Thursday, February 8, 2007

Weekly Postings and other Balderdash

Hikers: This missive was constructed for Verde Valley Village, AZ, but anything valuable about Rocks is pertinent for Utah. Karen Hughes, our digital photographer developed the PIX of the unruly beasts (see attachments):


You might not recognize the “critters” mentioned in the title, but you’ve got ‘em in Arizona. Dick Berg, Verde Village’s illustrious maintenance man, is certainly aware of them. Every spring, at the irrigation ditch used to supplement the Verde Village pond, he has to contend with them. Regardless of iron dams, concrete barriers, and rebar driven into the ditch to keep the water from being drained, there they are, making many two-inch holes to the outer world. There goes the irrigation water, which fed the pumps used for moving the staff of life necessary to keep the fish and ducks alive in the pond. You guessed it- Crawdads, and mighty tasty morsels they are to us “erudite”.

I can see them now- a steaming plate of tails- repulsive in every detail (except to the palate). Jambalaya, crawfish pie or fillet gumbo, the shrimp of the mud hole. But they are hardly known outside the deep South: Louisiana, Arkansas, or East Texas. Close your eyes though, because these prehistoric-looking creatures are very good to eat; and I should know, since I was raised in Crawdad County, Arkansas. That’s not Clinton’s home, but he should be knowledgeable about this most formidable member of the lobster family. And anyone who has “fished the bank” in Western waters should have been turned off by them, when he has used stink bait. There they are- holding onto his dead meat bait with their horrendous claws. But just as stoutly the “erudite” quickly pulls off the shrimp-like tail and plops the whole thing onto his fishhook. The most “erudite” of piscatorial pluckers removes the outer amour and uses only the tail half of the tasty white seafood for the “discerning trout”. All the while singing in the key of C (which goes so well with my discerning guitar):

You get a line, and I’ll get a pole, honey;

You get a line and I’ll get a pole, babe.

Oh- you get a line and I’ll get a pole,

And we’ll go down to the crawdad hole- Honey, Baby of mine.

Now there comes a man with a sack on his back, Honey;

There comes a man with a sack on his back, Babe.

Well, there comes a man with a sack on his back,

And watch those crawdads backing back- Honey, Baby of mine.

Well, what’cha gonna do when the lake goes dry, Honey?

Whatcha gonna do when the lake goes dry, Babe?

Well whatcha gonna do when the lake goes dry?

Gonna sit on the bank and watch the crawdads die- Honey Baby of mine.

Now you might not be sitting there, misty-eyed, imagination soaring, stomach machinating at the thought of these dauntless lobsters- which move backwards at the speed of underwater sound. But in Louisiana, there is a whole culture built around these marsh crustaceans. Each Spring, under the influence of the primeval urge, they can be seen moving in mass migrations. And just as predictable, there are the coon-asses (Acadians), waiting with their dip nets. Move fast though, because, first they go the wrong way- backwards- and secondarily, they are as fast as fish (which mightily desire to swallow them whole).

Being lazier, what I do is to wait until mid-July around the Western lakes. Then I go out in the early morn, to sunlit waters unblemished by mountain winds, and watch for the sluggish females, which are heavy with young. They like the protection of shallow depressions in six-inch water depths, where they deliver their young (by the thousands). One has merely has to bend down and pick ‘em up. Grasp them by the mid-section, to avoid those painful claws, and carry a bucket on a neck strap for the harvest. It takes about a hundred of these monsters for each diner (one tail produces one bite).

But they are easy to cook. Just bring a two gallon pot of water up to a boil, then plop them into it for 5 minutes. Don’t forget the Tabasco Sauce; add it in liberal quantities, and you’ve got a feast. Let every man-Jack take care of his own tails. That builds up your appetite, while working to get rid of that scaly protection, since no self-respectful cook who has any “erudicity” will do all that work for you. Ignore that unsightly green appendage pointing toward the “Prize”, and you’re in Coon-Ass heaven!

Harold L. Overton

Tuesday, February 6, 2007

Death Valley Orientation

Death Valley Elderhostel

O, twas in the month of March

When the sands began to parch,

And the dainty evening primrose commenced to bloom;

I sashayed out to take a hike

With some citizens- elders like

Who would hope to meet their destiny,

Not their doom.

Now their souls were all aghast,

When the zephyrs began to blast

And the dust initiated havoc from the dunes;

But they maintained a steady gaze

Though their brains were in a haze,

And their faces reminded one of sub-sea level prunes.

When they climbed unworldly crests

With gamey legs and heaving breasts,

It struck me that there was not a trace of gloom;

But they all survived with mirth

Yielding fame and glee and worth,

As they weaved Death Valley’s patterns on her loom.

Harold L. Overton

In the month of March 2001, I drove over to Beatty, Nevada where I met Glenn Wasson for a six day stay at a motel there. We were attending an Elderhostel, which was held for some 20 seniors and given by Marvey – a recently divorced lady in her 40’s. Marvey had an interest in watercolors, and would capture some local scene each day as we were having lunch. The painting which she designed would be made into a card, which could be sent out for Christmas; she would present it to one the seniors as a gift, and I eagerly anticipated receiving one. She liked canyons, but she also drew wildlife and other natural scenes while we were on hiking trips.

Before I could get one, she scheduled an evening at the local Department of Energy office, where we were to be enlightened by the local earth scientists about nuclear waste to be stored in the nearby Yucca Mountain underground dump. Not everyone attended, but I sat in the rear row and listened with interest to the young geologists. A young woman gave us the general considerations, and a fellow in his twenties showed us maps, diagrams and a cross-section of the mountain; the construction was already finished, and the storage of radioactive waste awaited political decisions in Washington, DC. The project seemed well-planned , and the earth science details were particularly attractive to me.

When the geologist had finished, he asked for questions, and as none seemed forthcoming, I held up my hand. I asked four and was starting on the fifth, when suddenly Marvey’s face loomed in front of me and she hissed “you’re taking up too much of the class’s time. I demurred, and there being no more questions, we went back to the motel. The next morning at breakfast, Marvey must have felt contrite, since she sat with me while I was eating breakfast alone. She made some polite conversation, and in passing asking what I thought about the tone of the program. I told her that I enjoyed it and that I would have a skit which I would present to the next Elderhostel for entertainment. This would enlighten some accumulation of stories which always occurred near the end of each Elderhostel. Of course she wanted to hear the story.

“Scientist X sat near the rear of the theatre where he could hear the details of the DOE presentation , giving details about Storage of Nuclear Waste in Yucca Mountain. He maintained a discreet silence until the end of the program, when he asked a few pertinent questions. ‘Was Yucca Mountain an extrusive, sir?’ he inquired of the young geologist, who immediately recognized that he was conversing with a colleague. ‘Yes indeed, it was’. ‘And was the extrusive a tuffaceous deposit, sir?’ ‘Oh, you’re quite right, sir’ ‘And was the tuff layered?’ ‘You’re getting right onto it, sir!’ ‘And was there a bit of dampness at the boundaries of the layers?’ ‘Yes, and you have hit onto the heart of the matter, not the faulting that the newsmen are always asking about, but the fluid that can carry the dissolved radioactive material away from the immediate storage site!’ As scientist X was starting to formulate the next question- did you measure the natural electrical potential at the interface where the two layers containing the dampness lay? (which would give a clear indication that the fluid was slowly moving along the boundary of the two layers). Suddenly there loomed in front of him this huge face with bulging eyes, saying ‘You’re giving away our national secrets, sir!’ Then Scientist X retired.”

Marvey seemed somehow tired and dreary, after this monologue, and I later realized that I was a bit harsh. I resolved to make it up to her, somehow; and I realized that acquiring the coveted water-coloring was now beyond my reach. I had done this as easily as falling off a dialog. I must immediately extend the olive branch of Poetry to her. I would compose a heart-felt rendition of gratitude to her before leaving the Elderhostel.

The next day, the group gathered in front of the motel waiting for the vans which would carry us to the last of the activities. Someone asked why we didn’t have a Thursday night program of Senior fun and skits, and I offered to give them my going-away rendition. Just as I commenced reading the above opening poem, Marvey marched up- just in time to hear it. There was wild acclaim for Marvey, and she thanked me with a twinkle in her eye- I was forgiven.

(I could have said that we gave her a standing ovation, but we were already standing- we would have had to give her a sitting ovation, by sitting). H.L. Overton

Sunday, February 4, 2007

The Native American Flute: An Overview

The Native American Flute: An Overview by Chris Oravec

1.Tuning and sound

Native American flutes that have been reconstructed from relics from 600-650 A.D. have a 6-hole, 6-tone base as do all modern native style flutes. The ancient flute reconstructions are playable but each are slightly different in sound since the measurements presumably were based on the size of the individual's body (an arm length for the length of the flute, a finger's width for the holes, etc.). Even today, Native American traditional flutes are tuned with quite a bit of idiosyncracy. Modern N.A. "concert-style" flutes are tuned closer to Western tuning so they can be played with other Western instruments like the guitar.

It is worthwhile to note that Western even-tempered tuning is a recent invention from the Baroque era. Before that, much medieval and Renaissance music was tuned similarly to the various "modes," such as Lydian, Dorian, and Phrygian. Though not exactly modal, the traditional Native American flute intervals sound similar. It is also worthwhile to note that N.A. flutes, like individual organ pipes, are each tuned to a specific key, such as F# or Eb, but in Minor not Major. Nevertheless, the fifth (that is, five half-steps up from the tonic) in native playing as well as Western playing is the most important interval, and dropping from the fifth to the tonic brings closure to a tune.

2. Indigenous or European?

Modern and traditional N.A. flutes have 6 notes from base note to the next highest "octave" note. Thus the intervals between notes are somewhat off according to our Western octave intervals. It is possible to play the whole chromatic scale on any N.A. modern flute but most players do not unless they are playing Western music. If some player you heard was playing "Country and Western" tunes as well as native tunes he was using chromatics as well as the base 6 notes on his flute. This requires memorizing most of the fiingering that would be required for a standard concert silver flute, so it is a bit harder overall. I do not think it is accurate at this point to suggest that the native 6-hole flute with full chromatic fingering could only have been produced by contact with Western music or instruments. The capabilities are there in the flutes themselves and how they are fingered. Not all players, however, prefer to mix native and Western tunes in one performance. Usually if they do it, it's to accommodate the expectations of the audience.

3. Construction

The oldest recorded music from the flutes is from around 1900 and it reflects traditional tuning. The instruments themselves may have been changed somewhat during the 19th century to reflect Western construction techniques. Some scholars think the "block" or "bird" and the two interior chambers that make the sound could only have come from Western influence; however, there is no evidence for this, and there are flutes from the 1830s in the Smithsonian that have a fully developed two-chamber system. Many scholars believe that the Native Americans were the only indigenous culture to develop the two-chamber system, which makes their flute construction more sophisticated than any other indigenous people.

4. I've got rhythm.

Rhythm is a different matter than tuning. The earliest recordings have an insistent rhythm, very little melodic line, and a percussive quality to their playing as if hooting sharply through the flute. Later recordings (1930s) have more melodic lines, undoubtedly from Western influence. Traditional and contemporary N.A. rhythms often follow a 4/4 or a 3/4 beat which make them compatable with marches and waltzes (in fact, all kinds of dancing, which seems reasonable), Some modern music uses other Western influenced time signatures. It is important to note that although N.A. music is very rhythmic, the timing can change according to the choices of the player and particularly notes at the end of a phrase can be extended far beyond the time signature, contributing to the plaintive quality of many tunes.

5. In Conclusion. . . .

The history of the flute is still being written. For good sources of information on the subject I suggest two websites:; and Both are noncommercial sites by two well respected researchers, Robert Gatliff and Clint Goss. These two fine musicians are not responsible for any errors or misinterpretations in this overview.

Fish hook Barrell Cactus
Eastern Nevada
Photo by Chris Oravec