Outdoors: Into the Woods

Oct 28, 2020

Halloween is the perfect time to listen to a recording of the musical "Into the Woods."

"You go into the woods / where nothing is clear / where witches, ghosts and wolves appear / into the woods and through the fear / you have to take the journey."

When his fairytale characters go "into the woods," Stephen Sondheim is using the lyrics as a metaphor for a dangerous quest required to make wishes come true.

Outdoors: Art in pandemics

Oct 21, 2020

I recently re-read "Station Eleven." This post-apocalyptic novel was the selection for the 2015 Great Michigan Read, so I read it then.

The book, set during and following a catastrophic pandemic, draws comparisons between a group of actors and musicians who travel and perform along the familiar shore of Lake Michigan and the troupes of itinerant performers who traveled through Shakespeare's England.

Outdoors: Goldfinches

Oct 14, 2020

Antonio Vivaldi wrote the Concerto for Flute in D in 1729. This work, known as "the Goldfinch," includes a birdlike cadenza and is filled with twittering passages.

I've heard recordings of European goldfinches. Vivaldi did a bit of embellishing of the bird's trills and warbles. 

In my opinion, the name "goldfinch" for the European species is a stretch. The bird is sort of brown, with yellow and black wings.

Outdoors: Taming shrews

Oct 7, 2020

Why is it that when men speak derogatorily of women, they refer to them as animals?

This beastly name-calling dates back at least to Shakespeare's time. The Bard referred to Kate as a shrew in the play "The Taming of the Shrew."

Admittedly, to describe a vicious, aggressive individual, the type who, whenever she opens her mouth, poison seems to flow out, that name might have been apt.

If the shrew fits...

Mainville and Craymer (2005)


Normally, the waters of Lake Michigan sit around 580 feet

Outdoors: Seeing red

Sep 30, 2020

How many actors and dancers are bugged when they have to wear rouge?

What if they knew that, in many cases, they were smearing crushed insects on their faces? Would they see red?

Any makeup listing "carmine" as an ingredient is made from crushed insects called cochineal. 

The actual cochineal insect is puny, similar to a mealy bug. They live on the juices from prickly pear cactus.

In areas of Mexico, Bolivia and Peru, the insects are raised and harvested.

Outdoors: Black swans

Sep 23, 2020
Orange County Register

When economists talk about "black swans," they're referring to an unpredictable event, often one with a severe impact.

The year 2020 has certainly had some black swans.

Even during migration, I can't imagine seeing black swans on Green Lake or Duck Lake.

Outdoors: Cricket percussion

Sep 16, 2020

I play the keyboard for a little country church. After one of the COVID-careful services, I complained to my husband that it felt wrong, somehow, to play hymns when nobody was singing.

He pointed out that, although the congregation wasn't singing, a cricket was.

To be technical, crickets do not sing.

It's more like percussion, a sound made by striking or scraping. 

Outdoors: Art and trees

Sep 9, 2020

We all know that trees are essential for the environment, but trees are actually quite important to visual artists as well.

While the finest papers are still made from rags, these days, most paper comes from wood pulp.

Paper also is processed and sized with various gums derived from trees.

Rosins, usually from pine trees, are used as surface coatings for many papers.

Many historical works of art - especially Italian paintings - were created by dissolving pigments in walnut oil.

Gums from trees act as binders for watercolors.

Outdoors: Birds' farewell

Sep 2, 2020

Back in 1772, playing in Haydn's orchestra at Prince Esterhazy's summer palace probably seemed like a pretty sweet gig.

But as the long season wore on, the musicians were more than ready to return home to their wives and families.

According to the familiar story, rather than pleading the musicians' case to the Prince directly, Haydn wrote the work that has come to be known as the Farewell Symphony.

Outdoors: Monarchs of the lake

Aug 26, 2020

"He was an Englishman." I'm thinking that when W.S. Gilbert wrote "I am the monarch of the sea" for the operetta "HMS Pinafore," he was not referring to the North American butterflies known as monarchs. 

Occasionally, either because of defective instincts or being blown off course, monarchs are found roosting on drilling platforms in the Gulf of Mexico.

But monarchs do not belong on the sea.

Outdoors: Shakespeare's Roses

Aug 19, 2020

"What's in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet."

Apparently, Shakespeare liked roses. He mentioned them - not just in "Romeo and Juliet" - but in more plays and sonnets than any other flower.

Being emblems of the Houses of York and Lancaster, red and white roses thrived Shakespeare's historical plays. 

What could be more romantic than a long-stemmed red rose?

Outdoors: Summertime birds

Aug 12, 2020

"Summertime, and the livin' is easy." Easy, perhaps, but it is incredibly quiet at Interlochen these days.

"Summertime" is from the controversial George Gershwin opera "Porgy and Bess." The way I read the lyrics, the song "Summertime" speaks to white privilege.

But it's hauntingly beautiful, and the tune has been stuck in my head this summer.

It's about the only music I hear outdoors. Even the birds have stopped singing.

It's summertime.

Outdoors: Lazy circles in the sky

Aug 5, 2020

A few years back, the annual musical at Interlochen Arts Camp was "Oklahoma!" 

The Juniors all went to the dress rehearsal, and the next day, one of the campers asked, "Why do hawks make lazy circles in the sky?"

Understand that hawks hunt from the sky, so the higher they fly, the more area they can see.

Their eyesight is phenomenal. Apparently, birds of prey can see in the ultraviolet range of the spectrum, which turns out to be important.

Outdoors: Renaissance of trees

Jul 29, 2020

From 1450 to 1620, dramatic changes took place in Europe. The period, now called the Renaissance, resulted from a complex interaction of factors that brought about changes in politics, religion, economics and the arts.

I've recently read a number of articles that suggested that a pandemic led to the Renaissance - a hopeful thought, because during that time, educated people came to believe they could learn from nature.

Science as we know it came to be.

Joshua Stevens, NASA Earth Observatory


If you took a dip in Lake Michigan in early July you might have noticed the water felt pretty nice.

Outdoors: Crepey bats

Jul 22, 2020

The annual Gilbert and Sullivan operetta used to be a highlight of the Interlochen camp season. Usually, one or two bats made an appearance sometime during each show.

This was particularly appropriate during the performance of "The Sorcerer," when John Wellington Wells referred to bats as "creepy things with wings."

Or did he say "crepey"?

Apparently, the original Gilbert lyrics have sometimes evolved over time.

Outdoors: Maunder minimum

Jul 17, 2020

"Solar minimum" is defined as the period of least solar activity in the 11-year cycle of the Sun.

This essentially means there are fewer sunspots and solar flares for a while. It usually does not last for long and is not a cause for concern.

But back in the 1600s, a solar minimum lasted for 70 years. During that time of low solar activity, temperatures on Earth dropped.

Scientist are not positive there is  a connection — it might have been volcanos, or something else.

Outdoors: Turtle shells

Jul 16, 2020

About this time every year, female turtles drag themselves out the lake in order to lay their eggs. They seem to have no fear.

If a turtle survives  for five or six years, its shell has become rock hard. 

When danger threatens, the turtle merely retracts its head, tail and four stubby legs.

The top and bottom of the shell fit so perfectly that the turtle is safe from any enemy (except, perhaps,  a moving vehicle).

Though a shell offers support and protection, it also presents a few problems. For one thing, there is no such thing as a graceful turtle.

Outdoors: Whining mosquitoes

Jul 15, 2020

Will there still be mosquitoes at Interlochen this summer? Does corduroy swish?

Most folks are aware that male mosquitoes are more or less innocuous, living on nectar and plant juices.

They may even be pollinators, but they don’t bother us, aside from the fact that they mate with the females. 

Once she has mated, a female mosquito requires a blood meal - sort of a prenatal protein supplement - in order to produce healthy eggs.

Outdoors: Baby raccoons

Jul 14, 2020

Wildlife habitat is a combination of food, water, shelter and space that meet the needs of wildlife. 

That definition can describe Kresge Auditorium, where, over the years, thousands of wild creatures have made their homes.

Bats and birds, chipmunks and squirrels have grown up in Kresege. 

But perhaps the most memorable was back in 1991. 

A young raccoon’s first venture into the New World was a bit of a downfall.

Outdoors: Toads and violins

Jul 13, 2020

Many years ago, we had faculty member at Interlochen who was a great teacher and fine violinist but who was reluctant to work with Junior campers.

Turns out, she was afraid that they might be hiding toads in their instrument cases.

That  wouldn’t have surprised me. In a way, it’s sort of a tradition.

Outdoors: Possum actors

Jul 10, 2020

Opossums may be ugly, but what they lack in grace and beauty, they make up for with their abilities to reproduce and with their acting skills, which are remarkable.

Well, their acting skills are remarkable but limited. They do a superb death scene.

Should danger threaten, an opossum really does “play possum.”

It wilts to the ground or goes limp,  falling over on its side, eyes unfocused, mouth agape with tongue hanging from between rows of fifty pointy little teeth. Copious drool.

Outdoors: Bird lighting

Jul 9, 2020

Many years ago, a lighting technician made a comment that stuck with me.

She said, “If we do our job right, nobody notices us. If we don’t — ooh, boy.”

And that is the reason for at least some of the anxiety that precedes the first tech rehearsal of any show.

How will the scenery look under the lights?  And the costumes?

Different materials reflect and refract light differently and under bad lighting, to quote my friend, “Ooh, boy.”

Any bird watcher will tell you the same thing.

Outdoors: Petoskey stones

Jul 8, 2020

Visual artists always have been aware of geometric shapes. 

The Great Masters were all about geometry. 

Pablo Picasso captured  his world in shapes.  M. C. Escher combined shapes with his tessellating designs, and architect Buckminster Fuller demonstrated that tessellating triangles form a hexagon, which is a shape with great structural strength.

This structural strength is demonstrated by  a coral fossil we call a Petoskey stone.