Stage-Building Madness

My friend Craig just posted this insider-look at how the stage for The Who’s Tommy came together. Head on over there if you want to see them go from this:

Tommy Stage Model. Photo by Craig Orsinger for Burien Little Theatre

To this:

Tommy Dress Rehersal. Photos by Craig Orsinger for Burien Little Theatre.

I’m still boggled. And I’m starting to believe Burien Little Theatre is going to have to strike the “little” from its name. Read the whole thing and see if you don’t agree with me.

Aside: I actually watched a concert recording of Tommy the other night. I must be of a youngish generation. It was bizarre seeing Roger Daltrey being the lead singer of The Who. The first time I’d seen him (as opposed to merely hearing him) was as Fitzcairn on the Highlander tv series. Bizarre, but I liked. His stage presence is awesome. I loves me some Roger Daltrey, whether dressed as an immortal or a rock star. He’s one of the most awesome people who’s ever lived.

But, and no offense to The Who, I actually liked BLT’s production better than the concert.

I know, I know. I’m an ungrateful young whippersnapper who don’t appreciate the greats of rock-n-roll properly and all that. But, damn it, BLT did one hell of a job. However, as I haven’t seen the actual movie, I can’t compare that to the theatre production. I still think BLT would come out on top. I’m probably a bit partial.

You can see for yourself every weekend through March 25th. And remember: discounted tix if you wear tie-dye!

Mystery Flora: Juanita Bay Flowering Tree, Plus A Few Words on Dambusters

Right, my botanical detectives: I’ve got quite a nice one for ye today. Behold the Tree:

Juanita Bay Tree

This tree was in full bloom in early June. There’s something wonderful about a tree with big trumpeting purple blossoms standing tall by a lake carved out by a continental ice sheet.

The park at Juanita Bay is something special, and we’ll visit it again. It’s a naturalist’s urban paradise: glacial landforms, wetlands, birds, amphibians, reptiles, insects, fish, mammals, and a wild variety of plants. There’s scenery for any scientific philistines in your party. And in the late spring, there’s this magnificent tree, with its wonderful flowers.

Bird in tree


I’m claiming this tree in the name of En Tequila Es Verdad. Huge purple flowers, people. On an enormous tree. That’s all I’m sayin’.

Purple Flower Closeup

There’s a closeup that will hopefully help you in identifying said flowers. Down in the lower right, you can see where some of the trumpets have fallen, leaving behind the innards. Which I’m sure there’s a technical term for, but I’ve been studying geology, not botany, and I’m additionally watching Bombing Hitler’s Dams right now and trying to write this post without looking at it, much less looking up stuff on Wikipedia, so I’ll let a more knowledgeable reader tell us the proper terms for all the bits.

By the way, you could not pay me enough to fly a plane loaded with explosives 60 feet above a reservoir and then drop said explosive so it can bounce into the dam holding back said reservoir whilst hopefully not bouncing up and taking out the plane. There seriously wouldn’t be enough money in the world to make me do such a thing with nothing but moonlight lighting the way. But a squadron of British and other Allied pilots did this. This tells me two things: young men are insane, and war makes them more insane. But it’s actually pretty awesome: a gorgeous combination of engineering and flying skill. Too bad the dam they busted was so beautiful: a huge gravity dam, built of granite blocks. Lovely. Nice to see it’s been repaired.

Möhne Dam, image credit pandrcutts

Anyway. Where were we? Right. Flowers.

Flowers and Seed Pods

In the above photo, you can get a look at the seed pods as well as the flowers. Hopefully, this will assist in identification. If not, it’s still a bloody awesome photo, if I do say so meself. That Sony Cyber-shot was the best purchases I’ve ever made. Point it at something pretty, click, et voila – something eminently presentable to readers.

Now, my darling botanical gumshoes, I wish you luck in identifying this tree. I’m going to go back to sniveling over Geology of Oregon, which is making me want to return to all the places I’ve been and visit all the places I haven’t.

Go See Tommy. I Mean It.

The Who's Tommy Poster, Courtesy Burien Little Theatre

My jaw aches. It’s been hanging open most of the night, dragging on the floor. Burien Little Theatre is known for pulling off productions that it shouldn’t be capable of, but this one takes them all.

The Who’s Tommy is a tremendously complicated show on all fronts, and they made it all come together. They built a new stage out into the middle of the auditorium, with the seats moved to either side, so you feel like you’re in the middle of the production rather than merely watching it. This sensation is justified as, at one point, the actors grabbed audience members and took them onstage to become part of the show. There’s a rock band, an excellent one, playing on the main stage – no canned music, this is all live. The whole place thunders with the music. And they found immensely talented people who could not only act, but sing. The Tommys are fabulous. The older Tommy, especially, has a fantastic voice and plays the role with just the right sense of gravitas. Lovely! And a little haunting.

Every piece of the set is on wheels, and there are no pauses to restage things – everything’s wheeled around as the music goes on, and it adds a dizzy sort of feel that’s perfect for a play about a catatonic kid who becomes a famous pinball wizard.

The costumes, too, evoke the time and place so well that an older audience member felt she was reliving the periods portrayed. My friend Craig’s hard work with the images and clips running on screens in the background enhances that. He did an amazing job, and I’m hoping he’ll come by to tell us about it, because it wasn’t easy. The poor man’s been a shadow of himself for weeks. But it was worth it. It came together beautifully.

A few trigger warnings: there’s sexual abuse, which, while not graphic or extensive, could still be uncomfortable for those who have been through it. Also, anyone who lived through World War II might find occasion to flash back a bit. With those caveats, though, I have no qualms about asking anyone in the Seattle area to please make time to see this musical. It’s one of the best things BLT has done, and they’ve done some pretty amazing things in the past.

The Who’s Tommy’s running through March 25th. Wear tie-dye, and you can get $5 off your ticket. Sit within a few rows of the stage, and you could become part of the show for a time. If you like community theatre, if you like musicals, if you like classic rock, if you like productions that make you wonder just how the hell they did what they did with a tiny budget and an even smaller theatre, this is a show you shouldn’t miss. Go. Now. And have fun!


Right. You Asked For It. Flowers and Geology Are Served

And here I was afraid it wasn’t nice to torment readers with pictures of unidentified flowers that subsequently drive them mad as they chase through botanical clues… Well, you say you don’t mind. I’ll take you at your word. I disavow any responsibility for subsequent therapy bills.

These shouldn’t be difficult, anyway. If I wasn’t looking for something to brighten up your night twenty minutes before I have to go see Tommy, and if I wasn’t alternating between turn-of-the-last-century mystery literature and Geology of Oregon in my free time, I could probably manage these myself. They were snapped on the Trail of the Molten Land at Lava Butte, Lava Lands Visitor Center.

Mystery Lava Flowers

Aren’t they bonza? Something in the sage family, I should think. Totally fearless on baking hot, black, blasted terrain.

Mystery Flowers and Mountains

Here we have an utterly marvelous view of our mystery flowers across the lava flow toward some fine examples of Cascades volcanoes. The Sisters are in there, and I believe the one standing off by hisself is Bachelor, although I wouldn’t swear to it. Lockwood can specify for us.

The views from Bend, Oregon are, quite frankly, spectacular enough to make me want to move there. Sweeping vistas of lava fields and forests, with peaks in the background, and ponderosa forests giving the whole place that dry-land pine savor that makes you breathe deep and stand tall. It’s gorgeous. And I’d wax lyrical about it, only I’ve got a musical to get my arse to, now that the cat’s decided to make her own way out of my lap rather than make me court death getting free.

Enjoy, my darlings, and I shall return to regale you with tales of Tommy.

My Readers Triumph

The unidentified flower which tormented so many for so long torments no more. Ann drilled down to the exact species, with help from Achrachno, with Adrian and F hot on her heels. And here it is, the Mount Hood Pussypaws, Cistanthe umbellata.

Mount Hood Pussypaws, image credit Walter Siegmund, Wikimedia Commons

That is indubitably it. Excellent job, my botanical detectives! I’ll be keeping a special eye out for specimens this summer: it’s become our flower, and your triumph.

The question now becomes, do I show you a kindness and only post stuff I’ve (roughly) identified? Or was this exercise in botanical mystery solving something you care to repeat again in the future?

Mother’s Little Helper and Other Stories

I’ve got nothing, really. I was supposed to be watching a movie with a friend who’s in from out of town, but his family kidnapped him. I’ve spent the time finishing The Circular Staircase by Mary Roberts Rhinehart, who has somewhat restored my faith in mystery novels written by late 19th – early 20th century women. I still prefer British authors, but how can I fail to love the woman who inspired Batman?

As a fake excuse for why I haven’t yet written about Darwin and geology, I present photographic evidence that my help was hindering:

Mother's Little Helper

You see that nice, fresh, shiny white notebook she’s lying on? I’d put that down not two seconds before, preparatory to picking up the Kindle and furiously taking notes. I know you can take notes on the Kindle, but it’s slow. Not quite as slow, though, as trying to take notes upon a notebook the cat has claimed.

Knowledge Makes Kitteh Sleepy

Of course, there was another notebook available, so I defeated her nefarious schemes in the end.

Sleeping With Darwin

She’s as helpful with researching Darwin’s geological research as some kittehs are with theses.

Reading Charles Darwin’s Geological Observations on South America would be a lot more fun if I knew more than bugger-all about South American geology. But it’s been instructive going in to this knowing next to nothing. Granted, I have more knowledge than he did: plate tectonics wasn’t a gleam in anybody’s eye (Wegener wouldn’t be born for nearly another 50 years, and his cogitations on continental drift for nearly 80). Geology was in its infancy; Lyell’s brilliant Principles of Geology was hot off the shelf, and Hutton’s Theory of the Earth had laid the kindling that sparked the whole revolution in thinking in 1785.

I find it fascinating to watch how the early geologists and naturalists wrestled sense out of the silent rocks. Continents rose and fell; they knew this much, that mountains became sea became mountains again. But it was all vertical. Horizontal movement, continents sailing along slowly, embedded in their rigid plates, hadn’t occurred to them. You get the sense of land bobbing in place, popping up and down like a giant whack-a-mole game, or possibly Riverdancers. It’s a funhouse mirror of geology. The images are there, they’re recognizable, but distorted. It’s amazing how clear the picture becomes when you add plate tectonics. The things that confounded the intrepid geologists exploring brave new worlds and systematizing the old one make exquisite sense once you know that not only the Earth moves, but its skin crawls.

Darwin stood on a subduction zone, and never knew it; visited passive margins and hotspots, and didn’t know what made them what they were. In light of how little was known, it’s amazing how much he came to know. Early geologists like him had to piece it together, rock by rock, fossil by fossil, patiently sampling and mapping and spinning possibilities that were often wrong but were sometimes, gloriously, right. Sometimes so right that other, older scientists didn’t believe them. Darwin’s theory of evolution wasn’t the only correct insight that was thoroughly disbelieved. Some of his geological revelations were scoffed at, too – until the evidence became overwhelming that he was, in fact, absolutely correct.

That’s one of the things I love about Darwin. In reading his geological books, I see the same methodical, patient collecting and collating and arranging of different bits of evidence. Darwin wasn’t one of those people who has a flash of brilliant insight and leaves it to others to find the proof he’s right. He didn’t seem to like to say anything until he had investigated thoroughly. He seemed obsessed by the tiny details others may have glossed over. You’ll see how obsessed when I write about his final geological work, which exemplifies the man’s attention to detail. But that obsession served him in good stead. It meant that when people called what they thought was his bluff, he could lay out a royal flush he’d spent a long time building, bit by bit.

He wasn’t always right. The science was too young, and the tools too crude, for him to get it all. But nearly two hundred years later, some of his discoveries still stand. Not bad for a man who once proclaimed he’d never so much as touch a book on geology, much less engage in its study.

But I’m going to turn away from Darwin for the moment – I’ve just received my long-desired copy of Geology of Oregon by Elizabeth and William Orr. It’s been incredibly hard to find a copy for under $50, but I did it, and it’s in excellent condition, too. And it is sitting beside me now, saying, “Put down the musty old mysteries. Turn from gentlemen on boats landing to scramble around South America’s geological wonders in a long-vanished age. READ ME DAMN IT.” I’m afraid I have no other choice but to obey.

The Flower Which Is Driving My Readers Mad

Poor F and Adrian. I didn’t mean for my little photo gallery of Oregon flowers to torture them so. I’ve been watching their exchange with an eye to collaring a park ranger next time I’m down that way and demanding an identification, but Adrian’s asked for more pictures, and added “pretty please,” and seeing as how the damned thing intrigued me enough to shoot several photos of it which I haven’t yet posted, I’m in a position to oblige.

Here goes:

Mystery Flower 1

I hope no one’s expecting witty, clever and insightful commentary from me on these photos. What can I say, really? It’s a flower. It’s this big and it’s pink. I’m not even sure it’s properly a flower, because from what little I know about botany, the flower heads look like modified bracts to me. But what the hell do I know? I can’t even identify the damned thing, and it’s stumped some of my most resourceful readers.

Mystery Flower 2

Also, I have cramps. And my computer has taken a pathological dislike to the idea of uploading lots of photos. I tried shaming it by showing it how the Kindle Fire was playing Pandora and loading web pages with zip and zing, but it wasn’t impressed, so I rebooted its arse. I wish I could reboot my uterus, or even just boot it, but it’s hard to get at without medical help. Right now, flowers are making me think about reproduction, and reproduction reminds me that I hate my reproductive system. Perhaps my computer has picked up on this mood.

Mystery Flower 3

It seems that as these flowers age, they get whiter, sort of like my cat. My cat has got a lot of gray, where she’s not going bald. She is, however, still spry enough to shove her dear face in mine in the ay-em and wail like a banshee until she’s started me awake believing there’s some terrible calamity. Upon investigation, I discover her food bowl’s full, her water likewise, and her litter box accessible. She’s just decided to wake me early on a morning when I’m trying to sleep in. So the next day, as she’s snoring on the pillow beside me, I retaliate by tickling her nose and crooning “You’re so cute!” until she’s wide awake.  There follows a state of truce for one day, and then she gets her vengeance by shitting on the sofa.

I love my cat. I love my cat. I love my cat.

Mystery Flower 4

There you go. Nice up-close view of the aged flower head. Speaking of aged, did I mention what I’m listening to on Pandora? New Wave. I’m living the 80s, baby, yeah. And contemplating how certain eras have a certain sound. In the 80s, it was synthesizers and lisps. I have uneasy flashbacks to leg warmers and poofy hair. I remember taping songs off the radio and hoping that eventually the DJ would tell me what they were, but he almost never did. The DJ was a 13 year-old with a fantastic radio voice, total geek, one of my favorite friends. I could have asked him, I suppose, but he was always vaguely embarrassed about his job, so we tried not to mention it. I have no idea why.

And I’m thinking of Suzanne, who had her surgery today.  Successful, thankfully, done by a top-notch surgeon. I’m thinking of my other friend, whose news I haven’t heard yet. It’s the wait-and-see-how-bad-it-is game. I hope it ends up being the least worst news.

Think happy thoughts. Think of flowers and butterflies and rocks with wonderful inclusions and phenocrysts and suchlike. Happily, we can end with a photo that has got all three.

Mystery Flower Finale

Hopefully, one of these photos will lead through a breakthrough. If not, there’s always Oregon park rangers and the Kindle Fire. I shall pull up these posts and shove these photos in faces until an identification is accomplished, for the sake of F and Adrian.

Love and hugs, my darlings. I’m off to bury myself in New Wave and 19th century mystery novels again, but I’ll be popping up to post more photos (probably not of unidentified flowers so much, because one mystery at a time is enough), and there’s the super-late Darwin Day post, and possibly a new trip to Oregon if we don’t get rained out…

Darwin Day Delayed Due to Delightful Detectives

I truly did mean to get a wonderful post up on Darwin and his geological researches. Had a goodly amount of research done and everything. Then I made a serious mistake – I started Wilkie Collins’ The Moonstone as a bit of light reading over lunch on Saturday.

I’ve meant to read it for a long time, ever since I saw it mentioned by John Douglas in Mindhunter. It’s one of the first – arguably the first – English-language detective novel. Its Sergent Cuff, brilliant member of the Detective Police, is based on Inspector Jonathan Whicher, a Scotland Yard detective whose obsession over a nightgown seems to have made something in Wilkie’s imagination go ping.

I figured it would be worth reading for strictly historical interest. If I’d known I’d become as obsessed by the story as Wilkie was over nightgowns, I’d have waited until after Darwin Day.

It’s a sign of genius when, although the narrators either annoy or infuriate you, you still can’t stop reading. Between the Robinson Crusoe addict who couldn’t stay on topic and the religious fanatic who made me wish fervently for a handy murderer, there should have been plenty of reason to put the book down and do up Darwin. This was, alas, impossible. I wanted to strangle certain characters too much, for one, and got too involved with the puzzle, for another. Then came folks I genuinely liked, some I even came to love. And, every time it seemed Wilkie was gonna weasel and do something weak, lame or both, he’d do something brilliant instead. The constant threat of the paranormal, amnesia and sleepwalking hang over your head. But he’s not a crude writer. He doesn’t choose the easy way out. He’s clever. I like that in a writer, especially a Victorian-era one.

In the end, I finished satisfied, if a bit stunned by the lack of bodies – I’ve read so much Agatha Christie that I automatically assume that the morgue should be filled to bursting by the end of the book, and winced every time someone delayed in telling somebody something, sure this meant their imminent demise. Wilkie however, manages a ripping good tale with few fatalities. It’s a refreshing change.

Anyway. I swear to you, I’ll have ye olde belated Darwin Day post up soonish. In the meantime, if you’re desperate for something to read, go hunt up a copy of The Moonstone. It’s free at the Kindle store, or available through Project Gutenberg. There’s even some geology in it – very nice use of some suspect sand on the Yorkshire coast. Not to mention an enormous chunk of carbon at the heart of everything. It’s amazing the shenanigans people get up to when enormous chunks of crystalized carbon are involved. Atheists in the audience will appreciate the treatment of the above-mentioned religious fanatic and other sundry fanatics. Writers will thrill to the fancy literary footwork in which, even in the first person, the author manages to get across things about the narrator that the narrator doesn’t realize about him-or-herself, allowing the audience to snigger behind their hands without feeling ill-used. And fans of Robinson Crusoe will find their adoration shared by a venerable old gentleman who swears that book holds all the answers one could ever need in life.

I’m not willing to go quite that far with The Moonstone. But I will avow it’s a book that any person interested in detective fiction or the art of writing should certainly read at least once. Even if it does mean that some prior obligations must be punked off due to the unfortunate fact that the bloody thing’s impossible to put down once fairly underway.

Lilies for a Friend

2012 is not being kind to kith and kin. Suzanne’s fractured her poor leg and knee. Another friend just sent me rather distressing news. I won’t reveal anything about it until I have her leave, but I figured another installment of flowers was in order. She and Suzanne both could use a little beauty right now.

We’ll have some lovely lilies, accompanied by one of the most beautiful piano pieces I’ve heard lately, “Tip-Toe Dancer” by Karen Marie Garrett.

The lilies are from the North Creek area. This first one reminds me very much of my friend: its near-translucent purple looks delicate, but it’s tough as well as gorgeous.

Purple lily

This white lily is an early spring delight. I love how the little bits of green in its petals give it some pizazz.

White Lily

In the summer, orange lilies bloom nearly everywhere. Sometimes, it’s just a bloom or two on a single stalk; elsewhere, banks of them blaze out. They seem to pick up where the rhododendrons leave off, and leaven the endless green quite admirably.

Orange lilies

These scarlet lilies are from a park near the river. Not a common color, and all the more gorgeous for that.

Scarlet lilies

We’ll finish with flowers found in the blast zone at Mt. St. Helens. They’re a wonderful reminder that no matter how bad the damage, given a bit of time, beauty can return.

Beauty in the Blast Zone

And now, I’d like a word with 2012: stop fucking with my friends, or I will hurt you in the face. Well, I would, if you had a face, which you don’t. You’re not even a you. Bugger. Still, you’re on notice, 2012. Behave.

Secret Gardens, Crater Lake

Two things at least a few of you have asked for: new music, and moar flowerz. You shall have both, my darlings.

I’ve been using Pandora quite a bit now I own the Kindle Fire, and discovered quite a lot of new music that gets right down to the root of me. One of my favorites so far is Secret Garden. It’s Irish-Norwegian sheer delight. Piano and violin and, sometimes, voices that sweep a person right out of this ordinary world.

It’s the sort of music that goes well with dramatic but serene landscapes, and flowers in same. So why don’t we combine said melodies with wildflowers from Crater Lake, which is nothing if not a dramatic but often serene landscape.

Lyall's Lupine

There’s a meadow just up the road from the Pumice Desert where the lupines lie thick on the ground, and the views over the surrounding mountains are spectacular. Even if you’re eager to see the lake itself, take a moment and enjoy a classic alpine scene. And if anyone knows what the magenta flowers are, please do enlighten us. I just galloped through a book on Pacific Northwest flowers without finding them. Lyall’s Lupine, however, was dead simple – short, stout, definitely lupine in leaf and bloom. They were growing within sight of snow banks – snow, in late August, no less. The roots of these plants dive deep so as to survive very long, tough winters.

White Lupine

You know, lupines may have been amongst the first plants to colonize the blastscape left behind when Mt. Mazama blew its guts out. Lupines marched back onto the barren slopes of Mt. St. Helens after the 1980 eruption and established themselves quickly. They have adaptations that help them survive some pretty extreme conditions. Their leaves know how to deal with heat and dry weather. You’d not think anything needs to be dry-adapted on the western side of the Cascades, but we have long summer droughts, and plenty of places where stony or sandy soil doesn’t hold water very well.

Spreading Phlox

On the slopes of the caldera, you’ll see bunches of this fantastic flowering plant spreading out in riotous bunches, ignoring completely the fact that they’re growing on near-vertical ground. My handy Wildflowers of the Olympics and Cascades tells me this is a deep-rooted plant that’s good at stabilizing steep slopes. I can easily believe that. It also apparently keeps the snow from slip-sliding down in winter. It doesn’t look so rough and tough, yet it is. This is why I love nature.

Indian Paintbrush

This stuff grows all over the place up here. I found this bunch at a particularly interesting road cut. Pretty flowers, right? Only, they aren’t flowers. Not really. Those blooms are bracts – modified leaves – and the scarlet tips of leaves. There are a lot of plants that, lacking petals due to some vagary of evolution, have made do with forming sort-of flowers from leaves and bracts. This is one. So now you know – some plants are lying to you. But they’re still beautiful, so we forgive them.

Lupine at Sunset

Moar lupine, from a stop on the other side of the caldera, near sunset. I love lupine. It’s beautiful, easy to photograph, and easy to tell what it is. And, sometimes, there are butterflies on it, which makes it all the more lovable.

I know you’d never forgive me for mentioning Crater Lake without posting an actual picture of it, so in the interests of keeping your love, here ’tis:

Crater Lake at Sunset

The sun’s at the wrong angle for revealing that spectacular TARDIS blue water, but it’s lovely all the same. A few thousand years after mind-boggling violence, we have now got a beauty spot. This world is remarkable.

We’ll close with one more Secret Garden song, which I’ve often listened for at bedtime. It’s just the thing to make a person rest content with the world.