This tree noticed the snowline creeping down the mountain across the water.
This tree is a guest tree from my past. It stands on the shores of Bde Maka Ska (the former Lake Calhoun) in the uptown area of Minneapolis. I took this picture in November, 2009.
I was driving to work the other day, listening to my music, and I had a tragic epiphany.
I almost never listen to music anymore. That day, listening to music, as I drove to work, was that sort of exception that underscores the rule.
All my life, I’ve been accustomed to having a “soundtrack” of sorts. Which is to say, I’ve very often had music in the background – especially when I’m alone. And given the circumstances of my life, I’ve certainly spent the majority of it alone, for substantial portions of each day. I’m also capable of a more engaged type of listening – consuming music in focused fashion, as a concert, or just listening carefully to something I’ve decided I like. I think of these as quite different activities – and the types of music I listen to in these two different activities aren’t necessarily identical sets. I never use classical music for background listening, for example. On the other hand, some of the quite banal euro/techno crap I listen to as background music often is startlingly incapable of engaging me. So it’s just a background thing. There’re even whole subgenres that admit that: the various types of “ambient” tracks that can be found. But they work well as background music.
There are also immense fields of music that can be either/or. Mostly these fall into the pop/alt/rap/country genres of yore, though I think my use of those terms might date me, as our culture’s ways of thinking about music and genre has evolved past my comprehension. I have no “playlists” – that’s not how I listen to background music. I have a single folder of “tracks I like” which is a subset of my entire collection, and I have the mp3 player on my phone. And I push the shuffle button and off I go. It can be anything: a k-pop track followed by some weird German dark industrial techno followed by a 70’s disco bit followed by Taylor Swift. Et cetera. If something that comes on the “shuffle” doesn’t match my current mood, I’ll just hit the “next track” button and move on. But what I enjoy hearing one day isn’t what I’ll fixate on the next. And none of this rises to “engaged listening” except on the rarest occasions. Mostly it’s old, familiar stuff that I’ve acquired over the years, where more recent acquisitions tend to be more likely to be what I want to hear.
This was my style of listening even before the advent of mp3 players, to be honest. It was just a bit more laborious to mess with CDs (in the olden days) or cassettes (in the oldener days) or vinyl (in the oldenest days) to get the effect I was so pleased to discover once the “shuffle” button came along. I suppose there was more of a tendency , back then, for the “shuffle” effect to be at the level of albums or mix-tapes than to be at the level of individual tracks. But if I made mix-tapes for myself, I’d certainly work to maximize the randomness of it, from among the music I considered to be my back catalog.
The artists and tracks that have existed for the longest in my catalog are some (but no means all or even most) of the music from my childhood: Bob Dylan, Cat Stevens, Arlo Guthrie, Nitty Gritty Dirt Band are probably the most notable. Then there are a few from a period of exploration in my high school years: mostly Talking Heads, David Bowie, certain individual tracks (but rarely artists’ entire oeuvres) from the pop radio of the era (hence fragments of disco, punk, and such).
I acquired a lot of music in college – as most people do. And some of it remains the most resonant for me. Depeche Mode, The Cure, more Bowie, some early rap (eg NWA), some bits of “club music” of the 80’s.
Some artists in high rotation in that long-ago era have since failed to survive. I remember the Beatles, from my childhood, used to be invited, but at some point I lost interest. I remember thinking highly of Dire Straits at one point, but for the last several decades I can’t stand them. I exiled Aztec Camera for a few decades, but they made a comeback at some point. Tastes change.
There were my years in Latin America (actual and later “de facto” as a graduate student of Spanish, where my day-to-day life was at least 50% in Spanish even though I was living in Philadelphia). That contributed artists such as Cafe Tacuba, Los Fabulosos Cadillacs, or Silvio Rodriguez – each as diverse from each other as any are from any North American music. I have tracks of Nuyorican rap, Cuban folk, Mexican punk.
Much later, my time in Korea was a period of a rate of fairly high discovery of new music. That’s because of the invention of the internet, and the existence of streaming radio stations, and the emergence of Youtube and its endless suggestion algorithm. I acquired lots of little bits of k-pop (from my students – naturally) but also quite diverse bits of stuff from all over. German techno and industrial, US alt rock, Röyksopp (Norwegian, I think), strange pop anthems in unlikely languages: Arabic, Georgian, Japanese. Many of these discoveries are actually documented on this blog, which I was maintaining once I’d moved to Korea. I had my “What I’m listening to now” feature, or as I sometimes called it, “Background noise”.
Then I came to Alaska.
It’s not like the internet went away. But circumstances changed. The internet here is still abominably slow. Streaming internet radio or more contemporary streaming apps and services (e.g. Spotify) are out – they don’t seem to have been engineered with the idea of an “offline” mode in mind (e.g. there’s no “download and listen later” option). Youtube suffers the same shortcoming. Sometimes it works.
Really, though, those are just excuses. I still have my mp3 player (nowadays an app on my phone rather than a standalone gadget, as I had in the early 2000’s).
In fact, rather, there’s a quite straightforward reason for the loss of soundtrack. I no longer live alone – I live as a caretaker with my uncle. And he gets up to mischief, sometimes. I can’t be “tuned out” listening to music – not on speakers and certainly not on headphones or earbuds. I need “situational awareness”. This has paid off more than once. Like the time a few years ago when I caught him toting the 32 foot ladder out to the dock, on a windy day, because he’d suddenly decided he needed to “fix” something on the dock arch. That was only possible because of the clatter of the ladder carrying up to the attic where I worked on my computer. Or the time just two days ago late at night when he was stumbling around in the basement (where he likes to sleep) having gotten disoriented (possibly a bit feverish from our recent vaccination). I stay “tuned in” to the sounds in the house. Always.
That means no music at home.
I’m not really able to listen to music at work, either. I mean, when Chad comes in (the new owner), there’s music. I get a pleasant background of Christian Rock and Christian Country. Actually, some of it grows on you – it’s not so bad, especially if you avoid engaged listening and just use it for background music. But I’ve resisted putting on my own soundtrack when Chad’s not around, because I suspect my tastes in music might antagonize the customers (e.g. “What’s this foreign crap doing playing in here?”). So the only time I listen to music is when I’m driving – and only when Arthur’s not riding along, because it would make communicating with him even harder than it is already, with his incipient deafness and cognitive challenges.
Half the time, I don’t bother then. The drive to town is only 25 minutes, and firing up the mp3 player on my phone and linking it to the car’s speakers is just enough of a gumption trap that I don’t do it.
I’d estimate that my music consumption is at about 3-5% of what it was when I lived in Korea. And my rate of new music discovery is even less. Perhaps this is one reason why, impressionistically, I often compare my current lifestyle to life in the military, despite the fact that there’s almost nothing similar about it. My time in the military was the only other time in my life when my music consumption was so low. That palpable absence lends the same “feel” to my day-to-day existence.
Sometimes, I miss it. But I’m not sure how to solve it.
What I’m listening to right now.
THIS SPACE INTENTIONALLY LEFT BLANK
This tree is in front of a mountain that’s covered in clouds across the water which you can’t actually see.
I’m still not feeling so great – but I’m better than yesterday. Arthur stayed in bed for 35 hours straight. But he was up and about again today. So I think the worst of the vaccination hangover is over.
This tree is in neighbors Mike and Penny’s yard. It looked like it was about to be blown away by strong winds this morning.
ㅁ the mud appears outside my door it's crafted from above I recognize its provenance the clouds are showing love
– a quatrain in ballad meter.
This tree was near a very high tide.
Today Arthur and I both got both flu and covid booster (so-called “bivalent, AKA 3rd booster) vaccinations. I’m expecting to have a rather feverish weekend, as my immune system tries to make sense of the invasion.
ㅁ Some days, you're a dog. Other days, you're just some grass growing by the road.
– a pseudo-haiku.
This tree is a guest tree from my past. It was a tree (among other trees) I saw in the forest on the north side Gobong mountain, in my home in Korea, in October, 2014. I saw semi-abandoned chairs there, which are ubiquitous in rural South Korea.
ㅁ The winter comes here in slow steps with each step made of wet. The only thing that moves in steps: each night is colder yet.
– a quatrain in ballad meter.
This tree was leaning away from a strong northwest wind, though you can’t really tell in the picture.
ㅁ confused tableaux disjointed narratives surreal settings strange dreams unlikely transitions random characters old memories strange dreams korean prison alaskan school mexican church strange dreams it's happened there appeared made abstract giraffe came said some things captured me turned yellow past events present anxieties future hopes strange dreams
One thing I sometimes spend too much time worrying about is whether Arthur will burn his house down – by accident, I mean. The thing is, Arthur is used to considering himself supremely competent in the management of combustible materials. After all, his career was careening through air by managing a carefully-controlled, ongoing explosion (the helicopter engine). There have been incidents before.
One time he was messing with the propane heater in the kitchen, something wrong with the igniter, and he was lying there with the thing half taken apart, mashing the ignition over and over and meanwhile he hadn’t turned off the gas. I could see that going wrong.
There was another time when he was trying to use his little propane torch to loosen the bolts on the boat trolley. They were almost glowing orange. And he was banging away while still running the torch. I could see that going wrong.
Arthur hasn’t adapted his self-perception away from the self-image that he’s good at working on stuff, including burning, combustible stuff.
Last night, I knew he was feeling much better. How did I know? I had just fallen asleep, and I awoke to the sound of banging down in the basement (boathouse). He had decided it was an excellent time to “repair” the Toyo kerosene heater that’s down there. The strong smell of heating oil was rising up through the house. He’d had a “spill” when trying to manipulate the removable tank that inserts into the heater.
I suggested we’d be better off working on it the next day (today), and finally he shuffled up the stairs to sleep in the main bedroom. I put the pile of kerosene-soaked paper towels that he’d left on the floor outside.
This morning, I repaired the stove – it was showing an error code “EE8” – which I looked up online as being related to the exhaust fan not working right. I found a crack in a hose leading to the exhaust fan, and there was crud in there that had to be cleaned out.
Arthur told me he hadn’t even noticed the error code, and had simply decided based on past experience that it had to be a fuel problem – that’s why he was messing with the fuel. I wonder if he just likes messing with flammable materials?
I might start keeping my most important documents in the car.
This tree was near a rainbow.
ㅁ Indirectly, the bits were altered, or rather, manipulated, via high-level symbols, small, language-like fragments so appearances began to shift and pixels redrawn, changed
– a nonnet.
ㅁ Yesterday morning, colder, and I walked, stopped and talked... to a boulder, it was silent. I, older.
– an englyn penfyr.
“A picture is worth a thousand words” – so goes the aphorism.
Today, I’m starting some necessary maintenance work on my “image server”. Note that on this here blog thingy, the pictures are hosted separately from the text. So the text of the blog will continue without problem, but there may be occasions for some users over the next several days when the pictures come up missing, or where your browser complains that links are broken. Please be patient. I’m moving the pictures to a new location and everything has to be redirected to point at the new location (this is what is called “DNS” in internet administration jargon).
This tree was among others of its kind, across the street from where I was working in October, 2012, along Ilsan-no (Ilsan Road), in South Korea. This neighborhood was my “home” (where I worked) for 9 out of the 11 years I was in Korea.
ㅁ the wind was quite strong it blew through town all day long and the building creaked
– a pseudo-haiku.
ㅁ Rosalie laid out the cards that she'd made; winter, outside, sculpted snow and conveyed endings to things that she hadn't yet schemed: Kiamon's name came to her as she dreamed.
– a quatrain in dactylic tetrameter. Rosalie is Kiamon’s great-great-grandmother, and Not-A-Wolf’s granddaughter.