Sunday, August 29, 2010

Blackbird, Fly

I bought Erin a Blackbird, Fly 35mm plastic camera for Christmas last year. We've had several toy or plastic cameras over the years, the hero of the pack being a trusty, old-fashioned Holga. The Blackbird, Fly is a twin reflex camera, but, like many other Lomo cameras, the lenses are plastic. It took us nearly a year to take 36 photos and get the film developed. The film was long expired 200 speed Fuji Film. Many of the pictures came out rather dark, but here are few that came out pretty well. Erin took all of these shots.
Eric Agua Caliente Park
This photo and the one above are both from Agua Caliente Park in Tucson.
tucson gate
tucson yard 2
Both of these are of our yard at our last house in Tucson. We had a wet spell and the yard went crazy with flowers. The recent monsoon activity in Glendale has only driven ants indoors. Biting ants.
birds on a wire
"The Mint" on Grant Road in Tucson. A lot pigeons on that wire.
rose canyon lake
This last one is of Rose Canyon Lake up on Mt. Lemmon. There's a campground there and they stock it with fish. It's a man-made lake and would barely pass muster as a pond in most parts of the country, but it's a whole lot of water in one place for here in Arizona.

Now that we've developed a roll of film, we have a better idea of how the camera shoots. I'm excited to see how our next batch of photos turns out.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Yarn Owl

Yarn Owl is a band from Pullman, Washington. Their website describes their sound as melding "the pop sensibilities of the 60’s and 70’s with a twist of modern indie flare." My path crossed with band's somewhere in the sinuous ways of the Internet. Noam Chomsky has asserted that language contains infinite numbers of potential combinations, but I'm guessing the words "Yarn" and "Owl" are not often a likely pair. So they're called Yarn Owl, I own a yarn owl, someone punches "yarn owl" into Google and the magic of Boolean search brings people together.

Well, once I found the band, I thought they sounded great. I sent them some questions and their singer, Javier Suarez, was kind enough to respond.

Eric -Yarn Owl began in 2007 and you've been a pretty busy band since then. Can you give us a brief time line of events over the last three or so years?

Javier -We started playing together in October '07 at our school's music building. We had our first real show in Seattle the next May. In the fall of '08 we put out our first little E.P. called Tape 1 cause it was recorded on cassette. We made the sequel E.P. tape 2 the next Spring. During that year we played a ton of shows around the Northwest with all kinds of groovy bands. We put out a cassette with Leftist Nautical Antiques called Tiny Dots that combined songs from both EPs in the Fall of '09. We made the E.P. Stay Warm in the Summer of '09. We are recording stuff now for a future release, the details of which are still coming together. We have shows coming up this fall and are just trying to put together the coolest music we can right now! 

E - You're from the Northwest (Pullman, Washington) and so you have a legacy of great northwestern folk-rock bands to contend with, such as Rogue Wave, The Decemberists,  and Blitzen Trapper. What is your relationship with the northwest's musical heritage and how has it affected your sound, if at all?

J -Yeah...I'd say we do have a relationship to it. Tim, our bass player was the Band of Horses original drummer on their first album. So he contributes elements of that style in his arrangement ideas and notions of what is sonically desirable. For me, when we talk about modern Northwest bands I'd say that the Fleet Foxes are at the top of my list in terms of what I actually listen to and consequentially I think that influence manifests in my lyrical themes, singing style and occasionally guitar playing. The Northwest is a big and diverse place, though, and I think talking about it as one 'thing' that exudes some kind of force is a bit amorphous- I mean, we all (read 'most modern people with Internet access') get our music and ideas about music from a very similar place, i.e. the Internet and so I think geographic location isn't as big of a influence as I think it once was... We all wear a lot of flannel though.

E -You've recorded an E.P., "Tiny Dots" released it on cassette format through Leftist Nautical Antiques. There's been a return to vinyl, but why cassettes?
J - Regarding Tiny Dots, that was Leftist Nautical Antiques' idea- that's just what they do. We thought it made sense, it was recorded on cassette, why not release it on cassette? Tons of people still have cassette players in their cars, its cheap, and its just kind of a different, novel way of gettting your music out there that fit our kind of thrift store aesthetic. It did come with a digital download 'cause I'm not so sure people were actually gonna start busting out their old Walkmans just for us. But it was a fun project that went really well, their seems to be a very dedicated and enthusiastic cassette constituency out there that was really receptive to it. 

E - On your website you say you have a full length album coming out. Where are you recording that and with whom? When can we expect to hear it?

J - It is still being written. We want to get the songs just right before laying them down. Once the material clicks like we want it to, the 'whom' and 'where' of the recording will become clear to us. As for a when, I'll just say.....in the future. Definitely in the future.  

E - What do you do to create such a full sound? Instruments? Studio techniques?

J - Well...Vocal harmonies, doubling vocals, shakers, panning, adding guitars, cymbals, organ, reverb...giving the mix to a good mastering place (We like Ed Brooks at RFI in Seattle). 

E - Any plans for a tour outside of the northwest anytime soon?

J - Ambitions, but no solid plans!

E - Tyler makes some rad videos for your songs. What's the process? It looks work intensive.

J - Oh yeah, thousands of photos! Just your basic stop motion animation with construction paper. He's a patient and dedicated dude though, we are proud of him. 

E - How'd you come up with the name Yarn Owl?

J - I used to have a collection of yarn art. Like, framed portraits and stuff made from yarn...my favorite piece was the owl, it was a 'yarn owl' and we needed a band name and no one objected to that one...sooo...it stuck.

If you've been looking at your old Walkman, missing it, longing for a reason to reconnect, then pick up Yarn Owls' "Tiny Dots." You can buy it here. It comes with a digital format, too, so iPoders can listen the newfangled way.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

New Hummingbird Neighbors

My parents gave Erin and I a hummingbird feeder for Christmas last year. We didn't have a secure place to hang it in Tucson, but at our new house here in Glendale, we found a good spot. I'm no ornithologist, but, judging by their coloration, I think they're broad-tailed hummingbirds. I could be wrong, though, because broad-tailed hummingbirds' primary habitats are mountains and forests, not desert. But, hey, with all the stupid lawns and imported trees, Glendale sure doesn't resemble the desert. If we don't have to respect the integrity of our natural desert environment, why should hummingbirds stick to the rules?
in pursuit
There are two hummingbirds that hang out by a feeder, a male and a female. I'm assuming they're a pair. Male hummingbirds are territorial and these two are quite chummy, though they seem to enjoy chasing each other from pine trees to palm trees and back the feeder. 
in for landing
You can see the rest of my hummingbird shots here on our Flickr page. They weren't very wary of me and were pretty obliging for their early morning photo shoot. Still, I didn't get too close or stay too long. I'd rather see the real birds than look at a nice picture. That being said, I think I got some OK shots, though nothing as nice as this one of a female ruby-throated hummingbird that Erin took at the Worcester Audubon Society a few years back. One final note, if I incorrectly identified these hummingbirds, e-mail me or set me straight in the comments.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Sunset Crater etc.

Sunset Crater National Monument is an extinct volcano outside of Flagstaff. It last erupted a little less than a millennium ago. Today, the volcanic area makes up a series of black hills east of the San Francisco Peaks. I had never heard of Sunset Crater until I moved to Arizona and I haven't heard people talk too much about it here. But it's damn impressive. We walked around on a lava flow and took pictures of the black gravel hills with their sides blown into wavy dunes. We even camped out on a forest road just outside the monument (though still in Coconino National Forest). The ground was covered in medium grain black volcanic gravel that made it very hot to walk on during the day, but soft to camp on at night.
lenox crater sundown
This is the view into Lenox Crater just before dusk. You can't hike up Sunset Crater anymore, but you can still check out Lenox Crater, which is a smaller volcanic crater.
lava rock trail 1
firelight clearing
Our campsite ended up being a pretty interesting place to be even beyond the black ground and hills. There were some interesting flowers, like virgin's bower and primroses (pictured below). Virgin's Bower is my new favorite flower.
virgin's bower
primrose 2
While I was walking around looking at flowers, I came across what I thought was a cornmeal ring on the ground. I called Erin over and showed it to her and we speculated at the time that it was related to a Native American custom. That area around Flagstaff, including particularly Sunset Crater and Humphrey's Peak, are sacred to the Navajo. Turns out that, according to Thomas Raitt the author of "The Ritual Meaning of Corn Pollen Among the Navajo Indians," we were mostly correct - "In certain contexts the application of corn pollen to something functions as an act of sanctifying or consecrating that to a very special and sacred use." The circle we found likely asked for a blessing for the campsite, designated the spot as their temporary hogan. At least that's what I got from Raitt's article; if anyone reads this and knows first hand, let me know in the comments or via e-mail. In any case, we slept better there that night alongside that presumed blessing.
corn pollen ring 1
corn pollen ring 2
headlights campsite

erin campsite
I'm getting a little out of hand with the pictures here, so I'll stop and let you see them all over on our Flickr page.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

VBS.TV - The Oregon Fire Lines

The good folks over at Vice/VBS.TV were kind enough to give me the heads up on their new short documentary, "The Oregon Fire Lines." If you watched their recent online series, "Heimo's Arctic Refuge," you should be excited about this one too.  In the documentary, VBS.TV embed themselves with a group of forest fire firefighters from Medford, Oregon to see what the job entails. It looks like really, really hard work, but you can tell from the interviews that the guys who do the job enjoy it. There has to be something rewarding about being out in the woods with other hard-working people all day, busting your ass to keep people and places safe from forest fires. I spent the last weekend in Flagstaff, AZ and I saw the damage caused by the recent Schultz Fire, a huge blaze that tore up the San Francisco Peaks. It was caused by an abandoned campfire. Watch how hard these dudes up in Oregon work to prevent and extinguish forest fires and the way they put their lives on the line (literally). Keep it in mind the next time you're sure your fire's "mostly out."

The documentary is part the new "Americana" series that VBS is doing and hopefully there will be more to come. It's presented by Levi's and Filson. It looks like those brands have teamed up to make some sturdy work clothes - "Levi's Workwear by Filson." I found some photos here.

So, head on over to VBS.TV and watch "The Oregon Fire Lines" and peruse the other videos too. It's about 15 minutes long.

Meteor Crater

Also known as Barringer Crater, Meteor Crater is an impact crater about forty miles northeast of Flagstaff, AZ. It was created when a giant meteor collided with Earth approximately 50, 000 years ago. Native Americans considered it a sacred site and correctly believed that it was created by an extraterrestrial object, but American scientists at the end of the 19th century mistakenly believed it to be a steam explosion site. The area around Meteor Crater is volcanic, so their mistake is understandable. The original owner, Daniel Barringer, was an engineer from Pennsylvania who believed it was an impact crater from an asteroid and he wanted to mine the ore left behind by that asteroid. He got the claim rights because he was friends with President Theodore Roosevelt. Unfortunately for him, the meteor had obliterated. Along with local ranchers, the Barringer family has kept the site open for visitors for many years. They even let Apollo astronauts train here under the suggestion of famed geologist Eugene Shoemaker. Shoemaker proved once and for all that Barringer Crater was indeed an impact crater.

The layers of sediment along the walls are turned upward from the force of the impact; the rock is folded. The rocks surrounding the crater are actually very old rocks blasted out of the earth by the impact. They're usually found far below ground. Oh, and it's over half a mile in diameter, so it's pretty huge. It's privately owned, still by the Barringer family, so the entrance fee is kind of steep compared to what NPS charges to see similar things. It's $15 a person, $3 more than the mere $12 that gets an individual a look at the Grand Canyon, but I'd say it's still worth going to see. There aren't loads of well-preserved meteor impact craters lying around everywhere.
floor of meteor crater 1
This is the floor of Meteor Crater and those pieces of equipment are from Barringer's mining attempts.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Walnut Canyon

Erin and I headed north up to Flagstaff last weekend and took advantage of the National Park Service "Fee Free Weekend" by hitting up Walnut Canyon, a cliff dwelling site, and Sunset Crater, an extinct but impressive volcano. We also visited Meteor Crater. More on Sunset and Meteor craters to come.

Walnut Canyon was inhabited by a group of Native Americans that archeologists call the Sinagua people. The Sinagua and other tribes left other cliff dwellings around the southwest. They lived in the area north of the Mogollon Rim (which is the edge of the Colorado Plateau) between the Colorado and the Little Colorado Rivers. Walnut Canyon was inhabited around 1100 A.D. No one is certain why they left or where they went, but some modern Hopi clans are the ancestors of the Sinagua.

Here are some more pictures of Walnut Canyon.
walnut canyon 2
Walnut Canyon
I think this is some sort of aster. If you're a better botanist, please help me out.
inside dwelling with ancient smoke
Smoke marks from Sinagua fires are still visible on the walls of the cliff houses. Erin also pointed out some fossil sea sponges in many of the rocks.
cliff dwelling doorway
walnut canyon dwelling 3

Friday, August 13, 2010

Perseid Meteor Shower

I went out into the desert with a couple of friends last night to watch the Perseid meteor shower. We watched it from a forest road off route 87 that leads to Four Peaks, the highest point in the Phoenix area and part of Tonto National Forest. It was a perfect night for meteor watching. The desert was a lot cooler than in the city, the moon went away early so the sky was really dark, and there were lots and lots of great shooting stars. Sometimes I feel like I never really saw the sky until I saw it over the desert.
swirling skies
dune buggy
We weren't the only folks out looked at the meteors. Cars and trucks occupied all the pull-offs on the sides of the forest road. We drove pretty far in, but quite a few other vehicles passed by through the course of the night.
desert lights and ghosts

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Kitchen Witchcraft Vol. 1

I have to confess that I didn't can all that great looking food in the picture, but I have canned before and I will again. It's a lot of fun.

What I thought I might do is share a couple of recipes we've been making a lot lately. Erin and I love to eat and we're always on the hunt for new things. I don't want to post long or complicated recipes, just some quick and interesting things that have impressed us, like this smoothie recipe I put up awhile back.

Ok, here goes.

#1. Bilberry/Hibiscus Iced Yerba Mate

I made this one up myself.

3 yerba mate bags/ 2 tablespoons of loose mate
1 tablespoon hibiscus flowers
1/2 tablespoon dried bilberries
1 liter of cold water

I do a cold infusion and usually leave the mate to steep overnight in the fridge. I just put in the bags and I put the herbs in a tea ball and put it all in. I take the bags and ball out the next day. I've experimented with adding citrus, vanilla, and mint and they've all been pretty good.

Bilberries are supposed to improve night vision and hibiscus allegedly lowers your blood pressure. Yerba Mate is full of antioxidants.

#2 Overnight Oatmeal

We've found a couple of recipes for overnight oatmeal online and they've been good. Erin likes hers made to this recipe. I added some other good stuff. You just mix it all up in a bowl before you go to bed and eat it in the morning. Cold oatmeal might not be for everyone, but we like it.

1/3 cup oats
1/2 banana
2 tablespoons chia seeds
3/4 cup soy or almond milk
1/4 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1 tablespoon chopped pecans or almond butter
a shitload of fresh blueberries

Chia seeds are full of omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants, and fiber. Everything else is pretty good for you too. It gives you a lot of energy.


Sunday, August 8, 2010

Bad News for the Mission

Built in 1783 by the Spanish, San Xavier del Bac mission south of Tucson is one of the country's best examples of Spanish colonial architecture. It's a must-see for any visit to southern Arizona. It was an original listing on the National Register of Historic Places back in 1966. But, like everything else in AZ, the clown cavalry that we call "state government" is working as hard as they can to mismanage how the state cares for the historic church.

Columnist Kathleen Ingly outlines the problems facing the mission from both time and idiocy in an article today in the Arizona Republic. To summarize, the mission is undergoing restoration and has been for over a decade. They recently finished restoring the west tower (see photo below) and were moving on to the east tower, but the idiotic state cut the funding. Tough economic times call for such measures, right? Well, not really. The money is supposed to come from The Heritage Fund, a fund appropriated by voters in 1990 for the preservation of natural and cultural state resources. The Heritage Fund is supported by state lottery. Still, couldn't hard economic times demand such actions?
San Xavier Mission
Listen to this. How much would the state have to put into the grant to restore San Xavier? Only $150,000 - small change for such a big project. If the state puts that in, private groups would match funds and help support the $1.5 million restoration. But our garbage government cut ALL the funding for cultural and recreational spending from the Heritage Fund. Ingly points out that the Heritage Fund still gives money to AZ Fish and Game, though. AZ F&G is a complete disgrace since killing Macho B. Macho B was perhaps the final wild jaguar in the United States. If there's money for Fish and Game and there's a little money for San Xavier.

Without the restoration, San Xavier mission is in danger of real structural deterioration. Personally, I would like to see the federal government take over complete management of as many of Arizona's historic and natural sites as possible. The government and many of the people of Arizona are completely incompetent and should not be trusted to preserve places of national cultural significance. For more info, visit Patronato San Xavier.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Great Ideas for a Perfect Life #2

Under the right circumstances, I could stay in Arizona forever. Maybe. Here's how I'd do it. Erin and I would need to find someplace within easy driving distance from Tucson or Sedona, but someplace rural. I'd need some desert views. I'd like some mountains, too, or some towering cliffs. I don't care if they're red cliffs, or brown cliffs, just as long as they're tall enough to make me feel small when I look at them.

I'd want to live in an adobe house with an ocotillo fence. I'd want it to be old, but I'd want to create an off-grid scenario as much as possible. Solar panels for the reliable Arizona sun, rain-catchers, lots of porches and awnings. We'd be able to really open the house to the outside with lots of window that open wide and double doors. Tile and wood inside, firepit out back in a brick patio with benches and surrounded by tall cactus.

I don't have the money scenario worked out exactly yet, but I feel this perfect life idea hinges more on independence than money anyhow. I suppose I'd make money keeping bees and making stuff out of things I found in the desert. Prickly pear fruit products, fossils, and things of that nature. Erin looked up kitchen witchcraft the other day and, while we don't attribute spiritual significance to domestic tasks, the idea of being able to make your own soaps, lotions, oils, incense, herbal preparations and such seems like not only a good, healthy way to live, but also as a possible way to make a modest income.

Coyotes, javelina, jackrabbits...we'd have them all rolling through. The cats would have lots to look at from the windows. I'd get rid of all my clothes except shorts made from cut-off pants, old t-shirts, a couple thermal flannels, my Top Siders, and some boots. And during the monsoon, we'd sit outside on the porch and watch the desert flood and the cactus swell. I'd save every devil's claw and hawk's feather I found, give them out free to kids when we sold our honey, prickly pear jelly, and desert products. I'm pretty sure kids have got to like like devil's claws and hawk feathers.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Talented Friends - Chairman Mao, In Retirement - Neon Magazine #23

I've got a lot of friends who are really talented writers. It's pretty great. For example, my buddy, Ari Sen, has a clever story called "Chairman Mao, In Retirement" in the new issue of Neon Magazine, available here. Check it out.