Friday, August 29, 2008

Summer is ending

The oaks in our yard are dropping acorns, the day lilies have finished blooming and our little vegetable garden is done for the year. While it's a little sad to see the summer go, September is always beautiful here in Maine and I love the light this time of year. I find that I have become more aware of the difference in the light through the seasons in the last few years. Maybe it's because I can't focus so well anymore - normal conditions for people my age. This time of year the light has a golden hue that isn't there in the spring.

We have five or six more outside engagements and then we're inside for the next six months. It is easier to stay in tune when we are inside. There are 56 strings total on the harp, guitar, and fiddles.

Tomorrow we're doing an historical concert in Pemaquid. In addition to the regular kit we'll have the baroque guitar and harp. Both of them are bears to tune under the best of conditions. The harp has bronze strings which are very touchy.

The guitar has 10 friction pegs and tied-on frets, so you have to tune the frets, too.

Here's a close up of the rosette. Everybody asks about this when they see it. As far I can tell it has no acoustic effect to speak of. Whatever effect it might have is very subtle. The inner rosette is made from parchment and has five levels.

Tuning has always been an issue for Castlebay. Theoriginal quartette (circa 1987) had an autoharp, two 12-string guitars, 3 classic guitars, one six string guitar, a bass, a cello, a violin, a 5-string viola (really!) a four octave harp, and sometimes a bowed psaltry! That would be 148 (without the psaltry) - not to mention the wind section or the piano.

We have done a few concerts over the years with our friends Nik Apollonio and Kristen Tescher. We are thinking about scheduling one this autumn. Nik plays 12-string guitar, 10-string cittern and 5-string fiddle. Kristen plays a double strung harp (72 strings), 12-string guitar and fiddle. That would put us at 171 strings unless Nik brings along the 10-string mandoline, too.

I keep the 12-string in dropped D tuning almost all the time and usually have a capo on it somewhere. It plays in better tune with the 11th string at .060".

It also helps to grove the capo for the wound strings. You can get the rubber sleeves for Shubb capos for about 90¢ from American Musical Supply. They do wear out, so it pays to have a spare in the guitar case.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Gustorial Delights on Grand Manan

We went to Canada last week for a couple of Elder Hostel programs on Campobello Island and an R&R on Grand Manan. The organizers for the Elder Hostel put us up in the Prince Cottage, which is next door to the Roosevelte Cottage. Both houses are part of the International Park. It is very chic and the food is great. Campobello is in Canada but is only accessible from Lubec, Maine. Campobello has an interesting history. It was a hereditary proprietary of the Owen family from 1767 until 1857, run almost like a feudal fiefdom!

In July and August a private ferry runs between Campobello and Deer Island, NB. Rather than drive all the way around to Calais and cross the border there we took the little ferry to Deer Island, and a second ferry to Letite, on the mainland. The double-ended ferry lands on the beach. There is a little tug attached to a big hinge on the side which pushes the barge. It holds about a dozen cars. It's quite a maneuver to back the barge out and reverse the direction of the tug while spinning the ferry 270°.

The ferry off the other end of Deer Island is a little bigger and the ferries to Grand Manan are serious boats! The Grand Manan V can take 65 cars and 350 passengers. While were driving through the blueberry fields in Washington County I had remarked to Julia that all the blueberry desserts we had eaten were too fancy and that somebody should serve blueberries and cream, straight up. Well, this is what we found in the canteen on the big ferry. Yum!

When we landed on Grand Manan there was a church blueberry dessert social - where there were dozens of blueberry sweeties of various kinds. Kind of ironic.

The weather was beautiful while we were there. It had been rainy and foggy all summer until last week. After a concert at the Convert Hall we looked forward to a couple of days of relaxing. The herring haven't come in yet, so there weren't any whales. Whale Cove is where the Right Whales come to have their calves. They follow the herring in. One of these trips we'll see them. There are only about 350 of them left. Everybody blames entanglement in fishing gear for whale deaths but actually more of them are killed being hit by ships. They are kind of slow and like to float - which is why there were the first whale hunted to near extinction - starting in the 17th century.

Even though there weren't any whales geology is very interesting. There are basalt columns that are reminiscent of the Giants Causeway in Antrim. We did some beach walking and collected a handful of stone for Julia's Stones of the Western World collection. She has stones from Maine, Canada, several beaches in Scotland and Ireland. The amazing thing is that some of the stones from Muscongus Island, two miles from here, are identical to stones she picked up near Findhorn.

The days were great - the nights were a challenge. The B&B we were booked into was an old place with small rooms, which doesn't bother us, but the bed wasn't level. The room was too small to turn the bed so we spent the night climbing to the upper edge while the blankets slid off the opposite side. Our friend Russ, when we told him our tale of woe, told us we should have blocked up the low side of the bed by putting the legs in my shoes. A good trick that I'll have to remember should we be in that situation again.

On our way out I ran into John P. on the ferry, who played Captain Rowan when The Grand Design was performed on Grand Manan last summer. He invited us for lunch and a private whisky tasting. After admiring the view, shooting the breeze, and eating some sandwiches, John brought out a menu of single malts for us to choose from! We tried several, some smoky tasting ones, some milder ones, and one 25 year, cask-strength whisky. Although there is only one road and it isn't easy to get lost, we didn't think it would be prudent to try them all in one afternoon.

Before we left we picked up some dulse. Grand Manan dulse is the best there is. Real seaweed connoisseurs claim that the very best grow on the west side of the island. The dulse we picked up was on the southeast side. We purchased a couple of pounds from the island store, too. We like to give it to the actors when we do the Grand Design so they can appreciate what it would be like to have nothing else to eat for three months. The dulse in the picture was drying on the shore at Whale Cove.

We had a private function (euphemism for wedding) in Gouldsboro on Saturday. On the way there we stopped to pick some free range blueberries by the side of the road. Maybe we'll make a fresh blueberry pie like they serve at Helen's Restaurant. Its just a pie shell filled with whipped cream and fresh fruit - simple, elegant, tasty.

Why is it I'm always writing about food?

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Sunday, August 3, 2008

We did it!

Our production of The Grand Design show have ke ran for two performances last month. Getting ready, dealing with the inevitable emergencies, building set, rehearsing, and cleaning up after thept us pretty busy. Here is the set - constructed of borrowed sails. The projector was rigged about 20 feet off the floor which worked really well for the images.

Photos from the Show

Leaving Ireland

The Wedding

The Dangers of the Sea

We had a storm scene where the sail fell down, there was a lightning effect, stormy music and a mighty crash. It was one of the best productions of the show to date. We had great support from Harmony, who directed, and from our tech crew, Claire (projections), Richard (sound), and Matt (lights).

The Grand Design was part of a bigger event, Wabanaki Days

Here are some random pictures of some of the 25 events that happened over the space of seven days. There were people involved from the Penobscot and Passamaquaddy tribes in addition to authors, film-makers and historians.

Julia, Rev Bobby Ives, Passamaquoddy elder Diana Frances, Fred at Sunrise service on Sunday morning

John Bear Mitchell telling the story of Racoon at Beachcombers' Rest Nature Center

Butch Phillips explaining traditional birch bark canoe construction

The Little Eagles Passamaquoddy Youth Drum

The Garden continues...

We did take the time to walk in the garden every morning. The parade of daylillies is just now winding down. This fellow found a nice spot for the day. I don't know where he went when the blossom faded.