The sailors were mum about “Orange skies at noon”

Being downwind of Canadian wildfires is not fun. It’s reminding me of being downwind of Mt. St. Helens eruptions back in 1980-81.

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Tone Poem Tuesday

Reading Alex Ross’s book Listen to This, a compilation of his columns from The New Yorker, I was reading a chapter on Icelander singer Björk, and I came across this passage:

Modern Icelandic music begins with Jón Leifs, who lived from 1899 to 1968, and whose 1961 work Hekla helped bring Björk and her chorus together…Hekla, which is named after Iceland’s largest active volcano, has been described as the loudest piece of music ever written. It requires nineteen percussionists, who play a fantastic battery of instruments, including anvils, sirens, bells, ship’s chains, a sort of tree-hammer, shotguns, and cannons.

I mean, come on. How could I not want to hear that?


Hekla depicts the 1947 eruption of the volcano of that name, which Leifs witnessed.  The mountain already had a fearsome reputation stretching back to 1104 when a huge eruption led to a belief throughout Europe that Hekla was the gateway to Hell – a belief that only died out at the approach of the 20th century.

Characteristically, Leifs thought little about the practicalities of his piece, and called for an array of instruments that were either unobtainable – massive church bells for instance – or unplayable, such as rapidly repeating shotguns.  Rocks that ring with musical pitches were found, and ships’ chains and steel tubing were scrounged from the Reykjavik dockyards.   Whether or not the exact sounds in the composer’s head made it to the concert hall, the effect at its 1964 premiere would have resonated throughout the musical scene in Iceland, liberating a surge of edge-of-the-world originality which has yet to cease.

Here it is. And yes, you need to turn it up…but be careful. This thing is like the last part of the 1812 Overture and the storm from Strauss’s Eine Alpensinfonie, jammed together, given multiples doses of steroids, and blasted from the heavens.

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At the Ridge….

Highmark Stadium and the city of Buffalo, looking north from Chestnut Ridge Park

For the first time since Cane died last September, I went hiking at Chestnut Ridge Park yesterday.

Chestnut Ridge is an old park whose development by Erie County began back in the late 1920s, and a lot of the park’s original infrastructure, quite a bit of which still stands, was built by work crews of the Works Progress Administration during the Great Depression. Chestnut Ridge is a very large park–at more than 1100 acres, it is 300 acres larger than New York City’s Central Park–and it covers a lot of rugged terrain, ranging from forested hills to steep gorges through which streams run. The most famous feature in Chestnut Ridge Park is the Eternal Flame waterfall, which is just that: a waterfall behind which there is a small grotto into which natural gas seeps from underground. This gas is almost always aflame, and if it happens to be out, you can literally reach in behind the water and relight it, if you’ve brought a lighter with you.

Chestnut Ridge was a common destination for Cane and I in our weekly nature walks and hikes, and we covered a great deal of the park’s terrain and trail system over our years of trekking there. My last visit to the Ridge with Cane was last July, I think…which was therefore the last time I was there at all. Shortly after that visit he started limping slightly, and that was the beginning of his end.

Yesterday was my first trip there alone in many years.

Being up there yesterday was many things. It was beautiful, obviously, and being in nature was honestly what the doctor ordered after what’s been a trying few months recently. I kept thinking, though, of the presence I was missing; I’d walk a hundred feet and suddenly realized that I hadn’t had to stop three times for a greyhound to smell this tree, that bush, this patch of dirt, that rock. When you’re used to walking those trails with one hand always holding a leash, it’s a bit strange when that hand is unoccupied. And when I made my way down to the side of the stream at the bottom of one of those gorges, there was no watching as Cane found a deep spot to lay in–you know, to cool off–and to drink.

I won’t be staying away from Chestnut Ridge this long again…but it’s not going to feel the same there again, is it?


Stream in Chestnut Ridge, from a bridge. It’s been very dry the last six weeks; usually there’s much more water than this, this time of year.

The trees that I call “the Fallen Sisters”. Again, note how dry the stream is. This time of year that whole streambed is flowing.

Inside an old pump house. The pump is long gone.

It was a good day, a good walk in the woods. There was even time for a touch of whimsy, like plucking a few wildflowers and wearing them in the bib of my overalls. One should always strive for a touch of whimsy. At least, that’s how I see it.


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Oh, Bennie, no….

“You cannot sow a million seeds without reaping one potato.”
–Ian Fleming, From Russia With Love

I suppose it had to happen eventually…but nevertheless, it’s totally unexpected. When I say it “had to happen eventually”, I figured “eventually” in the sense that those million monkeys banging away on a million typewriters will, given sufficient time, eventually produce the works of Shakespeare.

It had to happen eventually.

I found myself nodding with agreement to something written by Ben Shapiro.

If you have no idea who Ben Shapiro is, you’re lucky. He’s one of the most obnoxious voices in the American right-wing today, and he is such a consistently reliable source of complete error, total bollocks, and utter bullshit that his degree of prominence makes one fear for one’s country. If you really want a taste of the general quality of Ben Shapiro’s thinking, this video pretty much sums it up:

Shapiro is a skilled “debater” in that he thinks quickly and he speaks very quickly. It’s worth seeking out a video of him talking gender issues with Neil DeGrasse Tyson, who also thinks quickly but does not speak quickly; the effect is of a frantic teenager being gently put in his place by a wiser soul. Which is exactly what happens.

So, what did he say that I agreed with? At least in part? He said something about Star Wars.

Specifically, this (as shared on Twitter by an acquaintance):

As Star Wars takes go, this…isn’t bad at all. It’s not even incorrect! At least, not entirely. It’s incorrect in a way, but not a really major way…except for being part of how Shapiro relates to the world and opines about it.

But he gets a lot right here about The Empire Strikes Back. While I don’t hold it the best SW film, personally, it’s right near the top of my personal ranking, and his position that TESB is the undisputed best SW movie ever is not a fringe opinion. And he’s actually right about his reasons why it’s good. TESB has a lot going for it, but Shapiro is totally right about competence at its heart. It pits a small band of competent Rebels against a much larger, and also very competent, evil Galactic Empire. Nobody screws up in this movie (well, Luke might screw up, but a strong case can be made that he really has no choice but to abandon his training; his experiences in getting his ass kicked during the film’s third act are absolutely formative to the competent character he is in Return of the Jedi). All you have is competent people being successful or failing because the other person is either better, or they have more information, or they have more power behind them.

Shapiro’s take on the Original Trilogy being a showcase of competence is pretty interesting, actually. He then takes the “Disney era” to task for “making every man incompetent”. That’s where he goes a bit awry…but not totally.

I assume he’s limiting his thinking here to the Sequel Trilogy only, because to say that the entire “Disney era” of Star Wars is loaded with incompetent men is simply false. I defy anyone to watch Rogue OneSolo, The Mandalorian, Book of Boba Fett, or Andor and make the subsequent case that the men in those films and shows are incompetent. So that leaves us with just the Sequel Trilogy…and it doesn’t really depict all its men as incompetent, either. But it does show some of them in that light. The Force Awakens inexplicably turns Han Solo back into a giant space loser, and that’s after he spent the entire Original Trilogy being both (a) competent and (b) on a clear character trajectory from selfish-loner to committed member of a cause. (It’s for that last reason that I’ve always rejected Harrison Ford’s insistence that Han should have died in ROTJ because “he had no story”.

Mostly, though, the Sequel Trilogy gives us inept villains who are barely above the Keystone Kops in menace and competence; that they spend the entire trilogy seemingly on the cusp of victory is frustrating given how bumbling they are. Of the three Sequel films, only The Last Jedi puts competence on display to a significant degree, and then it meditates on how competence and failure are often bedmates anyway.

Shapiro doesn’t use the word, but I suspect what he’s getting at with that “Disney made all the men incompetent” thing is that Disney made Star Wars “woke”. Ranting against “woke” is one of Shapiro’s bread-and-butter activities, so I’m sure that’s the kind of thinking that’s informing his view of the Disney trilogy. But even so, he’s not really totally wrong here: one big reason I find the Sequel Trilogy uninspiring is that it’s not a story of competent heroes versus competent villains. It’s the story of somewhat-competent heroes (to the extent that we can really determine their competence at all, since the movies don’t really give us anything to go on as to what these characters even want) versus generically incompetent villains.

So, yes, I found myself in agreement with Ben Shapiro this weekend. I felt the need to work those feelings out through a blog post, which is probably better than my initial reaction, which was to sit on the floor of my shower, rocking back and forth with my arms wrapped ’round my drawn-up knees as the cold water rained down upon me.


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Restaurants come, restaurants go….

Interior, Compass Run restaurant, Buffalo, NY

For the last couple of years we’d heard great things about a new-ish restaurant in Buffalo called Compass Run. We finally went there a few months ago and loved it and made mental notes to get back. Last night we did…but the impetus for last night’s reservation was that Compass Run announced its closing a few weeks ago. They’re only open a few more weeks, I think.


Compass Run had a Southern-inspired, seafood-heavy menu that featured quite a few celiac-friendly selections. From what I’ve read, the restaurant is closing because the owners, who already run a successful restaurant in Buffalo called Toutant, have a young family and are likely finding the degree of work needed to run two restaurants more than is compatible with that family life. What’s interesting to me is that the site occupied by Compass Run was another restaurant by the same folks, called Dobutsu. We never made it to Dobutsu, but this is something I’ve noticed from afar over the years: people own a restaurant, and they run it for a while with a certain menu, and then they close it, remake the inside, come up with a new menu (or “concept”, in restaurant lingo), and then re-open under a new name. I often wonder if the reworking comes out of an attempt to find a more lucrative concept, or out of culinary ennui, or some combination thereof.

Restaurants open and close regularly; it’s the nature of the business. Only a few manage to stick around for years, and even those will often do so if they find new owners and chefs who are willing to carry on the tradition. Compass Run is closing, but it has a good chance of staying a restaurant–at least, that location stands a good chance. The owners have indicated that their plan is to convert the location into a leasable, turn-key restaurant, so they’ll still have a stake in the ongoing development of that particular part of town. If there is a new restaurant there soon, I hope it’s good and celiac-friendly!

Here’s some of the food we ate there. Alas!

Kentucky Waterfall cocktail. A modified Manhattan, basically.

The Captain’s Platter

Appetizer: Pork belly burnt ends.

Smash burger!


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Something for Thursday

Today begins Pride Month, which I enthusiastically support and will continue to do so, for all members of the LGBTQ+ community.

I start with a work by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky, whom most scholars agree was almost certainly homosexual. He had to remain closeted his entire life; Imperial Russia was not a place friendly to non-straight people; come to that, post-Imperial Russia hasn’t been great for those people, either. There seems to be a shadow coming over that community these days; let us hope that it is only a passing shadow.

Here’s Capriccio Italien.

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Time for a Reappearance

Things are still busy and hectic in my world, so posts will still be brief. How brief? This brief!

Here’s some Borodin, since we haven’t had Borodin on around here in a while and you can’t go wrong with Borodin:

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Tone Poem Tuesday

Another hectic and somewhat draining day…but with the promise of better things to come. Hang in there, y’all!

Meanwhile, you know the drill. Here’s Franz Von Suppe.


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In Memoriam

An annual reposting of some things pertaining to Memorial Day. First, a remembrance of a soldier I never knew.

Fifteen years ago I wrote the following on Memorial Day, and I wanted to revisit it. It’s about the Vietnam Veteran whose name I remember, despite the fact that I had no relation to him and clearly never knew him, because he was killed four years before I was born.

Memorial Day, for all its solemnity, has for me always been something of a distant holiday, because no one close to me has ever fallen in war, and in fact I have to look pretty far for relatives who have even served in wartime. Both of my grandfathers fought in World War I, but both had been dead for years when I was born. I know that an uncle of mine served during World War II, but I also know that he saw no action (not to belittle his service, but Memorial Day is generally set aside to remember those who paid the “last full price of devotion”). My father-in-law served in Viet Nam, but my own father did not (he had college deferments for the first half of the war, and was above draft age during the second). So there is little in my family history to personalize Memorial Day; for me, it really is a day to remember “all the men and women who have died in service to the United States”.

One personal remembrance, though, does creep up for me each Memorial Day. It has nothing at all to do with my family; in fact, I have no connection with the young man in question.

When I was in grade school, during the fall and spring, when the weather was nice, we would have gym class outdoors, at the athletic field. On good days we’d play softball or flag football or soccer; on not-so-good days we’d run around the quarter-mile track. But the walk to the athletic field involved crossing the street in front of the school and walking a tenth of a mile or so down the street, past the town cemetery. I remember that at the corner of the cemetery we passed, behind the wrought-iron fence, the grave of a man named Larry Havers was visible. His stone was decorated with a photograph of him, in military uniform. I don’t recall what branch in which he served, nor do I recall his date-of-birth as given on the stone, but I do recall the year of his death: 1967. I even think the stone specified the specific battle in which he was killed in action, but I’m not sure about that, either.

That’s what I remember each Memorial Day: the grave of a man I never knew, who died four years before I was born in a place across the world to which I doubt I’ll ever go. And in the absence of anyone from my own family, Mr. Havers’s name will probably be the one I look for if I ever visit that memorial in Washington. I hope his family wouldn’t mind.

I looked online and found these images, first of Mr. Havers’s obituary and then of Mr. Havers himself. The things you remember. I wonder what kind of man he was. He has been gone for more than half a century. His name is not forgotten.


Mr. Havers’s service information can be found on the Virtual Vietnam Wall here. He was born 14 October 1946 and died 29 October 1967, in Thua Thien.

A song: “The Green Fields of France”, by Eric Bogle


Well, how do you do, young Willie McBride,
Do you mind if I sit down here by your graveside?
And rest for awhile ‘neath the warm summer sun,
I’ve been walking all day, and I’m nearly done.
I see by your gravestone you were only 19
When you joined the great fallen in 1916,
I hope you died quick and I hope you died clean
Or, Willie McBride, was it slow and obscene?

Did they Beat the drum slowly, did they play the fife lowly?
Did they sound the death-march as they lowered you down?
Did the band play The Last Post in chorus?
Did the pipes play the Flowers of the Forest?

Did you leave a wife or a sweetheart behind
In some faithful heart is your memory enshrined?
And, though you died back in 1916,
To that faithful heart are you forever 19?
Or are you a stranger without even a name,
Enshrined then, forever, behind a glass pane,
In an old photograph, torn and tattered and stained,
And faded to yellow in a brown leather frame?

Did they Beat the drum slowly, did they play the fife lowly?
Did they sound the death-march as they lowered you down?
Did the band play The Last Post in chorus?
Did the pipes play the Flowers of the Forest?

The sun’s shining down on these green fields of France;
The warm wind blows gently, and the red poppies dance.
The trenches have vanished long under the plow;
No gas and no barbed wire, no guns firing now.
But here in this graveyard that’s still No Man’s Land
The countless white crosses in stand mute in the sand
To man’s blind indifference to his fellow man,
And a whole generation who were butchered and damned.

Did they Beat the drum slowly, did they play the fife lowly?
Did they sound the death-march as they lowered you down?
Did the band play The Last Post in chorus?
Did the pipes play the Flowers of the Forest?

And I can’t help but wonder why, young Willie McBride,
Do all those who lie here know why they died?
Did they really believe when they answered the call,
Did they really believe that this war would end wars?
Well the sorrow, the suffering, the glory, the pain
The killing and dying, was all done in vain,
For young Willie McBride, it all happened again,
And again, and again, and again, and again.

Did they Beat the drum slowly, did they play the fife lowly?
Did they sound the death-march as they lowered you down?
Did the band play The Last Post in chorus?
Did the pipes play the Flowers of the Forest?


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I’m glad I didn’t know about the “jorb”…

…when I started writing The Song of Forgotten Stars!



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