Shenandoah National Park getaway 2018

home, for a bitI took a two-night trip to Shenandoah National Park, staying in this adorable cabin on the Skyland property, one of the oldest cabins in the park. Black-and-White Warbler (Mniotila varia) seen from the porch.


five not fourThe first day, I did a four-hour loop out of the Big Meadows area, following the Rapidan Road, Mill Prong Trail, and AT. The meadows along the Rapidan Road were quite good for our common butterflies. Once the road entered the woods, I found a lingering patch of Wild Columbine (Aquilegia canadensis). My initial attempts to ID were rather hopeless (I’ve never seen this plant before), in part because the blooms nearer the trail were on the way to gone by, and showed only four parts, not five. Field ID job #1: always check more than one individual.

free flowingThe Mill Prong was flowing generously. A thundershower kicked in as I climbed back to Milam Gap, and I had to break out my ratty emergency poncho with a hole and most of the snaps broken. Near the end of my loop, I found a flock of about 18 Wild Turkey (Meleagris gallopavo); I think that this is the first time that I’ve seen them in fairly thick woods, rather than by the roadside. 4.2 miles, elevation change 205m.

slopeThe next day, I drove to the South District to take a loop around Blackrock. Blackrock is not so much a mountain as it is a messy talus slope. This is the view to the north. Not even a Mountain Ash has made inroads here. I deviated from my trail guide and took a short stretch on the AT. Let’s call it 2.5 miles and an elevation change of 110m, around in 2:05. On the AT, I surprised a pair of Black Bear cubs, on one side of the trail, and an adult on the other side. I backed off and clapped my hands and improvised a silly song about walking in the woods (the sort of thing that Pooh and Piglet would sing) until I was sure that the fuzzies had moved on.

I found that I was laboring in my climbs—there are a couple of reasons why that might be. So, for my afternoon walk, I cut down the loop I was planning into a circuit starting from Browns Gap, following the AT, Big Run Loop Rail, and Madison Run Road. As I approached the parking area for the trailhead, I was hailed by two noisy hikers on the roadside. I thought that they had run out of water, but it turned out they were just hoping to cadge a beer. Ah, well, trail magic takes many forms.

Climbing on the AT, I decided that this was my therapy: hot yoga forest bathing. Pause. Listen. Breathe.

patience rewardedcommon, but very niceMadison Run Road (I’ve been at the other end of this road) was good for a couple butterflies, Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta) at left and Pearl Crescent (Phyciodes tharos) at right. Alas, I did not key out the fleabane. 105m elevation change, 2.2 miles, 1:35.

not a sunflowerAlong Skyline Drive, I saw lots of variations on yellow August-blooming composites. But once I stopped and got my Newcomb’s out, I found only two species. First, some patches of Tall Coneflower (Rudbeckia laciniata), including a few flowers on Madison Run Road.

one inflorescenceleaf detailAnd then, overwhelmingly, the roadside flowers in bloom at this time of the year turn out to be Pale-leaved Sunflower (Helianthus strumosus). These photos are all from one overlook parking area, the plants are everywhere Skyline Drive. The flowers show variability in color (yellow to orange) and they change as the flower matures: the disc becomes darker, more prominent (like a coneflower) as the ray flowers begin to drop off.

I stopped for a quick run up to Betty’s Rock before I headed back to the cabin and dinner. But the trail is closed for revegetation. Just a reminder that it’s possible to love something too much, so much that you hurt it.

a driftCounting the trailside and roadside bears that I saw, I found six. That’s more bears than I’ve ever seen before in my life.

Small beauties

Bas Bleu contemplates grace:

The corollary to this—something I also frequently fail to recognize—is that I can be a grace in the lives of those around me, by being kind, by being attentive, by showing recognition and appreciation. By picking up the litter someone else has tossed. By making room for the baby stroller on a crowded Metro car. By letting someone merge into traffic.

When you feel you have little to contribute, it’s heartening to think that you can give grace. It doesn’t require great wealth or grand gestures; it only needs awareness and willingness. I don’t get to choose when to receive grace, but I can choose when to give it. And by giving it, I can choose to be it. That is within my power.

My Twitter profile describes me, in part, as in favor of “that which is mindful.” That bit sometimes feels inauthentic to me, because I don’t have a regular practice. I am only once in a while mindful myself. Other words or phrases that I have considered for my profile: compassion, sharing, awareness, care for the natural world, thoughtfulness, quality. Maybe the word I am looking for is grace.

Banality

Nikhil Sonnad, Everything bad about Facebook is bad for the same reason:

[Facebook] has its own grand project—to turn the human world into one big information system. This is, it goes without saying, nowhere near as terrible as the project of the thousand-year Reich. But the fundamental problem is the same: an inability to look at things from the other fellow’s point of view, a disconnect between the human reality and the grand project.

Baltimore businessman processed hams, led by 25% of NaCl (1,4)

It’s been a while since I watched broadcast TV that featured ads from local meatpackers, so I missed the passing (I don’t follow the AP style book) of Nathan Mash in 1998. Something I read or heard reminded me of his customary spiel, which was two parts talking about ham curing and one part cryptic crossword puzzle setting, so I looked up his obit.

Mortal coil

Mark Memmott has one of the most important jobs in our newsroom: he’s the designated noodge who makes sure that we get our facts right (as ombudsman Elizabeth Jensen details) and our language unvarnished and clear. He quotes Rick Holter from member station KERA on avoiding euphemisms for death:

“Any time you use one of those euphemisms on air or online (except in a direct quote) to ease the pain of the family or respect the person, you’re basically saying this death is different from others; it could be heard or read as this person’s death is more sensitive or valuable than others.

“We shouldn’t be making those judgments.

“Also, we follow Associated Press style, which is unequivocal about this:

“‘Don’t use euphemisms like passed on or passed away except in a direct quote.’

“So remember: People die. And we respect all those deaths equally.”

Thank you, Mark, for keeping us in line.

The scoop

The photograph of the Munsell soil color chart book pulled me up short. As I read Richard Schiffman’s piece, my thoughts bounced around from “wow, this is cool that soil scientists are getting profiled in the Times” to “New York has a soil brokerage clearinghouse so that good fill dirt from a construction site can be used to rebuild a wetland? That’s bananas—no, that’s brilliant!”

While the idea might seem obvious, Dr. [Dan] Walsh maintains that this is the first soil exchange anywhere in the world that is run by a city government. It is currently being watched by officials from New Orleans and Los Angeles as well as municipalities in Germany, China and Australia, which are considering implementing similar programs.

* * *

“We’re essentially matchmakers,” Dr. Walsh said. “We don’t stockpile the soil, so both a donor and a recipient have to be ready at the same time. Our job is to coordinate the transfer.”

The NYC Urban Soils Institute has plans to establish a soil museum in Brooklyn’s Green-Wood Cemetery—something for my to-see list in New York.

Contemporary American Theater Festival 2018: 5

A young woman carries a heavy portable crib up a flight of stairs, bumping it on every other step; her actions echo those of a teenager seventeen years before, banging a suitcase down a different flight of stairs (metaphorical baggage reified). Two young women have an uneasy reunion, a decade and half after a shattering trauma that destroyed a family has split the two of them apart; they interchange playing scenes with their younger counterparts.

In a program note, playwright Amy E. Witting says that we all are living in a “post-traumatic stress environment.” In this play, the most effective and challenging of this year’s festival, Alexandra (Joey Parsons) and Frankie (Jessica Savage) and their younger selves Alex (Sam Morales) and young Frankie (Ruby Rakos) hold up a mirror so that we can see ourselves generally and the specific impact of this particular trauma.

It is clear from the early moments of the play that broody Alexandra has endured some sort of loss, to be revealed in the course of the narrative. What is more subtle is the impact of those past events on Frankie; she is, in a sense, the forgotten victim.

Does the unfolding of the play provide the healing to Frankie and Alexandra that they want, or the healing that they need?

A quibble: the play’s climax, the big reveal by Alexandra, a chthonic explosion by Parsons, is played on that staircase, halfway up from the main playing space to an unseen second story. So there’s a good reason for director Ed Herendeen to put her there. But as a result, sightlines for some of us during this sequence are less than optimal.

Contemporary American Theater Festival 2018: 4

Providing an origin story for a prison work song (Berta, Berta) is a wobbly foundation for a full-length play. The actors are skilled and committed (Jason Bowen as the haunted Leroy and Bianca Laverne Jones as Berta); the stakes are high (a murder); the dressing of Luciana Stecconi’s set is first rate; but there’s something missing. Perhaps the piece relies too much on Leroy’s tell-not-show accounts of why he’s on the run, and of the heavy injustice laid on him that was the driver of events. It’s a risky business to suggest recasting an artistic work into another medium, but opening up this play as a film would strengthen the story that it wants to tell.


Playwright C. A. Johnson says her program interview,

Maybe Thirst is about politics, maybe it’s about gender, maybe it’s about special preferences, maybe it’s all of these things… or maybe, it’s just a play about how hard it is to let go.

And it’s the play’s stubborn refusal to decide what it wants to be about that is a challenge. Once again, the stakes are high: in a post-apocalyptic landscape still bursting with violence, Samira (Monet) and Greta (Jessica Savage) care for their adopted son Kalil (newcomer Jalon Christian). The local warlord Terrance (Ryan Nathaniel George) has risen to power because he controls the water supply, and water in this community is a precious resource indeed. The rub: Terrance and Samira were once married, and his entrails are still consumed with rage that she is now with Greta. Is is because Greta is a woman? Because she is white? Or just because she is someone else? Terrance is incapable of telling us.

Terrance explodes with gunplay, against his better judgement and surely not in the best interests of his people or himself. (A leader with doubtful skills, thrust onto the public stage, behaving irrationally to a bizarre degree? Why, that would—oh, never mind.)

There is a loose end introduced towards the end of the play, that is never picked up or resolved, i.e., a suggestion that the water supply has been contaminated.

Jessica Savage has the juicy opportunity to show us how excruciating it is to suffer a close-range gunshot wound, and she makes the most of it.

  • Contemporary American Theater Festival at Shepherd University, Shepherdstown, W. Va.
  • Berta, Berta, by Angelica Chéri, directed by Reginald L. Douglas
  • Thirst, by C. A. Johnson, directed by Adrienne Campbell-Holt

Contemporary American Theater Festival 2018: 3

From the other side of the Iron Curtain comes this timebending story, set in multiple places and times in the Soviet Union: in Kruschchev’s era, and before and after the rise of Stalin. Stalin’s purges take on a particular specificity in this work.

In the 1930s, Alexei (David McElwee), synesthete and memory savant, is a newspaper reporter, and apparently a poor one, because he takes no notes. He doesn’t need to, because he can remember speeches word for word. This becomes problematic for him, when certain speakers he has heard (Bukharin, Kirov) are dropped into Russia’s Memory Hole.

He himself disappears from official records, but a 1950s-era bureaucrat (Kreplev, Lee Sellars) takes a special interest in his case and in the psychologist who treated him (Joey Parsons)—a treat for us to see two beloved CATF regulars together on stage.

There are two frames around the story, one of them a rather odd carnival act whose significance will be made clear, and the other a (sometimes distracting) direct address to us by Kreplev. Ultimately, the play is Kreplev’s journey, as he learns the personal cost of “accommodation,” both in the form of forgetting and being forgotten.

Gregory gives Alexei’s synesthesia a poetic turn. The color magenta, for him, has the roar of a train; a politician’s words bounce around meaninglessly like so many rubber balls.