Thursday, December 28, 2017

CwHD 36

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SEGOVIA'S HANDS

Andrés Segovia is without peer as a classical guitarist. He created the concept of the guitar as a concert instrument; and then, through masterful execution of pieces by Bach, Tárraga, Albeniz and others, proved his concept valid. His technique evolved to meet the needs of the complex pieces he played. Using fingernails to pluck the strings, for example, rather than merely brushing with the fleshy sides or tips of the fingers, he added another dimension to the tonal range of the guitar. This was largely an innovation of Segovia's.

The most striking aspect of the man's playing seems to me to be the combination of suppleness and precision of his hands. They seem to be totally relaxed yet have the dynamic tension to play arpeggios or complex barre chords flawlessly. Segovia's hands and fingers seem to move of their own volition, yet all the movement is best characterized by the impression of stillness.

Linked here is a video of Segovia, late in his life, still vibrant, playing Bach's Sarabande and Gavotte en Randeau. The video runs just over five minutes, but even a glimpse conveys an adequate sensibility of his mastery. And though stillness is commonly defined as an absence of motion, here its meaning is closer to an absence of unnecessary motion. Watching the performance, the impression is that all unnecessary motion---physical, mental, and spiritual---has been eliminated.

A balance between suppleness and tension in all areas of a person's life seems to be the essential necessity of a life well lived. Segovia, by any standard, has achieved such a balance in his life. And if one considers most of the enduring philosophies and arts of the East, one will find that the lessons taught strive for just such a blending. One need only consider the pranas of yoga or the intricate movements of tai chi to see the validity of this position. When the balance is perfected, only the moment exists, conceptions blur and dissolve, and plurality becomes mere illusion.



Wednesday, December 20, 2017

CwHD 35

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Mick Ryan's Lament

'Mick Ryan's Lament' is the name of a song written by Robert Emmet Dunlap, a Boston born, but well traveled singer songwriter. The core of the song is based on a west Ireland drinking tune that emerged in the late 18th century called 'Garryowen.' Many ironies surround both songs. Young rich men of Limerick, Ireland, adopted the tune as they drank and sang their way from pub to pub and party to party. Poor Irish emigrants in New York City also clung to the ballad and adopted it as their regimental marching song after forming a local militia. Beethoven wrote two arrangements of the song and General George Armstrong Custer selected Garryowen as the 7th Cavalry's marching tune. The garryowen haunted the wars in Korea, Viet Nam, and Iraq to name just a few. 'Mick Ryan's Lament,' of course, is a sad commentary on the folly of our specie's incessant drive to acquire and conquer.

The American government's policy on native Americans was as clear and decisive as the English government's policy on Ireland. All the various tribes from the Cherokee to the Cheyenne were subject to genocidal practices from simple displacement and meaningless treaties, to nefarious introduction of diseased bedding and alcohol. The English role in the An Gorta Mór, The Great Famine, was equally odious. While the potato crop did suffer a devastating blight, the Catholic peasants ruled by their English masters starved while exports of foodstuffs such as butter, livestock, peas, beans, rabbits, fish, and honey actually increased.1

The word garryowen comes from an Irish phrase Eóin garrai. Eóin is the proper name 'John' and garrai is the Irish for 'garden' which gives a translation of 'John's garden.' The old river town of Limerick, located on the Shannon River near the river's extensive estuary, has a neighborhood named Garryowen. The place name was derived from a 12th century church, St John's, and the adjacent fields and pastures.

click on link for song

Of the many covers of Dunlap's song, bluegrass legend Tim O'Brien has hit the right tempo and phrasing to convey the song's message; and his duet with Darrell Scott is included below. The Garryowen itself was an uptempo number with a defined insouciance which created its appeal to soldiers, rugby clubs, and rowdies generally. Dunlap slowed the tempo and created his own lyric, and the song turned inside out with the roisterous hubris becoming a melancholy despair.

Tim O'Brien and Darell Scott





Wednesday, December 13, 2017

CwHD 34

If this is your first visit to CwHD, a brief introduction is available. Just click on the CwHD Intro link in the sidebar. To return, simply click the Home link. Older editions are archived and listed by date. Conversations with a Hypoxic Dog began on May 1 of this year. Words and Language and other Nonsense remains the focus; but a bit of History was added several weeks ago.


A BRIEF WORD WITH TAO-MING

A monk said to his master, "We are always putting on and taking off our clothes, and eating our food. Is there any way of avoiding this?"

Tao-ming said, "By putting on and taking off our clothes, and by eating our food."

The monk said, "I don't understand."

The master said, "Not understanding is wearing clothes and eating food."



Tao-ming (780 - 877) lived in one temple or another all located in southern China near Macao. He was a disciple of renowned master Huang Po. As was common of the time, he was known by several names: Bokushu, Reverend Chen, Tao-tsung, Muchou.




Wednesday, December 6, 2017

CwHD 33

If this is your first visit to CwHD, a brief introduction is available. Just click on the CwHD Intro link in the sidebar. To return, simply click the Home link. Older editions are archived and listed by date. Conversations with a Hypoxic Dog began on May 1 of this year. Words and Language and other Nonsense remains the focus; but a bit of History was added several weeks ago.



A Brief History of the Columbia River

Part 12


OCEAN IN VIEW

Mouth of the Columbia River, 1929
Photo by Brubaker Aerial Survey, Courtesy National Archives,
Pacific Alaska Region (Neg. RG77, Portland District L-224)

From Wallula Gap to the mouth of the Columbia is some 310 miles. While the rock of the gap is, for all intents and purposes, a solid and enduring landmark, the mouth of the river is not. River mouths are fluid constructs and defy fixed positions. As an aid to navigation, River Miles are begun at a somewhat arbitrary mile 0 point. In the Columbia's case, RM 0 begins just beyond the North Jetty and extends perpendicular to the dredged channel. Shifting sand and fast water makes for change. So the position of the mouth is determined to be somewhere between Cape Disappointment in the north and Point Adams on Clatsop Spit in the south.

As the Corps of Discovery came ever closer to the river's end, all the men were filled with anticipation. The weather was horrid. Incessant rain and strong winds from the southwest kept them wet through. No matter, William Clark sat stolidly in his canoe keeping a notebook wrapped in oil skin perched on his knee. This served as his log of the voyage and in it he recorded courses, bearings, prominent landmarks, and, on occasion, exclamations. On November 7, 1805, he made this entry in the log: "Ocian in view! O! the joy." Though the emotion was no doubt genuine, his observation was to prove false.

He made that observation from an exposed campsite of rock and rolled logs near Pillar Rock, "... a rock Situated half a mile from shore, about 50 feet high and 20 Deamieter ..." The "ocian" is still around the bend and some 15 miles away. No doubt the rough water of the lower river looked very like ocean.

Pillar Rock from downstream, Lyn Topinka photo (the top of the rock was removed and flattened
to put a light and navigation aid. Now stands 25' above river

The view downriver rarely allows much of a distinction between fresh river water and the salt of the Pacific. The low lying sandy spit extending out to Point Adams confuses the most discerning eye. And the width of the estuary as it tends seaward is enough to add to that confusion. Waves and swell blend and merge. It would take an experienced eye to say that there the river ends and there the ocean begins. A distant horizon would be suggestive on those days when wind and rain and fog allows a distant horizon.

The view of the river from the ocean is equally obscure, so much so that English explorer John Meares, in 1788, looking for the entrance to a river that Spaniard Bruno Heceta had charted, had this to say: We can now with safety assert, that no such river as that of St. Roc (Heceta had named the headland he charted as Cabo San Roque) exists. He rechristened that headland 'Disappointment.'

George Vancouver, charting the coast in 1791, missed the river as well. He did conclude that a small bay or river might exist. He was contending with fog, rough weather, and an unruly crew of young gentlemen at the time so might be forgiven his lapse.

It was left to Robert Gray to first cross the bar and enter the estuary. He sailed up river as far as Tongue Point (RM 19), traded with the natives (his primary concern), and named the river after his ship, Columbia Rediviva. His report (and subsequent profit) led the parade of trading vessels that were to follow. Since Gray's crossing more than 2000 large ships of been wrecked on the bar earning it the sobriquet of The Graveyard of the Pacific.

Published April 28th 1814 by Longman & Co. Paternoster Row

I mentioned earlier there are places on the river that afford a view much like that of Lewis and Clark, and one can take from such views a taste of 1805. But the Columbia of today, controlled by dams, bridged, overfished, and polluted is certainly not their river. Estimates of 19th century fish runs count 12 to 16 million fish. This number has been reduced to a million or so. Take a stadium filled with 72,000 people and, using the most lowest estimate past runs, reduce that crowd by the same ratio. 6000 people would remain. One might say that the stadium was empty with such a sparse crowd. And so the river. Modern homo sapiens seem driven to dominate the natural world, and our overbearing presence has created today's Columbia River.

French bark Colonel de Villebois Mareuil
passing over the bar of the Columbia River, ca. 1900




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