Saturday, June 27, 2009

On the Road: Antelope Island, in the Great Salt Lake (Summer 2009)

Later in the day, went to Antelope Island, which is in the Great Salt Lake, but connected by a causeway. Very pretty. Saw thousands of avocets and gulls along the causeway. On the island proper, I walked out to the overlook by Egg Island, a raucous nesting site for California gulls, and what looked like cormorants. Saw four great blue herons by the water below the cliffs I had walked out onto. I flushed a pair of chukar partridges--a first sighting for me.

Had dinner at a Peruvian restaurant I took a chance on. Had ceviche of fish with onions, potatoes, corn, and yams. Simple, but very tasty. The first real food I've had in days.

On the Road: Bonneville Salt Flats, Salt Lake City (Summer 2009)

I passed into Utah this morning, from Nevada. Glad to see Nevada behind me. Having lunch (poor Mexican) in Salt Lake City, trying to get my bearings and deciding what to do here. On the way in, I took a quick detour to the Bonneville Salt Flats, which were very flat and very salty (yes, I tasted them). No signs of life anywhere. I passed the Great Salt Lake on the way in, and one of the city's airports.

I felt it wouldn't be right to pass through without seeing the Mormon Temple and the Mormon Tabernacle. Actually, I skipped going into the former, as it's not an especially attractive building. The Tabernacle is holy ground, however--not because of any religious associations, but because it is where some of my favorite recordings were made. It is here that Maurice Abravanel and the Utah Symphony recorded the Mahler symphonies. In particular, their recordings of the Third and Sixth Symphonies are priceless (on the Vanguard label, I believe). In fact, their recording of the Third Symphony is one of the greatest recordings I've ever heard.

The building itself is very plain--much plainer than I imagined it would be--a simple oval with very little adornment. The ceiling is white plaster. Because of the plain white dome and the shape of the building, looking up you'd think yourself in a hockey arena, but something about the place is magical when it comes to sound. I'm glad I took the trouble to go look at it. It has funny wooden columns painted to look like marble. According to one of the guides, the original organ had 2,000 pipes. A few more than 100 of these survive, but the current organ has 20,000 or some such fantastic figure. Seems excessive to me....

I also liked the dome on the old Utah Hotel, which has been converted into a Mormon administrative building. I love the old-fashioned beehive on top. There were a lot of daintily dressed women and conservatively dressed men about....

Friday, June 26, 2009

On the Road: Stillwater National Wildlife Refuge, Elko, Nevada

Drove up to the Stillwater National Wildlife Refuge this morning, near Fallon, Nevada. The place was mostly dry, so didn't see very much except in the marshy areas. Saw coots and ruddy ducks mostly. On the drive up to the place, however, the road followed a canal where I saw a great egret, a great blue heron, a coot, and in the fields a number of birds I eventually identified as Western kingbirds--a first sighting for me. Also saw a red-shouldered hawk circling.

The drive west from Fallon to Elko was not especially exciting (first north on 95, then east on I-80). Mostly eroded hills with occasional outcroppings of harder rocks. The terrain became gradually more rugged further west, but nothing spectacular. The most attractive thing I saw all day was the lovely, smiling redheaded girl that took my order at Starbucks just now. For some reason, Elko smells like Kentucky Fried Chicken. Really wanted to make Salt Lake City today. The idea of going all the way across the country looks rather daunting now. It requires so much high-speed driving on flat, straight roads. I much prefer slow driving on small windy roads, but then you don't get very far. Still seeking a compromise, I guess. What pushes me to go on?

On the Road: Fallon, Nevada

In a Starbucks in Fallon, Nevada, to get an Internet connection. I'm trying to find a wildlife refuge that is supposed to be in the area. Thought I'd do a little birding before heading further east, but can't seem to find any useful information. Very warm and dry here. The same malls with the same stores.....

I keep driving past signs that say "Prison Area: Hitchhiking Prohibited." I think O. J. Simpson is staying nearby.

On the Road: Reno

I find myself in Reno, Nevada, after a long day of driving not redeemed by a great deal interesting along the way and made somewhat arduous by almost non-stop construction work along the route. I decided to stay in Reno mostly because it was a convenient day's drive from home, and because casino towns usually have cheap hotels. Reno looks much like Las Vegas but not nearly so over-the-top. I have little interest in gambling, but I had a cold beer in one of the casinos because I was hot and tired, which was very refreshing. The people look mostly bored and lonely, and there is little interaction going on. Mostly people stare at slot machines, or video poker tables. A few more-animated groups are at craps tables and roulette wheels. I mostly enjoyed the wild neon lights in the place, The Peppermill.

Heading further east tomorrow, assuming my car is still in the parking lot in the morning. Haven't yet decided where I'll stay. Salt Lake City may be too far, but it's the next logical stop. I dread the barren expanse of northern Nevada I will have to cross to get there. I'm hoping there will be some good birding around the Salt Lake area, though.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Wine I'm Making: First Watering

Watering the vines for the first time this year today, June 24. I'm giving them six hours of drip irrigation.

Yesterday I cut away the excess foliage on the vines that was shading the second row, checked for suckers, and dropped a few late-forming small clusters.

Haven't sprayed with sulfur again, but no signs of mildew. Everything looks good.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Movies I'm Watching: Easy Virtue

I just got back from the Rialto on Summerfield Ave., in Santa Rosa, our local movie house. I saw Easy Virtue (2009), starring Jessica Biel, Kristin Scott Thomas, Colin Firth, Ben Barnes, Kris Marshall, and others, directed by Stephan Elliott, an adaptation of an early Noel Coward play. I enjoyed this. Good acting by all the principals, and a very strong supporting cast. It was both poignant and hilarious--mostly funny--with the humor given its edge in large part by contrast with underlying darker currents. Beautifully filmed and wittily edited. Visually, this was exciting to watch. Both the humor and the drama rely on subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) juxtapositions, often of fierce-looking stuffed trophy animals in the big house, against elements of the story line. These (almost like an inanimate Greek chorus) are mostly used to highlight and comment upon the sparring between the Whittaker family and Larita Whittaker (the Jessica Biel character), a breath of fresh air blowing through the place with rather too much force--although she turns out to be far deeper than her antagonists would ever have thought possible. Wonderful use of reflected images--notably Mrs. Whittaker ominously in the black billiard ball; Mr. Whittaker (both right side up and upside down) in a spoon; the whole family in a serving dish; in window panes--most memorably Larita and her husband in two panes of the same window, but symbolically in the very different worlds they rapidly come to understand they live in (love and lust have blinded them temporarily)--the panes they inhabit separated by a stone column. Kris Marshall is a stand-out among the supporting players as the butler. Recommended.

Music I'm Writing: New String Quartet

The new version of Sibelius (Sibelius 6) is a big improvement!

It's much better in many respects than the older version I've been using and well worth the upgrade. Text inputs now automatically snap to their appropriate positions above or below the staff, so you don't have to waste time tweaking their positions, dynamics are better in playback (but still could be better; there are a couple of jarring volume changes in this), the program no longer gets confused going back and forth between pizz. and arco, and, perhaps best, the built-in sounds are much better.
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