Sunday, November 20, 2011

Autumn Festival of Songs

Arabella, by Richard Strauss
Sarah Fletcher; Diane Althaus, Sopranos,  Josh Brown, pianist





Warm as the Autumn Night, by Douglas Moore
Roland Ken Sabalza, baritone, Josh Brown, pianist



Don Giovanni; La ci darem la mano, by Mozart
Sarah Fletcher & Roland Ken Sabalza, Josh Brown, pianist





 Danza de la moza donasa, by Ginastera
Josh Brown, pianist



Cavallaria Rusticana, Voi lo sapete, by Mascagni 
Sarah Fletcher, Josh Brown, pianist



Linda di Chamounix, by Donizetti
Megan Chenovick, soprano, Josh Brown, pianist



.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Art and Truth; Is Truth Enervating?

Is art that is truthful will-shattering?  Art that reveals the meaninglessness and arbitrary violence of the world destroys the will to maintain an arduous struggle toward virtue or artistic elegance.  After Schopenhauer's descent into chaos and futility, Friedrich Nietzsche posed a solution to the dilemma of will-shattering truth. 

Nietzsche in The Birth of Tragedy describes the tension that he found in the Greek tragedies between Dionysian and Apollonian art.  Dionysian art embodies the chaotic energy of the world, which in Greek thought is antithetical to reality as differentiated by form delineated in Apollonian art and philosophy.

Nietzsche was for a time an admirer and promoter of the music dramas of Richard Wagner.  He saw in Wagner's music an illusion that could sustain the will against the chaos of Dionysus. 

Here are a few references that may be useful:
Nietzsche; The Birth of Tragedy
Arthur Schopenhauer
Aaron Ridley on Nietzsche; Art and Truth

To put the quesion in more contemporary setting, here is a link to my review of a book by Carson Holloway titled All Shook Up; Music, Passion, and Politics.

The question of art and will makes an interesting discussion.  How is an artist to persist against the banality and chaos of the world?


Saturday, October 22, 2011

It's not Vertigo

She gets mild light headedness
Mild but frequent enough to be disturbing
Too often it comes on when she sings
With the expansive breathing

It started after several phone calls to her aunt in Cincinnati
The last of which was to security at the senior residence
Who had to force the door
To find Alice cold on the floor

The last of three sisters
This memorial service was the end
Her father had been gone three years by then
No more trips to Cincinnati

The doctors have suspected low blood pressure
Ear infections
Ménière's disease
And one by one eliminated each as a diagnosis

The disorienting illusion persists
Usually in the afternoon
Exercise seems to ward it off in the morning
Physical therapists, chiropractors, acupuncturists seemed to help

A number of them have applied their cures
Now a cranial-sacral deep tissue masseuse
Recommends books by Illuminati
The saints, medieval and modern are strewn about our cushy chairs

They variously recommend living with the disturbance
Asking what it has to tell us
Being in the joy and pain of here and now
Outside the window it's warmer than it appears

The wind is mild, spacious with a few flecks of rain
A walk to the mailbox is not unpleasant
Despite bills from physicians and labs that insurance won't pay
And the HSA can't seem to process

A maple is red against the firs
This sky has many shades of grey
And opens to infinity beyond what ails us here
Its coming in would elicit a sensation like vertigo

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Arts funding doesn't show diversity

Brett Zongker this morning in the Seattle Times cites a study by the Washington-based National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy:
"Billions of dollars in arts funding is serving a mostly wealthy, white audience that is shrinking while only a small chunk of money goes to emerging art groups that serve poorer communities that are more ethnically diverse, according to a report being released Monday."

The jist of it is an unsurprising assertion that the opera/ symphony crowd is grabbing too much of the money.  What this slant evades completely is that BIG ARTs organizations get the money regardless of whether the art is that of dead white European males or of the kinds of organizations Zongker seems to favor:

Maurine Knighton, who leads the foundation's arts and culture programs, said changing the way foundations give grants is possible but will take time.
"You are dealing with shifting demographics that are fairly recent," and foundations will have to make a deliberate effort to catch up, Knighton said. "It's just a different way of considering how to be most effective with our grant dollars."
The Ford Foundation, a major arts funder that launched a $100 million initiative last year to develop spaces for diverse arts groups, has funded a dance center in New York's Chinatown, the New York Latino cultural center El Museo del Barrio, and community arts projects in Seattle, New Orleans, and elsewhere.
"There is no question that investing in a diverse array of arts and culture institutions is an important direction for funders," Darren Walker, the foundation's vice president for education, creativity and free expression, said in an e-mail. "In a country that is diversifying as fast as ours, it's even more important to lift up artistic voices that can help us understand who we are and who we are becoming."

Well, OK, diversity in cultural tradition counts for something, but dance centers and museums are useless while artists in these communities are working as waiters, employess in airport kitchens, and secretaries instead of performing for the local audience that is usurped by BIG ARTs organizations.

Government funding legitimizes established organizations and private funding follows it.  A new opera or dance company founded by and for local artists faces debilitating competition from organizations that are already too powerful and taking not only the lion's share of funding but monopolizing the local audience as well.  Indigeneous organizations can't afford to perform in the spaces built by "Ford's $100 million initiative last year to develop spaces for diverse arts groups." 

Finally the money from government and private contributions in local communities that does trickle down to artists and performers goes to those who are represented by financially advantaged New York management, not local singers, dancers, or visual artists.

Friday, September 30, 2011

La Boheme, duet Marcello, Mimi

Speravo di trovarvi qui



Sarah Fletcher, soprano - Ken Sabalza, baritone
Josh Brown, pianist

Fat Chance Opera, August 2011

See also: http://sarahfletchersoprano.blogspot.com/

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Fruit on Grafted Branches

In 1963 the railroad moved us to Oregon
Dad had not seen his cousins Sam and Savario since the war
It must have been during his six months at the Vancouver Barracks
After twenty years, we drove to visit them in Washington

At the table in Grandma's kitchen I'd heard their names
These sons of Italy and of my grandfather's brother
I knew them as well as I knew my grandfather
He died before I was born

Puget Sound and the Olympics were the only landmarks Dad needed
to find their houses on the Hilltop in Tacoma, a safer neighborhood then
I hadn't imagined they'd heard of me
But when we arrived, they knew my name

The Calabrese dialect was rich on the men's tongues
Ida and Yolanda, sisters-in-law, told the stories for my sister and me
I was fourteen and my sister ten
Ida told stories we didn't understand
but Yolanda spoke well

Of how Sam and Savario together built Savario's and Yolanda's house
The spacious brick house on Wilkeson Street
In the back yard they grafted apple, pear, peach, and plum branches into a single tree

Next door, on the corner, they built Sam's and Ida's place
A smaller, white wood-frame house

Savario worked as a longshoreman
Sam building cabinetry

Savario spoke jovial Italo-American
When English failed him, Yolanda explained

Mom tried to follow Ida in Calabrese
Dad remembered the dialect and explained both ways

If Sam and Savario were my father's cousins
What did that make their kids to my sister and me?
Julie, Patty, Joey, Cecilia, and Sammy
We got acquainted in the shade of Sam's fig tree

We saw that Joey's speech was slow
His eyes were full of love
But punks on the block bullied him
Sammy was then too small to intervene
Defending her brother, Cecilia was tough

The girls taught my sister a few words
The Italian for eggs, toast, a cup of coffee
In the morning Yolanda verified her nascent diction

We wandered to an elementary school yard
Sammy played in the sand
Aspiring to be in a muscle magazine
I did pull-ups on a galvanized bar

Domenic, their friend, was learning to drive
He came by and took Patty for a ride



Ten years after we went home to Oregon
the University of Washington brought me back again

I drove past the port, up to the Hilltop neighborhood
By the reservoir and elementary school

Savario and Yolanda hadn't changed
Sam had more English by then
The houses were the same
They knew my name

Both families came to my first wedding
The mafia, my former brother-in-law said
Sam offered to help with repairs to the old house I'd bought
Five years later the house was not my problem

When the families came to my parents 50th wedding anniversary, I had remarried
Julie and Patty had children of their own
In a Lutheran Church, we sang  love songs from Broadway shows
My Norwegian mother won the Reformation at home

How did another ten years pass?
We started getting together for funerals

The last time I walked with the men through the neighborhood
Sam said of Savario, "He forget everything."
My father was there, before he too began to forget

When Savario died, St. Rita's Church consoled survivors around his casket

Sam died in his chair, his memory intact, of a heart attack
Another line of people stood at the altar of St. Rita's

Sam's offer of help with my first house was not uncommon
Neighbors didn't call the plumber, they called Sam

A woman, whom as a girl, Sam and Ida had loved
Stood to lament the passing of her friend
She had frequently stayed for dinner

Her father was a deserter
Her mother worked nights
Sam always waited for her to put the napkin on her lap

He saved every ripe fig for Ida

Everybody worried about Joey, a still boyish, fiftyish man
The priest said, "You'll have to help your mother.
"Are you OK?"
Joey was calm and said he was OK

Cecilia and Sam Jr. check on their mom
Joey works part-time at the YMCA
He knows a lot of baseball statistics from watching TV
Occasional he goes to a Pilots' game
The house is the same

Not long after Sam's funeral, Yolanda began to forget
Julie and Patty, retired from teaching, cared for her
She seemed content until she was gone

Two years ago, we got together at Cecilia's for Christmas dinner
Dad and Mom came on the train
There was a football game on Art's big screen

Ida held my hand in hers again
Come and see us, she said

I said that we would
The crucifixes in those houses know my name


Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The Art of Family Photographs

Late 1940s photos from the family collection.


Eastern Montana landscape.  My grandfather was a railroad section foreman.



They couldn't keep my mother down on the farm.  Her Norwegian parents weren't prepared when she married into the Italian family of the previous photos, but everybody got used to the idea.



Monday, September 12, 2011

The Drama of a Grey Day

A Douglas Fir towers in the sky
Magnolia blossoms still cling to branches where they dried

Workmen in leather gloves raise the dust
A laboring engine pumps slurry under sinking concrete

In our friends absence
After seven or eight weeks, their house sold

Rao left supervision of a hundred engineers
To assist Nirupama during her father's heart surgery in India

The decision to sell the house...
Dissatisfaction with career, interviews with a competitor

Family concerns
The house has too many stairs if the parents move here

Recovery presumed, Nirupama's father abruptly died
Prayers to Jesus and the gods still hang in the air

Yesterday or a month ago, we laughed together
Their brown-eyed boy, Anniru, climbed my chair

Rao has returned to the apartment and work
Nirupama says later in September

After she settles her worst ordeal ever

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Twenty Fifth Anniversary # 25!

Punctuate it!
Twenty five years 25!
! #25
Since the day we were married

Dinner at The Pomegranate
Didn't do it

The trip to Spain?
We didn't do it

Twenty five years
Since we were younger
Now we're better
Not at tennis
Which we've neglected

But our legs have gone the distance
Rocky and Apollo Creed
We've slugged it out
We keep bouncing back

You are the most inspirational player on our team
A dream team

Sweetheart
Lover
Best friend
Wife
The joy of my life

Best friend and only lover
Best lover and only friend
Aaaaaakk!

I love you
I am inspired
To sing with you
An everlasting duet

This is a silver-haired anniversary for you
A sparse-haired anniversary for me

I tend toward histrionics
At any thought of your absence
While I abandon you for days to work
But this afternoon, you've left me
For four hours

Time to contemplate the trip to Spain
That we didn't do
A week and four days ago
On the actual 25th anniversary of our marriage

Time to imagine another 25 years
In compensation for an event without punctuation
A celebration in prose, in lower case
It didn't hurt much after singing poetry for so long
Our symphony of love songs

Where are we going next?
It seems having not gone, or not often, anyway
Has been a confinement that made us sing
Like the caged bird of that novel that I didn't read
Having sung behind bars long enough on my own
And then in joyful ardor, knowing you

We began, having more fun together than lunging at life alone
Then about sunset before an evening at the opera
I asked, what is love and are we in it?
Your smile answered my jest
And somehow you sustained the humor
For months that resembled immolations that night on the stage

We have the future
It need not resemble the past
Though we surely could have done worse
We might yet break the world record for bliss

We wanted to live in the nineteenth century with Verdi, Brahms, and Schumann
The world made us work as if their art had never existed

You fought attorneys and wrote land-use code
I wrangled truck drivers, worked as a medical tech
Then I discovered C++  and read Microcosm
We skimmed the twentieth century and landed in the twenty first
Where ever we're going, it will be high-tech

This is the only way I can get you to read my blog
So what I have I got to make it worth the click?
Where is my paean to a gorgeous goddess?
Ha!  It was a trick
You'll have to keep reading week after week.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Watching Tomatoes Ripen

Sunshine has been a slow starter this year
A neighbor called it summer in September
Now it's eight-five degrees and dry
A couple of more months of this will be fine

Squash and tomatoes are trying to ripen
The fig tree is loaded with figs, still green
Inhale the peaceful flood of this day
Wait for red, yellow, and brown in the leaves

It always takes me by surprise
The plulse of the earth in the yard
In here it's too still to breathe
And  the sky...    Let's go back outside

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Die Meere

Johannes Brahms (1833-1897)         Wilhelm Müller (1794-1827)
Audio Track

Alle Winde schlafen
auf dem Spiegel der Flut;
kühle Schatten des Abends
decken die Müden zu

Luna hängt sich Schleier
über ihr Gesicht,
schwebt in dämmernden Träumen
über die Wasser hin

Alles, alles stille
auf dem weiten Meer!
Nur mein Herz will nimmer
mit zu Ruhe gehn

In der Liebe Fluten
treibt es her und hin,
wo die Stürme nicht ruhen
bis der Nachen sinkt

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

All the winds sleep
on the mirror of the flood
cool shadows of evening
cover the weary

The moon draws a veil
across her face,
floating in twilight dreams
over the water

Everything, everything is still
on the wide sea!
Only my heart will never
find peace

The tide of love
drags it here and there,
where storms never rest
until the boat sinks

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

You can have a Career in the Arts

Yes, you can, and you don't have to be Sammy Davis Jr.

It is liberating to contemplate art that is essentially art and not hype.  When it began to dawn on me that music can get along fine without all the puff that sells music, I was listening to a duet from Verdi's La Traviata, that of Violetta and the elder Germont, at a recital in the studio of a vocal coach in the Magnolia neighborhood in Seattle.  Something clicked.  This is the real thing!  There were maybe twenty five people in the audience, but the singing was better than many professionals I'd heard at Seattle Opera or on recordings. The ohhh sensation was a bit like the feeling that hit me, when I was a kid and I realized that my father's friends were more interesting than any of the actors in the movies. Dad took me occasionally to the Orpheum Theater because I liked Victor Mature on the big screen, but Dad's Italian relatives and friends, I soon realized, were a lot more fun than Demetrius and the Gladiators, or Shark Hunters, and there were more real cowboys in my mother's family than in any of John Wayne's westerns.

When I read John Steinbeck's novels, I began to realize they were about people I knew, some of whom I respected and loved and others who were a real pain, but Steinbeck, most of the time, could connect his lyric prose to farm families and fishermen who meant something to me.  I'd had some encouragement from writing instructors in English composition classes.  I thought, hell, I can do this, and I started writing a novel.  Before I knew how big a fish I had on the line, I had written three novels, one of which got me to finish school and my degree at the University of Washington.  Of course, the first novel was supposed to make me rich, but things turned out much better than that.  I hadn't realized how rich I already was until I started dredging up pieces of my life to memorialize in print.  There are many definitions of fiction.  Mine is living everything that you missed while it happened.

What is art anyway?  Well, OK, that's too big for a blog post of the dimensions I have in mind, but I can tell you what art isn't.  It's not an aspiring poet who reads something by Theodore Roethke and then tries to write in the most Roethke-rhythmic vein imaginable. This is some reflection of a world that shimmered momentarily in Theodore Roethke's mind.  A professor who taught writing at the University of Washington, who knew Roethke, told me he could be a windbag. Why revive verbiage from somebody else's reflection of a world long gone, when you have the world vividly focused right in front of you?  I suppose it seems better to live on Guggenheim fellowships and the salary of a tenured professor than work at Home Depot and write poetry at the lunch counter, but my former instructor said Roethke had to drag him to a bar and corner him for an afternoon to have a conversation.  I've had fine conversations while working for a living, with people who really wanted to talk.

Artistic authenticity is putting your work in front of people in some old-fangled auditorium, preferably without amplification.  Get up and read, sing, or play your instrument for people who haven't paid fifty bucks for the privilege of hearing you.  Some of them will appreciate the experience and remember it.  There is a recent account of Joshua Bell playing his violin in a subway station in New York City.  Most people walked right past him, oblivious to what they were hearing.  Play for anybody who will listen.  When nobody will listen, listen to yourself play, or play for your laptop computer.  I'll add a link to you from my blog.

I met my wife in a music studio.  For nearly thirty years since then we have both had careers in the arts, or serious arts distractions; it's all a matter of perspective.  Art is embellishment of life--the reincarnation of life, inhalation and exhalation of life, singing.  When I was in high school on the track team, there was a hurdler who sang in the shower: "There were bells on the hill, but I never heard them ringing.  No I never heard them at all, 'til there was you... "  It was nearly fifty years ago, but I still remember his lyric gift. He had a career that meant more to me than most of the singers I've heard since. And I've been onstage with some stunners!

Your artistic career is authentic, more so for not being hyped into the monstrous proportions everywhere cavorting on digital screens.  Put your work online. Read it for your friends.  Have a party!  When all else fails, food will draw an audience.  And it's fun, not a scary and scarring experience that gives new meaning to the idea of suffering for art.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Give Me some Stout-Hearted Men


Fat Chance Opera has men and women with heart! 



Champagne Taste on a Beer Budget.






Monday, August 29, 2011

Arabella, Zdenka - Duet, by Richard Strauss

                   

Sopranos Sarah Fletcher, Arabella  & Diane Althaus, Zdenka

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Great Singing at the 7-11 Store

Perfect legato technique and the ability to sing high C are a not skills in great demand just now.  The pop music culture and Hollywood scene are almost as bad as the banking industry--drug money, phoney money, government money. You can't make your own kind of music in that show. The business end of a passion for art, or whatever, is real messy.

Now it starts to get good in this upside-down mad world. You're working nights at 7-11, even though you are pretty hot stuff at the YMCA and the Fat Chance Opera company. That voice! Rich bronzed horse flesh. You're better than the guy you heard at Harriett's piano bar. What was the name of that flea trap?

It's the middle of the night. Verdi's Otello is in the CD player. Sing along. Why not! The last customer came in three hours ago, wasted. You brought down the house at the beginning of Act II. Your interpretation of Iago's Credo scared the leopard-skin bikini off the twitch on the cover of Hot Rod Magazine.

Credo in un Dio crudel  "I believe in a cruel God who has made me in his own image, whom I name in my rage... ."   Shakespeare didn't write that, but then, he didn't have a soundtrack like Verdi's score.

Well into the second act, you're singing, and you turn with a flourish toward the glass doors where a stick-up artist is coming in. For crying out loud, another interruption!

This crook looks a bit nervous under the stage lights. Obviously, he's inexperienced, but a two-bit 7-11 store should be an easy job to add to his short resume. Preoccupied, he is ignoring Verdi's music.

"Give me the money."

"Just let me get through the second act, will you?.  If you come back later there'll be more."

"You're joking, of course."

"It's been a slow night. Can you settle for about forty dollars and a couple of six-packs?"

"Well, certainly, I'll take whatever you can offer." A very courteous thief. "Throw in some corn flakes and a gallon of milk, and it's a deal."

"How about a pastrami sandwich for the road?"

"How do you expect me to carry all this stuff? I'm walking, man! Aren't you being awfully generous with your boss's merchandise?"

"Why fight the system? He's insured. I was a hero with the first crook who came in here, even more inexperienced than you. The guy looked like a pervert, so I told him I wouldn't call the police for at least an hour if he would take subscriptions to several magazines, his choice.  It was 4:00 PM, and customers were crouched behind every gum ball machine and cooler. He was unsteady with the gun. The boss said I should have just given him the money. `You want to get somebody killed?' He said.  But, I'm holding you up, holding me up."

This should be good for a chuckle, but try not to let it interupt the rhythm of the work. "So, what'll it be? The pastrami, or the corn flakes and milk?"

"I'll take the milk, for sure. Got a kid at home."  The crook has calmed down enough so maybe we can get this over with before Si pel ciel. But now he's listening to the music, and he notices the recording package on the counter top. "The Domingo/ Milnes duet is coming up," he says.

"Yeah.  Take a box of animal crackers for the kid. I'd like to stay in character. If I turn this thing off, I have to start my Stanislavski exercises all over again."

"You use Stanislavski technique? They taught us method acting at Eastman."

"Well it works for me. You know this music, eh?"

"We did a concert version at Eastman."   He looks like an Otello.  Big.  Black. With a high-pitched, big-man voice, he's a dramatic tenor if there ever was one.

"I sang most of Iago at the University of Washington in an opera workshop. Piano accompaniment only. With a faculty tenor. I was older than he was, I think."

"I'll be darned. You're a singer. Something told me you weren't the English-degree type one usually finds in these places."

"I'm a little under qualified for the literary magazines, but I had the right connections to get the job."

Verdi's brass ensemble vibrates loose trim on the countertop. The lights burn down from their tracking. Neither of these corralled horses is going to miss his cue. Here it comes.

""Si pel ciel marmoreo giuro... .""  Vengeance! Vengeance, by God! Vengeance

Monday, August 15, 2011

What a Party!

Joy is fifty
could be forty
she is accomplished
a software developer
singer
flautist
She has a baggy-eyed Basset Hound

And husband, also accomplished
Dean recently achieved
liberation from an oppressive job and boss
He's happier than I've seen him
maybe ever!
He's ready to party with Joy
and the dog who sings along

Introductions
hors d' oeuvres
There's a lot of good food here
Nice home and weather
a little cool for August
Cedars and salal
beyond a country half acre

Stu says he and Dean are flying friends
Dean gave Stu the unfinished garage aircraft
a model abandoned due to six or seven crashes
four or five deaths among other users
I'd prefer radio control over canyons
But now there are modifications to the design
Fine

A guitarist's nimble athleticism on strings
rings a bell I can't not answer
those runs keep interrupting me
eventually I tell the guitarist he's the real deal
No kidding, you really play!
Most guitar players bang on the thing.
I could listen to you all day

More food, folks, and cordial conversations
in several accented voices, Russian, Nigerian
Eastern European, now accompanied by Spanish guitar
The inner strings revive
I had to fight sleep on the drive
but I made it without interrupting Diane
studying her music for The Fat Chance Opera

The Fat Chance is two weeks off
but there is an opera on the veranda of this house
Joy sings with the guitarist and a violin
and Sasha on electric piano, an angel and harp
I'm filled, thrilled
where did Joy find this orchestra?
Among friends

The birds can't do this
Alto and soprano
A duet, Joy and Diane
Man, oh man oh!
Sorry, Woman, oh Woman!
Other side of those Cedars
Must be an envious eagle

The guitarist is a double threat
he plays and sings
with Joy in another duet
Or is it a trio?
How does he do vocal harmony and strings?
Razzle dazzle!
No thanks, I don't want to sing, I'm happily frazzled

After another trip to the table
we eat salmon and steak on the back half acre
Joy stops everything for a prayer by Julie
beautifully said in Nigerian English
Everybody seems ok with Jesus
One never knows
Conversation with the guitarist is interrupted by seating arrangements

There is agreement at my table
We abhor the politics of debt
and making more of it
Where will it end?
Neither taxes nor atrocities in entitlements will suffice
Senators Jackson, Magnuson, now Murry had money to burn
but Republicans are as bad when it's their turn

More music after dinner
Diane and Sasha sing and play
Richard the guitarist and I reminisce
compare numbers in the draft lottery during our twentieth year
of driving trucks and riding trains
his commitment to music, Bach, Segovia
teaching kids who want to get famous without theory or technique

It's late
I like my job
I'll work in the morning
A few more words won't sustain the party
But maybe Richard's music can
This is the song I didn't sing
Listen... www.richrorex.com


Sunday, August 14, 2011

Pretty Funny, Being an Artist, Especially if you have Children

These new convenience stores are terrific, everything under one roof. Gas, groceries, pizza, a drug store. Open twenty four hours a day, they're a regular one-stop robbery center.


The connection between all-night convenience stores and robberies is clear to any writer. Most of us have worked graveyard in one of these places. In the middle of the night, half the people who come in are dangerous. A friend of mine, talented, not a writer, an opera singer, told me about a big dude who came in one night at 7-11 while he was working. The guy had no taste, interrupted Steve in the middle of Forza del Destino on cassette. "Just give me the money," says the big dude. "I've got a gun... ."

"That's all right, you don't have to show it to me," Steve blurted as he opened the cash drawer. "I want this to go as smoothly as you do."

So, that's what it's like out there at night. Your average computer programmer with a wife and kids doesn't think about it. He can see the connection, once you point it out to him, and often it's another revelation. He laughs, probably at the thought of what it takes to find this stuff out. Thank God, he doesn't have to work the night shift in one of those florescent fishbowls.



Another singer I know was living in a fly-trap apartment in San Francisco with her year-old son. She said the hookers and thieves who circulated in and out of the building were very protective. She even let some of the gang babysit for her sometimes. If anybody dangerous was around the building, she was the first to hear about it, from people who knew very well what to watch out for. Here you have the material for some strange incongruities. What happens when Mrs. Magnum Opus from the opera guild calls to schedule Susan in an opera preview at the Shorewood Library or someplace like that, and gets Huey the pimp sitting around Susan's pad with a couple of his girls minding the baby.


"Huh? Uh... Nawh, she ain't here right now. ...Oprah?...We watch the Oprah Show sometimes." Then to the girls, "Got any paper around here." The dish watery sleaze in the tank-top shoves a coffee-stained napkin across the table toward Huey. He doesn't have a pencil, so he gets up with the phone and scrounges around Susan's bookshelf to find one.


Ready with the napkin. "OK. Lay it on me, Babe. ...You beg you pardon, fugging right. ...Hey, bitch, I ain't got all day. ...Send him over, my girls can handle him."

Susan calls back when she gets a load of the previous conversation, to see how many bridges have been burned. "I've been out all morning." Maybe she thought it was a wrong number. ...Nope. "...Uh, no, the baby sitter. ...Down to the market. ...Market Street!? No, the grocery! ...Shorewood Library on the twenty seventh? Who's the accompanist? ...Beth? Fine, I know Beth. ...I'm just fine, really. I could use about ten more AGMA engagements per year."

Huey hollers from the other side of the table, "I'll give you all the engagements you can handle, Susie.  I'll call 'em, you maul 'em."

This is the way movie scripts get written. With very little effort, and no talent, you can make a script about an opera singer who becomes a high class hooker, but is discovered before her son is old enough to know why everybody laughs when Huey says, "Sing him to sleep, Susie, and get gone." You might call it a new-fashioned heart warmer. Use a pseudonym. Take the money and run. Then do a story about a writer who becomes a high-class hacker.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Pretty Funny, Being an Artist

A friend of mine who is an opera singer is also a part-time chef at the airport. He chops vegetables and prepares the gourmet mixed nuts they give you on the plane so you will stop being a jerk and let the stewardess get on with her work. Anyway, my friend the singer is married and his wife has a real job as a legal assistant.  So one night when he gets off work at the airport he stops at a Halloween party with some of her lawyer friends. The room is full of them, thick as thieves, you might say. It's Halloween, and Steve figures he can get by as a chef. Checkered pants. Billowy white hat. 


First thing you know, "Oh, you're Gina's husband. What do you do for a living?"


"I work for United Airlines." Steve can see this effort to dodge the question is not working, so he adds, "When are you flying next? I'll see that your meal is poisoned and the landing gear on the airplane is sabotaged."


Of course, Mr. Young Hot Shot with Meyers, Stone, Jenkins, and Pierriewater, misses Steve's effort at humor. He goes right back for the kill. "Ha ha. What do you really do?"

"I'm a musician."

"But what do you do for a living?"

"Like I said, I work for United Airlines."

Real suspicious now. "But what do you do?"

"I'm a chef."

"Oh ho ho. Do you wear that baker-boy outfit when you sing?"

"Only when I do the Flower Song from Carmen."

Mr. Career Track attorney misses the pun, and he wanders off to find somebody worth talking to, somebody worthy of the attention of a man dressed for this party as an Oscar Meyer wiener in a bun. When Steve bumps into him again, he asks, "By the way, what do you do?"

"I'm with Meyers, Stone, Jenkins, and Pierrie."

"What do they do? Are you just along for the ride?"

"Mr. Pillsbury Dough boy thinks he's a comedian. Why don't you go back to the kitchen, wise guy!"

What a wiener!  Steve was just curious. He found out from his wife the guy was touchy because he's only the book keeper and Meyers, Stone, Jenkins, and Pierre--a law firm with a new client in a food distributor with a hot-dog fast food franchise.


I give young professionals such a hard time you probably think I'm envious or just plain bitter.  It isn't that simple. Close though.


I had a friend who is now a neurosurgeon. He tried to keep in touch with me, but I couldn't stand going places where the rest of the crowd were all medical people. Talk about a hierarchy! I'd come into a tavern with my friend, Larry, so anybody in the group who knew him thought I must be a doctor as well. Some of those guys were kind of a pain, excuse the expression. Imagine a young resident physician wearing his stethoscope into a tavern. They say that fellow had worked his way up from very meager beginnings to become a doctor, and he had a right to be proud. Well, all right. But the women had no excuse for kissing his hands and washing his feet with their tears.


Of course, the first question anybody asked me was, "Are you a doctor." I'm such a schmuck, I always said no before the women started in on me. The other doctors would go find somebody worth talking to--other people who were wearing stethoscopes.
 
My old friend and I had gone to high school together, and at the University, we stayed in touch. We started climbing the big volcanoes in the Northwest. Back then, Mt. St Helens was two thousand feet higher. He studied a lot, but he liked to get out into the mountains. By the time he was a resident at the medical school, we had done Mt. Hood, St. Helens, Mt. Washington, and a couple of ascents of Mt. Shasta in northern California, including a midwinter freeze-out on the Bolam Glacier.
 
Once in a while he couldn't get his work out of his mind long enough to enjoy our trips. This isn't funny. I remember him grinding his teeth about a child who had just died after surgery. One or two years old, this child had the kind of problem that would have turned him into a freak before the advent of the surgical procedure that had been done. Larry had told the parents the operation was likely to be only a temporary solution, and they would have to keep bringing the kid back. The one thing he hadn't warned them of was that he might die. He did. Larry spent the weekend preoccupied with what they must be going through. What it was putting him through was bad enough.
 
 
Larry's father was a prominent surgeon in our area. The people whose lives he had kick-started again could have populated a small town in Eastern Washington. He sewed a friend of mine back together after a car accident. Another friend of mine died after that accident. In a career like this a few mistakes are inevitably made. This doctor left a small surgical sponge inside a patient. A second incision had to be made to remove it. Big deal. Larry's father was invited to all the society parties. One night he walked into a group of people, and some drunk said, "Hey, Doc, lose any sponges lately?" I don't know how many people there were at that party who owed their lives to the doctor. A lot of people laughed. He got his hat and coat and went home.
 
Now, this man knew there was more to medicine than prestige. I think a life like his is worth living. His son, my friend, is practicing medicine, doubtless in a similar worthy fashion.  You have to respect the real professional.
 
I had need of an attorney some years ago, when I fought another messy ordeal over the sale of a business. The woman who handled my case had a very high regard for the truth. Any judge in town would tell you, if there is a problem with her client's case, she works with the problem instead of trying to cover it up. An operation like I was running was easy to find fault with. After I sold it to the employees, they decided they had paid too much. They were making more money than I had, but it still bothered them to have to pay me. My attorney refered me to an accountant in the process of grinding this collection problem down. He demonstrated the same ethical approach in his business as she did. I learned a few things from those two.
 
 
A few people have shown me enough class to last a lifetime. Their rigor and professionalism was inspiring. Coming from a cynic like me, that should have some credibility, but Socrates will back me up. Human goodness is not an illusion.
 
So, why don't I just stop carping? Once you know what the ideal is, it should be possible to live up to it. It's one thing to recognize virtue when you see it. Finding it for yourself is harder. I have a general idea of excellence. Put it next to most of what I see--in myself as much as in others--and you have the material for satire or suicide. Given that choice, we can get on with the show.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Soul is more than Syntax

Writing applies many skills in communication of something important, or anyway enjoyable enough, to get readers to continue reading.  Writing well also seems to require inner strength that cannot be taught by writing professors or professionals.  Joseph Epstein has a few thoughts on writing in The New Criterion, which is itself a place to find a lot of good writing.

The pretext for Epstein's ideas is his review of the new book by Stanley Fish, How to Write a Sentence and How to Read One.  Epstein says there is something fishy about the book.  His review is titled Heavy Sentences.

He begins:
After thirty years of teaching a university course in something called advanced prose style, my accumulated wisdom on the subject, inspissated into a single thought, is that writing cannot be taught, though it can be learned—and that, friends, is the sound of one hand clapping. A. J. Liebling offers a complementary view, more concise and stripped of paradox, which runs: “The only way to write is well, and how you do it is your own damn business.” 

See if Epstein can keep you reading...  .

Friday, August 5, 2011

First movement; Sonata for Oboe and Guitar, by Jeremiah Lawson


Harland "Swede" Larson, guitarist and Katie Mordarski, oboist

Monday, August 1, 2011

Duet for Two Cats, by Gioachino Rossini


Sopranos: Ping Shao and Chelsey Baker

Duet: Countess and Susanna, Mozart


Sopranos: Sarah Fletcher and Diane Althaus

Friday, July 22, 2011

Smoke on Glass

A faded mirror in the attic
after the fire
burned the roof off a life
Lift from the ashes
a necklace of memories
Pearls of innocence
each a pale child
Smoke in the open rafters
Night comes in

A flash bolder than the fire
through the smoke
reflects translucent sky
Leave in the ashes
Chains of experience
each link an illusion
estrangement, contusion, or defeat
Mist in the broken rafters
Inhabit the dawn

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Poets West on the Air

Poets Reading aloud

PoetsWest at KSER 90.7 FM Thursday, July 21 at 6:30 p.m. (PST)— HAIKU NW 2011

If you are out of range for this station, the broadcast is available worldwide via streaming by going to http://www.kser.org/ and following the Listen Live links. Or you can listen to this program and one other recent program on our web site if you have high speed internet: www.poetswest.com underPoetsWest Radio Programs

Saturday, July 16, 2011

An Argument for Reading Poetry Aloud

By Glynn Young

I’m at a suburban St. Louis festival, with food booths and politicians campaigning and jugglers and pony rides for the children, plus craft and antique booths for the adults. And bands are scheduled to play throughout the day, and I can hear Dixieland jazz floating over a summer afternoon. 

Not surprisingly, I’m in the pavilion for the used book sale, which raises funds for a local orchestra. It’s smallish by used book fair standards, but it’s has about 2,000 books sorted by category. I find one small shelf titled “POETRY,” and I spot the smallest book on the smallest shelf. Interestingly enough, it’s not a poetry book, but an essay written by a poet. 

Padraic Colum (1881-1972) was an Irish writer who worked in most genres – poetry, biography, fiction, children’s stories, literary criticism and folklore among them. He was one of the leading lights of the so-called Celtic Revival, which stretched from the 18th until well into the 20th century. Colum was close friends with William Butler Yeats and James Joyce, among a host of other literary figures; he actually helped Joyce in the transcription of Finnegan’s Wake.   

In 1927, Colum published a book of essays called The Fountain of Youth. Among them was one entitled Story Telling New and Old, a kind of apologetic for oral storytelling for children and reading poetry and having children memorize poems--not exactly the current fashion in education circles today. This essay was reissued as a single, small volume by The Macmillan Company in 1961, when Colum received the Regina Medal of the Catholic Library Association. 

This was the small book I held in my hands at the used book sale. I knew who Padraic Colum was, but I had only read a few of his poems. The sales price was all of $2, so I bought it. When I got home, I discovered it was actually signed by the author. It will forever remain a mystery how an autographed book half a century old ended up at a festival book sale in St. Louis.  

“It has been discovered,” Colum writes, “that there is still a place in the world for an oral art – for story-telling.” He describes the kind of storytellers he knew as a child, adults who told a story well but who also essentially acted it out, with sounds and noises, gestures, body movements and facial expressions. “He told his stories in the evening; he told them by the light of a candle and a peat fire – often by the light of a peat fire only. There were shadows upon the walls around.” Describing the storyteller and his art becomes, for Colum, a kind of story in and of itself. 

He then moves on to poetry, “…in so far as it is oral, in connection with oral stories. Children should be got not merely to read and know poetry, but to possess some part of the heritage of poetry. They should know poems by heart – a dozen, twenty, forty, fifty poems.” This is more than only about poetry; this is learning culture, and a culture, and how to learn culture. And it is about what “holds our attention,  that helps us to bring our minds to a focus. That underlying something is rhythm.” He goes on to say that it also teaching ethics, and that every child should be taught some system of ethics. 

What’s particularly interesting is how Colum links memorization of poems with creativity. Through the possession or a part of the heritage of poetry, of story, children can enter or keep in the world that has been spoken about – the world of imagination, thought , and intuition.” 

I went looking for Colum’s poems. The Poetry Foundation, publisher of Poetry Magazine, has put its entire collection on the web, and there I found many of his poems when they were first published (and before they were collected). 

The March 1914 edition is rather amazing to sift through. There are several poems by Carl Sandburg, including “Chicago,” with its “City of Big Shoulders” line. You can find poems by Sara Teasdale and Edwin Arlington Robinson and extended editorial comments by Amy Lowell and Ezra Pound. And two poems by Colum – “The Sea Bird to the Wave” and “Three Spinning Songs.” Here is the third of the three spinning songs: 

An old woman sings:

   There was an oul trooper went riding by
   On the road to Carricknabauna,
   And sorrow is better to sing than cry,
   On the way to Carricknabauna.
   And as the oul trooper went riding on
   He heard this sung by a crone, a crone
   On the road to Carricknabauna. 

   “I’ll spread my cloak for you, young lad,
   Were it only the breadth of a farthen’
   And if your mind was as good as your word,
   In troth, it’s you I’d rather!
   In dread of any jealousy
   And before we go any farther
   Carry me up to the top of the hill
   And show me Carricknabauna!” 

   “Carricknabauna, Carricknabauna,
   Would you show me Carricknabauna?
   I lost a horse at Cruckmoylinn –
   At the cross of Bunratty I lost a limb –
   But I left my youth on the crown of the hill
   Over by Carricknabauna!”

                Girls, young girls, the rush-light is done.
                What will I do when my thread is spun? 

To read it is one experience; to read it aloud – as Colum would have intended – is a totally different experience. You catch the language, the sounds and the rhythm. It indeed becomes more memorable, and hearing your voice tell the story helps explain what is happening, and what this “song” is really about.
 

This isn’t simply a literary argument in favor of reading stories and poetry aloud. “For the human voice,” he says in his essay, when it can really charge itself with what is in a poem or a story, more powerfully than any other agency, can put into our deeper consciousness those lasting patterns which belong to the deeper consciousness of the race.” 

Show me Carricknabauna!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Empire

Uratha, Queen of Beagles and Dachshunds
Enthroned on a velvet chair
Robed in a faded kimono
Crowned with smoke-yellowed hair

The domain you ruled has slipped from your grasp
From your curling tendril-like nails
But all that you've lost was a veil on your charms
A mute on relinquishing laughter in gasps

Prince Rupert attends to the garden
The fattest of the hounds at his tail
With a shovel, he scrapes up indiscretions
And drops them in a pail

Ripe tomatoes blush and roses drip
The aroma of his pipe in a blue vein of smoke twists
While a match still burns like the sun in his grip
Rupe pulls up his pants with both wrists

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Rock Climbing September

Mount Byron's north face looked as though it had been violently hewn out of the mountain with a cleaver. Thrust up severely, harsh rock slanted toward a glassy sun. Rays of light broke over the ridge and starburst around Jim's careful figure on the wall. Clinging to just adequate finger holds, he had pulled out and up eighty feet of rope a few inches at a time. The nylon strand dangled from his waist, its sweep in the morning sky like the arc of a diving swallow.


Young doctors looked up with me at Jim. Larry, an intern at the University Hospital in Portland, said, "You'd get some interesting facial expressions with a telephoto lens on him up there."

His friend Hugh didn't answer. Cold, impatient, he swung his arms and flexed his manicured hands. We waited in the crooked fissure where a snowfield beneath us had melted away from the base of the rock face. Midmorning already, this was only the first pitch of the climb.

I kept noticing Hugh's white, physician's hands. They were scrubbed, dexterous. Mine were battered with scars and strawberries from weekends of climbing abrasive granite. Of course, Jim and I were the fanatics; we didn't have anything else. Just then, these guys with medical careers must have thought Jim was, at least, slightly insane. He had assaulted the first pitch of our climb in a way that made you think he should confine his athletic feats to a stadium someplace.

A pole-vaulter at the University of Oregon, Jim had lost his scholarship because he wouldn't cut his hair. The renowned Bill Bowerman was the coach then. A bit of an autocrat, he made Jim feel like he was part of a circus with trained animals who did their tricks on command. You could glimpse a mania in Jim's eyes. He seemed a wild ass of a man, but his gentle voice was disarming. Wine-soaking binges with disillusioned climbers in the valley didn't interest him. He was a seeker after enlightenment.  Up on that wall he could have no meditations, transcendental or otherwise.


Inner space at my end of the rope harbored its own reflection of existence, here so jammed at the horizons. Jim's vital spectacle had made an impression. Larry and Hugh had their reasons for being here. However we conceived this impulse to climb, there was exhilaration in the naked energy of rock and glacial ice. But climbing a north face in September was neglecting something basic. We had plenty of time to realize it as we stood waiting in this bone-cold notch. Jim had to take the proper precautions. But it was peevishly cold.


In general, the weather that autumn in the Tetons had been splendorous. The previous day, bush-whacking up the steep ravine south of Nez Perce Spire and the Grand Teton, we had grumbled about the heat as we thrashed through autumn-leaf vegetation and scrambled over acres of boulders.  We startled a bull moose in the brush, and he ambled instead of ran into the shade of the pines. When a cool spray began to light on us from whitewater on the rocks above, we paused and let it soak into our shirts.


We continued over moss-covered granite, and our packs strapping weight bore down on us. As we neared the top of the falls there was a sense of accomplishment. We slouched over the uppermost slabs and collapsed exhausted in the grass. A languid stream slithered around boulders then gorged the grizzly throat of the rapids that had thundered in our ears all afternoon.


Upstream, Lake Taminah was sheltered, remote, full of sky-deep reflections. The high brink of a glacier loomed over the west shoreline. Our clunking about making camp amid wildflowers was muted by the persistent sound of moving water. Drifting out of the lake like a soul leaving its body, the stream we had followed to its source sought its inevitable release in the rapids ecstatic rush.


From this vista we could see the entire length of the ravine in which we had hiked all day. It bottomed out to a flat expanse under the eastern haze--Jackson Hole. Above us, a presence like God, in every direction, were the granite-buttressed peaks of the Tetons, their wind thundering summits seemingly growing toward the sun.


Anticipating the stress of climbing, we had joked about the French explorers who named these peaks the Big Tits. After a trek across the continent, horny fur trappers projected libido on these beautiful mountains. It must have been a lonely journey.




Jim had tied himself to a flake of stone on a steeply sloping ledge. He squatted on his heels like a savage, and hauled up rope. I felt it tighten around my waist. When he yelled, I shouldered my pack to follow his lead marked on the rock by a trail of iron. It took a moment to loosen up. The rope was reassuring--at this stage all I could have done, even if I had fallen backwards, was skin my knuckles. I reached Jim's first piton and untied a loop of nylon, then hammered the pin back and forth until I could pull it with my fingers from the crack where he had driven it.


"Up rope." Jim took up six feet of slack.


The first charge of energy on a climb is strong enough to lift you out of the physical apathy in which most people live their entire lives. Under the influence of adrenaline, I glided upward effortlessly. I was where I wanted to be. In the rapture of it, I was going up and watching myself going up at the same time. Grasping the rock made heat flow into my fingertips.


A kind of counter-tension can be used to keep you on the rock. Trying to find the angles, I hesitated. Jim yelled, "Keep moving! Don't hang on the wall."


Being too careful will just wear you out. But I didn't spend all my time climbing; I had to think. I strained to get a boot up--a difficult move. Jim had nerve to lead this.


Balancing on a wet sloping foothold, I bang out another pin. Hot chips of stone fly at my face.


Climbing again. Higher! A careful balance move puts me on top of a sharp-edged pillar near Jim's perch.


"Good," he says. "Hang on, I'll give you the iron."


I looked down the hundred feet of rock we'd just climbed, and beyond, down the steep striated snowfield sweeping out toward Lake Taminah. Cold air flooded out of the valley and in and out of my nostrils. Larry and Hugh were looking up at us. Larry yelled, "We're going to have to leave you. It'd take too long with four of us in the chute, and we're not equipped for a bivouac."


I yelled down, "Are you going up the ridge?"


"It's easy, class four," Jim added.


"Maybe we'll see you on top," Larry hollered back. A surgeon in training, he would understandably not want to risk freezing his hands.


To me, Jim says, "Can't blame them. This is no place for standing around."


"Too bad, though," I answer, "I'd hoped they could get in one good rock climb, so they'd have stories to swap over cadavers."


"We'll be the cadavers," Jim says, "if we don't get moving."


Larry and Hugh traverse west across the snowfield, miniature men with packs and ice axes. Their boots crunch as they pick their way in the shadow of our steep face.


"They'll get a workout on the ridge," Jim says. "Anyway, they climb for the same reason they run up stairs in the hospital--for the heart."


I suppose I was doing it for the heart, too, though in a different sense.


"Ten thirty already," I say as Jim puts the sling of iron over my head. I shift it under my arm.


"Not a good start," he answers.


"You ready for me to go?"


"Climb away."


Up! Iron jangles across my chest. The earth seems to sway far behind me, beyond the dangling rope.


On awkward ledges with loose shingles of stone, I veer west, creeping toward our objective, a broad fault opening hugely in the variegated granite. Once there we can climb about ten rope lengths up the most formidable section of the wall.


When the ledges peter out, and high-angle rock rears enormously before me, I take the best line up I can find. There are cracks to place pitons when I need them. I'm glad to get my feet off the trashy skree that collects on the ledges. Looking up into the sun glare, I can't plan everything, but the movements that take me up seem mostly under control. "Spiderman! On Christ the solid rock... . Mmmmmm. Stop talking to yourself." It's scary. Even the rock has the cold sweats. Beads of ice infest the handholds.


The rope begins to drag through the  carabiners in the protection I've placed. I yell, "How much rope?"


"Thirty feet."


Who started this waterfall in my ears? Two more moves! Up. Up. I opt to straddle an uncomfortable but solid bulge, and anchor in.


"Off belay."


Jim's answer is faint, lost in the gusts of wind that dust the face. He leaves his secure ledge. I watch as he climbs and try to keep the slack out of the rope.


"Rockfall! Shiiiiiit."


"Who the hell's dumping their garbage!"


A chunk the size of a bucket smashes down end over end, then the impact of one bounce explodes it into a barrage of odd-shaped projectiles that whine past and off into space.


"One of those would soften you up, man. That's meat tenderizer!"



By two in the afternoon we had established a position high in the fault. It opened sometimes, when you looked down, to nothing but blue sky. Struggling between the walls, I had scraped my back, and sweat burned in the scratches. In spite of a warming flood of air, we had reached that point on a climb where exertion and exposure make you reconsider everything. We had committed ourselves--it would now be easier to continue than go back down--to grunting up more than a thousand feet of granite, nothing but rope and iron to intermittently pin us to the wall. The rock felt solid, but I was an audacious interloper here. The shift of one block of the peak's enormous weight would crush me, a tremor shrug me off to be dashed to pieces. A pebble falling from the heights would air out my brain.


To control one's reaction to objective dangers with such monstrous force requires continuous effort. Jim goes out on the edge of the fault to get around blocks the size of gravestones jammed inside. There, he can see how out of hand things have gotten and mutters, "Good place for sky diving." He joked around like that. The worse it got, the funnier he was.


Up.


Up. He feels around with his free hand. His breathing hovers like the changeable wind currents circulating over the face.


Slamming a piton until its head sizzles, he works violently to get some protection between himself and the awful drop. The dust of his struggle falls in my eyes. His tense fingers fumble with a nylon hero loop. Then he clips the rope to it with a carabiner, and he's safe for his next few moves.


In the sun now, he goes up the corner of the fault until he can mount the highest chunk lodged in the opening. Thirty feet higher, he disappears. I sit in the shade playing out rope.


He takes it up and yells. I follow his line of rope.


When I can see him again, I say, "We're going to have to sprint. This crack would be plenty cold at midnight."


"A fucking refrigerator!" He answers.


I make one last lunge toward where he's waiting with the iron. He hangs it around my neck and says, "Keep on going."


I climb, and the wind drives tiny droplets of mist up the face. They seem to flow right through me. My loose nylon slings stand up flapping as I search the rock above.


Synthetic colors catch the eye instantly up here. At first I think the patch of orange I see is a climber. We could be overtaking another party, but I haven't heard any voices. Climbing signals seem to carry well to everybody on the mountain except the person on the other end of your rope.



The patch of color didn't move. When I reached it, I found an orange nylon rucksack caught right where I wanted to sit to belay Jim up. I drove in a piton and hung the pack and myself on it. While Jim climbed, I examined the contents--a few slings, an empty water bottle, an old can of tuna, and a down vest. The weather had faded the nylon; the pack had apparently been there many months.


When Jim got up, he turned over the spoils for himself. On the inside of one flap on the pack he found the owner's name--Rupert Warner.


"Rupe shouldn't have left this behind," Jim said. "I hope we don't find him next, if he's been up here as long as his gear."




We leap-froged up, extending the rope between us repeatedly. The fault widened to a windy couloir with occasional patches of snow. Sometimes I could scramble free for an entire rope length and save time. We weren't cold anymore. Even sitting, belaying, I scarcely had time to rest before Jim would come up beneath me, and I would have to start up again. We shouted signals back and forth, going as fast as we could, but our late start and the autumn shortening of days were against us. This north face was getting cold, even while the sun still shone on the peaks across the valley. Lake Taminah was in the shade of the ridge. I looked down to the glacier for movement that might be Larry and Hugh going back to camp.



When Jim comes up under one of my belay points, he is alarmed that I have climbed the last pitch without placing any pitons. "That was too hard to do without protection," he complains. You want to rip us off the mountain!"


"Win a few, lose a few," I answer. "I was just as scared following you down there." I point. Maybe he's not convinced. I give him the iron, and he's off. Why argue about it?


It seems this gully will never end. It bends above us toward the darkening sky. When we get over one bulge of stone, there is another. The sun glows momentarily on the tops of distant peaks, and then is gone.


Twilight overtook us as we engineered our assault on the first false summit. Several of these formidable blocks could have been the top. Finally, one of them cut away on the sunset side, and we scrambled up a climactic spire--the top.


New peaks were visible to the southwest, huge jagged icebergs in a black sea. The valleys were flooded with darkness. In the windless expanse of the sky, the clouds had retreated to the horizons or settled as mist on mountain lakes that reflected a last radiance.



We continued to wear the rope as we descended the upper west ridge. I wanted to rest, savor the elation of our ascent, and gaze on the mammoth earth in convulsions beneath us, but we had to negotiate our descent before it was completely dark. We ran down the blade-edge ridge, silent depths falling away on both sides.


A prominent geological formation that struck me, even in my haste, was a monolithic granite wall meandering along the crests of a range of mountains. It was like the Great Wall of China, but this Wall of the Tetons is more immense than the work of the Imperial Chinese. Though not as long as the Great Wall, it runs for miles, a geological formation so symmetrical you might be able to walk along its squared-off top, if it weren't for the abrupt drops that eons of the earth's breaking and folding have caused.


I hadn't time to stop and look. I had to keep lunging down the ridge. Some of it got too steep to scramble down forward, and we had to climb down, turning our backs again to the sky. Far below us was our objective, a broad sloping field of talus. To get off the ridge before everything went black was the thing. Then we could grope our way back to camp.


The rope went slack, and I came to the end of it. Jim had untied it for a faster descent. He apparently was even less interested than I was in getting caught up here for the night. I coiled the rope.


It was nearly flashlight time already, dark enough that I almost walked past Jim where he sat on a huge block at the top of the talus field. Startled, I looked up at his figure against the dim sky.


"We're going to have to cross the glacier on the low end to avoid the icefalls," he said. "We'd never find our way through the broken stuff in the dark." He'd been studying the glacier for a while, from the convulsed ice on the high end to the cornice that hung over the lingering sheen on Lake Taminah.


"I don't want to get close to that lip," I said.


Jim looked at the acres of boulders ahead of us and said, "You might not care after a mile of this graveyard."


We felt our way and crawled through the talus in the dark. My shins and knees were taking a beating. It was like trying to hike in a herd of buffalo. If you moved too fast, they stampeded. I couldn't see Jim, only the spot of light ahead of my flashlight. When the batteries went dead, the stars blinked at me from above the towering silhouettes of the peaks.


Finally, out of nowhere, Jim whopped, "Aiee, a springboard into the lake!" We had reached the glacier. "Start sliding, and make a high dive when you fly off the edge. You can swim back to camp."


"I don't even like the thought of it. How close to the edge are we anyway?"


"You'll know if you find it."


"Want to wait till morning? We could walk this stretch in half an hour in the daylight."


"Who wants to shiver out here all night!"


We rope up again and take it nice and easy. Granular snow crunches under our boots. The broad surface under us glows eerily, confusing my eyes.


"I wish I had an ice ax," Jim says.


"I wish I were an Oscar-Meyer wiener. Let's just get this over with."


"Don't rush me."


We carry a few loops of rope to delay the shock if one of us slips. I could probably stop him, if he started to slide, or he could stop me. Probably. Twenty minutes or so of stepping and slipping got us across the snow. Then it was off with the rope, and back into the rocks.


It's a wonder these high lakes aren't filled up by the landslides that tumble down from the peaks. Our seemingly negligible progress is exhausting. Jim waits for me, and we sit down panting, trying to get enthusiastic about the rest of the ordeal.


"Another mile?" He asks cynically.


"You can see the campfire," I say. "They're trying to make it easier."


"All I see is black rock and ice."


"Don't get hostile."


We drain our last water jug. Jim says, "At least we got off the mountain. If we poop out now, the night won't be nearly so cold."


"If we had been slower?"


"We'd be up there getting numb as tourists at the South Pole."


"When we were still below eight thousand feet at noon, we should have rappelled off and gone back to camp for a pot of soup."


"They serve three meals a day at those dude-ranches in Jackson."


"We played it loose this time and came out all right, but I think we should at least consider there being a more conservative way to climb."



Another hour or so bungling, half the time on our hands and knees in the dark, put us on the meadow above the falls. The water rumbled out there someplace. I hoped Larry and Hugh and the rest of them had left something to eat. I was as beat up as a football player after the Super Bowl.


They heard us coming, stumbling through the brush, Jim poking about with a stick he had picked up to feel his way like a blind man. Jack Barrar who was then a freshman climber came out to meet us. We could see his lanky body against the red glow. He has since outdone all of us in the mountains.


"You could at least have picked a moonlit night," he said. He handed me a plastic bottle, and I gulped the cold water.


Jim said, "Sorry to keep you up waiting, Mom."


Jack chortled.


I give Jim the jug as we clump toward the fire. He washes dirt and sweat from around his eyes. Larry and Hugh are standing by the fire. A pot of food steams over the coals.


"Dark out there?" Larry asks.


"Why don't you two take up spelunking!" Hugh adds.


"Just pass the botch, Doctor," Jim says. "What is it tonight?--cirrhosis of liver?"


They grin at me in the red light, both of them in down parkas. Larry is wearing a knit skiing hat. In only a wool shirt, I'm still sweating. I throw the coiled rope over a boulder beside one of our tents. The aluminum pan I fill with rice and beans quickly transfers heat and singes my fingertips. Jim and I stare at one another through the flames.