September 28, 2010

Bowling, Softball, & Poetry

I’ve had the chance to go bowling a few times over the past year. It’s something that I haven’t done in a long time and I predicted that my first foray back on the alleys would go something like this: gutter ball, gutter ball, gutter ball, strike, gutter ball, gutter ball...

I'm happy to say that my prediction was almost perfect, well, except for the strike part. LOL!

All kidding aside, I was actually quite a bit better at it than I thought I would be. I was able to roll a few spares. Then, there was that moment when I put enough spin on the ball for it to hit home in the pocket between the 1 and 3 pins, knocking them all down with a crash that sounded like the most beautiful thunder. Ah, that was thrilling! :)

I did even better my second time at the bowling alley. I got 4 strikes, 3 spares, no gutter balls, and a partridge in a pear tree. I even made the bowling shoes look good. LOL!

I've noticed that I do really well the first game and then it's downhill from there. My score drops quite drastically when I play a second game. Oh well. I'll try to build on it the next time I go bowling, which will probably be in three years or so...

It all reminded me of the softball team that we had put together at work last summer. We found out that there was an established league at Stony Brook, so our department decided to put a team together and throw our hats into the ring. We cleverly called our team the "Road Warriors." Someone designed a logo and we had beautiful uniforms and hats made up. It was all wonderful--until we got on the field. We were awful. The season lasted for 16 games and our team lost 16 games. LOL.

But it was fun and we had a lot of laughs. It also felt really good to be involved in sports again, something I haven't done in a really long time. It was great to feel the bat connect with the pitch, sending the impact up my arm, then watching the ball fly deep into the outfield. To run the bases and cross home plate. Ah, so much fun!
I also participate in the Annual Jack Kerouac Softball Game. We have two teams of poets: The Northport Zen Tigers, managed by former Suffolk County Poet Laureate George Wallace, and the North Sea Dharma Hawks, managed by current Suffolk County Poet Laureate Tammy Nuzzo-Morgan. It’s a fun game that usually ends in a BBQ and pool party.

Speaking of Poets Laureate, there was a celebration dinner held on May 2 of this year to honor the poets laureate of Suffolk and Nassau Counties. The coordinator of this beautiful gathering asked me to perform some classical guitar for the event and I was more than happy to do so. You can see some video footage of it by clicking HERE. 

"Yet I will rejoice in the Lord,
I will joy in the God of my salvation."

~Habakkuk 3:18


September 25, 2010

Porcupine Tree

The bottom corner of my bedroom mirror is the holding place where I keep all of the tickets to concerts that I will be attending. Recently, tickets for Stone Temple Pilots and Yes concerts have graced that spot for a short time. However, the very corner of the mirror has had one ticket sitting in place since early February, up until last night. It's kind of strange that tickets went of sale so early for a concert in late September, but such was the case with Porcupine Tree at Radio City Music Hall.

Porcupine Tree is a band that I still think of as new, even though they've been formed since 1992 and have 10 studio albums to their credit. If you're not familiar with them, they are sort of an eclectic progressive rock band. Their music is experimental and dynamic, ranging from the psychedelic and ambient to searing rock guitar riffs. As frontman, Steve Wilson, explains, “One of the beauties of music – one of the reasons it’s still the greatest art-form, even over cinema – is that it demands so much of the person that experiences it, as well as those that create it."

Some of their albums are: "Deadwing," "Stupid Dream," "In Absentia," "Signify," and "The Incident." Though, my favorite Porcupine Tree album is definitely 2007's "Fear of a Blank Planet." It features 6 masterfully written pieces, including the 17-minute "Anesthetize," which I think is one of the greatest songs every caught on an album. The album also has guest appearances by Alex Lifeson of Rush and King Crimson's Robert Fripp.

Now, I have seen Porcupine Tree in concert in the past and they have always been great, but nothing that I had experienced before prepared me for the 3-hour epic concert I was going to witness at Radio City Music Hall. 

The show began in an unusual way. Starting time on the ticket was 8:00 PM and they were on the stage by 8:05, seated and sporting a very minimal set up: acoustic guitars, upright bass, small drum kit, very little lighting. They went on to play through 5 songs that were unfamiliar to my ear. The sound was good, though the atmosphere was very laid back. The vibe struck me as kind of odd and a little anti-climactic. As they finished up their last acoustic number, they announced that they would be back in a few minutes, and walked off of the stage. The road crew proceeded to rearrange the entire stage with the house lights still out and one irritating keyboard note droning over the PA system the whole time.

I was just asking myself if I was really enjoying the direction of the concert, when suddenly the rear stage curtains parted revealing a much more extensive set-up: monster drum set, huge keyboard rack. The band reemerged at once and launched into an electrifying evening of songs, old and new. The sound was phenomenal. The drums and bass were deep and powerful. The guitar tones were mouth-watering. The keyboards and vocals crisp and clear; all adding up to a symphony of progressive rock that was a 5-star feast for the ears. The concert also showed Porcupine Tree utilizing elaborate stagecraft. A screen behind the band stretched from one end of the stage to the other, lighting up the hall with grand images and graphics. It was a high-octane performance that had me teetering on the edge of my seat and cheering wildly. 

About 90 minutes into the show, they announced a ten-minute intermission. The house lights once again stayed down and a timer appeared on the screen rolling down from the 10 minute mark. As the last ten seconds ticked off, the audience joined in the countdown: "10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1..." Before anyone could yell "Blast Off," the band erupted into the opening bars of their latest album. It was fantastic! They continued to play another hour and a half worth of songs. By the time 11:00 came around and they were finishing up their encore of "Arriving Somewhere Not Here," I was feeling well-rocked and completely satisfied. 


This was a magnificent performance and instantly earned a spot on my "All-Time Top Concerts" short list. Definitely worth the 8-month wait...

"He shall not be afraid of evil tidings:
his heart is fixed, trusting in the LORD."

~Psalm 112:7


September 23, 2010

Harvest Moon, Crab Meadow Sun

Happy Autumnal Equinox! I hope you got a chance to look at the Harvest Moon. Since looking at that beautiful, glowing orb this morning, I've had vaudeville-era lyrics on my mind all day:

Oh, Shine on, shine on, harvest moon/Up in the sky/I ain't had no lovin'/Since April, January, June or July/Snow time ain't no time to stay/Outdoors and spoon/So shine on, shine on, harvest moon/For me and my gal.

(Interestingly, about 15 years ago, I went into the recording studio to do a hard rock version of "Shine On, Harvest Moon." I have no idea where those recordings are; I haven't seen or heard them in ages, which is probably for the best. LOL.)

Well, I have to say that the first day of Fall felt like an ideal Summer day--80 degrees, clear blue skies, sunny with no humidity. I'm glad that the nice weather is going to hang on for a little while longer; it gives me the chance to do some last minute outdoor exploring.

There is a place that I pass every day on my way to work that I have been meaning to check out for a long time. It's called Caleb Smith State Park. Its brown sign would beckon to me every morning and the long stretch of wilderness along Jericho Turnpike only increased my curiosity. With today being such a glorious day, I decided to pay it a visit.

As I pulled through the gates and approached the guard booth, a girl in a park ranger outfit came out to greet me. I asked her what was inside and she told me that they have a pond where one can go flyfishing, an ecology museum, and several hiking trails. She went on to tell me that entrance was free with my Empire State Beach Sticker. I was quickly parked and walking...

The first thing that I came to as I entered the park was the North Willow Pond. It is a man-made pond that was built in 1795 through the damming of the Whitman Stream. I learned that the pond served as a source of power for the North Willow Pond Mill, as it was known in those days. The water sparkled in the afternoon sun as the forest's reflections danced on the surface.

Next, I came to the Caleb Smith House. The building was originally built as a two-story farmhouse in 1751. Today, it houses the park's museum, standing proud amid its wooded surroundings.

Inside, I followed a path of ladybugs through an ecological learning center, passing displays of habitats and woodland creatures.

In the museum's Arts & Crafts Room, I encountered two children who agreed to give me an impromptu puppet show. I couldn't quite follow the plot, but their performance made me smile none the less. Ah, so innocent and refreshing... :)

I proceeded to take to the woods. I can happily say that Caleb Smith State Park's system of nature trails is perhaps the best that I've ever hiked. Usually when I go hiking, my internal compass lets me keep my bearings, but such was not the case here. The paths run deep into the forest, crossing over each other, and veering off on to great scenic excursions. It was the first time that I have ever gotten completely lost in a nature preserve. At one point, I had a Blair Witch moment--after hiking straight on one trail for nearly an hour, I passing the same spot in the woods two times. I also didn't come across any other people the whole time I was out there. It was a little bit spooky, but cool and fun! Great experience!
With a little bit of daylight still remaining, I decided to head over to Crab Meadow Beach to watch the sunset. It was wonderful to feel the warm sand between my toes again, to see the seagulls in flight and to hear the gentle caress of the waves against the coast. I enjoyed the haphazard beauty of the shells and chunks of driftwood that littered the shoreline. I was feeling so serene. There's nothing quite like a walk on the beach as the sun begins to set; strolling along the water's edge and dipping one's feet into the sea, always invigorating! Something about that feeling for me is an immediate reminder of carefree days, of beautiful moments and warm memories.

Beautiful day! It started with the Harvest Moon and ended with a sunset on the beach. Wonderful...

“Finally, brethren, whatever things are true,
whatever things are noble, whatever things are just,
whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely,
whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue
and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things.
The things which you learned and received and heard and saw in me,
these do, and the God of peace will be with you.”

~Philippians 4:8-9

September 20, 2010

Sands Point Medieval Festival

Yesterday, I took a ride out to Sands Point Preserve in Port Washington to attend their annual Medieval Festival.

Sands Point is a 162-acre preserve that features two structures: the Castle Gould and the Hempstead House. Castle Gould is a beautiful limestone residence with an enchanting clock face built into its facade. Interestingly, Castle Gould was constructed to be the main home of the Goulds, however, upon its completion in 1904, Mrs. Gould decided that she didn't like the castle so the Hempstead House was erected. Castle Gould was relegated to being a stable and servants’ quarters. Today, it houses a museum that often showcases dinosaur and insect exhibits.

The Hempstead house is an opulent Tudor-style Manor that was completed in 1912. This massive structure has 3 floors, 40 rooms, and an 80-foot tower.

The grassy field that separates the two buildings made up the Medieval Festival grounds. As I strolled around, I was entertained by a labyrinth of puppetry theatres, archery competitions, wandering minstrels playing Renaissance songs on lutes and pipes, jesters juggling pins and spinning plates, jousting tournaments, fashion shows, Maypole dances, royal court proceedings, blacksmith shops displaying ornate swords and armor, dueling knights, and various crafters and merchants dealing floral garlands, pewter, jewelry, tapestries, and leather goods.

The preserve itself consists of several marked hiking trails spanning quite a few different types of habitats: forests, lawns, meadows and young woodlands, a freshwater pond, and a shoreline with high cliffs. The beach is beautiful with its wooden pylons jutting from the Long Island Sound. A very peaceful location, the vistas that it offers are very soothing to the spirit. The hiking trails already exude the feeling of a medieval forest; with stone bridges and unusual rock and tree formations, one half expects a procession of Lords & Ladies to ride out of the woods on horseback. I spent the entire afternoon at Sands Point Preserve, steeping myself in all things Renaissance, and enjoying every moment of the last weekend of Summer 2010.

Today, may your heart feel chivalrous and noble! Cheers!

"The Lord is my light and my salvation--
whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold of my life--
of whom shall I be afraid?"

~Psalm 27:1