Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Clarkia pulchella, blooming in the "new" prairie, 6/22/10

It is spectacular, but a bit deceiving. More significant for the long term are the small clumps of bluish-green Idaho fescue that you can see coming up in the foreground, along with sprouts of various other plants I put in last fall. Clarkia in the wild, and in the more-established parts of the prairie, are usually a few blooms on a little plant maybe eight inches tall. These shrub-sized monsters are the result of not much competition and a very wet Spring. There will be enough seed from these to seed the entire property and then some, and by next year they will be integrated into a more natural landscape. Having an annual plant like this to put in at this early stage is great, though, because it does help to keep out invasive non-native plants and it is a welcome bit of inspiration for the continuing work. Several species in the more established parts of the prairie are just beginning to bloom: lupine, scarlet gilia, yarrow, cinquefoil, and gallardia. When they reach their full glory I will post an image or two.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Well, I've done it now. I made a video of myself playing Louis Moreau Gottschalk's "The Banjo" on the fretless gourd banjo and posted that on YouTube. Then I went to Wikipedia and edited the entry on Gottschalk's "The Banjo," and linked the video to it. Whoever had written the Wikipedia entry on Gottschalk's "Banjo" had cited my article (see below) but apparently not entirely understood it. YouTube seems to have messed with my crisp image somewhat, and the titles are fuzzy too, but...good enough, I say. I will probably record the version of the piece for the CD in the next few weeks, now that it's all sharp and under my fingers. When I play live, I treat it like banjo music and I feel free to mess with things a bit as the mood strikes me, but for these recordings I wanted to follow the piano music as closely as I can.

The article that I published in the early 90's on this explains a lot of what I'm doing here; essentially I back-engineered how the piece would have been played by using what I argue was a kind of piano "sound recording" of an actual (though unnamed) African-American banjo player in New Orleans, c. 1853. I am for the most part following what I outlined in the article, except that since then (I had to take a few years to build the banjo and then figure out how to play it) I came up with a different way to play an important part of the piece. I switch to an up-picking rolling style that sounds more like what the piano is doing, and I think it points out more of a connection to West African plucked lute styles, not unlike fast textures on the ngoni or kora. This switching back and forth between "downstroking," or "frailing," and up-picking is common in West African plucked lute playing, though is not a traditional part of surviving American banjo playing--in fact no other evidence of it survives. Though it really annoyed S. Frederick Starr, the author of the current authoritative biography of Gottschalk, I think the most powerful evidence that Gottschalk made this piece by transcribing the playing of some unnamed African-American banjo player is right here in this recording of the music. No way could he get that close to actual banjo music without sitting down with somebody and copying to the best of his ability everything the musician did. Was poet Gwendolyn Brooks justified in railing against Gottschalk's beginning the great American tradition of white musicians stealing the awesome musical genius of African-Americans (her poem is reprinted in my article)? I think so, that he should have given credit somehow, but still I'm glad he did what he did, or else this tradition would not have been preserved in any other documentary evidence.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Prickly lettuce, mustard, stork's bill, salsify, and sow thistle dying in the prairie, 6/10/10

This is the dark side of making Palouse prairie.

At first glance, an expanse of green, but look closer and you'll see that the plants are curling up. Underneath them, Festuca idahoensis and Agripyron spicatum (the two main native grass species I have planted) are coming up very well, but the wet and warm Spring has unleashed a serious onslaught of weeds in the areas that I cleared and planted with grass. This image was shot from the same spot as the other shots of the new prairie, except that I pointed the camera south instead of west-northwest. This is the worst spot on the property for weeds, but it demonstrates why I have to make use of the dreaded 2-4-D, which kills broadleaf weeds but leaves the grass unscathed. After the grass is established, the weeds can't get in as easily. Elsewhere, I have only had to spray individual weed plants. But the fact is that anyone who thinks they could pull this stuff out by hand is nuts.

So all day long last Tuesday, all day long today, and probably several hours tomorrow (I have to wait for a day without rain and wind, rare this Spring), I have had to walk backwards with four gallons of evil on my back. Since these areas are the last on the property to be planted, I shouldn't have to confront such a nasty situation in the future. I look forward to the end of spraying herbicide, that's for sure.