view from the hill

A look at the elements and events that come into view from where I'm standing...
... the stuff that matters in this life. Some flicker and are gone in a matter of hours
only to live in memory, others become life long travelling companions, never far from reach.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

The New World

newworldJust saw Terrance Malick’s new film. What an amazing piece of cinema. It’s not quite like any movie out there. I thought it was beautiful. It’s a meditative tone poem that feels more like an epic Zen koan than any neatly packaged movie. This is a film that you need to let wash over you. Images flow with a silent quality that forces us to really look at sunlight glinting off water in a stream, or grasses waving in the breeze. The imagery reminded me of Koyaanisqatsi.

There is a (somewhat) linear story here. It begins with English explorers in 1607 founding the Jamestown settlement, the hardships they encounter and the “naturals” who are puzzled by this new presence. Colin Farrell plays John Smith who finds himself falling for Pocahontas. There’s layers of narration from various character that weave in and out as the images lead us through this meditative dreamscape. The imagery is immediate and we feel we can smell the soil and the rain in the trees. But because of the dreamlike soundtrack and inner thought narration, we are forced to gaze on this hypnotic film from a distance, it never quite invites us in. It’s a strange sensation. I feel strangely intimate with these tortured souls, and yet I don’t know them at all. The film has a quality of being emotionally anesthetized.

I had similar feelings after seeing The Thin Red Line, Malack’s last film set on the Pacific islands during WWII. Once again, that is a dreamlike film that washes over you with it’s beautiful imagery. But I was left emotionally inert. But then, maybe that’s the point. The worlds of these films are so unreal, so impossible to relate to, for us and the characters unfolding the stories, that to view them as a dream might be the only way to approach it.

I’m glad this kind of film is out there. It’s reflective and sublime, like liquid music, a bench mark of what film can be. I feel it stretches the possibilities of cinema and our expectations of what the medium is capable of. It’s definitely not for everyone, but we get plenty of hero’s journeys, or boy-meets-girl standard fare, that it’s a breath of tantalizingly fresh air to sit and pass through a film that we find hard to categorize.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Words Words Words

Yet another of the “missing entries.” This one’s from the holiday season that I’m just getting around to posting now…

from December 2005
pileThe whirlwind of the season is receding, and in its wake I’m left surrounded by huge great stacks of wonderfully imaginative books. They seem to have piled up around me in shoals, revealed by an ebbing tide. For days now I’ve curled up on the couch in the morning before the house is awake, and by the lights of the Christmas tree been taken off to India in search of Buddhism, the wilds of the Klondike to run with the wolves, spent a year stargazing in the New England woods, sailed the oceans with Darwin as he formulated his ideas on natural selection, read poetry in Scottish glens…and I’ve barely made a dent.

This season seems designed to overwhelm with sensations. Light sparkles in trees, scents of sweet chocolate and coffee are everywhere. It’s all about sumptuous treats, and the worlds of the words are no different. It’s almost sensory overload. There’s just too many favorite moments.

Lots of these were on my list, and many others weren’t, still others are ones I’ve found in favorite bookstores while shopping for friends and family, or returning things that decidedly weren’t books. So, in the continual conversational answer to, “what are you reading these days?” here’s a bit of look through the accumulated strata of December.

The Stargazer’s Year: a Backyard Astronomer’s Journey Through the Seasons of the Night Sky, by Charles Laird Calia. All the great stories from the birth of civilization parade across the sky every year. They’re waiting, if only we look up.

bookcoversThe Gary Snyder Reader - “The mercy of the West has been social revolution; the mercy of the East has been individual insight into the basic self/void. We need both.”

An End to Suffering, the Buddha in the World, by Pankaj Mishra. Finally a book that takes on Buddhism in the modern world.

The Wilderness World of John Muir one of the original “into the wild” guys.

This I Believe – an A to Z of a Life, by Carlos Fuentes. Another London find while reading the Sunday morning paper at Fait Maison with coffee and croissants.

In the Buddha’s Words, an Anthology of Discourses from the Pali Canon, by Bhikkhu Bodhi. Yep, it’s meaty, but great stuff.

The Trouble with Poetry, by Billy Collins. With a glint in his eye, Billy takes us on a whirl around his worlds of New England, jazz, memories and surprise encounters.

Magic Seeds, by V S Naipaul. I’ve never read anything by Naipaul, this seems like a good place to start.

Blindness, by Jose Saramago. An out-of-blue gift from Kaye. Don’t know what to expect, but thank you, I look forward to diving in.

The Poems of Norman McCaig A find while in Scotland, real earthy verse a la Seamus Heaney.

darwinFrom So Simple a Beginning, the Four Great Books of Charles Darwin. thanks Dylan. I’ll have bedside reading with this one till I’m old and gray.

Jim Harrison’s The Beast God Forgot to Invent, opens with, “The danger of civilization, of course, is that you will piss away your life on nonsense.”

The Collected Stories of Richard Yates This one’s keeping Hemmingway company on the shelf.

I’ll be lucky to get through all these before next season rolls around. Plus, books have a tendency to multiply, and new ones seem to be pouring in weekly. But then, the point of a book isn’t always to turn the last page.

And there’s always the answer to the chaos that is family at this time of the year - the thicker the book, the better the insulation.

Happy reading.

Iditarod Membership!

programMy membership stuff arrived today! I have an official membership card, a fancy patch and a pin, as well as the official race guide for this year. I’m oh so excited. Now I can read bios on each of the mushers, see the course with all the checkpoints, and read articles about behind the scenes stuff.

I also got my ticket to the Musher’s Ball.

It’s all becoming very real now. This time next week I’ll be in Anchorage! I still need gloves.


Thursday, February 23, 2006

In the Groove

Here’s another blog entry that slipped through the cracks, only to be posted now…enjoy.

from December 2005
Right now I’m listening to You Can’t Always Get What You Want by the Stones. The dj on this late Sunday night – a few hours before my 38th birthday, is playing his version off an actual LP record. I can hear the pops and scratches. It takes me back. In this world of Cds and perfect sound quality, it’s a surprise to hear all this extra “interference” in such a familiarly great song. It feels like a broadcast through a 1940s radio, all staticy and out of focus. It’s also incredibly warm and resonant. I can picture the needle sliding along it’s tiny groove, rising and falling with the undulations of the vinyl like it’s breathing.

recordThe song is behind a subtle veil that makes the music just slightly out of reach, just beyond the fingertips. There’s more mystery to it all. And especially with a band like the Stones where there’s so much raw energy in these rough edges. I lean in to the speakers and listen more closely, all this complexity adding art. It’s like in photography, if it’s out of focus, it’s art, if it’s in focus it’s just pornography. A song filled with pops and scratches is that much more unattainable – in a good way. You pay attention more.

There’s something to be said for veils - in nature, in religion, in relationships, and sometimes even in music. Sometimes we don’t need to be presented with the Absolute in its most pure form. Sometimes our ceaseless pursuit of quality reduces the mystery. Sometimes we need to hear a great old song, and by hearing less of the music, we hear more as if for the first time. But then, you can’t always get what you want.

Bland on the Run

from November 2005
Tiff and I drove up Hwy 99 in our annual migration in search of Thanksgiving turkey last November. The CD player is broken, but we thought we could get by on local radio. The Central Valley is pretty populated these days, so we figured there wouldn’t be a problem finding something halfway decent.

Well, there’s three kinds of radio station out there in the bleak expanse that is the San Joaquin Valley – Christian talk, Country, and Classic Rock. We settled on Classic Rock, but after a few hours of this monotony it was becoming unbearable.

Tom Petty said it best… “Man, it’s a drag when you’re living in the past.” If I have to hear Smoke on the Water one more time…

albumsI’ve never heard so much Foreigner, Bad Company, Kansas and Journey, everything you’d expect. And that’s the point, there’s absolutely no surprises. These stations don’t play “classic rock”, they play rock standards. In the mind-numbing blandness that these stations spew, even the mightiest of rock bands are reduced to three-hit wonders. I’m pretty sure that Steve Miller Band wrote more than two songs (Jungle Love and Take the Money and Run), The prog band Yes had more songs in there 25 plus year career than I’ve Seen All Good People and Roundabout. If a song by the Eagles comes on, you can bet money that it will be either Hotel California or Desperado (maybe Peaceful Easy Feeling if the DJ is feeling rebellious). And it’s not that these aren’t good songs, it’s just insanely unimaginative when that’s all they play. I really suspect that these stations sold all their albums in the 90’s and replaced them with greatest hits compilations.

I grew up listening to rock music before it had been labeled “classic rock”. The American radio scene had yet to be completely subdivided and segregated into ever narrower definitions, with corporate programmers selecting every track we hear. Back then it was a real treat to hear Freebird, because it was a rarity. I even heard a live version one night on a drive home from San Francisco that went on for….ever! Back then Led Zeppelin was truly great. Elusive, majestic, mighty. Stairway to Heaven wasn’t crammed down our throats every…single… day. These songs became gems to savor, and to catch them on the airwaves added to their appeal. Every time you tuned in, you never quite knew what you might hear. Sure there were the favorites, and certain songs would get a lot of play, but the Djs cared about the music, they reached deep into albums to pull out tracks you’d never heard of, new favorites that added depth to bands and made you want to own albums – rather than just collect singles.

There used to be a station in LA who’s tag line was, “you know every song we play.” Wahoo. To that I would add, “…and you’re sick of all of them.” I say we call these stations for what they are - rock standards. They reduce the memories of youth to banality. Instead of experiencing rock history as something vital, a living breathing music (no matter what state the former band members might be in) we’re presented with a museum of old hits. This is how music dies.

They say recreating your childhood can be expensive. So, I either buy all the albums I love and create my own play-list on my ipod, or I get satellite radio, cause they sure don’t play anything good on commercial radio. Either way, I’m paying for what I used to get for free. But maybe shelling out so I don’t have to hear Dust in the Wind is ok, even if it feels like the sonic equivalent of a protection racket.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

The Boots Work!!


Yep, the boots work!

Went up to the cabin this weekend with Russ and Paul to escape from the city. The snow started coming down Friday night so we had to go out and play in it. We were at 6500ft. elevation, so it was brilliant.

Next stop, REI for some real gloves.

Yep, that's me


Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Winter Clothes

The winter clothes are spread out on the bed. I know I still have two weeks before I go, but I can’t wait. Plus, I need to see what else I can justify spending money on.

I think there’s some gaiters in the garage somewhere, but those over-mittens from high school might have to be replaced. Luckily Tiff and I stocked up last season with our Sweden trip, so I’m covered when it comes to long underwhere, gloves, hats, jackets… I just have to find it all. I think my fleece is in a box in the garage, still unpacked from our London exodus.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Hotel Part 2

Now that I’ve taken a closer look at the calendar I’ve just done some shifting around of my time in Alaska. I want to give myself enough time to explore Anchorage – I figure I need at least a day just to get through the part of midtown where all the outdoor supply stores congregate, then there’s the race start which will cover two days, and I’d love to get in a day of x-country skiing as well.

mushersballThe Iditarod kicks off on Saturday the 4th in downtown Anchorage, so I’ll be there for that. Then the party moves 30 miles up the road to Wasilla – home of the Iditarod Trail Committee – for the annual Musher’s Ball. The invitation’s on the way, now I just have to figure out what “Alaska casual” means. I guess there’s a band, fireworks, good food. Should be fun.

I’ll stay in Wasilla on Sunday because that’s when the “re-start” of the race is. The whole circus of the Iditarod start in Anchorage is largely a media event. I guess it plays well on TV to have 90 dog teams all yapping and raring to go down 4th Ave, with crowds of spectators lining the streets. But a few miles out of town all the teams are loaded onto trucks and driven up to Wasilla where the real racing begins. It’s form there that they all trek off into the wilds, plus that’s where the Iditarod headquarters is, so it would be cool to check that out too.

There’s still no word back on the volunteering front, so I assume they’re all crewed up. But I’ll bug them anyway to see if they could use an extra set of hands. Heck, I’ll be right there!

So, I don’t quite know what to expect from all this, but I’m going along for what should be a fun ride.

Sunday, February 12, 2006


Today Tiff and I went to REI to cash in a gift certificate and to take advantage of their Winter sale. I had in mind to get a really nice pair of hiking boots that would keep my feet warm and dry while in Anchorage. Plus, I have visions of trekking through tropical jungles and across Scottish peaks, laughing at the acres of mud, my feet perfectly dry.

bootThe thing is, REI is a great store, but we’d been to Adventure 16 about a week ago, and they know their boots. There was a guy giving a seminar on hiking boots while we were there! Plus their selection rules. So, poor old REI didn’t quite measure up. But this is where I have money to spend. What was I to do?

Luckily they had a table of sale items stacked high with Sorel winter boots. These are perfect for trudging around town in the snow. They’re rated to 40° below and they were only $30!

So now my feet will be toasty. I just have to rough ‘em up a bit to take off some of the new boot perfectness, so I don’t look like a complete Outsider (that’s Alaskan for “you ain’t from around here.”)

Thursday, February 02, 2006

things that make me smile :)

Is this some sort of a joke? It's either video clerk humor, or the guys at the local store really are that dumb. I fear the latter.