A Rainy Day: “Did you see the Octobass?”

Hi, Everyone!

Long time, no type. In some aspects it has been a quiet winter (you’ll be able to read about the not-so-quiet part in an upcoming post), so not much to write home about. We haven’t done any real traveling since we arrived in Quartzsite in October.

Recently Kathe had a “free motion quilting” class in Phoenix. I decided that I’d go with her to Phoenix, and find something to do. There have to be some nice trails there on the outskirts that I could wander on.

But it turned out to be a rainy day (yes, Arizona has them). So what to do? Hmmm… I’ll look at the web… Multiple “things to do in Phoenix on a rainy day” lists had the Musical Instrument Museum at, or very near, the top of the list. OK, let’s give it a try. Then I’ll grab some lunch somewhere and see something else in the afternoon.

When I told some of my grandkids that I had gone to the museum, Dean immediately asked, “Did you see the Octobass?”

Oh, yeah.

The Octobass.

The apparent size is accurate, not an artifact of perspective caused by having the instrument in the very close foreground. Note the platform to the left for the musician to stand on, and the fact that the top of the octobass is only an inch or two from the ceiling.

Remote controls for stopping the strings above where a musician could reach.

Dean had obviously read about the museum!

Spoiler alert: I never did go anywhere else. I hadn’t seen everything by the time I had to go pick up Kathe at 4:00. Phew! (And the lunch in the museum cafe was surprisingly good!)

The museum is organized in a few different ways; one is by geography. There are rooms dedicated to the instruments from these areas: Africa and Middle East, Asia and Oceania, Europe, Latin America, and America and Canada. Within each room, the instruments from different cultures and regions are grouped for display.

Each display in the museum has a video screen showing related music making. Everyone gets a wearable receiver / headset that picks up the audio for the screen if you are within about five feet. This made it much more interesting than if there were simply static displays. Several of the pictures below show these video screens.

Here are a few examples of the regional displays.

Northwest China
Highly decorated instruments from Egypt
From Afghanistan
Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan
Saudi Arabia: Yamaha made keyboards with different tunings, sounds, and rhythms for Middle East musical genres
Uganda
Cape Verde
A wooden “slit drum” from the Central African Republic

Some of the displays contained traditional dress and ceremonial costumes.

Ceremonial dress from Sierra Leone

Something that hit me quite strongly was the similarity of instrument designs used around the world, and the diversity of the music they produce when used in different cultures.

It seems that almost all the string instruments fall into the categories of “zither” and “lute,” which are then modified by how the string is caused to vibrate, for example, “strummed,” “plucked,” or “struck.” You’ll see some examples below.

There is also a room highlighting various famous artists—or should I say, the instruments used by various famous artists! Also a room for guitars, for mechanical instruments such as player pianos, music boxes, etc., and a room for playing (with?) a variety of instruments.

Guitars: plucked lutes

Guitars are one of the most widespread instruments; they are manufactured on every continent except Antarctica. Now there is an opportunity for the over-winterers! Be the first!

Here are a (very) few of the guitars in the guitar room. Click on an image to see a bigger version with some brief descriptive text.

Other Lutes

Beside guitars, the lute family includes mandolins, ukuleles, and… ummm… lutes. But wait! There’s more!

Zithers

Many cultures have what we would call a hammer dulcimer; the museum uses the more generic name “struck zither.” Here are a few examples from around the world. Again, click on a picture to see the instrument’s name and country of origin.

Other zithers were on display as well, both strummed and plucked. This family includes harps, and autoharps. Here are a few of the many on display.

A plucked concert zither, from Missouri
A qānūn, a plucked zither, from Egypt
A benju, a keyed zither, from Pakistan

Mechanical players

The mechanical instruments room doesn’t include record players, tape recorders (am I dating myself?), or other similar machines. That is probably because they are music reproduction machines, not music creating machines. But there is certainly a wide range of the latter represented!

Player piano AND violin!

One of the interesting things about the combination piano and violin (above) is that it uses electric instead of pneumatic controls.

A player…. trumpet???

Despite the card calling this a “mouth organ” in the title, the fine print in the description calls it a “player trumpet.” Who knew?

“Just” a music box?

Boy, that music box looks just like the one I had as a kid!

Yeah. Right.

A player organ with flute (wide) and “string” (narrow) pipes.

One item in the mechanical room that I couldn’t get a picture of (too big) was a “portable” many-instrument item. It was about 15 feet tall and 30 feet wide. It was designed to be moved, but had to be disassembled to do so.

Elkhart, Indiana

Every RVer knows that Elkhart is the world capital of RVs, with more manufactured there than anywhere else by a large margin.

I was very surprised to learn that it also claims the title of the world capital of band instruments, manufactured by the Conn company and other Elkhart-based companies, many of which were started by former Conn employees.

The Elkhart story

Finally, a few special instruments

For various reasons, a few of the instruments I saw were special to me.

Back in the early ’60’s, my brother and our father built a Theremin from plans in Popular Electronics magazine. You may not know the name, but you have almost certainly heard a Theremin or derivative instrument. Think of the eerie varying pitched tones in grade B sci-fi movies. I never knew it was a legitimate instrument, used in concerts by Clara Rockwood. Here is one actually built by Lev Sergeyevich Teremin (a.k.a. Léon Theremin), and given to Clara.

The loop on the left and the stick on the right are antennas. One controls pitch, the other, volume. You control the instrument by moving your hands closer to or farther away from the antennas, without ever touching them.

Nashua First Church bell choir, you need these! This G1 is the lowest-pitched handbell currently in production. Using aluminum instead of brass for the larger bells cuts the weight by half.

Is this a cross between a violin and a trumpet? No, it is a cross between a violin and an old-style phonograph. The horn is for amplification.

This next one caught my attention because of the WHY??? factor. It is an electric steel guitar with FOUR fingerboards… OK, you musicians out there. WHY? Is there a human 2.0 option for a few extra pairs of arms?

The Quad Stringmaster, by Fender

And finally, one that had me close to tears. Children in Paraguay scavenge refuse dumps, to make instruments from the waste they find. Here a viola (bowed lute) from an old paint can, using a discarded fork for the tailpiece. The urge to create music is strong!

Reclaimed viola

In closing:

  • if music is your passion,
    • GO;
  • if you enjoy music to relax you,
    • GO;
  • if you have ever heard music,
    • GO;
  • if you have ever heard the word music…
    • GO to the Musical Instrument Museum in Phoenix!

Quartz + Sight = Change of Plans

A change of plans.

Indeed.

I have held back from posting through the winter (but I guess you already knew that!) because I’ve been rather focused on the health of my siblings and my vision challenges.

I have REALLY felt the distance from my siblings since the fall. We were able to travel to CT for my brother-in-law’s funeral in October. I extended my stay to help my sister through the first days of her grief and sadly, she is now fighting cancer herself. At the same time, my younger sister had some serious health concerns that necessitated her move to a long-term rehab facility. Daily visits to see her were important for both of us as she tried to adjust to her new situation. Believe it or not, also in October, my brother ended up in ICU for 6 days due to a bad combination of prescriptions (that his doc had missed and which the pharmacy had missed too—I learned that MD does NOT require pharmacies to run the safeguard program to catch and red-flag such errors!). He pulled through—thank God!

I returned to AZ early in November fully expecting to make a trip back to spend more time with my sisters in Feb or Mar. My eyes had a different plan for me. Not to bore anyone with any details (and if you follow me on FB, you’ve seen some of this already), but I’ve had 3 surgeries this winter — and finally, the most recent procedure (shunt implant) on my right eye is showing early positive results. I am beyond excited and will now be followed weekly by my glaucoma specialist to be sure the pressure doesn’t go dangerously low.

In the meantime, my left eye is gearing up for ITS same surgery in the not-too-distant future as the pressure is already in the danger zone. This particular surgery can take up to 3 months for full recovery. Back to back surgeries mean I’ll be followed very carefully by my GS right through the summer and beyond.

And then, of course, there is the coronavirus and COVID-19. Ugh. I have decided that the very most difficult challenge is being away from family members who are ill. Providing comfort from a distance through cards, texting, phone calls, and video-chats will have to do. I am so grateful to SO many who are keeping my extended family in their prayers.

We have had to cancel all of our 2020 summer plans to visit more National Parks with our grandsons, Graham and Dean. Hopefully next year…

These changes seem rather minimal as we watch and read about the many sacrifices made by the COVID-19 first responders: health care providers and supporters, police and fire departments, grocery store clerks, pharmacists, and thousands more.

And how are we managing?

Except for 2 grocery runs and one trip to the eye doc in Phoenix, we’ve been self-isolating. That’s not actually very hard to do while we continue to boondock on the desert where we’ve been since early October 2019. With more than 11,000 acres on this BLM Long Term Visitor Area, there is PLENTY of room to keep to yourself.

Another beautiful sunset over a mostly empty desert. You can see some rigs in the distance. You can see the source of the line, “…the purple mountains’ majesty.”
Looking the other way, with the setting sun just touching the tops of the mountains. Again, the rigs are few and far between.

We have been taking walks each day and have been enjoying the colorful flowers that are now making an appearance in the desert. A fair amount of rain this winter has made for a lovely bloom. We do wonder how the desert bloom is in other parts of the southwest where it was rather spectacular a year ago. Anyone know?

We’re filling our time with reading, walking, bingeing on Netflix, etc. (check out our new favorite – The Great British Baking Show), LOTS of quilting (I’m taking several terrific online classes), and too much time on the computer.

We are visiting with our kids and grandkids nearly daily between Facetime and Zoom. Zoom is particularly fun because we can see everyone at once and the connection is excellent. I’ve also been able to visit with my P.E.O. sisters (16 of us) on Zoom–what fun!

We’ve been heartened and absolutely amazed at how our nation’s educators, school districts, and local municipalities have risen to the occasion to keep their students fed, safe, engaged, and supported. Check out this amazing video created by educators in the Corning-Painted Post (NY) School District where our son and daughter-in-law teach.

The church we still belong to in Maine continues to do amazing work and is keeping our church family together through live streaming prayer services, Bible study, and Sunday worship. It’s been so important for us to maintain those connections. Bible study on Zoom with my pastor and other dear friends continues to be a real lifeline for me.

“Home is where the heart is.” For us, home is also where we park it. On March 13th, the sale of our “sticks and bricks” house on Mount Desert Island finally closed, so these 36 feet of trailer are “all we have.” It is a relief to not have the house, but also feels a bit strange.

Did you know that there are ONE MILLION full-time RV’ers in the US? We have received several questions from friends wondering whether we will be able to find a place to stay once the BLM closes the LTVA we’re in, in April, because there are many reports in the news of campgrounds closing . Yes. We have decided to stay put in Quartzsite for the foreseeable future. We too have been keeping abreast of closures of state parks, some national park campgrounds and facilities, as well as an increasing number of private campgrounds. We are glad that we’ve been able to secure a spot in a local private campground here in Quartzsite for April 15-at least Sept 15. We can come back to the BLM land (desert) as of Sept 15 but if it’s still very, very hot, we may just stay put in the private campground where we can run our AC’s! (Solar just doesn’t provide enough power to run AC’s.)

Life feels alien right now, and hard. But we’re uplifted by the resilience of life demonstrated here on the desert by these saguaro and other plants and animals.

A seemingly healthy saguaro cactus, despite significant damage near the bottom.
It is hard to believe they can survive this much damage! Is this from animals looking for water, or insects, or???
If a tree were girdled like this, it would be long dead!

Since our last post (March 6), so much has changed. For all of us.

We hope that this post finds you self-isolated, safe, and healthy!

Arizona, Mid-Spring: Feels like summer to US!

First things first.

We hope that all of you and those you love are staying healthy during the COVID-19 pandemic. But we know it is likely not true for some of you. Our thoughts are with you.

We are fortunate that the known case count here in LaPaz county is still only 7. However, that may be because the county has only tested a handful of people. We are sure there are more infected people around, so we are taking as many precautions as we can when we go out, particularly when we have to go to Phoenix, which is the primary virus hot spot for Arizona.

We have moved from our winter home on the desert to the commercial campground in Quartzsite that Kathe mentioned in the last post. It is already quite hot (105 today, and even hotter tomorrow), so we may need to reconsider our plans to stay in Quartzsite for the summer. Time will tell—stay tuned. Thank goodness for “shore power,” so we can run the ACs; it still stays comfortable in the RV.

Cacti are blooming!

So… what to do? What to do? We’re riding our bikes around town, which is now constrained to the (very) early morning. We hope to build up our endurance, but for now with the shape we’re in and the heat, we’re limiting our rides to about 7 or 8 miles. I know…we’re pikers! Trying to get out most days.

Quartzsite has several miles of bike paths alongside the town streets . We use the paths where we can, and ride the quiet side streets when necessary. We’ve been able to do lots of exploring and enjoy the lizards and quail that often dart in front of us.

All of the street names in town are designated with a compass direction: North, South, East, or West. Part of this is probably to be able to visualize where a street is without checking a map, but c’mon. The town is just not that big. (We’re not in Washington, DC!)

But there is another reason. Being in the desert, the town is riven with washes, those paths that drain heavy rains out of the nearby mountains.

One of the larger washes through town.

The very first piece of advice we got about camping on the desert here back in 2018 was, “Don’t camp in a wash!” Ya think???

Some roads cross the washes on bridges. Some roads just follow the terrain down into the wash and back up. “Do not enter when flooded” signs are a common sight in town.

But some roads… ummm… don’t. Some roads simply stop on one side of the wash and then pick up again on the other side. For instance, West Cowell isn’t connected to East Cowell at all. Pro tip: Not all in-car navigation systems are aware of this!

Here, the road just drops down into the wash and back out again.
Good advice!
In Montana, this would be for snow. Not here!

While we’re out and around biking the side streets we notice that lots of the plants are flowering. As we go past the same places with each day’s rides, we notice that bud to blossom to past is sometimes the matter of only two or three days. As always, click on a picture below to see a larger version.

We’ve also noticed that cottontail bunny rabbits are almost as abundant as squirrels are back east. They seem to be a lot more skittish, though. We haven’t been able to get a picture of one for the blog yet.

There is also a fair amount of “public art” around town. This is not commissioned art in parks, downtown squares (of which there aren’t any), etc., but art of various types put up by property owners.

Kokopelli dancing
A saguaro cactus from welding tanks and caps.
A decorated (real) saguaro

There is a spindly cactus out here called an ocotillo; it has tiny leaves, which limits moisture loss through transpiration. Out at the edge of town on one of the bike paths there is an ocotillo made of rebar. (It loses even less moisture through transpiration!)

Ocotillo out in the desert
Ocotillo blossoms
Rebar ocotillo!

Kathe’s major activity for the past several weeks is helping to produce our Bar Harbor church’s streamed worship service. Each week’s process is getting more and more efficient as she becomes more familiar with the tools she’s using, primarily the Audacity audio editor and the OpenShot video editor.

Kathe is also quilting up a storm, taking several online courses enjoying learning about free motion quilting something she had never tried before.

Project from Kathe’s Precision Piecing class with Philippa Naylor

I’m puttering at the computer (is that “’putering“?) to learn some new programming tools and some new photography techniques. Two of my hobby projects are writing a program to plot historical Covid data, and rationalizing about 15 years of backups. (How many copies of the Quicken database from 2008 do I really need?) I’m also reading a lot, generally alternating a new book with one I’ve enjoyed before, sort of brain “comfort food.”

We continue to watch a lot of streamed TV. Some of our new favorites are The Great British Baking Show and Schitt’s Creek on Netflix, and Blue Murder, Line of Duty, and Silent Witness on Amazon Prime.

If you’ve found (or rediscovered) one or more favorites to stream, please drop recommendations in the comments! We only have enough queued up to last us through 2022.

We know that we are very fortunate, since we are both healthy, continue to have an income, and have a place in which to shelter away from others. There are so many who don’t have those things right now. I’m probably even more fortunate since I’m an introvert. Social distancing—let’s make that physical distancing—is easier for me than it is for extroverts like Kathe.

So…what are YOU doing? And HOW are you? A wise person recently told me, “It is OK to not be OK.”

We’ll write again soon, even if just to say “same ol’, same ol’.” Keeping in touch is important, especially now.

-Al & Kathe

Hey! There’s a Pebble in My Hair!

You know it has been a good ride when you find a pebble in your hair!

When I was young, I always thought it would be fun to have a go-kart. And Al always said he wanted a Jeep — you know, the kind where you can feel the air blowing through your hair.

Not to be totally outdone by Scarlett (our red F350) and Rhett (our RV), here are Vivien and Clark—our new cargo trailer and Polaris RZR XP 1000 Trails and Rocks Edition! (RZR is pronounced “razor.”)

Vivien, being chaperoned by Scarlet and Rhett.
We don’t have a “Toy Hauler,” but now we have a toy! Introducing Clark.

Yeah, that’s right. Some would say we’re having some sort of a mid-life crisis. But nah…we’re just havin’ fun! Living on the desert for another year means that there’s LOTS to explore. We have lots of friends who have side-by-sides (what they’re called here) and who ride out on the desert for all-day frolics.

So far, we’ve gone out every day for a week and we’re HAVING A BLAST! We’re adding some accessories to make it easier to carry stuff (extra gas, extra water, spare tire…).

It is so much fun to ride out on the miles and miles of trails that are accessible in our area. It reminds me very much of the snowmobile trail systems in NH and Maine. We know that we will run into far more people on their side-by-sides in the winter but for now, we’ve pretty much got the trails to ourselves (except for the roadrunners, quail, and desert bunnies).

Al having a whole lot of fun!
Al having a whole lot of fun!
Kathe rarin' to go!
Kathe rarin’ to go!

The trail maps that are available both in paper copy and electronically are not 100% accurate but we have a ‘track me’ mapping program on Al’s phone that assures us that we’ll always being able to return from whence we came.

Our longest trip so far was 35 miles, the first of many trips we plan to take in the KOFA (King of Arizona) National Wildlife Refuge. It’s more than a half million acres and stunning. The trip took us a several hours—no land speed records here: we seem to average about 10 MPH! The trails can be pretty bumpy and tons of fun. There were some great hills and dips—and I’m sure that with experience, we’ll venture farther and hit some bigger hills–what goes up must come down, right? Wheeeeeeeeeeee!

Because we’re not yet completely set up for self-rescue, for instance to change tires, we’re limiting our first escapes (escapades?) to the area near the town. But even there, there are things to surprise us. For instance there are petroglyphs in Quartzsite! Who knew?

Petroglyphs just a few miles from home (contrast significantly enhanced).
More petroglyphs, next to the others (also contrast enhanced)

There are other signs of earlier people here, some possibly ancient. Near the petroglyphs are mortar grinding holes.

Grinding holes

We also have nearby intaglios. These are much smaller than the ones in Blythe that we wrote about last year, and we have no information about how old they are.

Intaglios

There are also signs of early non-indigenous settlers, remains of foundations, cisterns, and cabins.

One of the more complete remains in the area.

On one of our rides, we found a marble quarry. (Al has already made all the jokes about cat’s eyes and shooters, so don’t bother!) So far I have been unable to find any record of it in the AZ Geological Survey material available online, but there are modern “No Trespassing,” and “Restricted area” signs, but no signs of activity. There is a satellite antenna on the office roof, possibly for Internet. Who knows.

The quarry area is large, not much is visible from the road/trail.

There are also desert artifacts from the current population. For instance, a golf course!

With a sofa to await your tee time, we guess!
Probably disc golf, since the “hole” is about 15 feet in diameter!

The machine is new and its drivers are inexperienced. We’re each breaking the other in. We’re taking it somewhat easy on Clark until its first service (which won’t be too long from now at this rate). We’re learning about driving on different surfaces; hard-packed desert floor is very different from the deep, loose, gravel that forms the beds of the washes. The trails we’ve been riding so far are relatively flat, with only occasional down hills and rises going into and out of washes. “You mean I have to drive up (down) THAT????” There are more challenging surfaces to come. When we’re equipped to leave the immediate Quartzsite area (leave the nest?), we’ll head toward the mountains nearby. There, the trails become much more challenging. And FUN!

We’ve gone toward the mountains to our west; the foothills are actually just a few miles out of town.

Here is an overview of a trail we took. It was our most challenging to date.

We’ve been sharing the driving and we both love it!

Here is what some of it looked like to us. Warning: this clip is sped up 2x, to give a flavor of some of the types of trails here without taking forever.

Yes, this is also playing at 2X normal speed. Whew!

You can see that there is an established network of trails; we’re not just riding willy-nilly across the desert. In fact, “off road,” i.e., off trail travel is prohibited here on the BLM and USFS land. One wonders how all these trails were established. Before regulations? Maybe we’ll find out this coming winter when there will be many (many!) more riders on the trails.

Many of these trails have even been given identification numbers by the BLM.

Desert street signs

There is a lot of beauty here on the desert. Different plants have been blooming across the past several weeks. We now have saguaro, ocotillo, and the beautiful pink ironwood trees in bloom.

Saguaro blooms
Saguaro, staghorn cholla, and ocatillo. No social distancing for them!
We’ve never seen a saguaro with this many arms before. But we’re still new here!
Ironwood

Jumping cholla cactus will stick to ANYTHING! They have barbed needles that are extremely sharp. Al had an encounter with one at Joshua Tree NP last year. It looks like Clark had an encounter today! No, I’m not about to try to take it off—until I figure out how to do it safely.

Clark is an “off-road vehicle.” It is fortunate that the back gate of our current RV park opens to parts of the trail system around town. However, there are other sections of the trails which require traveling on the public roads. This means for now that we have to put the RZR into its trailer and pull it to a trailhead. However, in Arizona and several other states in the west, these machines can be made “street legal,” and operated on the road system. We have the parts on order to do that conversion, then it will simply be a matter of waiting for the Motor Vehicle Department, which at this point is very backlogged. That will make it much simpler to make more use of the trails around here. It will also be very nice to not have to take Scarlett every time we want to go into town!

More fun to come!

It’s great to get our side-by-side feet under us when the trails are so quiet. We try to get back before the heat of the day or later in the day. Our good friends from Montana (who introduced Al to their side-by-side last year) will return to Q later this year – can’t wait to do some trail rides together.