Monday, October 31, 2016

the age-old story

the age-old story
of love and loss, good and evil,
on the stage of life

Sondheim Theater is sold out for the Shanghai Acrobats, as it is every year. But this year the show is different, a dream journey, enacting the age-old story of love and loss, good and evil, like a Chinese Ramayana. It begins with a dreaming boy who jumps into the sea to follow a fairy phoenix. 

Touched by his courage she saves him and invites him to fly with her. The phoenix leads the dreaming boy to a palace of fantasy, with clowns, acrobats, teeterboards and juggling. I have a good view from the balcony nearest the stage. No flash allowed, which would disturb the acrobats, but my camera works pretty well with high ISO.

Aerial ballet in a ring, the call of love.

Three acrobats demonstrate strength and flexibility.

Pixies juggle "pearls" on their feet.

A series of men in red soar through the air. One jumps on a wide tightrope, does a flip and lands on the narrow strip, while the phoenix and her courtiers watch from the sidelines.

Two men jump on one end of a teeterboard, catapulting another man high above the stage to land on a trampoline held up by other men.

Another man on top of a mono-stilt is supported by long poles on the end of the teeterboard. The men at the other end wait for his signal, a sharp "Ha!" He flips from the teeterboard, landing the tip of his stilt in the middle of the trampoline.

The clown and the handmaiden draw some laughs with their pantomimed antics, but then he shows his agility by balancing on a rola rola and flipping four bowls onto a stack on top of his head.

Acrobatic juggling with straw hats.

The palace of fantasy is invaded by evil. From behind walls, the demon king appears with his troop of skeleton-masked warriors against a night sky. This is the Friday before Halloween, so the kids in the audience don't seem too disturbed by their garish costumes. The demon king, wearing a headdress with long red feathers, decides to kill the dreaming boy in order to seize and control the fairy phoenix. When the clown sacrifices himself to save the boy, I hear a gasp from the kids.

The evils lock the phoenix in a huge red jail and tear her feathers off. demon king sheds his robes and does a pas de deux with the Princess in the near darkness , ending with her standing on his shoulder on one foot en pointe

The phoenix flies into the fire that lights up the ruined palace of fantasy.

We are still in semi-darkness when the hoop divers begin, symbolizing the anger of fire. The acrobats in red headdresses progress from one hoop to a stack of three and then multiple stacks, leaping through from different directions.

The dreaming boy wakes up in a forest of fairy trees that are all shining. Floating in on top of long white cone skirts, mincing on tall stilts, they are spinning plates on the end of five long sticks held in each hand. Their wrists move ever so slightly as they raise the sticks in the air, then lower them forward so that some of the spinning plates are nearly vertical. Suddenly, their skirts light up. The audience claps at the return of the light, even though it is still night.

One last acrobatic feat. A man stacks chairs on top of each other, balancing on each, until he is almost to the top of the stage. One last chair, tilted, and he does a hand stand at the very top. I notice that there is a long sword attached to the second chair from the top, but he does not use it. Instead, when he descends, he hands it to the boy. 

The boy searches for the fairy phoenix and finds one of her white feathers. He "climbs a mountain" and places the feather on the peak.

Descending from his fruitless search, the boy lies on the ground, curled around the sword. A magician appears and practices his spells, imitating birds and other creatures, to the delight of the audience. Finally, he waves his hand over the boy, who arises, holding the sword. He fights the demon king and when the boy slays the evil one, the audience cheers. Good triumphs over evil once again!

Desperate, the boy climbs a mountain, searching for the fairy phoenix. She returns, reborn from the fire, and ascends to the embrace of the boy. Loud clapping and cheering. During the finale, when all the members appear in their costumes, even the demon king draws loud applause. After all, he played his role well. Without him, there would be no drama.

the haunted bookshop

the haunted bookshop
cat curled behind bars of shadow
in a patch of sunlight

It's almost Halloween. Costco has sold out of pumpkins, but New Pioneer Coop still has a nice selection, including white, green with yellow striped and warty pink ones. In the Haunted Bookshop, people are browsing for used books, new puzzles, games, toys. A short-hair gray cat is curled up on a padded rocking chair in a warm patch of sunlight striped by shadows. The Second Act consignment clothing store is packed with people shopping for costumes. A dyed blonde is looking at long blonde wigs, a boy swipes the air with a plastic sword, a girl holds up an Elsa dress. Everyone is wearing Hawkeye shirts for the game this Saturday afternoon. As we leave town we pass lines of cars and people walking toward the stadium, carrying coolers and blankets. The temperature gauge in the car registers 74 F. You'd never know it's late October. We drive back to Fairfield, sipping cold kombucha.

Friday, October 21, 2016

waiting for the wind

waiting for the wind
silk parachutes packed in a pod 
bearing brown seeds

On a walk around Bonnefield Lake, I come across a little patch of milkweed, two different varieties. One has long, slender dark brown pods shaped like green beans or small catalpa pods. Some of the pods have split in half, revealing tiny golden seeds attached to the silky floss. Empty, the pod pairs curve around each other like a dancing couple.

The other variety looks more like common milkweed, only the pods are much smaller. The large, flat brown seeds are still packed inside like fish scales attached to a white silk cone.

As I walk under a grove of tall white pines, copper needles rain down on my head and my shoes slip on the mat of slick fallen needles.

Here and there, little groups of mushrooms that look like biscuits are pushing up through the pine needles. The underside of these mushrooms looks like a mustard-colored sponge. Edible? Well, squirrels have been biting off hunks, but then squirrels will eat half of a highly toxic buckeye, so I leave the mushrooms to the squirrels.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

black silk hanging down

black silk hanging down
an ear of dry field corn
ready for harvest

Harvest time in the monolithic fields of corn and soybeans in Iowa. The dry ears of field corn hang down, their silk tassels turned black, stalks red, husks bleached and brittle, leaves glowing like beaten gold in the late afternoon sun. There is a beauty here, though at the expense of the soil and water. So much better to grow organic, but farmers get locked into a way of doing things and it's hard to change.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

canoe glides softly

canoe glides softly,
rippling the mare's tails reflected
in the placid lake

Good thing we took the canoe to our local lake instead of driving 4 hours to the Upper Iowa River or even 15 minutes to Cedar Creek. As soon as we stepped into the canoe, the long patch on the side started spurting water. The only way to get in some paddling was to take turns soloing, leaning to the left to keep the gray gorilla tape above water. John looks like he's paddling through mare's tails reflected in the water. Kevlar canoe needs some serious fiberglass repair!

The little gazebo by the lake sits amid a patch of buffalo grass turned orange in autumn.

Above, cirrus clouds morph into fantastic shapes -- fans, feathers, mare's tails. I love these clouds.

Monday, October 10, 2016

standing in the orange chute

standing in the orange chute
waiting for the gate to open --
champion breakaway roper

On our way back from the Fall Festivals in Keosauqua and Bentonsport, we stop at Big Bend Livestock Arena, where a rodeo roping practice is going on.

A woman on a pinto is waiting for a bunch of steers to be unloaded into a chute, waiting to be released.

As she waits for the next calf to be released, she answers questions about rodeo competition. She's training her horse for breakaway roping, a competition with one calf and one rider, where the rider chases down and rope the calf around the neck as quickly as possible. The calf has a head start and is not tied down in the end, hence it “breaks away.” Breakaway roping, and roping of any sort, is hard to do and even harder to master. This woman is a champion breakaway roper.

I also learn the terms for team roping: header and heeler. The man watching beside his horse is a champion heeler. During heading and heeling competition, one partner ropes the steer's head and turns it to the left, then the heeler ropes the hind legs. Thus trapped, the steer goes down.

One man wields what looks like a giant pink fly swatter to urge the calves through the chute.

Each calf wears a horn wrap, a cloth headgear around its neck with the horns protruding, normally worn during competition to prevent rope burn and the risk of horns breaking.

However, as each calf reaches the head of the chute, the rustler removes its horn wrap. Didn't know enough to ask why.

A young boy practices roping a wooden "steer" with horns and four legs.

Fence shadows mark the passage of the sun as we head home.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

old leather suitcase

old leather suitcase --
Dr. Seuss, Bugs Bunny, Star Wars -- 
sticker nostalgia

Our next stop is Bentonsport, another 1800s steamboat stop on the Des Moines River, where old iron bridge crosses the river. The Fall Festival here is much smaller and cozier than the one in Keosauqua. It has the feel of a much-traveled leather suitcase.

Benton's Port was founded in 1835 as a steamboat port. It was dec many of the original buildings are still standing. In the few blocks that make up the village each house has a sign out front with its name and date of construction. The population has declined from 1,000 in the 1800s to 40 at present. The short main street is lined on one side with antique and crafts shops, the Mason House Inn and Greef General Store.

Only a few food stands here, one for fresh made lemonade, another for kettle corn.

Fewer trade booths, but they are mostly artists selling their paintings, photographs, handmade ceramics, quilts, braided rugs and old flour sacks. One woman is weaving on a floor loom.

A few tables are spread with antique tools, records and old CDs.

Instead of carnival rides, the main attraction for kids is a four-person cycle.

And then there's the ever-present teenager wearing torn jeans.