Archive - Jan 2013




January 30th

Cactus wren


January 28th

Canyon Lake

canyon lake az.jpg 

Yes, they do fish on this lake. 

January 24th

Frank Lloyd Wright studio


Lance and I visited Frank Lloyd Wright's studio, Taliesin West, in north Scottsdale yesterday. We took the one-and-a-half hour tour, which was led by the woman pictured above. 

The tour was very interesting and worthwhile. Frank Lloyd Wright was a character, and the tour guide was as well. 

The studio is still active, used by students who pay $30,000 per year to live on the premises and study architecture.

In addition, about 10 of Wright's former assistants still live on the 500-acre property which once was in the middle of the desert, but which now is surrounded by development. Most of those assistants are now in their 90s. One is still making sculpture. They eat communally each day. 


Wright was in perpetual debt. He went through 90 red vehicles in his life, and over 20 Steinway pianos. He fathered six children by his first wife and then ditched the family for a mistress. After she bore two of their children, all three were killed when a servant burned the house down and killed seven occupants with an axe as they escaped. Wright was away at the time. 

When Wright sought a divorce from a subsequent wife, she went nuts and had him thrown in jail twice, experiences he claimed to enjoy. 

Wright charged his student assistants to work for him for the privilege of working with the master, and they did back-breaking labor. They hauled the rocks by hand which formed the building above. 

Quirks aside, the buildings are an experience. Wright loved the light that comes through canvas, so he had canvas panels installed rather than glass. Although he eventually installed glass, the canvas remains and the light is magical. He created a dinner theater in a carved-out cave with wonderful acoustics. 

Wright's philosophy of "compress and release" was everywhere on display: He liked to make entrances small and cramped so they propelled people into the main space, which would be wide open. Most of the entrances felt like you were crawling into something. He'd compress you, then release you. 

Wright was one of those fascinating geniuses who was full of charm to the outside world, but a pain to those under him or those related to him. 

When he was called into court once, he was asked on the stand to give his name and occupation. 

"I am Frank Lloyd Wright, the greatest architect in the world," he responded. 

When his wife later said he needed to stop referring to himself that way, he responded, "But dear, I was under oath!"



January 22nd

Chills from the Welsh

One of the great things about the British Isles is people aren't afraid to sing. The Welsh in particular are avid singers. They take pride in singing their national anthem well, particularly at rugby matches against teams from other nations. 

Those are indeed the players on the field singing their hearts out, not some choir. Can you imagine Adrian Peterson singing our national anthem with the same fervor? Or Joe Mauer? 

And then, after the national anthem, they often sing their favorite Welsh hymn, Bread of Heaven, known to Lutherans as "Guide Me O Thou Great Jehovah." What a version! It takes a while to get going, but then it builds. Poor Tom Jones, doesn't know the words. 

This is what you call singing lustily. Bread of Heaven often comes out again spontaneously after a victory or during the game after a goal--the entire crowd of 70,000 starts singing a hymn. What a novel idea!

At about 8 p.m. on weekends in certain British pubs, things start getting out of control and people start...singing. Loudly. Hymns. Stephen Foster songs. Whatever. When the pub closes at 11 p.m., they take it to the streets. 

We have no such rowdy singing tradition in this country, and it is a pity. 

UPDATE: The tradition of singing the Welsh national anthem before rugby matches started in 1905. The New Zealand All Blacks, then, as now, one of the world's greatest rugby teams, would perform their legendary haka, a Maori war chant. Any New Zealander worth their salt can at least to a passable version of the haka. 

Rather than stand and stare back without any response, the Welsh decided to sing their national song afterwards, led by the captain of the team. 

According to some, it was the first time in the history of any spectator sport that a national anthem was sung before an event. American baseball didn't play the Star Spangled Banner before a game until the World Series of 1918, which was thirteen years before it was adopted as our national anthem. 


January 21st

The Earl of Baltimore

Earl Weaver finally passed away this weekend after decades of chain smoking. Earl was the manager of the Baltimore Orioles during their glory years. Here is a tribute to Earl. And then, just to make sure you know Earl intimately, here is an adults-only, world famous rendition of Earl in an argument with Bill Haller, one of the best American League umpires. 

Despite the inanity of the argument, Earl Weaver was one of the most intelligent managers ever. He was way ahead of his time. 

Barry Goldwater, photographer

I was reminded this week that former Sen. Barry Goldwater was also a master photographer

Also, a nice article in the Casper, WY paper about friend Chuck Kimmerle's exhibit. Chuck moved to Wyoming because his partner Brenda got a good job there. We all wondered what would happen to his superb landscape photography, which up to that point was entirely attuned to the Great Plains. 

Chuck adjusted, and is thriving. 

What the article and most reviews of Chuck's work miss is the sense of humor I find in his work. Maybe I am perverse, but when I see virtuosity like Chuck's; when I see him turn a commonplace scene into something transcendant, I laugh out loud. It is the same laugh that comes when I hear Vladamir Horowitz take a commonplace piano piece and make it sizzle like a drop of water on a hot griddle. 

Armed with my camera, I headed north to Payson, AZ today. The scenery was beautiful, but I wasn't inspired to photograph. Payson is up on what they call "the rim." In other words, it is at 6,000 elevation. The saguaro are replaced by juniper and pine. The mountains are dusted with snow.

I found a Thai restaurant there that served a good lunch, then turned around and came back to Gold Canyon. Temperature? 76 degrees F. 

I do check on MN temperatures and I do know what you are going through. This is when I relish every moment in the desert. 

January 15th

News of the day

Comments on recent news items:

•Internet activist Aaron Swartz committed suicide rather than face possible incarceration. Was the prosecution over-zealous? Probably. Are they to blame for his suicide? No. The only person to blame for a suicide is the person committing it. Yes, we should fight bullying, even by those with the full prosecutorial powers of the federal government. But in the end, we are all responsible for maintaining our existence on this earth. 

•President Obama's press conference yesterday was pitch perfect. Raising the debt limit is a formality required to pay bills already incurred by Congress. It is not negotiable. His stance is admirable and correct, and I hope he maintains it. 

•Frontline on PBS has a documentary which I hope to see soon. I details how prominent Republicans decided to oppose President Obama on everything he put forth, no matter what the good of the country–– even if that meant opposing measures they used to support. If it came from President Obama, they opposed it. That was their fundamentally treasonous position. They put the good of party ahead of the good of country. And they're still doing it!

•Gun nuts are looking pretty stupid as they attempt to defend the right of everybody to own assault weapons in the wake of recent gun violence. The extremism of the National Rifle Association and the craven capitulation of Congress to their wishes has never been more evident. Let's hope that we can at least go back to the common sense of the assault rifle ban. It is clear that people who get their undies in a bundle over this, such as the talk show host Alex Jones, are just plain unstable. 

Do you know that there was a time that the NRA strongly advocated stricter gun control laws? It was in the late-1960s when Black Panthers were defending their right to bear arms. That gives you an idea what the organization is all about. 

•For some reason, I think the tide has turned recently in the policy debate between belief and science, a debate which never should have happened. Science needs to win if we are to survive. People who deny basic scientific evidence in favor of silly religious dogmas should not be reputable. There is plenty of room in the more rational branches of religion to admit the most recent scientific evidence, yet we continue to see people denying climate change, denying evolution, opposing stem cell research, denying anything, generally speaking, that might result in them leading a less piggish lifestyle. Ironically, they see continuance of their piggish and consumptive lifestyles as their right as so-called Christians! Drill, baby, drill! Jesus demands it!



Relatively cold

The cold snap down here is killing stuff, namely citrus and other plants. The plants around the house here in Gold Canyon are looking awful. The frost doesn't leave the patio, which is on the north side, even in the late afternoon. The crust on the puddles around the golf course doesn't thaw during the day. 

It is all relative; Minnesotans would be gleeful at the prospect of hitting 50 degrees during the day back home. When I saw that number on my car thermometer today in Gold Canyon, however, I shivered. The girl running the till closest to the automatic door at the grocery store was freezing.

The sun still shines, however. And I can tell in the evening that the days are starting to get a little longer. 

The dogs who barked all weekend and inspired this past week's column welcomed home their owners about two hours after I completed the column. They have been well behaved since. I think I will go over and offer to take care of the dogs the next time the couple is gone. I would love to give them walks, especially if it kept them quiet. Better than throwing doggie treats over the fence every fifteen minutes. 

In other news, I talked with Aunt Olive on the phone this week. She absorbed another "punch to the brain" as she called it this week. Olive is under the perpetual impression that she had a stroke yesterday and that she fell recently. It is clear that the left side of her head feels strange, and it is only natural that she would attribute it to a recent event. 

Sister Tracie is tending to Olive while I am gone. They bought head phones with a microphone for visiting, which I think will be sufficient. They also looked to see if there is insurance on the hearing aid which was so quickly lost after it was purchased. I just worry that if Olive gets another hearing aid, she will get annoyed, throw it out and then forget she threw it out. 

One of her favorite nurses, who she calls Truman, has, according to Olive, "really laid down the law." She told me that several times before I left. Truman, she said, is really bringing order to the place. He's shaping everybody up and nobody dares differ with him. This has been a theme in our phone calls as well. Truman is laying down the law!

Well, my sister finally had a visit with Truman. His "laying down the law" consists of telling Olive that she's darn lucky she's over 100 years old, because if you're under 100 years old, you have to wash dishes. Knowing Truman, he says this with the utmost seriousness, and Olive has taken him seriously. She forgets the specifics, but remembers the general concept: Truman is cracking down. Those who are 99 years old and younger have to wash dishes!

It is also time for a haircut. This is a touchy deal, as Olive has systematically decided that everybody who cuts hair has developed a drinking problem. "It's so sad about Ella," she says of one of the ladies who cuts hair. "She's taken to liquor."

This must be news to Ella, who doesn't even know her name is Ella. 

So, best wishes to sister as she sets out to solve the haircut dilemma, which is usually only solved by a trip to Twin Valley.  


January 12th

Apache Trail


Went east of Apache Junction about 10 miles tonight to a canyon that I find absolutely beautiful. Lance had a new time-lapse camera to play with as the sun set, while I tried to capture the magma, sage and lichen.