Saturday, March 13, 2010

Birds I'm Watching: Lake Ralphine/Spring Lake

On a walk around Lake Ralphine (at Howarth Park, Santa Rosa) and Spring Lake today I saw nothing much unusual except the spotted sandpiper that's been hanging out on the east side of Lake Ralphine, but I was able to get an extraordinary photograph of a golden-crowned sparrow (above). The bird virtually walked up to me and sat at my feet. Who knows why? At first I thought it was sitting on a nest, but I don't think these sparrows are ground nesters. It was as if the bird simply wanted companionship. It reminded me of a cat curling up to sleep in a comfortable spot. From about six feet away, it allowed me to take photographs for several minutes, not stirring until I stood up to leave. It flew off to join several companions foraging in the nearby bushes.

Birds I saw: Anna's hummingbird, red-winged blackbird, pied-billed grebe, coot, turkey vulture, California towhee, spotted towhee, yellow-rumped warbler, Canada geese, scrub jay, crow, raven, Northern flicker, bushtits, Bewick's wren, American goldfinch, golden-crowned sparrow, mallard, bufflehead, snowy egret, double-crested cormorant, ring-billed gull, California gull, Brewer's blackbird, common merganser (46 on Lake Ralphine today), oak titmouse, spotted sandpiper, common goldeneye, ruby-crowned kinglet, house finch, and dark-eyed junco--thirty-one species on a three-hour walk covering about three miles.

On Friday (March 12) I spent about 40 minutes at Place-to-Play Park, in Santa Rosa. Some long-time birdwatchers in the area rightly lament that the park today is just a remnant of what used to be a much more extensive wild area, but it continues to attract a lot of birds. On a short walk covering a distance of only a few hundred yards (once around the small lake) I saw: Red-shouldered hawk, crows, common merganser, killdeer, double-crested cormorant, snowy egret, bufflehead, ruddy duck, black phoebe, yellow-rumped warbler, bushtits, California towhee, coots, turkey vulture, scrub jay, Canada geese, house finches, robin, golden-crowned sparrow, white-crowned sparrow, Nuttall's woodpecker, mourning doves, pied-billed grebe, and a Northern mockingbird. I also saw a warbler I was unable to identify--mostly yellow and pale gray with a distinct white eye ring. Twenty-five species in total, which is nearly as many as I saw at Lake Ralphine and Spring Lake--in a much smaller area and covering a much shorter distance.

Rain: More Rain (March 13, 2010)

It's a beautiful sunny day today, but we've had another 0.9 inches of rain since last reporting. Our 2009-2010 rainy season total now stands at 24.7 inches, which is behind the historical average of 25.8 inches for this day (March 13), but other locations in Santa Rosa have reported as much as 29.4 inches, or more than 3.5 inches higher than normal.

Now the question is how late in the season will it rain this year? We've already had more precipitation than in all of the 2008-2009 season (the season goes from July 1 to June 30), but late rains really help the plants through the hot dry summer. We'll see.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Music I'm Listening To: An Old Friend in Someone Else's Skin

I had an odd experience today listening to the radio in the car. I felt like I had come face to face with an old friend in someone else's skin. The gestures were familiar, the sound of the voice exhilarating and evocative of shared past experience; I knew the person immediately. But there was something entirely new, something completely unknown--a very disorienting feeling. Still, it was an exciting feeling, creating an irresistible need to listen closely, to try to understand the changed form the familiar now inhabited--and to relate that back to the original, comparing.

This is a surprisingly taxing thing to do. It requires great concentration, and it forces a decision, a mental transformation. Either we abandon the old and accept the new (rarely easy), separating what is from what we remember it to have been, or we must reject the new outright. Some transformations go smoothly, others remain works in progress with uncertain outcomes.

For a moment, I thought I was listening to the Brahms Double Concerto (for violin and cello). Then immediately I thought I was listening to the Brahms Violin Concerto. Next, I thought I was simply listening to one of the two Brahms piano concertos, as the solo instrument was most certainly a piano, not a violin or a cello--but none of these ideas quite made sense. As I was listening to the piano, I kept hearing the music as it seemed it ought to have been--played instead by a violin. The music was both eerily familiar and new at the same time. Had this been Vivaldi or Bach, I don't think the confusion would have been so deep. I drove the long way home, waiting for the music to finish, eager to hear who and what I was listening to--although, by the time the music was over, I had come to the only conclusion that made any sense: this was a transcription for piano of the Brahms Violin Concerto

And so it was. I was listening to Johannes Brahms' Piano Concerto No. 3 [sic], arranged by Dejan Lazic (Dejan Lazic, piano; Robert Spano conducting the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra; Channel Classics CCS SA 29410.) This is a new disc, released March 9, 2010.

Brahms wrote only two piano concertos, but Mr. Lazic has conjured another one for us. According to what I've been able to find, Lazic has left the orchestral score untouched, but he has re-conceived the solo violin part for piano and written new cadenzas.

It's surprising how well the piece has made the transition from a concerto for stringed instrument to a piece featuring piano. It's virtually impossible not to hear the sound of bow on string in certain passages, in part because they are so familiar to the ear, but also because, having been conceived for violin, they naturally take advantage of the strengths and peculiarities of that instrument. It's hard to convert cantabile passages for violin into music for what is essentially a percussion instrument without doing them some violence, but Lazic's transcription is extremely persuasive. Only in a few places did I find myself longing for the scrape and grit of the string--only in a few places did I find it impossible to abandon the old friend for the new. All in all, a remarkable creation. I wonder if Brahms would have minded? Recommended.

Art I'm Looking At: Teaching Printmaking

During the past six weeks or so, I've been helping the art teacher at the Santa Rosa Charter School for the Arts teach printmaking to the 5th graders. We've looked at techniques ranging from etching to collograph printing to woodblock, to styrofoam and linoleum block printing.

The mini-course is finishing up now, but I've been very impressed with some of the work of these first-time printermakers. It's been a pleasure to watch them become comfortable using cutting tools (only one cut finger so far!) and become expert at rolling out ink and applying it to blocks and plates for printing. They've learned to use the Japanese baren for applying pressure (or at least a cheap plastic version of the baren). They've learned to print, sign, and number an edition, choosing the best impressions for inclusion. I think we may have bred a printmaker or two.... They've been having a lot of fun, and so have I.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

About This Blog: Advertising

As some of my regular readers may have noticed, I recently added Google ads to the sidebar on the right. I've been fascinated by the way they change depending on the content of my posts. While reviewing yogurts, all the ads were about yogurt and weight loss. When I write about bird watching, all the ads are about bird feeders, attracting birds, and, ironically, about warding off annoying bird incursions (always a sensitive topic around here; just yesterday I had lunch at the Tides restaurant in Bodega Bay, scene of carnage in Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds). When I write about wine, the ads change to wine, wine glasses, and wine storage equipment. When I write about movies, Netflix appears. I get a lot of ads for luxury cars and cell phones--not sure exactly why (are my topics generally upscale?). When I write about plants, nursery stock is the pitch of the day. Always something new. Interestingly, when I write about books or art, the ads don't seem to react much--or maybe those help feed the car and cell phone ads? Who knows? No one seems to click on them. They certainly haven't generated any revenue--not that I had high expectations.

Today I got Tylenol sinus medicine ads. I hope that doesn't mean my writing is getting stuffy....

[Update: I killed the Google ads not long after I wrote this, but it was interesting to watch at the time.]

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Movies I'm Watching: The Best Movies I've Never Seen

I've been thinking further about the idea of little-known and forgotten cinematic gems (see my recent post on the subject). A few come to mind immediately: Here are 20 of my favorite movies that people I talk with don't seem to know very well (in no particular order). These, of course, are movies I have seen:

Badlands (1973)
Tom Jones (1963)
Tiger Bay (1959)
Walkabout (1970)
Doro no Kawa (1981)--also known as Muddy River
The Conversation (1974)
Hobson's Choice (1953)
The Dresser (1983)
Odd Man Out (1947)
Five Fingers (1952)--also known as Operation Cicero
The Duellists (1977)
The Marriage of Maria Braun (1978)
Fail Safe (1964)
The 49th Parallel (1941)
The League of Gentleman (1960)
Orphée (1949)
The Train (1965)
Topsy Turvy (1999)
I'm All Right Jack (1959)
Room at the Top (1958)

Some of these will be well known to cinephiles, but none seems to be part of mainstream consciousness--at least not in the US. Some of these have a higher profile in Britain. Among them, Tiger Bay, Walkabout, Hobson's Choice, and Five Fingers, are special favorites of mine. All highly recommended. For trivia buffs, Hobson's Choice includes one of the first film performances of Prunella Scales, later better known as Sybil Fawlty, wife of Basil Fawlty, John Cleese's character in Fawlty Towers.

Not to mention the incomplete 1937 I, Claudius, with Charles Laughton and Merle Oberon.... The surviving footage, unfinished as it is, will send shivers down your spine. Few people I know have ever heard of it.

I wonder what your favorite little-known films are? Send me your list. Don't exclude films because they are on this or other similar lists. I'm interested to see where the overlap is.

Back to movie reviews

Wines I'm Making: Finished Pruning the Vines

Finished pruning the vines today (Cabernet Sauvignon and Sangiovese). Everything looks good. It's still early, but some of the buds are already beginning to swell. Another year, another vintage on the way....

Monday, March 8, 2010

Art I'm Making: Beet Salad Shrimp Doodle

I happened to see something resembling a shrimp in the red juice at the bottom of my plate tonight. I turned it into a shrimp doodle. "Beet salad shrimp doodle" has a nice ring to it. It sounds like a fancy dish of some kind--but this is just a doodle. It will have been washed away by the time you read this.

OK--so I was playing with my food....

Miscellaneous: iPods Jealous of iPhones

I read an online article today about the attachments people develop to their iPhones. One statistic in particular struck me as very funny: According to a new Stanford University survey, 8% of 200 students responding admitted that they are so devoted to their iPhones that at least once they've suspected their iPod is jealous of their iPhone.

That's a little bit weird.

My iPhone is very creative. It recently did this self-portrait (above) My phone has a rather pointillist self-image, apparently. The phone's sense of color here is very reminiscent of Seurat.

No, my iPhone does not have a name.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Tidbits: Sandra Bullock's Range Acknowledged

Sandra Bullock today became the first person to win both an Oscar (Best Actress, for her performance in The Blind Side) and a Razzie (Worst Actress, for her performance in All About Steve) in the same year. That girl's got range.

Art I'm Looking At: A New Way to Connect Artists and Art Lovers

Have you heard of Kickstarter? I'm not sure how long it's been around. It's one of those ideas that make you slap your forehead (figuratively speaking) and ask yourself "Why didn't I think of that?" People with ideas that need funding post a description of a project, a funding goal for the project, and a deadline to reach that goal, and then they offer potential investors incentives to participate in supporting the project. If the goal isn't reached by the deadline, the project fails to get any funding at all, which encourages people to set realistic goals. The plans range broadly--from the prosaic to the inspired.

The ones that interest me most are those posted by artists trying to make a film, or produce a play, or publish a book, or kickstart a participatory art project that gets feedback directly from the investors and then rewards them with a piece of the project. What a wonderful way to get communities to support artists through direct involvement in both the creation of art and its consumption. With technology, the community expands to the entirety of the world connected to the Internet. Brilliant.

The link above will take you to some of the arts-related projects that the Kickstarter staff have recommended--but don't forget to come back; there's much here you still haven't seen.

Wines I'm Making: Started Pruning the Vines

It's a Sunday. The sun is shining. In the past nine years, the honeybees have always swarmed on a sunny Sunday during a lull in the rain (with only one exception). I can't imagine what's keeping them in check today. A swarm is overdue.

The bees are very busy, however, bringing in big loads of pollen in various shades of cream, lemon, and orange. You can see a few bees with balls of pollen on their legs in the photo. I took advantage of the nice weather myself this morning to prune one of the two rows of grapes in the backyard. Tomorrow I will attempt to finish the job, but taxes loom....
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