Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Local Music

Small towns seem to have more than their share of musical talent. This past weekend I had the opportunity to hear a very entertaining local band. The Wild Turkeys from Echo Bay, Ontario call their music 'swamp stomp country.' I might tend to call it alt hillbilly. High energy, tight harmonies, fast, fiddle, guitar, bass, mandolin, and drum and even a trumpet on a few songs. And loud. Mainly fun, silly-in-a-good-way lyrics. The fact that I couldn't really hear much of the lyrics because of the raw on-stage sound just added to the experience. Our region of Eastern Lake Superior/Northern Lake Huron isn't exactly where I'd expect to hear hillbilly inspired music (and somewhat incongruous is that the core of the band is the Jääskeläinen brothers!). But I guess it's not that surprising. The same influences that gave us Appalachian traditional music are in play up here. Add some French Canadian and even some Scandinavian and Native American background to the mix and you end up with special music from a special place, with these guys as just one example of our rich musical confluence.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Two more random thoughts

On-line papers help us reach back to our home towns How many of you live away from your hometown but keep in touch via the newspaper’s on-line version? If so, what is your first stop on the site? The headlines to see what’s the latest in town politics? The sports section to see how the high school basketball team is doing? The obits to see which former neighbors have passed on? Or is it the Police Report to see either who you know in the list or to see what passes for crime in your former town? I know someone who used to live here that likes to read the Police Report to see the less-than-serious cases we get. One of her favorites was ‘woman reports burglar put old milk in her refrigerator.’ We have B&Es, assaults and unfortunately even a murder every few years. But most of what’s in the Police Report is not particularly life-changing events for those involved. One of the joys of small town life. Family spreads out geographically Most of the relatives of my generation are still in the middle of the country, but we now have representatives in the next generations on both costs. One has just been born in Los Angeles, another in Brooklyn. Since people tend to pick up their accents in the place they lived in their pre- and early school years, maybe we’ll have a family member who says ‘New Yahk.’ Regardless of where they’re born or where they choose to live, a sense of place doesn’t mean that one has to live in the family’s original home range. It may be that the current interest in sense of place has to do with the fact that many of us who moved for economic opportunities want to establish ourselves in our new places. Essayists of place have bemoaned the fact that we’re a mobile, un-rooted society that has no sense of place. But who has more of a sense of place? People who have chosen to establish themselves in a place they consider desirable or people who feel stuck in the place they happened to be born in? But that’s the wrong question. It’s not where you live, it’s how you live there that matters.

Monday, December 12, 2011

A few random thoughts about how this place informs our lives

Right before we had this unseasonably (unreasonably?) warm spell, we had more typical cold weather that got people into their winter coats and gloves. We all had to dig them out from where they’d been stashed in the back of the closets and then try to find which gloves matched. Walking across campus with the hats and hoods up, we don’t recognize each other from a distance, so the friendly hi’s happen when we’re a bit closer as we approach, or even once we’re by. Sometimes it’s a shout back, “Oh, hi, Bill!” There’s also the fact that hoods make people look older. Several of my colleagues have now gotten to be, well, let’s be generous and say middle-aged, even if they’re not likely to live to be 115. With their hoods pulled up tight, without their pouf of hair to distract the eye, they do look older. And I’ll keep thinking it’s just them, not me, who is looking our age. ….. Yesterday, we went to the Christmas Open House and Tea at the local lighthouse. The tea and cookies were great and it was nice to chat with some of the volunteers who staff the site and to meet the newest volunteer site-residents. The lighthouse property was surplused by the Coast Guard some number of years ago, as were all the old Great Lakes Lights. This one was picked up by the US Forest Service, renovated with the help of the local historical society and has been a great asset for our community. Thanks to all the volunteers who keep it up and running. The lighthouse is a local icon. It really does lend to our sense of place. It brings tourists and their money, but also is a place where locals go for a quick get-away. It’s just a few miles west of town, offers a spectacular view and connects us to the past. Plus what’s not to love about a lighthouse? There’s no entrance fee but people do put donations in the box. I hope enough people put enough money in the box so that it can stay free access. If there were an entrance fee, I’m afraid visitors would just drive by on their way to a more famous lighthouse farther to the west and locals would not visit so often. An access fee might thus result in less revenue than free will donations do. ….. Part of living in an out-of-the-way place is that we frequently travel, either to visit friends and relatives or to make runs for supplies not available locally. The distances are just far enough that a stop for dinner or lunch is often called for. We know the routes well enough to know that if we don’t stop here, it’ll be an hour before the next opportunity. Sometimes it’s a stop at a quick place, sometimes we like to take our time at a sit-down place. This past weekend, we stopped at a restaurant a few miles off the highway. It made for a nice surprise. I had heard it was a nice place but didn’t know it was a candles-on-the-table, cloth napkins, professional wait-staff kind of place. We even got seated by the fireplace. The food was good, very well prepared and not too pricey. That’s not the first time we’ve had pleasant dining experiences in nice, out-of-the-way restaurants. Must be some enterprising people out there who think “I know, I’ll start an nice restaurant away from the crowds.” Or maybe for some, an interest in being in the food service business matches their interest in living out of town. Either way, I like the fact that going out for good food doesn’t have to mean having to be in the city.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Background Noise

Every few weeks if I’m running early to a meeting across the river, I stop in at a nice little coffee shop. They have good coffee, pleasant servers, and a nice ambience. I don’t go often enough at the same times of day to know where I should sit, though. I fear that yesterday I sat in someone else’s regular spot (I know not to do that at my more regular place on our side.) The empty table was inviting, nicely lit, out of traffic. But after I sat down and began to sip my coffee, an elderly gentleman came in, glanced my way as he got his coffee then hesitated just ever so slightly as he passed what had become temporarily ‘my’ table. Other than that slight hesitation and a very few, very brief, furtive glances from the next table that was now temporarily his table, I would not have known of my faux pas. So thanks for being cool about it, you whose table I took inadvertently. Next time I’ll try a different table. The coffee was good as always – this time it was an Indonesian dark roast – and I savored it. The only distraction was the low-fi radio music playing over the shop’s speakers. I like music. Right now I have a music playing and I am paying attention to it as I write. But I like music too much to hear it played just as a backdrop. Similarly, I like the land too much to have it act as just a backdrop. Rather than just visual background noise, streaming by as one travels through it, I like to savor it even if just by noticing individual features as they go by. One of my favorite complaints from the students in my ecology class is that I ruin their lives. Where before they could just let the scenery work as background noise, now they see little details in it. The ‘ruined my life’ part comes in when they now feel compelled to describe to their travel mates what they are seeing. That’s a good way to ruin someone’s life.