December 28, 2010

Passing Time

So, I know I haven't been posting consistently enough...especially considering I've been on an extended holiday break with ample time to fill even after the 4 hours of daily practice I put in. Even more condemning is the fact that here at Rob's (as opposed to my place in Evanston) I have access to the world wide web all the time...don't have to trek to school if I wanna check my email, watch some PBS...or write a blog. In this case it seems as though it's primarily when things get easy that I get lazy.

So here's my catch-up post.

Some things I've/we've been doing for the holiday break...

Finding practice rooms for me:

After the first few days I was here (during which I did my aforementioned daily 4 hours at Rob's apartment) I started to get the idea that the neighbors were sick and tired of hearing scales, arpeggios, and atonal solos. When I'd start playing for instance I thought I could hear their voices change from quiet muffles to annoyed yells. I HATE thinking that I'm bothering anyone with my playing and I can TOTALLY understand how one might tire of hearing all the crap I go through during my practice--especially the tedious but necessary stuff I tackle as part of my technical routine. I started to worry that they'd call the landlord and complain or send the cops over to shut me up. At that point I was unable to make myself put the horn to my lips and blow. My worry had completely shut me down.

Initially, I spent some time practicing in the Cornell music building. There are a few practice rooms there and though I was clearly breaking the rules by using them (not only are they for Cornell students only, but those students have to pay a sizable fee at the beginning of the year just to be granted access) but as it was finals week, few people were around and no one approached me about it. After finals week however, the music building was locked for holiday there goes that option.

Another member of Rob's relativity group is a drummer and lives in this apartment complex. One day while making a laundry run Rob noticed him practicing in the apartment's common room--a sitting-room-like area next to the work-out facility that is totally separate from anyone's living quarters. He came home all excited and suggested that I could try practicing in there as well. Just to make sure I wouldn't be breaking any rules, I asked Rob to email the guy and see if he had been given any guidelines to regulate his use of the room . Sure enough: he had an arrangement with the landlord (confirmed with a $250 deposit) that he could use the room for 2 hours every Saturday...dangit!

Sooo...I thought, "I'll call Hickey's and see if they have any studio space for rent." In fact, they do...but they wouldn't allow me to use it for private practice as it was designated for lessons only. ARGGGH!!! At the end of my rope, I told the guy at Hickey's about my predicament and if he had any suggestions. "Have you tried going to IC?" He asked. "You can sneak into those practice rooms any time and I know they're going to be open during the break."

There was my solution: Ithaca College. I had to drive all the way across town and up a formidable hill (pleeeease don't let it get icy!), but was rewarded by having access to a lovely new building loaded with empty practice rooms. What a lifesaver!!!

Unfortunately IC did finally lock up over the Christmas weekend, but at that point Rob figured no one would be around in the Cornell Space Sciences Building (Carl Sagan's old stomping ground). His office is there and he has a key to the whole place. For a couple days he let me in to the large conference room on the 6th floor where I was able to squawk to my hearts content.

As much as I'm sad to be leaving Rob again tomorrow, I have to admit I'm looking forward to having a consistent, non-disruptive...and LEGAL way to practice my horn every day.

We watched a pile o' movies (ok mom, don't freak out...I know the list is's just that I've been here a long time...I promise I haven't just been sitting on my butt for a whole month!).
Here's a list along with personal ratings (I should stress personal! I am decidedly NOT any sort of film critic) from 1 to 5 "stars."

Black Swan--****CREEPY!!! But disturbingly compelling and beautiful. Natalie Portman did a fantastic job as a paranoid and perfectionistic work horse...can I relate a little?...hmmm...hate to think so.

True Grit--*****A bit bloody, but only enough for PG-13. An excellent classic-style western with great characters, gripping story, and a ton of heart. See this one!!!

Tron--***An excellent ride! Loved the effects. Decent story (it helps if you read about or watch the first Tron before seeing this one) and (blush) I really liked the music. I think you even deserve to see this one in 3-D.

Fire in the Sky--*Um, it was an ok movie, but the acting was a little over the top and, most disappointingly, the scenes inside the alien ship are completely fabricated--they bear no resemblance to the "actual" abduction experiences described in the book. According to wikipedia, the movie makers all thought the book was too boring--so they hyped everything up into this overdone horror scene in order to be more dramatic. Lame! The truth is out there!

127 Hours--*****You already know I loved this one, but I'll continue by saying it's even better the second time.

Modern Times--****My first Chaplin film! Purely delightful entertaining, origin of the song "Smile," and the first time Chaplin's voice is heard on film.

Miracle on 34th Street--****Also a classic. This is a great flick to put you in the Christmas spirit. I hadn't seen it in years...brought me back to my childhood.

Elf--***Uproariously funny and surprisingly sweet (a little too much so in the spaghetti scene).

Scrooged--***Enjoyed it as always..."it's aaaa TOASTER!!!!"

Groundhog Day--***Another Fun Bill Murray selection with a good moral and heartwarming ending.

Time Bandits--****Very imaginative and wonderfully unpredictable.

The Fisher King--****Ditto...just turn away when Robin Williams is shaking his naked booty in Central Park. The characters in this movie are wonderful (Jeff Bridges' girlfriend is awesome) and even though it ends with a hollywoodish "happily ever after," it's so chock full of creativity you won't even notice the cliches.

Life of Brian--****It's Monty Python...need I say more?

Exit Through the Gift Shop--*****!!MUST SEE!! A very interesting documentary (or is the film itself a set up?) about street art and the characters behind it. Loved it!

Barton Fink--****This film was part of the Coen Brothers education Rob has been providing to me. It was a strange film--intense--beautifully shot--full of scenes and references begging for further interpretation yet always seeming to elude being figured out for sure.

Roger and Me--***Michael Moore's first documentary. It's about his persistent quest to get an interview with GM Chairman Roger Smith and have him answer for his decision to close the GM plants in Flint Michigan. Tragic. Depressing. Funny and shocking in spots.

We went to see another frozen waterfall...

Here's the sign that greeted us when we crossed the stream and headed over to this closest observation point...

No arguments here!

Just as with Ithaca Falls a few days previous, the air in this gorge was filled with a fine spray of freezing water particles that coated everything within 50 feet of the falls with a thick layer of ice. Interestingly, we noticed that the ice built up on the rocks, trees, and blades of grass existed almost exclusively on the side facing the falls...

And here it is...Taughannock Falls...215 feet of spectacular!

And here's what it looked like in May of 2008--the first time Rob and I visited the it's a bit easier to understand the need for a sign prohibiting swimming.


And it's a good thing we didn't get pummeled by a falling geometric boulder on the way out. The walls of the gorge were so high they seemed to curve in towards us at the top. I was reminded of something I read in Aron Ralston's book..."Geologic time is now."

After this freezing trip we went home and made crepes...Mmmmmmm! already know about the scrabble and crosswords (Thanks Mal and Ry for the great Xword dictionaries!), and as you may have noticed in my post from 2 days ago, I made a fair number of paper snowflakes (the CORRECT 6 sided ones...not the RIDICULOUS 4 sided ones)...
by the way, if you want to check out an AWESOME website with everything you ever wanted to know about snowflakes and ice formations check out this Caltech site. The images are phenomenal!

Oh! We celebrated Rob's excellent teaching reviews. Here's what a few students anonymously commented about his class...

"ROB OWEN IS THE BEST TA I'VE EVER HAD (SO FAR). He knows his subject really well, he is able to capture our attention and make physics understandable. If I could I would take every class that Rob Owen teaches/co-teaches regardless of the subject, because I know that even if the subject is hard he'll find a way to make it easy to understand!"

"My TA was very good, he made me even more interested in physics than I already was. For a couple of days after he gave a mini-lecture on magnetism's relation to special relativity I was seriously considering switching my major to physics."

"Rob is the man"

"I would nominate Rob Owen for whatever teaching award the physics dept. or Cornell has to offer. He's a wonderful person and displays incredible mastery of our course material."

I agree completely. Though I've never taken a formal course offered by Dr. Owen, I frequently badger him with crazy physics or math questions that force him to make something really complex accessible to a simple mind such as mine. He's a great teacher:) And now that the class is over he's also thrilled to have more time to get back to his research.

I went shopping and bought myself some new (and badly needed) winter clothing.

I played around with a new section of the Zooniverse website called The Milky Way Project. If any of you ever had an interest in doing something fun that actually contributes to significant scientific research here's your chance. The whole thing started out with Galaxy Zoo--a site where hundreds of thousands of people helped classify the millions of galaxy images sent back by the Sloan Digital Sky survey (a couple of my favorites are pictured here). I guess humans do a much better job than a computer does when it comes to picking out an object's subtle details and when you have feedback on the same object from several different volunteers, the data turns out to be quite accurate. Now that the Sloan's images have been completed, we're picking through Hubble's shots of the most distant galaxies ever imaged. It's quite exciting!

In the Milky Way Project my "job" is to map "bubbles" and other interesting features I find in infrared images taken of our own home galaxy. The data collected is supposed to help astronomers better understand how stars form. The images are especially gorgeous (see below), and even though this particular activity is a bit more time consuming and complex than the original Galaxy Zoo (which was easy-peasy) it's quite satisfying to finish each frame and send it off. It also makes up a bit for my current inability to take part in the astronomy club activities of which I grew so fond. Sigh...I'll be back to it someday soon I'm sure.

Ok, let's see, is that everything? Pretty much. I guess we also listened to some music and had tickle wars. I worked out here and there. There were a couple days I found myself feeling bleak and hopeless. I was hating myself, was reduced to tears and full-body tremors, and became for a little while utterly unable to function normally. Rob quietly held me close and stroked my hair during all of it. I seriously don't deserve this guy!

Bumps and all it was a good holiday. As I said before I'm sad to leave my man, but am also looking forward to the excitement and (hopefully rewarding) challenges that await in the coming quarter.'s almost 2011. Wow! Time sure flies when you're having fun:)

December 27, 2010

It's Official!!!!!

That's right!

After long days and anxious hours of working and waiting...I am finally BY DEFINITION a *good Scrabble player*! (Rob and I are celebrating my achievement as you can see above:)

According to the official Scrabble gameplay guide, a "good player" typically scores between three and four hundred in a 2 player game. Since I've been in Ithaca Rob and I have played 7 games. He's scored above that 300 mark twice already, but even though I beat him 4 times, I never made it above 300 till this evening when I scored 313!!!

I think I can contribute some of my overall personal improvement in the game to Rob's and my frequent habit of working through crossword puzzles together. I believe it's increased my ability to create words from my own tiles as well as to see helpful patterns of letters already in play from which I can build the high-scoring combinations of letters that make a champion. If you've ever watched a pro crossworder in action you may have noticed that sometimes, even more than finding an answer to the provided clue, just being able to see patterns in the letters is what really gives them the advantage. As our scrabble games have progressed we've both been increasing the frequency that we're able to create 2 and even 3 words in one cramped little area of the board scoring 30 or more points from just a couple of letters.

From Rob I also learned to pay more attention to where I place words (deliberately shooting for those double and triple word scores) rather than just trying to make big beautiful words. "ATONED" is a fine word for example, but most of those letters are only worth 1 point each so if you have to play it on all blank squares you could end up with a measly 7 points. On the other hand, if you play a shorter and more boring word that hits a couple high scoring squares and makes a couple 2 letter words on the side, you could bring your point tally for a single turn well above 20, 30, or even 40.

Beauty or utility...? It's a tough choice, but if you're playing to win...I guess ya gotta be practical.


Today the northeast is being hammered by a horrible blizzard. Thousands are stranded up and down the coast as airports, train lines, and roadways close. Here in Ithaca we've dodged the worst of it, but still the day has been murderously cold and windy and the little snow we've gotten (maybe an inch or two) has blown up in smooth drifts that coat the sidewalks and make the roads extra slick. Everything's supposed to pass over by tomorrow afternoon so I'm hoping my drive back to Evanston (so far planned for Wednesday) won't be too terrible.

This afternoon Rob and I braved the storm and made a trip out to Hickey's Music--the local music dealer and one of the best online sources for brass music and supplies I know of. After my first lesson with Chris Martin a few months ago he'd suggested that I try some different mouthpieces and (NON-equipment-junky that I am) I've been putting off this gear-heady chore for far too long. At the very least I knew I should get a smaller picc mouthpiece as what I have been playing for the last couple years (a GR 7H*P) has a great sound (I love GR mouthpieces!), but is far too much work to play.

I was a little nervous that I'd go in the store and someone would recognize me as the former Cannonball trumpet lady--not that I'm embarrassed about that, I just didn't want to have to explain my reason for leaving the company. Fortunately, that didn't happen (guess I'm not nearly as famous as I'd feared), but I was excited and pleased to see a little Cannonball display featuring a gorgeous Brute Sea-Dog tenor that I'd engraved.

Looking at this beautiful horn I was suddenly overcome with a healthy dose of pride. I could point out nearly a dozen features on the horn that I'd designed myself (various guards, decorative metal pieces, and of course engravings) or helped others design (a few of the functional components--keys and the like). You know...I really did do great work at Cannonball. Despite how my personal experience degraded towards the end of my time there, I left having made a meaningful contribution, and of that I can be proud (right?).

The sales people were great and set me up in a practice room with several mouthpieces to try. I didn't find anything compelling for my big horns, but decided on an interesting new option for my picc: a Schilke 5A4. I'm hoping it'll get me more effectively moving through some rep I've been neglecting due to its prohibitive high range.

Rob scored some gear as well...

He's had the piano for years, but had needed a stand and longer! Stravinskian that he is, he also picked up full scores of the master's Octet and Histoire Du Soldat...hours of fun await!

For the rest of the evening we're both hunkered down indoors (feeling extra blessed as we listen to the wind howl through the pines outside the window), and in a little while (after I finish up my daily practice) will probably continue what has turned into an out-and-out Scrabble war (we're tied 3 to 3 out of 6 games...though I totally clobbered him on the last one...HA!).

December 26, 2010


Mmmm...just finished eating a delectable home-made Christmas meal! I know it's the day after, but considering that our most substantial meal yesterday consisted of frozen pizza, salad, and no-bake cookies, I'm choosing to dub today's meal as the more official holidayish one. I just have to say...If you've never had savory cornbread waffles topped with chili and a sprinkling of cheese--today is the day to remedy that.

Last week, Rob and I had dinner at Waffle Frolic: a great Ithaca restaurant run by former Ithaca College students who loved the area enough to stick around and start a business. In a town whose economy is dominated by its resident centers of higher learning it's no surprise that the place caters mainly to college students. There's a cute little dining/study/hang-out area upstairs, and along with a "healthy" selection of savory waffles, there's the obligatory study-food concoction of bananas, nutella, and vanilla ice cream (whew!!!...though I still have to wonder...why bother further diluting nutella with ice cream and fruit?). Anyway, a while back Rob had tried a combination consisting of a cornbread waffle topped with turkey chili--a choice that fascinated me as I'd never considered the idea of making a waffle anything but sweet, and I was eager to sample it myself. Turns out, this particular meal was utterly satisfying...especially to top off a cold day. We ordered one full waffle and split it between the two of us. It was plenty of food and upon cleaning the plate neither of us had any space left for that tempting nutella selection (oh well).

After I finished my 2 hours of morning practice (sorry Rob's neighbors), the usual question arose of "what should we do now?" I was staaaarving and Rob conceded he "could eat" so lunch became the goal. To make things interesting I suggested we look up recipes for cornbread waffles so we could reproduce the delectable meal we'd had at Waffle Frolic...only this time further improved by being topped with my personal recipe for sweet-potato chili!

I guess cornbread waffles are pretty standard southern fare and there were a plethora of recipes that came up on google. Our only concern was that most of them called for adding actual corn to the batter (unnecessary in both our opinions and definately not the way we'd had it at the waffle place), but after a little further searching Rob found a nice simple recipe sans the frozen/canned corn. (I won't reprint it here 'cause that probably infringes on someone's copyright or something...If you're interested, I'm sure you'll have no trouble finding it). We made a list of supplies we'd need (which included a waffle iron) and set out to obtain them.

I can however provide you with my own vegetarian chili recipe (secret ingredients included).

Group 1:
Some olive oil
Some balsamic vinegar
Some bullion
Some garlic
Some onions
2 small (or 1 big) sweet potatoes cubed
Some mushrooms (cut teensy tiny if you're trying to hide them from someone who hates Rob;)
Group 2:
1 box of grape tomatoes cut into 3rds
optional--1 tbsp maple syrup (sweet potatoes generally provide the desirable sweetness on their own, but for a waffle topping, I thought a little hint of something extra might be nice)
Some sort of yummy seasoning (whatever you want)
(IF YOU WANT you can also add whatever additional vegis suit your fancy. I usually try peppers, asparagus, maybe some squash...use your imagination...or whatever's in the fridge and needs to be used up.)
Group 3:
1 can of kidney beans
1 can of black beans

Throw the first group of ingredients into a big pan on a high-medium heat. Cook them till the onions are clear and everything is nice and toasty. You might even want to brown the potatoes a little. Throw in the second group of ingredients and cook a while longer. Throw in the third group of ingredients, turn the heat down to a nice-low-simmering temperature, and go into the other room for an hour or two (it's most enjoyable if you sit down to read a book and start to savor the smell of your cooking chili wafting in from the kitchen!)

The result was scrumdiddlyumtious! Rob said later that we should have taken pictures for the blog. This time we also saved room for dessert and both tried a quarter waffle slathered in nutella. Cornbread and nutella...Mmmm!!

Now we're both chillin' out letting our stomachs settle. I'm typing the blog and Rob is half-napping snuggled up against my arm (though when he saw during my typing that I added mushrooms to the chili--which I didn't tell him, and he didn't notice!--he jumped up out of his comfy position and nearly kicked me out into the cold) and all is momentarily right with the world.

December 16, 2010

Century Mark!

It's my 100th post!

I was hoping I'd be able to come up with something elegant and profound to say in celebration of this personal milestone, but this time I think I'm just gonna let the pictures do most of the talking.

Rob was away at work for a few hours today, so after practicing, working out, and having lunch, I decided to entertain myself by going back near Rob's old Gun Hill apartment to visit Ithaca Falls. The other day, he and I had noticed a calendar for sale at the Ithaca Bakery that featured lovely photos of a few of the areas most luscious falls--including a fully iced-over Taughannock. I was curious how early in the season a large waterfall like that might freeze over and thought Ithaca falls, as it is just a couple miles down the hill, might be a good place to start my investigation.

I was not disappointed...

This is a big falls, so even though a good portion of it was frozen solid, enough water was still coursing wildly over the rock walls to create its own wind. A fine freezing mist hovered in the air eventually coating everything within about 50 feet of the falls with a significant layer of ice.

While I was photographing, my face and glasses became coated with the stuff. If my attention hadn't been held rapt by all the wonder around me, I might have been totally miserable and thinking of nothing except getting home for a nice big cup of hot soup.

Just as I was about to leave, I noticed a bright waxing moon hovering over the falls. How could I have missed this before?!

I stood around and snapped a good 7 or 8 more pics before finally walking back to my car...suddenly noticing that my hands ached from the cold.

December 15, 2010

Desert Fever

It's not difficult to make sense of why I've lately been drawn to books of the desert. I'm just starting to suffer through my first long midwestern winter (well actually, winter won't even begin utill Dec. 21st, so...I have yet to look forward to the bulk of my shivers!) and my body and spirit are seeking respite from perpetual gray iciness. I can't pretend to have ever been one of those extreme outdoorsy types who treks out to the remote Utah desert every weekend and who could, if necessary, survive for days on nothing but grasshoppers and cactus juice, but the times I have found myself drawn, alone or with others, into the arid wilds just a few hours outside of Salt Lake City have engrained in me a love for these remote places and a visceral need to return there from time to time in order to sustain my spirit and purge the most persistent of my demons.

One January years ago I borrowed my dad's car (now it's hard to believe he even considered the idea) and took a solo trip down to Arches National Park in order to "get some air and sort some things out".

After (barely) graduating from Juilliard in 2002 I was burned out on trumpet and had come home to live at my mom's with a vague sort of plan to hang out a while, freelance in the city, and eventually think about taking some auditions. Some of the details of this in-limbo period are a bit hazy, but if I'm remembering correctly, I might have just started working at Cannonball a few months prior after becoming even further disillusioned with my prospects for a professional musical career and deciding I might as well see what a "day job" was like. I had also recently started monitoring an online dating site in hopes that it would get me out and doing stuff again instead of just mouldering around at home feeling sorry for myself and pining over lost "love". Instead, most of the very few dates I went on were uncomfortable and disappointing, and though one lead initially seemed promising, it had become clear (to me at least) that though this person was decent and nice, there was absolutely no chemistry.

So, I left for a spontaneous weekend excursion hoping that some fresh air and hiking would stimulate my mood and help me figure out what to do with my life. I envisioned something of a revelation taking place after which I'd be able to come home and take charge of things as never before. I brought my trumpet along in a little shoulder bag thinking I might further align myself with the heart of the land by playing music in the desert canyons and creating mystical counterpoints with my own echos.

The trip turned out to be even more significant than I had imagined, but for none of the reasons I had planned. Instead of finding the time with which to "think everything over" and "sort things out" I discovered as soon as I left the car and walked off into the landscape that my mind was emptied and stilled. The stresses and worries I'd been harboring vanished into the cold sunny haze of high-desert winter and I further let myself go with every step I took out among the huge burnt-orange sandstone formations. Though I understand Arches--a relatively small national park--can get utterly bogged down with visitors during the peak seasons, in early January the roads were all but deserted and I relished the feelings and sounds of solitude.

A couple miles down the trail from landscape arch I found a spot overlooking several giant fins of yellow rock and pulled out my trumpet to sample the sound. I remember achieving 5 or 6 clear echos and spent some time playing around with the effect until another solo hiker came around the bend. I put my horn down when I saw him, but he seemed intrigued and after a bit of coaxing I consented to play a while longer.

Later in the day I walked to delicate arch. I'll admit that I almost decided to skip the trail altogether because I was a little sick of seeing the iconic arch's photo plastered everywhere and printed on everything from coffee mugs to license plates...but...what the heck...might as well just check it out. I can't remember how long the trail was--maybe a couple of miles--but I do remember the ice. In retrospect it was infinitely stupid of me to go out there alone in the middle of January wearing nothing on my feet but reg'lar well-worn-down hiking shoes. Portions of the sandstone trail were located on the north sides of rock formations and were thus completely iced over. Additionally some of these icy patches were situated above fairly steep and precarious drop offs, and as I am only a moderately experienced hiker it's nothing short of a miracle that I didn't slip or loose footing along the way and break a bone or two.

When I came around the final bend I was stunned. People always say this, but pictures DO NOT come close to accurately portraying the spectacle of delicate arch. First of all, it was MUCH larger than I ever imagined it to be and was perched atop the far rim of a gigantic smooth-faced sandstone amphitheater. I had the overwhelming impression of having entered a temple.

As evening came on I took a last walk around the "Parade of Elephants" formation--a huge mass of red rock that does in fact resemble its name. I held my hand to the stone and could feel its age. It seemed warm and vibrant as though inhabited by a living force beyond understanding. Once again the amalgam of my senses lulled me into a humble and stunned reverence--the scale of which I've never felt before or since.

Back to my desert-ee books: after so thoroughly enjoying the movie "127 hours" I decided to see how it compared with the true story as retold by Aron Ralston in his book "Between a Rock and a Hard Place." I devoured it in just a few days. While the movie had certainly portrayed Aron's canyon ordeal with stunning clarity, I was fascinated by the additional detail the book provided about Aron's history as a climber and outdoorsman, as well as to the specifics of the rescue effort being mounted to seek out and rescue a missing person who carelessly left no word with anyone about where he'd be going. I found his drive and passion inspiring and though I don't personally have aspirations to attempt some of the feats he has (after his accident he became the first person to climb all 53 of Colorado's 14,000+ foot winter!!!--an effort he'd begun before his fateful days in Blue John), reading about his adventures has put the familiar itch of wanderlust into my bones and you can bet I'll be finding some way back into the great outdoors in the near future.

In his book, Ralston made a couple of references to works of Edward Abbey. If you ever visit a National Park in Utah or spend much time at all in the state, you're bound to run across Abbey's name. He was a park ranger in Arches Ntl. Pk. for a while back in the 1950s--before it had been developed beyond a few unpaved access roads and a makeshift campground with no amenities. Though an outspoken champion of wilderness and staunch protestor of industrial tourism, his honest, beautifully descriptive and at times controversial memoir of life as park ranger "Desert Solitaire" reveals a host of shocking (and occasionally hypocritical) idiosyncrasies that have given his character a puzzling sort of intrigue and solidified his place among Utah's historical oddballs.

For instance (and Patrick, if you're reading this, you may want to skip the next paragraph--you won't like it) he refers to himself as a "humanist; I'd rather kill a man than a snake." Never mind his quirky definition for the word humanist, that statement confused me more because of a story he'd related in a previous chapter:

"As I am returning to the campground...I see a young cottontail jump from the brush, scamper across the trail and freeze under a second bush. The rabbit huddles there, panting, ears back, one bright eye on me. I am taken by the notion to experiment--on the rabbit. Suppose, I say to myself, you were out here hungry, starving, no weapon but your bare hands. What would you do?...
There are a few stones scattered along the trail. I pick up one that fits well in the hand, that seems to have the optimum feel and heft. I stare at the cottontail hunched in his illusory shelter under the bush. Blackbrush, I observe, the common variety, sprinkled with tightly rolled little green buds, ready to burst into bloom on short notice. Should I give the rabbit a sporting chance, that is, jump it again, try to hit it on the run? Or brain the little bastard where he is?...
Well, I'm a scientist not a sportsman and we've got an important experiment underway here, for which the rabbit has been volunteered. I rear back and throw the stone with all I've got straight at his furry head.
To my amazement the stone flies true (as if guided by a Higher Power) and knocks the cottontail head over tincups...he crumples, there's the usual gushing of blood, etc., a brief spasm, and then no more. The wicked rabbit is dead.
For a moment I am shocked by my deed; I stare at the quiet rabbit, his glazed eyes, his blood drying in the dust. Something vital is lacking. But shock is succeeded by mild elation. Leaving my victim to the vultures and maggots, who will appreciate him more than I could...I continue my walk with a new, augmented cheerfulness...what the rabbit has lost in energy and spirit seems added, by processes too subtle to fathom, to my own soul. I try but cannot feel any sense of guilt. I examine my soul: white as snow...we are kindred all of us, killer and victim, predator and prey, me and the sly coyote, the soaring buzzard, the elegant gopher snake, the trembling cottontail, the foul worms that feed on our entrails, all of them, all of us.
Rejoicing in my innocence and power I stride down the trail beneath the elephantine forms of melting sandstone, past the stark shadows of Double Arch. The experiment was a complete success; it will never be necessary to perform it again."

I guess, referring to the previous quote, a cottontail is not a snake, but this juvenile act of heartless waste (I don't care if he thinks he's doing a favor for the buzzards and maggots) is rather offensive to me--especially considering his self described position as the park's custodian and "usufructuary" (look that one's a fun one!) and one who bemoans the effects on land and wildlife of indiscriminate human encroachment into wilderness. "Innocence"...? C'mon!

I was also quite shocked by this passage:

"One summer I started off to visit for the first time the city of Los Angeles. I was riding with some friends from the University of New Mexico. On the way we stopped off briefly to roll an old tire into the Grand Canyon...watching the tire bounce over tall pine trees, tear hell out of a mule train and disappear with a final grand leap into the inner gorge."

WWHHAATTTT!!!! Are you kidding me!? This from the same guy who whines about camper trash left out on the trail???!!!!! (Don't get me wrong--it annoys the hell out of me when I go hiking and come across the traces of a campfire trimmed with a dozen crumpled beer bottles and innumerable candy wrappers--sacrilege!)

Anyway, the guy's an oddball that's for sure and I don't like everything he says, but I do agree with his stance on wilderness preservation. "We need wilderness whether or not we ever set foot in it. We need a refuge even though we may not ever need to go there."

In one chapter, he tells of a Colorado River trip he took with a friend before Glen Canyon was flooded into what we know of today as Lake Powell. Near the end of the trip they stop and set up camp in the entrance to a side canyon leading to Rainbow Arch. For the rest of the day Abbey hikes over many rugged miles of hot terrain until, parched and exhausted, he finally reaches his destination and looks up at the arch "through God's window into eternity." As he rests in the shade he laments about a future when the dam has been filled and the glorious canyon is submerged:

"it will back water to within sight of the Bridge, transforming what was formerly an adventure into a routine motorboat excursion. Those who see it then will not understand that half the beauty of Rainbow Bridge lay in its remoteness, its relative difficulty of access, and in the wilderness surrounding it, of which it was in integral part. When these aspects are removed, the Bridge will be no more than an isolated geological oddity, an extension of that museumlike diorama to which industrial tourism tends to reduce the natural world."

Makes you look at this happy little tourist poster with different eyes...don' it?

December 13, 2010

Monday Monday...continued

So after dinner, turns out I went to help Rob set up for the physics much for Carmelitas...for now anyway.

My job was to help him pass out about two hundred of these... serve as signs labeling about two hundred of the many hundreds of tables set up for final-exam taking in Barton Hall: Cornell's central athletic facility. While we worked, the track-and-field team was in the middle of practice and I found myself fascinated by groups of runners racing around the enormous indoor track and pole vaulters flinging themselves up and over a rope suspended between two white poles. I hadn't ever seen fine competitive sprinters "up close" and it was beautiful to watch them as their bodies seemed to glide around the periphery of the building. The room itself is huge...27,000 square feet with 40 foot ceilings...not the sort of place I'd personally enjoy taking a test in, but I suppose when you've got 420+ students that need to be reasonably spaced out, there aren't many alternatives.

After we finished setting up, Rob needed to head back to his office in the astronomy building to print off the roll sheets for his section. I always feel cool walking through halls once frequented by Carl Sagan...a bit of a consolation for being deprived of watching the the Geminids (what could be the year's most spectacular meteor shower), which is peaking tonight. Somewhere above the clouds I'm sure it's putting on quite a show.

Maybe we could entertain ourselves with a game or two instead...

(Rob wanted me to make sure to tell you that these are NOT his games. They belong to his office mate Geoffrey...though c'mon've played them almost as frequently as all the other guys in your department...nothing to be embarrassed about!!!)

Nah. The games'll have to wait for another time...Rob's busy at the exam and I've still got 2 more hours of practice to put in before I call it a night.

I'll eventually get back to those cookies though!

Monday Monday

Today marks the beginning of finals week at Cornell.

Rob has been teaching a "physics for engineers" class this semester (he and 1 other are assisting the class' main lecturer by running the lab sections and writing and grading all the homework, quizzes and exams) and is rather busy this week getting his questions for the exam ready and making sure all 420-some-odd students make it to the field house for the final tonight. While he's away at school I've been hanging around his apartment practicing, thinking about whipping up a batch of oatmeal carmelitas (mmmmm!) and nursing a bout of debilitating cramps. I might have considered a neighborhood stroll--Rob's complex is tucked back into a cute and walkable woodsy area (its appearance reminds me of summer-camp dormitory) offering spare but lovely winter vistas and an occasional deer sighting--but the relatively high temps we had yesterday that brought us a mild rain instead of snow have been replaced by a bone-piercing chill that is more typical of December in this region.

I found out this morning that I was one of 6 players who made it into Charlie's trumpet excerpt class for winter quarter. A week ago we had our second quarterly "pool audition" and though I had diligently prepared as much as I was able, the audition excerpts (which included a crazy high note in Strauss' "Der Rosenkavalier" and the gigue from Bach's Orchestral Suite: a picc part with a fair number of high Fs) were quite challenging for me. After playing what I felt was a decent, but far from stellar audition, I'd pretty much resigned myself to the idea that I'd miss out on excerpt class this quarter. With the news of my acceptance, I'll soon be gearing up for another busy semester with a lot of new rep to tackle.

Ok...the thought of fresh carmelitas is now simply impossible to resist! Maybe I'll be back in a little while to share my favorite cookie recipe with you.

December 11, 2010


I've demonstrated time and again that I have very little creativity when it comes to blogging...or maybe just taking pictures. I am currently in Ithaca for a long holiday visit with Rob (it will actually end up being the longest we've been in the same place together since high school) and STILL the only thing I am thinking of posting is the last sunrise picture I took of Lake Michigan as I was loading my car for the long drive to NY on Thursday. Sorry for the current lack of creativity, but it really was an incredible sunrise. At certain times of the day the lake water takes on this amazing sheen that makes it appear as a thick liquid mirror--the waves moving ashore slowly enough to avoid creating foamy white caps and lapping against the sand like thick iridescent oil...

If you look closely at the distant yellow-pink glow of the barely-hidden sun, you might notice that its image is split--a portion of it reflecting over a mirage-like mirror hovering above the lake's true surface.

Though I am thrilled to be in Ithaca for the holidays, if there's one thing I'll be pining for back in Evanston, it's the chance to observe the slow day-to-day changes in Lake Michigan as winter transforms it into a partially frozen over arctic seascape. When I visited NU in early February for my audition, the lake was a patchwork of deep blue water framed by large white ice fields and floating mini-bergs. Now I wonder what happens in between--does a fresh body of water behave as the ocean does and go through a "pancake-ice" stage?

(I didn't take the photo below)

Or does it just slowly and uniformly freeze from the shoreline out like a lazy woodland pond?

(I didn't take this photo either)

I guess for now this will remain a mystery.

In the meantime, you can rest assured that you won't have to sit through yet another amorous posting about Lake Michigan...for a little while anyway:)

December 7, 2010


It's been a long time since my last post and I'm feeling guilty for not keeping up the entries as I should. There have been numerous significant events that have taken place, a variety of muse-able (even uplifting) thoughts I've entertained, and copious photos I've considered sharing, but for some reason I've found myself unable to muster up the desire to post anything. These last few days I've sunk into a bit of a depression--the reasons behind which range from the usual effects of my monthly hormone cycle, to traumatic events from my past rising to the forefront of my mind as I try to sort through them with a therapist, to a simple feeling of loneliness and a general inability to relate socially with my peers.

In regards to my experience with the therapist, last week I finally reached a point where I felt my story (all of my story--this past year's madness in conjunction with the rest of my life and personal history) was being understood by another human being. Though I know it's just her job (a well-paying one at that) to try to understand me, her reiterations of what I had told her made complete logical sense and--not only that--she offered true sympathy for the pain and trauma I'd experienced and a sense of patience for why it has been so utterly difficult for me to move forward with my life.

For once my defenses came down. I no longer felt the rush of cornered-animal anxiety that has consistently plagued me whenever "certain subjects" have come up in conversation (I'm refraining from specifics here to avoid causing additional conflict)--my heart stopped racing, my hands quit shaking, and the hair on the back of my neck to the top of my head lay flat. What has replaced that instinctive fight-or-flight response has been a burden of dull pain and hurt--a heavy mourning ache that has allowed me to genuinely feel the heartache behind the wall of anger I've maintained for so long in order to defend my reactions to the people and experiences that have given me so much difficulty.

My motivations from the start had been to maintain my personal integrity and do an honest days work. Too much honesty about my future professional aspirations brought into play a perceived need on my part to prove to those above me that though I had begun to broaden my horizons, I would not neglect my current responsibilities and could be relied upon to continue doing my job to the best of my ability. I consistently went above-and-beyond the call of duty and thought that by doing so I'd stay in the good graces of my superiors. However, when things progressed to their worst and I continually had to defend myself against a barrage of mistrust and unreasonable demands while seeing that few, if any, others were being held to the same standard, my sense of rightness was confused and shattered. I'd always been taught that honesty and hard work were highly prized, but what the situation seemed to suggest to me was that superficial attitudes were what mattered and appearances are really what get you ahead in the world. I've never had a talent for negotiating such social ladders and so was unable to cope in an environment which required just that.

What made matters particularly difficult for me was that in year previous, the same level of superficiality had been absent from my experiences and I had grown to love my position in a workplace where my talents were prized and generously utilized. I felt safe among friends and family who shared a sense of dedication and pride in our work and had real affection for each other. The loss I experienced was significant, and though I feel I am currently on an upward path professionally, I am deeply scarred and still find myself struggling to trust people from whom I previously felt comfort and support. Today I count it as progress that my dominant emotion is hurt rather than anger, but this week (perhaps due to it being that "time of the month) that sadness has been particularly heavy.

There have been good things too. I finished up my first quarter at Northwestern having made real progress as a trumpeter. Though I haven't yet received any final grades, I believe I also performed well academically and am looking forward to continuing that progress when classes resume again in January. My "Wonderful Widow" video was highly praised by both my art song teacher and other members of the class and I was asked by one of the conducting students to perform the trumpet solo in Copland's "Quiet City" on her recital in March. Though outside temperatures have plummeted and persistent winds add searing chills to the air whenever I'm forced to venture outdoors, my morning pilgrimages to the continually gorgeous lakeshore lift my spirits and give me the beauty fix I am always craving.

To give you an idea of just how cold it is, (besides my telling you about negative 4 windchills) yesterday L.Mich. was a relative hot tub when compared with the ambient temp. Check out all that steam!

Sometime in the next few days--weather (and mood) permitting--I hope to drive back out to Ithaca for a holiday sojourn with Rob. He's crazy busy finishing up his teaching responsibilities for the semester and has just been made lead author on a paper with the Caltech/Cornell group of relativists, so I'm glad my plate has also been filled with a plethora of practicing chores and upcoming audition and performance requirements that will keep me occupied and out of his hair for the important stuff.