Zen for Ten 21: For the Wild Places

This morning, on my way home from a doctor’s appointment, I stopped at a park about a mile from my house. I’ve been there a lot: it’s a big parcel of farmland that also, at one point in its history, housed a row of kilns used to produce agricultural lime. These days, as you walk along the little stream that runs through the park, it’s hard to imagine the smoke and noise, heat and smell that must have been nonstop during the peak lime-production years. Instead, you only hear faint traffic noise from the road on the other side of the parkland, and the sound of the stream running over the rocks, and the calls of birds.

I went to the park for a quick dose of quiet green space. My head has been thought-clogged lately; the closer we get to my novel’s launch, the more my brain runs around in circles. (“Is it going to be okay? I’m not very good at promotion; did I at least try pretty hard? Are people going to like it? Is it going to be okay??“) This is one of those stretches of time that I know I’ll like better in retrospect. Later, say in July or August, these final pre-launch weeks will be a memory of happy excitement. Right now, I have more of a “could we just fast-forward three weeks, please?” feeling.

This morning, I didn’t have time for much of a walk, so I went straight down to the stream. It’s a narrow stream with a rocky bed and shelves of exposed pebbles. If you take some time and study the stones, as my husband and I often do, you’ll see a wide variety of colors and shapes, and some relics of the lime-kiln years: worn pieces of brick, old fragments of iron long smoothed down by the water, tiny bits of bright glass. Some of the rocks are as smooth as eggs and others are still skin-scrapingly rough. Colors range from white through rose and gold to red, brown, and black.

Today I went along the bank until I saw a convenient branch to sit on and watch the water. On my way to it, I disturbed a cloud of tiny blue butterflies. They swirled up from the ground and danced around me as I sat down. Against the brown soil, their blue looked surprisingly vivid, and they were so close I could make out the delicate dark edging on their wings.

Another critter made an appearance as soon as I took my seat: a long slim snake, undulating through the water. I like to give snakes a respectful distance, but they’re fun to watch, so smooth and quick and graceful. I watched this one maneuver around and through a tangle of tree roots that dipped down into the water, and then go along on his way.

It was a clear, sunny morning, the first one we’ve had after a few days of rain. I listened to the stream and took long breaths of fresh air. It smelled green. Those few minutes were a much-needed escape.

I’d already planned to link today’s post with Earth Day, observed this past Saturday, and to mention a little promo effort I started in honor of Earth Day week (more on that below). This has become more urgent to me after the reminder of this morning, and especially in light of what’s going on with our government and America’s wild places.

Many of us have been watching, this week, as our current presidential administration talks about a “review” of some of the national monuments – our wild lands – which were set aside and preserved from development by earlier administrations. We know what this might mean: the sale of those lands and the use (and abuse) of the natural resources they contain. A lot of us feel strongly about this issue: it’s one of many issues we’ve been trying to wrap our heads around, and figure out how to respond to, over the past few months.

That’s why, in this post and during this Earth Week, I’d like to make a particular plea for our wild places. In this blog, I’ve talked other times about feeling that it’s important to try to use whatever gifts I have to make a difference in the world. Sometimes it’s hard to know what to focus on at any given moment; so much is always happening, and so many problems and concerns call for our attention. We each have our priorities. For me, the arts are a big one, and social justice is another. Without question, though, the way we treat our world is one of the great factors that decides who we are as a people. And at the same time that we have to consider what kind of world our children and grandchildren will inherit, we should also think about what we might want for ourselves: those open places, that green space, the sound of water and the calls of birds. Room to breathe.

That’s why, this particular week, I’d like to use my writing to send some help to our wilderness areas. To do that, I’m making one of my favorite short stories, a piece called “Ivory-Bill Sighting,” available free to anyone who makes a donation to an environmental group. I’ve included a list of links below to some of my favorite groups, but you can also choose any other I might have missed. “Ivory-Bill Sighting” itself is also a shout-out to woods, and trails, and the unexpected beauty we can find even in places we think we know well. Here’s a short teaser:

IBS graf FB

Also in honor of Earth Day, and what I saw on my stream-watch this morning, I’d like to re-post the piano video from my last entry. If you didn’t get a chance to listen to Robert Schumann’s “Papillons” (“Butterflies”), you can check it out this week.

Please take a look at the links below and consider supporting your environmental group of choice. I’ve also included an article with more information on the review of our national monuments. If you decide to make a donation, and would like to claim your free PDF of “Ivory-Bill Sighting,” please send me an email at kris@krisfaatz.com, or connect with me on Facebook or Twitter.

Thank you for visiting the blog. See you next time!

RESOURCES:

LA Times article on the national monuments subject to review

Organizations:

Sierra Club

Defenders of Wildlife

NRDC

The Nature Conservancy

Greenpeace

Friends of the Earth

 

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Zen for Ten 20: Flying Slips of Paper

This week’s post is all about the music. The recording is longish, so I’ll keep the words short. 🙂 I’d like to share one of my favorite “storytelling and sound” pieces, Robert Schumann’s Papillons Op. 2.

Schumann belongs to the Romantic era in music history (about 1825 to 1900). He’s one of the composers in the generation after Beethoven, the generation that had to decide what to do with all the new ideas Beethoven explored. Schumann himself had a rough life. He was a pianist, but lost the ability to perform after some of the exercises he used to strengthen his hands backfired and damaged his muscles. He struggled with depression for most of his life; his mental health deteriorated more as he got older.

Papillons is an early work for Schumann. It belongs to a time when it was easier for him to tap into energy and enthusiasm, and we can tell from the notes he left about this particular piece that he loved writing it. The title translates literally from the French as “butterflies,” but Schumann himself translated it as “flying slips of paper.” When he was working on the piece, he said later, the ideas came so fast he could barely keep up. Pieces of paper flew around his workroom as he scribbled ideas, tossed pages aside when they were full, snatched fresh paper, and scribbled some more. I know a lot of writers would love to have that kind of process!

The inspiration for Papillons came from a story Schumann had read that featured a costume ball. The piece itself is a series of twelve very short pieces, mostly waltzes. Schumann wanted to put the pianist, and in turn, the listener, in the ballroom he imagined. We’re meant to admire the spectacle, the lights and costumes, the dancers whirling around the room, the excitement and laughter. Schumann is giving us a musical kaleidoscope.

Papillons is a great example of program music: music written to tell a specific story. Another, earlier, example is Beethoven’s Sixth Symphony, the “Pastoral,” in which Beethoven gives us a series of scenes including a brook in the countryside, a thunderstorm, and a country dance. A later, super-iconic example is Modest Mussorgsky’s amazing “Pictures from an Exhibition,” a tour de force and rite of passage for a lot of pianists. In “Pictures,” each movement is a musical “translation” of a specific painting or drawing. Program music was a relatively new idea in Beethoven’s time, but became very popular during the Romantic era.

I decided to record Papillons and share it on the blog on the spur of the moment. Making recordings is still pretty challenging for me, on the nervousness front, and with a long piece like this, it’s an extra challenge. This recording isn’t always as clean as it might be, but I love this music and hope you’ll like listening to it.

As you listen, I’d invite you to close your eyes and imagine the ballroom scene. Schumann tells us a little about the characters he had in mind, particularly a pair of star-crossed lovers, but the music might suggest different characters to you. At the beginning of the piece, you’ll hear a short theme: a scale of ascending notes. The same lilting, ascending scale comes back in the last movement. Also in the last movement, you’ll hear a single high repeated note, cutting through the rest of the musical texture. That’s the clock striking, telling us that the party is over. The final measures of the piece feature a chord where the pianist lets go of one note at a time, so that the sound fades away. After all the drama, we end with a charming, funny whisper.

Thanks as always for visiting the blog. See you next time!

Featured music: Papillons, Op. 2, by Robert Schumann