Monday, March 30, 2009

Contra Dancing

Contra dancing is what brought Nancy and I together. We first crossed paths at Falcon Ridge and then met again at a chance encounter at a coffee shop a hundred miles and a day away.

I got the contra dancing bug about 11 years ago. I was living in western Massachusetts and was somewhat reluctantly dragged to a contra dance. To my surprise that evening was something like falling in love for me. I felt a powerful draw and knew I had to keep doing this. The music, the community, the sense of history, the simple steps, the general sense of shared enjoyment, and the fact that this was people making their own entertainment in a porous arrangement of musicians and dancers.

I became a full-on dedicated dancer for many years; driving to festivals and weekend events, not to mention getting to local dances on a steady basis. In the meantime, I became friends with many 0ther dancers, steadily became better at dancing, and came appreciate the music more and more. I wouldn't say that dancing became the center of my life, rather that it filled out and enhanced my life. It offered a missing part that I'd never quite know wanted to be filled.

Soon after Nancy and I got together, we moved up to Vermont and soon became involved in the dance scene up here and in short order had assumed shared responsibility for organizing the Burlington Queen City Contras dance with a number of other folks. I've now been the booker for that dance for about six years and Nancy is the president of our little organization. Its been a tremendously rewarding experience to nurture what was a fairly weak dance into an event that has vibrancy and an invested community of regular dancers. Helping put on the dance has deepened my relationship with contra community; I'm in touch with musicians, think a lot about how to improve the dance, and put a lot of volunteer effort into making it all happen. We don't travel so much anymore to get to far away dances, but we're out at Montpelier and Burlington all the time.

In the last couple of years, Nancy has been learning to call for dances (all contra dances are "called" by a person who teaches the dance and prompts the moves once the dance starts). She's gotten really good at it and is increasingly more comfortable on stage. Its been a joy to watch and it sort of amazes me to see her up there doing her thing.

My sense is that people perceive contra dancing as a relic of the past, which it certainly can be, but for me it is a thriving and evolving creative form of expression. Contra dancing has tremendous power to bring people together in a unique environment that fosters a special brand of fun and creativity.

The video clip is from a dance at Montpelier. Will Mentor is calling and Beeswax Sheepskin are playing. The band playing played at our wedding dance--it rocked!

Sunday, March 22, 2009

House 2.0


We've started a new blog focused primarily on our house building process. You can check it out here.

We'll continue to post here, same as usual, but the house is a big focus and it makes sense to start a separate blog for that process.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Life amidst cold


To my utter delight, there are little green shoots of something coming up in the cold frame.

Rather late last fall I scattered seed of various hardy early season plants such as mache, spinach, and, I think, mesclun mix. My plan being that when the light gets strong enough and the temperatures start to moderate that they'll germinate and start growing when it feels right.

After a couple of months of total darkness from snow cover I shoveled off the cold frame sometime last month and have been trying to keep it clear since.

A week or two ago I opened it up to see what there was to see, and lo and behold, there are little shoots coming up. I won't know for a while what's they are; for all I know it may be some hardy weed, but I suspect it's something we are going to be happy to eat. If we get some early season greens I'll be more then happy.

There is something magical A.) about the fact that seeds sense when it is time to commence their journey towards the sun, and B.) that with the use of a cold frame you can make this bit of magic happen when it would otherwise be impossible, and lastly C.) that the thing that grew from the seed usually gives you a ton more seeds to repeat the process.

I might be tempted to think that growing would start to become routine after doing it for a bunch of years, but there is something that is always exciting about the advent of new life humbly but determinedly reaching towards light.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Guest Bike


I'm currently visiting my friend Parker in Santa Monica, having left Nancy in San Francisco two days ago to continue visiting friends and family there.

Before we flew out, I was somewhat anxiously looking on the LA Craigslist for a suitable bicycle to buy that I could ride while visiting. I found a couple of fun bikes, but something was feeling a little bit chaotic and ill conceived about the plan. Parker also pointed out that it'd be something that he couldn't maintain responsibility for should his living situation change. He also suggested that there was his aunt's bike on hand already which I was free to ride. Half jokingly, I quipped "Don't even mention that thing!", with a vague memory of a clunky ill-fitting, poorly outfitted, and semi functional old bike.

On a previous trip out here I sent my bike ahead of my arrival in order to have a familiar set of wheels to get around with. It cost about $40 each way and in the end felt worth it despite the expense - we had some fun adventures in the mountains and up the coast. Since then, the costs of shipping have gone up and the effort of disassembling, packing and shipping feels cumbersome, not to mention wasteful.

Having abandoned the buy-a-bike scheme as not right, I figured we'd work something out or just not bike. In fact, Parker's aunt's bike has served ably as a guest bike for my visit. Its a Schwinn Mesa Runner, a no-frills old "hybrid" that has been surprisingly suitable and fun. It wins little in terms of style, but it works well and it has proved to be versatile and comfortable. We've gone rough riding in the Santa Monica mountains, traveling through the LA streets for errands, and its just been a fun experience. Discovering that it has some LED lights in addition to a rear basket was just icing. Its great to get over a little of my bike snobbery; bikes are bikes, and of course they vary widely in purpose and quality, but on an elemental level the bicycle is a beautiful machine with an inherent elegance that is unassailable.

The experience has led me to thinking about guest bikes.

In my perfect world, it would be customary to keep an extra bike (or two) on hand for guests. In many cases this happens already because people often have an extra bike hanging around by default. In the same way that it is customary to keep a guest room, friends would feel comfortable knowing they have a reasonable set of wheels waiting for them while visiting. For all I know there may be a "guest bike" movement afoot already; if not, here's putting it out there: Consider keeping an extra bike on hand for guests, or make arrangements to borrow one.