Friday, March 29, 2013

Change of Pace: Musician Josh Ritter

Every time he puts out an album, it's like an old friend returning from a long absence.   You know, that friend you haven't seen for a long time.  When they show up, you feel rejuvenated and you have cause to think, reflect, and smile about those good times from long ago.  Perhaps he/she is an old friend from high school or college. And you wonder where they have been, what they were up to and what took them so long to reappear.  You have a long discussion with them.  One of those discussions where you open up and talk about things you would rather keep to yourself, but feel you need to get off your chest.  That conversation that makes you think about life, decisions, loved ones, good times, or what might have been.

We met Mr. Ritter, figuratively speaking, on the way back from a long weekend of hiking in western Montana one Sunday afternoon several years ago.  We had hiked probably 20 miles that weekend and were headed home, tired, yet rejuvenated and ready for another week of work.  It was a warm day, windows down, hair blowing in the wind, Siberian Husky fur flying, and the radio, set on KPND Sandpoint, was turned up loud. This song, which H did not care for at first, came on and I thought it had a nice ring and rhythm to it.  It was called "Right Moves," and I grew to love it.  Subsequently, I went out and bought the album and discovered a gem of a musician and artist.  H too, found that his lyrics were very smart (brilliant in many cases), insightful, and he was a local boy from Idaho!  He told great stories through his music, which was comforting and something we both enjoyed together.

A child of professors at the University of Idaho and educated at Oberlin, he eschewed following in the footsteps of his parents (neuro scientists or some ridiculously smart career) to become a musician (he tells the very funny story of telling his mother he was leaving college to become a musician in one clip).  What courage (or stupidity)!  We bought some of his older albums and were hooked.  Eventually, we would drive several hundred miles to see him in concert, arriving to find that we were some of the oldest fans in the crowd.  One of my most distinct memories of that concert was hanging out with several co-eds half our age.  Still, it was clear this guy was something special.  Critics love him.  Influenced by (and compared by critics to) such performers as Dylan, Springsteen, Guthrie, and Cohen, he is a treasure.  I see all of them in his work, plus the influence of musicians such as Paul Simon, as well as country and folk music, history, and writers like Mark Twain. Mostly I see a man who truly loves his profession.  How many of us can say that?

On H's birthday one year, we went to see him in concert, and I got the band to come out to sign her CD afterwards.  We were surprised when he came out to meet to us personally; rarely have I seen a woman so happy as H as she talked to him about politics, current events, and life in general.  He was a sharp young man, with clear principles and the substantive wherewithal to back it up. We have subsequently seen him again (and appeared on YouTube in one case!) and follow his musical accomplishments closely.

It is a bit unfortunate that his latest CD is about love lost, having divorced his wife of just a few years.  The album, however, is not a depressing one of love lost, but one of having had something special, held on to it tight, and celebrating the good things from it as he realizes life moves on.   Here is a live performance from NPR.  He always puts his heart and soul into his performances. I guarantee you will find something to like in the music of this remarkable musician. If not, his smile, intelligent lyrics, enthusiasm, and lust for life and his music will leave you with a smile.

Some other links to Josh:

And a sampling of songs...with video!

"Me and my friends in the park drinking beer underneath the tree. Lying on your back as the sun goes down, you know it's perfect cause you've got to leave."  Me and Jiggs:

"All the other girls here are stars, you are the Northern Lights."  Kathleen:

"You put a finger to my lips and then you kissed me once, and once again the crickets all leapt up and met the moon with a standing ovation."  Am I making all the Right Moves?

"Climb through the timbers, and I'll breath the dust, of cosmos and wild rose bud. And thunder the unknowns, in the phosphorous white glow." Southern Pacific:

Moon River cover; we saw people cry when he did this live:

His anti-Iraq war song; when we saw him in concert, all the college students knew the words.  Girl in the War:

"Birds beneath my window, dustying their wings upon the lawn. I hear them in the morning light giving last amen to a migratory song."  Winter goes away--Snow is Gone:

The science song; simply brilliant.  Stuck to You:

"Such reanimation, the two tour the nation."  Creative storytelling and animation to boot.  The Curse:

"You had your red rainslicker on, your face was turned up into rain as you watched me and I was crossing, I was crossing the street like my own Rubicon, coming back home to ya, coming back Rome, and your eyes were so patient and calm and green as the grass that might grow on the 23rd Psalm."  Rainslicker:

A favorite of H: "General George began the day by taking pink little pills. Sent his men to the top of some hell of a hill. Through the whisper of trees came artillery breeze. He said I love the way the wind comes a'tickling my knees." To the Dogs or Whomever:

And if you find yourself interested in his music, check out

Sunday, March 17, 2013

More Random Travel Photographs from Trips Past

Some more photographs of places we have been, with an obvious tilt towards history, particularly military history.

Hwaseong Fortress, Suwon.
Ceremony at Hwaseong Fortress.

The entrance to Tunnel Number 2, one of the North Korean infiltration tunnels the South Koreans have discovered running under the DMZ since the 1970s.  This particular one lies near the South Korean town of Chorwon.

Southern side of the DMZ.

American defenses at Corregidor Island.  Corregidor guarded the defenses to Manila Bay.  The Japanese took in 1942 after a bombardment and amphibious assault.  American forces took it back in 1945.

Headquarters and safehaven for US forces during the Japanese attack on Corregidor.

More American defenses at Corregidor. 

Filipinos suffered greatly under Japanese rule.  The "Wall of  Martyrs" at Fort Santiago in Manila commemorates the many Filipinos imprisoned, tortured, and killed here during the war.  Historian Max Hastings in Retribution:  The Battle for Japan, 1944-1945 says an estimated 1 million Filipinos died during WW2, most of them in the last few months of the war.
Intramuros, the fortress-like center of Manila, originally built by the Spanish in the late 16th century.  In 1945, it was the last stronghold of the Japanese when US forces retook Manila.  The city itself was devastated during the battle and an estimated 100,000 of its inhabitants were killed, along with over 1,000 American and nearly 17,000 Japanese soldiers.

Another shot of the walls of Intramuros.  US forces had to bring up heavy artillery and fire it directly into the 20-foot-thick walls to root out the Japanese forces.  Said one American officer, perhaps with a bit of hyperbole, "The assault upon Intramuros was unique in modern warfare in that the entire area was medieval in structure, and its defenses combined the fortress of the Middle Ages with the firepower of modern weapons."

Filipinos have not forgotten they once fought a costly conventional and then guerrilla war against American imperialism from 1899 to 1902 (official date; fighting did not really end until 1913).  It was an ugly war with atrocities on both sides.  The Filipinos suffered far more greatly, however.  US forces employed harsh policies, including scorched earth tactics and concentration camps.  More than 30,000 Filipino soldiers and another  200,000 civilians were estimated killed (these figures are still under debate).  US forces suffered about 4,100 killed, three-quarters from disease.  For a detailed history, try Brian McAllister Linn's The Philippine War, 1899-1902.

Slopes of Conical Hill, Okinawa.  After a long and hard fight in May of 1945, troops from the US 96th Infantry Division seized this hill, the eastern anchor of the Japanese defenses of the Shuri Line.  The Shuri Line was the main defense line for the Japanese forces defending Okinawa.

The view from the top of Conical Hill.

Japanese defenses on Okinawa in what was known as the Wana Draw, a particularly formidable part of the Japanese lines which caused heavy casualties amongst the attacking US Marines. 

The remnants of the Japanese defenses still litter this heavily populated island.
In this old tomb a young American sergeant from the 96th Infantry Division, Beauford Anderson, won the Medal of Honor by single-handily holding off a large Japanese attack.
Nearby is a monument to Japanese troops.
An American general, Lieutenant General Simon Buckner, was killed on this spot late in the campaign.  He was the highest ranking US officer killed by enemy fire during the war.
Northern end of island and scene of the last stand of the Japanese Army on Okinawa.

At this spot, tucked in the cliffs at the end of the island, Buckner's Japanese counterpart, General Mitsuru Ushijima, committed ritual suicide.

Peace Memorial park commemorating the battle and the heavy costs in lives.  The walls in the background contain the names of more than 240,000 individuals who lost their lives during the 82-day campaign for the island.  The vast majority are Japanese or Okinawan, but some 14,000 American names are also included.  For an excellent history of the campaign that goes well-beyond the military story, try George Feifer's Tennozan;  The Battle of Okinawa and the Atomic Bomb.

United States

South Mountain, Maryland.  Union and Confederate forces clashed in these woods as the Union Army of the Potomac attempted to seize a pass through South Mountain known as Fox's Gap.  This monument honors the North Carolina brigade that defended the gap unsuccessfully, losing to brigade of Ohio troops.  For you trivia buffs, one of the Ohio regiments, the 23rd, included in its ranks future US presidents Rutherford B. Hayes and William McKinley.

Fort Donelson, Tennessee.  H and I passed this way during another of our drives out west.  Donelson was a Confederate fort built to control the Cumberland River.  In February of 1862, heavy cannons like this one helped defeat a force of Union gunboats attempting to shell the fort into submission.  The fort would subsequently fall to land forces under Ulysses S. Grant, raising him from an obscure general to a national hero and set him on the path to eventual command of all Union armies during the Civil War.

No, this not Paris.  It is the National Memorial Arch at Valley Forge National Park, Pennsylvania, where the Continental Army camped during the winter of 1777-1778.  It commemorates the "patience and fidelity" of the soldiers who survived that brutal winter.

Manassas (or Bull Run) National Battlefield Park, Virginia.  The trail follows the trace of an old railroad bed and embankment that served as a breastwork defense for Confederate forces in August of 1862.  There are over 50 miles of trails in the park, and H and I have used them on many weekends for long hikes and trail runs.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Random Photographs from Trips Past

What does one do on a weekend in March ruined by illness?  Well, for starters, it being tax season, they look for things to do other than filling out tax forms.  If it was a bit later in March, I (T) could be watching March Madness, but since the NCAA tournament has not started yet, I took some time to do something semi-constructive.  I went back through some of the travel photographs we have taken over the past several years and while taking in the memories of these trips, it occurred to me that many are worth sharing, particularly when we have not done much in the way of travel as of late.  So, sit back and take in part one of some pics from a variety of places both near and far that H and I have traveled to over the past several years.

The cellar of an old winery in the Burgundy region of France; heaven for a wine enthusiasts.
The vines of Alsace at harvest.  Field after field of vines line this picturesque valley.
Dream come true for H. A tour of the Gander Linen factory in Muttersholtz, Alsace led by Mr. Gander himself.
Gates of the Mountains, Montana.  Here on the eastern edge of the Rocky Mountains, where the plains meet the rugged highlands, the Missouri River cuts through the limestone to create these magnificent cliffs.  The Gates were given their name by the Lewis and Clark Expedition in 1805.  Wrote Captain Lewis, "this evening we entered much the most remarkable clifts that we have yet seen.  These clifts rise from the waters edge on either side perpendicularly to the height of 1200 feet. ... the river appears to have forced its way through this immense body of solid rock for the distance of 5-3/4 Miles ... I called it the gates of the rocky mountains."

Mann Gulch, Montana.  Part of the Gates of the Mountains Wilderness.  Mann Gulch was the scene of a firefighting disaster in 1949 when 13 men lost a desperate race with a massive fire that roared up this valley towards you.  Norman Maclean wrote of this story in his fabulous Young Men and Fire. More on this in a later blog.
One memorable summer about five years ago now, H and I spent about a week in the Canadian Rockies driving and hiking through some of the most glorious scenery we've had the pleasure of experiencing, including the Columbia Icefields along the Banff-Jasper highway.

 Lake Louise in Banff National Park.  The waters of the lakes in the Canadian Rockies are amazing.  I love H's description of Lake Louise as "an uncut emerald dunked in milk."

Victoria Glacier and the Plain of the Six Glaciers, located at the head of Lake Louise.

Hiking back down from Victoria Glacier to Lake Louise.

Morraine Lake and the Valley of the Ten Peaks, also in Banff NP.

Eiffel Lake in the Valley of the Ten Peaks.  Simply stunning.
One of our most memorable hikes together was the Iceline Trail in Yoho National Park, Canada.  The trail climbs some 2,000 feet from the bottom of the glacier-fed waterfall in the center of the photograph to the ridge in the foreground.  We hiked nearly 17 miles that day, much of it on top of deep snow and alongside glaciers.  It was hot, and we were sunburned and exhausted at the end of that very long, but rewarding day.  This particular photograph of H and our beloved husky Harley is probably my favorite of the two of them together.

Every year, we drive out to our cabin in Idaho and when time permits, we stop off at different places.  If you recall, one year it was Indian War sites.  Another year was devoted to Laura Ingalls Wilder.  This is her house in Mansfield, Missouri. 

It is a beautiful piece of property in the Ozark Mountains.
And on to the prairies of South Dakota, where many of the later books were set.
The Ingalls homestead claim outside De Smet, South Dakota.
In an earlier blog entry H wrote at length about her fascination with Laura Ingalls Wilder and her books. You can find it here.

After the visit to the Ingalls home place, we drove through the Badlands of Western South Dakota on a windy, bleak day. Talk about atmosphere.

As a thank you for helping put our wedding together, we took my parents to France for a week in Normandy and Paris.  Much of our time in Normandy was spent walking the beaches and battlefields of the Allied invasion of Occupied France in 1944.

The right flank of Omaha Beach.  The view the men of the 29th Infantry Division and the 2nd Ranger Battalion would have had on 6 June 1944. 

And that of their German antagonists.

Pont du Hoc.  US Rangers assaulted these positions on D-Day.

Ever the Band of Brothers (the Stephen Ambrose book and the HBO series) fanatic, H was thrilled when we were able to find Brecourt Manor, the site of a famous D-Day action involving the 101st Airborne Division and her World War Two hero, Major (then Lieutenant) Dick Winters.
The fields of Brecourt Manor. 

Church in Sainte Mere Eglise, another famous 101st Airborne Division site.   Hanging from the spire is a dummy American soldier, representing an actual paratrooper who hung from this very spot in the wee morning hours of 6 June 1944.  From this perch, that paratrooper, John Steele, watched his brother soldiers fight the Germans below.  He would hang there for two hours until captured.  Cornelius Ryan's 1959 book The Longest Day and the 1962 movie of the same name depicted his story.  Check out the Hollywood version here.

Mont Saint Michel, near Avranches, France. The island has held fortifications since ancient times, and since the 8th century has been the seat of the monastery from which it bears its name. 

During the drive back from Mont St. Michel to our B&B, we stopped off at this 14th century castle somewhere in Normandy.   The sun was setting, and there was not a soul there, but the gate was open, so the four of us wandered  the grounds and the ruins for nearly an hour before darkness fell. 
Cool graffiti H discovered as we explored the old castle.

Our B&B; a renovated 16th century manor.

It was a beautiful place.

Part 2 of random photographs from trips past coming out soon.