we spent it with his family (my first in-laws!) in Opichen, a jungle village south of Merida, about 4 hours drive from their home (and dive shop) on the Caribbean coast at Puerto Morelos.

Yesterday, after our hearty partying the night before, and as my family back in Canada and the US celebrated with other loved ones, we toured a Maya ruins east of Opichen, a ruins that may never be fully excavated and among many other cultural differences, perhaps this one above all, struck me with its unfamiliarity. We stood high on the pyramid to see mounds and hills all around us, further buildings and structures belonging to this city (about 500 - 1050 AD), all clothed in rampant jungle greenery. My natural ( trained) industrially-bred mind expected that it was only a matter of time (not geologic time!) before the rest of the city would be uncovered, but when I asked about that, I was surprised at the answer. This is an important ruins, but is well off the beaten tourist path, and its excavation for that purpose may not justify the expense. If there is sufficient archeological interest, then perhaps, but suddenly the shift from "not if but when" to a simple "if", made all the difference and I began to see that the very idea of leaving an historical record to the depths of its jungle cover could be as natural to a different consciousness here, as not leaving it would be to us.

Touring the ruins, we were Crescent, William, and two of his little neices, Monica and Maria Jose, but we had an extraordinary experience there that you will see in the photos to the right...a slim irridescent green snake with his head in a hole was not hiding from us, as we first thought, but was engaged in capturing and then ingesting, whole and alive, a baby gecko! We watched spellbound for the entire process!

Back in Opichen, other culture shocks continued to bang up against my ignorance and my comfort levels, but beneath it all was a warmth, acceptance, and genuine delight in which I am now a member!

ps - try this map link to see the outlines of the Oxkintoc ruins:

and go here for the website of Crescent and William's new dive shop, Aquanauts Dive Adventures:

Sunday, December 23, 2007

"Turtles All the Way Down"

December 21, 2007

“It’s turtles all the way down” (Sagan or Hawking?)

The morning to leave the Cabo beaches is always a sad time, but made less so this time because of the coming weeks in Puerto Morelos on the Yucatan coast, with Crescent, William, their unborn first, and the turquoise Caribbean.

I walk down to the beach to take pictures of the sand; coarse-grained, speckled with a few shells, but mostly eroded and eroding granite, with pink and white feldspars, white and grey quartz, and miniscule amounts of amphibole. It’s coarse sand, stacked high into a winter berm with a different gradient every year. This year the berm is so high and the ocean-side so steep, that from the top you cannot see clear to the crashing waves on the west side of the arches. I don’t swim here, gravity rules in the undertow and I am neither that courageous nor stupid. The sand is marvelous though, as it rasps pleasantly against the toes and heels, deep and permeable, golden and shining in the early morning sun.

An arc of about 30 people, open to the sea, stands on the berm slope, about half way down the beach; are they watching whales? Not in that configuration. I get closer to see the small dark ovals between the arc and the water, no more than 2-3 inches long, with flailing flippers and tiny heads, and it is a hatching of baby turtles from the protected nests on the upper surface of the berm. Mama turtles had dug those nests out of reach of tide, surf, even storms. Possible only a hurricane-driven storm surge and massive waves could breach their sanctuary and wash away in a single rush, all their effort of climbing this surface, digging their nest, and then laying hundreds of ping-bong ball size eggs.

The stronger waves run far up the sand and catch the nearest babies in their froth, and we see leathery backs and little flippers flip and flop until they are either washed out with the undertow, to be seen no more, or are left behind in the damp, to await the next life-giving surge. In the meantime, pelicans cruise the surf line, but perhaps they have already breakfasted this morning, as they do not seek out the tender hatchlings. The statistics tell us that about one in one million baby turtles survive to adulthood, a life span nearly as long as that of a healthy human.

We are quiet and awe-struck, cameras clicking, videos purring, as we witness one of nature’s extraordinary adventures in procreation and survival.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Wave Form

It illustrates motion, time, and lives, and it lives within us with every breath. In the raw presence of ocean waves, the cyclic and repetitive but ever-changing nature of existence shows up in the wave form. At Cabo Pulmo on the southeast coast of the Baja peninsula, the waves batter themselves against the granite and coral shore, eroding minerals and shells alike into coarse pink sand. But the shoreline slopes are shallow and inviting. Further west, by the famous Arches of Cabo, the beaches slope dangerously fast creating a powerful backwash or undertow and swimming is risky. I am inspired anew by these shores, this time to create new labs for my winter 2008 on-line Oceanography course...with still photos and videos of the way the incoming waves interact with the slope and shape of the shoreline.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Ripples in the Ceiling

Monday, December 10, 2007

Cabo Pulmo, Baja CS

This time the floor is over my head…a rippling ceiling of pale blue and white, delicate as a petal. I float and paddle quietly, the 2’ chop moving me in every direction. I have only snorkeled a handful of times, but for the first time I am comfortable with the fit of the mask and the reassuring air flow through my snorkel. Under water, my breathing is slow and steady but loud, I sound like a Darth Vader here! At Mermaid Beach I drift over the sandy, rippled bottom, and the small fish roaming the shallows in their bright colours are oblivious of my presence overhead. I have been entranced under the surface in the past, but have never felt this comfortable. I took the “shortie” wet-suit off, not needing it for warmth, and as it turned out, I didn’t need it for buoyancy either. I floated and floated.

At Mermaid Beach, on the headland that forms the southern lip of the Cabo Pulmo cup, under the omnipotent power of the waves, the eroding granite has formed fantastic, organic-looking shapes that could, under the right tequila, appear to be flowing and rolling! There is so much geology here to contemplate…the opening, transporting rift that forms the Sea of Cortez (5-10 million years in the making, to date) has also pushed up a mountain range on the east side of Baja, and along with the granites and their inexorable exfoliation, are benches and flats of former seafloor sediments, and popped-up pimples of volcanic cones. I have much to do with maps and books ahead of me…it appears that after nearly 6 years of travel to, and interest in, Baja, I can design some projects for personal research interest, for my Oceanography courses, and perhaps, just perhaps, for other visitors like myself.

That was the first snorkel drop. The second one was at a banquet-table sized sea stack littered with lounging sea lions. The stack was being power washed by the incoming swells, but we went in anyway. Seven or eight sealions were flopped on their backs, heads hanging over towards us, like large, dark, slick and graceful children hanging over their bunk beds. Two came and went in the waves, and we dropped below the surface to watch as they twisted and spun their way around the rocks, nosing into crevices for snacks. A sudden stream of bubbles tickled the top of my foot in its ungainly flipper. Their element, my visitation, brief but sure of my place.

In the wider open sea, after a long bumpy run, our leaders pointed into the opaque blue and shouted “school of jacks”. And indeed it was. The hook was in, the bait was swallowed, and I was over the side in an instant. It took a few minutes of circling around, bum at the surface, head and limbs pushing against the water, before I saw them…but once I did, I doubt I’ll ever forget it. Individually, the fish (a type of tuna) were about 2’ long, 6 inches high in the middle, with large white-ringed eyes, and a flash of sliver from turning fin or belly as they swirled and streamed by the hundreds…maybe even thousands, beneath me, sometimes deep beneath and only presenting a blurry moving substrate to my peering; other times racing toward the surface but always turning, twisting together, in the same way as starlings in the Autumn…the unspoken, mysterious language of communion that drives flocks and schools and shoals into their choreographed frenzy.

And the cap of the day is a home dinner with Camille, then a flan in the restaurant, complete with candle and Happy Birthday in Spanish and English from the waiters and cooks. She is 34 today.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Cloud Floor to Baja

Saturday, December 01, 2007

A dawn flight with Camille to San Diego and Baja

The landscape of cloud beneath our flight has hidden the world far as the eye can see. It is as solid as snow. We could step outside this plane at 30,000 feet and slip right through.

The lonely top of Mt. Rainier pokes up through the cloud floor into the blue dawning; then a sister cone follows, Mt. Adams perhaps, the north side is not concave enough for St. Helens.

Finally the hard chariot of the sun beams a red shaft into the smoky window and the day has been birthed. We transit the west coast of North America in flight from winter, to the sun, sea and desert of Baja.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

New Home, New CD...

Such a year..could I ever have imagined such a year as this? Finger surgery (still a huge problem playing the harp!), selling my Seattle house, switching from classroom to on-line course teaching, moving to BC, living and loving the summer months here, Fall travels in Ireland and the Mediterranean, and through it all, recording and editing a new cd...with dearly beloved friends Shiho and Ann...together we are ShAnLi, and the new cd of kotos, flutes, and harps respectively, is called Tethys, and will be in our anxious hands by Dec 1...the day I leave for several weeks in Mexico with 2 of my 3 gorgeous daughters!

Wot a life, I tell you...a time of change, transition, re-balancing, re-discovery of boundaries, re-uniting with family and landscape...

So if you're still reading this, you're as much an explorer as I, and I look forward to posting a few pictures and adventures from Mexico in a few short weeks!

ps - there are some stories to go with some of my tracks on Tethys...see the comment below if you like!

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Home(s) Again!

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

“Home(s) again”

Such an elusive concept; I’ve been puzzling over various meanings and implications of the word “home”for many years, most recently after moving from a very satisfactory “home” in Seattle, Washington to my birth or original “home” in the interior country-land of British Columbia, Canada. They were both home. They were each home for different reasons, different lengths of time, with different people, and at different times in my life. This in itself is enough to make my head spin, but in recent years I’ve been giving relatively free rein to my wanderlust, using the ability of a middle-class Northamerican to travel and learn about other parts of the world: Mexico, New Zealand, Ireland, Spain…so while living out of suitcases during these adventures, I watch people at “home” in their world and culture, and while I feel like a visitor because I AM a visitor, I also wonder what makes their place home to them. Now I have returned again from travels abroad, but this time it is different…this time I am home in BC without a house (yet) to call home, instead of returning to a home (Seattle) in a land that was never mine to call home…see? It’s all a little vertiginous! Home has been where my stuff is, that seems to sum it up for me of late! And now I am reunited with my stuff at home in my native land, and it’s all different and new and familiar and wonderful and all I need now is a house in which to put it all…myself and my stuff!

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

There is a dusting of snow on the ground, perhaps not enough to accumulate, but certainly enough to lighten the insides of the rooms in my sister’s house, you know how that is. And 3 weeks ago today I begged to be brought “home” right after the cruise, rather than stay on in Spain as planned. So many boundaries were touched that week, so many limits came forward to claim a position of armament against my previously grandiose attitude of “if I can dream it, I can do it”. Not the least of these was an avowed avoidance of winter…but what did I find upon arriving at the airport in Seattle a week ago? I took a deep breath of the damp fall air, felt a gladness for the change of season, felt that the scene from the train of the hills around Malaga, citrus and olive orchards and spectacular geology notwithstanding was too hot and dry to entice me.

Now I have found a basement apartment near Salmon Arm, so I'll be paying for it today and moving in this week...eek!!! How DID that happen so soon! I have to tell you, I need to wonder about "be careful what you ask for" because I've been GETTING what I ask for and then finding that I've asked for too much...thus the early return from traveling. But "home", as elusive and slippery a concept as it is, is the engine on the train now and so that's what I looked for and that's what I found.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Footsteps of the Ancients

Sunday, October 21, 2007, St. Tropez, France

11 am and I have stumbled into the end of a race! Adults have just finished their 16 km run through the winding narrow streets of St. Tropez, and the kidlets have just zoomed past me for their 2 km sprint! I cheer and take pictures at the finish line. The 2 Euros crepe is sweet and delicious, but both internet cafes I seek are closed. Well, that’s a good thing actually, it feels eminently sane to close some shops at least one day in the week, and I will find something tomorrow in Barcelona. Anyway, if one of them had been open, I might well have missed this bit of time on the Mediterranean shore…listening to the waves skitter across the coarse sand and pebbles, basking like a black-clothed lizard in a low, warm sun. And I can’t even record this, so all I capture is a picture of the hills and houses across the bay…nothing to DO but be here now!

Friday, October 19, Pompeii, Italy

Wonders abound! Somehow I did not connect this cruise and its itinerary (even though I’d seen the listing of areas and cities) with the exploration of ruins…but of course! Wasn’t the entire Mediterranean coastline the playground, battle field, and home land of a consistent and changing parade of cultures? In 79 AD the citizens of Pompeii, just inland from the lovely Bay of Napoli, had had earthquake warnings of something rumbling beneath their beloved Mt. Vesuvius, but its actual eruption took them completely by surprised. And perhaps we would even now know little about their response to it if it were not for the records of the Greek Pliny’s, elder and younger, uncle and nephew, who observed it first hand? As with Carthage, I’m inspired to back track and learn even the standard history, as I remember so little of it from school. So we walk and crunch our way over the lapilli that broke through the roof tops that were being restored from earthquake damage, we poke into the baths, the brothels, the bakery, the restaurants…and the ghosts of 2000 years ago drift and peer out at our motorized, digitized presence; some of us from an inconceivable distance half way around the entire planet. What an extraordinary thing is humanity!

Wednesday, October 17, Carthage, Tunisia

Welcome, once again, to an ancient world! This time it isn’t monolithic standing stone circles of 5000 years ago, it’s the ruins of the original Punic (Phoenician) Carthage, topped by more ruins of the Roman Carthage above. Bricks, mosaics, sculptures…Romans knew how to build what they wanted!

Tuesday, October 16, on board MSC Melody

3:30 pm, 3 hours out of Ibiza (Balearic Islands), on a course heading of 101° (nearly due east) for Tunis on the north African coast..

I am wired in many different ways here…looking north out a portside window at the horizon that bisects the tall windows of the pool/buffet area. Lunch is over, tea time is in half an hour and soon I’ll go get my harp to play for the new friends from Belgium. The Mediterranean Sea is navy blue, a color I noticed last night, and one I don’t think I have seen in nature before. In my ears the Tethys mix # 4 of harps, flutes and kotos washes over the background voices, child-shouts from the pool, and ambient music, providing a watery sound track for the moving sea before me. I have just downloaded the recent pictures from my camera of yesterday’s departure from Barcelona, and last night’s sunset…and the pictures I took are true to the majesty that unfolded for almost an hour as the clouds and sun danced their backdrop for the waves and wake of our passage.

Then as now, the waves are moving from the east and today I am grateful for that as my incipient sea-sickness is not so bad when we head into wind and waves, rather than broadside, and due to the cool, cloudy (occasionally rainy) weather today I am kept more indoors than I’d like. I am now keeping the acupressure bands on my wrists as they help more than I imagined, but I try to stay in view of the horizon. I got a Dramamine from the information desk just in case, but the captain’s party is tonight, I am going to dress to the 9’s and will take the pill only after if at all…the swells are bigger now, just in the 15 minutes of writing this. Best get below decks for the harp before they get any bigger…

Monday, October 15, 2007, setting sail on MSC Melody

The awe of the sea…the mystery beneath the deadly, beautiful surface…the lure of the horizon where the eye rests on its flat expanse…what lives beneath its opaque and long-lived nature?

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Dancing on the Edges

Sunday, October 14, 2007, Barcelona, Spain
Dancing on the Edges

Ah the best laid plans…nine weeks in Europe has just been shortened to six…on October 24 I will depart Malaga, Spain and then London, England for northwest North America (Seattle, USA and the BC, Canada interior) …and home. There is still much that I would and could do and see in Spain, but various personal and professional needs began to assert themselves a few days ago, coincidentally (or not!) as I was preparing to leave Ireland, and I so changed course to return ahead of schedule.

Thus the journey will continue on board the MSC Cruise ship Melody for a week in the western Mediterranean (leaving Barcelona tomorrow with ports of call in Ibiza, Tunis, Palermo, Napoli..and oops, I don’t remember the route!) but I will only be able to take the pictures, I will not be able to share them, that is until we dock. But perhaps I’ll take advantage of a week of life incommunicado…what will that be like???

At the end of that week, I have two more days of intense adventure to get to Malaga by overnight train, fly to London, wait overnight there, and then fly to Seattle. Isn’t it a grand thing to have a travel agent for a daughter!!!

Safe adventures to you all, dear ones who have traveled this marvelous route with me to this point…I will pick up the thread in a week.

Oh! And from December 1 – January 15, we have a 6 week jaunt through Baja Mexico and the Yucatan, Mexico, so don’t stay away long, I’ll keep the blog going until it goes…so to speak!


Thursday, October 11, 2007

Gulf Stream

October 9, 2007, Dublin, Ireland

Gulf Stream

It’s a balmy day, misty and nearly raining, following last night’s hard rain as we came into the Dublin airport area. But early this morning as we drove to the airport to drop off Debra for her flight home to Chicago, and as Ted then took off in his new rental car for a couple of more days of travel in wonderland, there was a lightening and blue coloring to the sky in the west…the pattern here, we have found, and so the sun may find me yet today.

But this prompts my thoughts about the Atlantic Ocean current known as the Gulf Stream, and the World Ocean Project I have set up for my on-line Oceanography students: to investigate the Gulf Stream, to investigate the issue of global warming, and to put those together to investigate the possibility of a cooling trend in northern Europe if global warming causes changes to the Gulf Stream flow. So if this topic is of interest to you, please see the first comment to this post for the project assignment...

Awakening the Stones

Thursday, October 11, 2007
Barcelona, Spain

Awakening the Stones: playing harps in Ireland’s stone circles

I’ve been off Ireland’s soil for a little less than 24 hours now and I’ve wanted to express my experience playing the harp, or even just letting it sing in the wind, in the stone circles we’ve visited. Debra and I brought harps into 4 circles: 2 near the Co. Kerry town of Kenmare a couple of weeks ago, and 2 more on Monday, as we left Culdaff and the Inishowen Peninsula in Co. Donegal. Each time we found an ideal recording wind, not a coincidence as the circles we’ve visited are all sited on mounds or low hills, surrounded by a circular depression or set of valleys, which in turn are ringed by higher hills or mountains. Of the four circles and winds, I hope that the 2nd one yields a good windharp recording.

As I walk toward and then around a circle, the first thing I’m aware of is the silence…again, no coincidence as the setting has been rural, open, either pasture or hill slope. But the silence is the first thing that registers. Then the wind. There may be sheep or cattle nearby and there may be occasional birds. But these soft and subtle sounds of another presence complete the silence; they do not break or intrude upon it.

We tend not to talk to each other at first. We each take our own path around or into a circle. I don’t fantasize an awareness, but I do sense a presence, if only of time…these are human artifacts still standing in landscape as much as 5000 years after they were placed here. I touch the occasional stone, wondering where it came from, and what it signifies in its location. I lean into its warmth if the day has soaked a little sun into its surface.

Once we pull out the harps and they start responding to the wind, we let that be the substance and foundation of the sound. In an “improvisational tuning” the harps give the most resonant quality of sound, and we also have an easier time improvising both with the wind and with each other. The combination of wind, harps, and stone circles becomes its own iterative or self-perpetuating experience, where one exists within and because of the other.

There is much more beneath this quick summation, but time runs along and I must catch up…but to finish with this:

At the last circle I did not take my harp, it was packed and inaccessible for the short time we had. This was the Beltany Stone Circle near Strabane, and we were en route south and off the island. I began to walk around the outside of the circle as Debra unpacked her harp. I heard its instant windsong over my right shoulder as I progressed and suddenly the notion of “wakening the stones” came to me…as always with me, this was a set of words and images that bubbled up from within, I couldn’t and wouldn’t go so far as to say it came from anywhere “out there”. So with that careful (science-based!) caveat, I maintain that the idea of “wakening the stones” was a valid one, and so I let it be…the stones were wakening with the presence and sound of harps in their midst. And when was the last time that happened?

Go here: for visual and a bit of sound at the Uragh circle near Kenmare, Co. Kerry, shot by a woman on a Celtic mystery tour.

Friday, October 5, 2007

Rifts in Time and Stone

Friday, October 5, 2007
Giant’s Causeway, Northern Ireland

Rifts in Time and Stone: From Table Mountain to Giant’s Causeway, from Washington to Ireland…

There’s no planning these things, they just happen…they arise out of a moment, a space, a glimpse into a pure creation, and sometimes our efforts to capture or instill them into a quasi-permanent state are just that, efforts…but sometimes they become the next painting, the next picture, the next piece of music, and something is birthed and becomes its own piece of the world.

I was challenged earlier this year, by a musician friend at Table Mountain Star Party outside Ellensburg, Washington, to set my double-strung harp’s levers so that one side would sound different from the other. Easy enough to do, but I’d been intimidated by the magnitude of unknown potential in the past, and had never done it. This time I did, and as a result, something very pleasing happened. Now three months later, near the cliff edge of Ireland’s Giant’s Causeway, I noodled around a second time with this new “tuning” on the little harp, and the sound became musical; and then a little more set, or codified, so that it began to make a statement, tell a story. And as this was taking place, I remembered its origin, on the high, flat top of Table Mountain, playing through the day before sunset, dark, and the night’s starry explorations.

The “table” part of Table Mountain arises, literally, out of the Ellensburg valley floor, as the top surface of the 17 – 5 million year old sequence of flood basalts known as the Columbia River Basalts, or CRB’s. The cliff edge I inhabit today however, arises out of the Atlantic Ocean on the far northern coast of Ireland, where massive 60-odd million year old columnar-jointed flood basalts , older cousins to the CRB, erupted and “paved” the geography of Ireland, as well as Scotland (Staffa Island and Fingal’s Cave) 20 miles north, now separated by 20 miles of open sea.

It isn’t the first or only time that I have sensed my harp strings creating a bridge…other times it has seemed to be a bridge out of life, as my hospice patients were dying. Today it was a bridge of time and space, linking two beautiful but vastly different (in appearance and age) landscapes. And it was a link “in” time, as only moments later another guest of the cottages came to listen, and said, as they so often do, how “rare and special” it was to hear a harp played in this land. Is it really so rare? That’s not for me to say because my experience is so limited, yet my experience of this past month has been consistent in this theme. And so once again I feel inspired anew to bring my harps to Ireland for a long and fruitful stay.

Monday, October 1, 2007

The Familiarity of Bones

Monday, October 1, 2007
Giant’s Causeway, Northern Ireland

The view of the sea again, the entrancement of the wind, and the passage of time over the grassy hills, these things have brought me back to this land that surely I once knew with the familiarity of bones.

Last night’s musical adventure in The House of McConnell in Ballycastle followed on the heels of the previous evening in the Smuggler’s Inn Hotel, near Giant’s Causeway, a few scant hours after our arrival here. It amazes me the way the music surfaces yet again after a full day of driving, but it does! But last night was its own phenomenon and as such, needs more preface:

We had driven from Shannon to Dublin and back on Friday and for all those 12 hours I got my 30 seconds worth of playing a slow air to and for the Trinity (ada Brian Boru) harp in the Long Room of the Library of Trinity College (renamed Dublin University). The slow air, one of my favorites, is Oidche Mbath Leibb or Goodbye to You…recorded on cd#2, Full Hearts, Empty Mind ( This was the heart of my musical pilgrimage to Ireland…to pay homage to a harp from the 13th or 14th Century, although it was romantically and incorrectly attributed to Ireland’s 11th C first High King, Brian Boru. My overt romanticism didn’t go so far as to imagine that the ancient harp would resonate with mine, but there was something deep and compelling about just being there and letting the modern harp strings sound out toward to the ancient instrument behind glass. The officials in the library were taken aback by my request to play, but enjoyed it anyway, and perhaps it won’t be an isolated event…I know I’ll go back to play there again.

Saturday morning we picked up Ted at Shannon Airport and after another 8-9 hours driving arrived at Giants' Causeway where we went harpubbing (or is it pubarping?) before we even unpacked, and for the first time in 3 weeks there was a harper there! She was playing a 22 string lap harp with great energy and skill! Ted and I went out again last night to meet up with Sabine and Dick (harper and does that make him a harphubby?) who is also a fine fiddler and hammered dulcimer player. But the real treat for me last night was to learn of Sabine’s knowledge and passion for geology, paleontology, and archeology, and as a result we talked shop longer than we played harps! So I will be taking her up on her offer to prowl the nearby beaches for fossils, and in return will give her my 2nd copy of the Geology of Ireland map from the Geological Survey of Ireland office in Dublin (thanks to Frank Fagan there).

The morning scoots away from me now on a brisk sea breeze, and the sky is clouding over towards noon…so, more sooner dear friends! We go off now to hop around on the 60 million year old (born yesterday!) basalt columns of Giant’s Causeway…they point toward Scotland, a mere 20 miles across the water.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

The Harp Before the Moon

The Harp Before the Moon - traveling Ireland with the harp:

Sunday, September, 23, 2007
Lahinch and Doolin, Co. Clare, Ireland

For the past several days I’ve been wearing 2 pair of earrings in a back to front configuration (2 holes in each ear you see)…one ear would have a silver harp in front of a copper BC native moon, the other ear had the moon in front of the harp. It occurred to me the other day as I was talking a photo of my harp in front of the sea, that the harp is my expression outward toward the elements. And so as the phrase, “the harp before the moon” appeared against the backdrop of strings and surf, it seemed a fitting opening phrase in this halting and barely beginning expression of playing harps with the sessions in pubs in County Clare.

In Lahinch on Thursday night last, Debra and I “opened” the evening’s music with our harps in the front room of The Cornerstone Pub, then joined the fiddle and flute players in the back room when they arrived. They were hot stuff! Young married folks from the US living the tradition-musician dream in Ireland, as she was from an Irish family up the coast, but as we talked between sets, I learned that they had both worked at Dusty Strings in Seattle…so Sarah from the shop and Damien from the store both say hello to Eileen, Molly, and all our harper friends there! We joined in the sets as best we could, and sometimes we actually had the key and basic chords in place just before the tune ended! But we also played some solo tunes each, as well as the duo tunes that we have been working on together. All in all, it was a great time, and people (musicians and pub-goers) were enthusiastically supportive of our contributions.

The next night a different group of players took the back room of The Cornerstone, but we were content to sit and listen, and chat with other visitors. A choir group from Holland sang wonderful songs in English, I think! What I mean is that they were phonetically singing the English lyrics as they read the lead sheet, but didn’t really know the words, and so the sound was an odd mix of unintelligible words with wonderful sound! They were buying traditional Irish cd’s and sheet music every where they travelled.

Then last night’s session was in O’Connor’s pub in Doolin. This is a big, rambling place, and the musician’s corner was anything but in a corner…it was front and center! They were raising hell when we got there, but we ate a bit and played a bit in a back room before getting the nod from one of the fiddle players we had met earlier in the hostel. That was the invitation to wriggle our way with harps over our heads, to two stools vacated for us. Oh my, now I felt intimidated! They were blistering hot, and seamlessly tight, but we opened with our new version of Loreena McKennitt’s “Beltane Fire Dance”, I followed with another McKennitt, “Between the Shadows”, and then we were off and away as accompanists with ears tight to the soundboard to find the key, the mode, the chords! The rhythm is never a problem; that fast reel just keeps the left hand ring finger pumping, and a jig is a joy for all 8 fingers to fly. In our next ‘lead’ spots we played a beautiful Breton tune I’ve been learning from Debra, “Tttryyllyygg” (sp???), O’Carolan’s “Clergy’s Lamentation”, a rather fractured version of “Butterfly”, on which they joined at a more stately tempo than they usually play, I’m sure! Our specialty seems to be “Paddy’s Green Shamrock Shore”, though only once, last week in Kilcolgan (Co. Galway) did one of the very elderly gents actually sing with us. I attempted my rendition of “Grenadier and the Lady/The Mowers/Bold Fenian Men” but it’s been a while since I’ve played that set at all, and even longer on the small harp!

Now we’re about to leave again, back on the road, this time to Dingle and environs, so more later! But a quick word about our harps…both made by Stoney End in Red Wing, Minnesota, mine is a Brittany 22 string double-strung harp in cherry; and Debra’s is their new Evensong, a 26 string ‘therapy’ harp with a very nice tone, and a good bass accompaniment to the higher pitch of the Brittany. So thanks, Gary and Eve, we are your appreciative ambassadors in the land of green, music, stone, cows, and the waxing moon.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007
Dingle and Kenmare, Co. Kerry
Coda (and more coda!) to the above:

Monday morning in Dingle we walked into the music shop next to the B & B (one of the reasons for that choice of B & B by the way!) and who should we see but my friend Gregor Stevens from Seattle. We each knew the other was in Ireland (his homeland) but connecting would be a matter of the fates. Well, weren't the fates just with with us all! That night we attended a concert at the church next door (of course) where some popular and marvelous folks played an utterly beautiful two sets: Pauline Scanlon (vocals), Donagh O’Hennessy (guitar) and Owen (sorry, name escapes me) on uillean pipes. And to beat all, Gregor danced at their invitation, got the whole place energized with him, and received a cd from Owen for his efforts. He was brilliant! Then we played a little in the break of a set of a guitarist and accordion player (who was like the wind), and were received as warmly as ever.

Next day however, we came to Kenmare after the hair-raising drive from Killarney and here we were “discovered” while unpacking the car on the street; my hard-shell harp case is labeled, “harp” with a Seattle address all over it and our discoverers were indeed from Seattle. So once again, the B & B was across from the music shop, and the pub that was recommended to us was next door. I love these towns! After dinner we came into a fully packed room, with 3 players already in swing…fiddle, guitar, bodhran, and were welcomed in. And were we ever welcomed! Once unpacked and introduced to and by the other musicians, we started our contribution with “Paddy…” it’s a great opener for us. And the place went as silent as a tomb. You could hear the Guinness bubble. Now we’ve been invited by the other players to join them tonight at another pub a short drive away, and well, I think we just might! So stay “tuned” so to speak!

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Ireland at last!

September 9, 2007

The first stages are past now and the real journey has begun. This is Kilcolgan, on Galway Bay, not far from Galway city. I arrived here from Shannon at about 6 last night, after a detour through the musical hot spot of Ennis…and a sudden entrapment in a one way (my way!) lane that was probably a fine street 200+ years ago, but was now awash with pedestrians and a cacophony of colour. I believe I stumbled in on a Saturday market day! Goods of all kinds were displayed in booths and on tables, and the surge of crowd ebbed between the shops and in the lanes. After finally finding my cottage at Kilcolgan, an hour further north, I shopped for staples, and headed out the road west from here to Kinvarra, aiming for a sunset and shoreline…100 kmh is the posted speed limit for roads with no shoulder, where hedges or walls race within touching distance of the car ( I still do not “sense” the left side of the car well enough, and hope I’m not accumulating scratches from the foliage!), curves are sharp and blind, and despite my cautious slower speed on the “wrong” side of the road, it was a white knuckle drive, even more so coming back in the dark. But Kinvarra is a place I’ll go back to again soon for the music, perhaps even tonight. Today…I’ll jaunt into Galway city with my one of my new GSI books in hand, “Galway in Stone” which includes a walking tour around Galway of the various stone buildings. In particular, the local stone includes various types of granites, the famous Connemara Marble, and a fossiliferous limestone. A tourist with not only a camera but a hand lens, peering into the stone walls…should amuse someone!

Monday, July 16, 2007

From the Beginning...

Welcome all who visit these pages! I look forward to your responses to my musings as I begin a travel adventure this fall, combining music and science, teaching and wonder, study and expression. The world and its humanity are ever changing, ever evolving, and in these pages I will post my small attempts to filter the marvel that we are, and make it visible through my eyes, ears, and mind. So onward...