The Spiral Jetty and the Pink Salt Lake

Last year, my friend Andrea and I decided we must go see the Spiral Jetty (the environmental sculpture/earthwork by Robert Smithson) up at the North end of the Great Salt Lake. (The children and I had been cursing ourselves for not going to see it the last time we were in the area, as there is really no other reason to ever be out that direction!) But we kept having to put it off…first she had a baby, and then I had a baby—but finally this October we managed to get all eighteen (!!) of us together, husbands and kids included, to make it happen! (In spite of Andrea being pregnant again…ha!)

We drove waaaaay out, past the Golden Spike National Historic Site, onto the (fairly well-maintained) dirt road to the site of the jetty. When we got there, it was raining quite a bit, so Sam and I shooed the kids out of the car to explore while I fed Theodore and we stayed warm and dry. Luckily we had brought rain boots for everyone, since Andrea had told us it would be wet and sandy/muddy down by the jetty. (And here's a great post with advice if you want to make this trip too.)

After a while the rain fizzled out and we emerged from the car. The children were having fun wandering hither and yon. It's such interesting countryside out there. Stark. Very stark. 
Spot the two boys!
You can climb up the rocky hill above and see the whole spiral of the jetty as you look down, but what you instantly WANT to do is climb down the hill and walk along the jetty itself, spiraling inward till you reach the center. This was the time when I was congratulating myself for having worn rain boots (or "gum boots" as Andrea calls them, or "galoshes" as Sam calls them—very diverse bunch, the lot of us), as there was lots of standing water and a great quantity of strange, wet, salty sand.
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Around and around

Sometimes I can't tell if it's making me happy or sad to look at a picture. I just know that my chest aches and I have to close my eyes for a minute and it feels like something heavy has settled just below my lungs. It's a feeling that makes me want to stop, to look away. And yet there's a pull there, too; a tug like love, or loss.

I feel it when I see this picture of Goldie. There we were at Disneyland, riding that ridiculous caterpillar ride. The worker told Goldie to put her hands up so he could check her seatbelt, but somehow Goldie interpreted that as an order to keep her hands in the air for the entire ride. (Reinforcing this idea was the fact that she'd seen other people doing it, on roller coasters.) So she sat there as the caterpillar train made its slow, silly way around the track; all rosy and wondering, holding up those little hands faithfully, not really understanding anything that was going on, but full of hope and confusion and obedience. Ready for this—whatever it was—to begin. Ready to like it. But still unsure. 

It makes tears come to my eyes as I write about it, for all the typical sentimental reasons—she's growing up too fast; she's got so many hard things ahead of her; how will I bear it?  And I suppose I'm also crying for all my other two-year-olds, cruelly replaced—somehow—by bigger, smarter, later models of themselves. Clever, funny, delightful models, to be sure—upgrades, almost certainly—but…well, the people they were are gone, and I miss them.

Experiencing it constantly doesn't make it any easier. It's a daily, constant cycle of death and rebirth: THAT baby is gone. THIS one remains. I can't claim to know the way a child's true loss feels, though I can imagine the pain when that cycle is halted; when the rebirth never comes and the ache of loss can't give way to the wonder of renewal. But it's pain enough when you sense the cycle happening without you being aware of it at all. THAT child, gone before you even thought to learn who she was. THIS child, full of promise and mystery, but already changing; already, again, almost gone.

It's too pessimistic, of course, to see every change as something to mourn. In my own progression, I go through the same cycle of selves, and I can say honestly that there's hardly a one I'm sorry to have left behind. Teenage insecurities? New-parent uncertainty? First-toddler smugness? I'm thrilled to see those in the rear-view mirror. And I can't wait to shed all the parts of myself that so horrify me at present—hopefully in exchange for peace, wisdom, patience, humility. Spiritually, I feel like the cycle of self-death and self-rebirth is mostly an upward spiral. But it still doesn't stop me from feeling the loss when I see that same cycle spinning so fast, way too fast, in the lives of my children.

And looking at sweet, innocent, trusting little Goldie up there…well…maybe the comparison is too sappy, but in some ways I think I can see ME there as well, and maybe that's another small part of the ache I feel. I can imagine myself setting off on this mortal journey, feeling excited and apprehensive all at once, and probably mostly clueless about what was to come. And now here I still am, holding on dutifully to the tiny bits of knowledge I've gained, bracing myself for the unknowns ahead, hopeful and trusting, but yes, just the slightest bit terrified as well—not sure about what's coming next, or if I'll like it, or if IT will like ME.

I have to remind myself that it's RIGHT, this cycle. It's what our Heavenly Father wanted us to experience. To hope and fail and love and grieve and press on. 

So we keep pressing on.
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Downhill, dapper, breathe

October means I've got a backlog of photos from the camera a mile long.  October is full of traditions: picnics, pumpkin patches, hikes, costumes, drives up the canyon. Everything is so beautiful, so fleeting, and each captured picture is another stone in some great wall I'm constructing to hold back the winter. It's been warm and summery so far, but if anything, that makes me feel MORE frantic, knowing it could end, should end, any minute! The year is in its headlong, heedless descent, almost out of control, but there's no stopping it now! Just stand back—take a deep breath of that leafy, smoky air—and watch the light streak down across the sky before it fades.
All the boys seemed to have a growth spurt at once. Seb looks so handsome in his new suit!
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Sundance ski lift

After our trip to California, the fun continued apace as Philip and Allison's family came back to Utah to visit us! As is becoming customary, we met up at Sundance to ride the ski lift. It was a bit of a strange year, leafwise. Some years in October there have been spectacular reds and yellows on the mountain! This year was a lot more muted. In fact, it almost looked like early spring to me: lots of shades of brown and tan, with some fresh, pale green-yellows mixed in. It was so different. But beautiful!
Each boy had a girl to look after, and they were all so cute. Such protective older brothers! Here Abe prepares to help Daisy hop on to the lift.
Seb with his Goldie

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Air Show

Because we've been studying airplanes for school, I looked up airplane-related things we might do while we were visiting my brother in California. To our great delight, it turned out there was an airshow at the naval air base a couple hours away! And Philip loves planes too, so there was no question we would go. 

It was a huge event—we waited in a huge line of cars for an hour just to drive onto the Base and park. And once we were there, we could see why it was so popular, because it was amazing! There was something going on in the air every half hour or so: big military planes flying over; twirling, looping stunt planes; flying teams of jets. And then there were a whole bunch of cool planes on the ground, too. Our favorite was the huge C5 Hercules we got to walk through, and several of the fighter jets.
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Newport Beach

If the weather is TOO HOT at Disneyland (as Allison and I were saying), then it is bound to be JUST RIGHT for the beach. And it was. I often forget how much work it is, going to the beach with children, and I so admire Allison for knowing full well what she's getting into, and going with us anyway! She also has many little tricks that make it easier, like mesh toy bags, and baby powder for getting sand off, and towel racks in the garage. But there is no getting around the fact that there are seven (or ten) sandy little bodies that need bathing afterwards!

Well, in spite of the aftermath, I do love the beach. I love the constant sound of the water, and the colors under the waves as they crest, and the sun hitting the wet sand. I love watching everyone laugh and squeal and jump over the waves. 
I even love little squirmy, scary sand-monsters like this one!
Daisy and Ben played the same game they played last year, just as sweetly. I love these two together.
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The Last Time

Everyone really, really liked these Baymax balloons
A year ago, before Sam stopped working for Disney, we took our Last Trip to Disneyland. It was a very fun and momentous occasion (with the older children telling the littler ones solemnly, "Since we won't get in free anymore, we will probably Never Come Here Again." True enough.) and so later when we realized we had one more set of free day passes left, we felt almost sheepish.

But in the best way. Because that meant we got to go visit Philip and Allison and do all our favorite California things and go to Disneyland and say one VERY last goodbye to everything.
We were so hot last year that we thought we would die. The Dole Whip floats were the only thing that saved us. So this year, we were prepared with fans! Misting fans, to be precise. Funny what a difference they made. Every time the heat felt unBEARable, we'd give ourselves a little squirt of mist and suddenly we could…bear it. Theodore was his usual good-natured self through it all.
Fish-go-round.
The hotter it got, the curlier their hair got.
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A hamburger

It was General Conference a couple weekends ago, and I know there are all kinds of good things my fellow Latter-day Saints are doing at this time of year—making goals, reevaluating habits, improving themselves. One friend said her mother was always embroidering temple clothes for her children during conference, and another friend said she likes to keep a conference journal. I also like to have something to work on, and I often crochet hats or some other project while I listen, but this time I felt I ought to add something of real value to the world. Something that will stand as a testament to the lasting and worthwhile in this tawdry, disposable world of ours.

So I crocheted this hamburger.

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On singing along

"You sing it daily in your bath, sir.  Mr Wooster," said Jeeves, turning to Aunt Dahlia, "has a pleasant, light baritone—"
"I bet he has," said Aunt Dahlia.
I froze the man with a look.
"Between singing 'Sonny Boy' in one's bath, Jeeves, and singing it before a hall full of assorted blood-orange merchants and their young, there is a substantial difference." 
                                                                                                       —Very Good Jeeves, by P.G. Wodehouse
What with one thing and another I rarely find myself singing along to music anymore, but when I do it's such a pleasure. It got me thinking about what makes the optimum singing-along experience. I'm interested in how other people answer this question, too, though I don't expect to know any of the things you Young People are listening to these days. (Casting about for a name, the most recent I can think of offhand is Ben Folds, or perhaps someone named Neko Case, of whom I only know because Melissa and Jordan, our hippest friends, mentioned her once.) Not that I've ever really known what's popular. In fact, one time soon after we were married, I served in a church calling with a lady several years older than me and she said something about how young I was, and I said, "It's fine, I probably like the same music as you do—" and sure enough I did. I learned my Classic Rock at my older brothers' collective knee, and never truly got into what was popular with my peers. (Except Beth, of course, whose musical taste is almost impeccable; and Rachael and I practically share an ear, like the Weird Sisters.)

Well! On to what makes a good song to sing along with. Of course, we should stipulate right off that there are times when singing "doo-doo-doo" and "ba-ba-bum" along with an instrumental line can be great (watching 2-year-old Sebby rock out at the top of his lungs to "Birdland" or Holst's "Jupiter" is one of the few times in my life I've gotten to witness pure, blazing joy in musical form). And let's face it; there are times when only opera will do. I enjoy a good belt-out of Nessun Dorma as much as the next guy. But honestly, for the bulk of your singing along, there's nothing like good old rock or pop. Let's get down to it:

• I like it best when there's about three lines of tight harmony from which I can select, jumping lightly between them at will, but especially favoring the high end (going upward on words that transform into "oooh!" halfway through is particularly satisfying), unless of course the low harmony has something more interesting.

• Oh! Or if the high note in vocals matches the guitar exactly, so you can't even separate the two until you cut off and the guitar's still up there shrieking it. Boston is really great for that type of thing.

• And any song where the writers were like, "Okay, repeat chorus—but UP HALF AN OCTAVE!"

• Really, anything that gets a kind of flourishing shriek-y finish is good; words like "high-eee" and "eye-iiiii-iiiis."

• A single spoken-inflected word amidst sung words is good, or Sprechstimme as we Music Majors like to call it…haha…if we're being pretentious or talking about Schoenberg. Getting this spoken word timed and pitched just right is an indication of your mastery of the song: "All the world's indeed a STAGE [shouted], and we are merelee-ee players!"

• It's also good if there's a long instrumental passage to which the singing joins in an unexpected place—or perhaps a spot where a phrase repeats several times, but there's just one time the pattern varies. If you can sing along to the entirety, variant and all (and coming in correctly after an extended instrumental solo), you're justified in feeling quite smug. (Like in Van Halen's Jump: when they yell "Jump" in the background but it's only every other measure, and sometimes they leave it out—I love hitting those just right.)

• I also like rocking out to hopey-changey self-congratulatory lyrics that sound way overearnest in retrospect ("Hollyann! We left the world behind; We held the line! Can you believe it?"). I just have a highly developed appreciation for the ridiculous, I think. I like to imagine a line of blissed-out fans waving their lighters and thinking this is great stuff.

• Any word the singer says…strangely is good. An overall foreign accent is fine but it's best if it's just the odd word here and there, like how Steve Walsh (Kansas) says:
HAAA-long? HAAA-long to the point of no return?
or Rush's Geddy Lee says "Gast in this unlikely roll" instead of "cast" during "Limelight." (Incidentally, "one must put up barriers to keep oneself intact" is one of the best lines to sing…the stiff at-arms-length-ness of it, in a rock song, makes me laugh every time)
Or "heppy" instead of "happy." Nothing makes me heppier than singing 'heppy' along with Geddy, I can tell you that.

• Rush really deserve their own bullet point, because Rush are always good. Not least because I know every word and every inflection. I can sing along to whole albums at a time…complete with timed pauses between songs. Rush is best if you want something, you know, pithy. Something you can drum along with in hearty philosophical agreement. Of course Rush aren't actually, er, religious, but if you listen in the right spirit…
(If you kept it simple…and denced from the haht…and hed the right pahtnah…
Oh, and that's you is it? —Strictly Ballroom)
then the songs are fun to sing AND metaphysically satisfying.

• For example, one of my favorites, The Spirit of Radio, and let's just listen in on my thoughts as I sing:

"Begin the day with a friendly voice,
A companion unobtrusive;
[Ah, you allude to the Spirit. Of radio, or the Holy Spirit perhaps. Go on.]
Plays that song that's so elusive
And the magic music makes your morning move.
Up-on your way hit the open road; there is magic at your fingers,
For the spirit ever lingers [He does; if we are worthy of him]
Undemanding contact
In your heppy solitude ["Heppy!" The heart leaps!]
Invisible airways crackle with life; [Yes; the spirit world is here, some say]
Bright antenna bristle with the energy.
Emotional feedback on a timeless wavelength [the wavelength of eternity, in fact]
Bearing a gift beyond price [Yes, like the Pearl of Great Price, go on], almost free.
All this machinery making modern music can still be open-hearted, […wordless ruminations on the modernization of our world…]
Not so fully charted,
It's really just a question of your honesty, yeh, your honesty [Amen to that; nothing like honesty; I like the 'yeh' too; go on]
One likes to believe in the freedom of music [one does, doesn't one! I know I do.]
But glittering prizes and endless compromises
Shatter the illusion of integrity, yeh. [Ah, too true, too true. Preach it, Geddy.]

• Or what about Freewill, arguably the most Mormon song Neil Peart ever wrote?

There are those who think that life is nothing left to chance
A host of holy-rollers to direct our aimless plans. [You're right, that's silly.]
A planet of playthings, we dance on the strings of powers we cannot perceive. [Oh, the alliteration! It's positively Maxwell-esque!]
The stars aren't aligned, or the gods are malign; blame is better to give than receive. [Tsk-tsk. Too much of this going around.]
You can choose a ready guide in some celestial voice [Okay, done.]
If you choose not to decide you still have made a choice. [So true!]
You can choose from phantom fears and kindness that can kill [I choose neither, please]
I will choose a path that's clear,
I will choose freewill [Me too Geddy! It's what God wants!]

• Not quite knowing the words, or what they mean, is great. I can't decide if I like it better when I'm just singing a collection of sounds with absolutely no idea where the words begin and end—or if it's better when I think (rightly or wrongly) I DO know the words and they make absolutely no sense. Word salad. Or perhaps a mixture of the two, where you start out innocently enough and then descend by degrees into madness…

Yes is awesome for this. Also they repeat their lyrics often enough that you often know them by the end of the song:
I'll be the roundabout, the words'll make you out and out,
You spend the day your way,
Call it mornin-drivin-through-the-sun-and-in-and-out-the-valley—
In and around the lake, marmots come out of the sky and they stand there
When my lover will be there I will see yoo-oou
Touch of summers will be there a lapwing too-oo,
Twenty-four before my love, you'll see, I'll be there with you.
I will remember you, a silhouette will charge the view, a-distant atmosphere,
[Everybody now!] Call it mornin-drivin-through-the-sun-and-in-and-out-the-valley…
I know I could look the words up but WHY WOULD I? I never want them to change.

• For sheer overall singing enjoyment, though, I have to admit America is some of the best. There's no song better to drive to, windows down, than Ventura Highway. The guitar intro alone makes you want to break into song. When the vocals start, the close harmonies are perfect. Plus we get the phrase "sorry boy, but I been hit by purrrrple rain," and the Sprechstimme in "Aw, c'mon Joe, you can always change your name." The sheer vocal decadance of "I kno-oo-ow-ow-ow-ow-ow-ow" is great. But I believe the pi├Ęce de r├ęsistance comes here:
Dooooooodoodit, dooooooodoodit, do, dooooooodoodit, dooooooodoodit dooot…
Let me explain. You see, the doot-doo section itself is pleasant to sing with; it allows one's natural voice to spill forth unfettered by pronunciation or memory, and there are multiple harmonic lines within each phrase, to give full scope to one's range. But the real gem is the lowest line of harmony, which varies the theme with a tongue-tripping musical element that a trumpeter might do full justice to:
Dootadootadoot, dootadootadoot.          Dootadootadoot, dootadootadoot.
When combined, we have the downright contrupuntal
Dooooooodoodit, dooooooodoodit, do, dooooooodoodit, dooooooodoodit dooot…Dootadootadoot, dootadootadoot.         Dootadootadoot, dootadootadoot.
—from which you can select not only the range but also the rhythm that suits you best. Who wouldn't enjoy singing along?

• But I'm going to go out on a limb and say Tin Man is one of the top sing-along songs of all time. It ticks all the right boxes: reaching up to oooh, nonsense lyrics, high shrieking harmonies:
Say I'm spinning round-round round-round, smoked glass stain bright color-ooooh [excellent word-to-oooh transition]
Image going down-down down-down, soap's a green light cover-oooh…[a bit fragmented; still, could just be poetic…]
Oh Oz never did give nothin to the Tin Man, That he didn't, didn't already have [Still with you, yes]
And cause never was a reason for the evenin [o…kay…maybe…]
Or the tropic of Sir Galahad [WHAM! What?! this is brilliant; brilliant. This couldn't have been written better if you'd brought in a lunatic expressly for the purpose.]
So please, believe in me, ooh ooh ooh…
Sing it, baby! Please believe in me, oooh ooh ooh.
5

I yell, you yell, we all yell for yell-ow

A couple Sundays ago Sam and I drove up Big Cottonwood Canyon and over Guardsman Pass into Midway. We've never been all the way up and over that way before, and it was so beautiful! We left the kids home this time, too, which is perhaps why it lingers in my memory as such a very peaceful afternoon. :)

You know me (or do you?)—I can't resist the gold-yellow of those aspen trees. It's my very favorite color in the world, even when that yellow is rushing by past my car window, a blur of glitter and sunshine (my desire to pull over and wander around and take photos often exceeds the driver's desire for slowing down and annoying other cars, or parking in precarious places to allow said wandering)—or maybe especially then. It feels like falling into a yellow lake.
 Mid-afternoon seems like the best time to get that strong tree-light. The sunlight through the leaves makes everything behind it more vibrant.

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Sunday, Maple Canyon

We stopped to take some pictures during our Sunday drive the other day, because the light was so pretty. Daisy and Junie were wearing some of my favorites of their dresses. Cuties.
And Abe looks so handsome in his new Sunday suit!
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