“High Flight,” or “A Squirrel’s Sonnet”

 

Oh, I have skipped the grasses green and sailed between

Tree boughs which bounce and wildly spring beneath

My little nimble paws, and then I lean

And crouch, and sail again, leaving a wreath

Of falling leaves to crown the distant ground.

Oh, I have played a year of hours and days

With my comrades, till we have curled and wound

Above, below, through every tree and maze.

Oh, I have scampered, scuffled, skipped through

Each tree and leaf and hill and stuck my nose

Down holes, till summer’s old and autumn new,

And then I gather nuts the fall wind blows.

But when the winter comes, I eat and sleep

Until spring shines:  then I shall dance and leap.

A Question of Love

“Dear friends, let us love one another, because love is from God, and everyone who loves has been fathered by God and knows God. 8 The person who does not love does not know God, because God is love.  9 By this   the love of God  is revealed in us:  that God has sent his one and only  Son into the world so that we may live through him. 10 In this is love: not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice  for our sins.” -1 Jn. 4:7-10, NET

After reading the above passage recently, the following question struck me: in the context of saving faith, is the appropriate question “do I love God?” In Christian circles, whenever welcoming someone into the church, talking about ones faith, etc., this is the go-to question: do you love God? However, should the question rather not be the more fundamental, “Does God love you?” Must it not be the latter, for 1 John 4:19 says, “We love because he loved us first.” Even in light of passages such as Proverbs 8:17, “I [God] love those who love me,” which seem to intimate the contrary, are, on closer inspection, not actually doing so. For if God in his wisdom and sovereignty can lovingly elect sinners before the foundation of the world (Eph. 1:4-6), does this not necessitate His love coming first? Proverbs, rather, is speaking of the proper heart and outward response to God’s love. This outward demonstration of love toward God signifies the love that was already at work in our hearts: our love is a natural fruit, a necessary response (Matt 12:33, 13:23). The criticality of this question is rooted in the fickleness of man and the steadfastness of God. For a salvation dependent upon human love is bound to fail. For before any time is passed our affections are drawn to many things: food, public image, lust, slothfulness, selfishness, but thanks be that while our love is weak and wavering, God’s is most steady.

Our love is a fruit, a natural and necessary response to the love God has extended to us, a Christian that claims Jesus and continues to live on with no fruit calls into serious question the veracity of their faith. However, the first question does not address the true source of faith -because that rests in God alone. We must never confuse which love saves and which is a response. For if we look at our own fervency for assurance it will always leave us doubting; by resting in God’s love, only then can we find the solid rock.

“It is a blessed thing when the faithful soul in prayer fixes his uplifted eyes of faith on Jesus only; when he does not look about him to lay hold on his own scattered thoughts, nor behind him at Satan who threatens him with the thought that his prayer is in vain, nor within him at his sloth and lack of devotion; but looks up to Jesus, who sits at the right hand of God and makes intercession for us.” -Bo Giertz, The Hammer of God, p. 202

Dear Sir

Dear Sir,

IMG_8833 copy

How may I fully express the thrill of flattery that I felt as I unfolded thy note and discovered those two sonnets written for my eyes alone, not for some other supposed vision of perfection! But my pleasure was short-lived, for though the lines sounded sweet, to tell the truth, I could not at first make head nor tale of them. I was forced to spend a full hour unraveling their serpentine turns of phrase, and, to be frank, sir, thy sonnets are not as attractive as first they appeared. Poetic verse really is quite the cloying perfume. Dissolve it with a good bucket of prose and thou wilt be able discern the wearer’s true sourness.

I do not quarrel with thy first conclusion that “…never resting time leads Summer on, to hideous winter and confounds him there.” I know, as do all with any sense, that one far off day my eyes will loose their luster, my hair will whiten, and my skin will shrivel. There is not much gallantry in reminding me of that. What is more, thy solution to this natural ill does not seem very efficacious: “That’s for thy self to breed an other thee.” Hast thou perhaps spent too much time in the company of my mother? For she and thee are alike in thy eagerness for me to bear children. Yet, it cannot help but occur to me that producing children will most likely leave me bereft of beauty much more quickly than natural aging. And, though a parent may be fair, who is to say that their offspring shall be likewise as lovely? A tree may be strong, and yet bear wormy fruit. Or perhaps there shall be no fruit at all. Hast thou not considered that?

Of course thou hast not. Thou seest but a rosy world where rosy women have their own rosy babes. Thy sonnets are constant in their idolization of my beauty and the need to preserve it, as if nothing else about me mattered, not even myself. “Be not self-willed,” thou sayest, “for thou art much too fair, to be death’s conquest and make worms thine heir.” When the frost has finally done its work, it seems as if none shall mourn any aspect of my character, nor any good work I have done. My appearance is all I shall be missed for, and heaven help my soul should I have failed to produce any natural progeny.

Be that as it may, I yet propose another course of conduct. As thou suggest: “Beauty o’ersnow’d and bareness every where, then were not summer’s distillation left a liquid prisoner pent in walls of glass…flowers distilled though they with winter meet, leese but their show, their substance lives sweet.” I shalt take thy first advice, and disregard thy second. Deep roots are not reached by the frost, and thus I shalt keep summer’s distillation in my heart. I will do so, and perhaps, when winter has done its outer work, and I lie barren upon my deathbed, those nearby will remember me, myself, in love, and not cluck their tongues in pity for what is lost.

To come to the point, sir, it seems that thou art infatuated with my beauty and its supposed contagion. Not a sonnet I have received has been addressed in praise of any other facet of me. Thus, sir, I must order you to stop hanging round. Depart and attempt to ensnare some other bird with thy tangled web of pretty little words. After all, my parents have not been much pleased with my unfortunate fancy for a mere scribbler.

Yours (no more),

Lynn

 

 

Intersection

We came from all over–America, Sri Lanka, China, India, and more. Big schools, little schools, public schools, private schools, home schools. Some came loaded down with scholarships while other found a job and a loan to get them through. Some came with good study habits developed from a rigorous high school, while others arrived with an academic nonchalance.

Some washed out after a year or two. Others moved back home, found a job and started working full-time. Some buckled down and struggled through, overcoming their natural limitations through discipline and hard work, while others coasted through school without changing dramatically. Some are headed for greatness–a high-paying job, a happy marriage, fame, anything the world can give, while others are headed for trials–a series of dead-end jobs and forsaken dreams before one day, maybe, they’ll find what they’re seeking.

All these lines of people’s lives, running in different directions. But for a brief moment, the lines intersected, and we had this shared experience that we called college, an experience that brought us together. And at that locus, for a split-second, we were the same.

Poems for All Nations: Part IV

This week, Caroline Bennett concludes her four part research paper on the symphonic poem cycle Ma Vlást composed by Czech composer Bedřich Smetana.

Vyšehrad
Vyšehrad

The premiere performance of all six symphonic poems in Ma Vlást was on November 5, 1882, in Prague. It was conducted by a close friend and associate of Smetana’s, Adolf Čech.[1] The premiere of Ma Vlást came at an opportune time, as Czech nationalism was gaining momentum with each passing year. In addition, Smetana’s audience was becoming more accustomed to and accepting of his Wagner-like sound and thus enthusiastically applauded the richly textured and beautifully orchestrated Ma Vlást. Though Smetana could not hear the performance, he was extremely pleased by both the attitude of the orchestra as well as the approval of the audience. He wrote to Čech shortly after that:

Adolf Cech
Adolf Čech

“I saw that the achievements of the players were realizing my dreams to perfection and that you were leading them…You gave me back my confidence that the mysterious sounds in the innermost depths of my heart will again make themselves heard.”[2]

Smetana was not the only critical listener pleased by Ma Vlást. Eduard Hanslick, a prominent music critic, was also delighted by Smetana’s ode to Czech life and culture. This is rather surprising since Hanslick, although a Czech, was very much a German nationalist. Accordingly, in his review, Hanslick twisted Smetana’s purpose for the piece to be nationalistic to Germany through constant references to German writings or people.[3] Hanslick recognized that Smetana was attempting to inspire his Czech audience to be patriots, but did his best to dismiss this important aspect of the piece.[4] As a result, Hanslick unintentionally revealed how poignant and applicable Ma Vlást is to people of all nationalities and ethnicities. The overarching story of the cycle—one of love for home and a desire for freedom—are themes that transcend time and space. In addition, all audiences have an appreciation for beauty, and it is clear throughout Ma Vlást, but especially in Vltava, that Smetana’s symphonic poem cycle is a masterpiece.

Without a doubt, Smetana was devoted to establishing and creating Czech music that could compare with the music of other European countries like Germany and France.[5] Czech musicologist Vladimir Helfert, however, notes that,

Smetana
Bedřich Smetana

“…Smetana is not a figure wholly limited by the boundaries of his own country. He belongs to the art of the whole world, for his works have worth for all humanity. His idea of nation and country does not rest upon mere jingoism or racial hatred, but on respect for the culture of others and on a positive and kindly love for all mankind. Here we come upon a trait which is deeply rooted in the Slavonic soul, as is shown by the names of Dostoevsky and Tolstoy: it was because Smetana loved mankind that he also loved his own nation.”[6]

Smetana was a well-rounded composer who was inspired by the music and society he experienced throughout his life, first through his study of the music fundamentals and later through his sojourn in Sweden. He desired to create distinctly Czech music, but was unafraid to use elements from other countries, as demonstrated by the main theme in Vltava. And though his main goal with Ma Vlást was to celebrate his beloved homeland and inspire other Czechs, Smetana understood that his music was not just to be appreciated by his countrymen, but also by audiences all over the world. Its beauty and power have ensured that Ma Vlást has become a staple in the classical music world, and promises to remain so for many years to come.

Footnotes

[1] Bartos, Letters, 267.

[2] Ibid., 268.

[3] David Brodbeck, “Hanslick’s Smetana and Hanslick’s Prague,” Journal of the Royal Musical Association 134, no. 1 (2009): 29-30, accessed September 20, 2015, http://www.jstor.org/stable/40783129.

[4] Brodbeck, “Hanslick’s Smetana,” 27.

[5] John Clapham, “Smetana: A Century After,” The Musical Times 125, no. 1694 (April 1984), 4, accessed September 20, 2015, doi: 10.2307/963564.

[6] Helfert, “Bedřich Smetana,” 14-15.

Bibliography

Bartos, Frantisek. Bedřich Smetana: Letters and Reminiscences. Translated by Daphne Rusbridge. Prague: Artia, 1955.

Brodbeck, David. “Hanslick’s Smetana and Hanslick’s Prague.” Journal of the Royal Musical Association 134, no. 1 (2009), 1-36. Accessed September 20, 2015. http://www.jstor.org/stable/40783129.

Brown, Jim. “The Role of Folk Consciousness in the Modern State: Its Efficacy, Use and Abuse.” Storytelling, Self, Society 6, no. 1 Special Issue: Bhutan National Storytelling Conference (January-April 2010), 39-57. Accessed September 20, 2015. http://www.jstor.org/stable/41949039.

Clapham, John. “Bedřich Smetana.” The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians. Edited by Stanley Sadie. London: Macmillan Publishers Limited, 1980. xvii: 391-408.

———. Master Musician: Smetana. London: J. M. Dent & Sons LTD, 1972.

———. “Smetana: A Century After.” The Musical Times 125, no. 1694 (April 1984), 201-205. Accessed September 20, 2015. doi: 10.2307/963564.

Dowling, Maria. Czechoslovakia. London: Arnold, 2002.

G. A. “Review of Smetana by John Clapham.” Music & Letters 54, no. 1 (January 1973), 85-86. Accessed September 20, 2015. http://www.jstor.org/stable/734179.

Helfert, Vladimir. “Bedřich Smetana.” The Slavonic Review 3, no. 7 (June 1924), 141-155. Accessed September 20, 2015. http://www.jstor.org/stable/4201826.

Large, Brian. Smetana. New York: Praeger Publishers, 1970.

Newmarch, Rosa. The Music of Czechoslovakia. Great Britain: Oxford University Press, 1942.

Smetana, Bedřich. “Vltava.” In Má Vlast. Leipzig: Eulenburg, 1914.

 

Counting Every Word

Scrutinizing my computer screen, I read another sentence aloud.  I heaved a sigh.  None of the words seemed superfluous; I felt like I had trimmed off every spare word I could without weakening my essay.  I continued reading the paper, wondering how I was ever going to get my word count below my professor’s limit of 500 words.

Picture me at ten or eleven o’ clock at night going through this exact same routine once a week for eight weeks, and you will have an idea of my experiences while taking a course on American history this past spring.  I have a problem most students would envy.  I struggle with word count rules, not because I have trouble reaching the minimum, but because I always overshoot the mark—usually by a lot.  No matter how much I curbed myself as I typed my rough drafts, I always had too many thoughts, too much supporting material, and too many quotes I wanted to include.  Most of the essays were about American war novels, each of which was full of important and interesting information that I felt I needed to mention if I was going to write a thorough paper.  I also needed to include as much historical context and analysis as possible to satisfy my teacher.

While my professor’s word count rule felt constricting and chafed against my urge to write more, the limitation challenged me to become a better writer.  Because of this restriction, I had to make every word count, to reexamine how I organized my paper and structured my sentences.  I experienced what every child hates:  that frustrating time when your parents tell you, “Do it.  It’ll be good for you.”  Except this time, I was the one having to remind myself of the advantages of this word count rule while simultaneously becoming annoyed with it.  I was trying to see the bright side of the matter as I attempted to find another 20 words to excise.  Facing character-building challenges is so frustrating.

Character Building C&H

In the end, somehow, I always managed to chop the paper down to size without making it sound like Procrustes had gotten to it.  And now the ordeal is over, I am able to fully appreciate how it challenged me.  Writing those essays helped me spend my words wisely and more thoughtfully than I would have otherwise.  As I worked my paper down to 500 words, I felt like I was condensing it into something stronger, boiling out excess material and making it more potent in the process.  My success each time also encouraged and continues to encourage me, reminding me that I can overcome writing obstacles, even when they prove to be extremely challenging.

I have to admit that oftentimes as I worked on those history essays, I wished for 750 or 1000 words to work with.  (I’m guessing that desire was really strong on the papers that ended up 499 or exactly 500 words long).  However, as I think about that wish now, I can see the long paper being a different but equally demanding sort of challenge as the short one.  Would the paper have been as powerful?  Would I have wasted time and ink on insignificant words, quotes, or ideas?  Would I have been able to make every word count in that long of a paper?  Perhaps that should be my next challenge.  Maybe we writers would all benefit from counting every word.

A Voice for Modern Times

Introduction

Hailing from the same recording label as Beautiful Eulogy, Propaganda brings a frank conversational style to his discussion of a variety of issues. While analysis of our current social crises is driving many to socialism, nationalism, hateful sectionalism, and any number of other responses, Propaganda presents the issues in their true light–analyzing them not from the purely human-centric perspective, but under a perspective shaped by the Bible.

Content

Propaganda has released a number of albums over the past several years, many of which deal heavily with various issues in society. His latest album, Crooked, is much the same, but after watching events unfold over the past few years with more careful attention than before–riots, shootings, elections, transgender controversies, injustices–his latest songs have carried a weighty relevance for me that few musical albums have before. His song “It’s Complicated” addresses how multi-faceted and complicated people are, and how much greater the image we are made in is than the ones we try to create for ourselves:

We may scratch ourselves raw to erase the image we were made in
Smoke, snort, sex or drown out the silence
We may waste our life savings on makeovers
To try to rhinoplast our daddy’s nose away
But no nip, no tuck could cut away the sense of obligation
We are becoming what we are not
But what we are is inescapable
You are a masterpiece fighting to be a silly selfie with a hideous filter
You are heavens handmade calligraphy
Slumming it among papyrus fonts

The song “Crooked” addresses the injustices and the lack of compassion that has been shown to many in the African American community. However, while anyone can sing about the problems in the world, the Gospel never lets us despair. Similarly, Propaganda’s songs, while painfully honest at times, are incessantly upward-focused toward Christ–we are all sinners in need of the same Savior. Whenever an artist goes to the source–to Christ’s goodness and man’s sinfulness–only then can a real, constructive, healing dialogue begin. This is something that Propaganda does well–seeing beyond the surface level differences to the underlying issue that plagues us all.

Style

Having listened to a decent amount of rap over the years, Propaganda’s style has always struck me as being more on the, excuse the vulgarity, “wordy” end of the spectrum. While with some rap you can get lost in the rhythm and easily follow the lyrics, with Propaganda the words are much more forward and require constant attention. This is by no means detrimental, but does mean he should not be played as “background” music.

Conclusion

Whenever discussing social issues, the Gospel must be the linchpin of any discussion. Without it we simply become driven by anger and pain. Without Jesus we all become content with playing in the mud, not imagining the amazing vistas of possibility. Propaganda brings the Gospel with his music, and this makes every issue he tackles, no matter how difficult, horrendous, and muddy it may seem, one that points us back to the Great Physician. He is a much needed voice in modern times.

Why couldn’t you just hug me?
Look me in the eyes and tell me love is lovely
Ribbons in the sky that Stevie Wondie flung me
Sing lullabies to the son you brung me
But your eyes just won’t keep they mouth shut

[…]

I could tell the future, we’re a broken record
I’ma say something then I’m gon’ regret it
And you’ll put up a wall and I’ma try to wreck it
Love is not love if it’s never been tested

-Bear With Me

Our Fireworks

Listen up, folks, and you shall hear
Of the late-night fireworks that took place here,
On the Fourth of July, maybe 2002?
I didn’t bother to see if anyone knew
Or remembered that particular day and year.

Mom said to us, “Here’s the plan,
We’re going to Grandma’s for dinner tonight,
And, if she says you can,
If you wanna do fireworks, that’s all right –
Just be very careful, and don’t blow up your face,
I just read an article where that was the case,
Gruesome things happen when there’s explosives and fire,
Stop laughing, it’s not funny, the stakes are dire,
If I see you being careless, you’ll feel my ire,”

Or something like that, but we didn’t care,
For, at Grandma’s, something caused us to stare.
As my brother and I walked onto the porch,
Our aunt arrived, and with a lurch,
Placed a huge package on the ground.
Peeking forward, there we found,
A mountain of fireworks, pound upon pound,
Whose grand power was magnified
By the vibrant illustrations on the side.

But we still had to eat, and it was still light,
So we wandered, watching eagerly,
As the sun slipped down most meagerly.
For, to us kids, the dinner was a bore,
Waiting and waiting with all our might,
‘Til at last, Mom said, most agreeably
“Y’all can go now” – and we were out the door.

We opened the package our aunt had brought,
And there was the cornucopia of dreams.
There black cats lay in reams and reams,
And fountains beyond our wildest thought.
Smoke bombs in pink and blue and red,
Enough sparklers to keep a festival fed,
And spinners and candles and parachutes,
And novelty tanks the size of little troops,
And, one giant bottle rocket, last,
That we were sure would give such a blast
One loud enough to wake the dead
And brighten up the shadowy night
Enough to rival the moon’s light.
A sparkling flower that would fly
Up, up, up, high into the sky.

So we dived right in, and with matches we lit
The fuse of many a cracker that eve,
As screamers buzzed over and into the tree,
And a fountain exploded in an angry fit.
That wasn’t all! In the gloom of the night,
Who knows how many sparklers we did light?
Black cats exploded with all their might,
And candles combusted for all to see.
But the best we did with the novelty tanks,
As we lined them up, rank upon rank,
Just on the edge of an ant pile grand,
And set them in motion, and watched them sputter,
As forward they began to putter,
Shooting sparks into the ant-filled sand.

It must have been ten by the living room clocks,
When we called the family to come outside.
Onto the porch they filed and stared,
As the giant rocket we prepared,
And since they refused to put on shoes over socks,
Or leave the coziness of the rocking chair,
Do you think they saw it at all,
When the rocket exploded high in the air?
Or the little pink crystals softly fall?

Nope.

Yet, through the evening we fired on,
Every last candle and spinner and spark.
We heard every last black cat bark,
Until every single one of them was gone.
No more crack in the darkness, or pop in the night,
No more echoing, shimmering light.
But, borne on on the night-wind of the past,
Through all of my memory, down to the last,
In the hour of darkness and laughter that is free,
I will remember, though now it is gone,
That box of fireworks that once I did see,
And the July Fourth Fireworks that once shone.

Winter Storm Warning

We had been out hiking for most of the day, and it seemed like the snow kept falling harder. Starting in the morning, we had set out on a hike up the east side of Mt. Elden, a mountain settled slightly northeast of Flagstaff, Arizona. The trail was called Fatman’s Loop and led up the mountain in a circuitous fashion. Rocks, shrubs, and trees dotted the upward slope as we hiked.

At one point the trail thinned out, and we began to notice a large number of deer droppings in our path. After walking a few minutes more, we realized that we had lost ourselves on a deer trail. The trail eventually looped back, however, and we found ourselves again on the main trail. Wasted time, but we weren’t lost.


Google’s weather forecast had been calling for a winter storm to pass through Flagstaff starting at 11am that Monday–predicting 8-10 inches of snow over the next day. On Sunday afternoon, concerned that our tent-camping expedition might not be able to handle such a large amount of snow, we walked by the KOA office to get some wisdom.

“Yeah, the weather people keep saying there’s gonna be less and less snow,” said the man at the desk. “It’s probably not gonna be too bad.”

I said I heard there were going to eight to ten inches. “Yeah, from looking at the radar, I wouldn’t expect it to be that bad,” the man said. “You should be fine.”

Because of this assurance, we had decided to stay one more day in Flagstaff, for one more hike.


17097228_958330574297108_7809531117575133334_o

Reaching a rocky outcropping, I pulled out my phone and snapped a photo. It was beautiful, misty, quiet. I was insistent that we hike as far as we could, so when we reached the Elden Lookout trailhead, we took that turn and continued up. With snow falling steadily but lightly, we had to watch our steps. “Three points of contact!” Sammy said matter-of-factly.

Pulling my phone out again, I discovered it was dead. Freezing temperatures played games with my phone battery–it had been fully charged only an hour or two before. I had forgotten to keep my phone in my pocket and had instead put it in my backpack. When pressed against my leg in my pocket, the phone tended to last longer, bolstered by the warmth of my body. Surrounded by cold, it quickly died.

“Sammy, your phone still has battery?” I asked.

“Yeah, for sure,” said Sammy. We decided that if his phone died too, we would turn around–our hike wasn’t especially dangerous, but we didn’t want to take any chances.

We stopped and ate lunch–PB&J’s and chips–and then kept climbing. The mountain reminded my nerd-mind of the Fellowship attempting to cross the Misty Mountains in The Fellowship of the Ring. It was snowy, and the rocks were snowy, and there was ice in places. The only thing missing was “a fell voice on the wind.”

We decided to turn around.

Getting down, I discovered, was trickier than I expected. Sammy slipped a couple times on the rocks as we descended. “Careful,” I would say each time, before slipping myself and sitting down hard with a thud. My self-righteousness vanished, and we continued down, carefully, one step at a time.

Reaching our car at the base of the trail, we climbed in and headed for town. It was snowing more heavily now from a cloudy, bright sky. We stopped at the Flagstaff post office and mailed off some postcards to family, then headed for a nearby coffee shop.

It was a small, cozy establishment–the White Dove–and just what we needed. I pulled out the book I was reading (a book by Kevin DeYoung on the Heidelberg Catechism) and read for a bit while sipping coffee and letting my phone charge. We were both thankful for the warmth–something we hadn’t had much of recently. It was a welcome reprieve from being almost constantly in weather hovering around freezing.

Eventually, we decided it was time to head back to camp. The car had been covered in a fine layer of snow, so we had to dust off the windshield before driving back.

At the camp, we walked to the main office first, and I shot a video journal entry with my phone on the way–we had been keeping a video log of our trip, and with all the snow falling and a winter storm warning, I figured it was a good opportunity for an update.

When we returned to our tent, it had collapsed. The weight of the snow had twisted it down into a pile. Shaking the snow off, we set it upright once again.

In an orderly fashion, we got out the campstove and made dinner–instant mac & cheese combined with a couple cans of chili–voila, chil-mac! When it was ready, we wolfed it down. Then, after washing the pot, cleaning up, and stowing our cooking gear back in the car, we got in our tent.

“What the–” said Sammy, feeling around the inside edge of the tent where he kept his towel and some clothes. “Everythings soaked.” His pillow was soaked too.

Throughout the day, the snow had melted and crept in around the edges of the tarp we laid down. The moment was sobering for us–we were prepared for a cold night, but we hadn’t counted on the moisture. At least our sleeping bags were waterproof.

“Here, Sammy,” I said. “Let’s move our sleeping bags and other stuff towards the center of the tent. That way if more snow leaks in during the night nothing else will get wet.” After more discussion, that’s what we did. There wasn’t anything to be done about Sammy’s soaked pillow, but we were at least a little more comfortable.

Sammy looked up the weather forecast for Utah–our next stop. It was supposed to be clear and warm(er) there. We talked excitedly about how we were going to get up in the morning, load up, and drive out of Flagstaff. From hearing us talk, you’d think Utah was the Promised Land–the thought of getting away from all the bad weather made Utah sound positively idyllic. Utah had better be nicer, or we’ll just go home, I thought to myself.

As we lay there, snow falling, a dull light from a nearby lightpost illuminating the skin of the tent, I could see snow piling up above me. It got heavier, and as the minutes ticked by the two supports of the tent began to twist. Sammy and I took turns reaching up and giving the tent a shake to dislodge the snow. It was a game for me, watching the snow pile up and guessing the point at which the tent would start to collapse.

The snow we knocked down collected at the sides of the tent and caused the sides of the tent next to our sleeping bags to lean in on us–a cold, wet kiss if I swung my head the wrong way. I pushed through the tent on my side, scooting the snow back and creating a little box.

The game of keeping the snow away continued most of the night. I woke once to see the tent frame slowly twist, then twist some more. I popped out of my bag just in time to keep it from falling on us. The commotion woke Sammy, and I explained in guttural, half-awake tones what had happened as I rolled over and attempted to sleep some more.

The morning came quickly, and we were up with the dawn. After a brief discussion, we decided to go find the laundromat and dry out some of our gear. I checked my phone and saw a message from my mom–a picture of the king cake she had made and the words “Happy Mardi Gras.” It was Mardi Gras–I’d completely forgotten!

Unzipping the tent door, we were greeted by a lovely site–the world a giant open-faced ice cream sandwich. Over 10 inches of snow lay on the ground–maybe more.

Hopping over to the laundromat, I matched my steps to Sammy’s footprints to keep from collecting snow on my boots–like one of those Tusken raiders from Star Wars. We used all of Sammy’s quarters to dry a few loads. Then, after a breakfast of oatmeal, we set about getting past the next hurdle: driving out. A KOA employee with a front-end loader equipped with a snowplow had been out that morning clearing the main paths of the campground, but there was still a large pileup of snow directly behind my car, between it and the main path. We went to the main office and asked if we could borrow a snowshovel, so the office sent a man to help us. Walking back to our car, we passed the front-end loader making its rounds. The driver opened the cab and stuck his head out.

“Y’all are from Louisiana,” he said loudly. “You should be home celebrating Mardi Gras right now!”

We laughed, and I told him about the picture of the king cake my mom sent earlier that morning.

“You’re crazy!” he said.

17038698_958330880963744_3088190067227406309_o

Back at the car, the man with the snowshovel took one look at the pileup and decided to call for backup, so soon we had the front-end loader swipe our area, clearing most of the snow.

“Just start backing up,” the man with the snowshovel said. “And if you get going, don’t stop.”

After a first attempt that ended in snowy wheelspin, I pulled forward, and backed up once again, keeping pressure on the pedal. The car burst free onto the path, and we were clear.

Getting on the interstate and heading west, we were delighted to see the weather clear up and become beautiful once again.

Poems for All Nations: Part III

In part three of her research paper about Czech composer Smetana and his work Ma Vlást, Caroline Bennett has at last reached my favorite part of the composition: the second movement known as Die Moldau.  If you’re just joining us, here are Part I and Part II of the paper.

Kniha "VLTAVA - Libor Sváček" - vydání 1., rok 2011
The Vltava (known in German as Die Moldau) River flows into the Elbe

The second movement of Ma Vlást is perhaps the most well-known of all. This is not only due to its intricate orchestration, but also because its subject is that of the Czechs’ most beloved river. Though commonly called by the German name Die Moldau, the Czech name of the river is the Vltava.[1] Smetana was likely inspired to write about the Vltava when he visited the Šumava valley in 1867, and saw the two streams that join and eventually become the sweeping river. A friend later wrote that it was there that Smetana “heard the gentle, poetic song of the two streams…and within him sounded the first two chords of the two motives which intertwine and increase and later grow and swell into a mighty melodic stream.”[2]

Without a doubt, Smetana composed effective motives for imitating the flow of water, but there is some dispute over what inspired the main melody of the piece, a rising and falling figure, often played by the strings, that symbolizes the Vltava. The melody bears a strong resemblance to the Swedish folksong “Ack Varmeland, du skona,” as well as to a plethora of central European folksongs.[3] Most striking, however, is its similarity to an Italian piece called “La Mantovana,” which also inspired the Israeli national anthem “Hatikvah.” It is impossible to know specifically which of these songs Smetana was thinking of as he wrote Vltava, but regardless, it reveals his familiarity with different musical cultures and his ability to adjust songs to create the perfect melody for his compositions.

Vyšehrad
Vyšehrad

Smetana’s genius for combining melody with story is demonstrated throughout Vltava. In the opening bars, Smetana uses the flutes to imitate the first source of the river by having them play fluttering upward passages. Soon after, the flutes are joined by the clarinets, representing the river’s second source with a downward moving figure.[4] After the main theme is introduced, indicating the joining of the two streams, Smetana depicts the river’s integration into daily Czech life by reflecting a series of images—forests, weddings in the countryside—through an ever changing key center. At first the entire orchestra can be heard, but slowly the volume dies away as instruments drop out. Just when it seems that the instruments will completely fade out, a lively dance is introduced by the strings, as a group of water-nymphs dance in the moonlight by the water.[5] Then, just as suddenly, the key changes to minor and the audience is immersed in only the moonlight and the flowing of the river as it passes by ruined castles from long ago. The echoes of horns are a reminder of the former glory of the castles. The horns crescendo as they reintroduce the main theme, and the instrumental parts divide, signaling that the river enters the St. Johns Rapids. Leaving the rapids behind, the flowing lines of the music return as the Vltava enters a broad stream. Smetana has the river pass by the towering castle Vyšehrad by introducing the “glory” theme previously heard in Vyšehrad.[6] Finally, the music dies away, much like it began, as the Vltava flows into the Elbe river.

[1] Brown, “Folk Consciousness,” 48.

[2] Clapham, Smetana, 108.

[3] Clapham, Smetana, 80.

[4] Ibid., 80.

[5] Bartos, Letters, 264.

[6] John Clapham, “Bedřich Smetana,” The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, edited by Stanley Sadie (London: Macmillan Publishers Limited, 1980), xvii: 399.

Photograph of Vltava and Elbe rivers from http://www.visitstrednicechy.cz/en/central-bohemia-the-central-elbe-and-melnik-areas/30/