December 4, 2008
November 8, 2008
It might have been the fact that we made the trip twice this year, as our usual five-day trip, this time in June, wasn’t enough to get us the plays that everyone was talking about. We returned in October to catch this year’s version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream and The Further Adventures of Hedda Gabler.
It might have been that we have stayed in the same bed and breakfast for the last three trips. Or that the proprietors of the Shrew’s House are particularly social and friendly.
Or, it might have been the arrival of a new Artistic Director and the inevitable speculation this change would create in the “regulars” about what changes this might bring to the Festival.
Whatever the reasons, I’ve found myself engaged in conversations with strangers about the Festival throughout the year. Our visit in the spring featured the usual talk around the breakfast table about the plays we’ve seen and are seeing, but it really didn’t get started until someone noticed the 2009 season’s list, which included The Music Man, which is something of a departure for the Festival. This, combined with the disastrous addition of songs to the season’s sad version of A Comedy of Errors, motivated the discussion of what this change could mean.
Weeks later, I found myself engaged in a similar conversation with another stranger, in a much stranger context – on the most remote section of the Pacific Crest Trail, according to Backpacker Magazine. One of my companions on an August trip to the Canadian border is also a regular at Ashland. He visits each year and writes about the plays for an alumni magazine. So we spent some time along the way, as we walked, talking about our experience with the Festival and our concern with what might be a different direction for the coming years.
In fairness, given all of this concern with the future artistic direction, I am told that the new Director is conducting community forums this year, which strikes me as a very good sign, considering how intertwined the town and the stage are.
My wife coined the term “Ashland nerds” during our visit two weeks ago, when we found ourselves spending an hour or two each morning discussing the Festival, our experiences, our likes and dislikes, and our questions about the new Director, with the innkeepers and their guests. It was the end of the season, everyone had seen most of the plays, sometimes more than once, and it was just cool to be member of this club.
Possibly more hooked than heretofore, we find ourselves considering another two trips next year. Apparently, once is no longer enough.
October 1, 2008
It started during a favorite month for hiking: May. During May’s first weekend, a couple of Mountaineers and I hiked up to the beginning of the big patches of snow in the Elwha River, in Olympic National Park (ONP) – all told, 16.5 miles one way. (We were more than a little tired at the end and not much less tired the next day.) We had good weather (which means no rain, even a little blue sky) and saw lots of wildlife, which is why May is such a good month. There were several bears, lots of deer, a few elk, a pair of Mergansers, several Harlequin ducks, an eagle, hummingbirds, a Hairy woodpecker, and lots of song birds.
I extended Memorial Day weekend to hike the 24 miles of the wild Olympic coast, starting at La Push and exiting at Cape Alava to Lake Ozette, accompanied by three Mountaineers. This stretch of the ONP coastal strip is easier than the southern portion in that there are few required bluff climbs, but harder in that the footing is quite difficult. There were almost no stretches of sand, but we walked on every variety of rock you can imagine – rough, smooth, hard and soft, big and small, settled and slipping, sticky and slippery. This is a wild and beautiful coast and a good place to see bald eagles (and the occasional bear on the beach).
A month later in June, three of us Mountaineers hiked up the ONP’s Hoh River trail in the hopes of seeing Mt Olympus’s Blue Glacier from Glacier Meadows. We had good weather and a beautiful hike, but the creek crossing in the second avalanche chute stopped us. It wasn’t that the chute was steep, it was more that the creek banks were too unstable to safely cross. So, we hung out in the sun and headed back down, ready to return for another go as soon as we could. Maybe next year.
The highlight of my season was the trip along the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) from Harts Pass, in the far North Cascades, to Manning Park in British Columbia. This trip was organized by another Mountaineer leader, who couldn’t make the trip due to injury. He did, however, drive the four of us who weren’t injured to the trailhead. That’s generosity and that’s commitment. We had wonderful weather for all five days and the scenery was stupendous. This part of the PCT spends a good amount of time actually very near the crest itself, traversing ridgetops surrounded by the peaks of the North Cascades. Part way along, we fell in with a group of hikers who had been taking trips into the wilderness for the past 16 years, supported a string of good-sized donkeys. We also met a man near the end who had just completed the entire Crest Trail in several installments. The end of this trip, at Manning Park, offered an unusual opportunity to eat a meal in a restaurant, which we took advantage of twice, not to mention an afternoon beer on the day we arrived.
What should have been the highlight of the year (except for the weather) was my last backpacking trip: completing the last 33 miles of Mt Rainier National Park’s Wonderland Trail, from Longmire to Mowich Lake. I hiked the other 60-odd miles a few years back. My wife and I took the afternoon of Friday, Sept. 19, off to drive my car to Mowich Lake and then drive her car to Longmire, where we stayed in the National Park Inn. It’s a nice little inn with a good restaurant. That afternoon was pretty nice, with sun and some dramatic clouds showing off the Mountain. During the night, however, it started to rain and didn’t stop until early Sunday morning. I did enjoy the hike, but I never saw the Mountain again – I rarely saw the next ridge; nor was I dry until I changed at the end of the hike. Even without the views, I could see that it is a very dramatic stretch of trail, lots of ups and downs (10,000 feet over the distance), bridges over canyons and rushing rivers, or logs precariously perched over braided channels in broad debris beds.
I’m already thinking about the places I’ll go next year.
April 8, 2008
February 23, 2008
This is as good a way to break the silence of the last couple of months as any. I was in Washington, DC last weekend for the Winter Meetings of the National Association of Utility Regulatory Commissions (how's that for an awkward title?). I had a couple of hours to kill before the first meeting, so I walked down to the Mall from my hotel (which, while nice, wasn't as bright as the photos in the link suggest, nor do the photos do justice to the forty foot deep construction hole arrayed around two sides of the hotel, including the side that held my room's windows).
My first stop was the Canadian Embassy, which has Bill Reid's masterpiece, The Spirit of Haida Gwaii, on display in the courtyard (although it is somewhat jammed into the corner). I recommend a visit, if you're in DC; even better, if you are in the Vancouver, BC, airport, visit its version, which is displayed more fully, I think. While I was there, I noticed a group of young people at the other end of the courtyard playing in a raised circle railed into the end of the courtyard, so, when they left, I walked over to see what the fun was about. Above the circle of courtyard is a shallow dome, which, when you make a sound in the center of the circle, like stamping your feet, reverberates several times. Echo, echo, echo, echo... Pretty cool.
I crossed Pennsylvania Ave., and swung by the Apex Building, headquarters of the Federal Trade Commission. I love the deco building and sculptures around it, especially Man Controlling Trade, by Michael Lantz. It caused some reflections on a time when labor -- the construction of actual things -- was respected in this country. I walked west along Pennsylvania, past the John A Wilson Building, which houses part of the DC's government, and the White House, and then slid back down to Constitution Ave., at 17th, feeling better the farther from the center of the executive branch that I walked. I continued west along Constitution to 23rd, where I turned south and looped around the Lincoln Memorial, stopping to read the Gettysburg and the Second Inaugural addresses inscribed on the walls and to consider the view over the Reflecting Pool, imagining filled with hopeful Americans, listening for their dreams or for the wisdom to end a war. It was empty that day.
From there, I walked the length of the Mall to the National Gallery of Art, where I attended an interesting overview tour of the East Building, which houses the modern art collection. It was an expertly done tour, but only covered the building and a handful of works, though it included the wonderful Pollack they have in the collection. I did go back a few days later, when I had the chance. I finished up with a salad at the cafe, soothed by the sound of the cascade waterfall, and hoofed it back up to my meeting, a perfect morning, completed.
January 3, 2008
Australia is suffering through its worst dry spell in a millennium. The outback has turned into a dust bowl, crops are dying off at fantastic rates, cities are rationing water, coral reefs are dying, and the agricultural base is evaporating.
But what really intrigues Glenn Albrecht — a philosopher by training — is how his fellow Australians are reacting.
They're getting sad.
In interviews Albrecht conducted over the past few years, scores of Australians described their deep, wrenching sense of loss as they watch the landscape around them change. Familiar plants don't grow any more. Gardens won't take. Birds are gone. 'They no longer feel like they know the place they've lived for decades,' he says.