Archive for June 2011


I’m now at the age where “He lived a full life!” will roll glibly from the lips of my survivors, and as my shade ascends, descends or simply hangs in the viewing room like a bad smell, it won’t really have reason to protest.  Such high philosophy is noticeably absent when incidents occur on this side of the Great Divide such as the one on our hike on Friday.

We were walking a section of the Pacific Crest Trail in what is now the Soda Mountain Wilderness (thank you, Bill Clinton, for your 9th-inning National Monument designations) just southeast of Ashland that we’ve been on many times.  It winds through mature second-growth forest, breaking out into slide areas that afford gorgeous views, either west towards Ashland and Siskiyou Pass, or southeast to Mt. Shasta.

Due to heavy winter snows and below-normal temperatures throughout the spring (sound familiar?), nature is somewhat behind schedule, and we’ve been seeing wildflowers on our hikes that are usually burnt out and gone by the time we get here, and things everywhere are lush and green instead of the more accustomed brown and sere, and we were literally reveling in every step.

Until this one step.  The one with my right foot as I was leading us on the trail through moderate underbrush.  About a quarter-mile before, we’d flushed a pair of grouse, and been startled at the loud, low vibration of their wingbeat, so we were on alert as we proceeded the rest of the way through the meadow.

So when I heard a vibration and scuffle on that fateful footfall*, I wondered for a second if I’d disturbed a grousing grouse*.  Two more strides, and I heard Mrs. Perils’ maidenly exclamation…”holy fucking shit!“, I believe it was…as she leapt up onto a log well off the trail.  What she had seen was a western diamondback rattlesnake, about 1 1/2″ to 2″ in diameter and at least 4 feet long, just to the right of the trail where I had stepped.

We were both pretty shaken, and as we proceeded each ensuing step was as fearful as they had been euphoric before. We froze at every rustle in the undergrowth.  As I had on countless other hikes, I turned to Mrs. Perils and assured her, “It is only the wind, Gretel!”

We tried to remember what the current procedures were for dealing with a snake bite.  Back in the 70s, we’d been sold snakebite kits that had razor blades and suction devices for draining venom; we knew that this treatment had been discredited, but were fuzzy about current best practices.  We got to a clearing with a sumptuous view of Mt. Shasta, but our enjoyment was muted.  We had a cell phone signal, so we made our one Lifeline call to a client of mine whom I knew liked to search the internet, and he pretty much confirmed what we thought we had remembered: immobilize the limb, keep the bite below your heart, no tourniquet, etc.  Oh, and call 911.

Our hike was not on a loop trail, it was an out-and-back, so we would have to walk past that spot again on the way back to the car, which was 3 - 4 miles beyond it.  Rescue would have been a major undertaking.  (did I really say “undertaking”?).  We walked on about another mile or so, hoping that, given time, our reptilian interlocutor would decide to move to a different snack bar.  Ultimately, though, we had to turn around and head back. We found a couple of sticks to brandish, and walked warily.  We didn’t know exactly where the encounter had taken place, but knew the general vicinity, and tapped our sticks ahead like blind people as we walked through.

Once we knew for certain we were past the spot, we built up an absurd sense of euphoria the rest of the way, as if we had a map that showed for certain we’d passed the lair of the only dragon in the forest.

Here are some photos to show why a person would undertake (there it is again) a stroll into the forest (click image to enlarge):

More photos in a gallery here.

* I know I can write stuff like this because I’ve read some Barth recently

Playing Around

(Entrance to the Bowmer Theater)

We’re in Ashland, OR for our annual haj to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.  Once again, my mom has flown in from Toledo to attend with us, and once again, the weather is so far hot & sunny, such a change from the cool & overcast spring we’ve had in Seattle.

One big glitch: On the day before our departure, I received an email from the Festival that they’d discovered structural damage to a central beam in the large indoor Bowmer Theater, and that it would be closed indefinitely.  This was a pretty large deal, since 4 of our 8 plays were scheduled to be performed there:

  • To Kill A Mockingbird
  • Measure for Measure
  • Imaginary Invalid (a Moliere)
  • August: Osage County (a contemporary play by Tracy Letts set in small-town Oklahoma)

We were left with:

  • Pirates of Penzance
  • Love’s Labors Lost
  • Henry IV, Part 2

all in the outdoor Elizabethan Theater, and:

  • Julius Caesar

in the small indoor New Theater.

Since my mom was already in town, and we already had our airfare to and lodging in Ashland paid for, there was no thought of canceling.

As events progressed, the Festival devised a way to stage the canceled plays in the cavernous old Armory building just up Oak Street from our lodging, so we lined up in the street Tuesday afternoon to see if we could get a seat for To Kill A Mockingbird.  As it happened, there were plenty of seats inside, all on folding chairs in neat rows in a huge auditorium.  There was a certain sense of disenfranchisement, since I had bought front-row tickets for all of our plays last November in the members’ presale, and our seats in the Armory were more than halfway back.  Still, kudos to the Festival for going outside the box to deliver the product.  And, the Armory performances are free to anyone who held tickets to the original performances; we got our choice of cash refunds or vouchers for future performances of any play, this year or next.  I selected vouchers, since I have a glimmer in my eye about another trip down here later in the year, after they (hopefully) have re-opened the Bowmer.

To Kill A Mockingbird

I had never read the book, nor seen the movie, so this was my first introduction to the story.  The production in the Armory was done without costumes, props or stage sets.  It opened with the full cast on stage, sitting on folding chairs in a semicircle, with an adult incarnation of Scout narrating.  As she was reminiscing about that fateful summer, actors would rise from their chairs and create a flashback tableau of dramatic action, and the voice would pass from the adult narrator to a pre-adolescent Scout.

As the production progressed, the actors involved in dialogue used an area about 10′ by 10′ to represent their interactions, and their strength of delivery did a lot to overcome the lack of visual context.

The story itself has two major plotlines: the first, the depiction of the Finch family and the development of Atticus Finch’s character as a father and citizen; the second, the civic and legal developments leading to the trial and its outcome.  To begin to appreciate either, it’s necessary to be able to place yourself in Depression-era, small-town Alabama.  This is where the lack of scenery and the first-rate production values of the Festival is quite apparent.  The surfeit of family sagas and courtroom drama in the cinema and on the screen in the ensuing decades overwhelms this work taken in its components; it would make an ordinary episode of Law & Order.  It really needs to be viewed through its temporal and geographical context.

What gives the story its spark is the collision of these two plotlines: the precipitous ripping of the Finch family from its comfortable niche near the top of the town’s social foodchain and making them the embodiment of all its resentments, armed only with a nascent moral carapace; and the journey of Jem and Scout from a mostly passive and credulous acceptance of the world as viewed through Atticus’ lens, to the crescendo of lurid and unvarnished images that are thrust upon them.

This last thread, the passage of the kids from Atticus’ protection and control, is almost lost in the hurly-burly of the trial.  It begins with their unbidden, perhaps forbidden, foray to the jailhouse to stand with Atticus, and extends as they assert themselves (as invited guests) to view the trial from the black folks’ gallery.

I’m curious now to read the book and join the majority of the civilized world.  I’d like to see how Lee’s prose stands up to the expectations of its myth.  I’d also like to learn the elements of backstory necessarily excised from the play.


Here’s a podcast with all of our RCB 2011 marching music, recorded at band camp a couple of weeks ago.  The recording was made in a cavernous room with no acoustics, during our last session on Sunday, so lips are a bit tattered and the sound is what it is.  Still, I think you can tell how much fun we’re having with this.

The theme is Dance Party, and our music director tried to make selections from the last 4 decades:

Gonna Make You Sweat
Ladies’ Night
I Gotta Feeling
Land of a Thousand Dances
Four Minutes
Soul Bossa Nova
You Dropped A Bomb On Me
Hey, Baby

More about band camp later.