Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Fear of Falling...Water, That is

Kent Falls, mid-October
One summer long ago, my parents and I--accompanied by my aunt and a cousin--took a trip to Pipestone National Monument in far western Minnesota. I have many fond memories of the places we visited en route which included Walnut Grove and Sleepyeye, towns that are immediately recognizable to any little girl who was a fan of the Little House on the Prairie books and television series. We saw the place where the Ingalls family had lived in a sod home--a kind of childhood mecca for readers who had grown up reading Laura Ingalls Wilder and her stories. 

After I'd lived out my Little House fantasy, it was on to Pipestone. Excited to be at our main destination we took a tour of some sort that wound through the park and would lead visitors to where the reddish stone was mined. It wasn't a long walk and it was enjoyable until I heard the sound of rushing water. I'm not sure that I'd ever realized before that point that I did NOT like waterfalls, but at the moment we began to walk across the bottom of Winnewissa Falls it became perfectly clear. While I admit to having a flair for the dramatic, in my recollection I had an absolute category 5 meltdown as we prepared to cross the stream below the falls. I was not happy and even though I vividly remember standing there and looking up at the waterfall while crying and (most likely) screaming, I don't recall how--or indeed IF--my parents cajoled me into continuing the hike. As a side note--this information page from the NPS on Pipestone shows a photo of the fearsome waterfall... 

Needless to say, for most of my youth (and beyond) I had a deep-seated fear when it came to waterfalls of any size/force. And not just waterfalls, but dams as well. In fact, I think I disliked dams even more. My aunt, who has always been a little "woo-woo," always said that in a previous life (**cough cough**) something frightening or bad must've happened to me near to or involving a waterfall of some kind.

Whatever the case, I avoided both waterfalls and dams whenever possible. I was less bothered when I could see the falls or dam (meaning they weren't under a bridge and that I could attempt to avoid them) but even then, when they were in the open, I would start to get chills and gooseflesh even hearing the sound of water rushing through a gorge. Walking on a bridge that was over a dam? No way. Never happen. And yet, I am at heart a water girl. I'm a Pisces who is always centered and calmed by the sea, a river vista, or the lapping of lake water in the summertime. I am naturally drawn to the water.

Somewhere along the line I decided I had to get beyond this fear or at least learn to manage it better. After all, there was no basis for it, it was just there. I managed to do quite my late teens I was happily aboard the Maid of the Mist sailing right into Niagara Falls and loving every minute of it. Confident that I was conquering the fear, I began to really enjoy the sound of the moving water and trying to capture it with my camera. 

And over the year I'd thought I was doing pretty well...until this weekend. For the record, I still do not really like dams. There's just something about them that makes me queasy and uncomfortable. I wish it weren't so, but there we are...the muddled dichotomy that is me: drawn to water, fearful when gravity brings it crashing down. 

So this past Monday as I drove the Mohawk Trail in Massachusetts, I found myself in Shelburne Falls. A gorgeous little town with bookstores, cafes and, not surprisingly, FALLS. I parked on the main street and could already hear the roar of moving water. Cautiously I walked over to a small scenic overlook, the whole time attempting to hide the fact that my knees were becoming increasingly rubbery. As I peered around the foliage I could see a dam in the middle of my line of vision and large rapids below it. What to do...there were two bridges I could cross and that sense of childhood dread once again filled my mind. Surely there weren't more rapids above the dam? 

Well, reader, there were not more rapids. And I'm happy to report that I was able to wander Shelburne Falls and enjoy the Bridge of Flowers without a care as to the dam that roared down stream a few hundred yards. But as curious as I was about the glacial potholes (natural wonder!) that are near the dam and rapids, I wasn't able to make myself go closer. If you take a moment and enter Shelburne Falls Glacial Potholes in your favorite search engine you'll see wonderful photographs of the many who are much braver than I am. Here's as close as I dared go...
Looking toward Salmon Falls, Sherburne Falls, MA
(I will say, however, that I highly recommend the Mohawk Trail--Route 2--that goes through northwestern Massachusetts. It's a beautiful drive and I'll definitely be back to explore further. Parts of Rt 2 were severely damaged by post-Irene floods, so they'll be glad to have visitors back as soon as they can.) 

Farther down the road and later in the day, I found myself quite close to home in Connecticut and just as the sun was setting. Since there was still a little light, I stopped at a spot I enjoy greatly--and coincidentally, a waterfall--Kent Falls State Park.  

I think part of the reason I'm drawn to waterfalls is a desire to overcome my ridiculous fear, so I push myself to get as close as my nerves will allow. I'll admit, albeit a little sheepishly, that I was surprised at how much dread I felt upon seeing/hearing the dam and rapids at Shelburne Falls. Maybe some days we're better equipped to slay our dragons than others, or maybe we never really get fully beyond the things we fear as children. 

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The Brookfield Horse Trio

The stallion (l), foal (c), and mare (r) on the Brookfield Municipal grounds
This morning I had to make a quick trip up to the Brookfield town offices. Today has been another picture perfect New England autumn day so I thought it might be a good time to take some photographs of my favorite sculpture installation, the horse family on the Brookfield Municipal grounds.

During my last visit there had been an outline sprayed on the grass and I wondered if my ponies were getting a pond or perhaps a colorful flower bed. Today the sod has been removed and yes, it looks like the family is getting a water feature or some kind of planting to "munch" on. For reference purposes as to how large these horses are...I'm about 5'6" and I *barely* come up to the withers of the small foal. I can almost walk under the bellies of the mare and stallion. And in case you were too polite to ask, the sculptures are anatomically correct so yes, one is a mare and one is a stallion and the foal appears to be a filly.

This grouping, by artist Peter Busby, is so appealing to me because of how it changes throughout the seasons. Yes, it's horses so of course I'm interested, but from the verdant green backdrops of summer to the colorful autumn patchwork, the way these horses are created allows the viewer to appreciate the varying moods of Connecticut's seasons. Brookfield is in the midst of lovely rolling hills and it would be hard to imagine a prettier spot for this equine family.

As we progress from the warm mid-autumn glow to the blue and periwinkle hues of winter, expect to see more images of this threesome. In the vein of van Gogh, Monet, and others, when I find a photographic subject I like, I return and attempt to capture it in different conditions.

Now to my knowledge, none of these horses are named...but I'm thinking they ought to be. Thoughts? Names?


Blue sky horses

The foal

The mare

The stallion and his shadow

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

A Sad Farewell to a Faithful Friend

Lady F shortly after joining the family
Dateline: 11 October, 2011-- Rochester, Minnesota

I am saddened to report the loss of one of Rochester's best loved citizens, Lady Fleur. Lady, or Bugs as she was known to her family, lost her battle with cancer this morning. Her sunny presence will be most sorely missed by her family and all the people who stopped by to visit her.

A few years ago, after the passing of the charming (and slightly off-balance) Remi-Roo, Lady's family looked to RAGOM (Rescue a Golden of Minnesota) to see if there were any dogs which might fit into the family. A few months would pass and then the stars aligned and brought Lady, who had been found running loose in Iowa, to her new family in Minnesota. Lady had undergone some kind of service training, though what kind exactly we'll never know. She was utterly uninterested in most games or play (and had even less interest in water, ducks, rabbits, etc.), but she was very focused on her people. She had a kind of centered calm one often sees in old souls. She'd been there and done that. Even the family cat, Stonewall Jackson, couldn't do much to rattle her.

Ove the next few months Lady and Jack (sometimes jokingly referred to as Ernie and Bert) would come to some kind of understanding known only unto them. An armed truce, with moments of acceptance might be the most apt characterization of their lives together. When Stonewall Jackson passed away a couple of years ago, Lady would often look around as if she thought he was still there, waiting to jump out at her from behind her sofa.

Lady and her human "sibling" enjoyed a friendly rivalry. Who had priority choice on the sofa was a common bone of contention. The strawberry blond canine usually won that battle, as she had very sad looking brown eyes and a very serious flair for the dramatic.

The entire family will miss her golden smile and goofy looks, as well as her preference for green beans on her dog food (which had to be warmed up) and her deep sighs. She was literally the ideal dog for her people and they are forever grateful to RAGOM for bringing her wonderful spirit and joy to the family. Her paw prints are impossible to fill, and it is hoped that she is sharing silly stories of Glenn, Doris and Michele with Beaujolais, Remi-Roo, Jackson, Muffin, Koji, Mittens and even Thomas O'Malley Shandar Diablo.

Please give your beloved pets a little extra love tonight in honor of our absent and beloved Lady and if you'd like to see some other photos of herself, there's a photo tribute on my FLICKR page. Requiescat in Pace, dear friend.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

The Music of Last Night

A shady avenue, Pere Lachaise
I love the Phantom. That would include Gaston Leroux's muddled novel (and any and all references to the Opera Garnier) and Lon Chaney's enduring silent masterpiece. I can even manage a kind of esteem for Claude Raines 1943 version--which is more of a vehicle for the awkwardly wooden Nelson Eddy than anything--though I found it mostly high camp from the first time I saw it as a teen. And then there's the mother of all Phantoms: Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical, The Phantom of the Opera. 

Phantom can inspire a fair amount of eye rolling and dismissive scoffing, with the non-infatuated complaining vehemently about a cloying score and syrupy romance. The critics will point to pedestrian lyrics and derivative story lines. To those people I say read no further as the following paragraphs will make your teeth hurt.

So, now that I'm chatting with you, perhaps a similarly afflicted fan of Phantom, who could believe it was celebrating a 25th Anniversary this fall? I certainly couldn't as it seems as the music, the show, the story has been part of my life since the very beginning. I'd guess that most of us who are fans recall our first Phantom experience with a kind of reverence.

It was 1989 in Toronto, at the Pantages Theatre, and there were a number of us attending the show as guests of a Canadian friend of my parents who kindly brought us all as part of his birthday celebration. I'd been to plays before, but this was spectacle on a completely different level. This was major. My father wasn't feeling well the evening of the event and I remember thinking that NOTHING, not a thing on this fair earth of ours short of nuclear Armageddon, was going to keep me from the Pantages that evening. (Selfish only child alert!) Let the record reflect that the entire PaperTyger clan did indeed attend--including a well-known artist friend who was in the party and decided to dress casually--and in a baseball cap (!!)--for the evening. Yes, the cap stayed on for dinner and the entire show. Yes, I was mortified. This was an event, an occasion! What did I wear? A cream silk charmeuse blouse with passementerie detail and a black moire silk skirt. In retrospect, that's not all that important, but it does go to show the extent to which that evening imprinted on me. The pageantry, the soaring orchestrations, glorious voices and lush costumes...all of it left me a little in awe. And I mean real awe. The kind you experience the first time you walk into Yankee Stadium or Fenway Park; the first time you see a great horse race in person; the first time you lay eyes on your favorite painting a few inches in front of you. Awe. The rich Irish tenor of Colm Wilkinson gave voice to The Phantom and even though I'd already committed every nuance of Michael Crawford's London performance to memory, Wilkinson's portrayal stuck with me. It's the Toronto cast album that holds priority on my iPod these many years later.

After Toronto, well, the obsession only grew. I wore out at least one set of cassette tapes listening to the entire score over and over--in the car and at home--and I even learned to play a few of the songs on the piano. Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again sounded plaintive and melancholy when played on an old piano, but the real show stopper, the impressive opening organ theme, was reserved for the ca 1914 Aeolian pipe organ at Mayowood. I was a summer tour guide at the time and nothing impressed the tourists like a few bars of a Bach organ fugue or, better yet...the instantly recognizable opening chords of Phantom of the Opera. Between tours I'd play little bits of Phantom, assured that any ghosts in the mansion would appreciate my musical efforts.

22 years later, I write this having just returned from seeing the 25th Anniversary production at my local multiplex. (The actual performance was staged at London's Royal Albert Hall last weekend.) There were so many things to love about the production, and the one thing I will say is that the team at Royal Albert did a phenomenal job adapting large, complicated, and difficult scenes/sets to their stage. I didn't love some of the camera work and I thought the costumes in some cases looked less rich than in the various stage productions I've been to, but nothing that really detracted from the experience for me. The leading performers were outstanding. Sierra Boggess IS Christine Daae and Ramin Karimloo's Phantom was a delicious combination of sensuous and poignant. For a musical to have the staying power that Phantom does, it needs to resonate with audiences, and this show continues to do so. For a musical to celebrate a 25th Anniversary people need to love your characters and music and want to see it anew, and that's something of a feat in itself.

OH...and the best part? The "gathering of Phantoms" at the end of the show. Once the anniversary cast had taken their well-deserved bows, Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber came out and brought with him the original London cast and production group as well. I was scanning the London cast for Sarah Brightman and Michael Crawford, but didn't see them. Then, Sir Andrew announced that Sarah (whom he still calls his "angel of music") had agreed to sing. She came out with classic Phantoms including my Phantom, Colm Wilkinson and proceeded to sing The Phantom of the Opera main theme with all of them. CHILLS. I had chills. Michael Crawford was on stage as well but did not sing, which while disappointing, was maybe for the best. He looked great but he also looked rather overwhelmed and overcome with the emotion of the day. There seemed to be nothing but love and good will on the stage as they looked out at the audience's standing ovation.

 I'd actually planned to be on my soapbox tonight and writing on a totally different subject, but I left the theatre feeling so much nostalgia that I couldn't let it pass without a small acknowledgment. On my first trip to Paris a couple of years after Toronto I couldn't wait to get to the Opera Garnier. The Musee d'Orsay, the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, Notre Dame--they'd all still be there (and be visited later in the week), but I needed to see the Paris Opera first. And on a subsequent trip to Paris I had Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again streaming liltingly through my head as I walked up and down the shady lanes of favored haunt Pere Lachaise. Phantom--in all of it's many incarnations--has managed to thread itself into unexpected corners of my memory, for which, in all cases, I'm most genuinely pleased.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

October. New England.

Mother Nature saves her best autumn finery for New England
This is without a doubt my favorite time of the year. Whether it's a loop through the White Mountains in New Hampshire, a lazy trip down Route 7 through the graceful Litchfield Hills or an afternoon spent gazing out at Hudson River vistas, you absolutely cannot go wrong. I soak in the crisp autumnal air like a sponge, savoring the earthy aromas and magnificent displays of color.

There's really nothing like autumn in New England. Majestic white steeples on stoic old meeting houses rise against a cobalt sky while the surrounding hillsides blaze with red, orange, and golden leaves.  Even the most pedestrian of leaves shine with an autumnal glow. Smokiness wafts through the evening twilight and we brace ourselves against the chill with apple cider, apple crumble, or even Applejack. Mother nature truly does show off all her best attributes here each autumn. Harvest festivals and fairs abound and everyone seems to be a leaf-peeping tourist for these few weeks. Pumpkins and apples and corn mazes, oh my! The pleasures are heartier, more rustic, and simpler. Soups and chilis are once again simmering on stoves as are New England standbys like baked beans and chowder. Favorite old worn in corduroy takes the place of sun bleached summer attire and tall boots with woolen socks begin to stand in for summer's barely there sandals. The comfort of a well-loved flannel shirt or a cozy cardigan are not to be scoffed at! This is my beloved New England at her very best--even if the Red Sox are not in the playoffs, the Patriots are enjoying a typically winning start--and I hope you're taking a moment to revel in this year's fall finery wherever you may be.

Gleaming autumn sun shines through the golden leaves

1st Congregational Church in Litchfield, CT
Autumn, 2010
And as I so often do, a nod to Longfellow for his assessment of the season:

"My ornaments are fruits; my garments leaves,
  Woven like cloth of gold, and crimson dyed;
I do not boast the harvesting of sheaves,
  O'er orchards and o'er vineyards I preside.
Though on the frigid Scorpion I ride,
  The dreamy air is full, and overflows
With tender memories of the summer-tide,
  And mingled voices of the doves and crows." 
--Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, October, from The Poet's Calendar

And PS...Hockey season starts for real this week. Huzzah!