Saturday, July 26, 2008

Of Vinegaroons, Bootheels and Frontiers

A strange couple of weeks, these past two, especially odd coming after two weeks of 115 degree air conditioned down time, during which my obsession with Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit II re-emerged. (I had discovered a whole new way to play this already ancient game, involving various delay tactics intended to get all of my opponents arrested...this approach led to hours of time delightfully squandered. There's something about a well designed video game and my own impulse to twist the parameters of the software that's definitely a compulsive combination, a focus that sets in after the goals and purposes of the game intended by the designers have long been mastered).

Two Saturdays ago I set out for Roswell, NM to be an artist in residence for the Roswell Opera Camp, under the auspices of The Santa Fe Opera. 6 nights at the Days Inn of Roswell, nearly 30 kids age 6.5-13, endless hours of horrifying cable television during off time (when I ought to have been sleeping). The kids were great; they came up with a story involving 7 tomboy princesses who journey to the Amazon in search of the Godzilla Beetle and encounter an evil 4-headed unicorn named Fluffy. Very Wagnerian somehow. The camp took place at the First Presbyterian Church of Roswell, a Gothic Revival structure built in 1937 and highly evocative of my childhood church in Bethlehem, PA.

Late Thursday night, I took a smoke break from fleshing out some of the music the kids had written and stepped outside the sanctuary side door. The first thing I noticed was dozens of huge cockroaches zanting about, actually larger than the ones we've encountered here in Tempe, which is astonishing. Then, on the tiled porch, in my peripheral vision, I caught sight of an enormous...thing. My mind clamored "that's alive!" and "no, it's a dead leaf blowing in the breeze...can't be alive" pretty much at the same time. Lo, 'twas indeed a living creature. A Giant Vinegaroon, to be exact.

My teaching partner, Charles Gamble, and I printed out a photo of a vinegaroon from the web to show the kids the next day. "We see those all the time," they said, bored. It's true, the Roswell and Artesia area is the population center of these beasts. Crazy.

I got one morning of cactus hunting while in Roswell and found some great plants, including a flowering Echinocactus horizonthalonius:

On the way back from Roswell, I took a very roundabout route through Carlsbad. I would have had tons of daylight to check out Guadalupe National Park in Texas but for New Mexico's Finest, who stopped me at a DUI checkpoint and happened to notice my expired tags. I did catch some beautiful Echinocereus dasyacanthus near Carlsbad just before sunset:

I ended up driving all the way to Las Cruces, staying in a motel room straight out of Barton Fink. The next day I poked around a bit in New Mexico's bootheel, an area I've always been curious about. "Off the beaten track" doesn't come close to describing this land that time forgot.

Shortly after arriving home, I set out on a 2 day trip in a big circle from Phoenix to Seligman to Peach Springs to Kingman and up to Meadview, with an overnight in tiny Truxton, AZ.

Truxton is a motel, cafe and gas station on Route 66. As I checked into the Frontier Motel, a young German man was also checking in. He asked the woman who runs the motel, a very friendly 75 year old, "Why is Route 66 so famous?" The woman seemed to not understand him. "It was built in 1927," she said. "It's an old road." The German guy seemed confused.

Peach Springs featured Agave utahensis v. nevadensis:

The next day, I roasted half to death in my un-air conditioned car up to Meadview. The reason to go up there: I wanted to see Echinocactus polycephalus v. xeranthemoides in habitat. I found several, including this monster, about 7 feet across and 4 feet high, with nearly 40 heads:

Many more habitat pics...I might post them in a separate post. It's wild territory up there by Meadview. The kind of place you could have a vision of the heavenly host descending or all the demons of hell let out to play.

Is it any wonder most Arizonans are crazier than shithouse rats?

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Eternal Qwest

Okay, bad customer service from huge utility companies is one thing. It's not a good thing, but we generally learn to live with it, if not actually expect it.

However, nearly 3 hours on the phone, 2 technician visits after both of which we were told our DSL problems were "fixed," and a replacement modem all spell essentially the same thing: continued frequent outages of our internet connection and speculative searching for a new provider. When are these outages, you ask? When it gets hot out, roughly from noon to 9 pm or so. As in wicked hawt. As in 115F or so. Why? The cables and insulation at our hub were installed in the 1950s. Haven't been upgraded since. Like everything else around here, no one actually seems to have engineered for the heat...a regularly repeated climatological phenomenon about which there is a full century and a half of accurately recorded data.

How do I know we need a bucket truck and some telephone pole attention? The first technician who visited, bless his heart, said as much. "Yeah, your neighbor kept calling with the same problem. I think they finally had to redo the insulation or something. I don't know. Maybe he has cable internet now."

Funny, funny good good times: being walked through the ridiculous modem power reset/phone wire/phone filter drill by every single customer service rep we've contacted. The last time the rep tried to get me to do the pointless dance again I started yelling at him and he hung up on me. The next rep tried it too, but (significantly more calm) I simply said, "No, I'm not going to do any of that." She paused and said "I'm sorry sir?" and I said "Sorry, we've done that several times now...I'm not going to do it again." "Ah, I can hear the disappointment in your voice sir." "Yes, I suppose you can." After which she offered to send a replacement modem. Which of course has not solved jack shit.

Finishing up here as it warms up outside. Much more interesting posts to come, I promise. But first, I'm off to Roswell New Mexico until Monday, July 21, to do a Santa Fe Opera project with my buddy Charles Gamble and a gaggle of Roswell's talented kinder.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Ice Ice Baby

The best thing about these here newfangled interwebs is how much bone-crushingly depressing news one can keep up with on a daily basis.

For example, this handy little map from the National Snow and Ice Data Center in Boulder, CO., which provides a daily update of the rapidly receding polar sea ice at the North Pole.

National Geographic provides an interesting article.

I only discovered this foreboding news way, way down at the bottom of Google News under the Science and Technology link. The bulk of those news stories involved product release puff pieces for PS3 and Diablo III. Shall we amuse ourselves to death on the leading edge of the end of time? Why not?

Just remember: when there's no potable water left and temperatures soar, you can check back here and buy cacti from me.

Here's some more happy time stats from the BBC. You know, the news organization over there across the Atlantic somewhere, where folks have been taking climate change seriously for at least the past decade.

Then there's this site. As Will Rogers said, "It don't take all kinds, we just got all kinds."

Recently heard music for the End Times: Kevin Frenette 4: Connections (with Andy McWain, piano, Todd Keating, bass; Tatsuya Nakatani, percussion and Frenette on guitar) and Visions by Leonard/Skrowaczewski/Zappa (Mark Leonard, bass; Nick Scrowaczewski, percussion; Stanley Jason Zappa, tenor sax and Bb clarinet). Buy them now and listen to them on your portable CD player while rafting over what used to be Manhattan.