Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Spring Sunlight

I often end up a little scarce during spring, don't I? There are many reasons for it. One is that, as beautiful as spring is, I also find it sort of agitating/restless. Especially in Arizona where the weather can constantly be moving from one extreme to the other during this time of year, my energy and state of mind end up being affected. Then given that spring is lovely, there are often more things to do this time of year, whether those be events/festivals or state parks. Thirdly, spring was one of the busiest times of the year where I used to work--and this year it's turned out to be one of the busiest times ever for the place I'm currently at due to all the, um, concerns gripping the country right now. So with working more, trying to enjoy the spring, and also feeling off base because of the spring (and because of some other reasons that I might get into at some later point), the posts have once more suffered.

Yesterday when I got into the car, my phone lit up with such-and-such many minutes to such-and-such park. I thought, yes, I've done it. It takes a few weeks for your phone to register a new workplace as Work, or for it to know that you're headed to church on Sunday mornings--and a few weeks for it to know that you go to the park every Monday morning. You see, I was never into gyms and I always thought I wasn't the type of person who goes to run at the park. But then in January I was thinking many things and in a way wasn't sure of certain things about my identity (I'm talking about inherent vs. learned traits). So I thought that that was a great time to start being "the type of person who goes to the park."

I alternate walking and jogging; you can use the length of songs to help set the pace. I just do one quick loop and then go home. I hadn't run since freshman year of high school fifteen years ago, so even that wore me out the first couple times. Now I'm fairly used to it and the time passes quickly and I can more focus on the fresh air and the trees. And now is a good time for that. We all need some fresh air and exercise right now.

Everyone is trying to stay home and so many things are being closed or canceled (bye, next month's opera or the opening of Mulan). But depending on where you live, you may still be able to get outside. Whether it's walking at the park, sitting in your back yard, or going to a trail, these things don't put you in close contact with other people and probably don't even require touching anything while you're out either. We need the sunlight for body and mind.

Edit 3/25: I don't know if I was clear enough. I do mean outdoor things that do not put you around lots of people. If the park or trail or wherever is full of people, skip it.

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Two Old Women of Alaska

The best thing about buying used book is coming across random or sometimes even out-of-print books that you might never have otherwise even heard of. Sure, sometimes I like running into a good deal--but mainly I buy my books new and just look to the used book places for the cool finds. I've developed quite a collection of them, too, so maybe I can pick up the pace and start reading more again.

Two Old Women by Velma Wallis was a great place to start. It's only about 130 small pages, so fast readers might be finished with it in an hour (I am not a fast reader). First published in 1993, it is a story that Velma Wallis preserves from her Athabascan heritage. Usually I gather stories like this from the Southwest since that's my zone (and it's also Southwestern stories that I'm most likely to come across), so departing up to Alaska and the Arctic Circle was a bit of an adventure.

And yet also a familiar one. The straightforward writing style reminded me not so much of Native American stories (though this is an oral tradition, more people are putting these into writing, just as Velma Wallis was putting her people's oral stories into writing) but more of Little House on the Prairie. Maybe it's because there is no magical/mythological element, just a simple, factual approach. In the same way that Laura described how they would make butter or harvest hay, Velma describes the events that the two women in this story go through and all the tasks that they approach.

This is the story of age versus youth, of weakness versus strength, of hopelessness versus resolve. It's a simple story, so you could tell it all in a couple of sentences if you wanted to. But it plays out very well exactly as it is. It's a story about survival in a harsh land, and yet it is strangely relevant even to those of us who will never have to live off of the land. It is strangely relevant, as well, to modern living because it is a reminder to respect those who were born before us because they have things they can teach us, just as we have ways we can benefit their lives if only we will.

It's a story about endurance but it is also a story about community. And I find that particularly resonating today. It's so easy to be without an actual community these days that many times it is deliberate acts that keep us in communities. And by community I don't just mean a couple close friends; those are great, but we need friends, family if possible, and also relationships with people who are not entirely like us. Wonderful things happen when different generations interact with each other.

Friday, March 6, 2020

Trains, Trains, and More Trains

Boys do love their trains, don't they? Okay, I know you can't generalize, but that would be the generalization, wouldn't it be? (And I of course mean boys of all ages.) Not being one of the boys in love with trains, I wouldn't even have been aware of Arizona Railway Day at the Arizona Railway Museum last weekend--nor was I even aware of the Arizona Railway Museum. But sometimes even events that you wouldn't have thought of on your own are still quite nice.

The museum is free on Railway Day. It's small, so you're mainly outside looking at the trains. They had more trains open than normal to walk into. You could blow the horn on the above train, which is fun even for those with the very most casual train interest. 

Don't fear to step in front of this train; it isn't going anywhere. 

The cars there were from a variety of eras, some as early as Edwardian, some mid-century, and some later. There were dining areas and sleeping areas and passenger areas like the one below. These seats were much more comfortable than modern plane seats. 

You could also walk through I guess it would be called the engine room on one of the trains. Can you tell how interested I was in that part?

One of the cars had some displays of vintage dishes from particular trains or train stops. There was also some info on the Harvey Girls (quick history: trains would stop at certain locations long enough for passengers to dine and the Harvey Girls were the ones serving them). That being closer to my era of history, this was one of my favorite sections. 

As were also the older train cars. This little sink and cabinet speak of a time not long after the (previous) turn of the century. 

A great cabinet and typewriter, too. 

And just look at the wood details and the glass. Now that's the type of train I'm interested in. 

The day was sunny and gorgeous, so spending a late morning outside walking in and out of a collection of trains was unexpectedly great. 

Monday, March 2, 2020

The Riders Ride Once More

Riders of the Purple Sage is the first opera that I have seen a second time. I caught Arizona Opera's world premiere of it three years ago and was quite happy to see it coming back again this season. (Click here to read that original post.) Essentially it was the same production, with perhaps some adjustments to the sets. So I have already talked about the music, Ed Mell's artwork, and the themes.

The question is, how does this opera appear on a repeat viewing? Was it just exciting because it was different (a Western opera)? Was it just beautiful because of the moving-painting-screen backdrop? Sure, those are great, but no, there is something more to this piece that made it a pleasure to revisit.

My favorite part remains Jane's song at the beginning of Act II. That is this opera. It is the extension of the self over the landscape. It is the absorption of the beauty all around and the expression of the harshness--and the vocalized resolution to embrace that which is good. The Southwest makes for such a great fictional setting because it is a land rich with color, texture, and life, and yet it is also a land that is deadly if you take a wrong step. That delicate way of walking is essentially the way that Jane tries to walk, believing so strongly in her faith and yet realizing that the very churchmen who claim to uphold it in her community are not living out love and faith.

So that is what makes Rider of the Purple Sage a lovely piece to revisit. Its embracing of the Southwest is enough to make it an anthem for Arizona Opera. But its way of capturing that duality of the desert makes it into the anthem for Arizona (or the Southwest) as a whole.