Tuesday, April 27, 2010

springtime in the woods

This lovely island woods on a lake in east central Minnesota was where I spent my lunch break today. Alone. I like it that way.

The spring beauties and anemones were in bloom. Too bad the work camera wasn't focusing the best, but you get the idea.

And I found just what I had hoped to see. Trilliums were just coming out. I don't have any of these white trilliums in my woods, so it is nice when I can find one to photograph up close.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Adventures in overdubbing

Before you read any further, if you have a high speed connection, please open a new browser window, go to my new MySpace page, and listen to the uploaded song while you read the rest of this post.

Today was one of those wonderful musical days when one thing leads to another, and before I knew it I was in the midst of my biggest recording projects ever. It started innocently enough, with some intense arpeggio practice on mandolin. Then I happened to turn to the page in my music notebook that had the lyrics to a Bob Dylan song I really like, "Tomorrow Is A Long Time". I put down the mandolin, picked up the guitar, learned the chord pattern, and decided to do an impromptu recording of myself singing and playing the song on guitar, just a rough draft so I could work out a mandolin accompaniment later. My arrangement is based on Nickel Creek's recording of the song, and I did my best to sound somewhat like Sara Watkins. :)

The rough draft came complete with Sally's toenails on wood floor, and even a rawhide bone drop in the last chorus. But the guitar playing was pretty even, and I liked what I heard in the vocals. That's a rare thing; usually I have a hard time appreciating my own voice. So I kept the track. Then, in the early afternoon, I moved out to my new recording studio:

The Hermit traded for this camper trailer that's nearly as old as I am, and in almost better shape. Since Mr. Attitude was watching TV in the house and Calvin was video gaming in the cabin, this was the only choice for a quiet place (the flickers and sapsuckers were making way too much joyful spring noise outside). And quiet it was; with the door and windows closed it blocked out most outside noise.

I set up inside with my flute and mandolin, a glass of iced tea, and my Tascam GT-R1 portable recorder, on top of the cabinet in the middle. I spent a lot of time practicing flute with the base track, recorded one take, then found out I had set the input level so high the flute was overpowering everything else. So I adjusted levels, did a couple practice takes of about ten seconds each to make sure the levels were right, then I recorded the flute track. Right after I turned the recorder off, Mr. Attitude appeared and wanted to be my sound man. :)

The mandolin track took a lot longer, due to the need for iced tea refills, and interruptions from Calvin and Starflower. Not to mention my own developing sense of perfectionism; even if this was purely for my own recreation, I wanted this song to sound somewhat professional. So I practiced the mando with the dubbed guitar/vocal/flute track until I had an idea where I was going with it. I noticed the battery on the recorder was getting down a bit, so I hoped I could get something good recorded in one take. The first take sounded good enough for me.

I can now appreciate the process of audio recording. While this is a rough demo by any standards, I have learned what it takes to put a song together. My inner perfectionist would still be out in the camper, going for the perfect mix, and I know this song will evolve a bit as I work with it. But it's a big step for me, putting it up on MySpace for the world to see!

Thursday, April 15, 2010


This blog has been quieter than normal lately, and normally I would apologize. But just as the tides ebb and flow, so does my state of mind. I've come to accept that driving myself to blog every day, or reveal all of the latest changes of nature, which is in a constant state of change, when I am turned inward and distracted, is not normal and is fighting the flow of things. So there is nothing to apologize for. Rest assured, however, that this blog is a part of me and to quit altogether would be to commit a violent act of disregard for myself and all of you, the people I have come to know through this blog. So I will not apologize, but rest assured, when the quiet storm is over I will have stories to tell.

A mosquito is trying to bite my fingers as I type. Ah, the curses of an early spring!

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Play ball!

Well, the Twins have now opened up their new baseball field with a victory over the Red Sox, but baseball season for me officially began today with the seventh and eighth grade teams' first games. They played on the home field against my mom's hometown. The seventh grade team (Calvin is in seventh, by the way) was scheduled for the second game so I took my time getting there after work. I ended up getting there just in time to see Calvin come in as relief pitcher for the EIGHTH GRADE team! I guess they are a couple players short so they fill in with seventh graders. Calvin started for them in right field.

Calvin pitched a good inning, not allowing any runs. He had very good form; I could tell all those miles I drove to and from pitching camp this winter were not in vain!

This baseball season is going to be fun to watch!

Thursday, April 08, 2010

My new license plates, and how to have a great birding day without really trying

Today after lifting twenty trap nets on a local lake and doing spleen and kidney-ectomies on a bunch of unfortunate fish (sampling for the latest fish disease, VHS, to come our way), I decided to leave work early. I had a book to pick up at the library, and when I pulled up to the combined library/city hall/license center I remembered my driver's license had expired on my birthday, and I needed to renew the license tabs on the Subaru. And it's payday tomorrow, so I could do that.

Minnesota has been issuing special habitat license plates for a while now, and last year they unveiled four new designs. I had decided a while back that when I had to buy license tabs I would get one of the new plates. I was torn between one that featured a chickadee, and one that featured a lady's slipper, our state flower. It was a close race, but the Hermit already had the chickadee plates, and a botanical plate just seems so...cool. :) Although there is some pink overload in the background...why not bog green, like where these flowers grow?

When I arrived home I installed the new plates, then Sally was insisting that I take her to the pond. Of course I could not resist. After all that, I had exactly twenty minutes before I had to drive back to the school and pick up Calvin and his buddy from baseball practice. I had heard an unusual bird song from the (new and improved) back yard, so I grabbed the binoculars and a beer and sat at the table we had set up out there.

I don't think I saw the singer of the unusual (and still unidentified) bird song, but I did see something flitting around in a spruce tree. It was difficult to zero in on it because it was one of those little birds that is constantly flitting. I started thinking of possibilities in my head: Yellow rumped warbler? This early? Then I thought: Golden crowned kinglet. A possibility, and definitely in the size range. I finally saw the eye line, and a flash of yellow on top of the head. YES!!! I'm sure golden crowned kinglets are everywhere, especially in the spring, I had just never gotten a good look at one! LIFER!!!

Then it was time to make the fifteen mile drive to school. I must have been especially attuned to the look of the trees along the road a couple miles from our house, because I noticed a bird out of the corner of my left eye. It was sitting in an aspen tree near the road, but sitting differently than most birds: it was parallel, not perpendicular, to the tree branch it was on. It was also an unusual size, maybe blue jay size but definitely not blue jay. I had to slam on the brakes and back up.

I did not have my binoculars with me, so I'll have to rely on what I saw with my naked eyes. The sunlight was doing weird things with the bird's back, maybe highlighting some iridescence. But what I saw was dark, with a light front, and a woodpecker-like bill. Its level of wariness was also notable: it did not fly even when my car was about thirty feet away and stopped. I studied it from every angle I could, and I have to go with my gut feeling: Black backed woodpecker! They are uncommon, but definitely not improbable around here as I have seen them before.

Sometimes you see the best things when you're not really trying to see anything.

Sunday, April 04, 2010

Open water

I apologize for not posting more frequently in this, the most exciting of seasons. It's all happening so fast this year I can barely step back and process it all. It seems like a dream: warm temperatures came and snow started disappearing in mid March, and I sat there waiting for things to return to normal, for a blizzard or deep freeze or something. It never happened, and here I sit in a comfortably warm house that will not need supplemental heat tonight. In early April!

The ice went out on all the lakes in the area this week. According to records kept by my grandpa at the lake home now owned by my uncle, this year was the second earliest the ice disappeared from that lake. The records probably go back over 30 years. Today we spent a nice Easter at the lake, watching various ducks, grebes, geese, and herons on the water.

Of course with my job monitoring fish populations, ice out meant work. I had meant to take Thursday and Friday off and spend some time with the kids while they had some time off school for spring break. Instead I was one of the first people out on a boat on a couple of lakes, setting nets and checking them for fish. I can't complain, how many jobs are there where you get paid to go out in a boat, but suddenly I'm feeling the need for some time off!

The warming and thawing has finally resolved a situation we had here with the pond over the last two weeks. The pond was flooded from melt water that had nowhere to go because an outflow culvert under our driveway was blocked with ice. Finally some time last night the water broke through the ice and I can just imagine the powerful rush as the water flowed through and lowered the level of the pond by about a foot. Thank goodness there was no damage to the driveway.

Tonight the frogs are singing, and I can even keep my window open a bit to hear them. Maybe I will hear the northern saw whet owl I heard last night as well.